1. Get a ruler.
2. Get a triangle. A triangle is like a ruler, only it’s shaped like a triangle. It costs like a couple of dollars.
3. Draw straight lines for your panel borders. Use right angles for the corners. That’s what a ruler and triangle can do for you.
4. Measure a distance between your first two panels and then keep using the exact same distance between all your panels in that comic. Those spaces between panels are called gutters. Inconsistently sized gutters look bad and amateurish. Consistently sized gutters look better. It’s a super easy thing to make your comics look way cleaner and more professional. After you try it a few times you don’t have to measure anymore but you DO have to measure at first. So try it!!
EDIT TO ADD: straight lines and consistent gutters is like the comics layout equivalent of figure drawing / anatomy — get the basics down solid before you start getting crazy and stylized. Log some hours doing the most straightforward approach before you decide you’re a genius and can do whatever the hell you want.
Hey! Huge fan of your stuff, I'm very new to the whole comic book process. I was wondering if you rough an entire book before you start your inking, or do a set of pages at a time? And when it comes time for ink do you often find yourself altering your roughs or do you get them pretty set in stone beforehand? Thanks!
For Seconds, I’m roughing the entire book before inking anything. I’m not finished yet so it’s an intimidating process. I hope it works out.
For Scott Pilgrim, I switched off thumbnails, penciling and inking as I went. I would do like 8-12 pages of thumbnails at a time and then maybe pencil 5-6 pages then ink most of them then go back and pencil more, and so on. Later in the series, maybe around volume 4, I started penciling a whole chapter (like 30 pages usually) and then inking the whole chapter before moving to the next one. This gave me more of a feeling that I was making concrete progress.
What processes do you go through when creating a character's personality, appearance, and history?
i don’t have a process for this…
i just make stuff up until it feels right.
when I was young I really liked doing character questionnaires and that sort of thing. I had one back in high school (I can’t remember what it was called, I think it was a handout from a writing teacher). I was obsessed with it for a bit and i thought I’d use it for the rest of my life. But I never did. I haven’t done a questionnaire or character tree or anything in any of my published books. I just start writing stuff down and see what clicks.
I probably SHOULD have more of a method for this — i never know much about my characters’ history and stuff. I guess i like discovering it as I go along, but sometimes it would be good to know more up front.
i’m lazy about this kind of thing….. I think it just bores me. I wanna get to the action.
For the appearance, idk… either I have an idea or I don’t. If I don’t, I just start drawing stuff until something feels right.
For the 2 main characters in Seconds, I knew exactly what they looked like and I just refined that initial concept. For another main character I had NO idea and drew a dozen very different versions before I came close. For a love interest, I knew what I wanted in my mind’s eye, but i drew it and hated it, and then two minutes later I sketched a completely different version and ended up going with that; he changed very little from then on.
I think my development process is (a) organic (b) intuitive (c) slow (d) kinda dumb. Sorrrryyyyyyyyy.
can you please tell us more about neil and his papier-mâché-dolphin-making girlfriend because that's the best thing I've ever heard (recently). i'm begging you
(refers to this post)
Well, Neil’s quirky girlfriend and an early version of Scott’s brother (Lawrence West) were new characters in the first sketches and notes for volume 5, but they quickly got eliminated.
Lawrence would have been a major character — he was working with Gideon and the Twins because he owed them a debt or something… it was dumb. He basically got completely pulled out and if I needed someone for Twin collaboration I used Julie.
Neil’s girlfriend was going to be a minor character, just some jokes and she was going to be another cute girl for me to draw. She got taken out and at one point we see Neil with another girl who is definitely NOT this deleted girlfriend. Suffice to say, she was going to be cute and quirky and stuff. I dunno. She never really made it further than that. I think her name was Eleanor (after my 2007 dream girl Eleanor Friedberger).
I’ll include sketches and notes for them in the back of the color edition of vol 5 next year! I don’t have time to go through all that stuff right now.
THE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT VOLUME 5
I alluded to this the other day. There was an early draft of volume 5, Scott Pilgrim Vs The Universe, that was very different. It had the same basic structure but it revolved around the fictional “Toronto International Battle of the Bands” — which, obviously, ended up being used as part of the structure for the movie.
Which means, yes, I made up the battle of the bands stuff, I just didn’t use it in the book in the end. There was a two-stage setup — amp vs amp and all that. It would have been really really really hard to draw all this stuff.
Skimming over the old script now, it just tonally didn’t feel right, and I think that’s because at this point (late 2007 through mid 2008) I was spending a lot of time working with Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall on the movie, looking at casting tapes, etc. My original ‘voice’ for Scott & friends kind of got submerged for a minute and it took me several drafts to find it again.
So anyway, the plot of it was that Sex Bob-omb got signed up for the battle of the bands without their knowledge, and it was an obvious trap set by the Katayanagi Twins. The twins are musicians in this version, and also they wear Super Sentai-style masks when they perform, like Daft Punk or something. Sex Bob-omb goes in to the tournament completely unprepared, and they’re terrible, but they keep winning every round anyway (because it’s all a sham). All the other bands in Toronto start hating them.
The rest of the story was pretty much the same — the book was always about the band kinda falling apart and about Scott and Ramona kinda falling apart. It was just a lot bigger and sillier. There was a LOT going on and it would have been really hard to draw and I felt the need to simplify, so it turned into what you all know as volume 5.
Anyway, here are some unused excerpts I thought were amusing!
Where do you get your inspiration for your characters outfits? I always have had a problem trying to get outfits going for my characters.
I spend a good deal of time looking at clothes. This has evolved over the years, but lately what I tend to do is go on lookbook.nu once in a while and spot some people with good style and just bookmark them and keep up with how they’re dressing as the seasons go by.
I used to spend a lot more time browsing catalogue sites and online shops but these days it’s easy to find people actually wearing & combining clothes, which is what you really want anyway.
I think directly stealing an outfit from one of these people would be kinda rude, but you start to get a sense for what’s current re: shapes and silhouettes and colors and patterns, then you can extrapolate your own ideas out of them. Also of course each character you create has to have their own “fashion personality”. So i guess what I’m saying is any cartoonist should be like me and spend way too much time thinking about clothes.
People often ask about my writing process. I was actually looking at the new edition of Scott Pilgrim 2 the other day like “how DID i write this?” and so I went into the archives and grabbed the outline and a few script pages…
(note: this book was originally created over Winter 2004-5 and released May 2005)
STEP ONE: NOTES (not shown)
I scribbled all over notebooks and sketchbooks (and text files on the computer) figuring out scenes I wanted to show, themes I was thinking about, and the overall direction of the story
STEP TWO: OUTLINE
I turned my mess of ideas into a rough, straightforward, chronological outline (shown here)
STEP THREE: SCRIPT
I turned the rough outline into a basic script.
At this point i was using a bastardized format of my own invention (seen here); later I went on to use a more standard ‘screenplay’ format. My scripts have always been largely dialogue-based with just the barest descriptions of stuff, since I’m writing for myself to draw, and I know what I want stuff to look like — or I figure I’ll worry about it later. (often to my detriment!)
I also want to note that I do a lot of adverb-descriptions on each line of dialogue, ie “offended”, “dismissive”, “incredulous” — that’s really just to remind myself what kind of facial expressions and “acting” I was thinking of. You’re not supposed to do that in a screenplay (via it’s rude to actors, who need to make their own decisions from moment to moment), but I think it makes a lot of sense for comics.
These pages are part of “scene 6-4” on the outline (I always name my scenes like Super Mario levels), which you can see right away I have decided to alternate between Scott/Kim and Scott/Lisa scenes, which wasn’t indicated on the outline at all. This made Scott into more of an active character, pushing the story forward as I intercut between his interactions with the two different girls. This also helped develop the subplot of Scott’s emotional entanglement with both girls.
STEP FOUR: THUMBNAILS
These were always really small, maybe two inches high. I can’t really explain this part of the process at all but I feel like this is where a lot of the magic happens. Somehow the text stuff goes in my brain and comes out in these weird scrappy little drawings that always closely resemble the final pages.
Here are the finished pages (from the new edition, colour by Nathan Fairbairn) where you can see how some of the dialogue from the original script got dropped or reworked. These pages seem to have had a bare minimum of revision, though, compared to some of my later stuff (volume 4 script pages were like 85% crossed out and rewritten).
OH, BY THE WAY, THE COLOR EDITION VOLUME 2 OF SCOTT PILGRIM WILL BE IN STORES NEXT WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 7th!
Hi! I wanted to know, how did you first break into the comic book industry? I'm an aspiring comic book writer/illustrator and I love your work!
Hello. There is no one way to “break in”, so unfortunately there’s no easy answer to your question. The best I can do for hopefuls is tell you how my life went, and you can take what you will from that.
I wrote some personal history on my site. This post was originally written on a forum several years ago.
1. I always wanted to do comics. I am obsessed with comics. I was making comics at 3 years old, all through grade school, all through middle school, all through high school and into college. (I had a brief period where I wanted to be “A Writer” like around grade 12, but that passed)
2. In middle school I had a friend who was also an artist and we would make comics together constantly. Then he moved to another town and I moved to another town. In high school and college I never had any friends who drew, I was just the one weird guy drawing comics.
3. Then the Internet became a thing (circa 1996 for me). I fell in with a group of anime nerds who liked to draw. We created a thing called Impromanga where someone would start a story and then pass it on to someone else. I did a lot of chapters of different styles of comics. I went to conventions and hung out with my internerd friends. I started various webcomics and crapped out on them (this is kind of before webcomics were a thing).
4. Around 2000-2001 I was fed up with school (and my library job) and, having a standing invite from some friends, went to northern California for half a year. They had landed a book with Image and I helped them with lettering and occasional graphic design. AKA bullshit work. However, that was my first professional credit and I was able to get into conventions for free after that. And I learned a lot of photoshop tricks etc. The main deal down there was my friend Locke who was my best buddy at the time. We spent 6 months just drawing comics and talking about comics and making up ideas. I started to feel more serious about the whole thing. (These guys were affiliated with what became Udon studios, who do the street fighter stuff, and they also founded the Gaia Online website and became zillionaires right after I left)
5. I came back to Canada at the end of summer (2001) via Wizard World Chicago. At that convention I was introduced to James Lucas Jones (editor) at Oni Press, who was a friend of a friend. He looked at mine and locke’s work and I guess we hit it off or whatever.
6. When I got home I was just hanging around my parents’ house for the next few months, trying to get various stories off the ground and with pitches in to Oni through James. One of them was Lost at Sea. James let me run six color web strips on the Oni site that winter (2001-2002 i guess). Meanwhile, they asked me to ink an issue of Queen & Country because they really desperately needed a fill-in even though I sucked badly at inking. Then I was offered to draw (pencil & ink) the series “Hopeless Savages: Ground Zero”, written by Jen Van Meter.
7. Around the same time, Udon was starting up, and since I had worked with them a bit in California they asked me to draw a Spider-Man childrens’ book for an ungodly amount of money (for me, at the time) and I even finagled a free Wacom tablet out of the deal. I got my friend Chris to help with it - we were planning to move to Toronto as roommates at the end of december 2001, which we did.
8. In 2002, living in my first apartment in Toronto, I drew the Hopeless Savages series, which was a big wake-up call and a major learning experience. Drawing comics is hard, it’s really really hard. This was the longest comic I had done to that point (4 issues, about 90 pages or so). I didn’t get done until towards the end of the year. I was slow. They even had to get someone else to ink the 3rd issue both because I sucked at inking and because I was way behind schedule. But all of it was a learning experience. At the same time, I had noooo money and was lettering Blue Monday comics for Oni and taking on side jobs from Udon - mostly more inking, which, again, I sucked at. It was a slow miserable year, I was poor, but hey I was young & skinny and enjoyed eating ramen.
9. In 2003 I finally started drawing Lost at Sea, which had morphed into a graphic novel - originally it was going to be a 4-issue miniseries like Hopeless Savages, but the business was slowly changing (like, Blankets came out that spring, for example). Doing a whole graphic novel without any breaks was another new insane challenge. I was also in the middle of a long distance relationship (toronto to chicago, 10 hour drive, and it’s not like i had a car). I drew half of that book that summer in Chicago and finished it that november back in Toronto. Meanwhile, I was still lettering stuff for Oni and trying to avoid getting a real job (note: I racked up $7000 in credit card debt from 2002-2005). But I ended up working at comic shop The Beguiling for a while, where my roommate worked (I think he was the manager by that time).
10. Lost at Sea came out December 2003. i was like “yay” but the truth was that nobody really cared, it got a few reviews on comic blogs. I was immediately back to work on my next book. My publisher whom I had only met like once and who probably thought I was just a totally sensitive young man, asked if I wanted to do a series. I had this idea that I had been thinking of for a year or so and pitched it: it’s like… teen hijinx! with fighting! Blue Monday meets Dragonball! and they said that sounded great, so I sat down and did Scott Pilgrim volume 1.
11. The preorders for Scott Pilgrim v1 were worse (less) than Lost at Sea’s. I felt like crap. Hope moved in and I hurried to finish the book. I did the majority of the art for it in one month. The book came out late (August 18th 2004), it got a couple reviews on blogs, whatever. I was still poor as shit (I got $1500 up front for Scott Pilgrim which took me 6-8 months to write and draw). My friend worked at a restaurant and I begged him for a job. I worked there for the rest of the year, sketching and outlining Scott Pilgrim v2 in the kitchen.
12. We moved away to Nova Scotia because it was cheap. Scott Pilgrim v2 was really super late, like 3 months late. It came out at the end of May 2005. We traveled back to Toronto for TCAF, the independent comics show, and then it was weird because for the first time, I was popular. People lined up to buy volume 2.
13. So, during this time there was some wheeling & dealing in hollywood and I think I even talked to Edgar Wright on the phone one time, but in short I got nothing. I was still poor and thought this whole hollywood thing was a crock of shit. But at some point over that summer (2005) they actually showed me a contract, I signed it, and then it was like “any day now we’ll make a movie, and also we’ll pay you”. I finally got a check towards the end of 2005, we immediately spent the whole thing on a down payment on a really cheap house (and I paid off my $7000 debt). We went back to being poor starving comic artists, but at least we had a house. And they were going to make a movie any day now!
14. Anyway, volume 3 came out summer 06 and did ok, got a bit more press. I went back in my hole. In 2007 we moved to the US, right after i finished work on volume 4. That one came out too. Around that time the movie people finished a draft of the screenplay (the day before the big writer’s strike of 2007). I went back in my hole and did volume 5. It came out in february 2009 and was a pretty large success in indie terms.
15. In late 2008 and into 2009 I actually made money off of comics - see, each book comes out and people talk about it and some people heard about it for the first time so they go buy the first book, then if they like it they have to buy the other books. Doing a series adds up over time, if you can keep it up and stay semi-popular.
16. Then, as you know, they decided to finally make a movie.
There is no advice here, there’s no “breaking in” tips, that’s just how it happened for me. A little bit of talent, a lot of perseverance and hard work, a lot of luck.