I’m trying out this new personal recipe for writing a comic. I call it a recipe, as like a recipe there are many elements some borrowed, some mixed some new. The point of this recipe is to address the unique difficulties in writing comics as opposed to straight prose writing. When writing for comics the idea have to be put through many different transitions and work together as a whole, there’s the visual elements and how they set a scene and tell a story. There’s the dialogue in both what is said and how including facial expressions and body language. There’s the pacing of the story through panels, how many things are happening in one panel, the size of the panel, how many panels doe it take to express an idea. Then there’s the drawing style, the amount of details, the list goes on.

  1. Write out the story in point form. These are the major plot points or story elements. It’s important to get the sense of the story arc.
  2. Flesh out these main story points and add sub points, these are almost like the scenes that make up each plot point.
  3. Write out the sub points in small panels. Don’t’ pay attention to the size of panels or how they relate to each other, just get the story going and flowing out of you. The point is to take as much space as you need, don’t limit yourself you can always edit later. Read this back to yourself. Add or remove panels as needed, this is very important, if you don’t do this now then it creates headaches later when your story doesn’t work properly. You’re going to be putting a lot of effort into drawing this out later, make it count. Think about adding opening scenes and silent panels to help in pacing. When you are finished number each panel that will be in the story.
  4. Basic panel layout and composition. Map out the shape of panel shapes and how they fit into pages. How many tiers per page, 3, 4? This only has to be an iconic guide. Once you are done number each panel and match those numbers up to your panel in step 1This stage you can figure out how your story fits into the decided composition of the page. Subsequently, you might encounter problem with where the panels fall in this step. Again you want to figure this out here and not have to rule up new pages later when you realise something doesn’t work.
  5. Final thumbnails. Draw out the panels approximately 50-75% of the final art size. try to lock down composition, see if the story still flows, where does the eye move across the page? This is you chance to find faults, don’t be lazy if something sticks out, weed it, fix it. Keep the drawing simple but accurate, you want to find out here if something is going to be tricky to draw. You want to discover that here and not on the final artwork. You might need to open your sketchbook, figure out how a character actually looks on that angle, what does that background actually look like? This step may even require to adjust the panel layouts in step 2.
  6. Final art. This is it, the comic is pretty much decided for you but you still have to keep and open mind and the drawing fresh. You don’t want to just go through the motions but at the same time if you have done your planning right, you shouldn’t have too many surprises. Some small adjustments can be made here, slight deviations in text, changes in facial expression etc.
Over the years I have done variations and version of this, however I recently tried this with a 5 page comic and it seemed to really help refine the story and help it make sense on the page. This is probably the most planning I have ever done for a comic as i think you only need to employ more complicated method like this for longer work. When your just doing a few panels of 1-2 pages a t time all this stuff happens mostly by intuition. What does you process look like?