So You Want to Be a Comic Artist?
Learn To Draw The Marvel Way…
Whether it’s a web comic, comic book, or graphic novel, the artists of the comic world have a variety of roles within a comic’s creation, and all of them are pretty fantastic.
What Do Comic Artists Do?
Some of the roles artists within the world of comics may take on:
- Penciler: The artwork inside (and often on the cover) of comic books is done primarily by the penciler. It’s their work that sets the style and design of the comic, and it’s often what readers connect with most aside from the writing itself (of course).
- Inker: Whether working traditionally or digitally, inkers need a steady hand and good grasp of light and shadow. They’re more than just tracing the pencil lines: they’re defining the work and bringing it a bit closer to life.
- Colorist: They work with the penciler and inker to kick the artwork into glorious Technicolor. Keen color theory skills, rendering skills, and an eye for design are the name of the game for colorists.
- Letterer: A letterer is usually a graphic designer who’s contributing to the layout of the writer’s copy.
- Creator / Writer: Not all comics have multiple artists working on them, and some have artists in multiple roles. This includes creators and writers. Many well-loved web comics, for instance, are run by a single person, only involving others in marketing or sales.
- Cover Artist: Much like being an illustrator for book covers, doing cover art for comics is a pretty exciting role, since your work will be seen by consumers first in a comic book store and may entice them to open it on up or purchase. Similar to the comic itself, it may be a collaborative effort of the artistic roles listed above.
- And More… So many other roles, including product designer, layout designer, marketer, salesperson, and on and on and on. As with other print media and products, artists often find themselves wearing all sorts of hats in order to get an idea to the page and then to the consumer.
What Kind of Comics Are There?
What do you think of when you think about comics? Books? Novels? Web comics? Comic strips in a newspaper? The list is pretty long for types of comics and places to read and enjoy them. Walk into a book store and you have walls filled with monthly comics, graphic novels, manga, and compilations of Sunday morning funnies previously printed in newspapers around the country (and in some cases, the world).
Most often printed in a vertical orientation (7 inches by 10 inches), the western comic book comes out monthly from publishers like DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse. They feature everything from well-loved super heroes and heroines to funny little stories about a kid and his dog in a rainbow candy land.
Artists working for comic books for major and independent publishers often do so in a collaborative manner. Pencilers may work on a title or two, depending on the publisher and their need for consistency from issue to issue. Colorists, letterers, and inkers, however, may work on more than one title or not be bound to a single comic and work with multiple publishers or teams.
When working in a collaborative manner, it’s important everyone involved is punctual and works quickly in order to meet deadlines together, as a team. One weak link in that chain, and an issue may be behind the publishing schedule. The same goes for our next subject, graphic novels.
For the purposes of this article, let’s say that by graphic novels we don’t mean compilations of monthly issues. We mean books created as a graphic novel from the get-go, often as a contained story or serialized story done similar to a regular novel. It’s intended to be consumed as a book and not chapter by chapter.
Artists may contribute collaboratively, or work with a publisher to get their own story and creations out into the world. Like other book deals, artists may need to pitch their work to the publisher or be approached by the publisher in order to see their work reach the shelves. Some artists have agents that help them with such tasks, while others take their pitch to art directors or editors at a publisher directly.
Regardless of how an artist or creator gets their deal with a publisher or creates their novel, they need to be self-motivated, good with deadlines, and be on the ball with creating their artwork and story so it’s able to go from idea to completed product in a timely manner, likely set by the publisher or within the deal itself.
Often self-produced, web comics have the most freedom, not being print media, being the most cost effective, and having a different type of deadline. Some are done in a chapter-by-chapter or page-by-page style, while others are similar to the comics found in newspapers and are published online strip-by-strip. Depending on the creator, they may update weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly.
Interestingly, there’s an assortment of platforms for creators to publish their work: their own domain, Tumblr, WordPress, or even websites that serve as a comic portal. Sometimes those comic portals simply link to the content, while others employ the comic creators as contract workers, giving them a place to publish their work on a weekly or monthly basis and working together in marketing and distribution.
Quite fantastically these days, many professional comic artists began with their own small web comic, learning the ins and outs of graphic story telling, and graduated to working with publishers and other clients.
All of these above may lead to self-published works. Whether they’re a compilation of web comics, graphic novels, or comic books, artists may work with various publishers, large corporations or independent companies to print and distribute their work.
Alternatively, they may crowd-source the funding to print a book, working with printers directly and doing the marketing and distribution themselves, or even fund the whole process themselves. In the case of self-published works, those involved may have to work with various retailers, often small comic and book shops, to sell their work either wholesale or on consignment, depending on how the shop functions and works with their suppliers.
There are always other types of content to be created beyond what I can list in an article like this. I chose the above categories based on the artists and creators I interviewed.
Whatever you may want to do, the first step is to get drawing and or writing. Creating stories starts with whatever is in your head, and there’s no way you can work for fantastic companies like Marvel or find your graphic novel on the shelves of your local comic shop without putting the proverbial pencil to paper.
What’s It Like Collaborating?
Organization is key. If you’re working with a publisher, other writers, and/or other artists, you’d receive a script (or the pencils, inked work, or layout briefs) and run through whatever notes and instructions you’re given, often by email.
Pencilers run through thumbnails first. There can be a lot of back and forth to make sure everyone’s literally and figuratively on the same page. Inkers typically get to inking pages, traditionally or digitally, and colorists discuss color palettes or work from various notes and emails to bring comic pages to life.
A good deal of comics are done digitally these days, much like most illustration and design work. There are and will always be exceptions to this, but being able to create collaboratively in a medium that easily transfers from person to person has made it possible to create comics remotely where members of a team may not be in the same city or even country, but they all work together wonderfully because our current technology allows for it.
Collaborating takes organization on everyone’s part as well as drive and motivation to work together and tell a fantastic story.
How Do Web Comics and Self-Published Artists Promote Their Work?
Social media is huge for artists promoting their work. Every time a comic updates you can expect a tweet, Facebook post, image previews on Instagram, and more. If the artist’s comic is a part of a larger website or if they have a marketing team or person working with them, they may be able to reach a different, established audience versus the one that specifically follows them and their work (which would allow their own reader and follower count to grow).
The aim for self-promotion is not only to get more people reading their work, but also to support the comic and related media in some way. For some that may include buying a hard copy of their comic book, or maybe purchasing a t-shirt or mug with their favorite comic panel or character emblazoned on it.
Additionally, some artists might purchase ad space on related websites, with blogs, or through various publications that would garner an audience from similar media. Like many businesses, some use promoted media (paid-for ads) through social media like Facebook, Tumblr, and more. The downside of these, however, is they’re not as targeted to a consumer as ad space in the back of a comic, magazine, or in a comic shop would be.
What Sort of Merchandise or Products Relate to Comics?
Aside from print media, which tend to be the main merchandise any comic creator would want to create, apparel, accessories, and home goods tend to be the most produced—things like t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, bags, and more.
Whether artists and creators license their work to another company to manufacture and distribute their work or create their products themselves is up to them. Products like these are something to bring, in addition to copies of the comics themselves, to conventions and other events that they may do in order to promote their work.
Web shops linked within a comic’s site are also very common. Some produce all of their work with a third-party shop and printer like RedBubble or Society6, while others go the self-produced route and create a shop on Etsy or through something like BigCartel.
What About Other Revenue?
Aside from products and merchandise, there are other ways to gain revenue from a comic. Firstly, there’s the support of a publisher. If you’re an artist creating comic covers, you’re paid for it outright. The same goes for working for companies like IDW, Marvel, and more, doing pencils, coloring, inking, etc. If you have a book deal with a publisher, your revenue would be subject to the terms of your contract and varies from company to company.
For self-published creators and artists, you’d be selling your artwork, products (the comics themselves) and anything else mentioned in the previous section. Additionally, you might use advertising on your website to support yourself.
The same goes for web comics. They’re self-published, though not necessarily something that will appear in print form. That said, ad space (as discussed in the self-promotion section) as well as ad space on their own website to generate revenue may be used in addition to having a small online shop.
Finally, some artists work with websites that have pay walls for most of their comic content. Depending on the website, said paywall may contribute to a monthly fee they’re paid, or they may have a deal for revenue sharing with the website themselves.
The experience of comic artists may vary, but the desire to tell stories in a visual form is what unites all of them, regardless of their role or the story’s length.
As in other art fields, organization, punctuality, and development of skill are all major keys in making it as a comic artist. No one can predict whether their stories will want to be read or if a web comic will be popular and gain the following you’d need for it to be a full-time job, but if you love creating content like this then the work will be well worth it.
The artists I interviewed above had so much to say about their experiences working with publishers, writers, other artists, and creating their own comics. While I couldn’t include every anecdote and bit of information they sent to me, I hope their words and the information I’ve written above are something you find to be informative and inspirational.
Do you have a love for comic books? Do you ever wonder if you have what it takes to create the next superhero comic? Regardless of if you think you can draw or not, join us for our INTRO TO COMIC BOOK DRAWING WORKSHOP! This 4 weeks-once a week, workshop teaches students how to create hand drawn and digital comics designed in the Marvel style. With interactive instruction on technique, software, terminology, and more, this workshop is perfect for teens and adults of all drawing skill levels! Ages 10+
Learn how to draw in the Marvel style of comics
Be mentored by Art Academy students.
Participate in an exhibit showcase – students will have the opportunity to win scholarship to Computer Visual Drawing
And much, much more!