Shut Up And Put Out Yer
(...with apologies to Frank Zappa)
by Mike Luoma
Got a comic book in you? This column aims to tell you step-by-step how to put your book out. No BS... and no more excuses. Just pragmatic knowledge and links to resources (free whenever possible) so you can create a comic book of your own that people can read online and hold in their hands. Everything you need, save for your initiative, creativity, belief, your time and your money.
All the tools and collaborators you need are online – everyone can now produce a comic book. And it seems as if everyone IS. So it's going to require a lot of time and effort on your part to produce a credible comic book that stands out from a pack that's large and growing larger. Don't shortcut your way through the process. If you're trying to prove yourself as a writer, a book of your own is your comic book resume. Why not put in the time to make it your best? You've really gotta want to do this, even though sometimes it'll seem hopeless, stupid and won't make you any money. In fact, first time around it will cost you money. Second and third time probably, too.
This is necessarily a writer-centric piece because it's what I know. If you're a would-be artist, letterer, editor or producer you'll hopefully get something from this column, too. I'll be touching briefly on all these subjects – as a writer I've found myself learning aspects of those jobs in order to get my books out. On the economic side, the more jobs you can do yourself, the less the process will cost you. On the process side, it's important to know what it takes to get a book out. I'm still trying to learn as much of each facet as I can. Some of my knowledge is rudimentary, but I'm happy to share it.
I'm assuming you own a computer if you're reading this. You're going to be sending big files back and forth, so a high speed internet connection is helpful. I also recommend getting a scanner. Even if you're not an artist, you can use it to send concept sketches to your artists. You can also scan and send contracts and such. It's a good investment.
There are expenses involved in producing your own comic book, best looked at as investments in your future creating comics. Writers will have to pay an artist or artists to create pages for projects, for example. There are a lot of people writing comic scripts – every fanboy on the internet is pretty sure he can write a comic book (hell, I think I can...)! But not everyone can do consistent, quality sequential ART in a timely fashion.
Quality artists charge for their work. This insures that they only deal with writers who are “serious”. If you're serious as a writer, you should be willing to pay your artist collaborators, even those you share the IP with, especially your first few times out. (you may be able to find speculative collaborators later). Word to the wise? Try to find an artist who does finished art – pencils, inks and colors together – so that you keep your costs down and learn to work with one collaborator before you try to shepherd a team. What can you expect to pay if you're a writer? Minimum wage for a pencilist, for example, figures out to about $60 a page. If you're looking for an artist to work for hire, that's your starting point. Artists may be willing to adjust that rate dependent upon the percentage of the intellectual property the writer is willing to share with them. That said, we're getting ahead of ourselves. You're not ready to look for an artist yet. Just important to be realistic and keep costs in mind.
You have a concept for a book (right?). If you're old-fashioned like me get yourself a physical notebook – or set aside a folder on your PC or device for developing the concept – and give it a working title. Create a doc, write the idea down, save it. Put the name on something and put your germ of an idea inside. Make it real. This is all about making the intangible real.
You're going to write a comic script, but first it's time to read. I'm passing along what I know in the fine tradition of some much wiser folks who have taught me a great deal in their books. You may have already read the following books. If not, let me recommend them. (In the interest of full disclosure, I made the book links using my Amazon Associates account, so if you click through and buy them I make a little money).
Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics is essential reading, a mind-blowing peeling away of the layers of concepts and ideas loaded into sequential art presented in graphic form. If any book comes close to a magician's handbook for comics, it's McCloud's. Speaking of magicians, Alan Moore's Writing For Comics is not very long, but it does give you a glimpse at the approach of a master comic book storyteller, a peek at his process – not bad for around six bucks! For the nuts and bolts of getting your script together and excellent technical advice on comic book scriptwriting, you can't beat Dennis O'Neil's The DC Comics' Guide to Writing Comics. Plotting, pacing, page and book structures, rising action – O'Neil goes into welcome detail, making this an essential guide for new writers.
You should also spend some time reading comic book scripts. Thanks to Absolute Editions, Director's Cuts and other repackagings, you can read the scripts of some of the greatest comic books ever written. You can also find comic book scripts on line where you can read them for free. As you read the pros' scripts, note dialogue styles, script format, descriptions – try to soak up as much as you can.
Writing the Script
O'Neil's book offers a look at the DC script format and a couple of other formats. Many writers collaborating over the internet follow the formatting Dark Horse offers in their submission guidelines for writers. Dark Horse goes the extra step and offers the format as a downloadable doc: Word / PDF. Cool of them. Follow their template for your script and most artists will be able to follow your instructions.
The usual convention is 22 comic book pages per issue. You can get away with 24 or more, but 22 is the conventional issue length. Your script for those illustrated pages will usually be longer in text pages (in script format).
Read the books above to learn how to script your comic. A few quick tips? Writing dialogue, you write in the voices of your characters. That's a given. But your descriptions of each panel should be in YOUR voice. Your panel descriptions are one-way conversations with your artist, whoever they will be. Talk to them, and do your best to describe everything they need to see to tell the story. If you have to give away the ending so that the art is correct in the first panel, do it. Don't surprise your artist. And always remember you are describing static action, not movement. Movement is implied between the frames (read the books!).
Free Image Programs
Before you start working with an artist, get yourself a couple of free image programs so you can work with their images. If you can afford to pick up Adobe's Creative Suite with Illustrator and Photoshop, well... that's cool. Can't justify that on my tight little budget. Luckily there are people out there creating freeware that works. You can layout your book using free programs.
I've found a couple of programs I like. Sometimes they freeze up, but for the most part they function well. Some people prefer GIMP, but I like PhotoFiltre for my basic image manipulation needs. PhotoFiltre makes it easy to resize images and contains many basic image manipulation features that emulate a simplified Photoshop. It handles several image types, also important. While you're downloading programs, get a copy of InkScape, the free vector graphics editor used for lettering and other important stuff.
Take the time to teach yourself how to use the programs. There are on-line tutorials. PhotoFiltre's are HERE. Inkscape's are HERE. Learn the difference between JPGs, TIFFs, PNGs and other image file types. Find out what “layers” are, and how to use them to overlay text on images. Know what pixels are, and that 300dpi gives you print level quality, but 100dpi is fine for online, 72dpi even, though I think that size makes comic style lettering a little hard to read. In pre production you'l be able to use PhotoFiltre if you need to clean up panel borders and whitespace on your pages, for example. InkScape is your tool for lettering pages or creating the text and graphics for your cover and inside cover pages.
Your script is completed. You've got rudimentary knowledge of digital images and the programs to work with them. You're ready to look for an artist.
Finding an Artist
You can find artists through social networks and through online comic book bulletin boards. Even on the broad-based social sites – Facebook, Twitter... join up, search “comic book” or “artist” and start making friends. There are sites just for artists and comic book folks: ComicSpace and DeviantArt. But the best source may be the many online bulletin boards devoted to comic books.
With any of these sites, you shouldn't really just show up and start asking for artists. Spend some time and get to know people first. Hang out after you've found your artist, too. Find a couple boards you like and participate in the discussions there. Make friends and future allies, and become a part of the community. Try and find a board devoted to your favorite comic book and see if they have a help wanted type section. Post there after you've participated for a bit.
I've found Digital Webbing's “Talent Engine” Creator Community good for finding artist collaborators. They have separate collaborator free and paid sections. Post a tease of your concept and your contact information – make your case and hope for responses.
Negotiate your terms with your artist ahead of time. Usually you pay your artists some money up front. They deliver low res images to you as you work on the book. When they finish, you pay the balance and they send the high res files you need to produce the book. Be clear and up front in your communication. If you're working with someone elsewhere, be sure you can get them their money. You may be able to use PayPal; you may have to use Western Union, both will add to your costs. The early installments of my column cover the process of working with an artist in detail. Check them out for more on working with an artist (http://www.cosmicbooknews.com/mlmakingup).
After working with your artist you should have 23 images – 22 pages and a cover* – at 300dpi. I like to work with 7 x 10.5 inch TIF images at 300dpi (TIFF: Tagged Image File Format). You'll want the files in this size and format for a later step. Do any clean up now, prior to lettering: blackening panel borders, cleaning up white space, etc. PhotoFiltre is flexible enough that you can change whitespace to black or other colors if you want, for example. You won't paint a masterpiece with it, but the brushes, tools and filters are fine for finishing the page. Be sure to save your work as you go along.
*Note: You are going to have two extra pages if you print with Ka-Blam, which is what I'm recommending here. They print in increments of four: 20, 24, 28, 32, etc. You'll need to create two more pages. You can do this using PhotoFiltre to create a new TIFF document. Then you'll use InkScape to add text and images. Suggestions? Create a page that promotes your website, and/or one that features promotional art from the process. You can, of course, do two additional story pages.
If you're employing a letterer, you should at least consider lettering and laying out your inside front and inside back pages for your print version on your own using InkScape. Use your inside front page for credits or an introduction. Use your back page for promotion. What to include? Pick up some of your favorite comics and follow their lead. Smaller presses are better guides for self publishers. I like “Godland”'s inside front page, for example. You can fool around with the pages while you wait for lettered files to come back.
Two choices here. You can hire a letterer or get ambitious and try to do it yourself. I've hired letterers in the past. Now I'm teaching myself. I like using InkScape. You can get helpful advice on lettering from ComiCraft and advice and free fonts for independent self publishers at Blambot. I also found this little tutorial helpful: Inkscape Web Comic Tutorial: The Speech Balloon. Or you can hire a letterer – use the same boards you used to find an artist. After lettering, have the letterer send back or export your lettered files the same size, 7 x 10.5 inch images at 300dpi in TIFF Format. If the letterer is good, get them to letter the cover, too (somebody is going to have to do it). Place all of these files in one folder named after your comic.
Get the files ready for web publication. Start a new folder for postable sized files. Open your files in PhotoFiltre. Change the image size to 100dpi and 6 x 9 inches. Save the new sized version as a JPEG file in your new folder. Do this for all your image/page files. You'll be using putting your 6x9 files up on DrunkDuck.com for your webcomic version. Drunk Duck offers free webcomic hosting. They also let you release your pages on your schedule. We'll load up the webcomic after we get the print version rolling.
Your Print Copy
files are already the correct
format and size to be printed by Ka-Blam. Now name them according
Ka-Blam's conventions. As they say on
their site: “Just name your files in
order in which they will appear in the printed book. For example
cover files would be -- frontcover.tif, insidefront.tif,
insideback.tif, and backcover.tif. The first page of the comic
be page01.tif. The second page is page02.tif, etc.” You'll want
them all in a single folder you'll then zip up and upload to them.
Follow the instructions here:
You're going to need to format seven files for promo images on your book's Indy Planet page, your cover and the first six pages. Open the 7 x 10.5 TIFF files in PhotoFiltre, choose Image Size and change the size in pixels to 500 x 750 (approx) at 72dpi. Save the seven files in a separate folder marked IndyPlanet or something like that.
When you get the IndyPlanet.com email, follow the links. Give them the go ahead to list your book and decide on a price point. Both are up to you. Follow the instructions to upload your promo images. It's kind of a pain in the ass to have to reformat the images again, but the page looks nice. Here's the Indy Planet page for my Panthea Obscura: Deifornication: http://www.indyplanet.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=2219
Your Web Comic
Visit http://www.drunkduck.com/ and look around. Sign up for an account. On your account page, click on the button on the lower right: “Create A New Comic”. Give it a name, tell them what the appropriate age level is and you'll soon be ready to add pages. Follow the instructions to add as few as one page at a time or as many as ten. You set a release date for each page.
How you release your pages is up to you. I recommend making your cover and inside front page available immediately, and then set your pages to come out twice a week. You can add a description to each page as you post it. Try to be conversational and relate to the posted page – but also include links to your site and the Indy Planet page for your comic. You can load up your entire issue in one sitting, setting the pages to come out as you want them, daily, bi-weekly, whatever you desire.
You've hopefully been hanging around and making friends on those comic book bulletin boards I mentioned earlier. Most of them have places for you to “Pimp” your wares. Take advantage of these when your book is ready. Post about your new release once you have a web comic address with Drunk Duck and an Indy Planet page for it. Don't be obnoxious. And don't expect much response if you're just showing up to shill your book without having been a participating member of the community. This why I stressed making friends and allies and participating in the community earlier.
That's it, in a nutshell: How to put out your comic book.
a big nutshell. And even
though I've tried to explain things as thoroughly as I can, there
probably some gaps that are obvious to me but may not be to you.
feel free to ask any questions by emailing me at
I'll answer whatever I can. So... no more excuses. Get to work!
like to find out more about my
books and stuff , just hit my web site: http://glowinthedarkradio.com.
One post script:
I hope this column serves as a
resource to you, Dirk Manning and his column “Write Or
Wrong” have served as an indispensable resource to me
over the last couple of year. His columns are collected in his
book Write or Wrong - find it at Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/Write-Wrong-Writers-Creating-Comics/dp/098574930X/