8 Biggest Mistakes Aspiring Comic Book Artists Make

This list was written by an editor from Image Comics with help from the incredibly talented Jim Lee. I honestly have searched for the editor’s name but can’t seem to find him anywhere. If anyone knows, please share it with me int he comments and I will give him full credit.

If you are trying to break into comics as an artist you must read this.

1. Not knowing how to draw. Seriously. If you don’t have a firm grasp on anatomy and perspective, or if you have no idea what a vanishing point is, you aren’t ready to draw a comic. Misshapen skulls, cars or trees tilted the wrong way on a street…these things matter. Do yourself a favor and take a life drawing class to get your anatomy down, and to work on facial expressions (very important!). See number 7 for more on facial expressions.

2. The camera angle is fixated on mid-shots. The best thing about comics is that your “camera” can go anywhere…and a good storyteller takes advantage of that. Upshots, downshots, between the leg shots, etc. Never ever set your camera on a tripod–let it fly! It makes the page more exciting even if it’s just two people talking to one another.

3. Bad page composition. A comics page has two composition problems–one is in each individual panel, the other is the page itself and how the panels work together on it. Like a painting, you want to keep the reader’s attention on the page and move them through it–you never want their eyes to veer off the page. Comics are read left to right, then down. That’s how you should always think of them when you’re laying a page out. Basically the page should be a Z. Shift a face in panel 2 so the character is looking TOWARD panel 3–this moves the reader in that direction, rather than off the page. In panel 3, place the character in their environment and have them looking DOWN toward panel 4–again, moving the reader’s eye. In the last panel, flop the character again, looking OFF the page–again, a subtle signal to the reader. You can’t ALWAYS make it work, but you should try.

4. The shot is too close to the character. Pull the camera back a bit and show us a bit of the house and the tree (for example)–this gives us a sense of place, tells us where the character is. What you’re looking for here is the ESTABLISHING SHOT–this tells us where in space the characters are–a room, a city street, etc. Once we have their spatial relation established we can go into close ups, two shots, etc.

5. Not knowing how to tell a story. Start off with a 6 panel grid. Once you grow accustomed to telling a story within those parameters, then branch out and try more dynamic layouts.

6. Not playing to your strengths. If you suck at drawing buildings, avoid drawing a book that takes place in a downtown metropolitan area! Your weaknesses are going to come shining through. If you suck at drawing buildings, cars, etc there are two things that will help: the first, of course, refers back to 1–learn how to draw from life, from observation—the second is to draw from reference books (or a morgue). All artists have reference books–learning how to use them saves a lot of time and makes for a more convincing environment. Here’s a list of Shadowline’s favorite recommendations: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO DRAWING FROM LIFE by George Bridgman–Bridgman taught Hogarth, Eisner and several other accredited masters of the form. His “blocking-and-wedging” theory is the simplest and most eloquent way to move a human body and draw it in perspective. His is, quite simply, the single best book on dynamic anatomy ever published. Everyone else stole from him. UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud delves into the underlying philosophy of construction and de-construction of comics and furthers ones understanding of the unique language of the medium. COMICS AND SEQUENTIAL ART by Will Eisner covers most of the storytelling philosophies explained above. The master explains both the how and the why of page and panel layout design and construction. McCloud’s new book, MAKING COMICS looks good as well, but we haven’t had time to review it yet.

7. Lack of facial expressions. Lots of artists have a mirror right on the front of their drawing board so that they can get the facial expressions down. And actually, this is a good clue as to why a lot of artist’s drawings tend to look like themselves. You might look silly making faces at yourself in the mirror, but it’s good practice.

8. Saying no to photo-references. Using photo-refs is perfectly legal…but you don’t want to trace. Traced photos look stiff and unconvincing.

1 Comment

  1. This information is golden. I would admit even though I’m a good artist, patience and perseverance is the key. To someone who is just starting out and wants to break into comics, most of the information here would seem overwhelming if followed without having patience. Practice makes perfect, and getting something right takes patience; practice, practice and practice.

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