Hello and welcome to this week’s installment of creating your own comics 101 which will cover the basic steps needed to assemble your creative team. As a rule of thumb, the majority of teams are either set up by a writer or an artist. These are the two ground members of the team and a comic can be taken to almost completion by just these two people. Other members such as colorist and letterers, although no less important, are often brought in later in the process. A good place to start as any will be to talk about what team members generally work on making a comic and what their responsibilities are.
The writer is primarily responsible for writing and correctly formatting the comic book script. In the majority of cases this will be a story that the writer has come up with as an original work. This will include character descriptions and bios, the narrative and the concept. See my article on comic book scripting for more information. As a writer you may also have to write a script based on a story and concept by somebody else. The principal is the same and will test the skill of the writer.
The artist will traditionally be responsible for creating the artwork for the comic. In most cases this will involve pencils and inks. It is rare nowadays to need a standalone inker. It is more common in “professional” comic production. Many artists also now work in a 100% digital capacity. Many of these artists have coloring and Photoshop skills and can deliver an entire artwork package.
If your book is going to be color, you will need a colorist. A good colorist can make a huge difference on the artwork of the book and it’s still worth investing in one for greyscale shading if your book is black and white. As a colorist is an optional extra or auxiliary member of a creative team, most are simply freelance and can be employed from word of mouth, social networks and comic book creating forums.
The letterer has a more involved job that some people think. On smaller indie and creator owned comics, the letterer will edit the script, letter the comic and prepare all pages for the final printing. A good letterer can make a massive impact on a book and a bad one can ruin a good book. Always use a recommended professional and don’t scrimp, it will show. Once again, you can find letterers from word of mouth, social networks and comic book creating forums.
So now we have covered what each member of the team does, it’s time to talk about how you fill each slot! This is the most difficult step in the process of making comics and no working relationship should be rushed into. There should be a courting phase where samples are exchanged and working practices are agreed. There are so many different options that it would be impossible to list them all. No two comic teams are assembled the same way so I will just use one example from a writer’s point of view looking for an artist as this is the most common scenario.
OK, so you are a writer and have a working first draft of a script right? If not, get working on your script before you approach an artist. It is premature to have an artist attached to a project before you have a working script. You will most likely find it difficult to find an artist willing to commit to the project without a script as this is what the artist will use to judge your writing skills and the worth of the project. There are thousands of artists working in the comic industry. They vary in skills, styles and page rates to a staggering degree. There are a few steps you can take to make things easier to narrow down your search.
- Make sure the artist you want to work with is proficient in the style you are looking for. For example, it is not much use to choose an artist that is an expert in Manga if you want to produce a western style comic.
- Determine your budget and timescale. There are artists working for free right up to $300 a page plus. You need to ensure that you can afford to pay your artist for all the pages you need so things don’t fall apart half way through when you run out of money.
- Ask your artist for sequential samples. There are some great artists out there that can draw amazing pinups and concept art, sadly when it comes to sequential artwork, they just don’t have it. Before jumping straight into the book pages, start with some character designs. This will give you a feel for the artist’s style and take on your characters.
- Lastly, if in any kind of doubt, go with your gut. If something feels wrong, it probably is. There will be many more opportunities to work with someone and it’s better to walk away in the early stages than once production has started. Much time, money and frustration could be saved by simply using an artist based on recommendations from others that have used them. Still adhere to the above steps however.
Lastly, the sordid topic of coin. If you are new to dealing with creating comics you need to be careful when the subject of money is discussed. You need to pay for the work you commission, however, do not over expose yourself and pay your budget in advance. A good deal would be to agree on a page rate and then work in batches of pages. Around five pages at a time is a sensible and a manageable start. I would advise paying half of the batch rate in advance and the remainder on completion. You should also keep in mind that at this level of the industry, things change all the time. People may have creative differences or circumstances that force them to withdraw from a project. While this may be frustrating, remember to be professional at all times. If things turn sour, regroup, pull yourself together and if you believe in your project, don’t give up.
Remember to read next week’s “creating your own comics 101” which will cover artwork.