I’ve been posting lots of comic advice and musings elsewhere such as on LinkedIn + Creativepool - so thought I’d repost these thoughts here.
I’ve commissioned a fair amount of art in my time. Some of it comic based, some just one-off pieces in a particular style for a particular brief. I know what I’m looking for and what I expect when I commission a project. In my side career as a comic writer, I’m often the first port of call in recommending an artist for an upcoming series. This could be anything from a single issue (20 pages) up to 8 issues across (256 pages). If you ever wanted to dabble in the world of comics, below is a little run down of the things I’d always be looking out for. (N.B. This isn’t a definitive list by any stretch of the imagination, just some pointers I tend to work to.)
1. A solid art style.
On the surface this may appear pretty obvious. However, consistency is a must. It’s important to make sure you can maintain your style as a series develops. In some cases, there will be a slight change of style as characters are committed to muscle memory and the flow eases as a story progresses. Watch your line weights, try to ink with the same level of detail and balance. Borders should also be the same thickness (unless weighted differently for a design reason). If you are struggling to ink your work evenly, consider working only on the pencils and letting a professional inker handle this aspect (there is no shame in splitting up the responsibilities). I also understand that artists are constantly developing their styles, just remember this shouldn’t happen midway through a story arc.
2. Master your art.
By this, I mean understand how to draw. Too often I’ve seen potential artists get everything right except the smallest detail, such as hands or feet. Although minor, these are critical details which need to be drawn correctly. Often these areas show up a weakness in an particular artist. My advice is: practise, practise and practise. Invest time in Life Drawing classes, make sure you understand anatomy, most comics will feature a man or a woman at some point (probably more often than not). A poor interpretation of the human form could be the difference between hiring or passing. The best artists I know are always sketching regardless of where they are.
3. Draw everything.
Okay, not exactly everything… but draw enough to convince me you can cope with complicated scenarios. Can you draw animals? What about cars? How are you with buildings? Spaceships? Orcs? What about a table with a bowl of fruit? A horse? What about a bike with a horse riding it while balancing a bowl of fruit? I’m not expecting you to cover all the bases, but I do expect to see enough in your work to reassure me you are comfortable with whatever a script throws at you.
4. Watch those angles.
Watch any film for five minutes and tell me how many different camera angles you spot. Two? Ten? Twenty? Whatever the number, you’ve got to be able to move the panel POV to match the script. A good artist can follow any given script and draw any given angle, a great artist can look at a script and suggest a better angle the writer hasn’t even thought of.
5. Practise layouts.
Word flow through a page is critical and an art in itself. Ensure your examples showcase your understanding of narrative flow as dialogue travels down the page.
6. Remember the Letterer!
A Letterer is a critical part of the team, they are going to be the one placing all the dialogue, onomatopoeia and narrative inside your drawings. Keep an eye on each panel to make sure you allow enough room for the Letterer to do their thing. Otherwise you may find that amazing drawing of the bike riding horse with the bowl of fruit obscured by a large, unexpected, word balloon.
7. Remember the Colourist!
Your colourist is your friend… Give them enough guidance with your work so they know what they you need them to do before they begin (this isn’t always needed, but I have found some artists like to give notes for additional details such as reflections etc). If you colour your own work, great, but make sure you can colour correctly. Don’t be offended if I get Colourist to do this for you - it might be because I have a tight deadline to hit and you’re going to need the help.
8. Deadlines are real.
Your work is a part of a larger publishing machine. You have a responsibility to ensure your creative output is delivered on time. This is something you’ll improve on with time, but do try to review the script and give a good guide to your page per week output. You can’t foresee complications like illness or incidents, but you do generally know if you are going on holiday one week before your pages are due. Ensure you keep an open and up-to-date dialogue with your writer/publishing team to keep things on track. There’s going to be a Letterer, Colourist, Editor, Publisher, Writer and Printer all waiting on your pages to follow a pre-planned schedule.
9. Be Professional.
Don’t bail halfway through a project just because you got a better deal from a bigger publisher. If you committed to a comic series and you are already working on it in good faith, at least do the right thing and finish that issue. If you have a contract for the entire series, then see that series through before starting another (unless you want a legal batte on your hands). Poor professional behaviour will stick with you regardless of who you work with.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Writers and Publishers aren’t your enemies. If something is bothering you or a deadline can’t be met, or you’re struggling for whatever reason, then say something. I’d always prefer to know as early as possible so I can adjust expectations, rather than giving bad news to a client at the 11th hour. Help is always available and there’s always a solution to every problem… if caught early enough.
I hope the above helps in some small way.
As ever, you can find me on Twitter @AndiEwington