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Learn to be a Comic Book Illustrator

Updated on January 9, 2013

From Illustrator to Comic Book Illustrator

This lens exists to help those who would like to learn to create comics. The books, links and videos recommended in this lens will develop an artist's ability to tell stories in comic book form.

I'm a working illustrator myself but have always wanted to do comics. In this page, I've collected the resources I've been using in pursuit of my goal to create comic books. You can check out the progress on my blog and judge for yourself the results of studying the resources on this page.

Inspiring Words from Jack Kirby

More Inspiration from the King of Comics

Jack Kirby Documentary

Part 1:

Learn the process

The first books you should read - Basic process and tools for creating comic books

These books provide a general overview of the process of creating comic books.

How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way
How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way

This books gives a crash course in making comics. This book is great for an overview or a review of how to make comics. While it shouldn't be skipped, all the subjects presented should be studied more in depth.

Joe Kubert's Comic Book Studio: Everything You Need To Make Your Own Comic Book
Joe Kubert's Comic Book Studio: Everything You Need To Make Your Own Comic Book

This book is great to give an overview of the process of making comics. It's a quick read that is fun an easy to digest.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Scott McCloud breaks down comic book theories in detail. Far from being a quick read, this is a book made for its lessons sink in over a longer period of time.

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels
Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels

This is Scott McCloud's second book on making comics and is another in-depth discourse on the subject. It gets talked about less, but I enjoyed this even more than Understanding Comics.


Drawing Comics The Marvel Way

12 part video based on the classic book. Note that there are better, more thorough resources listed in my illustration lens for learning figure drawing, and perspective. Still, this provides a good overview of the process and at least identifies the things you'll want to study and work on.

Part 2:

Learn about storytelling

Storytelling from the Writer's Perspective

Writing for Comics with Peter David
Writing for Comics with Peter David

Peter David headed one of my all-time favorite writing efforts when he did his run on the Hulk. In this book, he breaks down the writing process so that even a humble artist like me can understand.

Alan Moore's Writing For Comics Volume 1
Alan Moore's Writing For Comics Volume 1

I used not to pay attention to the writers of comics (I'm an artist after all) until I started to notice that all my favorite comics were written by a handful of the same people. One of my favorite writers was Peter David, and another was Alan Moore. In this short, easy to read volume, Alan Moore breaks down his approach to writing. Even a seasoned writer is bound to glean one or two indispensable takeaways from this book.


Advice from the Pros

The best tool we have is the one Eisner loved: the page turn. Think of the two pages on an open comic as a single piece. Set up a question in the last panel of the two page spread and don't answer it until the next pair of pages. You can create a cliffhanger every two pages. -- Gene Ha

Advice from Alan Moore

Storytelling from the Artist's Perspective

Wizard How to Draw: Storytelling (The Best of Wizard Basic Training)
Wizard How to Draw: Storytelling (The Best of Wizard Basic Training)

This book is a collection of columns originally published in Wizard magazine by comic book artists discussing various tricks of the trade.

Comics & Sequential Art
Comics & Sequential Art

Will Eisner is the godfather of comics and an early mentor of Jack Kirby. His approach to drawing comics was groundbreaking in its day yet is still relevant today.

Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative
Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative

Did I mention Will Eisner was the godfather of comics? We should study everything this creator had to say on the subject, so don't pass up the opportunity to learn from a master.


Part 3:

Learn Technique

Drawing Process

Step One: Create rough concept at about 3 x 5 inches.

Step Two: Blow up rough and use a light box to create a refined drawing on 11 x 17 inch paper.

Step Three: Ink artwork.

The rough stage doesn't take very long. I drew this rough at about 3 by 5 inches. In this case, I blew it up in Photoshop and printed it out one 11 x 17 inch paper. Since I was doing tight pencils and not inks, I put it on the light box and did a tight rendering using a 4H pencil, which is pretty hard and doesn't smear. The last step is inking the 11 x 17 inch pencil drawing.

Creator Tip: Try Working Small

A breakthrough that has allowed me to progress quickly is that I've started doing my roughs very small. It allows me to work through the story telling aspects quickly and solve the big perspective and composition problems without getting bogged down in detail.

Books to Learn Technique

There are many different techniques and styles to choose from. Comics can be realisticly drawn, cartoony, gritty, etc.

What style you end up with is up to you. Below are but a few of the options on either end of the spectrum.

Part 4:

Additional Resources

Review of Comics Experience Class - By Gannon Beck

Who is your favorite teacher?

I’ve never had an answer to this question. Early on I wanted to study illustration, but few opportunities were offered in my academic sphere. I’ve always been able to learn more through books than through the teachers I encountered.

That was before I signed up for Introduction to Comic Book Art at Comics Experience, taught by Robert Atkins. Robert is an amazing illustrator who has worked on titles for Marvel, DC and IDW. Incidentally, his teaching is on par with his art.

The class Robert taught spanned over six sessions. During that time, the students worked to create four pages (one cover and three pages of sequentials). We built the pages up from roughs, then to breakdowns, then to final pencils -- all the while getting critiques on how to make our pages better.

Robert has the uncanny ability to make artists feel good about what they have produced even while covering their art in corrections.

During class time, Robert critiqued artwork in Photoshop (which we could see in our browser) and made corrections to the artwork by flipping panels, enlarging, adding, or deleting parts to improve the art turned in. At the end of a critique, rather than feel bad that I didn’t do the art better, I felt invigorated to have new artistic weapons in my arsenal. As a result of Robert’s instruction, I left every class a better artist.

I improved a great deal during the class and enjoyed it the whole way. The other artists that participated in the class seemed to have had a similar experience. It was great at the end to see everyone’s pages and how much we all improved.

I don’t consider myself a great artist yet, but I feel that I’ve been firmly placed on the path to become one. That’s what a great teacher does. Now, if anyone asks me who my favorite teacher is I can tell them: It’s Robert Atkins.


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