Intro to Comic Craft: Step by Step: Environment In Roughs

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In comics, backgrounds are sometimes an afterthought to the characters.  It makes sense- if you're world is this world, and your time period is this time period, your readers will be able to fill in those blanks easily enough.  But what if your world is fantasy, or viewed from the perspective of an outsider?  Then environments are an important part of your story, and deserve the same attention you give your characters.

Think of your environment almost as you would your own characters.  Your evironments need to be developed and populated.  For 7" Kara, it's important that establish two different worlds- the world of Kara and other Lilliputians (mainly her parents), and the human world.  These worlds have to be distinct- while there can be some similarities, you need to know at a glance which world we're in.  I shift focus frequently in later chapters between a Lilliputian's eye view and a human eye view, and even both views have unique characteristics and set pieces that give the reader clues as to how the character sees that world.

For 7" Kara, I've had to design numerous environments- the yard (from a human perspective and a Lilliputian perspective- very different views and feelings!), the sheds (one of which contains and protects Kara's home), two dollhouses as inhabitable spaces (a wooden Victorian inspired dollhouse, and a modern plastic Barbie dreamhouse), and a human sized home (gigantic to Kara).

Designing Naomi's home proved an interesting and fun challenge.  The original house and yard are strongly based on the house my mother grew up in- a house her father designed in the early 50's.  I don't have access to photos of that house, and I lived in Savannah, GA at the time, so I relied heavily on Google Streetview for reference for the exterior, and heavily on my own memories of the house for the interior.

Of course, since this is set in modern times, I did need to renovate a little.  Naomi's room is a complete fabrication, as will be her father's bedroom and his home office.

Whenever I'm designing environments for comics, I set the comic in a place I'm familiar with, and have some personal attachment to.  The house in Foiled (link) and How to Meet a Martian is the house I spent my teenage years.

I highly recommend you don't wait to design your environments- its easiest to design them during the concept and planning phase of your comic creation.  I cover environmental and worldbuilding in some detail in my Intro to Comic Craft: Step by Step Brainstorming and Character development post.

If you are a writer, providing your artist ample reference is highly recommend.  There are a number of ways you can do this, but I've found setting up Pinterest boards specific to the project has been very helpful for me.

Here are my boards that are relevant to 7" Kara:

Character Driven
Kara Inspiration
Meldina Clothes
Kara Clothes
Male Lilliputian Clothes
Naomi Clothes

Environmental and World

Naomi's House
Naomi's Room

House Design (established in Chapter 1)

Referenced Images:

The house Naomi and her father live in is based on the house my mother grew up in- a house my grandfather designed.  The house is no longer in family hands, so I relied on Google Streetview for enough reference to design the house.  I will not share those images here, out of respect for the current owners.

Exterior Of House

When designing Naomi's home and yard, it needed to be the sort of environment that could support a Lilliputian family who refused to steal from humans to get by.  My grandfather was an agricultural major who dabbled in farming his entire life, and every property he owned was scattered with fruit bearing trees, gardens for vegetables, and edible flowers- so this seemed a very natural setting for Kara's family.

As it appears in the comic:

Floorplan Blueprint

Above are concept sketches of Naomi's house, the various sheds in the yard, and Kara's house.  The two houses in this story reflect two different worlds, and I took that into account when designing the houses, the interiors spaces, and the objects within.

For Kara, the yard is scary but exciting- a representation of the intimidating outside world that she's curious but not prepared for.  It's also where the majority of her food is grown- from the various trees around the yard to plants she and her mother cultivate.

For Naomi, the yard is fairly common place- it's just a backyard with grass, trees, and a couple old sheds.  Until she meets Kara, there isn't much of interest in the backyard.

For Pancake, the kitten, the yard is a place to explore and play- his domain.

Back Porch

The back porch is the middle ground between Kara's world and Naomi's world- the first taste of a world purely intended for humans.  The front porch is on steps (set apart from the yard, which Kara is somewhat familiar with) and concrete- an unnatural environment for a Lilliputian.

Back Yard

This is a shared space, and reflects two worlds- the world of Naomi, a Lilliputian, who sees the yard as a gigantic space that encompasses the majority of her needs, and the world of Naomi, a human girl, who sees the yard as just a greenspace.

As it appears in the comic

Kara's Dollhouse Home Vs. The Dollhouse Introduced in Chapter 7

Kara's Home:

  • Made of wooden and chipboard
  • Very lived in
  • Repurposed human objects for furniture, decoration
  • Objects are mainly utilitarian- for use and enjoyment
  • Although this was originally a toy for human children, Lilliputians have made it their own

As is, it is located in a shed, and protected from the worst of the elements- does not get directly rained on, is in the shade, out of the sweltering Louisiana sun, mostly protected from the damp.

Naomi's Barbie Dreamhouse:

  • Very plastic
  • Lots of open spaces- no protection from elements
  • Plastic, scaled furniture
  • Nothing actually works- all very fake
  • It looks like a home, but is not- nothing has been changed or customized
  • Clearly a toy

Interior of Naomi's House

Kitchen Design

Given Kara's scale, even the refrigerator is an environment in chapter 7.

Living Room/Dining Room Design

Before painting this page, both of these pages need to be pulled out to better show the environment.  Shot choice can be particularly important in determining how your reader views the environment in your story.

Hallway Design

Naomi's Room

When designing a bedroom for a 14 year old girl, it needs to reflect her character.  For Naomi, it needs to reflect a major upheavel (the move from New Orleans to a small rural Louisiana town on the other side of the Mississippi River), the looming move into the world of adulthood, her reluctance to leave childhood and safety behind.

Initial Room Design

The Room as it appears in the comic

Naomi Scale:

Kara Scale

So as you guys can see, Naomi's bedroom would be a different experience for a 7" tall person, and it's important that I capture that experience to some degree in this chapter (although I will have the opportunity to continue it in later chapters as well).  I need to show everyday objects in a new, exciting light, as Kara is encountering most of these things for the first time.

Setting Up Your Environment:


Commonly Used in 7" Kara:

1 Point

Bottom Panel

2 Point

 Top Panel, Second Panel

Top Panel
3 Point


Bottom two panels

How I Set Up Perspective Grids

Other Options for Setting Up Your Backgrounds and Perspective

Faking It:

Tips and Tricks for Setting Up Environments
  • High horizon line- shows mostly floor
  • Low horizon line- shows mostly sky
  • Draw your background tight in your thumbnails- it's easier to tighten up an existing background than to start from scratch
  • Blueline Sketching with a Non Photo Blue Pencil:

These roughs are enlarged copies of the thumbnails that have been converted to non photo blue and printed at draft quality.  This makes using a non photo blue pencil to refine details fairly easy- I can see what I drew, and I can see what I'm drawing, and the two aren't confusing.  Once I've tightened up my details, I finalize in graphite.

  • Draw Through Your Objects

Environments are a fairly dense topic, as well worth exploring as character design and story creation, and I hope that you will explore the links provided in this post, as they cover specific topics in depth.

I hoped you enjoyed this focus on environments during the rough creation process!  If you have any questions or requests, please feel free to email me using the form in the left hand sidebar.  I hope I've convinced you to try something new, or to rethink the place environments have in your panels.

Resources for Set Design/Settings

Creating Dynamic Backgrounds for Comics: Part 1: Drawing Thumbnails (outside resource, video)
Creating Dynamic Backgrounds for Comics: Part 2: Two-Point Perspective Images (outside resource, video)
Creating Dynamic Backgrounds for Comics: Part 3: Rules of Illusion (outside resource, video)
Creating Dynamic Backgrounds for Comics: Part 4: Implied Realism (outside resource, video)

Speaking of resources, if you make comics, you're going to want to check out Kabocha's Photoshop and Manga Studio Brushes:

Kabocha's brushes are free for personal, comic, and illustrative use, and I regularly use them myself!  There are loads of effects brushes, from rain to lace.  And if you enjoy Kabocha's brushes, please check out Linked, her webcomic.