Reader Question: What fundamentals do I need to know before I start drawing comics?

Recently, this excellent question came up in my Discord Server, The Paintbox:

What fundamentals do I need to know before I start drawing comics?

None.  Anyone can start drawing comics, and I encourage everyone to give it a try at least once!  If you can draw a smiley face and a stick figure, you can start drawing comics.  Just look at XKCD.  In fact, the sooner you start drawing comics, the sooner you can figure out where you need to improve, because this question is going to vary wildly based on the education and goals of the artist.  What an artist needs to get started is going to vary from artist to artist and from project to project.

However, let's say you want to draw a manga inspired longform comic that's going to be very character heavy, feature a lot of diversity, and is reliant on worldbuilding for story information.  For a project like this, I would recommend:

  • A strong understanding of various storytelling structures and ways to organize your story
  • An understanding of volumetric drawing
  • An understanding of human anatomy and a system to replicate it consistently
  • An understanding of facial anatomy
  • An understanding of atmospheric perspective as well as linear perspective
  • Thoughts on what style you wish to use and what direction you want the art to take
  • An end publication goal in mind- is it for print?  for web?  

And depending on whether you want to draw your comic using traditional materials, digital materials, or a combination of the two:

  • An understanding of the physical materials you're using and access to those materials
  • An understanding of the programs and hardware you're going to use, and access to those materials

And of course, do you want your finished comic to be black and white, or in color?

  • Understand light, shadow, and how to render textures
  • A working grasp of basic color theory

That's quite an undertaking, isn't it?  But don't be discouraged- you can often learn as you go, and there are a lot of free and affordable resources out there that will help you along your way!

I recommend you begin with a simple mini comic- aim for at least 8 pages.   I talk about this more in my post In Defense of the Minicomic.  Try to tell a complete, short story that would be understandable to people not familiar with your longform comic ideas.  Working on this comic is going to give you a great idea of where you should begin focusing your improvement first- what areas are MOST important to you.  I recommend you create this comic using the materials you want to use for your longform comic- this will give you an idea of how feasible those materials are for the project in mind.

Beginning a short comic project also gives you the opportunity to seek directed critique.  It's difficult to give curated advice without a product to judge and assess- creating a comic will give your peers a baseline to provide suggestions and further resources.

So once you know your weaknesses, how do you go about addressing them?

This blog is an excellent resource, full of great tutorials and suggestions!  I suggest you start with my Intro to Comic Craft hubpage.  If you're a video tutorial sort of person, I have an Intro to Comic Craft series on Youtube, as well as a Making Comics and Zines series.  And once you're ready for more, you can join us in The Paintbox!

There's also a wealth of great resources at your local library and on the internet!

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