If you’ve even wanted to draw your own comics, now is the perfect time to start. While sharing your comic online is easier than ever, drawing a quality comic takes a lot of hard work, planning, and most importantly practice. Through this tutorial, you’ll learn how to draw comics, from the conceptual stages all the way to the finished product, as well as learning what materials you’ll need for every step of the way. As an artist who enjoys character design and illustration, creating comics has always been a great way to test out character designs and expressions before settling on a final design.
What You’ll Need
When starting your own comic, you’ll need to pick up some materials. Obviously you’ll need something to draw with, though a lot of the materials on this list might not be things people immediately think of when they think of drawing comics. Before you even get to the drawing stages, you’ll want to have a notebook or sketch pad for notes and planning. It doesn’t have to be big, a simple 6×8 notebook or 8×11 should do the trick. This is going to be where you’ll jot down story notes, write down character ideas and do most of your planning before moving on to drawing physical character designs.
Once you have that, the rest of the materials depend on what you’re comfortable with. Many artists work with a mix of materials when creating comics or designs (I myself use a combination of pen and pencil along with digital software like Gimp or Photoshop depending on the design). If you’ve never really worked with drawing or making any kind of art, I’d recommend starting off with pencils along with one other set from the list below to experiment a little.
Pencil sketching is one of the easiest and most forgiving mediums for drawing comics for beginners. The ability to erase and correct your drawings, as well as being able to draw pre-lines to help with proportion and structure before adding more detail later, are essential tools for both novice and master artists alike. If you don’t already have, pick up the following from your local art supply store even if you’re looking to work in another medium as well.
- Sketch Books (preferably spiral or with perforated pages)
- Set of Drawing Pencils (ranging from 6B-6H)
- Rubber eraser and kneaded eraser
- Blending or smudge sticks
- Pencil Sharpener
- Rulers and/or T-squares
- Colored Pencils (optional)
- Fine tooth surface grabs dry media and stands up to repeated erasures and reworking
- Heavy chipboard backing
Charcoal isn’t traditionally used much in regards to comics, but it can create a great sense of contrast and help in making some bold and eye-catching backgrounds for your characters to inhabit. Before you dive in to charcoal though, just know that it can be as messy as it is gratifying, and your hands will likely be covered in black by the time you’re done. If you’re looking to get into charcoal and don’t mind a little mess, be sure to grab the following:
- Charcoal sticks
- White charcoal sticks
- Charcoal paper (preferably white, but also comes in grey and black)
- Smudge sticks
- Charcoal Spray Adhesive
- Kneaded Eraser
- Drop cloth (to help contain the mess)
- Professional art pencil set
- 40 total pieces, including graphite, charcoal and pastel pencils
I personally was never a fan of paints, more due to my painting style being too impressionistic to really get the clean lines and neat structure to match my character designs. Though, just because it doesn’t work well for me doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for your personal style.
There are a variety of paints that all act differently, and have their own qualities to them. Water-based paints can give you bold colors or an opaque watercolor feel, while oil-based paints tend to have a thicker appearance and are easier to layer without the colors bleeding together and mixing. The other issue with paints is that they can get expensive… very expensive.
If you already have paint tubes at home it might be worth starting with to play around, otherwise, you should learn the basics of character design and comic drawing first and then move on to using paints for colorizing your work once you feel comfortable with your abilities. For paints, you’ll want to get the following:
- Set of horsehair brushes
- A large plastic palette
- A starter’s kit of paints
- Painting Sketchbook or Bristol Board
- 5ml watercolor tubes that are just the right size to get started
- With the 6 colors in the set, you can mix a huge range of other colors
Now that you have the materials to start drawing, it’s time to pull out that notebook and start the planning phase. If you’re serious about starting a long-running comic series or publishing your work online, having a solid plan is extremely important. If you plan to create comics more as a hobby, keeping a notebook on hand can help keep track of any ideas that come to you throughout the day. Every comic has three essential pieces that you’ll need to work out before everything can come together.
Even if you aren’t looking to create an epic story-driven comic, you should at least have some kind of goal or story to tell, even if it’s nothing more than a one-off visual gag. Your notebook will help you explore these storylines or concepts so you can see what works and what doesn’t before even starting the drawing phase. While your plan doesn’t have to be set in stone once you jot something down, having it written somewhere will help keep your thoughts organized, as well as help you compare it to ideas you’ve already used in your comics to avoid being too redundant. You’ll eventually want to sketch out storyboards here as well.
Storyboards are basically oversimplified layouts for your comics, so you can get an idea of what the composition will look like. You can simplify your characters and backgrounds town to vague shapes or even just boxes and ovals just to plan out your composition.
For the most part, your characters will need a place to live and exist. While the nature of the setting isn’t always the most important part of a comic, it certainly adds a level of polish to your work, helping pull all the elements together. Your setting doesn’t have to be complex either. Simply having a solid background color with a few objects as a point of reference can be enough (for example how Garfield comics use a flat plane against a solid backdrop along with the positioning of the characters to give a sense of location, be it on a table, a counter, the floor, etc). The more reliant your plot is on the setting, the more thought and detail you’ll have to put into your backdrops.
Lastly, what is any good comic without a cast of characters? Character design is where you’ll spend the majority of your time when planning your comic. Not only do you have to plan out what your characters will look like, but you’ll also have to build and develop their personalities and quirks in order to make them feel unique and full of life. While it may be tempting to lean heavily on established tropes and archetypes for characters, you should use these sparingly or only use it as a reference during the planning stages. We’ve all seen the sassy gamer girl or the best friend character who is always getting taken advantage of, so if you plan on using an archetype be sure to turn the concept on its head and do something fresh and unexpected with it.
Can We Start Drawing Yet?
Yes, now that the framework is set up for your comic and you have a clear direction, it’s time to start actually designing characters and assets to use for your comic. When drawing panels, a lot of people try to draw their panels to scale and fit 4-6 panels on a single page. This only makes your job harder, as fine detail is harder to draw at a smaller scale. Instead, dedicate each page to either one or two panels to give yourself enough room to work. Using either a ruler or a T-square, draw out your panel. Once that’s complete, it’s time to work on backdrops.
Setting the Scene
If you plan on using the same scenes or backdrops throughout your comics, you may want to make scans or copies of your backdrops to save yourself time, giving yourself a set of stock backdrops you can simply draw characters onto as needed. When it comes time to actually draw your backgrounds, remember to keep things simple.
Having an overly detailed background can distract from your characters as well as distract from the scene overall. Only draw an overly detailed background if the setting is the focal point of the panel (for example if the superheroes arrive at the villain’s lair, dedicating a detailed panel showcasing their arrival and what the lair looks like could add to the dramatic tension).
How to Draw Backgrounds for Comics Step by Step
When drawing your background, it is important to keep in mind what kind of perspective you want for the scene. To put it simply, think of perspective like the angle for a photograph of a movie shoot. The perspective will change based on where the ‘camera position’ is. In order to draw in perspective, you’ll need to start with your horizon line and focal point or focal points.
The Horizon Line
The horizon line for your background basically determines where eye level is for the shot. Drawing the horizon line about midway or slightly above midway across the page usually indicates that the viewpoint of the scene is at your average eye level. If the horizon line is high, the viewpoint is generally higher up looking at the scene from a downward angle. Lastly, if the horizon line is low, the viewpoint is either very close to the ground or at a steep upward angle. Determine the angle of your shot, and then decide on your focal points.
When it comes to perspective drawings, you can have up to three focal points in an image. In most cases, you’ll use either one or two-point perspective. One point perspective involves having the focal point near the center of the horizon line, and any objects or structures heading off into the horizon should line up with that horizon line.
For example, when drawing a city street, the lines of the sidewalk, top of the buildings, and any lines that extend back towards the horizon should head towards the focal point. If you are drawing a setting where you want both sides of a structure to be visible, such as the corner of a building or a fork in the road, you can use two-point perspective. This is where there are two focal points, generally towards the outer edges of the frame. You follow the same technique as using a single focal point, except that each side of your structure extends towards their own respective focal point. For this example, let’s start with one-point perspective to keep things simple.
Setting Up Your Background
Start by drawing a few basic shapes, squares for buildings, tall rectangles for trees, etc. Doing this will let you plan out your scene and make sure the perspective is correct before you add too much detail. From there, start adding details, remove any unnecessary pre-lines and fine-tune the drawing.
For this example, we’ll start with a horizon line close to the center of the page, and a single focal point at its center. From there, draw a few rectangular blocks to represent the buildings. Make sure that the tops and bottoms edges of the building that extend towards the horizon line lead directly to focal point.
The inner walls of the buildings should be trapezoids, making sure the edge closest to the horizon line is smaller than the edge that is closer to the viewer. From there, use this same technique to add some windows to the walls of the buildings, and add some more minor details like some shutters, making sure that everything still lines up with the focal point.
After adding your details, erase any unnecessary lines and adjust any lines that aren’t lined up properly with your focal point. Lastly, if you are adding any people to your scene as a background element, make sure their eyes line up horizontally with the horizon line. This will keep them in proper perspective no matter where they are in frame.
If you are opting for a more simplistic background, there are a few techniques you can use. One of the easiest is to use the silhouette of the setting in the background. For example, if the characters are in front of their neighbor’s house, draw a silhouette of the house behind them. Instead of silhouettes, you can also use shadows cast from objects outside the frame to give the illusion of the characters existing in a world, even if the rest of the panel is empty.
Lets say your characters are standing in front of their neighbor’s house like in the silhouette example, but they’re too close for a silhouette. You can also draw some basic structure to build the scene, for example some scattered patches of bricks on the backdrop. Sometimes a simple gradient will do the trick as well, especially if the scene is set somewhere too dark to really see clearly, or on a cloudy night. Lastly, you could use a riff. A riff is essentially a background not based on rendering a specific scene at all, but simply providing some sort of background space for your character to exist in.
How to Draw Comics Characters
Developing and drawing your characters can be a bit more complicated than drawing your backgrounds. As you flesh out and develop your characters, along with your own art style, you’ll eventually want to draw up a reference sheet for each of your main cast. A reference sheet gives you a general idea of how the character looks, the color scheme for the character if you use colors, as well as a variety of poses and facial expressions to use when drawing them in the future. Reference sheets help keep your characters consistent (for example making sure a tattoo is always in the same place). These also can let you experiment with your character’s appearances, expressions, and other design aspects.
When it comes to actually drawing your characters, you have a lot of freedom, and your approach can be heavily reliant on your own personal art style. When drawing your character, you’ll want to start by using pre-lines to set up a basic structure, using a circle for the head, horizontal line for the shoulder axis, etc. Once that is finished, you can start adding in more detail to your sketch. Once you have enough detail you can start erasing your pre-lines and cleaning up the image as a whole.
When drawing humanoid characters, it is important to understand correct portions. When it comes to drawing, there is something called the 8-head rule to help in drawing the human figure. The 8-head rule basically means that a person will be around 8-heads tall. With this in mind, certain parts of the anatomy will always be in the same place.
The first step in drawing your character is to create the pre-lines. Start with an oval shape for the head, adding a vertical and horizontal circle to indicate the direction you want your character’s head to be facing.
From there, draw a curved line from about hallway down the back of the head along where the spine will be. This line will help act as a reference for lining up the rest of the body. Next build off of the spine with a slightly curved line just below the head for the shoulders and another down by where the hips would be.
Simplify the anatomy by using a soft boxy shape for the body, and simply using lines for the outer edge of each arm and leg. Make an almost hoof-like shape for each foot, and simplify the hand positions by drawing either a box-like or an oval shape. The box shape should include the finger positions, while the oval shape would only represent the palm of your hand.
Once you have your basic pre-lines mapped out, it’s time to start adding detail. Start with the head, drawing the nose in line with the vertical line, a little below halfway down the face. The eyes should be centered vertically, in line with the horizontal line you drew for your pre-lines. From there, start making the outer facial features such as the chin, cheekbones, and brow line more defined. Once that’s done, add other details such as hair, ears (making sure the middle of the ear lines up with the eyes), and facial hair like eyebrows and beards.
Next it’s time to start working on the body. Start by drawing the neck, making sure the outer neck runs down in an arch meeting with the shoulder line. Once the neck is more defined, work on the shoulders and upper body, defining the curves of the chest and slightly narrowing it as you work your way down towards the waist. Taper the lines back out again around the hip area, and then work on the legs.
Legs and Feet
Use a curved line for the back of the legs if visible, making sure to emphasize things like the calf muscle by making more of a bulge just below the knee that then thins out as the line leads towards the heel. The shin and front of the thigh should be fairly straight. Once you get to the feet, use rectangular structures to get the basic setup and then begin drawing any kind of footwear, or if barefoot add the toes. You’ll want to add a slight curve to the insides of the feet if visible as well.
Arms and Hands
For the arms, use a similar technique you used for the legs. Use the same technique you used for the calf for the lower arm, but don’t make the bulge as big. Unlike the legs, the back/outside of the arm is going to be the more straight part with the inside showing more pronounced muscle.
Once the basic body structure is done, add clothing or other apparel to your character using the body sketch as a reference for how the clothing would fall, where to add wrinkles, etc. For example, if the character is leaning slightly sideways with a bend at the hip, his shirt would wrinkle where the hip bends.
Character drawing, especially if you’re looking to keep proper proportions, is the hardest part about drawing comics. If you’re just starting out, use a visual reference for your characters, even if it’s something like a photograph or using one of those wooden sketch mannequins. Having a visual aid can make the process of getting the pre-lines and proportions down much easier.
How to Draw Noir Comics
If you’re looking to draw more in the noir style for your comics, having a strong understanding of contrast is important. Noire’s visual style hinges on bold contrasts between light and dark, as well as harsh lighting effects and heavy shadows. When drawing noire, it’s a good idea to rely less on intricate detail and realistic shading and more no letting the mind fill in the blanks.
Using a lot of black and obscuring much of your characters in shadow can add tension to your comic, as well as help pull the reader into the dark and gritty setting you’re trying to portray. A lot of the same fundamental techniques carry over from setting and character design, but in this case you’ll treat everything as though there’s only two types of lighting, either well lit or completely shrouded in darkness.
Pulling It All Together
Following this structure and developing your own style as you go, you’ll have all the tools you need to start drawing your own comics. It takes time to develop your own style, and fine tuning your technique is the longest and most difficult part of making comics. As a designer and illustrator, drawing and character design tends to be one of my passions, and if you have a love for coming up with characters and stories, the only think between you and bringing those characters to life is a little bit of planning and some practice and dedication.
Remember, there’s no magic switch that’ll make you magically great at drawing, but by following these instructions you’ll have the perfect roadmap to head towards your goals. If you enjoyed this tutorial, or have any questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comments below!