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On Twitter, one of my responses to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy was to post this:

Let 2015 be the year more people from around the world take up cartooning/comics to tell their stories.

Then someone on Twitter very reasonably asked, How would I even start?
Here are some questions you might have, and I've done my best to answer them!

* I'm not sure what kind of comics I like! How do I find out?

There are lots of places you can find comics: newspapers and newspaper websites, magazines, comics websites, your local library, bookshops and comics shops are the most obvious places. Don't stop exploring if you don't like the first few comics you read: there are as many kinds of comics out there as there are other kinds of books: cooking comics, superhero comics, crime comics, romance comics, autobiographical journal comics, travel comics, journalist reportage comics, the list goes on!

If you're looking for some online comics, here are a few creators and their comics that have inspired me. (Click to follow the links. Note: not all the content may be appropriate for young children.)

Kate Beaton (comics about history, literature, some autobiographical comics)
Philippa Rice and her webcomic My Cardboard Life - fun use of collage!
Stephen Collins - weekly Guardian comic strip
Lucy Knisley
Joe Decie
Raina Telgemeier
Dan Berry - Dan also does a great series of podcasts interviewing cartoonists on his Make It Then Tell Everybody website.
Isabel Greenberg
Eleanor Davis
Boulet (in English, in French)

Also check out Maura McHugh's list of female comic creators in Europe with links
Joamette Gil's list of webcomics with black lead characters with links

* Do I need to be good at drawing?

No. Most of my favourite comics are by people who draw well, but most of the creators I follow have improved a lot since I first started following them; you'll get better with practice. But there are some popular cartoonists out there who deal almost entirely with clever writing, such as Ryan North, who uses the same pictures but changes the dialogue in his Dinosaur Comics. Randall Munroe communicates ideas very effectively with stick people on his webcomic blog xkcd:

You don't always need to have complicated backgrounds; see this comic in a series about people's Deep Dark Fears by Fran Krause. (It looks it's drawn with a paintbrush and ink, or brush pen, and coloured with watercolour paint.)

Tom Gauld draws brilliantly but he often keeps things incredibly simple:

Edit: My studio mate Gary Northfield made a whole comic just showing the same leaf, over and over. (He's kindly let me post the whole comic, which I'll include in the comments section.)

There are different levels of polish you can put on a comic, and sometimes it's more important just to get a comic made, than to make it perfect. I sometimes make rough comics like this Hourly Comic, where the project was to draw a panel or a set of panels during that one day for every hour that I'm awake:

And here's a more polished comic that I drew with pen and then and coloured digitally. (The simple but funny story was written for me by a group of five-year-old girls in Paddington Library.) It's not complicated: a character and four panels for something to happen. (The 'panels' are the boxes that contain the pictures. You don't have to draw a line around them but you can if it's handy for telling your story.)

* Do I need to be good at writing?

The most important thing about writing a comic is making sure the person reading it can understand it. Don't worry about having the coolest-sounding dialogue or using flowery language, the most important thing is that people can work their way from the top left to the bottom right and not have to stumble around trying to figure out what you mean. (Obviously some languages read differently and the comics will read in a different direction.) The best way to learn how this is done is to read lots of comics and study how they work. Also, try out your comic on a friend you trust, and see if they can read it and understand it without having to ask you questions.

* What's the difference between a cartoon, a comic, a webcomic and a graphic novel?

Comics people will debate this forever and it doesn't really matter, just make what you like. But I'd say that a cartoon is a one-panel comic, where everything happens in a single picture. A lot of political cartoons are like this, such as this one by Chris Riddell:

A comic is something that tells a story in two pictures or more. (My favourite newspaper comic strips are Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson.)

A webcomic is a comic that's published online (such as Scary Go Round by John Allison). A graphic novel is just a fancy name for a longer comic packaged up as a book. A person who makes cartoons and comics can be called a cartoonist, a comic artist/comics artist, a comic creator... people use different terms.

* Do my comics have to be funny?

No. This put me off making comics for years because I thought I had to come up with funny pay-off lines (punchlines) at the end and I could never think of any. Comics can be about as many things that books and films can be about, and not all books and films are funny. If you're hired by a newspaper to make a daily joke cartoon, then they expect you to be funny, but if you're making your own material, do whatever you like. Katie Green struggled with anorexia and abuse and documented it in her comic Lighter than My Shadow. Marjane Satrapi's book Persepolis has lots of funny moments, but it also deals with her struggles and family tragedies during the revolution in Iran.

Darryl Cunningham worked as a nurse in a hospital ward and wrote about different kinds of mental illness (including his own struggle with depression and treatment) in his book Psychiatric Tales.

Sometimes once you get started, you'll find humour pops up in your comic almost by accident, because that's life; it can be a bit funny or absurd sometimes.

* Do I have to write about certain subjects?

No! In fact, some of the most interesting comics are written by people who have a niche interest in something. Kate Beaton really loves history and she makes amazing comics reimagining historical situations. Lucy Knisley loves cooking and wrote a whole book about food in Relish. Posy Simmonds reinterpreted the classic novel Emma Bovery in her book Gemma Bovery. Simone Lia wrote about an anxious, childlike rabbit in Fluffy. Maybe you love politics, science, archeology, air hockey or listening to conversations on the bus.

* Does it matter which drawing tools I use?

No. You can make comics with a huge variety of drawing materials. They can be as simple as a pencil and paper, or you can use ink, or paint, collage, photos, anything. You can scan things into a computer and assemble them digitally. (I use Adobe Photoshop for this.) When I make comics, some of my favourite tools are a mechanical pencil for sketching it out, Faber Castell Pitt pens (especially the 'Fine' tip) and a Pentel brush pen. For Vern and Lettuce and my Shark and Unicorn strip for The Funday Times, I like to do the black outline in old-fashioned dip pen, because it gives me a nice uneven line.

But you just need to find out what works best for you and is the most convenient. Play around with some good quality materials if you get the chance; sometimes you'll find that nice materials will make your work look better. But not always. Sometimes cheap coloured pencils or crayons will always look bad, no matter how well you draw. Philippa Rice tries out different art supplies in this webcomic strip:

* What are some of your top tips for finding inspiration?

1.) Start a blog. This is like an online sketchbook and it lets you see what you've been working on, all together in one place. If you like, you can use it to share your work with other people. Set yourself a challenge of posting something, say, once a day.

2.) Set yourself small projects. Don't set out right away to make an EPIC 200-page graphic novel. You'll get overwhelmed by the size of the project that you'll be tempted to quit, and your drawing will have changed quite drastically by the end of it, because you'll be improving as you go. Start small. A four-panel comic. An 8-page little book. A drawing a day. Here are some small projects I've enjoyed:

- Hourly Comic: Make a comics panel or set of panels for every hour you're awake. (It's like being on your own reality television show.) Here's a huge online collection of people's hourly comics.

- Draw yourself as a teenager.

- Take part in a Comics Jam. Have a friend draw one panel, you draw the next, your friend draws the next, and so on. You can find a detailed guide to leading Comics Jam on the Jampires website, and here's a Jampires Comics Jam that I drew with my friend David O'Connell (who makes ace comics).

- Make a whole book in a single day. (That forces you not to be too precious about it; the goal is just go finish it.) A hardcore version of this is the 24-Hour Comic, where you draw a 24-page book in 24 hours. I did this for the first time this year (see my full comic here.)

- Make a little book to give to friends or sell/swap at a comics festival. You can print copies of your comic on your home printer, go to a photocopy shop or find an online printer who can do you a reasonable deal. Having a deadline such as a comics event, birthday or holiday (when you need it as a gift) is a great incentive for finishing a project.

- Make a travel comic. This is a great souvenir of a trip, and can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. I bought some A5 sketchbooks and did this comic in Alaska and this comic in China. If it's too complicated drawing people, you can draw them as potato characters or as simplified animals.

- Write a letter comic to a friend. (Here's one I made.)

- Make a comic of a well-known (or lesser known) fairy tale or myth.

- Make a comic about someone in your family. This can be a good excuse to ask questions of an elderly relative; maybe they have a story they love to tell you about themselves, and you can turn it into a comic. Here's a comic I made about a memory of my grandfather. (You can read the whole comic here.)

3.) See if there are any local comics festivals you can attend. It's a great way to meet other people who make comics and you might find inspiration in the books people have for sale. Often this is a great way to buy home-made comics you'd never be able to find in shops. (Two of my favourite in England are Thought Bubble in Leeds and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.)

4.) Don't be too hard on yourself. It's okay to make bad cartoons and comics. Everyone starts out making bad stuff. Just keep making that bad stuff, and gradually you'll find they're less and less bad until they start being good. Sometimes it's fun to draw intentionally badly. I make interesting discoveries when I play around and let myself make mistakes.

* Can you recommend any guide books about how to make comics?

Scott McCloud does three excellent books, written in comics format: Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, Making Comics They're pitched at a grown-up level and are fairly theoretical; you'll really understand all the mechanics of how a comic works and how your brain takes it in.

If you want something a bit more fun and simple, or for younger children, Neill Cameron's book How to Make Awesome Comics is full of great ideas to get you started. You can buy it right from the publisher website, and I'd recommend any of the comics sold in their online Phoenix Comic shop, they're all top-quality and family-friendly. (A few of its cartoonists are Gary Northfield, Jamie Smart and James Turner.)

...I hope that helps!

I have a bit more advice over on the Frequently Asked Questions part of my website. And loads of comics artists are on Twitter and happy to answer your questions. Good luck, I hope you find cartooning and comics a great way to share your ideas and tell your stories!


( 58 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 9th, 2015 02:16 am (UTC)
Check your own bigotry, Sarah
It's too bad the same people who will decry collective guilt when applied to Muslims, and rightly warn about painting with one brush, have no problem painting a bunch of Americans in the Tea Party as racist based on nothing. I'm not a member of the Tea Party, but I have yet to see even one do anything as violent as self-professed Muslims. Yet the same people so quick to dismiss one act of violence after another after a thousand done in the name of Islam as "not all Muslims," are willing to apply that same hatred and bigotry to a bunch of Americans who -- again -- I have nothing to do with. Whether you're Occupy Wall Street the Tea Party or Anarchists or muslims, if you are only peacefully exercising your right to protest, it's wrong and disgusting for your political enemies to smear you as violent and bigoted and nasty. As a liberal-minded person, I cannot abide that. I may disagree with people's views, as Volatire said, but I'll fight to the death for their right to say it.
Jan. 9th, 2015 07:18 am (UTC)
Re: Check your own bigotry, Sarah
Um, this article is mostly about drawing comics, not the Tea Party. I wanted to show a political cartoon, since much of the free speech debate is about political cartoons, and most political cartoons will offend someone. This time it was you, I'm afraid. But I won't apologise for Chris Riddell.
Re: Check your own bigotry, Sarah - jinty - Jan. 9th, 2015 10:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Check your own bigotry, Sarah - mr_sadhead - Jan. 9th, 2015 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Check your own bigotry, Sarah - KevFComicArtist - Jan. 9th, 2015 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Check your own bigotry, Sarah - ztoical - Jan. 10th, 2015 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Check your own bigotry, Sarah - platokasserman - Jan. 10th, 2015 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:08 am (UTC)
Where to publish?
Beaver & Sheep Comics is a website to share your own comics. Like a youtube of comics. If you want to test some cartoons, it would be the right place to start! www.bshcomics.com

We loved this article. Can we post it on our Facebook page?

Thank you!
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:23 am (UTC)
Re: Where to publish?
Thanks for sharing! And yes, feel free to post a link to the article, that would be great.
RE: Where to publish? - (Anonymous) - Apr. 26th, 2018 04:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:36 am (UTC)
Fired Up
That was a really interesting blog Sarah. I was an art student before going into music full time and have always kept on drawing for myself. Following you and other great artists on Twitter does get me fired up to do something (I am going to life-drawing classes) and it's good to read articles like this about different approaches.

Alison (@ADsaxist)
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:46 am (UTC)
Re: Fired Up
Thanks so much, Alison! I'd love to do some more life drawing, too. Awhile ago, I started drawing the trees in Greenwich Park because it's a bit like life drawing; they have a lot of bumps and bulges like people. (And they don't charge money or complain if my picture doesn't look like them, ha ha.) Glad you're still drawing!

Edited at 2015-01-09 08:47 am (UTC)
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:50 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed reading through this and the various examples of comics. I've always had a passion for reading short comics, as well as the standard superhero comic books from childhood.

I've often fantasised about creating my own but have always been put off by my complete lack of drawing ability. Perhaps I should just give it a go and see if the dialogue / story will carry it.

Thanks again for posting.
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:55 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks
Thanks, and you're welcome! Yes, I've seen some funny comics with exactly the same picture in each panel but different dialogue; no reason the artwork can't be simple. I hope you get a chance to try something!

Edit: Here's one of the comics I was talking about! It's from Gary's Garden and Gary Northfield has kindly said I could reproduce it here even though it's not public elsewhere. (Thanks, Gary!) A study in beautiful simplicity:

Edited at 2015-01-09 01:32 pm (UTC)
RE: Re: Thanks - (Anonymous) - Nov. 28th, 2016 11:15 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Thanks - jakiehandel - Jan. 17th, 2019 10:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Michi Mathias
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:53 am (UTC)
fantastic resource!
Thanks, Sarah. Wow, that is brilliant and inspiring and informative stuff, all in one place. (Surely you couldn't have pulled all this together in one day?!)
Jan. 9th, 2015 08:55 am (UTC)
Re: fantastic resource!
Thank you! Ha ha, late last night. There might still be a few typos.
Jan. 9th, 2015 09:06 am (UTC)
Great! And a small addition..
Loveley encouragement!

my 5¢ to add: Searching for books from “Preston Blair” and “Scott McCloud” make an excellent start for the craft of drawing.

(That was already true in the 90ies. These are long-term classics...)

Jan. 9th, 2015 01:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Great! And a small addition..
That's great, thank you! I've also recommended the Scott McCloud books but I'm not familiar with the Preston Blair books; thanks for mentioning them.
Re: Great! And a small addition.. - (Anonymous) - Dec. 19th, 2015 01:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2015 10:14 am (UTC)
Hello! Your entry got to top-25 of the most popular entries in LiveJournal!
Learn more about LiveJournal Ratings in FAQ.
Jan. 9th, 2015 10:36 am (UTC)
We held a comic con at our school last year (some pictures are here: http://friendsofwatermill.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/water-mill-comic-con-2014.html). One of the things kids kept saying was that while they liked the idea of making their own comics they couldn't because they couldn't draw very well. I tried to tell them that ideas were the most important thing but they weren't convinced.

For this year's con I want the kids to each create some kind of one-page comic that we can then put together as a book. This article is going to be very useful for inspiring them!
Jan. 9th, 2015 01:36 pm (UTC)
That's great, Damian, and yes, I hope this can help them to be less intimidated about making comics. I love pointing to xkcd and Dinosaur Comics, just because the images are SO simple, and I've just posted here in the comments a comic by Gary Northfield that features a single leaf per panel. The kids could do something as simple as take a photograph of an apple and show the same exact photo in each panel, just giving it different speech bubbles. Maybe there are two flies on the apple talking to each other - they might just be little dots.

Good luck with it, it's great to hear you're running a school comic con, that's very encouraging news! I'll repost the link here: http://friendsofwatermill.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/water-mill-comic-con-2014.html
(no subject) - damianjohnson - Jan. 17th, 2015 10:39 am (UTC) - Expand
peter bangs
Jan. 9th, 2015 11:43 am (UTC)
more books
Great post, hope it inspires some folk. I'd like to recommend Ivan Brunetti's Cartooning, philosophy and practice, a great book based around d a teaching course so you make comics as you learn. Drawing words and writing pictures, by Abel and Madden, is a similar though more heavily illustrated book filled with excellent practical advice.
Jan. 9th, 2015 01:38 pm (UTC)
Re: more books
Yay! I remember Jessica Abel and Matt Madden coming to give a talk at my art college! They do great work. And I've never read the Ivan Brunetti book, thank you for the recommendation.
Jan. 9th, 2015 01:31 pm (UTC)
:) Brilliant post. Also you know you're doing the right thing when you've attracted the attention of 'undesirable elements' :P

Edited at 2015-01-09 01:37 pm (UTC)
Jan. 9th, 2015 01:39 pm (UTC)
Ah well, I just say to myself 'it's the Internet, innit'. Thanks, glad you like it!
Jan. 9th, 2015 01:50 pm (UTC)
This is a really marvellous post Sarah. I'd say it's also a really good encouragement for comic writers who are reluctant to ever draw!

I think many (not all) comic writers were kids who loved drawing, but fell out of the way of it, and either can't bring themselves to or have unrealistic expectations of themselves. That's the case for me anyway! And a lot of what you say here is applicable to people who know comics or writing them, but should they ever want to draw really struggle with it.

I've forced myself to do a wee bit of dabbling lately, trying to get past wanting it to look just right, and it's been remarkably satsfying!
Jan. 9th, 2015 01:51 pm (UTC)
Oops, trying to avoid going anonymous here, that was me. Hope this works.
(no subject) - jabberworks - Jan. 10th, 2015 07:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2015 02:53 pm (UTC)
Awesome article!
I know this isn't gender-specific, but my daughter is REALLY into what "girls" do right now. She also is into drawing right now and this is a perfect way to stoke that interest. Thanks!
Jan. 10th, 2015 07:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Awesome article!
Fabulous, please say hello to her for me!
Jan. 10th, 2015 07:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you. This is useful. I'm going to write a story of how I got into learning languages.
Jan. 10th, 2015 07:49 pm (UTC)
That sounds fascinating! Good luck with it!
Jan. 10th, 2015 07:32 pm (UTC)
Awesome post. I think I'll follow you and become more active on LJ from now on.

I loved to draw as a kid and all through my mid-20s. I wanted so much to be a cartoonist, but I gave up on drawing and became a writer only. I keep collecting books on drawing techniques, but I never seem to get back into it. I think you've inspired me to make more of an effort to rekindle my old passion for creating comics & manga.
Jan. 10th, 2015 07:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks!
That's great! And the time spent honing your writing craft will make it so much easier to make the drawing come to life. There are a lot of people who can draw, but not so many people who can write well. Good luck with it!
Jan. 10th, 2015 08:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you
With all that has been happening it got me thinking.

The information you posted here is amazing and even though I already have a big collection of "How to make comics" books (I've studied McClouds' books many times), I found new artists here that are really worth looking into (your own work included). :)

I've been reading comics since I can remember (i'm 40) and i've been meaning to start drawing comics for sometime now, but something else always got in the way, you know how it is.

Well, enough is enough and life is too short.
I finished my first 4-panel cartoon yesterday and i'm working on my second today. It's never too late to start, right?

Thank you so much for inspiring me with your post,

Jan. 11th, 2015 06:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you
Thanks, and that's great! Best wishes as you make more comics! :)
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Sarah McIntyre

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