Sarah McIntyre (jabberworks) wrote,
Sarah McIntyre

i want to make cartoons & comics but i have no idea where to start!

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!

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  • Eagle House Children's Lit Fest 2021

    This week Philip Reeve and I turned up in Sandhurst for the Eagle House Children's Lit Fest... And, oh my... was grand! Even the…

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