How to Become a Comic Book Artist

Over the past few years, the most rapidly growing genre of literature sales (most dramatically with hard-copies as opposed to digital publication) has been comic books and graphic novels. And with the incredible success of film, television, and video game adaptations of stories having originated on the proverbial funny pages, many enthusiasts have attempted to climb on board the band wagon. There is definitely an increasing demand for this kind of literature, but that does not change the fact that comic book illustration along with concept creation and development is a complex and challenging set of skills to acquire. To actually be published and successful in this business is no easy task. In addition to traditional comic books and graphic novels, internet web-comics are also growing in popularity.

What is a Comic Book Artist?

Those who are generically called “comic book artists” originate from disparate origins, and each often displays work of completely distinct and different styles. What every successful comic artist has in common, though, is the ability to tell a story using images and short bursts of succinct yet impactful words. Some artists even write their own narrative and dialogue, while others pair up with a writer, but either way, compelling and effective storytelling is a must.

Creating an Actual Comic Novel

Here are the usual steps in producing a comic book or graphic novel. Generally, the story script is written first and then it is laboriously segmented into separate panels with the dialog and captions created for each individual panel. Then the story is drawn on paper board using pencil. After the pencil art is completed, ink is placed over it using India ink. Some artists work with a brush and an ink bottle, while others utilize a nib or dip pen. Some swear by technical pens that have their own reservoirs of ink built in. After the inking is done, the remaining pencil lines are carefully erased. If this comic is intended to be released in color, then the last step is to color all the pages. All of these steps can be completed by one illustrator or by a team of artists. Often these days, artists will use a computer program, such as Adobe Photoshop, for the coloring process.

Check out the infographic below for some interesting information on Comic Book Artist careers.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Brandon Palas

Comic Book Artist and Illustrator

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I took art classes throughout high school and a couple of junior college drawing and painting courses, as well as a couple of online anatomy courses, but the bulk of my learning came from books and tons of practice.

My first comics job was drawing a few issues of a book called Machine that never came out. Then I got hooked up with Eric Dean Seaton and drew 3 volumes of Legend of the Mantamaji (which will be released 10/8/14, 12/10/14, and 2/11/15 respectively) and am currently working on volume 4. I’ve also squeezed in a couple of short-story projects.

Advice

For someone pursuing a career in comics

Frankly, comic books don’t pay much, so if you’re going to do it, it had better be because you love it. If you think it’s for you, then you’ve gotta work your butt off. Draw every day, as much as you can. Learn everything you can. Seek out your weaknesses and try to turn them into strengths. Draw actual comics pages, not just pictures –storytelling is as much a part of the skillset as drawing is. And try to find the ways of drawing that are actually FUN for you. There’s not much point in doing this if you’re not having fun.

Get involved in online comic art communities like Penciljack and Digital Webbing. Draw comics and post them on these sites. Listen to the comments and criticisms you receive, and keep posting new work. You’ll make connections, and when your work is good enough, you’ll probably start getting some job offers.

On education

I didn’t have a typical art school education. From those who did, I hear that it can be great if you’re willing to really work hard and wring all you can out of it. But if you only do what it takes to pass your classes, you’re not going to get anywhere. A friend who’s been very successful in concept art for movies and videogames told me that only a handful of people in his graduating class could really draw. They were the ones who really went hard for it the whole time. In some fields, just having the degree is enough, but in art, you have to really have the skills.

If you don’t feel like art school is for you, or if you can’t afford it, you can learn everything you need to know online and out of books. But just like in art school, you’ll only get out of it what you put into it. Ultimately, the single best piece of advice I can give is to draw all the time. The thousands of hours you put in at the drawing board will mean more than anything anyone else can teach you.

Jason Raines

Comic Artist and Animator

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Jason Raines began his professional art career at 21 when his comic book Joe Psycho & Moofrog was picked up by Goblin Entertainment and went on to win the Diamond Gem award. Since then, Jason has been creating imagery for entertainment entities such as National Lampoon, MGM, Devil’s Due Entertainment, Will Smith/Overbrook Entertainment, the Black Eyed Peas, Mel Brooks, and Stan Lee.

Jason had lots of advice to artists pursuing comics as a career:

If you are looking for a solid career with upward mobility and strong benefits… don’t draw comics. Comics are a raging beast of feast and famine. There is no such thing as a full-time ‘job’ in comics. It’s gig to gig, project to project. It’s starting something, rocking through it as quickly as you can, making it as good as you can in the time allotted and moving on to another gig, maybe at the same company; maybe not. It’s a fast-paced, high pressure environment that you do in your pajamas from home. If anything I just said makes you nervous, turn away now while you can. If what I said intrigues you, then step a little closer.

Comic Artists are masters of drawing…You need to know how to draw anything, immediately, as you never know what’s going to come up in a script. An experienced artist has a library-sized repertoire of everyday and not-so-everyday objects in their head, ready to be pulled out in a moment’s notice and an ability to create new objects (or characters) from scratch. A comic artist is also a 4 dimensional artist… we work in up, down, forward, back, left, right and backward in time. You need to not only be able to draw something but draw how it appears in a specific moment –this is what determines its position, pose, and momentum. This is why comics are called Sequential Art –moment A happens before moment B, which preludes to moment C. Each panel of a comic is a moment in time. Each panel must be a masterpiece of awesomeness all by itself, but it must also work with the sequence of panels before and after it. Comics are a flow of creative energy and ideas.

Advice

Comics lifestyle

Comics can be rewarding and artistically satisfying like no other endeavor if you can live the lifestyle. It can be unstable, inconsistent, and a little freaky at times. But if you love to draw while hanging out in your own kick-ass home studio (always important to have a comfortable drawing space) then comics may be for you. It’s one of those things –you just know if you’re a comic artist or not. DO or do not, there is no try.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Don’t be afraid to experiment and try things differently. Comics is one of the art forms most open to new ideas, new concepts, and differing visions. In America, the superhero comic genre is still largely dominant, but in markets like France and Japan, comics are just a media outlet like television or Netflix. You can find everything from sci-fi to horror to romance to comedy to drama all within the pages (physical or digital) of a comic book.

One more thing

And one more thing, despite the fact that we work from home all day, I can tell you this –comic artists know how to party. We throw a pretty big one in San Diego that you might have heard of…

Mike Pascale

Comic Book and Comic Strip Creator

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Mike Pascale is a freelance storyboards artist, writer, comic book/strip creator, and graphic designer. Mike had lots of advice for those who are looking at becoming a professional comics artist:

Look up who’s near you and don’t be afraid to contact them—but be brief, respectful, and professional. If they say no, thank them and move on. Best of all, I went to conventions and asked for feedback from as many editors as possible—they are the ones who give out the work.

Get paid for your work! Beware of ‘contests’ and what Mark Evanier calls ‘Unfinanced Entrepreneurs’ who rope you into free work by promising ‘exposure.’ Banks and grocery stores do not accept ‘exposure’ as payment. You can’t eat it or fuel your car with it.

Advice

On criticism

Take criticism and advice graciously even if you don’t agree. Ask questions! Learn from everyone and everything, even if they’re half your age or not in the field —knowledge can come from anywhere. When you get advice, take a consensus. If several people are telling you to work on your anatomy, crack open the books and take a life-drawing class. If only one editor tells you to draw more porcupines he probably needs therapy.

On copyrights

Never give away your rights. Learn about copyright. Register your work. Have an accountant and a lawyer you can trust. File your taxes on time (quarterly if you’re freelance) and correctly.

And finally…

And, finally, remember the Golden Rule: ‘Don’t be a jerk.’ The world is a mirror for your thoughts and actions. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. If you don’t want someone trashing your work online or behind your back, don’t trash theirs. If you want support for your efforts, support others’. Pretty simple and obvious, but it works!

Yad M. Mui

Yad Artworks

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  • Yad M. Mui
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I started out learning about art in 8th grade. It was the first time we were offered art as a class all year round. For the next five years (8th-12th grades) my art teacher, Mr. Larry Clegg, let me explore my artistic side in class every day. From there, I chose to attend Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI. Eventually graduating with a BFA in Illustration. Professionally, over the years I have worked with many other artists. I created self published comic books and even a role playing game. The style I work in is influenced heavily by comic books and Japanese animation, so naturally I have worked closely with many Japanese Anime Conventions. Izumicon, Anime Crossroads, and MTAC (Middle Tennessee Anime Convention) are a few of the conventions I have done mascot design work for.

Most recently, I have done freelance work for Fantasy Games Unlimited. They commissioned me to work on several supplements in their Villains and Vigilantes line of books. A social media site for musicians and artistic types named Woodbangers Entertainment has also had me doing a line of images based off a mascot I designed for them. Lastly, I have just been tapped by FASA Games to work on a couple of their projects that I can not say anymore about at this time.

Advice

Yad’s musings for the beginner
Draw…Every day, every hour you can. And just because someone says ‘this is how it’s always done’ doesn’t mean it’s the way you have to do it! Most importantly though, do not just draw from comic books. The best artists appreciate and look at all forms of art.

The average day
My average work day basically consists of me rolling out of bed, making coffee, and walking into the room that is my office at my house. I check my emails for any new information from clients, and then I pull up what I’ve been working on in Photoshop and begin working. Sometimes this means I am waking up at the crack of 9am, others I’m up till 5am. It all depends on the deadline and when the inspiration hits.

What he likes most and dislikes
I most enjoy the freedom it gives me to work when the mood hits (unless there is a deadline, of course). My least favorite is the idle times. If I sit idle for too long it almost seems like I get rusty and have to work harder to put something on the canvas.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Comic Book Artist?


It may come as a surprise, but there are some colleges and universities that offer an actual degree in comic book art or, more specifically, what is often called “sequential art.” This course of study is available at schools such as:

  • School of Visual Arts in New York City
  • SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design)
  • Minneapolis College of Art and Design
  • The Kubert School
  • The Rhode Island School of Design

University can be a huge boon for the artist, but in the end it is the artist’s content that counts, and there is nothing better than the long hours devoted to drawing and amassing a body of work.

Success as a comic book artist/creator is dictated by a combination of talent, an unceasing need to draw, and a burning passion for and commitment to the work.

WHERE DO I BEGIN?

In order to become a professional comic book artist, several things must be kept in mind if indeed one is serious and ready to face the numerous challenges (including the typical artist’s financial struggle) in order to become a successful and self-sustaining comic book artist.

Extraordinary and specific technique is what will make the artist stand out and become easily recognizable and memorable should success be attained. Without it, one is assured of mediocrity at best and failure quite certainly at worst. A competent comic book artist, like all fine artists, must know the intricacies of shading, the process of rendering, and how to employ the use of lighting effectively. Also essential is one’s draftsmanship and the overall knowledge of human (and animal) anatomy. Drawing characters’ bodies and facial expressions accurately and organically while also showing off the aforementioned personal technique and style is what makes a good artist great.

As already mentioned, a comic book artist must have the ability to effectively communicate story and, of course, must be able to give birth to the stories themselves in the first place. When all is said and done, the art of the comic book or graphic novel is all about bringing a good story to life through exceptional illustration. No matter how much martial arts action there might be, nor the size of the explosions, or the number of bodice-breaking Amazons there are populating the pages, without a good story you will not have readers. One of the most helpful books that this writer has ever owned that aided and abetted his understanding of the art of storytelling is the late Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which explores what he called “The Hero’s Journey”, the basic pattern that is arguably found in practically every story from around the world.

What is often one of the most important aspects in achieving success in this business is having a body of work. Of course, one won’t take the market by storm with no experience, so, as with all fine art, you better love to draw! Years and years and reams and reams of drawings is what ultimately will allow the comic artist to develop and hone his or her talents, not to mention to have something to show for his or herself.

HOW DO I GET MY FOOT IN THE DOOR?

A good place to start showing off your work is online. It is still quite egalitarian in that anyone can get a website and start creating his or her own “web-comic” series. It also will instill discipline in the artist through the commitment of getting out a strip on a daily basis and will also provide an excellent forum for experimentation with and the development of drawing and story-telling styles.

Again, it is paramount you create a portfolio that showcases some of your best work and to pepper it with as many pieces as possible that show off your art skills. This is your calling card when you are pitching yourself to comic book editors and the like.

It is also highly recommended to visit all the comic book conventions, as this is where you will meet and hob knob with the best in the business, including potential artist mentors and the editors and publishers of some of the world’s best in graphic novels and comics. Every year there are literally dozens of these conventions across the country. The biggest and most famous of all is Comic-Con, which takes place every summer San Diego, California. Many of the best companies offer portfolio reviews at these major industry shows, so be sure to bring along your work should the opportunity arise.

One can also query the major comic companies to see about being hired as a comic book artist. This can be quite challenging if dealing with the major comic book companies such as Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse, but it is important to keep in mind that there are quite a few independent comic book companies out there as well and they are often seeking new blood in the talent pool. When you feel you have attained a professional level to your work, review the submissions policies of these publishers and always remember to never send in originals of your work. Make some high quality copies of your best, include a SASE envelope (postage paid) with your query to get back potential feedback, and then let it rip!