Now that you’ve created your first full-frame illustration in Part 4–Coloring, it’s time to think about telling a story using your new skills.

Think about what story you’re going to tell. According to John Lee of Suburban Tribe fame (and provider of all these illustrations), “Whatever you decide your comic is to be about, make sure that it is about PEOPLE. So many creators make fantasy comics and try to recapture what George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien have done, only to end up with a confusing, hideous mess of a background setting and no story. The original Star Wars trilogy is not about what materials a Jedi uses to build a lightsaber or how the Empire trains and domesticates dewbacks; it is about Han, Luke and Leia. Be as fanciful or as down to earth with your concept as you like, but make sure at the end of the day it deals with the characters and their internal/external obstacles. If you focus on that, the world of the characters will fill in around them.” (This is true of any storytelling–fiction, screenwriting, graphic novels, shorter-form sequential art.)

Try to break it down into your two, three, or four panels. Keep it short, because the picture will tell the story at least as much as anything you have to say. If you anticipate a lack of text, that’s okay too; just have an idea of what you want each panel to convey. For example, if you see your character trudging across a frozen tundra, imagine that and jot it down, using Word or Illustrator. Keep it in mind; this will be your blueprint.

Remember that Bristol Board you bought? Cut it up. Not literally, but you’re going to partiton it into several panels–two, three, four, whatever. More than this, and you’ll probably want to start another sheet. Use a T-square, triangle and cork-backed steel ruler (the cork is to keep the ruler from slipping about).

That done, start sketching again–time two, three, or four. John Lee prefers to sketch on paper, then scan it in, change the color of the pencil lines (so as not to confuse it with “ink” lines) and add effects using Corel Painter and a Wacom tablet. This small tablet with its pen-shaped “mouse” allows you to “draw” directly on the image without scanning or losing image integrity–plus you’ll have access to more colors than you have in your desk drawer. Don’t worry about filling in all the dark parts or correcting stray lines; you’re just going over what you’ve already done in pencil.

A nice thing about using Painter or Photoshop is that you can move things around using layers, which we discussed before. Clone an image or background, move two characters closer to each other, or use one figure as a template for a subsequent panel in which you’ll change something simple, such as a gesture or expression, without re-drawing the entire part. It may sound like the easy way out, but you aren’t filing away the character for every day. Believe me, you won’t want to re-invent the wheel if you’ve already done it once that day. You can also use the tools to add simple effects such as reflections–it’s a lot easier to add negative white space over black using the computer than trying to go back and take it away after you’ve used pens or brushes on paper!

For an ultra-speeded up visual of how it’s done, check out this video. Next time, we’ll discuss coloring, effects, lettering, and finishing.