• The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Comic Book (From Concept to Publishing) in 5 Easy Steps.

This is a guide for writers, who (like me) can’t draw, but still want to create a comic. The task of creating a comic book as “only a writer” can be daunting. (As a disclaimer, I have never published a comic… but I’m new to this so, give me a break. I do hope to have at least one book picked by the end of the year.) I have done my research, and have lots of experience with at least the first 4 steps that I think others might benefit from. (And hopefully we’ll cross that magic number 5 together.)

Without further ado…

The writer’s guide to creating a comic book, from concept to publishing, in 5 easy steps:

1. COME UP WITH A KILLER IDEA

It doesn’t matter how great a writer you are – your unique, original idea is what’s going to get you published.

A. Do Your Homework.

Hopefully if you are wanting to create a comic book, you already read comics. That’s the first place to start. The comic book is a different world than the movie, TV show, or book, so get to know it, backwards and forwards. Study your favorite comics. What is it that you like about them? Pay attention to pacing and story and scene breaks. Where are the cliffhangers? Where is the action? Where are the personal moments? How much dialog can you comfortably fit on a page? How many panels per page? How many pages per issue? How many pages to a “scene”?

Get online, look for comic scripts. Learn the format. The weird thing about comic book writing, as opposed to screenwriting, is that the format varies quite a bit, so figure out what you’re comfortable with. Learn how to write for artists. Practice.

B. Create Your World

A great concept equals a great world. Create a world that is unique, that offers infinite story possibilities, & is something you haven’t seen before. The best concept is one that the story ideas write themselves. Look at Y: the Last Man. All the men die except for one. What does a world without men look like? There is so much to explore in that world…. the series could’ve gone on forever and he never would’ve run out of story because it is a fully-formed world. And it doesn’t have to be that elaborate. Maybe your fully-formed unique world could be “competitive high school cheerleading”, or “the secret lives of soccer moms”.

What is your emotional story? It’s not enough to just have a cool super hero idea or a cool serial killer idea. Who are your characters? Who is going to introduce you to this world? What is their story? My favorite comics are the ones that spend as much time on character as they do on plot… and vice versa. You can’t have one without the other. Again, with Y: The Last Man, the book wouldn’t be much if it was just random stories of a world without men, but you are introduced to this world through the eyes of Yorick – the last man on earth. From the first issue you are introduced to an overarching plot & to a character that you are interested in following emotionally.

C. Let it Marinade.

Your initial reaction will be to jump into it immediately, but be patient, let the ideas percolate. Run them through your head over and over… look for loopholes, ask yourself hard questions, get to know your characters. Share your concept with others, get feedback. My first book went through major changes after getting comments from friends and colleagues, and it got a ton better. Before you move onto the next step, make sure you have fully realized main and secondary characters (each with their own emotional stories), a world for you to play in, an overarching plot that can carry your series for 50 issues or more (or, if it’s a single story, fill a 100+ page OGN), and a number of smaller stories, ready to go, that will carry you along the way. The more time you spend in the world of your concept, the more realized it will be.

2. CREATE YOUR PITCH.

For an unknown writer, the pitch is everything. The pitch is what you use to get your name out there, to attach an artist, and to get published.

A. What’s It About?

You should be able to sum up your concept in about 2 sentences. You should be able to cover your first story arc (or entire OGN) in just one page. People aren’t going to be willing to read more than that. (We live in a lazy society, what are you going to do…) A good pitch should have your concept or world presented right up front, and then pull us in with your important character & plot beats.

Imagine that you’ve just read your entire series and you were summing it up for someone. That’s what your pitch is. And give away the ending. Don’t tantalize with “what will danny do now that his dog is stuck in the well?” Whoever is reading your pitch needs to know what’s going to happen from beginning to end. This isn’t for the masses – just for those who will be creating the book with you.

B. What Does It Look Like?

What style are you going for? What other books are out that have a similar tone? Can you describe it as quickly as “Superman meets Bourne Identity” to help create a picture? Who is your audience? If you say “everyone”, then try again. Look for books similar to yours on the market. Try to find out who they market to. Is it horror fans? Young adults? A Manga audience? Your entire package needs to be aimed at that audience and everything, from your pitch, to your writing style, to your artist needs to reflect that.

C. Can You Write?

If an artist is going to take a chance on you, they are going to want to know if you can deliver the goods or not. So, have at least a first issue (or first chapter if an OGN) ready to show them. They’ll want to know if your script is easy to work from and they’ll want to know if you are easy to work with. Again, really take the time to hone yourself as a writer, and make sure that your script is the best it can be. First impressions are everything.

3. FIND AN ARTIST.

Okay, now comes the hard part. You can’t create a comic without an artist. Every artist out there probably has their own stories they want to tell, and if they don’t, they probably have a few dozen writers wanting to work with them. So, how do you pull it off?

A. Where to Look.

Luckily, nearly every single artist in the world can be found in one place – the internet. You can search for artists portfolios and blogs, but the greatest resource I’ve found for artists on the internet is deviantart.com. Every artist I’ve worked with so far has had a presence on deviantart. It’s basically a portfolio & social networking site for artists. You can get on there and browse thousands of artists and look at their bodies of work. Many of them are also photographers or painters, but it has a fantastic comic artist presence.

B. What to Look For.

You should have decided by now what type of art you want in your book. Think about your audience & your voice. Once you decide on the style of art you’re looking for, you can start your search for an artist that fits that look.

The most important thing you want to find are sequential pages. Just because someone can draw a pin-up doesn’t mean they can draw a comic book. Also, just an observation, in my experience, the best artists are the ones with an education background. Look for artists who went to school for art. There are plenty of exceptions to that, many of the greatest artists of all time are self-taught, but a formal training does help.

C. What to Expect.

You have to make it worth the artist’s while. If they are going to put time into your project, they are going to want certain things in return. Comics are a collaborative process. You can’t just tell an artist exactly what you want exactly like you want it. Get your vision across and then step out of the way. Be open to their suggestions. They understand the artists process more than you.

In addition to creative input, they’ll want some compensation. You can do this in one of two ways – I) Pay them up front. Artists can range from about $50-$200 per page. So, a 22 page comic is quite a bit of scratch. II) Work out a back end deal. With most indie comics, this is how you make your money. Your book is published, if it sells, you make money, if it doesn’t, you don’t. It’s a risk, so you need to decide ahead of time who is going to make what percentage of the back end.

4. CREATE YOUR PROPOSAL.

We’ve covered a lot of this territory in the previous sections. But now that you’ve got your pitch & the pages from your artist, how to you pull it all together in a proposal for you to send to publishers?

A. The Personality.

I’m a firm believer that personality sells. So, include a bio of yourself & your creative team. Keep it VERY short. Just a couple of sentences for each. Make your proposal look good. Put some time into it. Hire a designer to spruce it up, if that’s not your thing.

B. The Pitch.

A one-page description of your story from beginning to end. This is the same exact pitch that you sent to your artist (maybe with some tweaks based on your collaboration with the artist).

A publisher is also going to want to know that you’ve thought about your market and that you have a good grasp on what that market is looking for.

C. The Pages.

The goal here is to provide some preview pages of your book. This is more important than anything. Publisher’s need to know that you can tell a good story.

Take (at least) the first 5 pages or so of your project and create a fully drawn, lettered, and colored (if it’s in color) comic of those pages. You can find colorists & letterers by doing a search online. And you’ll want to pay them up front. Create a cover for your book with a logo that shows that you know your audience. Package it all together nicely with your pitch & bio. It’s a lot of work, but so is everything worth while in life.

5. GET PUBLISHED.

A. Where to Look

Let’s assume that you are not Joss Whedon or Kevin Smith. In that case, your first book is not going to be published by Marvel or DC. Luckily, there are lots of amazing smaller publishers out there… many who let you keep the creative rights to your properties. This means, if your idea is optioned into a movie, then you get credit and you get paid. Which, really should make writing for a smaller publisher way more enticing than the “big two,” who keep all the rights to what you create. Do your research. Look at the logos on the books that you most enjoy. Hopefully you already have publishers in mind. Get online, browse for smaller publishers. Find a publisher that is already publishing the types of books you want to make.

B. What to Send.

Most every publisher has a web page. And on this web page they will have a section on “submissions.” Every publisher asks for different specifics, so make sure you check their submission pages and follow it to the T. Don’t try to be clever, just let your work speak for itself.

And, it goes without saying… be respectful. Don’t try to pitch your book to a publisher at a Con. They get that all the time, and you’re just going to be one more face they’ll forget. Don’t try to get other comics creators to read your pitch (most of the time they can’t for legal reasons). Don’t email the publisher every day to see if they liked your pitch. If they like it, they’ll respond. If they didn’t, they may not. Just work hard, be respectful, and put your best foot forward.

C. Plan B.

Publish it yourself. This is not something I have a lot of experience with, but you have a few options – I) Become your own publishing company. Find a printer (there are some amazingly cheap ones online) or print it yourself down at your local Kinko’s. Put up a website, and market the hell out of your product. Go to your local comic shops, see if they’ll carry your books on consignment. Send free copies to comics reviewers online and comics podcasts. Try and get as many people as possible to take a look at your book and review it. Reviewers love getting free books, and you’ll love the publicity it gets you. II) Publish your book on the web. This area is still a little hazy… You really have to commit to updating your web comic regularly and really work on building a loyal audience. You’ll see no money up front for this, but it could work out in the long run. Maybe offer a “pay what you want” paypal account on your site where people can donate what they feel your work is worth… if they want.

I hope this helps any aspiring writers as they move forward with their dream projects. Please comment below if you have anything to add. Now, go create.

[UPDATE - For more on pitching, check out my write up on Chris Schweizer's "Pitching a Graphic Novel" panel at HeroesCon.]

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43 comments
  1. Very concise – I’m particularly fond of the “Can You Write?” part.
    I’m going to include this page in my standard package of links I hand out to people who send me proposals, not realizing that I’m just a self-publisher.

  2. Thanks Ryan! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Feel free to distribute as much as you want.

  3. Chani K. Kinsler said:

    I would like some advice every snice I was little I have thougt about becoming a comic book creator/writer but in the past couple of month I have been thinking about it even more so I have decided to do this seriously now that I am an adult in college I have started creating characters and I am going deep into there descriptions and I wanted to know if you had any advice for me something that my help me along.

    Thank you for your time I know that you are a busy man.

    peace

    Chani K.Kinsler

    email: kinsler_chani@yahoo.com
    myspace.com/ckthapoet

  4. Hey Chani,

    Thanks so much for the comment!

    I don’t know what your situation is like, so I’ll just try and give you broad advice based solely on your comment.

    1. Do your research. That seems to be what you’re doing since you ran across this site. But not just research in how to write comics (although you’ll certainly need that) but research in how to tell a great story. Watch movies, read comics, read books, listen to songs… soak up stories and dissect them. Figure out what makes them work.

    2. Think in terms of story, not characters. A great character is only defined by the story that happens to him/her/it. When I was a kid, I wanted to make comics, so I sat around and made up literally hundreds of characters, but I never came up with one real story.

    If you want to write comics, you’ve got to come up with stories so compelling that people are dying to know how they plays out – The kind of stories you could pitch to someone in 60 seconds and they’d immediately want to read it. Think about your favorite comics or movies and ask yourself what the story is. Try to break it down into a few sentences. Then try to come up with something better.

    Hope this helps! Keep me posted on your progress.

  5. cafepress.com is a great way to publish actual physical comic books without having to put any money down. Sure they get a big cut, but they do all the printing and distribution, for no money down. Lulu.com lets you publish also, but you have to pay to print it, because you have to distribute on your won.

  6. Keonte said:

    I have always enjoyed making fan fictions and such but I don’t know why it’s difficult for me to come up with stories for my own work. My characters are sweet just I never can come up with stories for them.

  7. Stephen Hancock said:

    I followed the link from Ryan Dunlavey’s site to your article and I found it to be very helpful. Since my co-writer and I are at our selling point (three issues scripted) we’ve been looking into what steps to take to get published. Your article is the first I’ve found that assumes that some of us are just writers, not artists.

    I appreciate the helpful article and I hope you’ve been able to find a publisher.

  8. Mamimi said:

    This was veeeery helpful! I felt a little like a child reading it, since i’m constantly trying to find shortcuts rather than do what needs to be done. This made it clear what I needed to do, without making me feel so overwhlemed. Thank you very much!

  9. Nice. I’ve been doing the same sort of research and this is totally in line with what I’ve unearthed–though you got further than I did so it’s nice to get more info on finding an artist.

    I’m deep in the trenches of creating an excessively long pitch document–mostly to provide the artist and myself with working models for the characters, the story arcs, etc and have enough detail that I can compress it into a 1 page pitch for a publisher later.

    The part I’m having trouble with now is choosing the target audience. I’m not sure how detailed it should be–seems like “teenage boys” is too vague–and what if you think your audience could encompass both teenage boys and 30 something adults? Will a publisher just laugh at that? I’d love to see some actual examples of pitches that worked or some resource listing specific target demographics for OGN/Comics on the market.

    Anyway, nice read. Thanks for putting this up.

  10. klay said:

    i ran into your blog by accident thank God i did.I am about to write my first comic script and i need to ask is it compulsory i talk about my character origin in my first issue.

    • You absolutely do not need to give an origin to your character. Your first issue just needs to set up your STORY, the story you are currently telling.

      Introduce your main character, set up his flaws and strengths, and get him going on his journey as quickly as possible. You don’t need to know where he came from, just who he is.

      Think about people who you know in everyday life. Is your opinion of them based upon where they came from, or how they act around you currently? People are defined by their actions.

      Hope that’s helpful! Keep me posted on your story.

  11. Anonymous said:

    i probaly agree of this

  12. M.O.O. said:

    this has been a really helpful guide, thanks so much! I really quickly wanted to ask a question. I’ve been working with an idea for 10 years (more seriously though in the last year and a half, the concept for most of the time was a parody but now it’s become a serious original story) and I’m nearing the point where I’m done writing the plot, I have a working skeleton of the plot progression and character development, and to boot came up with the plot and some developments for a prequel (assuming the original is a hit).

    And at this point I have no idea what to do, there are perhaps some loose ends I could tie up with the plot, but everything is mapped out in theory, that is I have not seen it drawn (except in my own head) and have no idea if any of this would work. At this point I don’t know if I should start working on scenes and dialogue, or if I should search for an artist, or both. I don’t wanna write dialogue for the entire series and then have no one pick it up (although the creative process in and of it self is really enjoyable). I’m also thinking of making this a professionally drawn webcomic (even though it might cost me an arm and a leg) is it possible to both eventually publish and sell the comic even if it is a webseries?

    • M.O.O. said:

      I also meant to ask that if I start collaborating, how exactly could I protect my idea, characters, ect…

    • Hey MOO, You’ve got to write your script. For one thing, no matter how much you plot out and plan, your story will change so much in the scripting phase. Characters will take you places you never expected, new ideas will pop up.

      My suggestion would be to write as much of it as possible. Even if nothing happens with it, consider it practice. You’ll need at least a first issue or first chapter before any artist is going to agree to work with you. They need to see that you can write for the medium, have storytelling skills, know how to divide up a page, etc. And that’s stuff you’ll only learn how to do by doing it. Anyone can come up with ideas, not everyone can write. You’ve gotta do the work.

      As to your other question, you don’t need to worry about people stealing your ideas. It doesn’t really happen. And hopefully you’ll trust all your collaborators. If you want to be protected, you can mail yourself a copy of your script or treatment to have a record of when you originated the idea

      Best of luck!

  13. STEP 6: GET AN EDITOR.

    marinade should be marinate in step 1C : )

  14. Poison Pen said:

    Thank you so much for this article. I’m in the process of writing my first comic and this was very helpful!

  15. Um….this is pretty late, my comment I mean.
    But even on this page that’s three years old, it’s still really helpful, for instance I would’ve never thought to create a Deviantart, I’ve seen work from there but still…
    I love drawing comic books and have been doing so since about the 5th grade, and I’m a freshman in college now.
    But the thing is that up to now I’ve been pretty one dimensional with my comics, it’s always been about street racing, not that I’m mad about it but I’ve been thinking about adding a little more variety and I believe that this is first year I’ve actually took the time out and wrote a script, all my other works just came off the top of my head…
    But anyway, this was a very informative article and I appreciate the insight, I want to do comic books as like a side career, but I’m passionate about it though…but I’m not big on speaking to masses.

  16. Anonymous said:

    Cool article….very well written.

  17. little foot said:

    it was nice seeing i have a solid idea, though as it is i lack the enthusiasm or direction to follow through.

  18. Thanks for being a very early follower on my very new blog – really encouraging, cheers.
    More stuff going up today…

    This guide of yours is great – I like the way you’ve tamed the process into five mega chunks rather than several dozen – not so scary at first glance.

    • Totally! Great inspirational stuff on your site. Look forward to reading more. Thanks for the kind words.

  19. Victor De Leon said:

    LOVE the blog. Great job. I will keep coming. “Let it marinade” I dig that. My film Prof. used to say that about my first drafts, lol.

  20. Reblogged this on hamishdownie and commented:
    Well worth reading if you’ve ever wanted to write a comic. I made a comic as a way of showing TV companies my Animation idea, and I’m still debating whether or not to go down the publishing route. Great work Hudson!

  21. Great work. It’s very insightful. I was debating a while back whether or not to turn my Animation Series into a comic series, and even created a comic for the first episode, but I’ve gone back into film writing now. Once I’m done with my current script I’ll have a very good look at your advice and think about giving my anime idea one more shot. Do you have any examples of your work? I would love to check them out!

      • Looking forward to watching them :-)

      • Just checked out the two short form comics, great work mate!!! really, really great work. I hope you go from mildly to wildly successful too :-)

        Will watch the short film a bit later… I’ve got to get back to my script – using your film as a carrot on a stick.

      • Jut watched Rooney’s World. It’s fantastic. I’ve never made anything as perfect as that. My god, it really reminded me of when I first gave up performing. Such a great story with so much truth!

      • Wow! Thanks man, what a compliment. So glad you enjoyed it and more importantly connected with it. That means the world.

  22. Hudson – I saw that you’re following my blog and wanted to check your’s out. That said, as someone who has been publishing independent comics for about ten years and knows a lot of writers and artists I must say that this is a GREAT post. I came into this business without knowing a thing about comics and had to figure all of these things out for myself. I never read comics as a kid, I never read comics in college. It’s an industry that just found me. I had a self imposed crash course when I got into this. I started looking at old reprints to study how a comic book is done and as the years have gone by I pick up books every now and then on how to do this or that. Usually I’ve already stumbled onto these solutions already on my own by this point. I wish there had been such a to the point presentation like this for me to have followed at the time. When people ask me how to be a comic book creator I am going to point them to this post. Great job!

  23. This is seriously good advice. I’m a published graphic novelist (The Lesser Evil/Zeta Comics), and just starting a brand new project. I’m hoping to avoid some of the creative pitfalls I found the first time around, and I still find myself unsure of some of the process! Having sites like this to lay it out is a real boon.

    • Hey, thanks Shane. I’m really glad you found it helpful. Your work looks awesome, btw!

  24. molds said:

    Hmm it seems like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any recommendations for inexperienced blog writers? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  25. Anonymous said:
  26. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out much.
    I hope to give something back and aid others like
    you aided me.

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