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How to Create Comics from Script to Print

Danny Fingeroth and Mike Manley have given AWN an excerpt from their latest book, How to Create Comics from Script to Print.

How to Create Comics from Script to Print. All images © 2006 Danny Fingeroth, Mike Manley and TwoMorrows Publishing. Thief of Time and all related materials are © 2006 by Danny Fingeroth and Mike Manley. All rights reserved.

This is an excerpt from How to Create Comics from Script to Print, an upcoming TwoMorrows Publishing book by Danny Fingeroth and Mike Manley. Danny and Mike take turns showing readers the steps involved in creating and publishing comics. Through sample drawing and writing lessons, invaluable information includes how Mike, who has penciled and inked many top comics for Marvel and DC, breaks a script into pages and panels via thumbnail sketches. Danny, longtime Marvel writer and editor on Spider-Man gives pointers on creating conflict and developing characters. The book will debut at Comic-Con International later this month.

My Process, The Script to Print by Mike Manley

Step 1: The Thumbnail

OK, this is where it all begins for me visually the most important step of the job and the most creative. As I read Dannys plot, ideas start to bubble up, and visually explode in my mind like popcorn in the microwave. I start to frantically draw down these images, scene fragments, right away. My goal is to get my first impressions down fast. Once I have these thumbnails down, I start to refine them. Sometimes I get clear ideas right away of what I want to draw, or how I want to play a scene or lay out a page. Other times I get these visual bits or panels in little chunks and then have to work to link them together. Through years of doing so many comics and storyboards I find that my first impressions are almost always the best. Sometimes I refine ideas, only to go back to the original. This part of the job is liquid. Ideas or panels come and go. In fact, one should always be open to a new idea that may improve the story at any time, right up until the job is out the door to the printer.

Figure 1.


One of the first steps for me upon reading the script is making a list of reference Ill need. The next step is to surf onto Google, which is a great source for reference on the web. It may take a little time, but you can find a lot of good useable reference. You may have to get creative with your search, but like the Dark Knight Detective I was able to find all the reference for the ninja castle, rooftop scenes, ninjas, etc., without leaving my studio. And Ill go on record here as saying there is no such thing as too much reference. Better to have more than you need. Unfortunately due to copyright reasons I am not able to reprint the images I got from my search. But if you start searching for Noh masks, ninjas, and French rooftops on Google, I bet youll come along the same reference I did.

In Figure 1 are the thumbnails that were my first draft at breaking down Dannys plot visually. Danny and I are working in what has come to be called the Marvel Style of plotting and scripting. In the Marvel Style the writer provides a plot, but little or no dialogue, often leaving the number of panels per page or even how long a scene plays out up to the artist. The writer then scripts the pages either from the artists breakdowns or full pencils. In this style the artist controls the pacing more, unlike a full-script, where the writer is the first to control the pacing of the story by breaking each page down into specific panels as well as providing all the dialogue and captions.

Since we have worked Marvel Style before while producing Darkhawk for Marvel, Danny and I both felt comfortable working as we did in the past. I prefer plots in comics as it gives me a lot more freedom, especially on super-hero or action comics.

Figure 2 shows my second pass on the rough layout. I was initially thinking more cinematically, slowly moving into the ninja castle and into an inner chamber the Thief time-jumps into. The idea was to slowly build up to a reveal of her. Since I have been doing storyboards a lot in the last eight-plus years on shows like Batman, Superman, and Samurai Jack, and recently Fairly OddParents, this has really reinforced and honed my cinematic storytelling skills and the motto, tell the story.

Figure 2. 

The problem I ran into quickly in this case was space, or the lack thereof. Since this is only an eight-page comic with one page comprising the cover, I really had only seven pages to tell this story, introduce the heroine, the thrilling conflict and the cliffhanger. Not a lot of space, especially when I need to get some nice action scenes in there as well as room for Danny to write exposition explaining some of the back story. After e-mailing back and forth with Danny, I decided to just cut to the chase and show an establishing shot to show where the action was happening and cut right to Heather already in the castle chamber and reaching for the mask.

Figure 3 shows the new rough for the splash page which was quickly drawn on a Post-it Note.

The final tight penciled page is shown on Figure 4. This, along with the final layout, is the most important part of the job. This is the visual foundation on which everything else will hang, and for me the most creative part of the job. Sure, penciling a nice figure or page and inking are always very creative as procedures themselves, but a poor beginning, bad layout and confusing storytelling will not be overcome by the best rendering. Comics are meant to be read as a narrative, not as a series of cool drawings next to each other.

Figure 3.


The most fun on any job after the layout, for me, is the inking stage. At this point its all smooth sailing. I covered a lot on inking in my article back in DRAW! #6. On the DRAW! DVD I also go into detail on pens and brushes and how I use them. The screen grabs here are from the DRAW! DVD chapter on inking. On the DVD you will be able to watch me ink a page of the Thief of Time comic from beginning to end.

I want to stress again that inking is drawing in ink. The ink drawing has to be as good as the pencil drawing. Despite the joke in the film Chasing Amy, inking is not tracing.

Before I ink a page, I often warm up by doodling with a pen or brush directly on sketch paper or in a sketch book. I may do this for a half hour or maybe even an hour if Im having fun. Like a musician warming up with his instrument, my goal is the same: to get the juices flowing.

I usually start on a page by starting with some background inking, but sometimes if I am warmed up and ready to go, I pick up the pen and have at it and start with some figures. I generally do pen inking first then go back with a brush and heavy up a line or fill blacks. Sometimes I may ink almost everything with a brush if I feel it calls for it. Again, my approach is always open and interpretive.

My whole process is very organic and flexible and when I ink a page, first I look at it and decide where Im going to use a brush versus using a pen. I think the brush is great for organic things like hair. I also love to ink using the Rotring Rapidoliners. They are disposable rapidographs which come in various widths. My favorite is the .35. I love inking with these and can get a great variety of line from them from practice.


Figure 4.
The final inked splash page.

I sometimes have two bottles of ink: One for the pen which is thinner and one for the brush which I often leave open. By leaving it open some ink evaporates and it becomes thicker, denser and covers better with a brush. If the ink gets too thick I just add a little water.

I also will use templates when needed and suggest that any artist have a good set of ellipse templates, circle templates and French or ship curves. I also like Sakura Micron and Copic markers and often use the .02 or .03 for inking small faces and details. But always wait at least 20 minutes before erasing the page after using them as they will smear badly if the ink isnt dry, especially on plate finish paper.

My favorite tools of the trade are:

  • Kohinoor Rapidograph:Technical Pens or any technical pen 00 or .35.

  • The Winsor & Newton Series 7 No. 3 sable brush: The tough yet supple hairs allow great response and delicate control.

  • The Sakura Pigma Micron: These pens are great and the tips last a pretty long time. The ink is waterproof and fade proof. Just let the ink dry at least 15-20 minutes before erasing to avoid smearing.

  • The Hunt 102 Pen: The industry standard. Its point is fairly flexible and allows a snappy thin-thick line.

Character Development

by Danny Fingeroth

Who are your characters? Why should anybody care about them?

These are the challenges you face when writing a story.

Creating a character can seem deceptively simple. Pick a hair color, a body type, maybe a nifty superpower, a romantic interest, and a car-style, and you have a character, right? Well, a very shallow character. One who people have no real reason to care about. You need to give your character character. You can call this personality, if you like.

As with the other elements of story-making, character can work on several levels. A hero who claims to be dedicated to pursuing justice can have a certain interest for your readers, especially when pitted against a villain who champions evil.

But what if your hero has a bad temper and accidentally kills an adversary who was shoplifting a pack of gum? What if your villain gives all the proceeds from his crimes to cancer research? Wouldnt that make them more interesting? Wouldnt that make them more like people you meet in daily life flawed humans whose actions are often at odds with their stated intentions, or whose actions are a mixed bag of good and bad?

Thats what characterization is about. And thats the difference between surface characterization and deep characterization.

Surface characterization is when a character seems to be about what they say theyre about. In a Superman story intended for younger readers, Superman is about doing the right thing, and doggone it, he always does the right thing.

Deep characterization is what it sounds like. A character has more complex motives. Superman, in a story for an older audience, may sometimes question why he does what he does. Is it worth it to do the right thing when people keep committing crimes no matter how often I do the right thing? Maybe I should retire to a desert island. The struggle to keep doing the right thing even when its not appreciated or when its hard to know what the right thing is, is a story that involves deeper characterization.

An early pencil rough version of page 5 of A Glitch in Time. There are at least two types of conflict going on in the page. Can you identify them?

Another way of looking at deep characterization is as the real motivations a character has. This is often the opposite of, or contradicts, what a character says are his or her motivations. Face it, in real life, we dont even know our own motivations much of the time.

How complex do you want your characters to be? If a hero is too complex, do they run the danger of being unlikable? Spider-Man is just flawed enough for people to relate to him and feel good about it. A reader feeling: He screwed up in that situation just like I would have, is one of the keys to Spideys longtime success. If Spider-Man intentionally treated his loved ones badly, hed be more complex, but we wouldnt like him as much, would we?

Generally, your main characters should have the most complex characterizations.

Supporting characters are just that. They exist to reflect qualities of the protagonist(s). Commissioner Gordon may now and then have a story focused on him, but generally, hes there to tell us more about Batmans relationship with society.

Incidental characters need the least depth of all. They exist solely to move the story along. The guy who runs the newsstand exists only to sell the newspaper to the hero. Mid-50s, gruff, needs a shave, may be all the characterization he needs.

Conflict by Danny Fingeroth

One definition of a story is: somebody wants something, and someone or something else keeps him or her from getting it.

That someone or something is the conflict.

If a story was about a day where nothing went wrong and nothing was at stake, it wouldnt be much of a story. The thing that makes a story about something is the conflict.

Conflict can be:

  • Physical. For instance, two characters battling. Under this could be included emotional arguments or intricate psychological conflict between two people. Also, outside - hurricanes, bombings, etc. would be forms of physical conflict.

  • Internal. This involves a character at odds with him or herself. For instance, an alcoholic desperate for a drink, but knowing if he takes one he will be lost, must choose between need and desire.

  • Personal. Has aspects of the first two types. For instance, one partner in a romantic relationship may want to get married, the other may not.

Lets say we have a situation where Spider-Man is about to go out to fight Doctor Octopus, whos trying to kill Jonah Jameson. As Spideys heading to the rescue, he hears that Mary Jane is trapped in an elevator with a madman who threatens to unleash a deadly virus on the city. What does our hero do? Save a guy he hates (Jonah) or the woman he loves and the city, as well? Thats whats called personal conflict. The protagonist (the hero) must choose between two things that are seemingly impossible to choose between. These echo our most difficult choices as humans, Its easy to choose between something good and something bad. Choosing between two goods or between two bads is when life gets hard and drama gets exciting!

Robert McKee, in his book Story, phrases it this way: Choice must not be doubt but dilemma, not between right/wrong or good/evil, but between either positive desires or negative desires of equal weight and value. True Character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma. How the person chooses to act under pressure is who he is the greater the pressure, the truer and deeper the choice to character.

Another way to say it: conflict defines character.

When devising an internal or personal conflict for a character, ask yourself: whats the worst thing (besides dying) that can happen to this person? What decision would give them the most trouble? In super-hero stories, you usually have the added need to externalize that conflict in a physical manner. Stan Lee and Steve Ditkos Spider-Man: Master Planner trilogy has one of the more elegant mergings of external, internal and personal conflicts. In it, the thing that Spider-Man needs to save Aunt May is the same thing Doc Ock needs to rule the world.

Try to introduce your storys conflict(s) as early as possible. That way, your reader becomes emotionally involved with your characters from the beginning. And thats a good thing.

How to Create Comics from Script to Print by Danny Fingeroth and Mike Manley. Raleigh, N.C.: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2006. 108 pages, ISBN 1-893905-60-8 ($13.95).

Danny Fingeroth was group editor of Marvels Spider-Man comics line. He consulted on early versions of the first Spider-Man film and on the Fox Kids Spider-Man animated series. Danny is the author of Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society (Continuum) and has written upcoming episodes of 4Kids Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He teaches comics and graphic novel writing at New York University and The New School, and is editor-in-chief of Write Now! magazine, published by TwoMorrows (, the premier magazine about writing for comics and animation.

Mike Manley is a 22-year veteran of the comics and animation fields. Hes penciled, inked and storyboarded for every major publisher and studio, working on everything from Batman to Fairly OddParents. Mike is also the editor of Draw! magazine. He has lived in the Philly area since the mid-80s when he became addicted to chicken cheese steaks. Currently Mike teaches at the Delaware College of Art and Design (DCAD).