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Drawing Comic Book Pages Part I: Thumbnails, and Pencils Versions

Drawing Comic Book Pages Part I: Thumbnails, and Pencils Versions

Drawing Comic Book Pages Part I: Thumbnails, and Pencils Versions

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Home Page > Arts & Entertainment > Art > Drawing Comic Book Pages Part I: Thumbnails, and Pencils Versions

Drawing Comic Book Pages Part I: Thumbnails, and Pencils Versions

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Posted: Jul 31, 2010 |Comments: 0
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Drawing a comic book page like the ones in super hero comic books can be fun but it’s no game.

Readers can see and read a full colored page in 30 seconds, but it takes an artist 8 to 16 hours (or more) to produce it.

Why?

Because most professional comic book artists go through five stages to complete a full comic book page of high quality. Some of those stages require much more than an hour to complete. Stages are:

1) Thumbnails creation

2) Pencils version

3) Inked version

4) Colored version

5) Lettered version

Note: Usually, it is not one but several artists who produce a single comic book page. This is because each artist specializes in a particular stage. The end result is often better when produced by a team. And working this way also speeds up the process.

Let’s describe the first two stages in this article:

1) Thumbnails creation

After reading the script (which besides the dialogs and captions may include specific descriptions and instructions from the writer), the artist spends some time imagining how the page should look so it can tell the story well (without the need of words), and it looks good and entertaining.

When the artist is done playing around with variations of the panels and the page in his (or her) mind, the artist grabs a piece of paper (usually a Letter or A4 size, blank sheet of computer printer paper), and starts sketching one or more versions of the page (often using an HB  pencil) at a very small scale.

The size of these small (and sketchy) pages may vary but they are approximately 2 by 3 inches each (5 x 7 cm). Since they’re much smaller than the final pages, they are known as thumbnails.

This stage is very important because thumbnails are a practical, quick and effective way to define the best layout for a page (amount of panels and their shape) and where to place the main items (like characters, large props, backgrounds, etc.) Important facial expressions, action lines and perspective are also included in them.

If you try doing this on a full size board and make a gross mistake, you will have to toss that board and start over. Thumbnails prevent that because you can do about six of them in a very inexpensive sheet, to try things out until you find what works.

Note: Artists seldom care for or keep their thumbnails and toss them away.

One case doing thumbnails is mandatory is when writers or editors request the artist to do them to get their approval before drawing the final pages.

So, if you’re serious about drawing comics, I suggest you always draw one or more thumbnails of your pages until you are totally satisfied with them to use as reference for the final, full size page.

Note: Thumbnails are drawn quickly and loose so they usually look very “energetic.” The challenge is to produce a final page that is as energetic (or more) than its thumbnail. Unfortunately this is not always the case, sometimes because reference like photographs or 3D images is overused for poses or expressions when creating the final page, making it look static or dull.

2) Pencils Version

After the thumbnail is done (and approved if required), the artist grabs a white board that is 11 by 17 inches to draw the final page using a pencil, and the thumbnail as reference.

Note: If you are used to the metric system, 11 by 17 inches is a bit smaller than 30 x 45 cm. Comparing it to standard sizes, it is near the size of an A3 size paper.

So that’s a big board. Then… Wait!

Comic books are MUCH smaller than that. Regular super hero comic books are about 6.5 by 10 inches (16 x 20 cm.)

So… Why do artists draw the final page at such a big scale?

Because it’s easier to draw better at a larger scale.

In my case, I scotch an 11 by 17 inches (or A3) white board to the drawing table and using a light blue pencil, draw a 10 by 15 inches rectangle in the center (when the board doesn’t already have such a rectangle.) That area is where the page is drawn.

Still using the light blue pencil, and the thumbnail as reference, I draw in a somewhat sketchy way, the entire page (including the panel borders) inside that 10 by 15 inches area. I do add details, and some of the final pencils but the overall drawing is still sketchy. This process can take an hour or so depending on the complexity of the page.

Then, I take an HB pencil and draw the entire page AGAIN, on top of the light blue pencil, but this time paying extra attention to detail, making the drawing look final. This process always takes more time than the “light blue pencil” step.

Why use a light blue pencil? And why draw the page twice?

The light blue pencil is used to draw the foundation over which the final artwork is drawn using the regular pencil.

And it is light blue (a different color than gray) to be able to erase it easily using image editing software (like Photoshop) after the page is scanned to the computer.

So when using this technique, the original artwork (the actual board that was drawn by the artist), has both light blue and regular gray pencil traces.

But the digitalized version of the page (stored in the computer with a scanner) which is later used in the following stages, has only the gray (and final) pencil traces.

This is a great technique to produce better artwork because the artist has two chances to make the drawing look just right. I suggest you to use it.

Note: Because some collectors don’t like artwork that mixes light blue and gray pencils or because some artists prefer to produce very clean pencil pages, there is an alternative to the light blue pencils technique. It requires two boards and a lightbox (a special table that is used to trace drawings.) One board is used to do the sketchy drawing, and the other to do the final, “clean” drawing which is drawn on the lightbox, over and tracing the first and sketchy drawing.)

– – –

When the pencils stage is over, a great deal of the final comic book page is done. That’s why the penciler (the artist who does the pencils version) is considered by most as important as the writer, and his (or her) name is shown conspicuously in the credits.

But the rest of the stages, inking, coloring and lettering, are also important, even essential to complete a comic book page.

So, we are at what, 2 to 4 hours of work so far?

The name says “comic” but this is serious business. Drawing comics is a lot of work. But it’s also very creative, and fun work to do 🙂

Part II of this article series will describe the next stages of creating a professional comic book page.

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Julio Molina-Muscara
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Comic book artist and illustrator, co-creator of the Omega Chase comic book. His portfolio at juliomolinamuscara.com has pencil portraits, comic book pages, pinups and posters of super heroes or beautiful girls, and more.

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Comic book artist and illustrator, co-creator of the Omega Chase comic book. His portfolio at juliomolinamuscara.com has pencil portraits, comic book pages, pinups and posters of super heroes or beautiful girls, and more.

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