Nov 302005

by Emily Pohl-Weary

Aaaar! Ye'll want the DPI to be at least 600!Everyone has a graphic novel inside them. A picture paints a thousand words, right? It’s easy to be seduced by the old truism. But it’s not as easy to produce a 24-page comic, especially not if you’re the kind of person who wants your work to actually look good.

I publish Kiss Machine magazine, so I thought it would be simple to turn my hand to publishing my indie comic, Violet Miranda: Girl Pirate, with illustrator Willow Dawson. I didn’t realize how steep the learning curve would be.

There’s very little helpful information on the Internet, even less than for publishing your own books. Desktop publishing and illustration programs’ help functions don’t explain how to make thought balloons, that you scan drawings in monotone black, not greyscale, and that the resolution must be 600 dpi or higher.

Below, I’ve listed a few of the important things I discovered by asking friends whose comics I admire, such as M@B, and trawling the deepest recesses of the net. These have more to do with the mechanics of publishing than the creative process–that part’s up to you!

1. Pick a Partner
If you’re not a fabulously talented person who can both draw and write, I can’t stress how important it is to pick a partner in crime who has similar expectations. Things that can become sticking points include expectations (is the other person expecting to make a million bucks?), ability to self-motivate (no one’s going to be breathing down your back to get you to finish inking page 21), and other time commitments (both people need to be aware about how long this is going to take).

2. Strategize Before Beginning
Sit down over a cup of coffee and break down the tasks involved. Be realistic. Things like scanning the art, page layout, cover design, printer research and negotiations, fundraising, promotions, launch party organizing, and mailings can add up to be as time consuming as the creation of the actual inked pages. Keep this in mind and make sure no one feels like they’re getting stuck with an unfair amount of work, before you invest a lot of time into the project.

Aaaar! Ye'll want the DPI to be at least 600!3. Agree on a Timeline
It’s good to do this at the beginning. It’s all right to renegotiate part way through if something comes up, but you have to have some kind of framework for reaching goals or else one person will inevitably want things to happen faster than the other person. Our milestones have included:
•writing and proofreading the script,
•producing rough sketches,
•drawing pencils (detailed proofs) of the pages,
•inking the final pages,
•scanning and “touching up” the electronic image files,
•laying out the pages (this includes adding on word balloons if this is being done on the computer),
•coming up with a few samples of potential cover art,
•painting the final cover art,
•soliciting and gathering advertisements (if you’re including them),
•applying for grants to fund the project,
•packaging and shipping to the printer,
•examining the printer’s proofs,
•receiving the published comic,
•mailing copies to people who’ve preordered, media and distributors.
•organizing the launch party.

4. Research Printers
The best printer is one that combines low cost with good communication skills. We printed the first issue of Violet Miranda with a publisher who was dirt cheap, but ended up giving us a badly trimmed proof and took a total of 10 weeks to finish the job. Plus, they gave what I refer to as a “ball park estimate,” and wouldn’t break down each of the individual costs. It can be intimidating to ask questions of printers–who, in my experience are usually either aggressive salesmen or tunnel-visioned techies.

Our second issue was printed at Point One, and they cost a few hundred bucks more, but reliably turn around lovely, sharply printed comics in two weeks. They also let you create your own quote online, using an automated system, so you can see exactly how much it costs to use a certain type of paper, add colour to inside pages, or any other “extra” you might be dreaming about.

5. Scan the Art
If the illustrator half of your comic partnership likes to work on paper, not directly on the computer, you’re going to have to face scanning the art at some point. Better to get it right the first time, because it’s a boring, time-consuming process. And, if you scan it wrong, your comic’s going to look terrible. Because Willow was working on Violet Miranda in ink (which creates solid black lines instead of variants of grey) we had to scan her work using the duotone setting, which is sometimes called “line art” or “text.” Essentially, this means the scanner only processes two colours–black or white (ink or paper)–and gives nice, crisp lines. We also set the scanner to 600 DPI or higher, because any lower and the images turn out really pixilated on high-resolution printers.

6. Manipulate or Touch Up the Art
I want to stress how important it is that you remain aware of everything you do to the electronic files. The less you play with them and convert them from one format to another, the better. When you change formats, you’re essentially changing the way the file is processed by your computer, so they can get fuzzy. You also risk changing them to greyscale or even colour by accident. But everyone needs to make little corrections at this stage, so don’t be afraid to do so. Willow and I scanned the inked pages as duotone, bitmap .tifs, made corrections in solid black, and imported them into the desktop publishing program that way. They still look beautiful. Oh, I should mention we had issues rotating our bitmaps in Photoshop when we were doing it on a Mac (they became corrupt), but not on a PC. I gather this is a common problem and you’re definitely going to need to rotate at least a few of the pages, because no one ever manages to scan them all perfectly straight.

6. Create Word Balloons
This is the trickiest part of the process, and I was stuck with learning how to make them. I basically followed the instructions on the very helpful Balloon Tales website. One thing I found helpful was to place the artwork in the background and then locking that layer, so that I wasn’t moving it by accident. I then created a second layer for the balloons and a third for the text. This way you can work with each item independently.

7. Examine the Printer Proofs Carefully
A crucial part of the process is poring over the printer proofs. On the black pages, particularly note top and side margins, and any black or white specks that weren’t in the electronic files. If you’re working in colour, check the outputted pages against the originals to see how much the colours have shifted–sometimes they become too red or green. Remember this is your last opportunity to ask your printer about any anomalies, because once it’s printed, it’s too late. So don’t be shy!

Award-winning author and girl pirate Emily Pohl-Weary‘s books include Iron-on Constellations, A Girl Like Sugar, and Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril (with Merril). She’s also the editor of Kiss Machine magazine and the anthology Girls Who Bite Back.

  13 Responses to “Seven Pointers on Comic Production”

  1. Hey there!

    I’m deep into working on my own original graphic novel (about a third of the way through) and I’ve been doing as much research as possible on the production side of things. And I completely agree with the lack of information – it’s a bit of an uphill battle trying to dig up info.

    I’ve been fortunate in that I wear all hats so there’s certainly no debates or schedule problems when it’s only one person! But trying to balance the creativity side of things with the production side is tricky. For example, my wife and I had a table at SPX ( this past September and there was a large amount of work that had to be done on promotional materials to make sure we could do things “right.” The catch was that it took quite a large bite out of my time (working on the actual comic pages) – something that I’m still trying to catch back up on.

    All that said, one book that’s helped quite a bit is Kevin Tinsley’s Digital Prepress for Comic Books (Stickman Graphics, ISBN 0967542308, has been quite helpful on the pre-production side of things. Dig it up at a library and take a peek. It might help someone who has absolutely no idea where to start.

    Thanks for the article! 🙂


  2. Thanks for commenting, Von. I’ll check out Tinsley’s book. I also just found Artbabe a.k.a. Jessica Abel’s DIY comics website. It’s interesting because she discusses the process of creating comic art from the perspective of an artist–something I know very little about.

  3. Oh, good point! Abel’s done a great deal of work demystifying comics. And that’s a very nifty link!

    A link I really should have mentioned is the Comic Book Industry Alliance ( It’s a fantastic forum that’s notable for having a large number of retailers (including people like Chris Butcher from The Beguiling) posting on it regularly. Though it doesn’t really touch on the manufacturing side of things, it’s second to none when it comes to retail issues.

    I used to run a bookstore here in Ottawa so I have a fair amount of retail experience, but despite that it’s been incredibly useful (and besides, one never stop learning)! It is a private board so you need to apply (it’s free!), but it’s worth a look.



  4. Wow very informative and mindblowingly good tips.
    Anything more on submitting new Ideas for already published characters?
    Like: Getting your Ideas submitted to Marvel or D.C. Comics without getting them thrown in the trash.

  5. dude i wish i was u ur so freakin’ good at comics see i’m haveing a comic project i seroiusliy neeeeeeeeeed ur help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. hi all,
    i’m working on my first comic, and am just wondering what kind of funding you got, or where i would even look… canada arts council? any specific grants? do you know of any private organizations that fund these kinda projects? any info would be awesome.
    thanks for the pointers… much appreciated..

  7. Hi Megan,

    Sorry, I totally meant to come back and look at this thread but forgot! The problem is that if you are working on your first project you will be basically ineligible for grant funding. The Canada Council (and here in Ontario the Ontario Arts Council) wants to see you get something under your belt first. And it can’t be self-published, either. It has to be a jurored editorial process as I understand it.

    There is funding out there, so check your municipality, provincial policies and local arts schools (‘cuz you never know what you might find), but don’t expect anything for your early projects.


  8. What are some tips or things to protect your story and characters. I mean like copy right.

  9. so cool, like the site good info. Thanks!

  10. Well another option for getting your own stuff published would be to check out Indigo. For your own Novels (Not sure about comics) they will publish your book for a fee, which Includes several key bonuses in all their stores, full promotional attention….Space on the editor/publisher new favorite shelf in all their stores and online…. The downside is the deluxe package with all the goodies is like $1300 CDN. But its a one time fee and im sure theres some sort of raping you in the contract where they’d get more money than you for making it. BUT….it would be a quick shortcut to getting your First Finished work out there.
    ALSO…there’s been alot of mention in recent years in WIZARD magazine in regards to various big labels and mid range labels having a new imprint just to get quality indie works out there.

    I think the Indigo route is a great idea for a way to get that “First project published” under your belt…even though its probably a deal with the devil. I’d consider it a necessary evil to get mine out when its ready. either way…its an option. I’ll see what kind of percentage they are asking for of a books gross (if it sells) how much do they get for Your work. then i’ll report back here..

  11. thanks! I want to begin working on my own comic series, but I need and artist to work with! Also I see that I`m gonna need A LOT of time, money and patience, but if I didn`t wanna do it then I guess I wouldn`t be going through all of this.

  12. All great tips, Im glad I found this page because Im reaching the step of produceing/publishing my indie comic The Chronicles of Ballerman™. I also said fuck it and am opening my own homebased comic productions for the tax wrightoffs. My question`s are, is there like a website just to find freelance comic artists? Because Im a real good artist but not great and it is super time consumeing. My 2nd question is are we 100% safeguarded from a potential lawsuit if lets say we have a villan called shithead, and shitheads real name is like John Smith. And some random John Smith gets all pp hurt and files a lawsuit claiming that the Shithead character was based off him and is ruining his life? Because Ive seen some graphic novels that have that little saying,” all characters names in this story are purely fictional.”

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