Day 2: Working out the script details

Plot Development, Virtual Comics Club

I don’t write comic scripts in the traditional format of a comic script. This is the normal form a writer will work with an artist laying out story and dialog in a page by page and frame by frame basis. Usually with a folder of character notes attached. This is how I have often received comic scripts from writers on collaborative projects.

When writer and artists are a team, this is a really useful way to work. On this project I am a one man show, writer and artists. I have a little more freedom to keep some of the ideas in my head because I don’t have to pass them on to anybody in production. So I work more visually after I have set down some notes in an outline:

  1. Pg 1: Introduction and Splash page. Characters and setting Working Title: Please Press Start
  2. Pg 2: AI’s take over and players gear up head into Level One
  3. Pg 3: Level One: Fight the Robot Dogs (establish video game tropes)
  4. Pg 4-5 Level 2: Speed Level (establish something uncanny about the AI control)
  5. Pg 6-7 Level 3: Robot Army (establish, power ups and weapon upgrades in physical form)
  6. Pg 8-9 Boss Level: and defeat (emphasize real-world injuries and reset)
  7. Pg 10: Closing kicker, reveal the AI’s are not humans and that humans are not in control of this world

I have established my overall arc and set up the conflict/resolution arc for each page. Each page needs to tell it’s own part of the story. What part of the story am I telling on each page. It looks like this:

Developing a comic (start to finish) Step One: The concept

Plot Development, Virtual Comics Club

I read today about a call for submissions for comics to be published in Future Sci-Fi Tales #5. I figured this is an opportunity to walk the Virtual Comics Club through my process to put together a short comic story. From concept to completion.

The boring stuff

Projects often start with the boring stuff. Collecting the submission information the publisher provided a set of guidelines for submission:

  • Between 4 to 10 pages
  • Page layout is follows the Ka-Blam template (7 in by 10.5 in 300 dpi – pixels per inch)
  • Story must be Science Fiction, set in the future.

Developing the concept

From there I started developing the concept. I started thinking about the Isekai genre of anime, where characters are transported or trapped in a virtual or video game world. I wanted to turn this popular concept on its head. I wrote down a lot of concepts and inspirations:

  • Two Artificial Intelligences playing games with real people
  • The Zhuangzi quote of the dreaming samurai
  • The X-Files episode: Kill Switch
  • Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Schell
  • Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep)

I’m going to keep that list taped up next to my sketchbook as I work on the concepts.

Blocking out the rough plot

This project is being built as a one-off so there is a limited amount of world building involved. My process is usually to work on a sketchbook and work through the project/issue on a page by page basis. I like working on an unstructured page so I can put notes wherever I want and graphically arrange my thoughts.

I decided the plot would follow levels of a video game and that the “players” wouldn’t be revealed until the end. The splash page would post player stats and have them dialoging about buying their freedom from the game. I broke down each level would be 1-2 pages and the players would fail to defeat the boss.

Tomorrow Ill work on character development.

Character Development Motivations

Character Development, Daily Prompt, Virtual Comics Club

Character development was one of the more difficult tasks in comics club. It’s easy to have a character do something or know what the character will do in a story. The difficult part is explaining why beyond just a practical level. Explaining motivations on a personal level is key to developing engaging characters that people want to know about.

While we are in the quarantine I’ve been watching a lot of movies (haven’t we all) among them have been the old Japanese monster movies (Kaiju movies). These gigantic creatures would come to destroy Tokyo on a seemingly weekly basis. The motivations were hardly clear in the brief narrative. Some kaiju were clearly good (Gamera, protector of children) some were evil (Gigan) some were more mercurial (Godzilla, terror of the deep, protector of Tokyo).

The gray area around your characters motivations makes it more interesting to the leader. Hayao Miyazaki was brilliant at this. The model for Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke who is destroying the forest to protect her city of outcasts, something bad for good reasons.


Draw a Kaiju of your own. (Comic book legend and creator of Hellboy Mike Mignola has been posting daily Kaiju drawings). But I want to see a few things in that drawing:

  • Visual cues to what your kaiju does that are good
  • Visual cues to what your kaiju does that are bad
  • An idea of the motivations (WHY does your kaiju do these things).

Share your drawings in the comments for discussion.

Developing a Plot

Daily Prompt, Virtual Comics Club

Today’s Daily prompt is the one we start off in the first class of comics club. Build a one frame comic telling the story of why the chicken crossed the road.

The single frame comic is a tricky element to work with, you have to tell a whole story in a single picture. This limits the range of time and space you can work in and you need to provide all the information about the narrative arc in the single frame. Gary Larsen’s Far Side comic or Bill Keane’s Family Circus, or where strip artists have used a single panel strip such as Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.

Introducing the required elements of every comic and comic page


There’s a chicken, there’s a road and there’s some reason for him to get to the other side.

  • Character: a chicken
  • Setting: near a road
  • Conflict: ??why??
  • What came before to create the situation
  • What happens after


This is a single panel. But don’t forget the checklist:

  • What’s the message
  • Where do I want focus
  • What can I do to lead my reader’s eyes along the path I want?
  • Words
  • Visual elements


There are multiple elements to draw here. Think about what makes the following recognizable:

  • The character: Chickens (how do they look? What visual elements do we recognize to make a chicken)
  • Roads (perspective?)
  • Depicting motivation

Basic Plot Preparation

Daily Prompt, Virtual Comics Club

Plot preparation is essential to building a readable comic. Your basic plot arc is pretty simple, our story goes from A to B to C.

Point A: The setup

This is where you let the reader know the basic facts about the situation

  • What is happening
  • Where is it happening
  • Who is it happening to
  • When is it happening

Visual elements or words can set all this u, like the narration box at the top of the page can tell us:

  • “Meanwhile back at the Baxter Building” establishes a parallel time and places the reader at the home of the Fantastic Four
  • “That morning” perhaps brings us back in time to preface what let up to now
  • The clock face at 9:00 AM shows us time and where we see the clock can tell us where

Visual cues such as sun position or stars in the sky can tell us

Point B: The conflict

A story isn’t interesting if there isn’t a conflict and solution. It’s like the verb in a sentence, it tells us something is happening. If I told you a story like “There was a pencil.” and ended it there, you would tell me its the worst story ever. Something happens in a story. There was a pencil on the ground waiting to be found. Now we have a conflict, the pencil is lost, the pencil might be found, it might not. There’s a narrative potential in the pencil.

The previous section “The Setting” gave us Who, What, Where and When, the one thing it left out is the Why. That’s the conflict, why is this happening and what is going to resolve it. That’s the basis of your story.

Point C: The resolution

How does the conflict get resolved? That’s the story you tell. What does your character have to do or learn or achieve to resolve the conflict.

Big Picture and Little Picture

Big story arcs are made up little story arcs and those little story arcs are made up of littler story arcs. Like Zeno’s paradox you need to make the little steps to get from one place to another. If we take Pokemon as an example; Ash Ketchum has got to catch ’em all, that’s the fundamental story arc for Pokemon.

  • To catch em all, he has got to catch one pokemon first
  • He has got find that one pokemon to catch
  • He has to learn how to catch that pokemon
  • he has to fight the pokemon to catch it

And that’s all if Team Rocket doesn’t create additional conflicts and plot elements to be told.

Each one of these is a little picture that breaks up into your overall story arc. You want to keep breaking your story down into little story arcs until you know what you want to resolve on a single page. Then you can move on to layout that page, with the essential elements of the story and setting.

The prompt for the weekend:

Thinking about the plot for your comic:

  • Write down the big picture arc in the briefest manner possible. “Spaceman Spiff must save Galaxy from Vogons”
  • Write down three small arcs that help get him there: Must fly to moon, Eats a sandwich on Mars, Defeats a Dragon
  • Pick a small arc and break it down into little tasks/conflicts: Find a spaceship, find a moon, find rocket fuel
  • Keep breaking it down until you have between one two or three you can fit on a page.
  • Write those down for a page layout exercise on Tuesday.

Penciling and Inking

Daily Prompt, Virtual Comics Club

The previous posts have mentioned penciling and inking as a method to get good scans or photos to post. This process is used by almost all comic creators in the comic book drawing process. It usually goes like this:

  1. Sketching or “Penciling”: Drawn with a pencil, or a blue non-photo-reproducable pencil (as you got in your comics club portfolio). This lets you develop the drawing and placement while still being able to make changes to the drawing.
  2. Inking: Tracing over the penciled drawing with ink to create crisp lines for reproduction. After inking the pencil lines are removed.
  3. Coloring: adding color to the inked drawings.
  4. Lettering: Placing word bubbles and such over the original drawings. These are usually laid out in the initial sketches to make sure the word bubbles don’t cover critical artwork and the flow of the page is preserved in the composition.

In the old days, this was done on sheets of vellum transparency sheets. These were acetate sheets that were clear with a texture that would accept ink. The vellum was placed over the pencil drawing and traced over, white out was used to make corrections. Colors were painted or drawn on another sheet of vellum placed over the inked vellum with the appropriate color separations for the printer to use. Some comic artists were specialists, only doing pencils or only inking over other’s pencils or were simply color artists. In the American comic industry it wasn’t until much later that we see the lone creator making comics by performing all these tasks alone.

Now we have lots of technology and digital tools to facilitate the process. Many comic artists today currently work fully digital, never creating a physical drawing on paper. Leveraging digital tools doesn’t need to be a high tech process. It can be as easy as taking a picture with a cell phone, a little light editing, and then sending that file to your home printer.

  1. My penciled drawing. I like to use a mechanical pencil, just because I don’t like to head off to the sharpener all the time. It also provides a fine line similar to what I will use inking. I am not doing graduated shading because I can’t reproduce it in ink so a graphite stick or other fine art pencil isn’t needed.
  2. My inked drawing (before erasing pencils). You don’t need a fancy pen or anything, though there are lots of them out there. The fiber tip style fine point pens are the easiest (The Sakura Micron is a popular model, but I’ve done a lot of inking with INC brand Optimus pens I bought at the Dollar Store). Many comic artists use brushes to apply ink. That’s why you see a lot of elegant tapered lines in classic comics. Experiment with tools that you like. A note on shading, shading in ink is usually done with cross hatching or parallel lines, line weight is also important for implying volume to shakes, experiment with your techniques to provide shading (another post on shading next week)
  3. After erasing pencils I take a photo of the inked drawing with my phone and edit that in the image editor. I trim the photo down to just my image and not all the stuff on my desk that might have gotten photographed as well. I adjust brightness and contrast to 100% to get a crisp highly contrasted drawing with bright whites and dark blacks.
  4. The edited photo, ready to print. You can print the inked and adjusted picture as your final work or practice adding colors to multiple versions until you get what you want.

I use an Android app called MediaBang Paint on a small Tablet for my final production. There’s lots of programs out there, this one just worked best for my process. Please ask any questions in the comments.

This has been a very talky talky technical post today before getting to the exercise. But if you hang around comics creators for long, you will find out how much technical chat they get on to, we geek out about pen nibs and brush sizes and what ink brands do certain kinds of effects best.

I want you to practice inking on one of the penciled pages below. Print them out and ink over them, you wont be able to erase the lines but they should be light enough to get filtered out. Then practice penciling and inking your own drawings.

images: Jack Kirby: THOR, John Buscema: Spider Ma, John Byrne: Fantastic Four. Characters are the property of Marvel Media

Splash Pages

Daily Prompt, Virtual Comics Club

During the last comics club session the class was really focused on making covers and splash pages. These pages introduce a story concept and grab the reader’s attention. One of the kings of the splash page was The KING, Jack “King” Kirby. His pages were amazing and revolutionary to the comic world, bold lines and text and often in simple single point perspective.

Images property of Marvel Comics with special mention to the Kirby estate for his contributions to comics and the imaginations of young people.

These pages grabbed new readers and enticed old readers. Often the previous issue ended on a cliffhanger, and the Splash was meant to either reignite the excitement from the last issue or make a new reader want to go back and find out what happened that our heroes are in such a dire predicament.

Today’s project for the Virtual comics club is to make a splash page for your comic. The comic can be anything you want, and new project or a project that you have been working on. It can even be a splash page for a comic you are reading (what would a Dog Man or Captain Underpants splash page look like, drawn like Kirby would have drawn it). There are a couple of parameters:

  • Use a Single Point Perspective: A single vanishing point in the center of the page. This helps align objects that get smaller as they are farther away.
  • Think about your plot: How does this splash page get readers up to speed on what is happening
  • What are the most important items on the page? Words and Pictures, what do you show and what do you tell.

As before I am looking forward to seeing your creations, post them in the discussion below.. Pencil then ink scan the best.

Trapped at home with nothing to do

Daily Prompt, Virtual Comics Club

We are trapped at home collectively with little to do. I wanted to extend a helping hand through our comics club. I would like to provide some daily prompts and activities that will help the students understand visual storytelling (or sequential art). These are little prompts that provide a kernel of creativity to start a project.

Post comments questions and best of all results below. Our comics are best when shared with everybody.

The first prompt will be a comic to complete. Print it out and draw on the page. Scan or photograph it to post your results. If you have been through comics club once before you will know that using the pencil to ink method will be the best.

Remember the steps:

  1. Plan the plot. I have given you the start and end, fill in the middle
  2. Layout the page, what is the focus? What do you want to say with words and what to say with pictures.
  3. Then start drawing, pencil then follow with black pen and remove your pencils.
  4. Photograph or scan. I use my phone for most of my professional scanning.