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January 1, 2011
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Things to Avoid When Making Comics

Journal Entry: Sat Jan 1, 2011, 9:50 AM
Or, Things That Really Annoy Crowbar

Edit April 16: Given recent comments, it's come to my attention that the tone I've used is too derogatory and using others' work as examples was a huge mistake. I've rewritten it to be what I hope is more constructive, and removed the examples (since half were missing anyway). My intention with the examples was only to provide example of that one element, not to completely defame the authors or insinuate their entire comic is shit. All the examples had good and bad to them, but the focus of this write-up is the bad. [/edit]

The majority of these issues are things I see in OCT entries and could be easily avoided and/or improved on. Please be aware that these are things I find issue in, and some points may be more subjective than others. For most points, I've explained why I think it's wrong, what can be done to fix it, and how it can be made to work well. Above all, think about how each element of your comic impacts the narrative and use them to achieve a purposeful effect.


Same-Size Panels

In comics, panel size equals panel time. If they're all the same size, it has an even rhythm and your eye glances from panel to panel at an even rate. It also ends up looking more like a storyboard. Changing it up alters the flow of time and the viewer's eye. Use small panels for quick action and large ones for when there's an image you really want your viewers to dwell on.
On the other hand, using a storyboard-esque layout can be a powerful way to control pacing, such as in Watchmen. Carefully consider what actions to show and how much space to devote to them, and don't be afraid to toss up the layout if need be.


Packed Panels

This is a very subjective one. It refers to comics that place many panels per row (say, 4, 5, or more), and rows are stacked horizontally, unlike a strip. I find it works fine in monochrome works, such as Lackadaisy Cats, but when in colour looks really crowded and cramped. Dresken Codak is a comic enjoyed by many of my friends, but I can't get into it because I actually find the packed layouts disturbing. Still, I can appreciate the artist's very useful words on advanced layouts.


Uneven Panels

Especially when it comes to the outside borders of the panel group (which should all be in the live area if you're doing a conventional page-by-page comic), the panels edges should line up. It'll keep them looking neat and tidy, otherwise it might seem like you've just pasted panels in willy-nilly. It is common to have panels extend beyond the live area, but it's generally done by bringing the edges out to a consistent measurement or right to the bleed.
Unevenness is easier to get away with if you use hand drawn panels, but you still gotta watch that they look neat. Of, if they're wild, make sure it's for a wild scene.


Art & Panel Style Discrepancies

Unless your art style consists of chicken scratches, your panel border style shouldn't be chicken scratches, either. Same goes for the straightness/smoothness of the edges, they should match the qualities of your style. So, an art style that's very bouncy, energetic, and uses clean lines won't go well with edges that are pinched in (this fits), but are a mess of many marks. If all else fails, use a ruler with the most common drawing tool used.
Hanna Is Not A Boys' Name and Ratfit are good examples of having the panel edges match the style.


Mile Wide Gutters

Guters are the spaces between panels. If you make them too large, they needlessly inflate the size of your comic and overwhelm the content of the panels. It's also a sign of poor planning, as it looks like the panels were made independent of each other and pasted together without much consideration. Panels should fit like a puzzle, not like pictures floating in space.
Mile-wide gutters might work if you want to create a scene that's loose and disjointed, like a dream. Or, to signify a large gap in time between panels.


Non Gutters

Mile Wide Gutter's polar opposite, but still almost as bad. Also possibly a result of over-correcting Art & Panel Style Discrepancies. Non-Gutters occur when panels touch each other and are separated the same way everything else is drawn. This makes panels hard to distinguish, and panels may be inferred where they shouldn't be if any verticals or horizontals are present.
Non-Gutters work well with simple styles that leave a lot of negative space around the characters and other objects.

There's a sweet spot for gutter size that varies with style. It can even vary from panel-to-panel-to-panel. Try to think of gutters as the time between panels. You may find a time where having a huge gutter and/or floating panels will benefit your narrative. Overlapping or insetting panels may create non-gutters, but can be used to affect the flow of time.


Gutter Talk

This occurs when normal dialogue is placed in the gutters, and often accompanies Mile-Wide Gutters. It's bad because it separates the words from the speaker and context of which it's said. It's also representative of poor planning, that not enough space in the panel was left for word bubbles. Remedying this simply involves planning: leave space for bubbles when you draw the panels. It's made easier when doing comics completely digitally because you can place text & bubbles before drawing.
Gutter Talk works when you do want separation of dialogue and speaker, such as for narration, or maybe an omniscient character is watching the scene unfold and commenting on it from another location.


Badly Drawn Bubbles

Done poorly, hand-drawn bubbles are clonky, unattractive, and very distracting. Bubbles should be something you just glance over for the sake of reading. When you notice them, they interfere with the art.
Hand-drawn bubbles CAN work, and plenty of comics use them. It just takes practice. But, until your skills are up to snuff, practice should perhaps be left to scraps. Remember to draw them around text blocks so they'll fit. If you just can't draw bubbles - like me - use vector tools.


Misshapen Bubbles

Even though hand-drawn bubbles will invariably have variations in them, all bubbles should be simple shapes that fit the text. Making the text and/or bubble misshapen to fit the art is another sign of poor planning, and good planning is all that it takes to remedy it. It's okay to have bubbles cut off my panel borders, and having them be cut off by objects can insinuate that the speaker is behind something.

My general rule is that one bubble = one breathe. The tails of speech bubbles should go from the centre of the bubble and point at the source of the speech/sound, generally someone's mouth.


Bad Flow of Dialogue

The Flow of Dialogue is an imaginary line that connects all word bubbles. Ideally, this will be a smooth line that hits all important text and art elements and spans the entire page. If your dialogue flow is too jagged, or doubles over on itself, it will make reading conversations confusing to readers.

The flow of dialogue is a great tool to direct the viewer's gaze. If the source of sound is off the panel, the tails can be used to direct the viewer to where it is (say, placing a new character in an environment), or lead into the next panel.


Square Text, Round Bubble

It's like trying to put a square block through a round hole, it ain't gonna fit. You should alter your text block to fit the shape of the bubble to be used, which may have to be done manually depending on how you place text. I sometimes end up fiddling with text blocks for a good while just to make them fit. If you just can't do it, use rectangles or rounded rectangles for bubbles.


Coloured Bubbles

This one is also very subjective. Colour draws attention (especially in a grayscale comic), makes the bubbles noticeable, distracts from the art. If you're colouring the bubbles for the sake of giving each character an identifying colour, STOP. Any alterations to the bubbles or text, even colour should be for the sake of expressing something about the character's voice or speech patterns. Kukuburi does it well. I think it's also alright to make all bubbles a bit off-coloured (like cream or light, pale blue) to lessen contrast.


Identifier Tags

If your readers can't tell who's speaking without you writing the name of the character in the bubble, you're not planning well enough. Stop and think for a moment: are there any other ways to show who's speaking? Is it absolutely imperative for the speaker to be known? Connecting a bubble to something the character previously said may work.


Bad Handwritten Dialogue

Don't do this unless you have a very neat printing style, can write levelly, and don't use frills. I often find handwritten text hard to read and the letter might have some uncharacteristically loopy letters (E's tend to be a big offender) that really grate on me. If you can't find good comic book fonts, check out BlamBot, they have a bunch of good free ones.


Comic Sans MS

Just because it has comic in its name, doesn't mean it's good for comics.


Picking Colours from Reference Sheets

This one happens a lot in OCTs, given that you have to use others' characters. Never use the colours off someone's ref sheet. Chances are, you and the other artist have different conceptions of what colours are light and dark, and when the characters are together using reference colours, they'll clash and/or the others' character won't fit. Generally, I make a new set of swatches for each scene, because colours will also be altered by the environment they're in. If you're really stuck, use the reference colours and alter them with filters such as Hue & Saturation and Colour Balance. Ideally, you should read up on colour theory.


Telepathic Speech

This occurs when a speaking character has his/her mouth closed. Solution: draw the mouths open. I find that having their mouths closed while they're speaking makes a panel sterile. The mouth can express better when it's open than when it's closed. Also keep in mind that the mouth takes on different shapes for different sounds and expressions. Sounds like "mmmm" do leave the mouth closed.


Gaping Maws

Kinda the opposite of Telepathic Speech, when a character's mouth is constantly open and unchanging. It makes the character seem static, when otherwise they may be talking animately. To fix it, study the different shapes made by the mouth, even just by making faces in a mirror.
Gaping Maws could work for things like prolonged yawns and screams.


Meme & Texticon Faces

Trollface, Raegface, etc etc. These face may be funny, but they cross the fourth wall and take the reader out of the story. Same goes for texticon faces - they don't properly reflect emotions. It's fine to use exaggerated expressions, but make sure they have root in proper facial movements. Study how people react in cinema, TV, and real life. This guide is a very helpful resource.

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:icongrumpy-old-snake:
Grumpy-Old-Snake Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2012  Student
I am currently participating in a 'practice' OCT, and recently made a second attempt at doing a few comic pages. I feel that I made a big improvement between my first try [link] and my most recent [link] [link] , especially in my panel layout and pacing. Is this feeling unfounded, or am I moving in a good direction?
Reply
:iconkillerspiderwebs:
killerspiderwebs Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2011
0.o lots of hates... oh well i thought this was very useful thank you for your information after reading this i am going to go fix all my comics XD i just do em by hand though! lol
Reply
:iconcrowbartk-hullo:
CrowbarTK-Hullo Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
I was aiming more for snark than hate, but oh well. it's old and in the past. |D
Reply
:iconkillerspiderwebs:
killerspiderwebs Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2011
haha its ok it helped me though im trying to get in a tournament with my characters but idk if i have found the right one yet.. or one that i can actually audition for XD
Reply
:iconcrowbartk-hullo:
CrowbarTK-Hullo Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Hah, well, you can always make comics on your own. :) Best way to learn is to just keep at it, find a practice that works for you, and keep reading other comics, to see what they do right and wrong.
Reply
:iconkillerspiderwebs:
killerspiderwebs Featured By Owner Dec 8, 2011
haha yea i hope that will help.. my mother never lets me read them though she sas my brain will melt and they are a waste of my time.. so i go to the library and read them! XD and thatnks for the advice! :iconshaplz:
Reply
:iconartic-blue:
Artic-Blue Featured By Owner May 28, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oooh, I'm guilty of some of these. :iconotlplz:
Reply
:iconcrowbartk-hullo:
CrowbarTK-Hullo Featured By Owner May 29, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Well, now you know what to improve on. =P
Reply
:iconangry-paradox:
Angry-Paradox Featured By Owner May 9, 2011  Student Digital Artist
I don't see why people have to hate on this, there good suggestions and people don't necessarily have to follow them. It doesn't make you wrong, it probably looks good the way you're doing it right now. So keep doing that and stop hating please because your making me cry lol :iconcryplz:
Reply
:iconcrowbartk-hullo:
CrowbarTK-Hullo Featured By Owner May 9, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Ah, if you hadn't seen the old written version, it was written in a harsher tone, and that's where the complaints come from. Thanks for your support, though.
Reply
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