Mailbag: Illustration board and templates
Q.: I am currently developing my first webcomic but I am unsure about the paper size I need to purchase for a four panel strip. I would like to alternate between a four panel and three panel strip. Also I was wondering if you hand draw every panel that you do or did you create a template for your panels?
A.: There are as many ways to do this as there are artists. But let’s talk about a few options.
First of all, there’s no such thing as a standard size for comic strips any more — unless you have a credible shot of getting printed in newspapers. That being said, I think the aspect ratio of the standard newspaper comic strip is awfully pleasing and darned flexible, so I’ve stuck with it. Plus, it makes things simple when newspapers do want to run my strips.
My original strip measures 13 inches wide by 4 inches deep.
For a template, I have a sheet of bristol onto which I carefully measured three four-panel strips. I have guides that are drawn all the way to the edges of the page. So when I’m ready to start a new board, I place it on top of the template, make some hash marks, and then grid off the new board.
Click the image to the right for a larger step-by-step on this process.
Print your own template
As a variation on this theme, you could make all of your measurements in a layout app such as Adobe InDesign and — if your printer can handle it — feed your paper through your printer and print the template directly on the board.
If you’re hand-lettering, you could include those measurement marks as well.
If you print the lines in 100% cyan, they’ll easily drop out in the scanning process.
This process may beat up your printer a little (especially if you’re using heavier illustration board). Tiny flakes of the board are going to flake off and eventually gum up the inner workings of your printer. But, in all seriousness, ink-jet printers are cheap. It’s the ink cartridges that are expensive as heck. Speaking of which, if you adopt this practice you’ll be wise to keep a bunch of extra cyan cartridges around so you’re not needlessly delayed by an empty cartridge.
Now… let’s talk panels
So much of the logistics of comics is based on the influence of over 100 years of newspaper publication. As a result, there’s an awfully good reason that many four-panel strips maintain four equal panels. That gives an editor the option of running it in a horizontal space as well as in a square (two panels on top, two on the bottom).
But again, that’s not really so much of an issue anymore.
So — speaking only for myself here — although I grid-off four equal panels, I freely draw wider and skinnier panels based on the needs of the composition and the visual requirements of the storytelling. Sometimes my strip is one, long panel. Other times, I float an extra panel between two regular-sized ones. Or divide one panel into two, stacked panels. The possibilities are endless, and I think it’s important to make use of those possibilities as I push myself to be a better storyteller.
I couldn’t think of anything more boring than to stay to four equal panels (or to even alternate between four equal panels and three equal panels) for very long.