Hello everyone my name is Jey Pawlik, a Toronto nonbinary comic artist. On February 23rd I had the pleasure of giving a talk here at the Comics Open Library about creating webcomics and I’d like to share that information with anyone who wasn’t able to come.
I’m the artist for Topaz Comics which hosts the webcomics “Dead City” and “Gender Slices”, both of which are available at the library. Topaz Comics is the comic making duo I’m apart of with my partner Michelle Parker, where we’ve been creating Dead City and short comics for various anthologies (Bear Company Vol.2, SCORE!, Moonlight) together since 2013.
“Dead City” is a slice-of-life post-apocalypse webcomic where a zombie apocalypse has hit Toronto,, leaving JP and Mikael alone in the city and struggling to survive. While they’re searching for food and shelter, they find something else as well.
“Gender Slices” is a collection of short autobiographical comics about my experience of being trans and nonbinary in a ciscentric world.
I’m primarily a traditional artist and I’d like to share my tools with you. To start I want to talk about the pens and pencils I use.
For sketching I use coloured Col-Erase pencils. These pencils erase well and after I scan a comic page and bring it in to Photoshop I can easily remove the sketch beneath the inks, that way I won’t have to spend time erasing the sketch before scanning.
I ink all my pages with a few different pens; like my vintage waterman’s fountain pen that has a gold nib. The soft gold nib gives more varied lines as I use more pressure on the nib. My kuretake #13 has a brush head instead of a nib or metal head, it can be refilled like a fountain pen and it has a greater line variation but is a bit harder to control. Lastly is my fude fountain pen; it has a bent nib that gives me a wide variety of lines depending on which angle I hold the pen.
If you want to know more about fountain pens I co-wrote a zine about it “An Artist’s Guide to Fountain Pens” which will be available to read here at the library or on my online store.
I use 9×12″ bristol for my 6×9″ sized comics. You can use any kind of paper you want while making your comic. I use bristol because it works well with my pens, but watercolour paper, card stock, and even cheap copy paper can be used if that suits your process. As long as you can resize the page later for printing purposes any paper should work!
Comic paper is an option if you don’t want to make your own template.The blue guides on the paper can easily be removed in Photoshop or your art program of choice.
Tip: Another option is to measure out how big your template should be in Photoshop (or your art program of choice), then cut a piece of card stock or bristol to the size of template and trace along that to make the blue guidelines seen in the example here.
Even as a traditional artist I do use digital tools for colouring and clean-up. My process is typically:
1. Scan the page
2. Import the page into Photoshop where I use a template to ensure the page is sized correctly
3. Remove pencil and template lines with a Photoshop Action (mapping a key to a set of commands)
4. The Action also brings my lineart onto it’s own transparent layer, where I can then colour over and under the lineart
5. Use my screen tablet for colouring and adding tones
6. Post the page online or import the page into inDesign for printing
How to Make a Dead City page
My partner Michelle writes the script and draws the thumbnails. This is all handwritten. Dead City is a very traditionally made comic. The scripts and thumbnails are done on paper to make it easy to flip through and for me to have on hand while I’m sketching the page.
I sketch the page based off the script and thumbnail. Sometimes I’m asked to change a panel. Feedback is important and the page will always be better for it, don’t be discouraged if you receive negative feedback. Dust yourself off and try again!
This is an inked page, including the newly drawn panel. I ink the page after Michelle approves of the final sketch.
After I ink a page, it gets scanned at 600dpi. I pull it into Photoshop, clean it up, and add colour or tones. Dead City is a greyscale comic and I use one or two shades of grey very sparingly.
My steps for posting a page:
1. Resize the page so it fits the websites I’m posting it on. A Dead City page is 750x500px at 72dpi.
2. Post the page to topazcomics.com and tapas.io/series/deadcity/
3. Make a preview image to post to twitter and instagram, letting readers know the comic updated. I include links to the new page as well as the first page of the comic for any new readers.
For a full more detailed look on how I make a Dead City page check out these tutorials I wrote (with some slight differences, as these were written in 2017):
Part 1 (Script)
Part 2 (Sketch)
Part 3 (Inking)
Part 4 (Clean-up)
There are a few different ways you can be an artist for a comic and on this slide I’m providing some examples. I’ve experienced all three of these but find working as a co-author collaboration the most rewarding.
Tip: Always be sure you’re getting paid accordingly if your working for or with someone else. Write up or ask for a contract when working with clients.
Here’s an example of a clean script I wrote for an anthology submission (first slide), and my “scripts” for Gender Slices with an example of a final page (second slide). You can write a script as messy or as clean as you like, there’s no one way to write a script. Find a process that works for you and fine tune it as you go. No one has to ever see your thumbnails or scripts so be as wild or messy, or neat and tidy as you want!
My finished pages are 6×9″, and this is what my digital template looks like. Be mindful of page size before you start your comic so when you print it nothing will get trimmed off that you didn’t want trimmed off!
Scan comics that will be in B&W at 600dpi, and coloured comics at 300-400dpi for the best use of the file sizes.
My final scanned pages are 9×12″ and I resize them down to 6×9″ with a 0.125″ extra added for the bleed. The bleed is where any art you’d like to extend to the edge of the page will go to ensure it gets trimmed properly. Anything in the grey bleed area will be trimmed so be sure nothing important is drawn there, but your colours should extend to the end of the bleed to ensure no white will poke through after trimming and printing (shown below)
The safe area is where the important art and speech bubbles will go, nothing within this box will be cut.
The margin is the breathing room between the edge of the page and the panels themselves, anything in this area might be trimmed when the pages are cut so be mindful not to add anything important into the margin.
From Superwoman #7 (2016) this is a two page spread. It’s meant to be read as one full page, but how do you read it? Which panel is second? Where should your eye go?
This is an example of a badly laid out page where the panels look cool but it doesn’t help the reader actually read it.
Panels are important! You have to ensure your reader can follow your story throughout the page or else they’re going to put your book down and give up. So instead of making wild or complicated layouts, stick with simple ones and don’t let reading it become a chore.
– Don’t put in too many panels, you can easily overload a page. 9 panels is the best number to stop at, and 12 should be the absolute max, but remember it still needs to be readable.
– Use gutters to establish pacing and time. Large gutters in between panels can show a long time has passed.
Art? ART! This is the good stuff, but how good does it need to be? You can be as simple or detailed as you’d like but know how long a page takes you before you decide to draw a 400 page epic.
On the page show above I used digital brushes to my advantage to draw thousands of windows in a fraction of the time. Fill in the building in black and use the eraser to map out the windows.
– How long does it take you to make a page? Time yourself while drawing a page. What sort of timeline are you comfortable with? It takes me between 1-2.5 hours to sketch and ink a Dead City page.
– How detailed or simple it is, is up to you. If you like spending a long time on details be prepared to take a long time drawing your comic. Maybe try for shorter stories rather than a long-form one.
– Will it be in B&W or colour? Will colour make a difference? Can you save more time by making it B&W?
– Colour doesn’t mean it’s a better comic
– Work smarter, not harder. You have a lot of tools to make things easier on yourself like brushes in art programs, filters, and plug-ins. I can save a lot of time using my Photoshop Actions
– Put more work in to what you want the reader to see, less work into backgrounds if they’re not important.
– A reader might only take a couple of seconds per panel, think about this when doing the art. Is it worth it to spend 5 days on a page if the reader might not notice all the work and detail you put in?
Here’s an example (above) of my inks vs. Colours on my “We’re Still Here” comic. It looks like I spent a lot of time on this page with all the bottles but I really didn’t. I focused on the bottle in front and used only a few lines to draw the bottles in the background. I utilized colour here to make it look like I drew and coloured each bottle separately but I saved a lot of time and energy by taking shortcuts.
When you want a piece to be really impact and impressive you can spend more time on it. This library on the left looks very impressive and you can tell the artist took the care in drawing and colouring each book. As a full page spread it works really well and the reader will want to linger on this page. On the right, we have a library but it’s not the focal point so the artist used shortcuts to draw and colour it. Focus your energy on the things that matter, like the character’s expression on this page, she’s tired and the artist wants you to feel that and they’re not worried about you looking at the background as much.
On the left we have the colouring shortcut used for the library on the previous page (Twitter.com/cornhime/status/940244034307678210)
On the right is an extremely helpful shortcut for colouring. Photoshop has actions and plug-ins that can save you a lot of time. I use Multifill and it’s saved me so much time blocking in colours! (Twitter.com/celesse/status/1219674655663042561)
Comics are a really cool medium where you use images and words together to create a story. Those images and words need to work together to make the story work well.
– Neat and tidy speech bubbles are helpful to the reader and it makes the page easier to read
– Use weird bubbles to your advantage. It can change how a bubble is interpreted!
Comics don’t always need dialogue and there are quite a lot of great comics with no words at all. It’s a great thing to try out as a short to help your storytelling. Try to show, not tell.
Too much dialogue can really hurt a comic. There needs to be a good balance. The example on the bottom of the slide here is so much and I just don’t want to read it. The images are pushed aside and they don’t seem to add anything to the page. If you need this much text with little thought to how the drawings are displayed, you might just want to write a book instead.
Try not to go over 200 words per page. 50-100 is a good average.
You’ve drawn your page and now there’s only a few more steps before you can post it!
– For traditional artists, scan your page and bring it into your art program of choice (I use Photoshop)
– There are a lot of tools provided to make your process easier. As I mentioned earlier: I use actions in Photoshop as shortcuts to instantly take my scans and extract the lineart from them for ease of colouring and filling in.
A detailed example of how I clean up a page can be found on here!
You can make your own shortcuts using filters and brushes to colour things just the way you like them; from brushes that look like hair to filters that turn photos you’ve taken into backgrounds
– Ask friends for the brushes they use and try them out, maybe something will really stick with you
– Google things all the time! Just last week I searched “photoshop rain effect” and found exactly what I was looking for: a shortcut to make rain without drawing each drop!
Digital art programs to use: Clip Studio is the most popular, Medibang is a good free photoshop alternative, Procreate is great for iPad users, Affinity Designer is a cheaper photoshop alternative that isn’t subscription based
Digital art tools can be pricey but doesn’t have to break the bank
– I used a tiny Wacom bamboo tablet from 2006 to 2010, then a newer one from 2010 to 2018 (pictured in the slide)
– Cintiqs are screen tablets but are very expensive (pictured bottom right)
– I use an XP-Pen that is just as good as a Cintiq and much more affordable
iPads are becoming really popular for digital art and comics but don’t feel you need one to make comics
– I just bought a Samsung tablet that’s pretty comparable to an iPad pro
– There’s nothing wrong with using a cheaper alternative or a bamboo tablet forever
Have a dedicated update day and stick to it. I post Dead City and Gender Slices every Tuesday. Be predictable for your readers so they know when to check your sites.
– It’s okay to miss an update! Don’t let comics break you, you’re only human. Let your fans know when you’re missing a day and they’ll understand
Post your pages to your own website
– Having your own website will give you complete control over content, image sizes, buttons, and look to best match the feel of your comic
– You get to choose if you want ad revenue on your website (I use comicad.net for my ads) with no extra fees
– No need to worry about unexpected changes to your layout, the site shutting down or being bought out
– WordPress offers cheap hosting prices (around $15 a year)
– Doesn’t have a built in audience and you’ll have to work a little harder to get readers to your site
Post your pages to a comic hosting site like tapas.io or webtoons
– Built in readership
– Search options where readers can find your comic using keywords
– The chance of being featured on the front page can bring in a lot of views
– Free to host
– Ad revenue offered, but the hosting site will take a fee
– These sites can change management, be bought out, shut down, or change their terms of service quickly
– You won’t have control over the look of the site
Tell your readers when your page is up. Use social media to keep your readers updated, post previews of pages and include links on the post for easy access.
– 12pm to 1pm is the best time for Twitter posting, then retweet later on the in the day for people in different time zones
– 9am to 11am is the best time for Instagram, then use stories to re-share your posts and make people know you updated
*remember to resize images to post online. 300dpi isn’t great for websites. Scale it down to 72dpi and around 900px wide. This ensures the image is not massive when people click on it or open the page.
On to printing. You may not want to print now, but you might change your mind in the future. Having your pages print ready from the start will save you a lot of time later on.
– 6×9″ is a common size for comics and easy to remember
– There are many templates available online for comics that are 6×9″ that include bleed and the safe area marks
DPI (Dots per inch)
– How much information will fit in your image
– Scanning your B&W comic at 600dpi gives you the best look for a B&W page, it’s sharp and crisp without the file size being too large
– Working at 300-400dpi for colour is the standard as the file sizes tend to run larger for colour, saving file space this way is fine because you’re not compromising too much information on the image
Here’s an example of the differences between a 300dpi image and a 72dpi image at 300% zoom. Notice how pixelated the 72dpi one is? Never print images at 72dpi.
In your art program you should have the option for colour modes, this will include RGB, CMYK, Greyscale, and Bitmap. RGB and CMYK are the two you need to know about for comic making.
– RGB is the colour mode for images that will be viewed on a website
– Use RGB when posting comic pages to your websites
– CMYK is the colour mode for images that will be printed
– Use CMYK when printing *this is important
Images viewed on your computer or tablet will likely be in RGB and look great, but if you print those images without changing the colour mode your pages will look drastically different than they did on your computer. For optimum results simply change the colour mode from RGB to CMYK before sending it to print.
Now all you have to do is import them into inDesign (or a pdf making program alternative). You’ll import every page into a single inDesign file and export that as a .pdf with trim marks (your printer will give you the details). Then you email it to the printer.
You can talk to your printer about what paper you’d like, and they’ll send you information on how to setup your cover, this will depend on how many pages your book has. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions if you’re unsure about any step.
Marquis marquisbook.com I’ve worked with on the newer edition of Gender Slices and they did a great job! You can pick up your books right here in Toronto (they also ship books). No limit but the more books you buy the cheaper it is.
Sure Print and Design sureprintanddesign.ca is where I got the first editions of Gender Slices and Dead City printed, they did a great job and offer a lot of options. Also Toronto based. Marquis was just cheaper in the long run.
Greko grekoprinting.com is a US based printer and they can do full colour comics on nice glossy paper, there’s no limited number of books to order. I have not used this service but I have a lot of friends who have and have had a positive experience with it.
The Toronto Public Library torontopubliclibrary.ca/using-the-library/computer-services/book-printing-service/ has a printing option as well and doesn’t have a limit to number of books either. I have not tried the TPL’s printing service but it looks promising for those just getting started.
Colour is expensive. I saved $300 by excluding three coloured pages in Gender Slices when printing it. If you’re not working with a publisher and paying out of pocket you’ll need to think about this. Kickstarter might be a good option if you can’t pay for it yourself.
Ask yourself again, does your comic need colour?
Comics are a lot of work and you may feel like you’re not good enough right now, but you are. If you don’t start now, you might never do it. So just do it!
– I tried to make my first webcomic in 2006. I was 15-16 and it wasn’t very good. It wasn’t formatted properly and I could never print it even if I wanted to. I saved it as 72dpi and 300x150px and all my pages have these terrible watermarks on them. Learn from my mistakes and format properly before you start your comic!
– In 2017 I did a comic for Oh Joy Sex Toy and it doesn’t really look like it’s drawn by the same person as the left, does it? This is what practice can do and what you can achieve if you just keep at it.
In 2013 we started Dead City and while the art looks a bit rough the first few chapters it’s really nice to look back on how much I’ve grown as an artist since then.
Thank you for reading. I’ve included some of my favourite resources, as well as links to all the images used in this blog post. I’ll also be making a “The Ins and Outs of Webcomics” zine that will be available here at the library within the next month! I’d also like to thank the Canada Comics Open Library for having me as creator in residence this month, be sure to come by and check them out if you can.
“Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud
Superwoman (2016-2017) #7
Understanding Comics pg.86