Thursday, March 28, 2013

How I Draw a Comic Strip

I know, I know there's thousands of these, 'How I draw a comic strip' things on the net. Just about every webcomicer and his wife has one, and a lot of the established syndicated cartoonists have this kind of feature tucked away somewhere on their vast, sprawling sites.

Well I'm no different. I'm a cartoonist, I draw strips and its my site so there!

Okay, so that last bit was a little harsh, but if the truth be known as an aspiring cartoonist, back in the 80's, and before the Internet, all we had was the very rare insert into the even rarer cartoonist's biographies. To us 70's and 80's kids, the actual nuts and bolts of how a comic strip was produced was virtually nil.

In fact the only one I saw was in the Peanuts Jubilee Book which was a heady and very exciting mixture of reprints, biography and assorted back stage info. I can assure you I read and re read and re read and...well you get the picture.

But the point I guess I'm trying to make is that as a cartoonist, aspiring or otherwise, a pictorial tutorial on how that cartoonist produces his or her strip is like a magnet to us. I doesn't matter how many we see, but if the words 'How I draw my strip' are seen anywhere, you can guarantee every cartoonist who loves his or her trade will click on that link.

So for that reason and also for an indulgence on my behalf, ladies and gentlefolk I would like to take you behind the scenes of how I draw a cartoon strip

This is a strip that I first created waaaaaaay back in the mid to late 80's. It was initially called Bib's Eye View and was about a little tearaway baby. It never got optioned by any syndicates, major newspapers or magazines; although it did run in a handful of local papers for about five years.

The reason why I'm doing it now is I've given it a re-vamp. The premise was, I am willing to admit now, very weak and predictable; syndicate editors see this premise a million times over in cute dogs, kids and cats and it must be a major turn off. So now I've concentrated on the characters personality; more of which I will go into on a further post where I'll talk about how to submit a collection of strips to a syndicate and I'll also post ten or so of the finished strips and a character sheet. So patience, O'over excited one.

Anyway, back to the strip:

1. First I draw up the panels--- this is where I decide on how many frames are needed for maximum impact---then I roughly lay out the wording in pencil. I then read over it making sure that there are no unnecessary words and that the wordage is tight and to the point. (a strip should aim to have around 50 words)

2. Once I've completed the lettering I begin to pencil in the characters. Once again, like the words, the pictures should have in them only what is pertinent to the strips easy flow. I know this may sound obvious, but I've seen many and aspiring cartoonist make the mistake of sticking something in the background, just because it was funny. This kind of detail is fine on full page comic book art or on sequential stories, but not the little 3-4 panel newspaper strip

3 Once the panels are pencilled in I move onto the lettering. At this point it's a good idea to sit back and give your strip a few run throughs, just to make sure its as tightly worded as you can get it without losing the point. (This only applies to old traditionalists like me who still pencil, ink and letter by hand. Those of you that do the lettering digitally can always check and change as you go along) Once you are happy then go ahead and letter it. In this strip I had two different sets of letter sized and lettered them with two thicknesses of pens. (See below)

4. Now its onto the inking. Once again this tutorial is for the purists amongst us. My cartoons are inked with a Gelliot 303 nib and gives me the look I'm after without having to reset my Wacom tablet pen. I carefully pick out the lines, twisting and turning the strip so as I don't smudge the wet ink.

5. Last but not least, I paint in the black solids with a number 1 brush. Brand and standard are really unimportant for this, so long as the end isn't splayed or forked.

6. And now, finally, we come to the last bit; the all important signature. Once that's done it time to size up the next panels, chose your wording and crack on with the next strip in the series.

If you're lucky this could turn out to be a career for you. I can think of a lot worse jobs than sitting behind a drawing board, while the world scrambles on helplessly about you, as you draw funny pictures for a living...Ah bliss!

Below I've place the finished strip; it kinda puts the whole exercise in context.

Hope you enjoyed the tutorial and will come back to see the finished package before I send it out in a week or two. I will, of course, keep you updated as to any news I get back, good or bad.

If you like my blog and the things that I say and do, please tell your friends; mention me on Facebook, Twitter and any of the other fine social media networking sites you use. I would love to have my work reach a much larger audience and although I could no doubt eventually get there under my own steam, I'll get there a lot quicker with your help, so please, please spread the word.

Thank you


  1. Thank you for sharing.

  2. My pleasure Bill, glad you enjoyed it


  3. Enjoyed your tutorial, I'm curious about the size of the each box inside the panels. What size is each box and are they always the same dimensions?

  4. Hi, I enjoyed you tutorial. How big are the boxes in your panels? Are they always the same dimensions?

  5. Hi, I enjoyed you tutorial. How big are the boxes in your panels? Are they usually the same dimensions?

    1. Hi Orlando. Most comic strips are drawn 13"x4", that's finished size, and single panels are 7"x7"

  6. You've added a groove to my brain! It felt good. I'm enhanced.

    Ya, this is informative. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

  7. You put a groove in my brain. It feels groovy. Thanks, I need the dent.

    Also thanks for taking the time to inform and entertain the confused, stress-infected masses of the 21st Century. Obviously a jolly good fellow. Indeed. Jolly good, I said.

    1. Thank you, Perry,

      I do love producing my art and the tutorials are becoming very popular. Please do keep coming back for even more tutorials, stories, assorted silliness and news on future projects



  8. Hey Karl! This is so informative, thank you so much. By the way, what size paper should the comic be drawn on? A2? Also, what is the recommended size for the panels?

    1. Hi Sukhbir,
      I normally draw them two up on a sheet of A3 but some cartoonists draw on A2 other on A4. I guess it's whatever you find the most comfortable


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