Comic Book Layout Techniques

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  07 July 2012
Comic Book Layout Techniques

I'd like to use Photoshop to layout all the sketches for a comic book. The finished product would be hand-drawn, however Photoshop could give me a lot of flexibility and increased productivity in sketching it out and give me more freedom in arranging the overall narrative flow of the images/story. Surely I am not the first one to think of this, and so I assume there must be some established techniques for doing this, even plugins specially designed to help with the process.

I would appreciate any suggestions to point me in the right direction.

David Normal

PS: It's been a few years since I posted on CGTalk!
"The present age has advanced in nothing so much as the art of its puppetry."

- Henry Fielding, from "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling," 1749
  07 July 2012
I dunno about "established techniques" but some things I can think of:

Grid size: set the grid size to X - where X is the number of pixels between your panels. This way, you (or the artists?) can easily paint out panels in just seconds by turning the grid on and off with a hotkey.

Speedpaint brushes: Get a good set of speedpaint brushes - such as these:

And what else?
I'm sure there are many techniques and I'm by no means an expert when it comes to creating comic books (or even do concept art) but I think you will be fine with just common sense. Like for instance:
Use layers heavily, adjustment layers for fixing contrast/brightness/coloring/etc and work non-destructive: Non-destructive means that you can always do changes to your sketch without too much hassle. And yea... when painting highlights and shadows for example, instead of painting this onto your base color layer you could just create a new layer, fill an entire panel with grey (128 128 128), set the blend mode to "overlay" and then use dodge and burn on that layer. Burn for shades and dodge for highlights. That's another good technique I use when making 3D textures. (Or I keep shadows in one layer with "Multiply" and another with highlights with blend mode "Screen" or "Linear Dodge Add")

That way I can also control the strength of the shades/highlights very easily - and most important of all: it can be done very quickly.

Last edited by DeadlyNightshade : 07 July 2012 at 09:39 PM.
  07 July 2012
Thanks, Nightshade, for sharing your thoughts.

Thanks for the tip on the Speedbrushes - I'll download those.

In addition to being able to sketch rapidly through the judicious use of layers, I am looking to Photoshop to be able to organize the frames. Making a comic is very much like making a storyboard for a film since the visual language revolves around "key frames". In the past, when I made animations, I would often begin by storyboarding them with index cards. The use of the index cards allowed me to edit the narrative freely. However, that's kind of a primitive approach, and index cards are not so great to draw upon.

I'm thinking of working in tangent with Premiere in such a way that everything saved to a specific folder imports into Premiere. Then I can view the flow of keyframes on the timeline and edit them as needed. Once I have all of those keyframes established then it would be a question of integrating them into pages of a comic book.

I'm wondering what kind of tools/techniques there are for managing files so that I can organize them in Photoshop via their order in Premiere. I am thinking of things like exporting tif sequences, using automated commands in Photoshop to lay out files into custom contact sheets, editing the images in the tif sequences and bringing them back into Premiere (or I suppose I could use After Effects . . . ) I use Photoshop often, but in a rudimentary way and not via Adobe Bridge so I don't know what it does, although I think it might have some helpful features for the sort of tasks I wish to do. Any suggestions?

"The present age has advanced in nothing so much as the art of its puppetry."

- Henry Fielding, from "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling," 1749
  07 July 2012
When you say key frames are you refering to "panels" - the rectangular blocks containing the comic book storys or key frames in animation? (Im used to the latter, hence the question).

Either way, all that you want out of Photoshop should be there and there shouldn't be any problems.
My advice is that you place your panels/(key frames) in groups inside Photoshop. You can group several layers with Ctrl+G or by clicking the folder icon. This is good for two reasons:

Having them automagicly snap to your grid will definetly speed up your process. With a grid set to have it's cell size equal to the distance between the panels, you will always get a nice, ordered distance between them and can easily move around the different groups/panels. You turn on the grid when moving around panels - and turn it off when drawing.

The second reason is that with groups, you can easily do a playback animation - even if you are only interested in step animation (realtime 24/25 is not interesting to a comic book -person after all!). Photoshop stores the animation frames in groups by default you see.

As for file organising you should look into Adobe Bridge. I don't use it myself but I have friends in the graphic design and web industries who absolutely loves it. It's a cross-application tool for organising your files and projects and I'm sure you can make good use of it.

Last edited by DeadlyNightshade : 07 July 2012 at 09:54 AM.
  07 July 2012
Hi Nightshade,

Thanks for your further suggestions. It's taken me some time to get back to this.

By "key frames" I do mean the frames in a story board (also called "key shots"), and not "keys" in a CG animation timeline.

I've used the grid to assemble collections of images in Photoshop before. I'll give that a shot again. Layer groups I have also used, but I found them not so useful in the past. I'll have to look at them again and see if I can put them to good use this time.

I'll look into Adobe Bridge as well.

Once I get started I'll post back here with an update and let you know what kind of workflow I'm using.


- David
"The present age has advanced in nothing so much as the art of its puppetry."

- Henry Fielding, from "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling," 1749
  07 July 2012
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