How To Become A Comic Book Penciller

What Do I Need To Be A Comic Book Penciller

Midsection Of Woman Drawing At Home
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It is the penciller's job to take a comic script and give it form. Sometimes the script describes exactly how everything should look. At other times, there is only a basic suggestion as to what should actually be on the page. In any case, it is the penciller's job to take those words and give them life in a way that makes sense, moves the story along, and with a consistent quality.

Skills Needed

A successful penciller needs:

  • Artistic Know How – A comic book artist needs to know how to draw! Study great artists like Kirby, Lee, and Cassaday. Practice every day, studying human anatomy and architecture. Take classes or buy a book. Get out there and draw!
  • Create What Your Mind Sees – An artist needs to be able to envision something, then put it down on paper. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as that, but you need to be able to create pictures from a description or picture in your mind.
  • Flexibility – Things change all the time. Sometimes you have to roll with the punches and change things midstream. This may be different if you are the sole creator or are self publishing, but in the world of a freelance artist, you need to be able to change things for your clients.
  • Professional Behavior – Being able to turn out work when you say it will be done will go a long way to getting jobs in the future.
  • Collaborative Mindset – Creating a comic book is a collaborative effort between writer, artist, editor, and the rest of the team. Be willing to hear ideas and modify them to the overall vision of the project. Stand your ground though, if your values are in question.
  • Consistency – You need to be consistent as an artist. If a character changes the way they look throughout the comic, and it isn’t intentional, your reader will be confused. Things need to look right and make sense. Developing a consistent style (hopefully a good one) will go a long way in making you a better artist.

Equipment Needed

Basic Equipment

  • Drawing Utensils – The basics of these is the common pencil. Starting out, you won’t need much more than that. Once you have the basics down, there are a plethora of things you can invest in. Paintbrushes, different kinds of pencils, mechanical pencils, and most artists use a light blue colored pencil, as it disappears during copying. You can literally use just about anything that leaves a mark, but the most common drawing utensil is still the pencil.
  • Paper – Again, when starting out, any paper will do to get the basics down. When you go to create comic books, however, most use what is called Bristol Board or Bristol Paper, an 11 X 17 size piece of multi-ply paper with a 10 X 15 size working space. This is pretty much the industry standard.
  • Sketch Book – Having a portable studio to sketch down ideas when one is inspired is priceless. You never know when something will just click, and being able to get it down right away will go a long way in helping you stay creative.
  • Workspace – Most professional artists use some kind of art table. The table is able to be adjusted to different angles to make drawing more comfortable. Some also have an opaque or glass top with a light under it and are known as “light boards.” These allow the artist to do rough sketches on cheaper paper, then trace over their work on nicer paper for the finished product. Whatever you do, you need a place to work. Having a consistent space will help you produce consistent work.
  • Reference Material – This could take many forms, one of the most common would be the internet. Need to draw the Empire State Building? Google it and find a nice picture. Many artists have anatomy books to see how the body looks in different positions. Others take pictures of proposed panels to see how lighting will affect the figures and characters.

Optional Equipment

  • Computer – Many artists use digital methods in creating comics. This may not be in the penciling stage per se, but is often used in inking, coloring, and lettering. Since many artists do various parts of the process, it would be wise to learn some of these skills, if only to see how these other creators think.
  • Wacom Tablet – These new devices are becoming an integral part of creating comics on computers. It is essentially a drawing tablet that allows you to draw directly into the computer program. It is used in many different aspects of comic creation, from inking, and coloring, to even drawing comics. Serious technophiles will want to invest in this device.
  • Scanner – Since comics these days are often finished digitally, this could be a must have, but will remain in the optional equipment for now. Scanning your work in will enable many things. First it will allow you to send it digitally to other creators waiting to finish the process of the comic. It will enable instant feedback from writers and editors, enabling the project to move forward. It will also preserve the original artwork for safe keeping or sale.
  • Website – Since your work is so visual, it will behoove you to eventually have a website. This can accomplish many things. It will give you a way to connect with fans, provide a showcase of your work for potential employers, and enable you to advertise your work, sale items, and services.

Some Famous Comic Book Artists

Jack Kirby
Will Eisner
Frank Miller
Jim Lee
John Cassaday
Dave Cockrum
Steve Ditko
Frank Quietly
Michael Turner

So You Want To Be A Comic Book Penciller?

Get drawing! Learn the basics of anatomy and architecture. This will help you to develop your personal style of art. Try different techniques and don’t settle for just one way. Be creative and practice as much as you can. Being an artist is a lot of hard work and takes dedication, determination, and time to hone your skills.

Quotes From Comic Book Pencillers

From Jim Lee – Superstar comic book artist of The X-Men, Batman, Divine Right, WildC.A.T.S., and many others. From an interview on Newsarama found on the Art of Jim Lee newsgroup:

About drawing Batman and styles – “Well, I like to experiment with different styles--just for fun really. But when it comes down to working on a project--I try and use a style which best fits the material. Someday, I hope to paint a project--it’s a matter of finding the right project."

"The classic style is the one I feel most comfortable with and the one which is most versatile in my mind. Sure, I could draw Batman in a more expressionistic, looser style but how does that style work for characters like Poison Ivy or Robin or Harley Quinn to use different examples. That said, I think there will be some surprises in store for Batman fans even from a stylistic perspective. It’s gonna be fun when it finally comes out.”

From Darick Robertson – Artist of Transmetropolitan and The Boys. From an interview on Silver Bullet Comic Books 404.

About the collaborative effort – “Yeah, in this case (The Boys) it was more of a collaborative effort, when I didn’t expect it as much. I’m running everything by Garth because I really want to bring his vision to this book as best I can, because he’s very prolific and ahead of schedule and so am I, so between the two of us we can really craft the book as a team. I feel like my role on the team is to make sure what he wants is what he gets. I’m inking it myself and so after that point, Tony Avina, the colourist, is coming in and he’s treating my work with the same respect that I’m treating Garth’s work. Tony’s making sure I’m getting what I want, I’m making sure Garth gets what he wants… I think ultimately it makes a very cohesive look for the book. So far it’s been very fluid. We are very collaborative. Everybody is looking at what each other is doing, and we’re all talking to each other, which is great because on a lot of projects you find yourself working in a vacuum.”