How to Draw Comics: Character Design & Drawing the Figure

Being the fourth installment of my How to Draw Comics series.

Now that you know who your character is, it’s time to draw her. Seeing how you’re going to be drawing this character a lot over the course of your comic, it’s a good nail down their look so you can be consistent. However, it’s not uncommon for a character design to evolve over time in a comic—it certainly did to the characters in Paradigm Shift—but spending the time to work out the character’s overall shape, costume and before starting Page 01 is worth the effort. Additionally, working on understanding human anatomy and figure drawing practice can really take your character drawing to a new level.


Getting Into Character

Here’s some examples of playing around with a character before starting a project. This is Candy from STRANGER. I knew I wanted her to look a bit like a Miyazaki character, but I played around with a couple of designs before settling on her final look:

For Candy’s counterpart, Nikka, it took a little more work before I nailed down her design. Again, I took some inspiration from Miyazaki by riffing off of Sen from “Spirited Away”. However, by borrowing the rounder head and wide-spaced eyes and combining them with features inspired by a cuttlefish, I was able to create something entirely new.

Here’s her final design:

A Quick Note on Silhouette

Familiar character silhouettes: Batman | Bone | Raina from “Smile” | Totoro

The first thing anyone will see about your character is the shape his or her outline creates, not the details within. Having characters with distinct body and head shapes will help make them more recognizable in your story.

The Head & Face

Firstly, let’s look at the head and face because the are probably the most important features for identifying your character and letting him express himself. Even the shape of the head can suggest a personality—triangular, round, square. Each gives a different feel. Also, adding differently shaped hair or other features that can create a unique, recognizable shape can help tremendously as well. This is how I designed the alien characters for the story STRANGER:

In order to draw my characters’ heads from any angle, I use two basic head shapes as a starting point and then squash and stretch them into the approximate shape. I borrow from techniques used in animation to construct a character from more basic shapes underlying the head. The first is the classic anime “seed” shaped head:


I draw the seed by starting with a circle (or spherical ball, as I imagine it in my mind) and then hanging a pointed jawline off that circle a various angles. Then by drawing a “cross” dividing the center of the face and where the eyes will be, you can use this seed shape to draw that head from any angle. This is the shape I use for Kate’s head in Paradigm Shift. Using this as my starting point, I rough the entire head, then add in more detail before completing the final drawing. I use this process for all my comics and illustration, working from rough forms through final image. This is how I use the seed shape to draw Kate from the front, side and 3/4 view:

Take note of how the proportions of the face translate across between the differing angles. The line that runs through the eyes is roughly halfway between the top of the head and the chin. The tip of the nose sits about halfway between the eye line and the chin. The mouth sits about halfway between the nose and the chin. From the side, if you draw a line from the tip of the nose to the chin, the lips will roughy fall in line within there. The ears sit on a line that is halfway between the front of the head and the back and their curve starts in line with eyes. If you imagine the center line of the face curving to the left or right and the eye line curving up or down, you can start to see the head turn in your mind’s eye and use this to draw the head and face from any angle like so:

The second basic head shape I use is based more closely on a more classical human head shape used in American superhero comics:

This is the shape I use for Mike’s head in Paradigm Shift. I start the head with more of an egg shape. Then, I determine which direction the head is facing by drawing a “cross”, just like in the seed example above. I hang the jaw down from the egg shape Unlike the anime “seed”, the jaw line changes more radically between a straight on view and the profile. It’s more a wedge shape and will take more practice to draw from every angle. You can imagine it being a bit like a cube, only tapering downward to create the chin. Also the cranium isn’t completely round like a sphere or egg, but rather is flattened somewhat on the sides. I denote this with lines along the sides of the forehead that wrap around the top of the head

Here’s how I use this to draw Mike from the front, side and 3/4 view:

Like in the seed example, there are certain proportions to pay attention to, though they differ somewhat. In this style of head, the eyes lay about halfway down the egg shape. Then the jaw extends down a distance equal to about half the egg shape—thus dividing the face into thirds: top of the head to eyes, eyes to bottom of egg shape, bottom of egg shape to chin. The eyes are smaller on the face than in the previous example and there should be roughly one eye distance between them.

To work on details like hair and drawing heads from many different angles I recommend practicing drawing from life, copying photos and doing the occasional master study of an artist who you greatly admire. The more you practice, the more you will expand your visual vocabulary as an artist and you can combine, mix and match and create brand new features that are purely your own. The same goes for expressions. Play around in your sketchbook and find the faces you feel express your character’s emotions the most vividly.

Drawing the Figure

The first step in drawing full-body human characters is to nail down basic proportions. Of course, cartoon characters can be drawn with many different proportions, so I am going to focus on a relatively realistic human proportions first. This method can be modified to stretch characters to be taller or shorter as needed later. Above we have Kate and Mike as examples of “ideal” human female and male proportions. Often in figure drawing, proportions are measured in “heads” because it is an easy way to check if the features are in the right place in a drawing, especially if the figure is drawn relatively straight on. Notice the lines going through the image above—they measure the number of “heads” used for each character.

Mike uses classic western “heroic” proportions, measuring 8 heads. They break down as follows:

    • Head
    • Chin to chest
    • Chest to navel
    • Navel to bottom of the hips (crotch)
    • Bottom of hips to mid-thigh
    • Mid-thigh to knees
    • Knees to mid-shin
    • Mid-shin to bottom of the feet.

Also note the proportions of the arm. The elbows are just above waist height and sit roughly in line with the bottom of the rib cage. The wrist fall approximately in line with bottom of the hips. For men, the ribcage and hips are roughly the same width and the shoulders are wider than the hips.

Kate is slightly shorter at 7 1/2 heads, which is closer to “realistic” human proportions. The half head is lost around the hips, making her torso slightly shorter than Mike’s, while her legs are about the same length as his. The “heads” break down as follows with her:

    • Head
    • Chin to chest
    • Chest to top of the hips.
    • Hips to widest point of the thighs (bottom of the hips are about 3/4 of the way)
    • Widest point of the thighs to above the knees
    • Above the knee to widest point of the calves
    • Widest point of the calves to top of the ankles
    • Feet (1/2 head)

Basically, Kate simply has a smaller upper body than her counterpart. Not only is it about a half head shorter, her ribcage is also narrower than her hips and that the midpoint of the shoulders sit roughly in line with the hips as well. Her joints are also narrower and her limbs thinner.

If we strip away the details and look at the underlying shapes, we can see how each figure is constructed more easily. I use circles (which I think of as “balls”) in place of the joints and draw the forms of the limbs between those. I use an egg shape for the ribcage and sort of a flattened “bowl” shape for the pelvis. I have developed simplified forms for each of the major body shapes: upper arms, lower arms, thighs, calves & shins, hand and feet. (More on hands and feet in a moment). I also imagine the shoulder being attached to the collarbone (which it is in reality, as well at the scapula on the back) so it is free to slide around up and down, back and forth on the ribcage when I am posing the figure. Take note of the hip shapes between the two figures.The male’s pelvis is taller while the female’s is shorter and a little wider. This has been a helpful observation for me in my figure drawing.

While I won’t go into detail on muscular anatomy (there are entire books on that topic), here is a quick cheat sheet on the basic shapes I’m thinking of when I’m drawing the figure. These shapes are informed by countless hours of drawing characters and human forms from observation and copying drawings out of anatomy books. I highly recommend spending some time on this yourself.

Strike a Pose

Okay, now that we have the basic shapes and proportions down, we need to be able to draw our characters in more than close-ups and standing around doing nothing. We need to put them into motion so they take on some life. To do that, we need to start with a fluid set of lines, or “gestures”. For the above drawing, I started with a rough drawing like this:

However, in the second image, these were the lines I was using to construct the figure. These are the “gesture” lines—named after 30-second “gestural drawings” which are often done at the beginning of a figure drawing class. The first line in blue goes from Kate’s head down to her knee. The second in red arcs along her arms and shoulders, and the final, in green follows her outstretched leg. Notice how these curves help tie the the forms of the figure together. I use lines like this to build up a pose so it has some underlying life. In the third image, here are some more “flow” lines that pass through the pose. These are the sorts of curves I look for when building up a figure. No straight lines if I can manage it.

Here are the rough forms I’m using to think through this rough figure. I will often draw a quick version like this as a thumbnail, and then draw these forms over the top of that rough to clean up the anatomy.

Once the anatomy and proportions are solid, I pencil over the rough and ink the final. I always use this process for creating my finished works. By layering over more and more finished versions, the final benefits from having several chances to correct mistakes along the way.

Some tips on hands and feet

I could do an entire post alone on drawing hands and feet (again, entire books have been written), but the short version is that the way to tackle these complex forms is the same as above: break them down into simpler shapes.  I start with sort of a “shovel” shape for the palm, then draw a circle to one side or the other on the wrist end to denote the ball of the thumb. Then I draw a smaller rounded shape on the other side to create the heel of the hand. Each of the four knuckles I draw as circles across the top of the shovel shape, and then a fifth at the end of the ball of the thumb. From there, I draw the fingers an thumb as either a mass (if they are clumped together) or as curved lines roughly indicating each finger. Then I flesh out the individual joints of the each finger as separate shapes, keeping in mind that they are not cylindrical, but more like like rounded blocks.

Drawing great hands takes a lot of practice, and the best way to get good at them is observation. Just like the rest of the figure, practice drawing from life and good reference photos to not only practice the forms of the hand, but also to see how elegant hand poses come together. You will start to see patterns in how the fingers move together as a loose group, not separately (which is why magicians are illustrated using weird hand poses—they don’t look natural). I still practice by using my own hands as reference to help create good hand poses.

Feet are not as complicated as hands, but they still pose a challenge to people new to drawing the figure. Once again, breaking down the forms into simpler shapes can be helpful.It’s helpful to me to think of a footprint as a starting point—the heel is separated from the ball of the foot and toes by the arch of the foot.  We can flesh out those shapes by using balls once again: one larger one for the heel, and two smaller ones for the ball of foot, leaving room for the arch on the inside curve of the foot. Above the heel is the ankle, which has two small bones on each side that connect down to the top of the ball of the foot to create the main wedge of the foot. For the toes, I think of the classic “ninja sock” with the big toe acting independently of the rest of the toes, which generally clump together as a group. When the character is wearing shoes, then all the toes working together as a group. If you’re drawing a bare foot, then keep in mind the smaller toes have a “stair-step” shape to them.

Once you have the basic foot shape down, you can work on putting it in shoes or drawing it bare. It will take some practice to master these shapes, so again, using references and live observation will help you refine your drawings.

Lastly, I want to emphasize how helpful drawing in a sketchbook can be to help you refine your character drawing. For a couple of years, I drew character studies of Kate & Mike by using photos from magazines as a reference. I borrowed the poses and outfits, but transformed the models into my characters. The drawings below are from those sketchbooks.

Character studies drawn from reference photos in magazines.
Character studies drawn from reference photos in magazines.

I hope this will help you create your own character designs and give some tools to refine them.

Next time, we’ll dive into the story.

If you’re new to the series, welcome! If you’d like prompt updates about the next installment of the series, exclusive cheat sheets, and other behind-the-scenes material with each installment of the series, please sign up for my mailing list:

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How to Draw Comics: Creating Characters

Being the third installment of my How to Draw Comics series.

Before there can be a comic, there has be a story. And before there can be story, there has to be some characters. To me, all stories start with great characters. It’s their desires, their actions, and their personalities that shape the direction and plot of story. While I have many ideas for premises for stories, there’s no actual *story* until there are characters for it.

There is no “right” way to create your character. For many creators, the process is a natural evolution from an initial idea to a fully fleshed-out character. That starting idea could just be a funny doodle in a sketchbook, or beam in as a “wouldn’t it be cool?” idea while walking down the street. No matter where the idea comes from, the magic comes from playing around with the character to see what makes them tick, whether it’s writing the ideas down, drawing character sketches, or just daydreaming about that character in a quiet moment. The more you know your character, the more likely a story idea will come from knowing who they are, what they like and want, and what their history is.

To begin, we take a look at a case history. (Or you skip ahead to the character creation part.)

Paradigm Shift: An Origin Story

Kate's Heroes Unlimited 2.0 character sheet
Kate’s Heroes Unlimited 2.0 character sheet
Mike's Heroes Unlimited 2.0 character sheet
Mike’s Ninjas & Superspies character sheet

For Paradigm Shift, the characters definitely preceded the story by a long mile. Kate & Mike were originally characters in the tabletop role-playing games I played in way back in the dark ages of the early 1990’s, when I was in high school. Both were originally created for the superhero RPGs “Heroes Unlimited” and “Ninjas & Superspies” by Palladium Books, using randomly generated character tables and dice rolls—with some house rules in effect. The original versions would barely be recognizable to readers today, in that many important details about their powers and skill sets were very different. However, Kate’s powers were still the result of an experiment gone wrong, though they were more of a mis-mash at the time (she had “Adhesion” like Spider-man, which makes zero sense!) And Mike had energy super powers for no reason at all. However, they were both originally police detectives, and that’s where the seed of the story really got started. Both started out as character sheets for the RPG, and the first “character designs” were really just character portraits on the sheet.

In fact, Kate & Mike where the inspiration for my first attempt to draw comics in high school. I was a huge fan of detective shows like “Law & Order” and buddy cop action films like “Lethal Weapon” at the time, and somewhere along the line the idea came to me to have my detective with werewolf-like powers investigate a series of killings that she herself could have committed.

My original TMNT #4 collection
My original TMNT #4 collection

Inspired by Eastman and Laird’s TMNT comics, I started drawing the first a few pages of what would become an 8-issue series of a comic called “VISTA” that my friends and I created. However, we took it into full superhero territory and the werewolf killings plot simply became Kate’s origin story as a prelude to joining a whole super team filled with characters from our role-playing games. My friends Jamie and Tyler wrote scripts, and I would draw them (and occasionally write stories about Kate in particular.) It was all very X-Men meets Avengers, and we shamelessly aped our favorite comic creators. At this point I was looking a lot at Jim Lee’s work in X-Men and Todd MacFarlane’s Spiderman, along with a number of other artists who went on to found Image Comics when they left Marvel. I was also reading indy comics like Dave Sim’s Cerebus and latter-day TMNT.

Jim Lee - X-Men / Todd MacFarlane - Spiderman / Dave Sim - Cerebus
Jim Lee – X-Men / Todd MacFarlane – Spiderman / Dave Sim – Cerebus
Kate & Mike's introduction in the incomplete VISTA #1
Kate & Mike’s introduction

But that mountain of comics I drew in high school never saw print. The only people who ever read them were my friends and the portfolio reviewers at the university art programs that I interviewed. However, despite those stories never finding an audience, one of those portfolio reviews—at Millikin University in Decatur, IL—resulted in getting me scholarship to a four-year art program. I stopped drawing comics after high school after a brave, but soul-crushing visit to the 1993 Chicago Comicon, where I took my portfolio around to be reviewed and was unsurprisingly told to work on my anatomy and storytelling (which in retrospective, I certainly did, but I took it hard). However, the characters, and that initial story idea that came out of Kate’s origin stuck with me.

AKIRA / Ranma 1/2 / Ghost in the Shell / Gunsmith Cats
AKIRA / Ranma 1/2 / Ghost in the Shell / Gunsmith Cats
Appleseed Vol. 4 blew my mind

In college, I enjoyed watching anime with my friends. The stuff coming from Japan was far weirder than the “Japanimation” shows I had grow up with as a kid like Speed Racer, Voltron (especially the spaceship one!) and Robotech. I first saw AKIRA at the tail end of high school and it took the top off my little eighteen-year-old head. In college, my friend Steve worked at a video store during the summer and brought back sample tapes to school to share with us. In this way I saw a bunch of first run anime classics like Ranma 1/2, Project A-Ko, Urusei Yatsura, and Riding Bean. I was hooked from the start, not only because I liked the art style and the fact the sensibilities were far removed from what I had come to expect from American stories, but the fact these were science fiction and other genre pieces done in animation. Bubblegum Crisis, Dominion Tank Police, Gunbuster, Nausciaa, Ghost in the Shell, Giant Robo, Macross Plus—it was inspiring, and I couldn’t get enough. I took to drawing my friends’ portraits “anime-style” and doing the same for RPG characters, just for fun.  By the time I graduated in 1997, manga was beginning to flow into the US, and creators like Masamune Shirow (Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell) and Kenichi Sonada (Gunsmith Cats) caught my attention immediately.

Over the next several years through college and out into the working world, Kate and Mike stuck with me and that initial story idea grew and evolved. I found new inspirations from novels, movies, anime, indy comics and manga. I also continued to play tabletop RPGs with my friends, and at one point decided to reboot Kate & Mike as anime-styled buddy-cop police detectives in a Bladerunner-esque near future low-powered superhero setting. Kate’s powers were retrofitted to more of a down-the-line berserker lycanthrope and Mike got turned into a martial artist. We only played the game a couple of times, but I thoroughly enjoyed the new version of the characters—especially the in-game buddy cop snark. So, when I returned to try my hand at comics again for what would become Paradigm Shift, I knew exactly the story I wanted to tell, because at this point I knew the characters like old friends.

Early PS Kate design
Early PS Kate design
Early PS Mike design
Early PS Mike design

While working in a web design job in downtown Chicago, the final piece of the puzzle fell into place for what would become Paradigm Shift. I had the characters. I had an idea for a story. While walking the streets of Chicago, I fell in love with the city and started seeing scenes playing out in the places I knew around town. Suddenly, I had a setting, and inspiration struck. I started jotting down the ideas for Kate & Mike’s story while commuting on the train every day. At lunch, I doodled character sketches on Post-It notes and stuck them to my computer.

I rolled up character sheets for them on the weekend and drew character portraits on them like old times, but this time knowing I wasn’t going to *play* these characters—I was going to *write them*. I compiled an outline of the first book and took a friend to coffee to show it off. After getting an enthusiastic thumbs up, I started drawing the first scene of the book before I’d even finished scripting (not something I really recommend, but…) and the rest is history.

Create Your Own

In my case, my characters had a long road from initial idea to eventual debut in a graphic novel.  They went from RPG character to comic character, the back burner to revival as RPG character to comic character over the course of about seven years. Not everyone has that sort of time these days. You sure don’t. 😉 Since starting my comic, the characters continued to evolve visually and become more internally nuanced, and the same will happen with yours. The important part is just to pick a starting point.

Here are some ideas one where to start:

    • A fun doodle
    • A “wouldn’t that be cool” moment
    • A role-playing game character
    • An “Original Character” from a fan fiction transplanted to an original setting

It’s also possible to reverse-engineer the process of creating a character if you have a story premise as a starting point. You can take pivotal character in a bigger story idea for a story and figure out who they are and what got them into that situation. I’m working on a new graphic novel called FreeMarsGirl (more on that another time) that started out this way. I had a cool idea for a story about a computer hacker who unintentionally starts a Martian revolution, but didn’t really know who the characters were at first. It’s taken some time, but they’ve finally shown themselves.

If you’re starting from a plot or world-building standpoint, here are some things to think about:

    • Who is the person who is at the center of the conflict?
    • How did she end up there?
    • What does she want? <— this is a BIG ONE!
    • What skills/powers does she need to fulfill her role in her role in the story?
    • What skills/powers does she have that are utterly useless or hinder that role?
    • What makes her laugh?
    • What makes her angry?
    • What are her quirks? (Are they endearing or annoying?)

To help flesh out your character, here’s a list of traits to get you thinking about who your character could be:Character Sheet

    • Name
    • Role in the Story
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Height/Weight
    • Eye color
    • Hair color
    • Ethnicity
    • Date of Birth
    • Birthplace
    • Education
    • Occupation
    • Physical Description
    • Personality Description
    • Special Abilities
    • Weakness
    • Quirks
    • Background History

I’ve also created a quick cheat sheet, loosely based on those old role-playing games that you can use to get started (complete with room to draw a sketch).

Another thing to consider as you get into your story are some deeper traits that drive your character: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. These are “engines” that get your character to take action. In some stories, these are easy to nail down. For a superhero story, the Hero’s Goal might simply be “Defeat the Villain”; the Motivation would be “Save the City!”; and the Conflict would be “Villain takes the Hero’s family hostage”. However, the more nuanced the story you decide to tell, the less clear these items will become. If you can get an idea what these things are, you will go a long way to understanding who this character is and what she’ll do in your story.

Character Profile — Kate McAllister

As an example, here is how Kate developed for Paradigm Shift. As the main character, main thrust of the story revolves around her developing supernatural abilities which put her in direct conflict with her identity as a police officer. As a combination action/mystery, her role as protagonist is pretty clear, as is her Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Kate circa the end of PS Vol. 1
Kate circa the end of PS Vol. 1

Name: Kathryn McAllister

Role in Story: Protagonist
Goal: Discover who or what is killing people in the back alleys of Chicago and stop it.
Motivation: It’s her job—she’s a detective.
Conflict: She’s developing weird abilities and having dreams connecting her to the murders.  Did she commit the crime?

Physical Description
Gender: Female
Height: 5’8”
Weight: 138 lbs.
Eye color: Green
Hair color: Auburn
Ethnicity: Caucasian (Scotch-Irish heritage)
Date of Birth: March 26th
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
Education: B.S in Criminal Science & Psychology, Police Academy Training
Occupation: Violent Crimes Detective, Chicago Police Department
Description: Tall, attractive young woman with long hair.  In excellent physical condition, athletic build. Casual, not particularly stylish dresser, prefers “sporty” clothing.

Personality: Charming, witty and acerbic. Sharp tongue. Fierce temper. Tends to rely on gut feeling and instinct first. Can be moody.

Special Skills & Abilities:
Police Training
– Knack for Criminal Investigation – Kate has a gift for investigation and an uncanny ability to follow a hunch.
Physical Training
– Hand-to-Hand Combat training: Kickboxing
– Firearms training: handgun
Developing Supernatural Abilities:
– Accelerated Healing
– Increased strength, agility, speed and stamina
– Berserker rage
– Transforms into a wolf-like form when she completely loses control

Anger management problems get her into trouble
Not entirely in control of her powers
Uncontrolled Transformations – blacks out when transformed and has no memory of the experience when returning to human form

Quirks: Voracious appetite, “Smile of Doom”

Background History:  Kate always wanted to be cop, in part because her father was a well-known violent crimes investigator who had dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice—until he died suddenly when she was 15.  After already losing her mother to cancer four years before, she went to live with her older brother while she finished high school. However, after narrowly avoiding becoming an assault victim herself from one of her brother’s friends, she solidified her intent. Her reaction was one of rage rather than fear, and from that point on she immersed herself in physical activities—kick boxing, gymnastics, track, hockey, etc—to build her self-confidence so she would never again feel ‘weak.’ Four years after graduating from high school, she earned a criminal science degree with top honors and immediately joined the Chicago police force. After serving only two years on the force, she earned the rank of Detective after cracking a difficult murder case with Detective Mike Stuart.  He became her partner after her promotion, and they became a smart-ass dynamic duo that quip and joke their way through an often stressful and traumatic job. Together, they keep the department on its toes as both its greatest assets and biggest embarrassments.

Hopefully this peek into the origins of my comic will provide you with ideas and inspiration to find your own unique story and characters.

Next time we’ll dig into character design and using figure drawing to help refine and inject some life into your creations.

If you’re new to the series, welcome! If you’d like prompt updates about the next installment of the series, exclusive cheat sheets, and other behind-the-scenes material with each installment of the series, please sign up for my mailing list:

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How to Draw Comics – An Introduction

How to Draw Comics Workshop posterThis weekend I taught comics workshop at the fantastic comic shop, Paper Asylum, and I’ve decided to use the event as a way to get this blog started.

Over the many years I’ve been drawing comics, I’ve found that I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned about the process and craft of writing, illustration and visual storytelling as much as actually creating my stories. Back when I was working on the first Paradigm Shift graphic novel, I created a process tutorial, which ended up serving as the basis for the first workshops I brought to comic & anime conventions after publishing that first book in 2003. (Egads! Was it already so long ago?!) I eventually included it as bonus material in the second edition of the book.

However, it being 2017, that tutorial is out of date. Not only have the tools I’m using to create my comics changed, but I’ve learned so much more that I would like to expand upon. I’ve updated my workshop to reflect those changes and I will share it with you here. Today, I’ll give you a quick overview of the topics I’ll be covering both in the workshop and in this series over the next few weeks.

The Process:


The biggest change between the tools I used for the first three books of Paradigm Shift and what I’m doing now is I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and gone all digital. I resisted making this change for many, many years in part because I liked the look of traditional inks, and I enjoyed having a physical page on bristol board when I was finished. However, after developing a repetitive stress issue in my drawing arm, I realize that hunching over while sitting at a drawing desk and making tiny motions with my wrist was not doing me any favors. So, after taking some time off from drawing, I started painting—with real paint and brushes. I also started experimenting with Sumi ink and Japanese horsehair brushes. While retraining my arm (and attitude), I discovered that painting helped satisfy my desire to create an art object. It also taught me that I enjoyed using my whole arm to create brush strokes. So, when I returned to drawing comics, I found it much easier to draw on a screen where I could zoom in, rotate and use my whole arm to create my drawings in way that is easier on my body.

Now my tools of choice (for drawing comics, at least) are CLIP Studio Paint (formerly Manga Studio 5) and a Wacom Cintiq 22HD. What sold me initially was the inking tools, which blow Photoshop out of the water (to no one’s surprise.) But what keeps me coming back is the perspective rulers. They make the process of creating all the fun backgrounds I love to draw so fast and easy! That and the seamless compatibility with PSD files means I was able to just plug it into my workflow from the beginning. However, don’t worry if your budget doesn’t allow for fancy hardware. Everything I’m going to show in this series will translate as basic concepts to traditional tools and even most drawing software and tablets.

I get into more detail on tools here.


In this two-part series, we’ll see the roots of where my character design style comes from, and how figure drawing and animation play a huge role in drawing characters with life. First, we’ll delve into the origins and evolution of my own characters, and examine the artists that deeply influenced my style.

Then we’ll dig into the drawing itself, examining the processes I use to draw consistent, dynamic, characters on the page. We’ll look at gesture, anatomical construction, action poses, and hands, and the role that figure studies play in refining and improving character work.

Story & Script:

I left this part out of the original process tutorial, aside from a brief glimpse at a page of script. However, I feel it’s a huge oversight, since the story is the thing that ultimately drives me to create my work in the first place. When I decided to return to comics, it was the story that I examined first. Story was also the thing I found most frustrating about publishing a webcomic—my process did not leave any time to examine the work as a whole and go back to edit & refine problematic scenes. In moving to working on the book as a whole, I now have a writing method that works.

We’ll talk about the creative process from getting that initial idea down on paper as an outline or first draft, and how a separate revision and editing stage can help shape the story into a satisfying final form. We’ll also cover a bit on story structure and using an outline to help craft a final revision.

Layout, Thumbnails & Lettering:

This is what I consider to be the heart of comics. Characters alone are just drawings. Written stories are prose at best. And what comes after is simply illustration, no matter how crude or refined the drawings are. It’s in the layout phase is where the magic of comics happens. We decide what to draw, in what sequential order, and where the words go. That interplay of images and words back and forth on the page is what makes comics a unique art form, and getting your ideas down clearly is the key part of this phase.

We’ll take a script and turn it into a layout and touch on different ways panels can transition from one to another. I’ll show you how the eye flows through a page layout, and how you can use that to help composition. And how thumbnailing whole scenes (or issues! or books!) can be a huge help in creating a larger work. Lastly, we’ll look at why lettering your page before you pencil is a good idea.


From here on, it’s all about cleaning up and refining the images. Using the thumbnail as a starting point, I’ll do a rough drawing over each panel, and then do a final pass to clean up anatomy, nail down perspective and add the important details. But while we nailed down all the important elements in the thumbnail stage, now we must flesh out the details of the illustrations.

We’ll cover the process in two parts. The first will return to characters, revisiting anatomy and proportions, and using reference photos effectively to help flesh out a scene–even using selfies!

The second, will cover drawing backgrounds, using references and basic perspective to create believable spaces for characters to inhabit and how to insert them into your backgrounds. I’ll also show you how I use 3D tools like Sketchup to create environments (or “sets”) for places that I want to visualize more fully and will recur throughout a story.


My favorite part of the whole process! It’s also the hardest to talk about. We’ll look into the pros and cons of traditional vs digital tools and what I’ve learned from working with both.

We’ll also cover the techniques I’ve learned over the years to produce solid, clean line work and how to create some special effects like classic manga “bursts” and speed lines.


Good screen tone work is all about two things: TEXTURE and VALUE. I love the look of screen tones in black and white comics because it creates a wonderful texture to the art work. It’s also bloody difficult to reproduce well at low resolution, which is why the Paradigm Shift webcomic pages were always in grayscale instead the toned look I actually desired.

We’ll dive in and look at how to create strong tone work, using black effectively and creating custom textures to use as patterns to add detail and mood to a comic.

Cover Design:

One of the best parts of coming back to Volume Four was designing a new look for the series. I’ll show you how old jazz records inspired new ideas for the design and the process I used to paint the cover for the book. I’ll also show how I used custom textures to create the weathered, vintage look of the new covers.


Finally, the end result of all the hard work is at hand: a printed comic! However, the comic needs to be assembled first. We’ll look at the process of putting all the pages together in as layouts, the visual design of a book, and prepping it for print. Finally, once the pages are back from the printer, I’ll show you how to assemble an awesome, professional-looking minicomic.

I look forward to bringing you this series! If you’d like to keep up to date on the new tutorials, please join my mailing list:

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