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Sunday, 6 December 2009

So, tell me about the art..

The creative team
In Japanese comics there tends to be one person creating the whole thing – the words and the art.  In American comics it is more complicated and there is usually a basic team of four different roles:

One person to write the words and plot the comic
One person to do the pencils – draw the outlines of the characters and background scenery.
One person to do the ink – they render another artist's pencils in India Ink.  They also do the shading on comic art, the black bits on the finished artwork.
One person to do the colours – literally, the colours on the art.  They fill in the bits the inker and penciller hasn’t.
One person to do the letters - that is, the text in the comics.  Different lettering styles have a huge impact on the way you perceive the characters and the mood of the story.
For an example of how the creative process works, see this example taken from Jamal Igle's deviantart account, depicting how the cover of a Supergirl comic was created (click on the picture to make it bigger):

This shows how the end image evolves from basic pencils, to inks, to colours.
You can also see the process from sketch, to pencils, to inks to colours here, at Dan Jurgens website.
For a further breakdown see these scans (taken from various DC comics published in the 1990s) -
On Inking:

On colouring, before the advent of computers:

Information on lettering and pencilling to follow, as soon as the scans are located.

Other differences between Japanese and American comics
Manga is usually black and white, American superhero comics are in colour.  The other main difference is in how you read them.

In American comics you start at the top left of the page and work your way across, left to right, row by row.
Sometimes the conversation is layered because the characters are speaking back and forth.  In this case, follow the conversation panel by panel.

In Japanese comics, the reading order is flipped.  Usually publishers of the English translations keep the book in the Japanese format, arguing that it provides a better experience for the reader.  For example, reading manga in the Japanese format you would read according to the number order detailed here:

It may sound complicated but you'll get the hang of it easily.

In all comics, be they American, British, Japanese, French or Polynesian, you need to be aware of the art and the impact this has on the story.  Look at the character's expressions, where they are placed and what symbols are being used within the scene.  Look at the use of colour and shading as this will tell you plenty about the mood and feel of the story and the characters.  Good art should be able to tell you a story without the need for words.


  1. I'd like to point out japanese comics tend to be made in teams as well.
    Usually there's the main artist and some assistants (most of future artists learning the way from an elder). The assistants work may range from doing backgrounds to full panels, layout or inking.
    For example: Dragon Ball was done by Akira Toriyama, and his "studio" was Bird Studio.

    European comics tend to be done by one artists. (Morris did Lucky Luke all by himself)
    And usually it's a duo of a writer & an artist.
    But more and more these days, they tend to have their own colorists to work faster.

  2. Arg, can't believe I missed this comment. Thank you for the info Eyz.