How to Make a Comic Book in 5 Superheroic Steps
Figuring out how to make a comic book for the first time can be intimidating, especially for those who don't think of themselves as visual artists. But like any narrative form, comic books are all about story! Whether you’re writing an action-packed superhero comic or comic book memoir, if you’re telling a great story, people will line up to listen.
With that in mind, let’s dig into how to write a comic book and publish it for those eager readers. Here’s everything you need to know about the process — complete with notes from comic book editor Rachel Gluckstern, who spent a decade working on some of DC's best-known comics (including recent issues of Batman and Catwoman!).
1. Develop your concept
If you’re interested in creating a comic book, you probably already have an idea of what it will be about. But there may be a few important elements you haven’t considered yet — which is why your first step should be to develop your concept, making it as strong and unique as possible.
Start by putting together a rough outline of everything related to your concept. This will include the core ideas and themes of your comic, but also the major plot points, the characters, the tone you want to strike, etc. A freeform mind map may be especially useful for this kind of outlining (not to mention it’s great practice drawing speech bubbles).
Now is also an excellent time to consider your influences and sources of inspiration. Who are your favorite comic book creators? What techniques and styles would you like to emulate? At the same time, how will you ensure that your comic book stands on its own?
Though all forms of storytelling must strike a careful balance between canonical familiarity and the elements that make them unique, it’s especially crucial with visual storytelling, as readers will be able to see how other works have influenced yours. So think about this early in the process, and try to get as clear a picture as possible.
2. Write the script
The next step in how to write a comic book is to, well, write it. Though author-illustrators may want to supplement this part with some sketching, the important thing is to get the words down — and if you’re hiring an illustrator to provide the visuals, it’s even more important that you have a solid script for them to work from.
You have two options here: a panel-by-panel script or a page-by-page script. As you’d expect, a panel-by-panel script details exactly what should go in each panel, complete with captions and dialogue. A page-by-page script simply summarizes what should happen on each page (which may contain up to 10 panels), leaving the contents of the panels more open-ended, to be finalized at a later date.
Most writers go with the panel-by-panel script, which is best if you have a clear, specific vision for your comic book. However, if you’re flexible on the details and would like some room to improvise, then the page-by-page option might be better.
And do write your script based on what you think is best, not what you think an illustrator would want. You’ll find a compatible artist no matter what! As Rachel Gluckstern says: “Some artists love the full detailed script, some love the freedom of a looser skeleton. Generally, though, the artist is eager to work with you and make you happy.”
More tips for comic book scripts
🙅♀️ Don’t try to cram in too much action. Any more than two or three distinct actions per page (say, a character climbing the stairs, opening a door, and locking it behind them) is too “busy” to show on a single page, and can really throw off the pacing of your comic.
🍬 Keep the dialogue short and sweet. Remember when Twitter only allowed 140 characters per Tweet? According to Gluckstern, this is also a good limit for each line of comic dialogue — and try to keep it to 10-12 total lines per page, captions, and speech bubbles included.
🎥 If you script panel-by-panel, specify the size and “shot” of the scene. As in the example above, you’ll want to note how much page space each panel will occupy, as well as the “shot” (e.g. long, wide, medium, or zoomed in), as if you’re writing a screenplay.
✅ Wrap up the main story in 30-40 pages. You can go longer or shorter, but 30-40 pages is about the expected length of a comic book — and of course, you can always create additional installments to your first issue.
Feel like you need more space to tell your story? Perhaps you should write a graphic novel instead! Check out that post to learn more.
3. Illustrate your comic
It's the moment you’ve been waiting for: bringing your comic book to life with illustrations! If you’re not an artist yourself, this is where you’ll want to call in a pro. Luckily, we have tons of brilliant comic book artists right here on Reedsy. Sign up for free to look through their portfolios and find the perfect style for your comic.
Start with a storyboard
Whether you’re creating your own art or collaborating with an illustrator, this part should begin with storyboarding: sketching out your panels to get a rough idea of how they’ll look and “flow” together on the page. You can lay them out the good old-fashioned way on a corkboard or whiteboard, or use storyboarding software like Storyboarder or Canva.
You may have done a little storyboarding in the writing stage, but it’s good to sketch out your entire comic book before you proceed. Even if you’ve gone for a panel-by-panel script, storyboarding often reveals ways you can improve it — altering the pacing, adding or deleting captions, even transplanting entire panels that would work better elsewhere.
Also, if you’re working with an illustrator, having them storyboard first ensures the two of you are on the same page. “It’s all about figuring out how to best communicate your story in its raw stage,” says Gluckstern. Though there may be a few kinks to iron out, it will be worth it to know that your illustrator 100% understands your vision.
So take your time with this, and don’t move onto full illustrations until you’re happy with your storyboard. You’ll still need to adjust small things for the final product, but storyboarding should prevent mid-production disasters, potentially saving you a lot of time and money.
Putting it all together
Once you’ve finalized your storyboard, it should be smooth sailing for the illustrations! You or your illustrator can work directly from that visual outline, inking the lines, adding colors and shading, and positioning each panel just right.
To see what a professionally drawn comic should look like at this stage, check out these examples from our illustrators:
If you’ve hired an experienced comic book illustrator, they may also be able to assist with lettering. If not, you have a couple more options: you can research fonts and lettering software to attempt it yourself, or you can hire a typographer who specializes in comic book lettering.
One last production tip from Rachel Gluckstern — when in doubt, turn to your artist! “Asking your artist ‘What would you like to draw?’ can lead to extremely rewarding input,” she says. Indeed, whether in the storyboarding stage or later in the illustration process, you can’t go wrong asking for help from someone who knows the ropes.
4. Choose a format
In comic book days of yore, the only way to read tales of superheroes and Riverdale teens was on saddle-stitched newsprint. But in our modern era of webcomics and ebooks, you can get just as much traction with a digital comic book as with a physical one.
So which format should you choose for your comic book? You’ll want to take your budget and overall goals into account, but at the end of the day, you can choose whichever format you like. Here’s everything you need to know about print, ebook, and online comics to help you decide.
Print is the “classic” comic format, and definitely the way to go if you’ve always wanted to hold your comic book in your hands. It does tend to cost more than creating a digital comic, though the amount depends on the printing company, the materials, and how many copies you want.
- Blurb (starts at $3.99/copy for a 20-page glossy issue)
- Ka-Blam (starts at $2.46/copy for a 20-page newsprint issue)
- PrintNinja (starts at $4.60/copy for a minimum order of 250 copies)
If you plan to print and publish your comic book, you’ll need to look into distribution options. With Blurb, for example, you can’t distribute directly to Amazon — you’d have to go through another company, like IngramSpark, to do so. And if you’re offset printing with a company like PrintNinja, you’ll have to order your copies in bulk and store the unsold ones.
But if you simply want to print a handful of comic books not to sell, don’t worry about distribution channels! Just find a company that a) has good templates for formatting and b) fulfills your aesthetic specifications (e.g. whether you want glossy, matte, or newsprint pages), and go for it.
To distribute your comic as an ebook, you’ll have to format and upload it to the retailer(s) of your choice. For this, you may want to invest in advanced comic book software like Clip Studio Paint EX, or look for a layout designer who’s formatted comic books before. If you’re collaborating with a veteran comic illustrator, they may also be able to help you with formatting (though you'll need to pay extra for this service).
Alternatively, you can make your comic book available to download on your website. In this case, the formatting doesn’t have to conform to typical ebook dimensions; you can just throw everything in a PDF.
You can technically do this when uploading your comic to retailers as well, but we’d strongly advise against it, since the PDF conversion process on some platforms can distort the final product. If you’re publishing and selling your comic book as an ebook, you’ll want to get it properly formatted.
Finally, you have the option of posting your comic book online for everyone to see. You can either present it on your website, spread by spread, or upload it to a comic-friendly content-sharing platform like Issuu.
This webcomic route may be ideal if you’ve written a shorter comic book, if you want it to be instantly accessible to readers, or if you want to draw out the story by posting only one or two pages at a time. You also don’t have to do much formatting for a purely online comic, which may be a perk.
The main downside here, unless you have your website behind a paywall or crawling with ads, is that it’s hard to monetize webcomics. But again, if you just want to share your work without selling it, putting your whole comic book online could be the perfect choice.
5. Fundraise and publish
We touched a bit on this above, but to be clear, publishing your comic book is completely optional! If you want to make a comic book just to share with friends and family, à la Pam’s Bear-Man comic for Jim on The Office, then we’ve already covered most of what you’ll need to know.
And if you do plan to publish your comic book, the good news is that it's not all that different from self-publishing any other kind of book! Once you have it formatted, you can follow the steps in this guide to upload and start selling your comic book on any of the big platforms.
However, there is one last thing you’ll probably have to do whether you’re publishing or not: gather funds for your project. Because in truth, you’ll spend the most time and money not on publishing your comic, but on creating it in the first place. That's where fundraising comes in.
Fundraising for your comic 💰
You’ve probably seen other comic book creators raising money and awareness for their stories on sites like Kickstarter and Patreon. If you need to raise money for your comic, those platforms are a great place to start. Though competition is fierce, you can rise to the top by studying other successful campaigns and showing off your best sample work.
Check out this post from graphic novelist Ben Galley where he talks about raising money for his project on Kickstarter. Want to learn even more about crowdfunding? Take our full course on the subject here!
If you have an established audience, you can even ask directly (but tactfully) for donations on social media, to bypass the middleman fees. But you should still have some sort of public, shareable page for your project that gives newcomers a clear idea of what you’re working on — and what they can look forward to as a special patron of your project.
Yes, all this might sound pretty overwhelming, especially if you’ve never worked on a comic book before. But if you take it one panel at a time and ask others for help, you’ll find it’s easier to make a comic book than it seems! Remember that you’re creating something beautiful and unique that you and others can enjoy for years to come, and all the hard work will be worth it.