5 Reasons to Develop Your Comic Before Drawing Your First Panel

Kevin Dooley
Photo by Kevin Dooley

I’m a planner. I always have been, probably always will be. This is a direct result of a perfectionist gene and the need to produce as professional of a result that my skills can manage at that time. Here are 5 reasons why I spend a lot of time in the pre-production phase of any of my creative projects.

1. Get to Know Your Characters

Usually when you get started you have an idea of who the central character will be. The problem is that first-timers often use the central character as a self-insert character or a Mary Sue / Gary Stu type personality. The latter is often corrected by a tragic accident that reduces some of the hero’s shiny qualities.

If you spend some time developing your secondary characters and supporting cast, you can spread the shininess more or less evenly across them all, giving them each the opportunity to shine.

Remember that though the hero is the central character, he doesn’t have to hog the limelight. Being the hero is a trophy in itself.

2. Get to Know the World

Typically we use genres to give ourselves and our readers an idea of what our story world is like. For example a sci-fi might take place in space and have aliens or a high-tech city hosted by robots; a fantasy world would have kingdoms and a slew of mythological creatures.

Your spin on the rules is what will make the story your own, instead of just another re-hash of another comic.

3. Develop Believable Society

Once you’ve got familiar with the rules of your story’s world, you can start to create a culture around them. You can start figuring out what everyday life is like for the average person. You can create sub-cultures and a context surrounding that. By getting familiar with what is available in the environment, you can establish vehicles, technology or magic as it fits the rules of your world.

I should note now that if you’re going to make an exception to the rule, there should always be a counter exception. For example a pet peeve of mine is when the lead character is piled on with fantastic abilities but no one else ever get’s anything outside of their normal mundane skill set. If the rule states that men cannot use female based magic, and you grant your lead that ability, then it stands to reason that a female character (not necessarily one of your groups’ crew) should be able to use male magic. You should also make the effort of making this character important to the plot somehow.

4. Create an Emotional Attachment to the Characters

Each character should have their own personal motivation, plot, and growth throughout the comic. Creating different character will increase the odds that your readers will be able to relate on some level. Sure they might not ever be chased down by a carnivorous plant, but the motivation behind seeking out the plant in the first place might hit close to home. Example: finding a cure to a terrible illness; but the plant is increasingly rare because the forest that it grows in is being destroyed for farmland. Readers who care about the environment may care to see what happens. Or perhaps a reader who has to deal with illness in some way might be able to relate to the characters desperation at the retrieving the plant.

5. Get Your Readers Involved in the Conflict

This point ties in with creating an emotional attachment to the characters involved in the story. If the reader cares about the character, there’s no real guarantee that he/she’ll care what’s going on in the story. No matter how interesting the character, if the story is dull, you’ll lose readers.

You can use the same emotional tricks that I mentioned in point 5, just on a larger scale. Maybe the group destroying the forest is trying to feed a starving population and this is the only way that they can do feed their people. It helps to have two conflicting but strong points on either side of the argument.

Remember that a villain is often decreed as such by the hero. It’s not often that the hero tries to understand why the villain did what he did. It should be noted that apart from prophecy or acquiring something that the hero has does the villain actively seeks out the hero to destroy or disrupt his life; it’s usually an accident.

These are only a handful of areas that you should be thinking about with regards to your comic. These can be the most fun and the most challenging aspects to work out. The more you know about the world and characters the easier it is to create a compelling story that people will love to read.

About the Author:

Amber Dalcourt is the lead design and digital media consultant for Evil Ink. During her animation career she has learned the value of the pre-production phase of the process and has since applied it to all of her creative works.

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