Composing Comics: Design Rules For Creating Clearer Pictures | John McNamee | Skillshare

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Composing Comics: Design Rules For Creating Clearer Pictures

teacher avatar John McNamee, Cartoonist and Comedy Writer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

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About This Class

Comics are their own language. In this class, you'll learn the basic grammar of that language to help  make your comics more readable, more engaging, and better looking. From laying out the page, to how to place your text in a word bubble, this class is perfect for both the beginner and intermediate comic maker looking to take the look of their pages to the next level.

Meet Your Teacher

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John McNamee

Cartoonist and Comedy Writer


John McNamee is a comedy writer and cartoonist living in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the New Yorker, Mad Magazine, the Onion News Network, and Clickhole. John's comedy has been featured on CNN, IFC, McSweeny's, TV Guide, the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Gawker, and numerous other sites. He has studied and performed improv and sketch at the UCB theater in Los Angeles, where one of the founders once made fun of his pants on stage for like 2 minutes. John had it coming.

John has also been a comic maker and reader since he first figured out how to ride his bike to the comic book store at age 8. He's drawn the comic strip Pie Comic since his freshman year of college and doesn't see any reason to stop now.

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1. Intro: Hi. Welcome, Teoh. Composing comics. I'm John McNamee. You may know me from my work in Mad Magazine or The New Yorker. Or maybe you've taken one of my previous classes on here. When I first started making comics, I was mostly just concerned with writing a funny joke. The pictures were secondary, but as I went on, I became frustrated with having dull looking comics. And I want to make something more exciting. So I started focusing more on the composition, and as I went on, I found that not only did the comics start to look better, but I was also able to tell the jokes through the pictures, and it made them fund URAS well. In this class will look at choosing a page size, creating guidelines to help you lay out your composition. Different ways of laying out panels, drawing compositionally, using patterns to improve your composition and laying out text. All right, well, let's get started 2. Assignment: your assignment for this class is to make one rough layout. For a comic, a rough layout is just a simple guide that you would use to then later created finished comic. This means we're not going to be worrying about thinking or the drawings being exactly right. We just want to have the overall layout of what the comic will be for this class. You'll need to pencil paper and the ruler. A compass would also be helpful, but you can get by without one. You'll also need an idea for a comic if you don't have one, take my previous two classes and they will show you how to make one. Unlike my previous classes, where we focused on speed here, I want you to be very deliberate with how you're doing These labs make changes at it, Really figure out how you want the final version of these to work. Well, let's dive right into first lesson 3. Page: first thing you have to decide when composing a comic is what shaped the page is going to be. Love cartoonists. First instinct is to lay out their comic as a strip like they see in newspapers. This isn't really the best format for the Internet. It makes more sense when you're stacking a whole bunch of strips on top of each other, like newspapers. The next shape you see a lot of is this square. The problem with this is it's a little boring visually, and it doesn't provide you a lot of dynamics. For the purposes of this class, we're going to be using a six by nine. This'll is an especially beautiful layout for reasons that will get into in the next lesson paying on your needs. You can lay this either out vertically or horizontally. It's up to you. If you like to draw a little bit bigger or smaller than this, simply draw diagonal between the two corners of the rectangle. Then you can extend or contract the rectangle. The important thing is 2 to 3 ratio, not the exact size. All right, you should have a rectangle by now. The hard part is over. Let's look at adding guidelines to help compose those comics 4. Guides: well, the hardest parts about composing comics is figuring out where anything should go at all. So I'm going to show you how to lay down some simple guidelines that will give you an idea of placement. First thing you need to do is you need to find the squares. Now our rectangle is six inches across, so to make a square out of that, we have to measure six inches down. And to make another square, we have to measure six inches up from the bottom. Easy enough, right? Next thing we're going to do is find the diagonals of those squares. To do that, all you have to do is connect the corners of each square. Finally, you want to find the circles to do this draw circle that's inscribed in each of the squares that you just found. This is a good time to use your compass if you have one. But if not just free headed as best as you can here we can see one of the reasons why the six by nine rectangle is so harmonious. Look at how the center of the circle lies exactly on the line of the square. This isn't true for other rectangles. Thes lines are going to be your key to composition. All the points where the lines intersect are great places to put objects of interest in your comic, and you can use the curves and lines to describe action and form. Even without McGhan comic, using these guidelines can help you compose a picture that just looks nicer than it would be otherwise, so to reveal in order to make these guidelines first, you after buying the squares, find the diagonals and then find the circles. All right, let's move on to panel layouts. 5. Panels: The next thing you need to decide for your composition is the panel. The simplest way to compose is with the grid. For instance, if you have a four panel comic, you can just divide horizontally and vertically down the middle and you have four panels. Or, if you have a six pale comic, you can divide vertically down the middle and horizontally to times notice that the top and bottom of the squares that we found in the previous lesson divide the rectangle into perfect thirds. This is another benefit of six by nine erecting sometimes the number panels your comic requires doesn't fit perfectly into agree. There's a couple of ways to deal with. For one, you can combine two panels in the grid into one, or you can find the intersection points on your guidelines and use them to create new panel dividers. I'd like to caution you against drifting too far away from grid so complicated panel layouts, just for their own sake, can make a comic difficult to read and just appeared busy. Plus, a steady layout can help you create a rhythm and rhythm. This one of the keys of coming, so to review start with the grid combined panels within that grid to create larger panels. Use the intersection of your guidelines if you need more panel dividers and try not to overcomplicate the layout. Okay, I think we're finally ready for some drawing. 6. Drawing: e want a little bit about my philosophy on drawing compositionally when most people think of drawing, they think figuratively means they're just trying to portray a figure accurately. Problem with this is it doesn't guarantee that that figure will fit into a larger picture. When you're drawing compositionally, though, you're worried more about the whole than any of the partners. After you have the composition, you can go back and focus on the figure, but it's harder to do the other way around now. In comics, there are two levels to the composition, the panel composition and page composition. Let's look at panels first. The first thing you want do in composing your panel is choose a point of focus. What's the most important thing in this panel? Let's keep it simple and just tap. This would be a guy walking down the street. Now where do I want place? This guy? I'm going to place him off. One of the intersection points off my guidelines next side to decide what's the second most important thing. Well, this guy's walking down the street so the streets pray important. I'm going to compose that street so that it fits around my point of focus. Ideally, you want to use the guidelines to help inform how it works around. One big composition role to keep in mind here is to avoid tangents. Tangents air. When two lines run up against each other, it just looks terrible. You always want lines to either pass neatly through each other or avoid each other entirely . And he can just repeat this process for the third most fourth most important objects. Careful not to go overboard, though, because it's easy to make your panels look cluttered. Now the tricky part is you have to make the panel composed well, but also has to fit within the composition of the whole pay. The most important part of page composition is the I Path Someone's Ring, a well composed comic there. I naturally flows from one channel to another, following a well defined path. Look at this Scrooge McDuck comic by the great Carl barks and see how easily you move from one picture to another. Let's try to do in. I path ourselves. We're gonna go back to our example of a guy walking down the street. Since I want to direct the readers I to the right. I wouldn't want tohave the road be going straight down. I want to be going to the next panel Now. From the second panel, I want to be directing the readers I down into the left. To do that, I'm going to compose the body along this diagonal. Be how it draws the eye to the next panel on panel three. I'm going to place my figure at a Nen er section point and use the road again to direct you to the right. Now in panel four. I'm going to mix it up with the close up, but I'm going to compose that close up along the diagonal to move you to panel five. And in Panel five, I'm just directing it straight shot to Panel six, where he oh hits a brick wall is where you start getting the real payoff of composition by having a carefully planned I path built to keep the reader from seeing the climax of the comic before they're supposed to and give it maximum impact. All right, let's review first focus on the overall composition, not any individual figure. Next place. The point of focus at one of the intersections of your guidelines composed around your point of focus, avoiding tangents and have a well planned out I path to move the reader of through the page . All right, let's take our page composition to the next level, using patterns and repetition. 7. Patterns: One of the keys to great comic composition is patterns, and the key to patterns is repetition. By repeating the same image over and over on a page, you're able to create a rhythm. Take, for instance, the scene with two people talking. Now, one rhythm you can create with that is to simply have the same shot for all of your panels , this would be the equivalent of a steady drumbeat. But steady is just another word for boring, so let's mix it up a bit. Let's include some close ups of each of the characters with just Those three images were able to create countless of different patterns on this page, but not all patterns look equally good. So what should you do? While arranger patterns in simple shapes one of the best ones you can uses the L shape? This is incredibly readable on a comics page or have diagonals. It's more important that you have a pattern, then that it be any specific one, though Justus, important as having a pattern, though, is breaking it. Sometimes, having every panel just be the same images repeating over and over can be monotonous. So mixing it up with a cut away to a different object or a zoom in on one of the objects you already have. Kim really mixed it up. Here's a four panel pattern. I like to use a lot, it zooming now. You could just zoom in on a character whenever you want, and it's no problem. But I want this zoom in to have some extra punch. So I'm going to create an L shape along the right side of this character. And then I'm going to break up that pattern with the cutaway to let's just say a cloudy sky and then I'm going to make the zoom in on the last panel. Now you can see how that Zuman has way more impact because I broke up the pattern with this cut away shot right before. After he finished laying out your pattern, try looking at it with each object on its own. Then you'll be able to see the pattern that each shape makes and be able to determine if you like it or not. So to review, create patterns through the repetition of shapes. Have those repetitions make their own shapes on the page, like Els or diagonal break up the pattern with cutaways and zooms, and finally look at the pattern that each shape makes on its own before finalizing year layout. 8. Textplacement: with his mistakes. I see in composition is to leave. The text doesn't afterthought. Cartoonists will draw these beautiful pictures and then just slapped the text bubbles wherever. The key to having your text work within the composition is to think of it as just another part of the drawing. This means using your guidelines and their intersection points to figure out the best placement. If you're having trouble placing your text, there's a good chance you need to edit that text down. Don't spend two sentences on something you can say in a single word or say with the picture . Nothing ruins a composition like too many text bubbles. Also keep the eye path in mind when placing your text bubbles. You don't want anyone reading the punchline before they're supposed to. Sometimes you'll need a text bubble to go over the border of a panel. That's fine, but there's a couple things to keep in mind. For one, don't have it overlapped more than one edge. It just looks bad. Also try to keep the overlap from being the widest point of the text bubble. Justus, important as the placement of the bubble, is the tale of the bubble. You want to make sure that the tail is pointing to the mouth of the character that speaking otherwise, it could be confusing also, when you have two bubbles in the same panel, never, ever crossed the streams. Just another good piece of advice from Ghostbusters. But composing your text doesn't stop at word bubble placement. It also includes composing the text inside the word bubble of to mean tools for composing the text in the bubble line breaks and bolding. Let's use this Mohammed Ali quote to practice with line breaks are basically when you hit, enter on your keyboard. It's moving from one line to the next. The main use of line breaks is to determine the shape of your text. Have them fit nicely in the bubble. You want the lines to be shortest at the top and bottom and longest in the middle. But you can also use line breaks to change how text is red. Here's an example of bad line breaks. Even though the shape of the text looks good, thoughts are broken apart and it makes it more difficult to read. Second line is particularly bad. The phrase greatest I'm a jumps right in the middle of two ideas and would be difficult to follow. Here's a better version. See how each line is easier to read now The greatest. I'm a bad man and I'm pretty because we're not unnecessarily putting line breaks in the middle of ideas. Other key tool is bolding now. Love. People use bold text to indicate yelling, but I think a better use for it is to indicate emphasis, particularly in a longer piece of text. Bolding. A few key take away words can really increase readability, so to review, think of your text as part of the overall composition. Edit it down. Keep the eye path in mind to make sure people are reading your bubbles in the right order. News line breaks in bolding to make your text is readable as possible within the bubble. 9. Conclusion: we finished another class where all the greatest. There's a few things to keep in mind when making your layouts. Remember to keep an eye on how the page looks as a whole. Use your guidelines to help determine placement on the page. Make sure there's a logical path for the eye to follow. Use repetition to create patterns on the page. Text bubbles air part of the composition, so they should follow all the same rules as pictures. Chances are you're Louds aren't going to be perfect right away, so I encourage you to edit heavily to get them where you want them to be. If you're feeling up to an extra challenge, try creating multiple layouts for the same comic. It's a great way to experiment, and it forces you out of your comfort zone. I know it through a lot of information at you, so I've included a cheat sheet in the comments section of this class that goes over things like guidelines in some of the other core concepts. All right, that's about all I have. Get out there and compose those layouts