Drawing Comics: Storytelling with Words and Pictures | Christine Nishiyama | Skillshare

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Drawing Comics: Storytelling with Words and Pictures

teacher avatar Christine Nishiyama, Artist at Might Could Studios

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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

    • 1.

      Class Trailer


    • 2.

      Project Assignment: Draw a 1-Page Comic


    • 3.

      What's a Sequential Story?


    • 4.

      Gathering Our Materials


    • 5.

      Writing Techniques


    • 6.

      Writing the Outline


    • 7.

      Combining Words and Pictures


    • 8.

      Thumbnailing with Words


    • 9.

      Panel Transitions


    • 10.

      Thumbnailing with Sketches


    • 11.



    • 12.

      Drawing the Panels


    • 13.



    • 14.

      Drawing the Story


    • 15.

      Inking and Lettering


    • 16.

      Wrapping Up


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About This Class

Learn how illustrator Christine Fleming uses words and pictures together to tell a sequential story. Whether you’re interested in comics, graphic novels, or newspaper comic strips, they all begin as a sequential story and hinge on the balance of words and images.

This 45-minute class will introduce the basics of sequential storytelling including plot structure, panel transitions, timing, and framing. Along the way Christine will point out her favorite tips and techniques, that are vital to understanding how to draw a sequential story.


The project assignment for this class is to draw a one-page comic inspired by a childhood memory. In the videos, Christine will take you through her entire process as she makes her own 1-page comic.

She’ll cover all the steps from writing, planning, thumbnailing, sketching, drawing, and inking.

By the end of the class, you’ll have your own one-page comic and the basic skills you need to jump into making your own comics and graphic novels! No prior knowledge of writing, drawing, comics, or software is required.



Check out my other Skillshare classes here!

You can also see more about me and my work on my website: might-could.com.

And you can sign up for my email list for weekly essays on creativity and artmaking!

Thanks so much! <3

Meet Your Teacher

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Christine Nishiyama

Artist at Might Could Studios

Top Teacher

Hallo! I'm Christine Nishiyama, artist + founder of Might Could Studios.

I make books and comics, and I draw a whoooole lot. I teach aspiring and established artists, helping them explore their art, gain more confidence, and discover their unique artistic styles.

My core belief is that art is good and we should all make more of it. 

Instagram: Yeewhoo, I quit all social media! 

Books: Check out my books here, including a graphic novel series with Scholastic!

Subscribe to my Substack newsletter: Join over 10,000 artists and get my weekly essays on creativity and artmaking, weekly art prompts, and behind-the-scenes process work of my current picture book. Subscribe here!

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Level: Intermediate

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1. Class Trailer: Hi, I'm Christine Fleming, Illustrator and writer at Might Could Studios. I graduated from North Carolina State University with a BFA in graphic design. I'm now working as an Author Illustrator, creating picture books, graphic novels, and editorial work. I'm currently represented by Red Fox Literary, and I'm in the process of creating my first graphic novel. This class is called drawing comics, storytelling with words and pictures. We're going to walk through how to use words and pictures together to tell a sequential story. Whether you're interested in comics, graphic novels, or newspaper comic strips, they all begin as a sequential story and hinge on the balance of words and pictures. This 45-minute class, we'll introduce the basics of sequential storytelling, including plot structure, panel transitions, timing, and framing. Along the way, I'll point out some of my favorite tips and techniques that are vital to understanding how to draw a sequential story. The project assignment for this class is to draw a one-page comic inspired by a childhood memory. I'll also be doing the project assignment with you during the class and I'll take you through my step-by-step process from writing, planning, thumbnailing, sketching, drawing, and inking. By the end of this class, you'll have your own one-page comic and everything you need to make your own comics and graphic novels. No prior knowledge of writing, drawing, comics, or software is required for this class. So let's jump in. 2. Project Assignment: Draw a 1-Page Comic: The project assignment for this class is to create a one-page comic inspired by your childhood memory. Using the panel templates or drawing your own panels, you'll be drawing your own sequential story. You have two options for completing your comic. If you're just starting out, you can use my panel templates to give you a jump start on organizing your comic. Or if you're filling up for it, you can draw your own panels and make it the entire comic yourself. This assignment will help you explore how to tell a story with both words and pictures, and how to organize a story sequentially on a page. Whether you decide to use my templates or make your own panels, you can upload your one page comic to the project gallery, clicking on the "Start Your Project" button on the class project page. You can also check out the comic I made during the class, admire your fellow student's work, and check out how they made their comics. I look at every project that's posted in all my classes and I'm always thrilled to see your work. The best way to learn is by doing. So let's give it a go. 3. What's a Sequential Story?: Intro to Sequential Stories. So what is a sequential story? Will Eisner, who was a huge part of making comics popular, has some basic definitions of these terms in his book, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narratives. Here are a few of his definitions. He says a graphic narrative is, "Any story that employees image to transmit an idea." This would include comics and film. He defines comics as, "A form of sequential art, often in the form of a strip or book, in which images and text are arranged to tell a story." He defined sequential art as, "Images deployed in a specific order." Now let's look at a few of my favorite examples of graphic novels and comic books. I highly recommend reading and soaking some of these, and If you're interested in making your own comic books. First we have Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley. This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Relish by Lucy Knisley. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang. Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault. Hildafolk by Luke Pearson, and Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks. Now let's look at the overall process of making comics. There's a few different ways to do it. Every comic book artist will have their own version of the process. But for this video and this class, I'm going to go over my process because that's what I know and that's what works for me. The first step in making a comic is to write your story outline. Then you thumbnail a comic with words. Thumbnail the comic with pictures. Draw out the panels. Draw light pencil sketches. Drawn tight pencil drawings. Draw your lettering. Ink your comic. Then there's the optional step of coloring your comic if you don't want it to be in black and white. Now let's jump into the class and we're going to go over this whole process step-by-step. 4. Gathering Our Materials: Before we jump right into the process, let's go over some of the tools for making comics. Here are the tools that I like to use. For ideating, I like to use a thin, cheap sketchbook. This keeps the pressure low and allows you to draw without the fear of messing up an expensive sketchbook. You can also just use cheap printer paper sheets for sketching. Once you move on to the final comic page, you'll probably want to draw on something a little thicker, especially if you're going to ink. I like to use Bristol board and a light box or window for transferring my drawing onto the Bristol board. This is my light box caudal iPad. It's small and relatively cheap, but it makes transferring your joins a lot easier. For drawing sketches, I like to just use cheap mechanical pencils. If I'm going to finish my comic without inking, then I like to use a 6B pencil to make the lines thicker and darker. If I'm going to ink my comic like I am in this class, I like to use Faber-Castell's Pitt Artist Pens in the sizes medium, fine, small, and extra small. These are the tools that I like to use, but they're by no means the only ones, or even maybe the right ones for you. I've experimented with lots of different kinds and you should definitely experiment too. Some illustrated use brush pens to ink their work, some use pen and ink with nibs, some will ink with the brush, some just ink with a regular pen, and some do the entire comic on the computer. You may also want to have a kneaded eraser and some masking tape for this project. 5. Writing Techniques: Writing techniques. Making a comic involves making a lot of decisions. You'll have to decide which moment to show and not show, how to frame that moment, how to draw that moment, how to integrate words with that moment, and finally, how to guide the reader to the next moment. But before any of that, we have to have a story. I'm a kind of content is king type of creator, so the story is the most important part of the process to me. If you have a bad story, the most beautiful artwork in the world is never going to be able to save it. A strong story makes a strong comic. The good news is that comics is just like any other form of storytelling, and the basic storytelling rules apply here just as anywhere else. Here's a basic plot outline. First you have the introduction and setting. Then you have the problem or the action. Then you have the climax where you deal with the problem. Then you have the resolution or the solution to the problem. Then you have the ending and the wrap up. The biggest piece of advice I can give on writing your plot is, do not let your character off easy. Let's look at an example. Say your character's problem is that she's cold and she doesn't want to be cold. This would be an example of letting her off easy and writing a boring story, "Boy, I'm cold. I wish I could warm up." She turns her head. "Say, looky here, a blanket! Now I'm all warm and cozy." End of story. See? Completely boring. Now let's look at an example of not letting the character off easy. "Holy cow, I'm so cold my fingers could snap off!" She turns her head and sees her roommate's aggressive dog sleeping on the only blanket in the house. She tiptoes over, tries to gently pull on the blanket, and then the dog opens one eye and begins to snarl. See? A little more exciting. We're making things hard for the character, and that makes your story better and more interesting. It also gives your audience an opportunity to root for the character and hope that they get what they want. Comics has multiple different uses for words and are written differently than a novel or a text only story would be. Here are the different ways you can sling words to tell your graphic story: first you have dialogue, which is the text and speech bubbles. Then you have narration, which is also like captions and is also a form of third person omniscient point of view, like a narrator speaking. Then you have sound effects like bang, ding, and pam. Here are a few other writing tips to keep in mind as you're working on your story: number 1, show, don't tell. If you can show something with pictures rather than words, it's generally best in comics to use pictures. So instead of having your character say, "I feel sad," show the reader that they're sad. Is she crying? Is her head hung down? Is she wallowing on the couch? Tip number 2, the fewer words, the better. If a word isn't necessary, take it out. You don't need description words when you have pictures. Tip number 3, keep your word count in speech bubbles below 30 words. This is a guideline and not a hard rule, and you can definitely break it if it works, but it's a good max count to keep in mind and to force you to edit down your words a little bit. After 30 words, your speech bubble will start to take over the whole panel most likely. 6. Writing the Outline: So now let's dive into making our own comic. The first step in the process is to write your story outline. The project here is to make a one-page comic inspired on a childhood memory. So let's start out by brainstorming childhood memories. Now let's pick out the memory that we want to use for our comic. Mine is going to be a childhood memory I have of driving down a steep hill to get to my grandma's cabin in the woods. So now let's make a list of what happened in our memory. This is essentially our story outline. Don't worry about writing complete sentences right now or even trying to make your writing sound good, we're just focusing on the story idea and plot line right now. 7. Combining Words and Pictures: Combining words and pictures. So now we've got our story outline and we're ready to write. But writing a comic book is about running with words and images. So let's look at how the two can work together to communicate one message. In Scott McCloud's book, Making Comics, which I highly recommend reading, he lays out five ways that words and pictures can be combined. First, we have word specific. In this combo, the words tell you everything you need to know while the pictures highlight part of what's being said. The second combo is picture specific. In this combo, the pictures tell you everything you need to know while the words highlight part of what's being said. In duo specific, the words and pictures pretty much say the same thing. In intersecting, the words and pictures help to communicate the same message, but each also says something that the other didn't say. Finally, in interdependent, the words and pictures work together to say something that neither could say alone. There's not necessarily a certain combo that works better than others, and they all have their place for certain uses. But generally, your comic will be stronger if you use combos that allow your words and pictures to work together to tell the story, rather than one telling the story and the other just repeating what was said. It's also a good idea to mix it up and use different combos throughout your story. 8. Thumbnailing with Words: Now we can start thumbnailing out our story visually on the page. First we'll take our list and break it down into groups, circling the most important parts of the story. Now we'll combine parts together. Think about these things to combine parts: What can be shown in one panel? What needs to be shown? What can be shown but not said? What can be deleted? Now the number of important parts you have circled will be the number of panels you have in your one-page comic. For a one-page comic like this project, five panels is probably a good number to shoot for. But again, your story should be the driver and you should do what's right for your story. In my example here, I started out thinking I'd have five panels, but as I kept working, I actually ended up with eight panels. So just stay flexible as you're working. After you've circled your important parts, draw a quick rectangle to represent your paper. Then draw out some panels in your rectangle. We're just sketching out layouts right now and you don't need to worry about keeping your lines super straight or shapes consistent. We'll get to all that later. You can use my panel templates on the project assignment page as a guideline here if you'd like, or you can make up your own. Now I'm going to start placing in my story. First I'll just write in my plot outline in the boxes to see how it fits in the panels. I'll probably do this step multiple times until I feel I've broken up the story in the best way. That's why sketching small is nice so you can iterate quickly. Once I like how the plot is broken up and I like the arrangement of panels, I can start actually writing a bit more. I'll expand the writing in each box, possibly writing in dialogue, narration, or sound effects. This stage will also be repeated many times until it feels right. Again, keep in mind that you're writing can and probably change as we keep going. Once we begin to add in pictures, you may find that some words and sentences aren't necessary anymore, or you might need a few more. So stay flexible and don't get married to one idea. 9. Panel Transitions: Panel transitions. When you begin drawing your panels, it's important to consider the transition between panels, meaning how the panels are going to be read in sequence. Scott McCloud has named five panel transitions that I think help out a lot when planning your drawings. The first panel transition is called moment to moment. McCloud's definition is a single action portrayed in a series of moments. So an example would be brushing your teeth. You can see in these three panels that you're watching the action happen as she moves her toothbrush from the right to the left. This is useful for slowing down the pace of your comic or building tension. The second panel transition is action to action. A single subject in a series of actions. This is useful for speeding up the pace and showing a lot of action in a small amount of space. Then we have subject to subject, a series of changing subjects within a single scene. This allows you to focus the reader's attention by only showing them what they should be paying attention to in each panel. It's often used when two people are talking back and forth in conversation. Then we have scene to scene, transitions across significant distances of time and or space. This transition allows you to skip over unimportant details and jump ahead in time. The final transition is aspect to aspect. Transitions from one aspect of a place, idea, mood to another. This transition helps to create emotion and mood and gives the reader time to absorb. 10. Thumbnailing with Sketches: Now we've got our story all plotted out in words and panels, so let's start drawing. This is again just a process of trial and error, drawing the same panels in pages over and over until it feels like it works. Experiment and play around. These are just sketches, so don't worry about drawing perfectly. Focus on figuring out the best thing to draw in each panel, not the best way to draw it. We're just placing subjects and characters right now. Focus on placing characters, subjects and scenes in the panels. I would recommend staying on a small scale as before, so you can iterate quickly and you won't be tempted to draw in lots of details. 11. TIming: Timing. Comics are different than other types of writing and drawing because you have to consider the sense of time in your story. In this way, it's almost more similar to writing a film or animation than a novel or chapter book. Will Eisner, in his book, Comics and Sequential Art, talks about the difference between time and timing. In his words, time is a simple action whose result is immediate as it would be in reality, and timing is a simple action wherein the result only is extended beyond its actual duration to enhance emotion. So time is like seen something happened in real time, and timing is like seen something happened that has been sped up or slow down to communicate something, arouse emotion, or draw attention. Let's look at an example. Say, we're talking about a moment where a girl unexpectedly sees the boy she has a crush on. In time, she was walking along, having a good time, then she sees the boy, waves, and he waves back. Pretty much real time. But let's look at the same moment if we extended it using timing to arouse emotion and draw your attention to this action. In timing, she's walking along, having a good time, then she sees the boy. Her facial expression changes, she blushes, we zoom in on her face. She shyly waves, and he waves back. So you can see that the moment has been extended and exaggerated here to get across the feeling that she really likes this boy, and to bring emphasis to the moment. Timing should not always be used for every moment in your comment. But it's a good tool to focus the reader's attention, and tell them, "Hey, this is important, so pay attention." There are also other ways you can affect timing besides how you draw your characters in action. The number of panels you choose to use on a page can change the timing and pace of your story. Generally, more panels will compress and speed up time, while less panels will expand and slow down time. The shape and size of each panel also affects the pace. Smaller panels can speed up time and rhythm, while bigger panels can slow down time and rhythm. Changing up your panel sizes and shapes can also add tension and interest if done right. Finally, speech bubbles can also help to set the pace of your story. A lot of dialogue or narration in one panel is physically going to slow the reader down just by them having to read all that text. While less dialog will allow your reader to read faster. There are also different types of speech bubble shapes you can use. There's a normal speech bubble, which is used for typical dialogue. The cloud-shaped bubble that's often used for thought, and a jagged edge bubble that's often used for screaming or technology like someone talking over a cell phone. Finally, lettering can help pace your story. Small lettering will slow your story down, and large expressive lettering, like if your character was hysterically screaming, can speed it up. 12. Drawing the Panels: The next step in our comic is to refine our sketches. There are lots of different ways to do this, and each comic might require slightly different process. But here's what I generally like to do. I take my favorite thumbnail sketch and scan it into my computer. Then I blow it up to 8.5 by 11 or whatever my final size is going to be in a Photoshop or another editing program. Then I redraw the panels with the rectangle tool to make sure everything is straight, aligned, and evenly spaced. You don't have to do this step at all if you'd rather have wonky lines, it just depends on what mood and style you're going for. Then sometimes I'll type in my text so that I can have it later spaced out correctly, and sometimes I'll just freehand it completely. Then I'll print out the blown-up sketch and panel lines at full size. In this case, I recommend sizing your one-page comic at 8.5 by 11. Then I'll place the blown-up sketch on my Lightbox, or you can tape it to a window if you don't have a Lightbox. I'll place a sheet of Bristol board on top and then lightly trace the panels in pencil onto the Bristol board. You can use a ruler if you want to keep them completely straight, but I like just a little bit of imperfection, so at this point, I do it freehand. 13. Framing: Framing. After you've chosen what moment you want to draw within your panel, you have to decide how you're going to draw it, and this is where framing comes in. Framing is selecting which specific elements to show and include in the frame of your panel. Here are some things to consider. The shape of the panels that frame your drawings can also affect the reader's involvement. Here are some examples of how you can use panel shapes to draw your reader in and communicate emotion and mood. Long panels allude to height and power. Cloud shaped panels usually indicate a flashback or memory from the past. Elements breaking through the panel create tension and allude to power or high emotion. No panel lines alludes to wide-open space, limitless bounds and can help setup atmosphere. You can even use an element from your drawing as a panel frame, including a doorway, window, or trees. This is a great way to involve the reader in the story and draw them in. 14. Drawing the Story: After my panels are traced, I move on to tracing the sketch. I do this very lightly because I'm really just trying to get the overall composition that I already worked out in the sketch. Once I've got that down, I turn off the light box, take off the Bristol board and begin refining and finalizing the drawing, adding in details and line work. 15. Inking and Lettering: Once you've got your final drawing complete, I would recommend scanning it into your computer at 600 DPI, just in case you mess up the inking stage. That way you can always print it out and try again, or at least have the original drawing to look at. Now we can break out the pens that I mentioned in the materials video. I'd like to start out by inking the panels so I know exactly where to start my other inked lines. You can experiment with inking the panels and thick or thin lines, and both can work really well. Then I'll start with my medium-sized pen and begin inking the major outlines. This is all just a part of my style and the way of inking that I like. You're by no means required to ink this way. Experiment with all kinds of different ways of inking and see what works best for you. After I finish the medium lines, I'll usually move on to the small lines and then finish up with the extra small lines. Then I'll ink my lettering. One tip here is that you can make some of your words bold to create sounds in your reader's inner ear. When someone reads a comic, they're actually hearing it in their head. So giving them clues like bolding words, having some words in all caps, or with jaggedy lines can help give the reader clues on how to hear the words. This is generally frowned upon in most writing, like in novels, but in comics, anything goes and it totally works. After my lettering is inked, I'll erase all the pencil. You can either stop here and your comic is done with the outlines, or you can keep going and fill in some shapes black to give your comic a bit more depth and contrast. Many comics are black and white, but you can also choose to color your comic if you like. Some artists do this by hand traditionally, but a lot of comic artists will scan in their work at this point and color it digitally. Check out some of my other classes if you're interested in more information on digital coloring. 16. Wrapping Up: Thanks so much for taking this class and I hope you'll learn some tips for drawing comics. I hope you decide to make your own web page comic and I can't wait to see what you come up with. You can upload your project to the project gallery, clicking on the Start your project button on the class project page. You can also check out your fellow students work and check out how they tackled sequential storytelling. I look at every project that's posted in the project gallery and I'm always thrilled to see your work. Have fun writing and drawing, and I can't wait to see what you come up with.