Ask Vivek: How do I make comics?
This week’s question was about comics. I don’t have any experience making comics, so I thought I would interview two comic artists that I really admire: Michael DeForge and Eric Kostiuk Williams. Michael has created several comic books and zines and recently worked on Adventure Time. Eric has created a fantastic comic series called Hungry Bottom Comics and his debut book, Condo Heartbreak Disco, is out next year!
When did you make your first comic? What drew you to the medium of comic making?
Michael: I've wanted to draw comics for as long as I can remember. I learned to read and draw with the comic strip collections my family had. I made my first physical, finished comic when I was around 11 or 12. It was a 12-page horror anthology and the stories were all sports-themed. I wasn't a sporty kid, so all the comics were about, like, soccer teams kicking around severed heads, ghosts haunting the deep end of swimming pools, stuff like that.
Eric: In Grade 5, we had an assignment that involved creating a superhero character whose story related to saving the environment. This was probably one of the coolest and most random things I got to do in school! I called my superhero T.O.L.G. ("The Ozone Layer Guardian"). Once the assignment was over, I was still really attached to the character and ended up creating more comics on my own time, featuring him, and a cast of other characters.
I've always seen comics as such a powerful medium, because you're creating a fully realized world from scratch. If you think of a comic as a movie, you're actually the writer, director, set designer, casting director, costume designer, cinematographer, etc. This can feel very intimidating sometimes, but if it's an idea you're passionate about, it feels exciting to be so involved in its creation. The combination of words and images is a direct way to get your ideas across. Although the process of making a comic is pretty solitary, being able to then share your story with folks, and have them respond to it, is a feeling unlike anything else.
I also love making comics because they can be about anything! My early comics were focussed on superheroes, but since then, I've made science fiction comics, autobiographical comics, abstract comics... the sky's the limit.
Can you describe your process? Do you start with an idea or story first, or an illustration?
Michael: It changes a lot from story to story. Sometimes it starts as a loose idea or a character I want to run with, but other times a story will spring out of an image from my sketchbook. I work in my sketchbook a lot.
Once the ball starts rolling, I tend to improvise my stories as I go. I try to be very open to little accidents, or veering off course when I need to. I'm usually not writing very far ahead of what I'm drawing. I'll rough out a page in the morning with some noodley drawings and dialogue, then chip away at the finished version until the day is over.
Eric: Hmm, a bit of both, I'd say! Sometimes I'll draw characters in my sketchbook, and then I'll try to find a story for them to live in. Other times a story or theme will take shape in my head, and the drawings are a way of fleshing out those first ideas.
What advice would you give to someone starting to explore making comics?
Eric: If you're thinking of making a comic, make something that excites you—something that you would want to read! It can be good to start small. Make a one or two-page story, where you can play around with your style and storytelling, and see if it's an idea you like enough to spend more time on. You wouldn't want to find yourself in the middle of making a 30-page comic when you realize you're not into your story anymore! That's happened to me, and it's terrible! I would also say to do it in whatever way feels most comfortable. Some comics are mostly text, with less emphasis on the drawings, some comics are all illustrations, with no text! Sometimes a writer will team up with an illustrator and make a comic together, which can take a bit of the pressure off being responsible for the whole thing. There's no one right way, and that's my favourite thing about comics.
Michael: Self-publish, either online or in print. Make a cruddy zine, throw some strips up on Tumblr, whatever. I learned a lot from self-publishing, and comics have a particularly low barrier to entry. It's can be challenging to make the time to actually draw them, but once you do, they're dirt cheap. I can print the entire run of a mini-comic for the same price I pay to rent three hours of practice space for my band, for instance.
Thank you again for your question. Please keep sending me questions and I will keep answering them here!
Lastly, Michael DeForge’s Big Kids is one of the best comic book I have read and is definitely worth checking out! What are your favourite comics? Let me know in the comments!