How to Make Comics: Ideas, Activities, and Resources for Learning and Creating | Magazine

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This is the fourth and final article in our How To Make Comics series for teachers, families, and comic book enthusiasts who want to explore the medium.

Rivane Neuenschwander. Zé Carioca no. 4, A Volta by Zé Carioca (1960). Edição Histórica, ed. April. 2004

Although this guide is written with students and teachers in mind, many of these activities and ideas can be adapted for people of all ages. Our hope is that this article can inspire your creativity and personal expression.

And one final note: even though this guide is written sequentially, you can edit, adapt, and adjust your story as you go through the process. No note or idea needs to be final until you decide it. Throughout the process, ask your friends and family for feedback. Try out different items to see how your story changes. Even the most experienced comic book artists and writers go through several drafts and versions before they come up with a final draft.

Step 1: Identify your story

The first question you might want to ask is: what will my comic be about? When working with students or starting your comic, telling a personal story can be the easiest way to speak in an authentic voice and connect with readers. Your personal stories can relate to important and important events in your life or to family stories passed down from generation to generation. But they can also tell little moments in your day. What if you told a story about going to the grocery store, but focused on how your emotions changed during the trip?

Jacob Lawrence tells the story of the Great Migration, a period after World War I when an exodus of African Americans moved from the rural areas of the South to the cities of the North. Lawrence’s parents and other relatives were one of the many families who migrated north.

On Kawara, on the other hand, captured simple details of her life in a series titled I got up…. Each day the artist would send two picture postcards to friends or colleagues, writing on the back of each card a message starting with “I got up” followed by the time he got out of bed. .

Front and back of works from On Kawara's I Got Up ..., 1970

Front and back of On Kawara’s works I got up…, 1970

Lyonel Feininger.  The Kin-der-Kids are having a lucky trip!  from the Chicago Sunday Tribune.  June 10, 1906

Lyonel Feininger. The Kin-der-Kids are having a lucky trip! of The Chicago Sunday Tribune. June 10, 1906

Step 2: Sketch the characters

Frida Kahlo.  Self-portrait with cut hair.  1940

Frida Kahlo. Self Portrait with Cropped Hair. 1940

Step 3: Establish the setting

In most stories, the setting is closely tied to the events and the characters. Establishing a clear location for each sign can move your story forward and offer a lot of non-verbal information. Don’t worry about making your background full or realistic – a simple image or symbolic landmark can offer a lot of information with minimal detail. For example, adding a chair to your decor can represent the interior of a home or classroom, while a tree can indicate to readers that the characters are outside. A structure like the Eiffel Tower can represent Paris. Just like you did with the characters, practice drawing your sets until they fit into your story and give readers a sense of belonging.

Florine Stettheimer.  Family portrait, II.  1933

Florine Stettheimer. Family portrait, II. 1933

In Family portrait II, Florine Stettheimer indicates that she and her family are in New York City adding stylized depictions of recognizable structures, such as the Chrysler Building and the Statue of Liberty.

Step 4: Incorporate Words and Sounds

Claes Oldenburg.  Boom (folio 11) by Stamped Indelibly.  1967

Claes Oldenburg. Boom (folio 11) from Indelibly stamped. 1967

Step 5: add color

The use of color can have a significant impact on the effect of your comics. First, ask yourself if you want to use color in your comic and what color could add to your story. Maybe your comic doesn’t need color and would look stronger in black and white? Sometimes comic book creators choose to work in black and white out of necessity; at other times, it’s an artistic choice. Some find that a black and white color scheme helps a story feel more serious or scary.

If you decide to use color, think about which color palette will work best to convey meaning, mood or sensation? Working with a single color or using a limited palette (one to three colors) can accentuate details and emotions. And depending on the palette, whether warm or cool, contrasting or complementary, it can also affect whether your reader feels comfortable, nervous, or happy. There is no right or wrong decision, it all depends on what your story needs.

Marlène Dumas.  Chlorosis (Sick of love).  1994

Marlène Dumas. Chlorosis (love sickness). 1994

Marlene Dumas uses thin washes of paint and few colors to evoke an anemic disease marked by a green complexion, called chlorosis. It was once believed that chlorosis was caused by the intense suffering brought on by unrequited love. The contrast between the pink and green hues emphasizes the subjects’ distressed facial expressions and can even make us uncomfortable.

Step 6: Share it!

Illustration of

Illustration of “Love Sick” by Erin Williams for Drawn to MoMA

Ultimately, the choice is yours and that’s the best part! It doesn’t matter what you do, who reads it, or how you share it, as long as you enjoy the process and tell a story that feels true to you, your comic is a hit.

We can’t wait to see what you did! Share with us on [email protected].

Illustration by Danica Novgorodoff for Drawn to MoMA

Illustration by Danica Novgorodoff for Drawn to MoMA

Resources for learning and making comics

Inspiration is everywhere. As you get started in creating comics, we invite you to read those made by others and explore the wealth of resources created by teachers, academics, writers, artists and enthusiasts. You can use these resources for ideas and tips, or you can use them to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Here are some of our favorite resources that you can use on your own or bring to class.

Resources for teaching comics from the Center for Cartoon Studies, which includes curricula, study guides, handouts, and activity instructions

Teaching comics, resources available on the Digital Learning Commons of the South Portland School Department

Making Comics, an online repository of educational materials for creating comics

National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance Graphic Novels and Comics Resources

At Lynda Barry Make comics, a book with tips, stories and creative suggestions from cartoonist and comic book teacher Lynda Barry

Digital Comic Museum, an online archive of digitized public domain comics from the Golden Age

Attracted by MoMA in MoMA magazine

Feather, a daily comic book publication devoted to journalism, essays, memoirs and satire

The Patron Saint of Superheroes, Chris Gavaler’s blog exploring different topics in comics

Scott McCloud’s Journal, the website of Scott McCloud, cartoonist and author of Understanding comics

Comic abstraction: breaking the image, creating the image, a MoMA exhibit exploring the ways artists have adapted elements of comics to address social issues

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