Comic Book Page Planning in the Digital Age!

in comics •  6 months ago

Plus a bonus sneak peek at some "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..." mayhem!

I Suck At Thumbnailing

I'll be the first to admit it. Most comic artists prior to beginning a page or issue in earnest, go through an extensive thumb nailing process wherein they make small sketches (hence the "thumbnail" nickname) to determine the layout, composition, pacing, balloon placement, and solve as many problems as possible before diving into irreversible and time consuming illustration work. In the past I've been too impatient and struggled to put all the puzzle pieces into place, which of course has led to sub par results and plenty of heartache.

Recently I've begun to embrace and enjoy a slightly different method, albeit with all the same goals and benefits as traditional thumbnailing. It may not be a cure all, I'm still bound to have results I don't love and a modicum of heartache as I turn to pencil and ink... but this is pretty sweet.

Organized Chaos

I'm not doing the usual sketches, I'm jumping right into page creation... but without the painstaking illustration. Instead I'm using the Clip Studio Paint software to create my panel layouts, mock up scenes using 3d models, and even pre place script and lettering so that I know it works and exactly how much area I have to draw in... and how much I have to draw! It may be a noble task to spend 3 hours rendering foliage that will be covered by text balloons... but I'll skip the nobility and just try to get a damn comic done for once in my life! Everything you see in the layouts below will end up being completely redrawn by hand but I'm aiming to get an incredibly solid foundation in place so that the actual drawing is as smooth and productive a process as possible!

Pay Lots of Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain!

Unlike the great Oz, I'm willingly pulling back the curtain... because... well, I need some stuff to post about! As I'm moving through this scripting it's really starting to bring the characters to life for me, and I'm just plain eager to start sharing them with the world, even if it's just as digital mannequins so far. I also think it's important for artists to see each others process, especially my process... as it's a great affirmation that for most people, drawings don't just fall out of their pencil tips fully formed. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I consider myself a storyteller first and foremost and I'll use any tool or dirty trick I can to get the story realized on the page as good as I can make it!

Set the Scene

So I hope you enjoy. As Dr. Emmett Brown would say... "Please excuse the crudity of this model."

I estimate these will end up about page 15-16 of issue #1 of "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..." Dave has found himself in a spot of trouble inside of a hospital. (a great starting point for any post apocalyptic tale!) The scene begins to cut back and forth to the interior of a car, its unseen and unknown occupants engaged in strange conversation. When Dave is unfortunately... and painfully... punched through a wall to the outside world beyond, the narratives intersect for the first time and we get our first glimpse of more of our core protagonists.



I hope the dialog begins to inject some personality and humor, already hinting at the strange burgeoning relationships, and a good bone crunching hit inflicts a glimpse of the action to follow!

If I did my job, you should already be able to envision just which one of these characters each "voice" or action belongs to...


I hope I wet your appetite for more to come. I'll keep plugging away at it, slow and steady!

-Bryan "the Imp" Imhoff

Follow me @bryan-imhoff and view some of my comics @spottyproduction and reviews @exploreunlimited!
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Hi I'm new here! And I called the attention the work you're doing looks fantastic, is a super heroes comic? I will begin to follow you to see more about your content


Thank you and welcome to Steem! I wouldn't exactly call it "super-heroes," more of a fantasy action adventure horror comedy! (Yeah, I try to cram a lot in...) Thanks for checking it out and following!

I don't draw, but it's so interesting to see the process that goes into actually drawing a comic book and how hard it is.


Comics are so demanding in all the aspects that need considered. It’s like all the problems of single piece illustrations times 10! That’s why I use all the help I can get!

Do you do a full script first?


I do a loose script, breaking down action on each page, dialogue notes and such. But it stays pretty flexible through the layouts as I realize the need for more or less space at certain sequences, and do a lot of my dialogue brainstorming during the time spent on visuals. I may even shuffle the order of pages around. With digital work it’s alot easier to approach it like your filming footage and then putting it together in the editing room later!


Since I'm strictly a writer, that level of looseness with a script boggles me a little bit- especially since I'm pretty detail heavy in my scripts. (Not anywhere near Alan Moore, of course, but more than a lot of the sample scripts I've seen out there.)


Yeah, the “one man band” artist/writer combo really plays into the loose nature of the script. Rather than “writer me” making a tight script that “artist me” then realizes needs more or less panels on a page, really wants to stretch out an emotional scene, realizes fitting that much dialogue is nearly unworkable, etc... the two can work more in tandem. It’s also a bit of a timesaver as the hours spent working on the visuals are often when I come up with the best dialogue, as the characters act out the scene in front of me!


That makes a lot of sense! I'm pretty heavy on the description and such as a writer- some of my panels approach Alan Moore-length descriptions, but those are few and far between. If I were drawing too, those long descriptions would be totally unnecessary. (My artist is a good sport for putting up with me.)

Great to see it coming together! Great idea to plan the drawings out and the flow of it. I don't think it matters how it's done right? Just get er done! ;)


Exactly! And while there are incredibly talented individuals who can draft a scene entirely from imagination, I’m always enthused to see other artists using these kinds of “dirty tricks.” It helps me stop feeling like a phony!

Is a great job, it might be difficult but is going to have great rewards I encourage you to achieve it you have the potential, the desire, the experience so you will be well :D


Thank you! I’ll keep working at it until it’s done! However long that may take...

huh...I'm the opposite. Thumbnails are my favorite part. Everything else is a pain in the ass. Anyhow, looking good!


I love the fun of first planning out the story, but thumbnails just never did it for me. Maybe I’m still rebelling against some college professors who would require 50 thumbnails before starting an illustration. More likely it’s my near crippling perfectionism! This way I can at least nudge things around a couple millimeters to my hearts content and it’ll actually make it into the final file & print!
Thanks for checking it out!

Wow and your work is taking more form, I love seeing the progress of how your comic goes but you say you have to draw everything by hand, I thought everything was done in digital.


I started to do some of the pencil drawing with actual pencil and paper again! But even if done digitally I would probably still call it "drawn by hand" as the process is very much the same just with different materials!

Eek! I love it! I'm super stoked to see the final product!

I have this friend who does comics too, and he used to post YouTube videos about the processes behind comics, and he did a thingy on thumbnails, and I was like "Well, frick, that rules me out." :P


LOL. I say, if you hate thumbnails, just don't do them! There's no wrong way to make a comic! Thanks so much for your enthusiasm, glad you're digging the sneak peek so far.

Yessss! I get really excited to see process posts like this. They are immensely helpful, since I'm still trying to get my shit together to make an actual plan for my pages, instead of throwing a pencil to paper and then getting pissed off at myself for running out of room because I didn't pre-plan any sort of layout.

I'm liking the script already... it's quite amusing. I'm stoked to see more progress posts.


Thank you! I’m happy you’re enjoying the script so far. I’m cracking myself up writing some of it and can only hope others enjoy it too!

Pre planning is so important with sequential pages. But there’s no single correct way to do it. Find something that works for you! It could involve photocopying & collage, using a light box, etc. but the important thing is to have your layout pretty well refined before you start into the detailed rendering. It can save some heartache!

My first comic I did all my rough page layouts on index cards, which I tacked up on a cork board to reorder & plan out the comic. Then I’d scan the cards when I was happy with them, blow them up, print them out, & trace the layout onto a fresh sheet of drawing paper to begin rendering.

I’ve never used these, but I enjoy seeing layout work by artist Jeff McComsey. He sells the books he makes for himself to plan his comics.

And here’s a look at one of his sketches in them.


Can’t wait to see more of your project too... one step at a time!


Yeah, I'm definitely getting that rough drafts and story boarding is going to be something I have to accept in this process. I'm determined to do it right, and make something decent this time, so I really want to take my time and figure it out. I've never been much of one to do several renderings of the same image, or to do rough drafts on much of anything... it almost makes it feel forced. But I am liking the idea of doing a super rough sketch page to figure out layout and composition, rather than drawing and re-drawing the same image 4 times to get it right. haha "Work smarter, not harder!" and all that.

I could see index cards on a cork board being helpful, if only I had a little more space to call my own, where little fingers wouldn't try to "improve" things. lol Those thumbbooks look awesome! Thanks for sharing!

I have always liked comics but I never do them, I see that it is a process that requires a lot of work, those that you drew will have a kind of sequence?