Misskittyoooo's most common critiques
Once ever couple weeks I get a note with someone asking me for a critique on their comic and asking for suggestions on how to improve. I usually end up replying with some 4 page reply linking tutorials, redlining pages and the whole sh-bang. I started to notice that most of the people I give advice to all have the same common mistakes. These are going to be very basic points for beginners or strugglers, and if after reading this you still want help, of course I am always available to give you personalized advise through notes or in the chats.
Like I said, these is just my observations and advise (opinion or fact). Take them or leave them.
1. Bubbles they are usually overcrowded, difficult to read, using bad fonts or font sizes
2. Paneling - usually no timing to speak of, crowded, difficult to read, or needing instruction on where to start reading
3. Interest a lot of the time, there is a lot of just heads talking, no interest to the pages, just dialogue and face, not even expressions.
So let's start with point 1, bubbles, also known as balloons. These are the little encasements that your dialogue sits in; they are usually oval and have a little tail to indicate who is speaking.
If you've never made one before, here's a tutorial on how they are made:
My first point to make is about half transparent talk bubbles. I know some people like them, personally, I hate them. I really hate them. I think they look, forgive me, amateur, not only that they are usually hard to read. If you're worried about your talk bubble blocking your art then you didn't plan your panels very well. You should be leaving room for dialogue when you draw the pages. That's why you use a script when making comics.
A comic is not a novel, it's not a short story; it's a comic. Walls of text don't work. So if you have some crazy long narrative going on, think of where conversation breaks would be, and break it up a bit between panels or in double balloons, whatever. Be creative!
There's really no reason to make half transparent balloons. Now having said that, I have seen some done fairly well, nice amount of transparency, easy to read, clean and nice. If you are just starting out though and aren't really good at creating balloons, stick to the traditional.
Another common mistake is overcrowding inside the balloons. Your words should not touch the edge of your balloon. In cases of yelling, screaming or whatever sometimes for effect you can make your words kind of "break out" of the balloons, but they shouldn't be inside the balloons touching the sides. This is sloppy, and it's hard to read. Type your dialogue first, then make the balloon around it, so you know how much room you'll need (this is outlined in the tutorial above), this will stop the overcrowding.
I have a set of three tutorials here about lettering comics; I highly recommend reading these tutorials, as they will make a world of difference in how you put words in your comics.
So moving on to point 2, panelling, yes there is a right and wrong way to panel your comic. Panels are the little individual boxes that contain the illustrations that make up each page; they also indicate the timing, mood and setting of your comic. For example, faster movements would be smaller panels in close order. Say you have someone looking back and forth, if you wanted that to be quick movement, you'd do two or three panels, smaller right next to each other, if you had dialogue, your balloon could be between the panels or something to that effect, to show he's speaking while turning his head. If the movement was slower, he could look to one side, you could do another panel of him looking the same side still, but squinting (If you had dialogue it could be all on one panel, to show he finished speaking before turning his head again), then a third panel of him looking the other way, that would show a pause on the first direction. Where the first example would be more panicked, looking back and forth.
Here's a little tutorial on the basics of panelling and it covers a bit on timing, I recommend having a look at this:
Another issue I see a lot of wasted space and over crowding. By wasted space I mean, by putting a panel overtop of another one but a little off, like in the top corner, leaving a strip of the below panel showing underneath the panel on top. This area has no information in it; it's just left over background, so it's just wasted space. Having your panels all crazy, overlapping, floating panels, are nice, IN MODERATION and where appropriate. In conversations, they end up just being confusing as they don't have a very smooth flow through.
I'm into comics and cartoons, not "anime" or "manga", but this is something I see a lot in all kinds so I really think it needs a mention. I know all the "manga" artists are going to shake their heads at me for this one but, your comic, if written in English should read LEFT TO RIGHT, not RIGHT TO LEFT. If you need to instruct people how to read your comic before they start, you are doing something wrong. People know how to read books, they shouldn't need instructions.
This is not only confusing, it's kind of silly really and pointless. The only reason to make a comic read from right to left is if the original format was in Japanese and it is to prevent the art from being flipped. If your comic is in English, it should read like an English book. This is another example that ties into panelling your comics in a readable pattern with good flow, if your comics awkward or difficult to read in anyway, people aren't going to bother to try. Reading your comic should be a joy, not a frustration.
So when you are panelling your comic, think of readability, timing and flow.
The third point, interest, has got to be one of the most common things I see in first time comicers, boring panels/ artwork and talking heads. Strips use this technique a lot because they have strict deadlines, panel templates they have to cram their work into, and they need to pump out a crap load of comics in a short amount of time, and it's the dialogue that's usually the punch, but in comic books and graphic novels, talking heads, just doesn't work. Talking heads comes off as a cop out and boring when doing an ongoing full page comic series. Sometimes you have a couple people having conversations, sitting in a yard or biking, or whatever. Instead of talking heads, you should try some long shots (views from farther away), aerial views, perspective shots from below, shots from the other characters Point of view, things of that nature, to add interest.
A good example of this is the Calvin and Hobbes comics, whenever Calvin and his Tiger Hobbes are having some philosophical conversation, the artist, Bill Waterson puts the characters into a little red wagon, and the conversation usually occurs while they are flying down hills, and crashing into rivers. This makes the comic funny and interesting even though the actual dialogue is kind of boring and complex. It's a contrast to make the boring interesting, and it works really well.
Now I'm not saying you have to make all your conversations take place on roller coasters or in fast cars, I'm saying that even boring conversations shouldn't kill your reader's interest. You don't even have to have the characters in every single scene, you often see some where it's a panel of a bird flying by with the narrative overtop, or just hands, whatever works for your scene that avoids making it talking heads, go for it. Keep your pages interesting.
A final little note to mention, if you are serious about making your comic successful, and nice and professional, prepare to get critiques. If you are sensitive and have trouble taking advice, get out now. Comics are a very competitive industry with lots of competition, so if you can't take it, you wont make it.
Learn from your mistakes and do better.
So those are the most common things I critique and I think it's because people don't think about them when they look at comics, they are kind of the technical side people don't notice, or don't understand what makes a comic good. Sometimes I also think that people can see these problems in their comics themselves, but can't identify them themselves. So I hope this was helpful to some of you just starting out comic artists, I'll leave you with a few links to some articles with comic resources for you, and watch out for more in this series.
Comics and Cartoons ABC's
Comics tools and resources 1
Comics tools and resources 2
Comics tools and resources 3
Again should you need any assistance with your comics, advice, or pointers, you can always send me a note, or catch me in #CandC or #Daqueran for some pointers or if you have questions.
`Katmomma's Comic Panel Design Advice:
1] It is a really good idea to draw thumbnail sketches of the entire page / strip to get an idea of where you want things to go. It can also help you plan out where speech bubbles should go to be appropriate. One of the main focuses in comics is movement- and to move your viewer's eyes throughout the page in sequential order takes careful planning.
2] Treat each panel as a separate composition. Panels should incorporate several principals of design such as unity within themselves. Every panel should be interesting- you want your readers to keep reading, don't you?
Since comics are much like story-boards (and story-boards are used for animation) your panels should contain everything you want the viewer to see (much like a film). If you are using boxes for your panels, think about head-room, nose-room, and the dynamics of the composition.
* Don't cut off odd parts of the picture if you don't have to. (half of your character's head..etc.) In some cases it is necessary but think about the composition. You can bring even more dynamics and depth to your comic by overlapping your characters/subjects with the panel's edges.
3] Speech bubbles can be tricky- and sometimes we are hesitant with them because they consume space. No problem. Let them consume space! In fact, use speech bubbles to help balance your panels' composition! But like I said, a good time to plan this is in the thumbnail stage. :comic:
Another thing you want to keep in mind about speech bubbles is which one you want your viewers to read first within the panel. Careful placement can help solve this problem. But a lot of times, I'll read an amateur comic and be totally confused with the dialogue. So when in that thumbnailing stage, this is a very important aspect to address. It can mean the difference between an enjoyable comic and a downright confusing one.