There is a lot to consider when learning about how to self-publish a comic book. From the Golden Age of superhero comics to today’s diverse array of webcomics and graphic novels, comics bring stories to life with dazzling art. There are many steps to self-publishing a comic book, from writing snappy dialogue to creating the perfect cover design. But where can you start if you have a project you’re thinking about publishing? To learn about how to self-publish a comic book—from scripting to creating artwork to formatting and more—read on.
Some excited artists want to jump into drawing the comic immediately. Bring on the flashy action panels and bright colors! The writing process will just happen naturally, right?
Um, no. While overplanning can halt your progress, some amount of planning has to be there.
The structure of your comic depends on its genre and length, as well as whether or not your comic is episodic (each chapter contains its own story or joke) or serial (chapters build off each other).
Many comedy comics, for example, are episodic and take the four-panel comic strip approach. The first panel introduces readers to the world. The second panel adds detail to the story. The third panel adds a twist, while the fourth is a conclusion (often a punchline).
On the other hand, comic books that tell a cohesive story from chapter to chapter often use the three-act structure.
The first act introduces the readers to the world, characters, and central conflict. The second act raises the stakes as characters face challenges and learn lessons, building to a climax. In the third act, the characters and world adjust to the aftermath of the climax, showing how the characters changed.
It’s important to have a clear idea. What is your goal with the comic? Are you interested in cracking jokes, teaching lessons, or telling a story?
Try writing a plot synopsis. Who are your characters? What do they want, and why? How do they accomplish their goals? When and where does the story take place?
Once you have a solid idea, it’s time to get into the script.
Drawing, writing, and reading comic books is an artform all its own. Here’s a quick rundown of terminology you may use when scripting your comic:
A planned script gives you a sense of direction and consistency. It allows you to include foreshadowing, callbacks, developed character arcs, and plot elements.
Still, avoid overplanning. Spending years changing tiny details before you begin the comic can prevent you from ever starting. Moreover, as you work on your comic, some details, plot points, and dialogue may change.
Having a looser outline allows for creativity when sketching out panels. Remember to stay flexible but plan ahead.
You have a script. It’s beautiful. It’s brilliant. You can’t wait to see it come to life. Let’s dive into the art creation process.
When working on your comic book art, consider:
Comic creators can do all the work themselves, but it’s common for artists and writers to collaborate.
A comic book writer may do sketches or lay out the panels themselves, but hire a colorist, inker, letterer, or editor. The webcomic Everblue, for example, is a collaboration between a writer/artist and a penciller.
To find artists, put together a pitch. Get people excited about your ideas. Then go to networking events like comic conventions, reach out on social media, or ask a friend if they’d be interested in helping you out.
Just note that you’ll likely have to pay your artists, and budget accordingly.
There are two methods of creating art: digital and traditional. Below is a list of digital programs, both free and paid, and traditional art supplies.
Thinking about making a digital comic or webcomic? Check out these paid digital programs:
Comics creators can also check out these free digital programs:
If you want to use traditional methods for your comic book strip, get familiar with these artist tools:
If you plan on printing your comic, the book formatting is vital. It’s best if you can plan the format before you start drawing.
In the Golden and Silver ages of comics, single-issue comic books were usually around 6.75 or 7 inches by 10.375 inches. Today, standard American comics are 6.63 inches by 10.24 inches.
Manga is a little different. In Japan, the volume sizes vary. American companies reformat those versions into a standard size, which is typically 5 inches by 7.5 inches.
Digital comic anthologies and self-published comics have no standard. Similarly, there’s no “right” size for digital copies, like a Kindle e-book size. Indie authors especially have creative freedom.
When formatting your comic, consider how big you want it to be. Then check local print shops or online print services to see what sizes they carry.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when formatting your comic for print is the trim size. Comics are printed at a larger size, then trimmed down to their trim size—the size of the book after it’s printed and bound.
There are three areas on a comic page to consider:
With the prevalence of webcomics and online print services, self-publishing is easier than ever. Here are a few tips on hosting your comic online, distributing physical copies, and maybe even making a little money.
Webcomics are increasingly popular, especially because there’s such a low bar to entry. Anyone can publish a webcomic anywhere. Some popular webcomic platforms are:
To distribute physical copies, print your comic with a professional printing service. You’ll be offered options for the formatting, thickness of paper, binding, and matte or glossy pages.
Make a budget and consider how many copies you’ll need. Do you want a couple to share with family and friends, or are you going to sell your comic? If you’re selling, do you hope to break even or make a profit?
Look into local comic book shops or bookstores. Promote online, attend conventions, and go to book events to network and get your work out there.
Your project may cost a lot of money, especially if you’re printing many copies and hiring extra talent to help with writing or art. Some artists crowdfund their project, rewarding backers with merchandise like stickers or exclusive editions of their comic books.
Real talk: if you’re hoping to make a comic purely to make money, you’re going to be disappointed.
Still, creators can reap the rewards of their hard work. If comics are your passion, there’s no stopping you from turning your dreams into a thriving side hustle.
One way to make money for your work is through online sites like Gumroad, a website where people pay a creator to access their work, and Patreon, a membership site where patrons support creators.
As mentioned above, sites like Tapas and Webtoon also offer deals with popular comics creators to allow them to monetize their work and draw in ad revenue.
The best way to make money is through marketing your work, plain and simple. Build an audience. Talk to libraries and book sellers about buying copies of your work. Be active on social media. You just made a comic! Get excited, and other people will get excited, too.
Once you’ve finished and published a comic, take a moment to celebrate. You deserve it! Now it’s time to kick things into high gear by getting some eyes on your work.
Want to market your comic? Elite Authors offers resources to support you all along the way, like this guide to marketing your book. For professional services, the Elite Authors team is here to help.