Guiding the Complete Idiot

I just finished reading The Complete Idiot’s guide to Creating a Graphic Novel (Alpha Books, 2004) by Nat Gertler and Steve Lieber. There are a lot of books out there that speak to the art and the craft of making comics, but few are so systematic. This book covers all aspects of comic art production from the initial brainstorming stages, to self-publishing vs. soliciting an established publisher, and beyond. There is plenty for a novice to learn in this book. The breakdown of information is clear well organized, and there is a lot of humour in the book as well!

One point that was very well communicated in this resource, and which is consistent with statements made by many, many artists and writers of graphic novels, concerns the time commitment involved in creating a graphic novel. From the first sketches and thumbnails to having a completed project, you can count on investing about ten hours per page. Do you have that kind of time?

Some detailed information on using Photoshop for lettering was included in the Guide, though I have a hunch that perhaps InDesign has made inroads as the industry standard for at least some graphic artists working in comics publishing these days.

Apart from this one very minor detail, I suspect that the vast majority of the information in this book remains current, and I strongly recommend it for anyone considering venturing into the world of comics publishing.

I scraped together some quick notes from the book and have included them below:

1. General Notes

1.1 Pencils

Lead is graded according to hard or soft it is. Scale from soft to hard:

Soft 6B > 5B > 4B > 3B > 2B > B > HB > F > H > 2H > 3H > 4H > 6H > Hard


  • 3H or 4H for lightly blocking things out (draw with the side, not the point, to avoid digging into the page.)
  • Then go in with an H or 2H for the rest of the drawing
  • Mechanical pencil leads come in different thicknesses, e.g. 9 mm, 7 mm, and 5 mm….
  • If using a lead holder, get a barrel-shaped sharpener called a lead pointer.

1.2 Erasers

  • Use Stanford Tuff Stuff EraserStick.
  • Electric erasers; low-level power tools
  • Can erase ink
  • Make sure to buy the ink-erasing refills
  • Use a drafting brush (a big, soft-bristled brush) to sweeping eraser crumbs off drawing.
  • Hand doesn’t work as well, and oil from skin can get on paper.

1.3 Lettering

  • Speedball C-6 dip-pen nib (use thin ink like Koh-I-noor waterproof drawing ink.)
  • Ames Lettering Guide


1.4 White Paint and Correction Pens

  • Winsor & Newton Permanent White gouache for small mistakes. Don’t use Zinc White; it turns yellow.)
  • Dr. P.H. Martin’s Pro White is good, too.
  • For larger mistakes, make a patch or paste in the correction digitally.
  • Some people really like Pentel’s Presto correction pen, though author does not.


1.5 Inking



  • Winsor & Newton series seven, number two sable brush
  • Clean by twirling the bush in liquid soap, then use thumbnail to scrape out dried ink, pushing up from the base.
  • Use brushes that lost their points to fill in areas black, or to create textures that don’t require control of every mark.
  • Old brushes are useless for any sort of precise drawing.
  • Wrap masking tape around the ferrule (the metal part that holds the bristles) of your beat-up brushes and mark them with different colors.
  • Different brushes are good for different tasks, and colors help keep track of which is which.

Dip Pens

  • There are dozens of metal pen nibs available, all worth trying.
  • One of the most common: Hunt 102 crow-quill pen.
  • Firm point is easy for beginners to handle. As nib is used, it becomes more flexible, so start with the finest lines on the page, then shift to the broader ones. Other popular nibs: Hunt 108 and the Gillott series.
  • Pen nibs are cheap, buy lots and experiment.

2. Selected Works Cited


2.1 Graphic Novels Cited for Various Reasons

The Interman by Jeff Parker

Gon for visual storytelling

24 Hour Comics

The Road to Perdition by Max Allen Collins

Dark Town

A Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert

Rio by Doug Wildley

The Sandwalk Adventures by Dr. Jay Hosler

The Factor

Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez

The Big Book of Losers

To the Heart of the Storm by Will Eisner

The Bloody Streets of Paris by Jacques Tardi

Maakies by Tony Millionaire

Al Williamson Adventures (for inking)

Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Raven’s Children by Leyla Lawler

Two-Fisted Science and Dignifying Science by Jim Ottaviani


2.2 Drawing Books

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Dr. Betty Edwards

How to Draw the Human Figure Famous Artists School

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist Stephen Rogers Peck

Successful Drawing Andrew Loomis

Constructive Anatomy George Bridgman

The Complete Guide to Drawing from Life George Bridgman

Drawing the Head and Figure Jack Hamm

Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth Andrew Loomis (out of print, hard to find, expensive)

Perspective! for Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea

The DC Guide to Pencilling Comics by Klaus Janson

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by John Buscema and Stan Lee

2.3 About Comics

Panel Discussions: Design in Sequential Art Storytelling by Durwin Talon et. al.

Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers by Neil Gaiman, Kevin Smith, et al., and Panel Two: More Comic Books Scripts by Top Writers Scott McCloud, Peter David, et al. both edited by Nat Gertler.

The New Comics: Interviews from the Pages of The Comics Journal edited by Gary Groth and Robert Fiore.

Understanding Comics Scott McCloud

Digital Prepress for Comic Books Kevin Tinsley.

On Directing Film David Mamet

2.4 Books on Drawing with Ink

The Art of Comic Book Inking by Randy Martin

The DC Comics Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson

Dynamic Light and Shade by Burne Hogarth

Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L.Guptill

2.5 Lettering

How to Draw and Sell Comic Strips Alan McKenzie and Steve Parkhouse (tutorial on lettering).

Comic Book Lettering the Comicraft Way Richard Starkings and John Roshell


Nat Gertler website

Steve Lieber website


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