How to Make a Graphic Novel/Comic Book – Part 3(Layout)


In the last two installments, I covered brainstorming/writing/scripting and the basic drawing mechanics used in my graphic novel, El Cuervo. This time, I’m going to show you the process of laying out my pages in a traditional book format, as opposed to the webcomic format.

“Why did you do two different methods,” you ask?

To be honest, I’m not sure anymore as a majority of Graphic Novelists just stick to the traditional vertical page layout. Less work and headaches for them. I tried bucking the system and going with a 6 panel grid so I could just pop it over to a 2 x 3 grid for a vertical page. The problem with that is, the layout gets kind of static and boring to read.

I decided to go back to my roots and design the pages as I intended from the very beginning. To jump back in time a ways, here’s a sample of what the ‘alpha draft’ of El Cuervo looked like.

Cuervo_001 Cuervo_002

You can see where I was headed initially – I wanted the pages to have more of a visual flow than they did in their webcomic state. By the time I reconsidered, I had already done 7.5 chapters of the story.

So here we are – there and back again. Now – I’ve decided to revamp the 6 panel pages from this –


to this.


It’s a bit more dynamic and visually tells the story better. So now you’re probably asking, “How do you put your Graphic Novel together?”

Easy. I use InDesign. Here’s the process.


Clean up the artwork.

The first thing I do before I start building my books is to remove all sound effects and text from the artwork. Since I use Illustrator and separate the text from my artwork layers, it’s as simple as turning off the layer.


I wont go into detail on how I made the switch from the 6 panel page to a vertical page (that’s for another tutorial) since it was very time consuming and involves a lot of tweaking here and there.

The artwork can be tweaked and modified if needed. I will also make sure that my colors are all uniform and set up properly – eg. Black set to a specific Pantone Black or 100% K, Red in a specific Pantone or CMYK mix, etc. You can go as far as setting traps and knockouts for overlapping colors, but many times, print production will take care of that for you when you send your files off (for a cost.)

Make sure any artwork that bleeds off the edges has at minimum 1/8″ bleed. That way, if the paper is trimmed unevenly, you won’t have any odd edges without ink coverage.


Page Layout

I’ll open up InDesign and create a new document. Here’s the page settings I currently use.


Here’s some specifics:
Size = 6.5″ x 10″
Number of Pages = 200 (put in whatever you need. You can always remove them or add them after.)
Facing Pages = facing pages starts you off with a right hand page (front cover) and all subsequent pages are set up side by side in spread format (Left Page-Right Page)
Bleed = You can indicate a bleed line around your work (does not print) to show you where your bleeds should extend to – it’s like an extra margin.

Now that the basic document has been set up, you can start laying out your pages. The Pages Tab in the InDesign palette shows you thumbnails of all of your pages laid out with artwork/text etc. You can easily jump to a page by simply clicking on it.

Now I’ll show you the construction of the Lawyer murder pages.


Just like my Illustrator file, I set up my InDesign file with a separate layer for artwork, and a layer for text/SFX. This makes placement and modification easier.


Adding in your Text and Sound Effects

I will then add my Narrative Boxes and arrange them in such a way so they interfere minimally with the artwork and guide the reader through the story. Placing narrative and speech strategically helps to maintain flow and pacing in your story.

Each Narrative Box is set up in the exact same manner in order to keep consistency throughout. Boxes with two lines of text are all the same height, just as boxes with three lines are the same height, etc.

There’s nothing worse than having odd shaped boxes with interior text that is inconsistently spaced. You want the reader to focus less on your layout mistakes and more on remaining immersed IN the story. Narrative, speech and sound effects are supposed to help the visual impact, not take away from it.

Sound effects are interpreted differently by each person. I grew up speaking Spanish, therefore, some sounds are written differently in comics. I try to adhere to North American interpretations of sounds, but the odd time I’ll sneak in a Spanish variation just to achieve a different effect.

InDesign allows you to be very specific with text and the effects you place on them. It is important to extend beyond the default values in order to achieve a more polished look. I wanted this sound effect to be separate from the blood spatter behind it, so I added a black stroke around it. Here’s the default SFX with a stroke attached to it.

You can see some of the stoke overlapping on each character. By default, the stroke is placed on the center of the text edge. I want it to have more depth, so I’ll alter the settings of my stroke on that particular SFX.


By highlighting the text and selecting the above option in the Stroke palette, you’ll kick your stroke to the outside edge of your text, and give it more of a true outline. The end result looks like this:


Much better – cleaner looking and doesn’t interfere with the font used. You can go even further and track and kern your text to achieve different results in spacing, as well as shift the baseline position of letters as well. There’s a lot of different possibilities for text manipulation within InDesign.

It’s a far more robust system than lettering in Photoshop, Manga Studio or Illustrator – because this is what InDesign excels at – layout and typography. Sure, you may not achieve all the fancy color and texture effects, but for rendering large blocks of text, it is the most efficient.

Ever notice how Photoshop lags like crazy when you work on a large file and you decide to add your text?

That’s the inefficient type engine at work. It is getting better, but if you’re getting ready to produce a book, save yourself the headache and set up your text files using InDesign – you’ll have less issues with resolution and have more freedom to shift/reposition your text at the production phase.

It sounds like a lot more work, and it is, but the end result is far better for production. get into the habit of doing it a few times, and it will be just as quick as rendering it in your drawing program – trust me. With the amount of times PS crashes trying to render your fonts, do it this new way once and I think you’ll love it.

Here’s the finished spread with the text in place.


Now go and lay out 200+ more of these pages.
That’s what I’m working on now… oh boy.

The next installment of this series, I think I’ll talk about selecting paper stocks, the differences in weights and finishes, colour modes and touch briefly on what you’ll need to get your files ready for pre-press. I hope some of you are interested in this information – since it’s right in my wheelhouse of expertise, I’ll share. Till then, I’m back at ‘er with the layout. The hardest part of the production grind.

Andrés ‘ Drezz ‘ Rodriguez is an illustrator, author, and podcast personality. In addition to creating the comic book series ‘El Cuervo – the Latin Assassin,’ he provides WA readers with periodic articles (like this one) to help improve their comic process and their production.

Feel free to follow him on Twitter, on Facebook or see the various projects he’s involved in at his hub site, drezzworks.

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One Comment

  1. Pingback: Webcomic Alliance - How to Make a Graphic Novel/Comic Book – Part 4 (Pre-Press)

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