Comic Strip Layout Techniques

There are many ways to approach creating a regularly published comic strip. Some cartoonists start with the main gag and layout the strip storyboard style while others approach their strip as a written script and then break that script down into panel shots. It is really a matter of which approach for writing is most comfortable and productive for you. My friend Bill Riling is a professional story artist at Dream Works, so it is only natural that he follows the storyboard visual writing approach to writing his comic, The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck.

The layout shown above is from a strip that is part of the Freeze Tag storyline. Lewis and Cluck are explorer chickens who travel around the globe on scientific and ecological research missions. In Freeze Tag, they have traveled to the Arctic to study the habits of the polar bears. Many of the gags in this storyline revolve around tranquilizing and tagging the bears. Scientists who study creatures in the wild try not to cause changes in their subject’s behavior, but as we can see in this comic, the chickens have really gotten into this bear’s head with that unwanted collar. Bill works in loose pencils in order to layout his panels making full use of the “camera” to create interesting shots that help to tell the story and sell the gag.

Here is the final inked and colored strip as published. In this case there wasn’t a great deal of variation between the conceptual layout and the final rendering. To see more of Bill’s comic strip, check out  The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck.

For my own comic strip BugPudding , I work from a type written script and compose the layouts for my panel shots digitally in SketchBook Pro. As you can see in the example above, I have more of an animation style of approach to frame organization with each character being on a separate “cell” layer so that I can work through many different composition ideas easily. The inset in the lower left hand corner is the final colored rendering.

Here is a panel layout from one of the strips in the Vapors of Evil storyline. Monroe, a turtle, and Bentley, a snail, are making their way through the Vapor Covered Wasteland in search of their friend Agile, a mutated bug. As you can see from the layers displayed, I can show or hide layers as I compose the panel to simplify my visualization and to facilitate making changes easily. Blue layers are visible while the orange layers are hidden.

Here is the final colored render of that panel with the composite of the characters and the background. To follow the further adventures of Monroe, Bentley, Agile and the other critters who live around Lake Tuberville, check out my comic strip BugPudding .