Creating a Web Comic with Comic Life

First, this article assumes you have content (even if it is only in your head) and ready to tackle the technical aspects of web comic creation.  In short, many artists still work traditionally by scanning their pencils and/or inked drawings and digitally coloring them in Photoshop.  However just as many create their work digitally either in Photoshop, Illustrator, or various 3D software programs.  The main rule for web comics is it needs to be developed quickly, in order to meet those daily, bi-weekly or weekly deadlines.  Which leads us to Comic Life Deluxe.

In the modern print comics workflow, the most popular layout procedure is creation of panels, word balloons, and text in Illustrator and then exporting each page into an entire comic document created in either Quarkxpress or Adobe Indesign.  However, drawing each individual balloon and creating libraries of the several word balloon styles (plain speech, whispering, various FX balloons, etc.) is potentially time consuming.  Text will need to be typed and manipulated to flow legibly inside each balloon.  In addition, each individual panel will need to be drawn and arranged on the page.  Eventually, one would create libraries of balloons and effects, as well as various layouts.  But for a webcomic, speed is of the essence.  What Comic Life Deluxe does is have this library available for your immediate use.

Let’s make a comic! 

To start, open up the program (trial copy can be downloaded from plasq.) 

Set up a template of the dimensions of your page.  Go to Comic Life>Preferences, and select from one of the many dropdown menu choices under “Default Page Format.”  However, if the comic needs to fit more specific parameters, a custom size can be made by hitting the “Manage Custom Formats” and inputting the dimensions you need.  Do name your template something recognizable.  (I named mine after my comic’s title.)  Now when you open Comic Life, it will automatically create this document size when opened.

Note:  While you are still at preferences, turn off “WYSIWYG image filtering.”  While this is a nice viewing feature, it does affect image exporting and can cause your images to degrade.  Here is also where you can turn off the sounds of the program.  I happen to like them, but some may potentially find them distracting.

The layout is refreshingly simple.  The page index runs along the far left, a canvas window in the middle, and a library with templates and an image directory on the right.  At the top is a toolbar, and on the bottom is a well with all of the balloons, captions, and text effects. 

Go to the Album in the bottom right of the Library and pick a layout from the many options available from the Page Templates library.  Then browse below for your source images.  By default, it automatically points to your iPhoto library, but by hitting “Finder” you will be able to browse to other locations of your choosing.  This information updates on the fly, so anything added to a folder that it is currently viewing will automatically show up.  There is a also a "Capture" tab, which enables any attached webcam to get video stills.  What is particularly interesting feature is that you can drag video as it’s capturing without having to take stills (although it does have a freeze feature.)

While dragging the image into the panel, it will attempt to autofit it into the space provided.   Once you’ve located your artwork, you can literally drag and drop it into the panel desired.  Comic Life does auto-resize the art to fit the panel.  Should you want to work with the image in it’s original sizing, select Format>Resize Image to Actual Size. 

It is easy to get click and accidentally select the panel instead of the image or vice-versa as both can be edited in identical ways.  However it is possible to keep track by the color of the panel outline.  In the above example, the panel outline is orange indicating that the image is ready to manipulate. If you click and see a black outline, the panel is instead ready for editing.  Image resizing can be done through manipulation of the green handles.  Rotating is done by selecting the pink arrows in the middle.  To move the entire image to a different part of the panel, simply click and drag in the middle.

Comic Life imports most image files, but reacts poorly or crashes with Illustrator files.  I tend to work with 300 dpi TIFFs even though the resulting image will be optimized for the web at 72 dpi.  Why?  I met an artist whose web comic enjoyed enough success that she published a print compilation. Unfortunately for her, the first half of the artwork had consisted of 72 dpi jpegs which were extremely difficult to upscale to print quality.  In her case, they worked with what they could, but it could not match their later print-ready material.  It is definitely something to keep in mind for the future.

From the well at the bottom, add captions and various word balloons by a simple drag and drop.  Right away it will prompt you to start typing dialogue right into them.  It does a decent job of centering the text, however sometimes the words will overlap the edge.  This can be solved by the creative use of some break returns.  (example)  Also, if there is too much text you can resize the balloon to fit.  For more font controls in terms of size and color, the dialogue box can be called with “Fonts” on the top right.

 

The green handles allow for the same sort of options available in manipulation of the images and panels.  The blue dot allows for extension and movement of the direction of the "tail" of the word balloon.  Hitting the orange plus sign will create an additional tail.  You can create another balloon connected to this one by dragging and dropping from the well the "extend" ballon on top of the balloon you want it to link to. 

In the same bar is “Lettering” which is where your comic will get it’s sound effects.  Again, it’s a simple drag and drop, but you’ll get a dialog box (example.)  Type your sound and hit “Place Lettering.”  To change the fonts, size, colors and style hit “Details” in the Library and make the changes.  The sound effects text has two modes of editing.  The first is when it’s clicked, the typical resizing and rotation edits can be applied.  However, on a mouseover, blue handles will appear which allows you to morph it into a more emotive shape in order to give it more punch. 

For a more customized layout, panels can be moved and resized.  Moving a panel outside of the work-safe area however will create a red dotted line warning such as below.

It is important to be mindful of this line and work conservatively within it.  Upon export I have been suprised by some accidental clipping of the black panel lines.  Also, there are no guidelines internally for moving the panels around.  Once a panel is moved, to get it re-aligned takes a combination of hands-on zooming and eyeball squinting.   If your comic has a consistent look in terms of panels and/or a graphic, you can save the result as a stylesheet (Under File>Save as Stylesheet) to load and use in the future.  This will save much time that would of been spent re-inventing the wheel, particularly if you have a highly customized look. 

When done, Comic Life can export to various formats.  For the purposes of creating a web comic, we’ll look at “images” and “html.”  Images exports it to a simple tiff, gif, jpeg, or png with adjustable settings on dpi and image quality.  HTML export creates a webpage, thumbnail(s), and background texture (choose either iPod white or brushed metal.)  The html option may be useful for those who can tweak a pre-done page for their needs…or use as is. 

Voila.  You have your first webcomic.  Feel free to dig deeper into the preferences and other options (such as image editing) in order to explore the various looks and options to make your comic look your own.  Comic Life will let you have the time to explore how best to present your vision. 

 

Mark Pearson from plasq wanted to add that "advanced auto guides are available to the newly released Comic LIfe Magiq for MAC".

He also pointed out that plasq has no capitals. My bad. I should have done a better job as Content Editor but my A/C died, it’s 94 degrees in the shade here in Houston and, well, I can always claim the mistake was ADHD induced.

Cheers Mark Pearson.

– MadBadCat

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Looks handy. However, this completely takes the life and energy out of comics.
    .-= Mat Barton´s last blog ..Operation: Elyse, Part 4 =-.

    • Alicia Vogel says:

      I think it certainly can if you use every default setting. For “Al” I use a different lettering font than what is used with the program, tweak/recolor/morph the lettering FX type, and manipulate templates.

  2. i like comic life.

  3. i want comic life on my computer

  4. Nice article.

    I’m wishing for a comic creation app for non-artists. I’m a word guy, and anything I draw looks like it should go on a refrigerator. I think of gags all the time, but have no way to turn them into content. With all the 3D gaming and Poser-type software out there, it must be possible to let non-artists produce passable visual content.

    Steve