Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Build Your Own Mini Comic!

Hello! I thought today I would cover the basics of making a comic, since so many people were curious about how I created such a fancy looking comic. The first thing I say is that it's cheaper than you think!

Here's my book that I put together earlier this month:

My book is an 8 paged fantasy adventure tale, with a color cover. The book is a typical manga size of 5" wide and 7.25" tall. I really enjoy this format because it's large enough for legibility, while still being a cost effective comic. If you're interested in buying this book, it's available on my Etsy Shop:

Let's begin with the steps on how this book was made:

Step 1: Tools
Besides your art supplies, you'll need two tools in particular. First is a long armed stapler. This guy is like your regular stapler, but it has an extended arm. This way you can staple your comic spine without having to fold a cover to get the stapler's mouth near the spine. It can be found at any office supply store. I think mine was $20 when I bought it about five years ago. I'd also suggest getting premium staples. You might want to make a fat zine or mini comic with tons of pages, so a better staple would be ideal.

The infamous long armed stapler

The second important tool to have is a guillotine paper cutter. You don't have to "own" one, but you must have access to one to make any odd sized comics. I used to sit at Staples and use theirs after printing comics, but it sucked. I also used to bum the community college's paper cutter. I much prefer the home atmosphere. I just put on an audiobook or a movie, and cut away all night long. I have a Premiere guillotine paper cutter. I bought it from Amazon, and it has been a great asset to me.

Guillotine Paper Cutter. Be safe folks!

You'll also need a computer, scanner, and a completed comic book. I won't go to detail on these parts, as many people have covered the actual art of drawing comics, and using computers to produce them.

Step Two: Size Matters
Contrary to popular belief, size does matter. Well, at least in comics. You need to know two sizes, the size you'd like your comic to be, and the size of various papers that you can get your comic printed on. Knowing these two things will save you a headache.
For Clashing Swords, I like that manga sized format. A typical manga format is 5"x7.25", and two of those pages side by side (remember, you'll be folding pages to make the comic) will fit on 8.5"x11" letter sized typical printer paper in the US:

Now that we know we will be working on 8.5"x11" paper, and making 5"x7.25" comics, we need to draw comic pages that are proportionate to 5"x7.25"

Step 3: Proportions
This comic has to fit on a 5"x7.25" page when we are done. We could do this easily by drawing at that scale, but then it can be a cramped drawing space. Drawing larger always makes your art look sharper when it is shrunk down, it a comic artist's secret to the trade! So what I did was make a template at the manga page size, and enlarged it to fit on 8.5"x11" letter size paper, and then printed the template in non photo blue (cyan 6%) on bristol board.

This is my template, feel free to use it, just turn the opacity down to 6%

There are some key things to understand on my template: Safe Zone, Full Page, and Bleed. The "Full page" is really simple to understand. That area will fill the entire final page when we are done. The "Safe Zone" is where you want to keep your text and important part of the illustrations. Safe zone is essentially the wiggle room around the edge of the page. This prevents any lost information when you finally cut the comics. A page may be printed slightly off, or you may cut it slightly off, but all the important info is still in tact. The last part is the "bleed." If you want art to extend to the very edge of the page, draw all the way to the bleed. Again, this gives us some wiggle room from the edge of the page outward, just in case anything happens in printing or cutting. To make match simple, I made a .25" safe zone, and a .25" bleed on my template. When your art is finally drawn and scaled down to fit the final pages, it will be .25" bigger than the final comic. This will be trimmed off in the final steps.

Page one of Clashing Swords with template overlay
So you can see how my comic page lined up. I actually decided not to do any bleeds for this comic for a more "traditional" aesthetic appeal. I didn't find any real reason to get too extreme with the art. This is a really good choice for your first mini comic, that way you don't have to worry about dealing with bleeds, and your art will be protected within the safe zone.

Step Four: Art and Prep
At this point, it's time to make some comics. When you're done, scan in your work, and resize them to fit within the original size of the comic you will be working in. In photoshop, I make a blank page PSD, that has guides laid out for the full page, bleed, and safe zone. If you make the file 5.5" x 7.75" at 600 dpi, that would be perfect. Then bring in .25" in on all sides for your "full page." Next bring in another set of guides all around at .5" from the edges of the page. This will be your safe zone. Copy your scanned art, paste it in this document, then scale it, having your art line up. Do this for your comic pages, and cover. Now you're ready to lay out pages.

Step 5: Layout and Pagination
This is the hardest step I believe, but it's not like calculus. Chill out, and just breathe. Now, if you look at a comic book, you'll realize that it's folded, and each actual sheets of paper don't number 1, 2, 3, and 4. They jump around, and this is called pagination. Take three pieces of scratch paper, and fold them together like a book. On each page, write: Cover Outside, Cover Inside, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five, Page Six, Page Seven, Page Eight, Back Inside, Back Outside on the appropriate pages. This dummy book will be your guide to how to lay out an eight page comic.

 These three examples should be how your dummy book ended up. The light grey text is what the opposite side of that page should be. This is how we will have to print out books. Page Eight and Page One will butt up against each other on the paper, and the reverse side should be Page Seven and Page Two. Remember one key thing, you know that bleed wrapping around the comic page? It's not needed wherever two pages but up against each other (the dark lines in the center, splitting the pages above). So when you line these pages up, remember to crop those off in Photoshop. In the end, you'll have six files for each side of the three pages. You'll need to rotate the pages 90° clockwise, so it fits on your paper when you print it. Your final files should look like this:

Inside Cover
Outside Cover

If you take your files to a print shop, print just one book first. Make sure that both sides of the paper are lined up right. I've had printers reverse the back side, so one side was upside down. That's a bummer, so check before printing a bunch.

I suggest checking for deals at your office supply shops like Staples and Office Depot. Sometimes they have newspaper coupons for a percentage off black and white copies. Also, many have bulk discounts. If you print 100+ pages, you can get a percentage off. These shops are sometimes a little expensive to print color though. I suggest checking your local print shop for that. I can get my covers printed at .20 a sheet. Another thing to also look into is paper sizes. You can fit two covers on an 11x17 sheet of paper, and cut it in two. Sometimes this can save you some cash.

Your pages should look like the above two examples, and after printing, we are ready for the final step.

Step Six: Fold, Staple, Cut, repeat.

What I do is fold every page individually. If you try to fold all your pages at once, you won't get a nice crease down the center, and it might be a pain to fold. So I sit down, and just fold every page individually. When I'm done, I put the cover on top, and slip in the two interior pages. Then, when I know the pages are all even together,  I use the long arm stapler. I put two staples in the spine, about two inches in from each end. Your books just need some trimming. and you'll be done!

What I like to do is an assembly line cut process. First I cut the side of the comics off, then after all the books are cut, I do the top and bottom. Lay down your comic in the trimmer, and you'll be cutting .5" off the side, top, and bottom. Take your time, cut precisely, and push in towards the paper cutter.


You should now be a proud owner of some mini comics! Send them off to friends all over, trade them, sell them on Etsy, then make more!

I hope I answered some questions for you all. If I didn't cover something, or I was too vague, please let me know. I will expand on anything that I can help you with.


  1. Very cool of you to share this. Sure it took some time to write up!

    Getting your stapler and paper cutter is a great investment, as you demonstrated. For anyone interested in producing lots more zines, I think it's a great idea to pick these up.

    Looking forward to the next batch of minis to come out of the cutter!

  2. Thanks for this blog! Its a well done clear discription on putting together your book. One thing I would add is you may be able to avoid purchasing the paper cutter if you only plan on doing short runs. Often at these copy shops it only costs like 50 cents or less per cut for like a half reem of paper. Definitely worth it if you want to save on time and I bet the cut is more exact. Just make sure you have a dummy book at the right dimensions to show them so they get it right. Just my little two cents. Thanks again Jesse!

  3. this is the best and most complete description ive seen so far! most are just on how to make the folding ones, but this is great for making ones you staple. im super grateful for this, thanks! definitely using the templates in the future, and ill share this with all my comic pals

  4. Do you have a board that's the dimensions of a regular North American comic book that one can print off, I loved your Manga one!

    Great blog, now following you!

    1. Hello, glad you like the blog. The best place for a template of various sizes of comics can be found at Ka-Blam's tech specs page:

      If you want to print a standard North American sized comic, you'll have to fit two pages onto an 11x17 tabloid sized piece of paper, and take it to a print shop that can print that. Even Office Depot and Staples can do that though. Then you'll fold the pages in half, and crop the book after saddle stitching (stapling) the comic's spine. Always crop the pages last, so that the book's edges are 100% even, and it is way less cuts. You will cut three sides a book instead of three sides a comic page.

      Hope some of that helps, and so sorry for the delay. For some reason Blogger doesn't notify me of new comments.