Today I’d like to talk about thumbnailing and laying out comics. I learned very early on in my animation classes that laying things out is the greatest present you can give to yourself. It’s fun, for one thing, and it makes the rest of the process a lot easier. When you remove the mental burden of having to make a drawing a finished image and instead make it a study for yourself it’s incredibly freeing. You can change things, find what works, then refine it in your final piece. You don’t have to layout entire books at once or anything crazy like that, but you can layout sections at a time. This allows you to block out the storytelling early so when it comes to drawing pages and panels you’re focused on making the best illustration you can instead of worrying about how well it fits into the scene.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh, I just draw a gag-a-day talking heads strip, I don’t need to go through all that.” If all you want to do is make something uninspired that we’ve all seen before, go on ahead. Get it out of your system. I resisted myself for a long time because it felt like I was just drawing the comic twice. That’s not how you do good layout, however. Good layout is drawing just enough to make everything clear when you sit down to blow things up and add details. That’s when you can be inventive before scaling back to only using what works. It’s easy to do a first pass of a scene where everything’s very middle. The poses are passable, the camera angles are bland, and the expressions aren’t lively. Then you try things. You consider what can enhance a shot or make it more interesting. You make things more fun to draw and more fun to look at. I really recommend clicking through Bryan Lee O’Malley’s set on Flickr where he documents the development of his series Scott Pilgrim. He shares pages from his scripts, thumbnails and layouts, as well as inks.