Cranium Comics

Stories that get in your head.

Real World Comic Life Production Techniques

As mentioned recently on Plasq’s Blog, I’ve been using Comic Life as a layout tool since the very early days of Cranium Comics. It provides me a quick and easy way to position and edit text balloons without giving it too much thought. I find it best for making sure the text fits within each panel and letting the writer know when it’s gone too long in places. It also allows me to easily refine the amount of emphasis on everything from line weight to color gradations. I’ve used the program for getting my work professionally printed and find that it’s one of my favorite tools to rapidly create my books.

Importing the Script

I typically use a desktop word processing application to start the script. Once complete, upload the completed draft to Google Docs. Google Docs provides flexibility in that I can share the document with colleagues easily. I can even assign editing rights to multiple users, allowing them to simultaneously work on the document, collaborating on plot points and refinements. For the latest issue of The Curse for example, the writer and I ended up making last minute changes to the content. Once we’ve completed this back-and-forth and feel comfortable with it, I then begin cutting/pasting it from Google Docs into Comic Life itself.

Customizable Balloon Shapes and Tails

Comic Life provides the opportunity for me to create styles based on the way I want the text to look. Although the program comes with many built-in styles, I prefer to create my own based on the mood I’m trying to capture on the page. One huge advantage over traditional illustration packages is the ability to easily customize the type of word balloon by double clicking on it. You can then quickly modify the shape of the tail, cycle through the types of balloons, and size the balloon dynamically when the content seems to overflow the area.

As you can see from the example, each tail has a B├ęzier curve (a point in the center with a seesaw-like set of lines). This unique feature allows you to manipulate how the tail of the speech balloon flows around the art. In this example, I was able to bend the tail around another thought balloon. It takes away the tediousness of having to do it by hand and provides the ability to create a more seamless transition in the conversation. In the past, I’ve either had to make due with a straight tail or customize each thought balloon to the particular piece of art. It’s also extremely easy to append another balloon element to an existing balloon by simply dragging the appropriate icon to an existing balloon.

Narration Boxes

Another nice feature is the ability to create narration boxes that can automatically align with the sides of the panels, with other text, or any independent object on the page. While not a unique feature to Comic Life, this provides an elegant way to make sure the elements on the page are harmonious. You’ll find that everything within the interface is designed to help you create a consistent looking page. Even importing images is a breeze with guides that automatically appear in order for you to align them with the edge of the panel or page. Comic Life adds fun sound effects to its interface, making working with the app an enjoyable experience. The sounds vary from a simple balloon stretch noise to drawers sliding open and closed.

Special Effects

The variety of ways in which words can be stretched an pulled is impressive. Unlike complicated enveloping tools in Adobe Illustrator or similar programs costing hundreds of dollars, Comic Life allows me to distort a line of text and still maintain its editability. There’s no need to create your own balloons here as the application comes with just about every type of customizable option you would need for a standard american-style comic. One of the more intriguing features is the ability to make sound effect text. This is the equivalent of “BAM!” or “KABOOM!” in traditional comics. From color styling to changing typefaces, stretching and distorting text has never been easier. In future releases I’d love to see this tool fleshed out to include more stock examples from traditional comics. I occasionally have difficulty creating anything beyond the most basic text distortion. Having a way to warp text around (or behind) a placed image would be a great start. The most useful implementation would be a separate style dialog that includes speed lines, explosion effects, and the like to accompany the text.

As you can see from the illustration to the left, the options are very intuitive with “tool tips” that give specific descriptions of what each item is called. The screen real estate is divided up in a way that makes all options easy to click and organize. Even if you don’t use all of them (I always create my own layouts for example and forgo the provided layout templates), it’s nice to know that the team at Plasq has considered every type of user need.

Final Draft and Prepping for Output

Having the tools available to easily export a draft is a crucial part of my workflow. Once I have the file pretty much the way I want it (including placed hi-res CMYK Tiff images from Photoshop), I export the entire document to PDF format by going to the EXPORT > Export pages to PDF option. From here, I can go directly to print by sending the files via FTP, thumb drive, or CD to my local print shop. Before I do however, I make sure any last minute corrections are made and the writer is fine with his copy.

Comic Life has definitely made my job much easier. The variety and flexibility of options make it worthwhile for any novice, intermediate, or professional level creator. With new features being introduced with every new release (even an iPad version is available), I’m looking forward to seeing how far Plasq can take this title.

Have questions about your comic or would like to follow up on a particular topic in this article? Please feel free to post a comment. I’d be happy to discuss it with you!

5 Responses to “Real World Comic Life Production Techniques”

  1. Wow! I didn’t realize this program had so much variance. It can do a lot more than just put up speech bubbles.

  2. UPDATE: A representative of Plasq has communicated to me that, “There are ways to wrap and bend the lettering around elements as well as alter the layers so that lettering can be pushed behind images.” In a future post I’ll investigate this feature and give a full review. Thanks Erica!

  3. Hi,
    as i couldn’t find your contact info anywhere, i’m trying this way to get in touch.
    My name’s Lex and i’m a penciler. Would it be possible to submit to you my portfolio?
    Thank you in advance!
    My best,

  4. Absolutely! Send any inquiries to anthony[at]craniumcomics[dot]com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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    --October 6, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

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