Does your child love to draw or tell stories?
Do you want to share your kids’ masterpieces with the world (or at least with Grandma)?
In this article, I’ll make you a hero by empowering your kids to write, draw and publish your very own comic.
It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s lots of fun.
Why Make a Comic Strip?
All children are artists.
They draw, play and use their incredible imaginations to create fantasy worlds and characters that are funny or powerful or really, really silly.
A comic strip is a new way to channel their creativity—to capture it in pictures and words.
No doubt you have a refrigerator covered with various works by your child at this very moment.
Does your refrigerator look like mine—covered with your kids’ art?
It’s only as we get older we convince ourselves that our art is “bad.”
When you teach your kids to make a comic strip, a medium where it’s ok for your art to look silly or imperfect or childish, you’ll nurture their creativity and imagination before it gets stamped out.
Creating comics may also help your children develop a love of reading and improve their handwriting, without them even realizing it.
I’ve simplified the comic-making process into seven kid-friendly steps that you can do together.
You Will Need:
- Standard 8½” x 11″ copy paper
- Regular black pens
- Sharpie Ultra Fine pens (Optional)
- Foam board 20″ x 30″ x 3″
- X-ACTO knife
- Large eraser
- Wite-Out correction fluid
- Scanner or camera phone
- A Blogger account
10 minutes to cut out the foam border template
30 minutes per comic to trace border, pencil, letter, ink and scan
Here are seven steps to your kid’s next comic:
#1: Find Inspiration for Your Comic
The first step is to choose an overall theme for your comic. Who are the characters? What is the setting?
There are a couple of different ways to find inspiration:
First, find something your child is passionate about.
Do your kids love superheroes? Are they into ponies or fairies or monster trucks? Choose a subject or character that excites them and create a comic about that.
My daughter owns a bearded dragon lizard so she decided to make her comic about herself and her pet.
Isabel and Fluffy: A favorite pet could inspire your child’s comic.
Second, you could also borrow the style of an existing work.
Nearly every cartoonist has a story about their first comic being a knock-off of something that inspired them.
Do some research online to get ideas. Show your kids a few family-friendly comics and see if anything sparks their interest.
Here are a few examples:
In Zorphbert and Fred, two aliens disguise themselves as dogs to live among humans. This comic is perfect for animal or alien lovers!
Z&F brings classic cartoon silliness.
JL8 is the story of Superman, Batman and their friends as children attending elementary school. JL8 is my favorite choice for little superhero fans!
What child wouldn’t want to be classmates with Superman?
Sheldon is a family tale of 10-year-old billionaire Sheldon who lives with his grandfather and a talking duck. Sheldon is another great choice for animal lovers. It has lots of jokes hidden inside for grownups!
A wise-cracking duck and adventurous gecko will draw in any child!
Whether inspired by their reading or their own lives, the important thing is to choose characters and a topic that interest your kids and will stimulate their imagination and creativity.
#2: Sketch the Characters
Now that you know what you want your comic to be about, it’s time to sketch what the characters will look like, in both words and drawings.
Have the kids jot down notes about the characters they’ve imagined. One may be a grumpy old man, another may be a happy-go-lucky elf. Our comic featured my daughter as herself and a talking lizard with a sense of humor.
Isabel works out how these two characters’ personalities will interact.
Next, draw pictures of your characters. The key is to create characters that look nothing like one another so they’re easily distinguishable on the page.
The inspiration for our comic was my daughter’s pet.
#3: Write the Story
Think about the overall story you want to tell with your comic series. Choose between a storyline or gag-a-day style.
A storyline or story arc is like a comic book, with each comic strip in the series carrying over to the next and building an ongoing story. Vox in a Box is an example of a storyline-style comic.
A storyline comic continues the story over several days.
Gag-a-days are self-contained jokes that do not carry over to the next day’s or week’s strip. Vinnie the Vampire is a wonderful gag-a-day comic.
Gag-a-day comics finish the story or joke in one day’s strip.
I recommend that you begin with gag-a-day. They’re easy and don’t require a long-winded story, just something funny!
Gag-a-day Comic Format:
Most gag-a-days are made up of three panels:
Here’s what my daughter, Isabel, came up with:
- Panel One (Introduction): Isabel: “Hi there. This is my bearded dragon, Fluffy. But he’s not a real dragon!”
- Panel Two (Build-Up): Isabel: “Real dragons have wings!” [Behind her Fluffy has grown wings.]
- Panel Three (Punchline): Isabel: “And they breathe fire.” [Fluffy is melting a chair with fiery breath.]
After you write out the story, it’s time to create the comic strip.
#4: Make the Borders
First, create a border template so that all of your comics will be the same size and shape.
Use foam core board from an art store for your template.
Measure a 10″ x 5″ (25 x 12 cm) rectangle.
Measure a rectangle 10″ X 5″ (25 x 12 cm).
Use an X-ACTO knife to cut it out. [Caution: An adult should do the cutting.]
Then measure a half-inch (1 cm) inside the edges of your rectangle and cut out another rectangle 9½” X 4½” (24 x 11 cm).
Make a frame for your comic panel.
You’ll be left with a 1/2″ (1 cm) wide frame. This is your template.
Next, it’s time to draw the borders for your comic.
Place the template over a standard 8½” x 11″ (22 x 28 cm) piece of paper lengthwise and trace the inside border to create the panel.
Trace the inside border onto a piece of paper.
#4: Do the Lettering
Lettering is the secret benefit to creating a comic by hand. Do your kids groan when you ask them to work on their handwriting? Can you recall a time when they rushed through their homework, leaving a penmanship mess?
When you make a comic together, the lettering gives your kids the important handwriting practice they need, but it’s fun!
Isabel got some penmanship practice. Fluffy supervised.
Here’s how to get started:
Start at the top of the panel you drew. With a ruler, lightly trace horizontal lines about a quarter-inch (.5 cm) apart. Be sure to use a pencil. These will be erased later.
Make a series of lines that cover the top third of your panel. You should end up with about eight lines in all.
Draw lines lightly. They will be erased later.
Now your son or daughter can begin to pencil in the words. Refer to the storyline you wrote earlier.
Have them shape the sentences so they make ellipses. You’ll draw word balloons around them later. (This may be difficult for younger kids to grasp. Don’t worry, you can reshape the words when you make the balloons. More writing practice!)
Write words in ellipses so that you can make word balloons around them.
You can have your kids use any type of lettering you want them to practice, but I recommend that you write in block letters (all caps) for clarity.
Proofread their words together and help them correct any spelling or grammatical errors.
When they’re done, praise your children on their excellent lettering work.
Now let’s see some art!
Have your kids draw the characters in pencil underneath the words they’re saying.
Anything goes in the pencil stage – have fun!
Encourage them to take chances and get crazy with the faces and expressions.
While your children are drawing the pictures for their comic, the dreaded “My art is terrible!” may rear its ugly head. To boost their confidence, pick one thing you really like about the comic and praise it. “I really like how Snail-Boy is falling backwards in panel three. It makes it a lot funnier!”
Remind them that these are cartoons. They’re supposed to be silly!
Next, draw word balloons around the letters. Be sure to include a “tail” going to the appropriate character.
Have them draw the ellipse as best they can.
With a ruler draw two vertical lines separating each panel. The lines should be quarter inch (.5 cm) apart. The space in between them is called a “gutter.”
The key to every comic is clarity. If the reader can understand what’s happening, that’s a successful comic!
Take the border template you made in the beginning and line it up over your penciled border.
Carefully trace the penciled border with a thin black Sharpie pen.
Use long, sure strokes to keep the pen from “blotting.”
Be careful not to draw over the gutters you made between each panel.
Gutters let each panel be a separate moment in time.
Next, your kids get to show their lettering skills once again when they carefully ink over the words they penciled earlier.
Note: Make final corrections before laying down the permanent ink! Review the dialogue and edit punctuation and grammar.
If necessary, change the layout of the sentences to fit into word balloons (see our example in the middle panel of the photo above).
After the letters are done, draw and ink the word balloons. Then your kids can begin to ink the characters, background and props that they drew earlier.
Turn those pencil sketches into finished art!
Finish inking the entire comic.
If you or your kids make a mistake, don’t worry—they’re easy to fix. Use correction fluid, such as Wite-Out, to cover errors. Be sure to give it lots of time to dry before inking the area again.
I prefer the correction fluid pens for accuracy.
Once everything is dry and complete, hold firm to one end of the paper and erase the pencil lines with a large eraser. Use a single “brush away” motion.
Note: Never erase toward where you’re holding the paper, you’ll crinkle it or worse, tear it!
Now your children’s comic is finished! Read it together and congratulate them on a job well done.
Your child has just made a masterpiece!
To color or not to color.
I suggest that you keep the comic black and white. Children tire quickly of coloring multiple comics by hand.
Look at the comics page in a daily newspaper together and show them that most comics, like this one from Jabb, are done in black and white.
You can tell great jokes in black and white!
If your kids insist on adding color, give them some crayons or a bulk of markers and some construction paper and ask them to make a colorful cover for your comic strips (see below).
#7: Publish Your Comic
Your kids have just made art. You need to share this masterpiece with grandmothers and Facebook friends!
Create a Digital File of Your Comic
The best option is to scan the comic as a black-and-white document.
- If you intend to print the comic, scan at 300 dpi (dots per inch).
- For web viewing, you only need to scan at 72 dpi for a clear image.
- I generally save my comics at about 800 pixels wide.
If you don’t have a scanner, you can use a smartphone with a camera to convert your comic from paper to digital. Take a picture of the comic in a well-lit area and crop out everything but the comic itself.
Publish Your Comic to an Online Site
There are dozens of options for publishing your comic online. I use Blogger. It’s free and easy to use.
To create an account, just sign into Blogger using a Google account, pick a name such as Mysuperawesomecomic.blogspot.com and begin publishing right away.
Setting up a Blogger account just takes a few clicks.
Upload the scan or photo of your comic to your new blog.
Make sure to include the title of the comic and then share it! Grandma will love it.
The finished comic is ready to be seen by family and friends.
Create Another Comic (and another, and another)
Don’t stop at just one comic! Together, you and your kids created the template, developed a storyline, introduced some great characters and established an online site for publishing it.
Everything you need is already in place to make a whole series of comics, so keep it going.
Make a Comic Book
If you or your kids want to keep a physical copy of the comics you made, you can make a book. Have the children create a colorful cover for your book out of cardstock or construction paper. (For the cover, it’s ok to get out the crayons or markers!)
Isabel wanted an upbeat cover – High-fives with Fluffy!
Stack all the comics for your series in order and staple them into the cover. Now your kids can show their friends the amazing comics they made with the help of their equally amazing parents!
Some Final Thoughts…
Creating a comic together with your kids is a lot of fun for everyone. It’s a great way to stimulate kids’ creativity and to get a peek into what they think about. There are some fantastic educational benefits as well.
Encourage your children to keep reading the online comics you showed them in Step #1 (finding inspiration). They may keep coming back to read more and become better readers just by doing something they enjoy.
Isabel reads for hours on her own – and it all started with comics!
Look for short novels that dovetail with the theme of the comics they’re reading. Did your kids like Zorphbert and Fred? They might enjoy a book about extraterrestrials such as My Teacher Is an Alien.
Writing is another benefit to making a comic. When they letter their comic by hand, your kids learn to write legibly with the intent to spell words right the first time!