By J.D. Biersdorfer
Even if you can’t draw a stick person, you can still express yourself and tell stories through the time-honored tradition of sequential art.
Got a tale to tell but don’t want to bang it out as a traditional book? Try doing it as a digital comic — and ignore anyone who thinks visual narratives are a lesser art form or basic fodder for Hollywood action movies. The tradition of storytelling through sequential art has a long and noble history, used in ancient cave paintings, Roman carvings, tapestries and woodblock printing.
Even if you can’t draw or paint, you can still construct a comic. Some educators have found the medium to be a good way to entice children into creative writing. Thanks to a variety of apps, you can make your digital comics on a smartphone, a tablet, a computer or even a plain old piece of paper. Here’s a guide.
Study the Craft
Before you dive in, decide what type of comic you want to make: A single scene like a cartoon from The New Yorker? A “Peanuts”-style comic strip consisting of two or more panels? A comic book with a heroic protagonist like the Black Panther? Or perhaps a manga adventure or a lengthy graphic memoir like Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home”?
If you’re not sure how to begin, the web is full of free advice, including a short guide by the author Neil Gaiman. If your local bookstore is closed or you can’t order online, digital versions of instructional books like “Making Comics,” by Lynda Barry, and “Make Comics Like the Pros,” by Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente, can be bought and downloaded without leaving the house.
Reading comics can be inspiring, too. The digital store Comixology or a comic shop taking online orders can help you generate your own ideas.
Can’t Draw? No Problem
After you decide what type of comic you want to make, choose the right software for your project. If you’re not an artist and want something easy to learn, consider an app like Canva, Pixton and Storyboard That. These programs let you drag and drop characters, backgrounds and speech bubbles onto a digital canvas; all three are web based and work on a computer or a mobile device. (Another option, the free Make Beliefs Comix site, even encourages students to create their own visual pandemic diaries.)
Although you start with stock objects on the screen, you can customize characters and their actions, then add your own dialogue. You need to create a user account to store and save your creations. Beyond limited versions and free trials, Canva, Pixton and Storyboard That each cost $10 to $13 a month for full access to comics-building content.
For parents and educators looking to keep youngsters busy, the nonprofit Common Sense site has a guide to comics-making tools that also reviews the privacy practices of the apps.Ideas from The Times on what to read, cook, watch, play and listen to while staying safe At Home.
Make Comics With Photos
If you can’t draw but can take pictures, you can craft comics out of the photos sitting on your smartphone. It’s a great way to turn the family pet into a superhero, relive a vacation or jazz up a presentation.
ComicBook for iOS and Comic Strip Pro for Android (both $3) are two of the many apps in this category. Both work the same way: Start by selecting a frame or page layout for your comic. Next, import images from your phone’s camera roll as the illustrations for the panels.
After you arrange the photos, apply filters to the images that make them look like panels in a printed comic. The apps include elements like customizable speech bubbles you can drag onto the images and digital stickers with graphical type (BAM!, POW! and such) to add a few classic comics accents to the page. When you’re finished, just export or email your comic to share it.
Draw Your Own Comics
When it comes to making your own comic, having artistic talent gives you a much wider range of expression and apps designed specifically for making comics from pencil sketches to distribution. The free MediBang Paint, a digital-painting and comics-creation program that runs on computers and mobile devices, is one app for artists.
Artists using iPads have a lot to work within Comic Draw, a full-featured digital studio that includes drawing tools, page templates, a script editor and perspective guides. The app is $10, but it offers a free 14-day trial.
General illustration and drawing apps like Procreate can also make artwork for comics. But for parents worried that their children are staring at too many screens all day, there’s a more analog approach. Just search up a site (like Printable Paper) offering comic-book templates to download and print so young creators can make their worlds with pen and pencil. You can always scan or photograph the artwork later for digital saving and sharing.
J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998. She also writes the Sunday Book Review’s “Applied Reading” column on ebooks and literary apps, among other things. @jdbiersdorfer