How to Make Comics: Ideas, Activities, and Resources for Learning and Making
Try your hand at making a short comic with this step-by-step guide for teachers and students.
Arlette Hernandez, Larissa Raphael
Sep 30, 2021
This is the fourth and final article in our How to Make Comics series for teachers, families, and comics-lovers who are interested in exploring the medium.
While this guide is written with students and teachers in mind, many of these activities and ideas can be adapted for people of all ages. Our hope is that this article might inspire your creativity and self-expression.
And one final note: even though this guide is written sequentially, you can change, adapt, and adjust your story as you go through the process. No mark or idea needs to be final until you decide it is. Throughout the process, ask your friends and family for feedback. Try out different elements to see how your story changes. Even the most experienced comic artists and authors go through multiple drafts and versions before arriving at a final draft.
Step 1: Identify Your Story
The first question you might want to ask is, what is my comic going to be about? When working with students or beginning your comic, telling a personal story can be the easiest way to speak in a genuine voice and connect with readers. Your personal stories could be about large and important events in your life or family stories passed down through generations. But they can also recount small moments in your day. What if you told a story about going to the grocery store, but focused on the way your emotions shifted during the trip?
Jacob Lawrence tells the story of the Great Migration, a period following World War I when an exodus of African Americans moved from the rural South to northern cities. Lawrence’s parents and his other relatives made up one of many families who migrated north.
On Kawara, on the other hand, captured simple details in his life in a series called I Got Up…. Every day, the artist sent two picture postcards to friends or colleagues, writing on the back of each card a message that began with “I got up,” followed by the time he arose from bed.
Recto and verso of works in On Kawara's I Got Up..., 1970
Step 2: Sketch Out the Characters
Step 3: Establish the Setting
In most stories, setting is closely connected to events and characters. Establishing a clear location for each panel can move your story forward and offer a lot of nonverbal information. Don’t worry about making your background comprehensive or realistic—a simple image or a symbolic landmark can offer lots of information with minimal details. For example, adding a chair to your setting can represent the interior of a home or classroom, while a tree can let readers know that the characters are outside. A structure like the Eiffel Tower can represent Paris. Just like you did with the characters, practice drawing your settings until they fit into your story and give readers a sense of place.
Florine Stettheimer. Family Portrait, II. 1933
In Family Portrait II, Florine Stettheimer indicates that she and her family are located in New York City by adding stylized representations of recognizable structures, such as the Chrysler Building and Statue of Liberty.
Step 4: Incorporate Words and Sounds
Step 5: Add Some Color
Using color can significantly impact the effect of your comics. First, think about whether you want to use color in your comic and what color might add to your story. Maybe your comic doesn’t need color and would look stronger in black and white? Sometimes comic book makers choose to work in black and white out of necessity; at other times, it’s an artistic choice. Some find that a black-and-white color scheme helps a story feel more serious or scary.
If you decide to use color, consider which color palette will work best to convey meaning, mood, or sensation? Working with just one color or using a limited palette (one to three colors) can emphasize details and emotions. And depending on the palette—whether it’s warm or cool, contrasting or complementary—it can also affect whether your reader feels comfortable, nervous, or happy. There is no right or wrong decision—it all depends on what your story needs.
Marlene Dumas. Chlorosis (Love sick). 1994
Marlene Dumas uses thin washes of paint and few colors to evoke an anemic disease marked by a green skin tone, called chlorosis. Chlorosis was once believed to be caused by the intense suffering provoked by unrequited love. The contrast between pink and green hues emphasizes the distressed facial expressions of the subjects, and might even make us feel uncomfortable.
Step 6: Share it!
In the end, the choice is yours—and that’s the best part! Regardless of what you make, who reads it, or how you share it, as long as you enjoy the process and tell a story that feels true to you, your comic is a success.
We can’t wait to see what you made! Share with us at [email protected].
Illustration by Danica Novgorodoff for Drawn to MoMA
Resources for Learning and Making Comics
Inspiration is everywhere. As you embark on making comics, we invite you to read those made by others and to explore the wealth of resources created by teachers, scholars, writers, artists, and enthusiasts. You can mine these resources for ideas and tips, or you can use them as a way to figure out what you like and don’t like. Here are some of our favorite resources you can use on your own or bring into the classroom.
Resources for Teaching Comics from the Center for Cartoon Studies, which includes syllabi, study guides, handouts, and instructions for activities
Teaching Comics, resources available on the South Portland School Department’s Digital Learning Commons
Making Comics, an online repository of comic-making educational material
Graphic Novels and Comic Books Resources from The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance
Lynda Barry’s Making Comics, a book with advice, stories, and creative prompts by cartoonist and comics-studies professor Lynda Barry
Digital Comic Museum, an online archive of digitized public domain Golden Age comic books
Drawn to MoMA on MoMA Magazine
The Nib, a daily comics publication dedicated to journalism, essays, memoir, and satire
The Patron Saint of Superheroes, Chris Gavaler’s blog exploring different topics in comics
Scott McCloud’s Journal, the website of Scott McCloud, a comic book artist and the author of Understanding Comics
Comic Abstraction: Image-Breaking, Image-Making, a MoMA exhibition exploring the ways artists have adapted the elements of comic books to address social issues
How to Make Comics: What Are the Elements of a Comic?
Dig into the details that make comics unique, and try your hand at some activities.
Sep 16, 2021
How to Make Comics: What Are Comics?
Discover the unexpected similarities between comic books and the artworks in MoMA’s galleries.
Sep 9, 2021