When I was a kid, making comics was HARD! You had to typically hire someone with artistic or design skills (ranging from basic typesetting knowledge to more sophisticated layout skills) and then worry about printing, marketing, and distribution! If you wanted to get into comics, you didn’t need just talent and desire BUT you had to exhaust a great deal of time and money to get even a chance!
None of these are the same level of concern today!
A Comic’s Life TODAY is DIFFERENT, easier to produce and distribute and yet HARDER!
Webcomics are easier and cheaper! Distribution is global. Finding talent and/or audience is capable at the push of a button. Webcomics (much like ebooks) have helped to bring more transparency and opportunity to creators from around the world! That said, the digital comics space has its’ faults. They can be a wild, wild west of unfilled potential and shameless teases of opportunity. For every amazingly talented new artist, there are tons of comics which never finished the first chapter much less crafted a book’s worth of quality material. And while “quality” is subjective – production is not. Nothing ruins a comic book quite like poor layouts, horrible anatomy, and art. But, one of the biggest death knells for killing interest in your work is the lack of decent speech bubbles. Hand-drawn and/or dated typeset font can absolutely DESTROY the goodwill garnered when a potential fan discovers a unique artistic concept married to serviceable (if not fantastic) art.
When I started Saturday AM, I knew we would need some great software to improve our ability to appeal to our fans. Aside from working with a top tier of creators and developing some truly unique manga, we were helped greatly by our ability to work with a variety of free or low-cost tools that could strengthen our organizational communication and workflow.
Plasq has been the definition of this for me when creating comics. Our first Plasq app was COMIC LIFE for iOS. It cost $4.99 USD and seemed reasonable enough for a try. Ironically, the PC/ MAC version was available to us first via the Mac App Store but cost more money ($29.99 but with more features) and seemed to be just difficult enough on the learning curve that I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to master it and in turn teach my staff how to use it. Being a virtual company, we need software that is not just full of features but also, software that is portable. Our software choices MUST work on various machines from around the world and utilize cloud-based storage or download capacities. Furthermore, software that can be used on a tablet, must be tactile and easy to pick up.
COMIC LIFE services ALL of those needs and while it’s NOT PERFECT it certainly has many strengths:
CLOUD STORAGE SUPPORT
Comice Life allows users to import and export files via Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud Drive. It even includes legacy options such as iTunes and WebDAV. Folks, I’ll be blunt — you’re not serious if you’re NOT using some SECURE, DIGITAL storage standard. Yes, the world is more hacker-filled than ever BUT if you are seeking to quickly share information and content to team members than you MUST have a reliable storage system. Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud are either FREE at certain levels of cost less than an actual physical comic book per month for GIGABYTES of storage.
That said, given the HUGE user base of Microsoft–not having their cloud-based system ONEDRIVE included in the storage options for users is a bit disappointing. Likewise, loading or exporting content can be a PAIN when you are doing so with PAGES of material. The system only allows you to select ONE PAGE AT A TIME. Ugh!
There are SO MANY options for creating great content in COMIC LIFE. 1st of all, the SCRIPT EDITOR is AWESOME! It took me quite a while to use it but I now find it a GREAT WAY to break writer’s block. The basic idea is that once you type the editor can recognize things such as dialogue, SFX (think KA-BAM!) and captions. It even gives you an option to detail a panel for an artist to eventually create.
Beyond the Script Editor, you can access templates for CERTIFICATES, CREATIVE, EDUCATION, HOW TO, CLASSIC and LIFE STORY options. I’ve never used any of these but the fact that ANY SOFTWARE that you PAY for has additional use cases is NEVER a bad thing.
My only complaint was that it would be nice to have a COMMENT SECTION for offering editorial assistance to a writer or for artists to inquire about certain panel suggestions.
LETTERING YOUR COMIC
While you really need a video to do this section justice (I tried, god knows I tried…) what I will say is that this is simply LIFE-CHANGING! To be clear, COMIC LIFE is NOT a lettering app and yet, it is. It’s weird.
The process is simple: once you import your page of art (or photograph which includes Flickr support) then you can select a bubble or caption box from the bottom of the screen. These are great as they offer a variety of “situational” speech needs. My favorite of these is WHISPER but there are three EXCITE or SHOUTING speech bubbles, a thought bubble, TV style bubble and weak or ‘ill’ bubble amongst others.
Each bubble can be enlarged or shortened, twisted (via two fingers at least for me — I’ve done it a few times with the stylus by accident), darkened (either the outer line of the bubble or the fill color itself), and skewed (offering a small variation of bubble shape). Meanwhile, the tails (the line that goes from the bubble to the person speaking it) can be manipulated in so many ways that are actually rather fun and challenging to construct your panel. You can add multiple tails for example and you can change the shape or angle of it to ensure that you are working around other bubbles and/or NOT covering up too much art.
The list of fonts are not just serviceable but are incredibly diverse and yet appropriate. You can use them in any alignment and of course, can change colors. While some like Husky Stash Regular, Barbrawl BB, and Three Arrows are not the most ideal for some of the more interesting bubbles and/or word art/ SFX options – they ALL are able to be sized so that they fit the action on the page and remain consistent with the reading experience.
The biggest complaint I have with the lettering is that there could actually be MORE VARIETY. It’s hard to imagine given just how accessible and loaded the options are for COMIC LIFE but when it comes to lettering, I often find myself needing ANOTHER type of thought bubble or another font type. Likewise, when working on a page of dialogue — it would be REALLY COOL if the app would be intelligent enough to review your page and alert you to bubbles that are so compressed that words are being split and represented like
So, yes, COMIC LIFE rocks! It’s affordable, powerful and portable. Your comics WILL look more professional with this option for lettering. While many of our popular creators use other methods to great success such as Whyt Manga’s APPLE BLACK and Raymond Brown’s BULLY EATER – I still prefer COMIC LIFE to Adobe and/or Manga Studio.
That said, one of the things I’ve discovered most since using this has been the ART OF LETTERING.
SHARE THE WORKLOAD
Let me put it this way, as a writer, I find myself now taking the art I get from my artists and working the script DIFFERENTLY. Given that I use this app only for lettering and considering how powerful it is, I no longer accept my scripts as is (which few writers will even consider, sadly). I’ll re-write whole scenes on the fly due to my ability to constantly plug and play new speech bubble patterns. If a bit of dialogue is covering up art I may downgrade to simpler dialogue in a panel and use more bubbles in another panel to communicate the intended drama.
This process has worked for me SO MUCH that I have begun guiding our other creative teams at Saturday AM to employ similar.
The WRITER writes. THE ARTIST draws. Artists inks. Writers letter. Not only will the writer help the artist’s workload but they’ll be constrained creatively by the art (much as the artist is constrained by the script) and will be forced to think anew. This allows the artist to help direct the action in a meaningful way AND gets the writer focused on a very important skill which I find is lost too frequently with webcomic creators and that is DIALOGUE. Great dialogue is a skill and must be worked at and this method helps.
This is a comic’s life. It can be lonely. Creativity is hard. The struggle for surpassing mental, emotional and technical hurdles in one’s quest to create something is REAL! But for ANY creator, perseverance is the best method of coping and good tools are essential. COMIC LIFEby Plasq is one of the best for lettering.
Check all this month during MARCH ART MADNESS for a chance to WIN free software from Plasq.