How to Make Comics: Pencilling Comics

I’m certain you’ve all got your scripts written and you’ve sketched out thumbnails.  Now comes the part where you actually draw your comics.  This stage is called “pencilling” and it’s self-explanatory.  Essentially, you draw your comics in pencil on your paper.  STOP!  Don’t start just yet.  You’ll need some basic materials for the pencilling stage.  Here’s a short video of mine giving a basic rundown.


For those of you who can’t watch (or don’t want to watch), I’ll discuss the items more in detail. You’ll need pencils of course.  They usually come in two kinds: the standard wooden pencils you used to use in school and mechanical pencils.  Either one will work.  They also come in different thickness levels.  Your standard #2 pencil that you used in school is considered an HB level which is the middle of values.  There are also H pencils, which give very hard yet light lines and range from H (light) to 9H (very light).  These hard pencils can score the paper if you’re not careful and that can cause problems later on when you ink and erase.  Then you have B pencils which are dark and soft.  Likewise, they come in the range of B (dark) all the way to 9B (very dark).  Try not to use too dark of a pencil should you use this kind – dark marks can be impossible to erase when you go to the inking stage.  I myself make use of a wooden “H” Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 with an HB mechanical pencil with 0.7mm leads.

You’ll need erasers too.  I recommend a kneaded eraser as well as a plastic eraser (again, I made use of a Staedtler brand eraser).  Some of you may prefer other kinds like gum erasers or the pink erasers you use in school.  Whatever works for you will be fine.  For dusting off eraser shavings, don’t blow on your drawing paper.  You’re better off with a drafting brush for that.  A few kinds of straightedges are necessary too.  Get a 24-inch T-square and perhaps two rulers, at least one of them being 18-inch.

Drafting Brush

Drafting Brush








Ruler, erasers and pencils

Ruler, erasers and pencils








What sort of drawing paper should you use?  Some of you may prefer to use ordinary typing paper, used for copiers or computer printers.  That may suffice for some, but it’s not a strong surface and if you intend to use big areas of india ink or washes of any kind (which would be put in during the inking stage), it will not hold up.  I recommend bristol paper.  It usually comes in two kinds, smooth or rough.  I use Strathmore brand 300 series smooth bristol.  The type of surface you use for your pencils will also affect your inking…but that’s a whole other post.

Page 8 pencils

Here’s a sample of one of my pencilled pages.  Pencils don’t reproduce well – from this stage, the comic will have to be inked.  But I’ll have to discuss this another day.

I reiterate – don’t pencil too hard on your pages.  If you end up scoring the paper, that can cause problems when you ink and/or erase.  Don’t use too dark of a pencil because that too can be tricky to erase.

Another good thing to remember when you pencil your comics pages – research EVERYTHING!  Even if you think you know how to draw the item in question, it’s better to do research.  In the olden days, that meant a trip to the library or the newsstand.  Now with the Internet at your fingertips, there’s no excuse for hunting down photo references of Mount Rushmore, a bridal dress, a World War II era Browning Automatic Rifle, or a 1973 Pontiac Trans Am.  Even a few well-placed details can greatly help an image.

Episode 1 page 2 panel 1Remember that train I drew back in the first episode of Sunnyville?  The steam locomotive that brought Rusty and his family to Sunnyville?  That was drawn from photo reference.  I keep a CD and a portable hard drive with tons of images on them of men, women, clothing, trees, landscapes, cars, weapons, buildings, and other assorted odds and ends which I use for inspiration or for reference.

For more information on how to pencil your comics, I’d recommend the text The DC Comics Guide to Pencilling Comics by Klaus Janson.  While the angle of the book is towards superhero comics, the information in there is worth its weight in gold no matter what sort of subject matter you draw.

What sort of pencils do you use for your work?  What kind of pencilling techniques do you use?  Do you use photo reference?  Tell me here.

Next week, I’ll be covering lettering, mainly the old-fashioned way by hand though I’ll talk a little bit about computer lettering.  So until next week, everyone!  Subscribe via RSS or email if you haven’t done that yet and swing by the store to grab copies of Sunnyville comics.

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About Max West

I am a freelance artist and the creator of Sunnyville Stories, an independent slice-of-life comics series.
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