Learn Art Direction by Creating Your Own Comic/Manga Project

Learn Art Direction by Creating Your Own Comic/Manga Project

Luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. But how does one prepare to become an art director? Or take on a large project like a comic/manga on their own? And how does it become successful?

In this article, I will share with you some of what I learned working on my comic/manga. A short 12-page story called "The Boy Who Howled Wolf". That went on to be a prize-winning finalist for Tokyopop‘s 25th Year Anniversary edition of Rising Stars of Manga (RSoM) 2022 competition. Currently one of the top-ranking comics available for free on the Inkr platform.

As a former student of Marc Brunet's "ART School for Digital Artists". I will describe how I gained the foundational skills I needed to move forward. And my personal view on how working on a comic project can be a quick and effective way to level up.

Art direction and Education

There are no real courses or schools for art direction. It really just comes down to experience gained through years of going to different schools and/or working on different types of projects. An art director is a modern renascence man–learning all things art related along with other things outside the subject of art.

An art director is a sorta jack of all trades. They don’t have to be a master of any one subject but many are a master of a few. They just have to know enough about the individual parts to make sure they understand how the parts all work and fit together.

Working on a Comic/Manga

Working on this comic, took working on pencils, inking, toning, and lettering. These are pretty obvious I guess. But it also took a number of other skills like character design, world-building, and designing props. 

A comic artist working today might only get hired (and paid) to draw. But in actuality, they are creating concepts and doing visual development. Things are usually summed up with style and that is what artists get hired for. But the more experienced artist can draw in more than one style. And is always making creative decisions.

There are more extreme cases where artists a working the "Marvel way". Where artists are storyboarding and telling the whole story based on a small outline. Sometimes just a few paragraphs. But even with a full script the artist is responsible for most of the art direction and bringing the words to life. 

Regardless of how well the writer can write. The artist still has to translate and interpret what’s written. Into something that works visually. I will also add the best storyboard artist and comic artists know a thing or two about writing themselves.

Level Up

I started in comics in my 20’s. Doing smaller indie comics, coloring, and doing some fill-in inks here and there. But I wanted to draw, I wanted to do more. But I realized no one was gonna let me take on more responsibility until I can prove I can take it on. And for that, I needed to go back to school.

I joined the military in order to get my education. Art school didn’t exist back then. Even YouTube was just starting up. Now there are so many ways to learn online. And it's all relatively affordable. I started Art school for digital artists while I was studying 3D animation. It was a certificate program that lacked all the fundamentals. Which lead to me getting a few scholarships to go to Brainstorm. Which lead to me taking a few courses at CGMA. And through a friend, I landed an opportunity to help out Marshall Vandruff.

In between all of that, I worked on getting my college degree. But it was all made much easier and possible because I had a solid foundation. Thanks to "Art school-for digital artist". Once you have a strong foundation you can do whatever you want. I’ve seen Will Weston refer to drawing as a gateway drug during a seminar once. And he’s right. Once you can draw well you can study anything. Like Industrial design, animation, fine art, concept art, and yes even comics.

A case for "Art School-For Digital Artists"

One might look at a complete course like "ART School" and think it's too much. Maybe you just want to do one job and your heart is really set on that one thing like character design. Perhaps you already have a college degree a feel you already have a solid enough foundation. Maybe you feel like most of the course will only distract you and don’t really apply.

The truth is all these skills affect and build on one another. And it's the soft skills you bring from outside that will make you stand out and be hirable. You don’t know what skills you're going to end up needing in your professional life. Because nobody knows the future. One can only be creative with the tools and ingredients one knows and has in front of them. Why not add more colors to your pallet? Remember knowledge is power. Why not make yourself more valuable? 

The fastest way to get better (no matter what level you're at) is to go back to basics and work on your fundamentals.

Working on Your Own Comic

I have this idea every artist should work on a comic. Art Direction is much like starting a business where you learn best by doing. We have all heard about the 10,000 hours it takes to master something. But not all 10,000 hours are created equal. Yes, you can work on a portfolio. Critique it and then work on the next. Repeat until you get hired. But by working on a comic you'll end up building all the elements of a portfolio. 

And you have a product in your hand in the end. You can publish it and get it seen. This might get you attention but at the very least you will test people's reactions to what you put out. It's a way better feedback loop than simply working on a portfolio. At least until you start to get work.

Working on a comic will reveal your weaknesses. Each panel will be like a keyframe. You will work on character consistency by drawing them from many angles. All the preproduction stuff will add up to a design bible the production will stick to. You will get all your weak drawings and ideas out of your system. Eventually, you will be iterating. Getting more creative to make the shots and ideas more interesting as you go.

And that’s just pre-production and production. There's post-production and getting the book out there. If you take that further step. You have to market the book to its audience. This will teach you something about the art business. Figuring out how to make your book stand out. You will work on ads and logos. You will read design specs to match what the printers want.

Most importantly you would have done something. Why wait for someone to give you a chance? When you create one for yourself. And get something done. Even if it's just one issue printed on demand. It's something physical you can show off when ask someone ask what have you done. Why stop there? Design a t-shirt you can give out at comic con. People will notice you and remember you.


Always keep on learning. Challenge yourself always. The best investment you can make in yourself is education. Don't underestimate the value of a complete curriculum like ART School or college if you have the chance and can afford it. 

The sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m currently looking to take a couple of scriptwriting courses. Simply to become an even better storyteller. I'm dyslexic as hell. But you don't grow inside your comfort zone. And I guess that is the whole point of writing this article.