The Making of Duck & Bear

Amanda Lillywhite, creator of the popular Duck & Bear comic, recalls her processes and shows us how she came up with the idea for the series. For those who missed the series, check the Words and Pictures archives, or alternatively download all five episodes here

Do you have an idea for a webcomic for Words & Pictures but are not sure how to develop it further? Perhaps reading about how Duck&Bear came into being will help you on your way. 


I am a freelance illustrator, that is how I have earned my living for a long time now, but I have also spent many years trying to write novels. One of my stories, Butterfly Girl, achieved an honorary mention in Undiscovered Voices 2008 but it has never been properly finished and neither have the rest of my manuscripts. Whether or not I take any of my stories further in the future I believe that I have already gained a lot from the process of learning to write. The knowledge and information I absorbed while working on my manuscripts helped me to form the plots, themes and even the episode titles for Duck&Bear. The characters and their experiences came from my life as an illustrator and a writer plus stories I had heard from others. Why a duck and a bear? They, and all of the other animals I have used, were chosen because they are so frequently found in children’s books. 

you can add texture, humour and depth in many subtle ways

It seemed natural to use both words and pictures to tell a story about a writer and an illustrator. Plus the comic strip format allowed me to add in a lot of small details via the drawings such as the owl photobombing the mole in the first panel of episode five. And this is why I love comics so much, you can add texture, humour and depth in many subtle ways that, because they are not directly related to the plot, might clunk or distract in a text-only story. Having the extra dimension of the comic being online gave me even more opportunities for a bit of fun. I am grateful to the Carr family for picking up on “a huge cake in the shape of a mouse” in their Tweets because this inspired me to add an extra picture to episode four of T. Rex making the cake via a clickable link from Bear’s rumbling stomach. This further inspired me in episode five to create a couple of animated gifs, click on Duck in the penultimate panel and Bear’s letter in the final panel to see them. 

 Pitching the Idea 

The first document I sent to Words & Pictures had ideas for seven Duck&Bear episodes plus a description of the overarching themes that linked them together. It also had character sketches. 

 Here is the first synopsis I wrote for episode one: 

1. The box. 

Duck finishes the current draft of her story and is overjoyed. But wakes up in a cold sweat that night with the thought that her story is not working and thinks it might need to go in ‘the box’ with many other abandoned manuscripts - next to a box of rejection letters. She is despondent until she talks to Bear in a one-sided conversation in a café (while Bear draws her) eventually deciding that her heroes (the triplets) should be from a dystopian future – her MS needs a major rewrite but is salvageable. After briefly being happy that she has found a solution Duck is despondent again and then cheers up when she finds out about aids for replotting her story and enjoys buying some stationery. 

After I’d received feedback on the episode ideas from my partner and from Words & Pictures I began work on the scripts. 

Scripting the Episodes 

"it needs more! More words! More excitement! More, I don’t know, stuff!"

You have probably seen scripts before. Whether they be for TV, film or theatre they seem to follow the same basic format and I’ve found that it works well for comics too. Below is the first script for panel two of episode one, you will see how the Duck&Bear story was refined during its creation by comparing it with the synopsis above and with the final version online. While I was writing the scripts I found that some of my episode ideas were not strong enough to stand alone so seven episodes became five. 

1 - Panel 2 Caption: 2 o’clock the next morning 

Duck sits upright in bed with wild eyes. Mr Duck is waking up. 

Duck: It needs something extra... 
Mr Duck: *Snnnnrt* Wha....? 
Duck: My story – it needs more! More words! More excitement! More, I don’t know, stuff! 
Mr Duck: Go back to sleep... you’ll feel better about it in the morning... zzzzz [text trails off] 

Along with the scripts I sent Words & Pictures a rough of the layout design for episode one. 

Designing the Layouts 

Below is the first Duck&Bear page rough. As you can see dialogue is not included, it is intended to be viewed in tandem with the script. So as to avoid becoming emotionally attached to particular images the drawings are deliberately rough – just enough information to give a basic understanding of what is going on but not enough to get me hooked on details. This technique saves time and enables me to edit with a clear head later when I might have to kill some darlings (harder to do when you have carefully drawn them). 

After I’d received feedback from Words & Pictures I started working on the episodes in Photoshop - using typewritten text so as to be able to easily edit the dialogue. 

As I developed the designs I uploaded rough versions onto my website so that I, and Words & Pictures, could view them online. This helped me to plan the sequence and sizes of the panels. 

Creating the Artwork 

Duck&Bear drawings and panel text were hand drawn in pencil or pen and scanned into my computer. This was combined together in Photoshop along with colour and typewriter font navigation text. 

The final result was five jpegs that were 950 pixels wide, 1733 pixels long and 72dpi. The jpegs were put onto pages in my website with links created from empty html boxes placed over the relevant text. 

What Next? 

 I am working on other comic ideas and I’m hoping that I have encouraged a few of you to create your own webcomics for Words & Pictures. You don’t have to do it all yourself - why not team up with someone else? 

Here are a couple of sources of information about creating comics that helped me get started on Duck&Bear

Scott McCloud’s website

Will Eisner’s book Comics & Sequential Art 

And here are some wonderful examples of webcomics: 

Astrodog (a great story for young kids) by Paul Harrison-Davies

Sarah McIntyre has a range of delightful comics online 

Sarah and the Seed by Ryan Andrews is beautifully done

Emily Carroll has a collection of eerie webcomic tales

Amanda Lillywhite is a south London based illustrator, writer and comic creator.Her children' s portfolio is at Crazy Panda. For more information about graphic novels and comics visit her blog or follow her on Twitter 


  1. Amanda, i loved Duck& Bear and looked forward to every episode.
    Really good to read about your process and see how D&B developed. Thank You

  2. Great to see your roughs and how Duck and Bear evolved.

  3. Thanks for this overview and all your work and links too! Interesting what you say about your story Butterly Girl never being properly finished. The more I do, the more I question what 'finished' means - guess it's an age-old issue but I love the movement in the roughs you show here for example.

    1. Butterfly Girl was never properly finished in the sense that it was not viable as a book and too short. Duck's experience at the beginning of episode 4 is based on my own. I misunderstood "show not tell" and deleted half the story including a lot of what helped it to make sense (yeesh!). Unlike Duck I've never gone back to fix the problem.
      "Finish" in the illustrator sense is a tricky one, there is always the temptation to fix every mistake and then you find that by doing so you lose some of the energy. Leave too many mistakes in and they distract. A difficult balance.
      I've never before made my early pencil roughs public and it felt quite liberating to do so - it's helping me to be more confident and looser in my drawing.
      I've got more webcomic links on my blog, I keep finding new ones - there are a lot of good ones out there.


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