MAKING COMICS A love letter

Comics are a vibrant and fast-changing medium of storytelling where all stories can be told, and anyone can enjoy them. It's never been a better time to create comics, writes Emmeline Pidgen

When people hear I work in comics they often make assumptions, or at least they used to. The go-to used to be that I draw superheroes, or that comics are only for ‘reluctant readers’ (comics are for everyone, people!). But with the stratospheric success of comics like Dog Man, Bunny Vs Monkey, and Heartstopper, public opinion is shifting. As the current boom of graphic novels in traditional publishing shows: the time for comics is now.


I grew up reading The Beano and The Dandy. Every Saturday after my swimming lesson I’d shuffle into the newsagents and hand over my 50p for a comic I’d read again and again and again. Fast forward 20 years and I’m working as a freelance illustrator and author; I’ve had books and comics published by IDW, Hachette and Broadview Press. I’ve been a guest at comic conventions, and I’ve hosted comic workshops up and down the country. It’s a joy and a privilege to do what I love every day (though it can be very tough too!).

How to Spot a Galaxy comic by Emmeline Pidgen

How do you make comics?


My process for writing a comic or graphic novel runs differently from my novel or picture book process. With all my books, I usually start with a character sketch and a rough story idea, but with comics things get a little more unpredictable from then on. In comics the balance between script, art and panel rhythm is everything. So, it’s not so much a case of writing a manuscript and then creating the art afterwards; each element informs another and things are a lot more fluid.

Comic art by Emmeline Pidgen

I usually let myself flow with what’s inspiring me most at the time. Some days I’ll focus on story, sometimes I’ll just draw the characters over and over, other days I’ll be inspired to workshop different panel structures. It feels like working on a puzzle, and seeing the moment it all clicks together is fantastic. Comics have so much freedom to play and experiment with just the sheer joy of storytelling, and that’s really refreshing.

Mermaid illustration (Top) and Character Girls character
 illustration, both by Emmeline Pidgen

Writing for comics vs other books


Writing a manuscript for a comic is very different to other books. It also works very differently if you’re writing and illustrating your own comic rather than collaborating with a separate artist. I’m an author/illustrator, so maybe I’m a little biased, but I would always urge writers to trust their artists (and letterers!) to know the best options for panel layouts and rhythm. Constructing a comic visually is its own craft. Artists will usually produce their best work when they have a little wiggle room with a script, rather than prescriptive descriptions of each panel. 

I tend to think of it like a screenplay, or in fact, even more minimal than that, as big chunks of dialogue or too many speech bubbles on a page can be overwhelming. Very often dialogue in a manuscript will need to be shortened, but there’s a joy in that distillation process. You’re left with what’s important. The best comics are those where writers and artists work collaboratively to bring out the best in each other. There’s beauty in the balance!


Motherhood Diary comic by Emmeline Pidgen

What’s so special about comics?


One thing that’s unique with comics is the ability to manipulate time. Not in a sci-fi way (though sure, sometimes), but through panels on the page. The creator can shift the rhythm of the panels to expand and contract; a single page in a comic can cover a few seconds or an entire year. Even within a standalone panel you can show a character’s journey within a scene. You can up the intensity and speed for the reader with small, sharp panels; flicking between action and emotion. You can alter the flow of speech bubbles to change the rhythm of the page. There’s just so many ways to mould the storytelling in a comic before you even say a single word.


A really important part of making comics is learning to let go. There’s often no point having a huge, detailed monologue in the script when you can show that feeling succinctly with illustration. Likewise with the illustration sometimes it’s the spaces and details you leave out that can really heighten a moment.


Top tips?


The most important thing you can do if you want to make comics is read comics. Ideally, grab a comic from a bookshop or your library then read it three times: once for fun; once where you really pay attention to the art; and once where you dissect the use of panels, bubbles and layout. Look at which bits grabbed you as a reader, where you were excited to turn the page, and what made you fall in love with a character. There aren’t really rules in comics, and there’s never been a better time to experiment with them. Even before thinking of getting comics traditionally published you can experiment with webcomics, cartoons on social media, or even taking part in challenges like Hourly Comic Day. Have fun with it!


STOP PRESS! Emmeline has just released a new mini comic, available on her website or to download free/pay what you want.

*Header illustration: Ell Rose; 

all other images courtesy of Emmeline Pidgen 


Emmeline Pidgen

Emmeline Pidgen is an illustrator and author living in Lancashire, England. She is represented worldwide by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Emmeline has worked with clients like The BBC, Zara, Hachette and The National Trust, and was named National Freelancer of the Year in 2016.
You can see more of Emmeline’s work here:



Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact


Ell Rose is Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact them at

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