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Art

How to stop your characters becoming clones of each other

Making character’s faces different, even in black and white

Drawing believable faces is harder than we appreciate. It’s one of the things we look at the most, and like hands, it’s something where the smallest detail can make it look entirely off, even if we’ve placed 99% of the parts in the right location, one misplaced eye or nose can destroy the whole aesthetic.

Then there is the added difficulty of creating unique features for one off characters, or even recurring ones. When deadlines are looming, the pressure is on, giving every character their own look can falter.

Even the professionals struggle with it. Some big name artists are guilty of drawing the same face over and over.

It’s easy to pick on Rob Liefeld as an example seeing as he insists on drawing his own face onto every character, male or female. But, greats like Alex Ross also fall victim to turning every portrait into a mirror of themselves.

When so much of comics is cartooning and creating visual shorthand for things like faces, how can you make sure that you can pick your characters out in a crowd?

The easiest ways are to give your creations different hairstyles, eye colors, and hair colors, but as we’ve seen above, that can only go so far. To truly separate them from one another consider mixing and matching these three features.

Noses

There are around six to eight distinct shapes we can use for a nose without jumping into things like size or if they’ve been broken. These are effective whether you want to exaggerate them into a caricature, or to keep them more grounded and realistic. Here are a few you can use.

A Greek nose which starts at the point between your eyebrows and follows a straight line to the tip of your nose.

A Roman nose, which starts further down the face and creates a bump in the middle.

A Nubian nose which has a long bridge and a wide base.

A Celestial nose which creates an upwards curve leading to the tip.

A Hawk nose which creates a downwards curve towards the tip.

A Snub nose which is short and upturned at the end.

To recreate these simply and easily when you want to add some variety to your character’s noses decide:

  1. How high up the face the bridge will start, nearer the brow or further down between the eyes.
  2. Whether it will bend upwards, downwards, stay straight, or have a kink.
  3. Whether the tip will be level, above, or below the nostrils.
  4. How wide you want the bridge and the nostrils to be.

Mixing and matching just these dimensions can give you upwards of 36 different noses for your characters and can go along way to making it easier to tell your characters apart.

Jaw Shape

Just like noses there are distinct shapes you can give your faces to make them stand apart from the others.

Triangular where it narrows to a point.

Oblong which is half-way between a square and a circle.

Circular where the face creates a very round shape.

Square where the jaw has more defined angles.

You can also add in some extra variations with these by deciding if the jaw is inline with the character’s forehead, falls closer to the neck, or further away. Along with the noses from before, we can now build 432 individual faces.

Eye shape

This is a more subtle one that can still help distinguish different characters from one another. Here you have two key shapes of the eyes themselves, some variations on how much of the eyelid crease is visible, and the angle of the eyes.

Almond is the first shape where the whites aren’t visible beneath the irises and wider than round.

Rounded is the second where the eyes are more circular and the whites are visible under the irises.

Hooded is the first of the lid variations where the crease is very close to the top of the eyelids.

Monolid is where there is no crease at the top of the eyelids.

Downturn is when the inner part of the eye closest to the nose is higher than the outer part.

Upturn is when the inner part of the eye closest to the nose is lower than the outer part.

Does it work?

With just these options for eyes, noses, and jaws we can now build out 5,184 different combinations and we haven’t had to rely on eye color or hair color yet.

If we cycle back to the Alex Ross and Rob Liefeld examples at the top, these are things that are making those faces look so similar despite all the detail in the images. They all have the same jawlines, the same noses, and the same eye shapes. There’s no doubt that Alex Ross is beyond talented and has created some beautiful and iconic images in comics, but, if it weren’t for the hair and costume, could you tell Alex Ross’s Superman from his Aquaman, or even his Wonder Woman?

Now contrast that with something like the Simpsons. There’s a good chance even a casual fan will know exactly who these five faces below are. Even though the only thing visible is their eyes, nose, and jaw, those are distinct and consistent enough that we don’t need the costumes or hair to identify them.

In the Treehouse of Horrors episode where Homer gets a hair-transplant, we still know this is Homer, even though he has Snake’s hair.

And, we could take away the cigarette below and we would still know when Snake has taken control of Homer because his eyes changed to closer resemble Snake’s.

What next

Try creating a few characters of your own by varying the nose, eyes, and jaws. If you want to take it a step further, you could even try grouping characters with similar traits to create a “family resemblance” and add an extra layer of believability.

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Art

Wally Wood’s 22 panels with examples

A deep dive with examples on when to use them

Wally Wood famously once said “never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up.”

The legendary comic book artist strived for efficiency in his work. When page rates are low and deadlines are looming, the ability to churn out high quality work at speed is essential. To that end, he created a cheat sheet that is arguably as well known, if not more well known than the man himself.

Here are Wally Wood’s 22 panels that always work explained …

Big head

Pretty much the entire opening of the Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is dedicated to this first example. We have Bruce Wayne side on, head on, three quarter profile, we have the news reporter. Even the crash is composed to resemble Bruce in his helmet.

Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley, DC Comics)

Miller repeats it across the first few pages allowing us to hyper focus on the characters and how the story is impacting them. It literally and metaphorically brings us closer to that character. It allows us see the character clearer and peer into their thoughts and emotions.

The Killing Joke (Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, DC Comics)

Brian Bolland uses a “big head” panel to great effect in the Killing Joke to show the fear and trauma of Barbra Gordon as she recovers in hospital from the Joker’s brutal attack.

Extreme close-up

This is the big head on steroids and allows us to zero-in on a specific reaction or emotion, bringing us even closer to that character and intensifying that feeling.

The Crow (James O’Barr, Caliber Press)

You can see this at play in O’Barr’s the Crow. The panels get tighter and tighter on the Crow’s face as the scene gets more intense and the mania of the character grows.

Smile (Raina Telgemeier, Scholastic)

You can also use it to narrow in on a specific detail or feature that you want to highlight. Raina Telgemeier’s tale of a girl’s struggle with life and braces has many extreme close-ups that allow us to hyper-focus only the relevant detail we need to pay attention to.

Back of head / front of head

This is your standard set-up for a conversation. It allows you to focus on two character’s talking while putting the attention on the character whose face we can see.

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron (Dan Clowes, Fantagraphics)

Profile no background

Removing the background means more attention on the characters. You can also spice up the panel by playing with the composition slightly. In the rooftop meeting between Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent in the Long Halloween, Tim Sale is able to communicate the change in attitude the characters have towards one another as the scene progresses. The begin all facing different directions as they literally can’t see eye-to-eye on how to deal with organized crime in Gotham.

Long Halloween (Jeff Loeb, Tim Sale, DC Comics)

As the scene progresses and an agreement is reached, they begin to face one-another.

Long Halloween (Jeff Loeb, Tim Sale, DC Comics)

Light background, dark foreground

This is a great way to build atmosphere and a creates a separation between the world in the foreground and the world in the background. This divide can highlight a difference in emotion or circumstances between to characters.

Saga of the Swamp Thing (Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, DC Comics)

Open panel, complete object

An open panel breaks free from the structure of the book. It makes an object stand alone and draws your eye to it. It can create a sense of endless space without borders. That can translate into endless possibility, timelessness, or loneliness and isolation.

Sin City (Frank Miller, Dark Horse)

All black

I probably could have used the example above for this one, or practically any panel from Sin City but that felt like cheating. All black works as a contrast to the white panels around it. In Sin City, the opposite is true. So much of it is all black that it’s the white panels that stand out.

Sin City (Frank Miller, Dark Horse)

But for a page with a large amount of white, or detailed backgrounds and panels, a stripped down version stands out on the page.

Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, DC Comics)

One big object

Unsurprisingly, this showcases the importance of the object by having it be the focus.

Hellboy (Mike Mignola, Dark Horse)

More than that though, by making it bigger than the other character in the scene it can make it seem extra important, more threatening, more powerful, than the character.

Demon in a Bottle (Bob Layton, David Michelinie, John Romita Jr, Marvel)

Putting the object in the foreground and shrinking the character in comparison can show the power the object has over them.

Full figure, open panel

Much the same as the object in an open panel, the full figure breaks out of the confines of the comic page structure.

Born Again (Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Marvel)

Above, Miller and Mazzucchelli use this break to make Daredevil’s blow more impactful as he literally smashes out of the panel structure.

Maus (Art Spiegelman)

In Maus, Spiegelman uses open panels to separate timelines. The present day conversations with Art and his father are outside the structure of the story being told, and so, do not get a panel border.

Long Halloween (Jeff Loeb, Tim Sale, DC Comics)

Others use this separation to create a sense of loneliness and isolation.

Reverse silhouette

This is where everything around the character is silhouetted instead of them being silhouetted.

The Corpse (Mike Mignola, Dark Horse)

Small figure

This can give a sense of grandeur to the surrounding objects in the panel. A small character surrounded by big buildings, statues, or even monsters can make the scene appear epic by comparison.

Taboo (Jack Kirby)

Depth

This can make the world feel more grounded and lived in, as though there is more to be seen just off the edges of the panel.

Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, DC Comics)

Down shot, cast shadows

This can give the feeling that we are spying on the scene, maybe looking at it from out of our bedroom windows. By extension, it can make it seem like the character is being watched by someone else.

Born Again (Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Marvel)

L-shape and silhouette

Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, DC Comics)

Diagram eye-level

This puts you in the scene with them, as though you could walk over and join them.

Love and Rockets (Jamie Hernandez)

Side lit or top

Great for creating atmosphere or suspenseful images.

Born Again (Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Marvel)

Reflection

What could be better than one character in a panel? That’s right, the same one again. More than just doubling up, reflections can add symmetry to a panel which can make it more visually appealing.

Sensational Spider-Man (Mark Bagley cover, Marvel)

Frame

This is another way to create added focus on a character or object by creating a panel within the panel where you can put the most essential elements you want people to pay attention to.

Born Again (Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Marvel)

Light background and silhouette

Similar to the light background and dark foreground, this is great at creating atmosphere while adding more focus to the visible elements.

Long Halloween (Jeff Loeb, Tim Sale, DC Comics)

Tim Sale uses the silhouette to also frame the focal points of the panel.

Three stage

This is another way to add depth and richness to the world inside the panel. The zones or stages it creates can tell a story on their own too. With each area being an almost different scene.

Spider-Man No More (John Romita, Marvel)

In Spider-Man No More, Romita shows Peter in the middle ground moving from the trash filled alley in the foreground, to the city in the background. His Spider-Man costume is thrown in the trash, it’s the past Peter wants to abandon and all the garbage that comes with it. Normal life awaits, and hopefully happiness with it. But, Peter isn’t there yet. He’s still between these worlds and his posture tells us all we need to know about how he is feeling.

Other media

Another way to build out the world of your story. By including in-world media, it can show that the non-central characters are experiencing these events as well and that there is a whole population of characters beyond the scope of the narrative with lives of their own.

Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Lynn Varley, DC Comics)

Whether that’s delivering exposition through TV screens and newspapers, or fabricating entire books, comics, novels, and tabloids in Watchmen to expand on the mythos.

Under the Hood from Watchmen (Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, DC Comics)

Contrast

High contrast is the defining look of noir cinema and can transpose that tension and feeling into your comic.

Year One (Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, DC Comics)

What next

Take a look at some of your favorite comics and see how many examples you can pick out of the different panels types. If you are working on your own comic, see if there are any panels you could add or swap out to make things more interesting for your readers.

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Art Comics

Using FACS to create emotions

The 64 movements a head can make

If you’ve read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics you’ve probably seen his awesome guide on how to create emotions in your art by mixing and matching six base emotions.

It’s a brilliant guide and there’s even an app now that lets you fine tune the mixtures, dial the intensity up and down, and create a simple base template to draw off. But what if you want to take things a step further? Then you need FACS.

What is FACS?

Originally developed in the 1970s by Carl-Herman Hjortsjö, FACS is the Facial Action Coding System. It’s a breakdown of 64 unique movements that the muscles in your head are capable of making. Things like puckering lips, raising eyebrows, blinking. Similarly to McCloud’s guide, it offers up a template on how to mix in these movements to create the emotion that you are looking for. And, more than that, it allows you to create any shape or action you would want a face to do. Here’s how it works.

The main movements

Inner eyebrow raise

1

Inner Brow Raiser

Frontalis, pars medialis

The inner part of the eyebrows raises and the forehead wrinkles

Single outer eyebrow raiser

2

Outer Brow Raiser (unilateral)

Frontalis, pars lateralis

The outer part of one eyebrow raises and the forehead wrinkles

Outer brow raiser

3

Outer Brow Raiser

Frontalis, pars lateralis

The outer part of the eyebrows raise sand the forehead wrinkles

4

Brow Lowerer

Depressor Glabellae, Depressor Supercilli, Currugator

The eyebrows drop and pinch inwards slightly towards the nose

Lid raiser

5

Upper Lid Raiser

Levator palpebrae superioris

The upper eyelid raises and the eyes widen

Cheek raiser

6

Cheek Raiser

Orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis

The cheeks raise and wrinkle the eyes slightly

Lid Tighener

7

Lid Tightener

Orbicularis oculi, pars palpebralis

The eyelids tighten

Nose wrinkler

9

Nose Wrinkler

Levator labii superioris alaquae nasi

The muscles in the nose pinch around the area between the eyes and along the bridge

Upper lip raiser

10

Upper Lip Raiser

Levator Labii Superioris, Caput infraorbitalis

The upper lip raisers and lines appear on the cheeks beside the nose

Nose deepener

11

Nasolabial Deepener

Zygomatic Minor

Nostrils flare

Lip corner puller

12

Lip Corner Puller

Zygomatic Major

Mouth bends into a smile and lengthens

Cheek Puffer

13

Cheek Puffer

Levator anguli oris (Caninus)

Cheeks expand, mouth bends into a smile

Dimpler

14

Dimpler

Buccinator

Cheeks dimple and tighten at the corners of the mouth, lines appear on jawline, mouth bends into a smile

Lip depressor

15

Lip Corner Depressor

Depressor anguli oris (Triangularis)

Lips bend downwards into a frown

Lower lip depressor

16

Lower Lip Depressor

Depressor labii inferioris

Lower lip thickens

Chin Raiser

17

Chin Raiser

Mentalis

Chin becomes more defined and ridges appear on it, lips tighten and become smaller

Lip pucker

18

Lip Pucker

Incisivii labii superioris and Incisivii labii inferioris

Nose narrows, lips get tighter, ridges appear like a tighened purse string on the upper lip

Lip stretcher

20

Lip Stretcher

Risorius

Lips get longer and narrower

Lip funneler

22

Lip Funneller

Orbicularis oris

Lips get shorter and thicken, cheek skin tightens

Lip Tightener

23

Lip Tightener

Orbicularis oris

Lips get thinner, cheeks get added definition

Lip Pressor

24

Lip Pressor

Orbicularis oris

Similar to 23, lips get thinner, cheeks get added definition

Lips part

25

Lip Part

Depressor Labii, Relaxation of Mentalis (AU17), Orbicularis Oris

Lips open, teeth visible

Jaw drop

26

Jaw Drop

Masetter; Temporal and Internal Pterygoid relaxed

Bottom jaw drops, face lengthens

Mouth Stretch

27

Mouth Stretch

Pterygoids, Digastric

Face gets longer, shape changes, cheeks stretch, nose widen

Lip Suck

28

Lip Suck

Orbicularis oris

Lips narrow and slightly pucker, lines appear around the jaw and cheeks, nose narrows

Lid Droop

41

Lid Droop

Relaxation of Levator Palpebrae Superioris

Upper eyelid drops and eyes narrow

Slit

42

Slit

Orbicularis oculi

Eyes narrow, outer edges of eyes wrinkle

Eyes closed

43

Eyes Closed

Orbicularis oculi

Upper lashes meet at the bottom of the eye

Squint

44

Squint

Orbicularis oculi, pars palpebralis

Eyes narrow, outer edges of eyes wrinkle, defined lines under the eyes, area around the temples gets more defined

Wink

46

Wink

Levator palpebrae superioris; Orbicularis oculi, pars palpebralis

A mix between eyes closed and squint for the closed eye

Head turn

51

Head turn

Muscles in the neck activate

Head lift

53

Head up

Muscles in the neck relax, feature lines on the face bend downwards

Head down

54

Head down

Neck isn’t visible, feature lines on the face bend upwards

Head tilt

56

Head tilt

Mucles in the neck activate, head turns slightly

Head Forward

57

Head forward

Muscles in the neck activate, head gets bigger

Head back

58

Head back

Head gets smaller, double chin

Look left

62

Look to side

Irises and pupils move to the side of the eye and become more elipsical than circular

Look up

63

Look up

Irises and pupils move to the top of the eye and become more elipsical than circular

Look down

64

Look down

Irises and pupils move to the bottom of the eye and become more elipsical than circular, upper eyelid closes over top part of the eye

Combining movements to create the base emotions

Happiness

6 eyes on 12 face

Sadness

Sadness

1 eyebrows at 4 height with 15 mouth

Surprise

1 eyebrows at 3 height with 5 eyes and 26 mouth

Fear

Fear

1 eyebrows at 3 height with 5 and 7 eyes and 26 mouth and 20 cheeks

Anger

4 eyebrows with 5 and 7 eyes and 23 mouth

Disgust

Disgust

9 nose with and 15 mouth

What next

Try creating a few of these by drawing the individual components, e.g. the eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, mouths and wrinkles, then mix and match them to create different moods and expressions.

Try creating the actions in a mirror too to get and figure out which movements you use when feeling an emotion. Do your cheeks raise when you smile? Do they dimple?

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How to compose a comic panel

From the Ancient Greeks to the New Gods, from the Leonardo DaVinci to Leonardo the Turtle, composition has always been an essential component of art. It is the difference between something being drawn accurately and something being drawn beautifully. So, what is the secret to great composition?

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Creating beautiful women – A colorists guide

Whether you prefer a natural look, bold colors, or something in-between, one thing is for sure, men and women have been using make-up to augment their appearance for centuries. Doing the same in your coloring can add another level to your characters.

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Categories
Art

Creating beautiful women – A colorists guide

Rules of attraction: make-up tips to make your characters stand out

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but make-up is an often ignored tool that can add differentiation between your cast of creations or offer an insight into their personality. Or, it can show a shift in mood, or situation as they move through the story.

If you use make-up regularly, a lot of this will be second nature, but for those with little to know experience in painting their own faces, this is a guide to how to glam up your female characters with some color.

As with everything in this guide, how subtle you choose to go is up to you. If you want a natural look, stick with colors close to the character’s existing skin tone. If you want something bolder, go for it. These rules should still help you.

Eyes

Pick four colors that you want to work with.

  1. Highlighter, a little lighter than the skin tone
  2. Matte, a mid-tone shade
  3. Contour, a few shades darker than the skin tone
  4. Black

Color the area around the tear ducts and just under the eyebrows with the highlighter color.

Highlights added to cartoon eyes

Next, add your matte color to the gap between the highlighted area under the brow and the eye itself.

Eye make-up for comic character

Use the contour shade to add some definition to the crease of the eyelid and just underneath the eye.

defined eye make-up for comic book drawing

Emphasize the outer corners of the eye using the black and add a few lashes.

eyelashes and eye make-up on a comic book character

Cheeks

Use a shade to define the area of the cheeks and sweep up towards the ears.

This color is just to illustrate the area you need. In reality, you may want to use a subtler choice which is only slightly off from the base skin tone.

Lips

After you have chosen the color lipstick you want your character to wear, trace the outline of the lips with a darker version of this color.

You can also add some highlights to the lip to create a gloss effect.

What next

That was our quick guide to creating a made-up look for you characters. To take this further, try coloring your own characters. Experiment with different shades and see how they impact their look. Try out different skin tones too.

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How to compose a comic panel

From the Ancient Greeks to the New Gods, from the Leonardo DaVinci to Leonardo the Turtle, composition has always been an essential component of art. It is the difference between something being drawn accurately and something being drawn beautifully. So, what is the secret to great composition?

Keep reading

How to plot your comic book

We all know a story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. We’ve heard it from teachers, as a handy factoid from our parents, we’ve even heard it as well-meaning advice from friends, but, it’s very rare for anyone to explain what those three things are.

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Art

How to compose a comic panel

How to use dynamic symmetry to stage your comic

While studying Greek architecture, pottery, and sculpture, Jay Hambidge noticed that there seemed to be a larger pattern connecting the shapes and dimensions chosen by those classical artists. As a result, he developed a set of rules which he called Dynamic Symmetry and it has been referenced ever since by painters, photographers, and comic book artists, to elevate their work from good to great.

What is dynamic symmetry?

If you are familiar with the rule of thirds, dynamic symmetry is this cranked up to 11. Developed from the golden and silver ratios, dynamic symmetry is a tool you can use to create a grid to guide where to align and place elements of your composition.

The quick and easy explanation breaks down as follows:

  1. Put focal points and areas of importance at spots where the lines intersect.
  2. Create flow to those focal points by aligning the elements of your image along those lines.

From the Hulk Cover above, you can see Banner’s body aligns at various points along the different lines. His back and head fall neatly on one line, which carries on up towards the moon focal point with the Hulk’s face. The tombstone he is leaning on runs parallel to that same line.

Banner’s right leg runs exactly along another of the lines, as does his left foot, and this line is parallel with the horizon. There’s another line connecting his eyes, with his mouth, hands, and knee leading to a focal point of a cluster of graves. Not to mention that Banner’s head is right in the middle of the page.

Here is another example of the grid in action from Alex Ross:

Harley Quinn (Paul Dini, Yvel Guichet, Aaron Sowd, Alex Ross, DC Comics)

The edge of white created by Joker’s face and body align perfectly with the vertical line leading up to a focal point level with Joker’s eyes. The diagonal line leading to this runs perfectly through Joker’s smile, along Harley’s face, her neck, and her body, to a second focal point where Joker’s hand is on her stomach. Practically every line and point of importance sits exactly on the grid.

Setting up the grid

  1. Start with the standard rectangle panel. Draw two diagonal lines from the opposite corners to form an X. These are the Barroque (line from bottom left to top right corner) and the Sinister (line from top left to bottom right corner).
  2. For each corner, draw a new line outwards so that it meets the existing line at right angle (90 degrees or perpendicular). These are the Reciprocal lines.
  1. Create two vertical lines to connect the points where the current lines intersect.
  2. Create two horizontal lines to connect the points where the current lines intersect.

Using the grid

It’s important to remember that this is a tool, not a rule, but having said that, here is how you can utilize Dynamic Symmetry in your art.

Take a blank piece of paper and use a ruler and set square to draw out a grid. For extra ease, try laying out the grid on some tracing paper.

Sketch out your rough layout using the grid.

Line up background elements, buildings, and items so that they run parallel to the sinister, baroque, or reciprocal lines.

Place things that you want to draw attention to on spots where the lines intersect.

Angle your poses so that your characters align with the lines.

Daredevil (Joe Quesada, Kevin Smith, Jimmy Palmiotti, Marvel Comics)

Get drawing.

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Use LICE to flesh out your writing

Mary Robinette Kowal’s formula for building plots and sub-plots in your comic. If you’ve read part one on this series on plotting your comic, you should have a skeleton of plot for your book. This next article is designed to help you put some meat on the bones.

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How to pace a story

Blake Snyder’s famous book, Save the Cat, is touted as “the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need”. Its words of wisdom have guided many in Hollywood to success in the 16 years since it was first released, but can they be applied to the world of comics? I think so.

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