Noir Comics

As part of their VCE Media studies, my students are creating their own film-noir style comics in the tradition of Frank Miller (Sin City). As part of this unit, I have put together three video tutorials which take students through the steps of using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to achieve this effect.

Creating a Noir Comic (Part 1). Creating a document, using guides, working with paths, creating a panel, layer styles (stroke and drop shadow), duplicating objects, resizing frames.

Creating a Noir Comic (Part 2). Organising your comic with layer groups, creating speech bubbles, the ellipse tool, the pen tool, using shape layers.

Creating a Noir Comic (Part 3). Taking digital photos, using LiveTrace, importing traced objects into Photoshop, using clipping masks, adding other elements to your comic by changing blending modes.


Scriptwriting is a necessary part of creating a comic. If you don’t have a plan before you embark on designing and illustrating your work, it will fall fl at and will never be completed.

When you’re writing a script, keep it short and contained. There’s no use scripting an epic story that’s never going to be completed. You want to create something short – no more than six pages – which is going to engage and interest readers.

Scriptwriting is also about solving problems before they occur. If you’re relying on digital cameras and illustration software to complete your comic, you’re going to be less fl exible than a professional comic book artist with years of experience. You’re not Jim Lee or Ben Templesmith…yet.

Don’t envisage scenes that are too elaborate, that you won’t be able to capture on paper. Remember creating a successful comic book takes a lot of work, just as much as creating a short film. Dialogue is important to your story.

Although comic books are predominantly visual, they often have a great deal of dialogue. Interaction between characters is important to advancing the narrative. The more effective your dialogue, the more effective your comic will be overall. Don’t forget, you can also reveal a character’s thoughts. Interior monologues are a good way to push the story forward with minimal illustrations.

Look at the example on the following pages which illustrates how comic book scripts should be formatted. You need to be able to describe what happens on each page and each frame within that page. Formatting aside, writing for comics is vastly different to writing, for instance, a novel or short story. The narrative is conveyed by both text and images. It can be quite jarring for the reader if there is too much text on the page. Your storytelling needs to be concise. Trim back your adjectives and adverbs. Think about your message and the most simple, effective way to express it.

Of course, some comic books are not just composed of panels and speech bubbles. If you want more sustained writing, think about creative ways of incorporating this into your text.

The Watchmen, perhaps one of the most acclaimed comic books ever written, successfully combines both traditional panels and large amounts of text – in the form of articles, memoirs, memos from a psychiatric hospital, newspaper clippings, letters and notes. Epistolary novels are books composed of a range of different documents – including letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings. Famous examples include Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stephen King’s Carrie. Since this is form that Alan Moore so successfully used in The Watchmen, it might be something you can incorporate into your own work.

Aside from its use of different writing styles, The Watchmen is also notable for telling two stories alongside each other. These stories are often extremely different yet highly complementary. For instance, when Dr Manhattan is being interviewed on television, the scene is ‘intercut’ with panels of Dan and Laurie fending off muggers in an alleyway. This might be a good way to increase engagement with your readers.


The lettering of your comic is vitally important. Make sure you don’t have enormous bubbles filled with oversized Arial or Times New Roman text. Comic Sans is also out of the question. Don’t be fooled by the name. Serious comic book artists would rather throw themselves from a building than use Comic Sans. It just looks naff.

Choose the font you use for your comic carefully. Blambot is a great source of comic book fonts. In addition to their large range of commercial fonts, they also have fonts which are free to download.

Letter-o-Matic is a great, all purpose comic font. There are also a range of novelty fonts but these should be used sparingly. Your comic should be easy to read. You don’t want garish, over-the-top fonts getting in the way of your story. Here is a selection of free fonts on offer from Blambot.


Here are a range of online resources that will assist you in the creation of your own comics. Heaps of ideas, heaps of inspiration to get you going!

Online Comics: | Modern Tales | Dead Mouse | Graphic Smash.

Colour: Color Scheme 2 | Color Palette | Color Wizard | Color Wheel | Color Mixers | StylePhreak | Steel Dolphin Color Scheme | Slayer Officer Color Palette.

Online Artists: Ben Templesmith | Masters of Comic Book Art | Tim Sale | J Scott Campbell | Hip Flask | Hell Kitten.

Writers online: Steve Niles | Dwayne McDuffie.

Typography: Blambot | Comic Book Fonts | Grunge Fonts | Chank Fonts | Dustimo | Font Diner | Rotodesign | Old Type

Comic Creation: Balloon Tales | Blambot

Photograph: Joost Assink