This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
answers all your comic book creating questions. Comics industry veteran Carl Potts shows you what you
need to take full advantage of comics’ sequential visual storytelling possibilities. You’ll find examples taken
directly from DC Comics, featuring the work of their very best creators and showcasing classic characters
like Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League. This book is a behind-the-scenes guide to the
creative process and a comics-making master class that you won’t want to miss.
“Carl’s knowledge of comics and his approach to storytelling have been
distilled into a volume for all to share.”
—Walter Simonson, writer/artist of Manhunter, Thor,
The Fantastic Four, Alien, Orion, and The Judas Coin
“This guide by Carl Potts, a long-time master of the form, explains how to use
artwork in sequence to tell stories, in a helpful, yet comprehensive way.”
—Phil Jimenez, artist of Wonder Woman and Fairest
“Carl Potts has taken a lot of artists, like myself, by the hand and turned us
into storytellers. Here is a book as clear and concise as Carl was an editor.”
—Whilce Portacio, artist, Image Comics
CARL POTTS is a creative director, an editor, an artist, and a writer with years of experience in the comics industry. During his
time at Marvel Comics, he mentored many top comics talents, including Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, and Mike Mignola. Currently,
Potts consults for a variety of publishing, interactive, and entertainment companies, including HarperCollins, Ogilvy & Mather,
and the Learning Company. In addition, he’s given seminars on visual storytelling techniques at the School of Visual Arts,
Parsons, New York University, LucasArts, Academy of Art University, and the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Copyright © 2013 DC Comics.
All related characters and elements are
trademarks of and © DC Comics.
WB Shield: ™ & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Also available as an ebook
Cover design by Ken Crossland
Cover art by Jim Lee (top images, front
and back), Bill Reinhold (bottom)
U.S. $24.99/$27.95 CAN
Comics & Graphic Novels /
THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO CREATING COMICS
Make your own action-packed comics
THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO
Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling
Foreword by Jim Lee
Copyright © 2013 DC Comics.
All related characters and elements are trademarks of and © DC Comics.
WB SHIELD: ™ & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Watson-Guptill Publications, an imprint of
the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
WATSON-GUPTILL and the WG and Horse designs are registered trademarks
of Random House, Inc.
Selected artwork in this title appeared in previous DC Comics publications.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The DC Comics guide to creating comics : inside the art of visual storytelling /
Carl Potts ; foreword by Jim Lee. —First [edition].
1. Comic books, strips, etc.—Authorship. 2. Comic books, strips, etc.—
Technique. I. Title.
Printed in China
Text design by Ken Crossland
Cover design by Ken Crossland
Cover art by Jim Lee (top images, front and back) and Bill Reinhold (bottom)
Half-title page: Art by Adam Hughes
Title page: Art by Ivan Reis
Pages 5 and 6–7: Composed using art assets from DC Comics Style Guides
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than introducing
the art of visual storytelling as presented by my
mentor and art guru, Carl Potts. For the most part,
everything I learned about creating comics can be
divided into two periods: the time BC—also known
as “Before Carl”—and the time after, which I call
“conquering the deep, dark void.” In years 1 to 22
BC, I struggled to learn the art of visual storytelling.
Just because you have a love for reading comics and
some innate drawing talent, that does not mean you
automatically qualify as a comic book artist. In fact,
I think it works against you, because you think you
know more than you actually do. You think that you
draw better than your least favorite professional artist
even if you can’t complete an entire page of panel-to-
panel continuity by yourself. Ever. That was me.
But somewhere deep inside, I realized I needed to
improve. (Because no one was giving me any work,
right?) So I learned all I could about comics and
visual storytelling through the few books that were
available at the local library. However, it wasn’t until
I met Carl through another Marvel Comics editor—
the late, great Archie Goodwin—that I started on my
true path toward enlightenment in the deep, dark
void. Because that’s what art can be when you realize
you need to start all over again. You have to drop any
artifice or defensive shields (the ones you create to
preemptively protect yourself from cruel criticism)
and accept the fact that there’s a lot more to this
artform than meets the eye. You have to learn the
basics all over again. For real this time. With feeling.
Wax on, wax off.
And that’s where Carl served as my guide. My
sensei. My Jedi master. And teach me he did:
everything from “the 22 panels that always work” by
Wally Wood to “how not to cross the line.” He gave
me telephone book–thick tomes of photocopies from
books explaining all the ins and outs of cinematic
terminology and visual storytelling. Carl passed
along handwritten memos explaining what I did
well (not much) and what I did wrong (though
constructively polite) as I turned in tryout page
after tryout page. Carl laid out several of my biggest
projects so that I could work over his thumbnails.
I absorbed all those lessons until I thought I
was ready to snatch the stone from his hand—the
initiation all new artists had to endure and complete
to take a place at the vaunted table of professionals.
Or maybe it was picking up the burning white-hot
urn with your forearms and carrying it to the gates of
the dojo. Or maybe he offered me one of two pills in
his hands—one blue, one red. I don’t recall that with
great accuracy; the endless training has that effect
on your mind. But whatever the process, it worked. I
emerged a comics professional, trained for the very
first time—once again.
I joke about the Zen mysticism of the whole
process, but in truth, there is much seriousness
to it all. I learned a great deal at the hands of my
mentor, Carl. The years working with him set the
baseline and foundation for much of my work even
as I experimented, grew, and broke the very rules
I was initially taught. Because the final lesson for
all things creative is written thusly: Just because it
works for you, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way of
doing something. And I think that was Carl’s ultimate
lesson imparted to me and one that is triply clear
in this fantastic book you hold in your hands. There
are rules and lessons to be learned, but comics are
called art for a reason. The subjectivity of it is as
clear and true as its objectivity, and that relationship
is explored and demonstrated clearly in the chapters
What took me years to learn can now be yours
to enjoy in mere days. May your own journey in the
deep, dark void be short and sweet.
Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams.
8 The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics
YOUR BRAIN on COMICS!
When we read comics, the brain processes the pictorial and textual information,
with both sides of the brain operating simultaneously. We internally verbalize the
words while picking up much of the visual content subconsciously, essentially
creating a movie in our brains.
Contemporary society is extremely visually oriented.
Soon after coming into the modern world, children
are exposed to a wide variety of visual media,
including TV, movies, video games, computers,
tablets, print and electronic story books, magazines,
and billboards. Visual literacy—the deciphering,
utilizing, and crafting of visual communications—is
often vital to the success of personal or professional
endeavors in today’s world. Reading comics requires
and helps develop visual literacy.
Readers of comic books expect to experience an
entertaining story told in a clear and engaging way.
That means comic book creators have to know how
to structure a compelling story and create interesting
characters and plots. Most important, they have to
tell the tale in sequential panels, using visual literacy
skills to combine graphics with words.
The Reader’s Experience
Consumers enjoy the reading experience on a gut
level, usually without consciously registering:
• Whether they first read the captions/balloons or
look at the visuals in a panel
• What information they pick up from surrounding
panels or adjoining pages within their peripheral
• What assumptions they make about the story from
the limited visuals and words the comics creator
has chosen to present
This is how it should be, at least upon the initial
reading. If the readers have to stop to sort out some
confusing aspect of the visual storytelling, they
are taken out of the flow of the story—something
comics creators strive to avoid. It is usually during
subsequent readings of a comic that the audience
begins to look behind the curtain a bit, taking more
notice of comics creators’ techniques.
Generally, comic book consumers absorb vast
amounts of visual information without being fully
aware of it.
# Readers pick up a lot of information while reading comics,
much of it on a subconscious level. Using only the visuals, a
total novice to comics and the DC Universe can pick up a lot
of information, even from this relatively uneventful splash
page from Justice League #3 (November 2011).
Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams.
Composed using art assets from
DC Comics Style Guides.
18 The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics
It’s daytime in an integrated
residential urban setting.
The weather is pleasant with diffused
cool lighting, possibly from thin clouds
or high fog.
The main focus is on the attractive
costumed woman, who appears to be a
warrior because of the sword and her
confident, almost regal bearing.
She seems unfazed by
the confusion and awe
that her presence has
elicited in the others in
She is the only one
who seems out of
place—the only person
in a costume or openly
carrying a weapon.
Some of the buildings
look dated, and so this is
an older section of town.
to have been
kept in good
The dress and the cell
phones of the civilians
indicate that this is a
To the civilians, the presence
of this woman is unusual and
surprising—all other actions
stop, and all eyes are on her.
Assuming we’re somewhere in North
America, the leaves on the trees and
the attire of the people put the time of
year between April and October.
The Art at the Heart of Comics 19
J. H. Williams’s two-page spread
from Batwoman #12 (August 2012)
is another example of his inventional
visual storytelling. Searching within
a fun-house mirror maze where
warped reflections mirror their
confusion, the characters literally
circle around the same issue
that Wonder Woman is tackling
elsewhere. The panel layout, along
with the arrows built into the
fun-house floor, ensures that the
reader’s eye path is clear.
Script by W. Haden Blackman and J. H.
Williams III, art by J. H. Williams III.
72 The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics
Affecting the Reader’s Experience 73