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Comic Illustrator

The role, salary, software and skills of a comic book illustrator

Student work by Glenn Allen

Comic illustrator job description

Comic illustrators create images for comic books and strips.

The comic or graphic novel genre employs visuals in a series of sequential panels to tell a story. Most comic art includes text which may or may not be written by the illustrator, therefore they must learn to incorporate the text and font as part of the overall design.

Illustrators of comic strips tend to be the writers as well as illustrators of the series. Comic books or graphic novels may have authors writing the text, but it is ultimately up to the illustrator to integrate the text into the graphic.  

Cartoons are another form of comic narrative, they are usually comical or satirical in nature and can be presented as single panels of image and text. They can pack a punch in expressing a powerful idea or keen observation, such as in political cartoons. Fumetti use photographic images in the comic book style to tell a story.

Role and responsibilities

The role of the comic illustrator is to create the illustrations for comic strips, books and cartoons. They must express ideas, story, situation and character very clearly and effectively. The Comic Illustrator has a talent for dynamic visual communication because this genre is highly expressive and designed to pack a punch in terms of message, especially in the case of single panel cartoons.

The responsibilities of the Comic Illustrator may include:

  • Liaising with the author regarding the design brief
  • Writing the text, joke, caption, dialogue if the work is entirely their authorship
  • Drawing the comic images, producing a series of drafts before final artwork is approved
  • Incorporating text with graphics as required
  • Working quickly to meet tight deadlines, especially for strip comics in daily publications
  • Plotting out storylines 
  • Creating storyboards of key points of action or plot

Software and Other Tools Used

Many Comic Illustrators work with pen and paper to sketch out their illustrations, these are then imported into software which is used to finish the artwork and deliver to publishing houses or newspapers. 

Software that Comic Illustrators may use include:

  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign
  • Microsoft Paint
  • Clip Studio Paint
  • Corel Painter
  • Autodesk SketchBook

Skills Required

Comic Illustrators who author their own work tend to have a strong sense of humor or for the absurd. They must have a sharp-witted mind to produce social or political commentary, and a keen sense for storytelling if they create comic books.

When working with a writer the ability to collaborate effectively is key to a successful comic. These partnerships can be very lucrative and influential, especially when working for big brands such as Marvel or DC Comics. 

Employers may look for the following skills in Comic Illustrators:

  • Training in illustration, fine arts or graphic design
  • A strong portfolio of original work
  • Talent for visual communication, strong drawing skills
  • Understanding of visual storytelling
  • Familiarity with comic genres
  • Awareness of socio-political issues and current affairs
  • Keen comic or ironic outlook 
  • Ability to express concepts visually
  • Writing skills
  • Storyboarding skills 
  • Solid understanding of visual language - texture, color, dimension, scale, perspective, shade, composition, depth of field, proportion, spatial awareness, etc
  • Good communication skills, ability to explain concepts and support artistic choices
  • Layout skills
  • Knowledge of typography

Average salary

Well known syndicated comic strip authors can earn very well, as can comic artists who create superhero comics for big-name publishers.

The average wage of a Comic Illustrator runs between USD $32,000 for a junior position to USD $77,000 for a senior position. (Source: Glassdoor)

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Digital Illustration? or What is Concept Art?

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