In this sample process, we’re drawing comics from a marked-up section of a letter by Nurse Sarah Low (written from a Washington, D.C. army hospital, 12 November 1863):
Now all those F.A.S.T. visual markups will really help us see the various parts of the story… So let’s start drawing our comics page!
Research: Finding Other Sources
As part of my preparation, I found this archival photograph of a ward at Armory Square Hospital — the very place where Sarah Low wrote her letter! I plan to work in some of these characters (FACES), ACTIONS, & SETTING details as I draw my comic:
Dividing the Source Text into PANELS
Many comics use panels to show the different steps of the story.
I like to make slash marks / throughout my source text / to break the text into its sections / (phrases, ideas, words, etc.). / Each section might become a panel in my comics…
(Let’s also watch for pauses, inferences, & other important ideas that are NOT written into the text, but might help us draw the story.)
Our divided text might look like this:
Hmmm, that gives us seven or eight separate ideas to draw, and it gets me thinking about what I’ll include in each panel.
- “There is a cat…” = Maybe a portrait of this cat? (FACE) What actions could I draw to introduce this character & her setting?
- “who stays in the ward…” = That’s an ACTION in a SETTING… I can use actual photos of Nurse Low’s hospital ward to make sure I get the details right.
- etc. etc.
Now I’ll pencil out a series of boxes (panels) on a page, and start to fill them with those parts of the source text…
Playing with Panels
Let’s keep things simple here — Perhaps we’ll start with a basic 2×2 panel grid:
Our source text might fill these panels like so:
However, it might be more interesting to try a different approach — Perhaps we combine the first two panels into a single large panel?:
Now I can fit two ideas in that first wide panel:
This feels more interesting to me — It leaves just enough room to draw in an extra ACTION. While Low’s text does NOT mention the cat nursing her kittens, I know from my own experience that it’s a vital part of raising kittens!
Also, placing the text on either side of the cat (artwork) will help the reader feel like they’re circling around the cat & viewing her from both sides…
So this minor panel change helps me make personal connections to Low’s text, AND find a more interesting reading rhythm to the page. Here’s some resulting artwork:
I’ll continue this process with the rest of my source text, then proofread my pages & edit them as needed. The finished pages will all appear in my graphic novel, Freeman Colby Vol. 2.
Below are two finished pages from Sarah Low’s 12 Nov. 1863 letter:
- In each panel, I’m trying to show ACTIONS that help you (the reader) move on to the next panel (left to right).
- I’m also trying to help you move through the page (top to bottom), and get a sense of some of the ACTIONS and SETTING DETAILS Low might be witnessing.
- I drew several ACTIONS that are NOT mentioned in the source text; Can you tell why I included them?
- Do you recognize any details drawn from our source photo too?
Read more from Sarah Low & Co. @ the Patreon:
Various types of primary sources featured in the Freeman Colby Series.
Here’s what it looks like when I’m inking my pages!
A cartoon portrait drawn from historical source photos.