Creating a Tangible World – Behind the Scenes Art by Daniel Wong!

by Daniel Wong

Dynamic action from "The Family Name" - Holmes Incorporated #2. Story by James Cooper. Art by Daniel Wong.

When telling a story, in any medium, the thing that matters first and foremost is grabbing your audience’s attention and drawing them into your world.  The challenge, however, isn’t just putting them under your spell, it’s keeping them there.

When creating a comic, there are so many aspects in that are necessary to make it spellbinding.  The one that’s often overlooked (and dreaded by artists) is the background.  We may think that a background merely fills the void behind characters, so no biggie, just throw something back there, right?  It would be nice to have readers so engrossed in the story that they don’t even notice the backgrounds.  But in reality, a bad or non-existent background is going to distract readers and snap them out of your spell.  Just any old background won’t do.  If things inconsistently appear and disappear from the background, the reader will notice and the spell’s broken.  The environment should appear natural, consistent and tangible, a place in which not only your characters inhabit, but where the reader’s mind can also.  If we can achieve this, then the spell is complete.  So then as artists, where do we begin?

First and foremost, you have to do your homework, and do it well before you start drawing a single page.  Establish and envision the environment for every scene and then go about finding reference images that represent them.  Nowadays, resources like Google Images and Bing Images are indispensable, but going out with a camera and snapping your own pictures can’t be beat for getting the exact image and perspective you need.

The second step is more homework:  designing your environment based on the reference material you’ve collected.  This is a step not to be missed! Like many new comic book artists, I used to jump right into drawing a page, toss in a background and guess where things should be.  The results were often a hit or miss.  Even worse was how my haphazard approach interrupted the artistic flow of my drawing process.  It was tantamount to poor planning, like building a house without a blueprint and trying to add plumbing after the walls are up and finished.

Creating an environment design is somewhat like making a blueprint.  Ideally you create a floor plan and isometric views for places that recur, even if it is only for page or two.  Here’s an example.  Below is a floor plan and two isometric views (from reverse angles) of a setting from writer James Cooper’s story, “The Family Name”, appearing in Holmes Inc. issue #2.   (You may not be inclined to go to the same level of detail, but for me, it was hella fun!):

All the concept art presented in this post © Daniel Wong.

The process of doing this has two very beneficial results:  First, it makes you intimately aware of the space in three-dimensions.  Regardless of the point of view you need to render, you know exactly what should appear behind your characters.  No more guess work and the art flow is uninterrupted.

More fabulousness from "The Family Name" - Holmes Incorporated #2. Story by James Cooper. Art by Daniel Wong.

The second benefit comes when you work on projects with other people.  The work becomes an unambiguous reference for everyone who needs to render the same space, be it penciling, inking or colouring.  It is an integral part of a story bible.

In the end, drawing backgrounds and environments is only one of many aspects of creating comics that captures your readers’ attention and imagination, but it’s one that should not be overlooked or glossed over.  So whether you’re just contemplating your first comic or have drawn them before but hate doing backgrounds (or even haphazardly draw them like I used to,) I highly recommend you try this approach to develop your environments.

If you have any questions about this topic, you can contact me at


Posted on July 20, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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