US Comic Book Layouts: A Book To Help You Do Layouts For Your Comic Books

The book in print form.

By James Bacon: Prolific Irish Comic artist PJ Holden has designed a layout sketchbook – 9 thumbnail layouts per page (with a blank facing page) the spine is white for writing what it is. 

There’s 120 pages with 60 pages with layouts on them. The layout page contains nine rectangles – these rectangles are scaled to fit the US comic book dimension size.

PJ Holden has been working in comics for 20 years now, with a considerable amount for 2000AD and his comic work with Irish writer Garth Ennis on The Stringbags last year, published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press has been critically acclaimed.  

I caught up with him and asked some questions.

JAMES BACON: Is this something you would have found useful earlier in your career?

PJ HOLDEN: I think so – certainly it’s a thing I was frequently doing with my own sketchbooks for layouts – I used to have a cardboard template with nine comic sized boxes drawn on it, I’d lay it on a page of my sketchbook and then trace out the layouts, so I was using something like it 15-20 years ago. 

JAMES BACON: Why would it have been useful to you, and at what stage in your drawing career?

PJ HOLDEN: One thing I don’t think you think about before you make the jump to professional work (and by professional I really mean getting paid to draw, so time becomes money) is how much time you spend on any given job that isn’t drawing. Once you make that leap, suddenly anything that can shave 5-10 minutes or that is just that little bit more convenient becomes worth pursuing, and over the last 20 years I’ve always sought out anything that could speed up the process, especially those bits that really don’t take skill – drawing layout boxes is one such bit.

JAMES BACON: Why are layouts important to master?

PJ HOLDEN: Well, once you’ve read the script you’ve got to start committing things to paper, and while some are lucky enough to go straight to inks most (me included) really need to figure out what it is we’re drawing first. The layout stage is where you do some of your early thinking on the page — how many people are in this panel, what’s the focal point for the page, will these two pages face each other? What’s happening on the page turn, etc.

You do it at the thumbnail stage because it’s faster and you can see the big picture very easily. Once you’ve got your layouts you can then move on to the pencils and if the layouts are tight enough (ie they have enough detail) then the pencils stage is greatly simplified.

JAMES BACON: What do you hope with this book?

PJ HOLDEN: Well, my initial thinking was “oh this is a smart way to get myself a neat little layout sketchbook I can use” and I figured making it available for anyone would help give me a little bit of a passive income (I mean, it’s not going to pay for a holiday, but I might be able to buy a couple of books…) 

Having done the first book, of course, other ideas occur, and I’ve a few other books waiting in the Amazon KDP — Kindle Direct Publishing — system for approval for publication (and about a dozen ideas for more). One in particular is a unique comic creators project diary that lets you track the course of projects while you do them over a year, incorporating many of the tricks I’ve learnt about using structured time to get work done.

What started as a bit of a lark, I’m hoping might actually end up a set of worthwhile tools for professional comic creators or anyone embarking on a comic making project.

PJ kindly went on to share some useful insights:

PJ HOLDEN: The book has a blank page facing a layout page – a deliberate choice I’ve made because, frankly, I don’t like drawing on the back of a page – but if you do, you’ve got a nice blank area to work with, and, the bane of all of my many dozens of sketchbooks, rather than a black spine that you can’t write on, it’s got a nice clean white spine for dating/other info, as well as space on the cover for more information. I think one key thing is to learn as much from as many people as possible and then find the tools that work for you. The books I’m doing, I hope are shaped in such a way that they give some of the necessary stuff to get the job done but equally are wide open for you to play an explore with how you’d find it useful – to be honest, I made this first book for professional comic artists but delighted to find a number of writers have picked up copies because it turns out knowing what your layouts might be is pretty handy for a writer!


The book is available from 

PJ Holden’s own Twitter thread about the book is here.

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