The best way to get better at drawing comics is–you guessed it–to draw comics. But one of the most common mistakes new illustrators make is diving in head-first into their epic saga they’ve been developing since high-school. You know–the one that features several prominent characters, spans across multiple fictional provinces, and will likely be thousands of pages long when it’s finally finished.
However, if you were to ask any seasoned comics pro how to get started in comics, their advice would likely be similar to what I’ve heard again and again–“start small.”
I created the Six Panel Challenge as a way to practice making small comics. Here’s how it works:
I gave the challenge specific restraints to encourage myself to experiment more creatively with comics as a medium. These restraints force you to tell a complete story–with a clear beginning, middle, and end–with just six panels, which really pushes you to edit down your story to the most fundamental details.
Why use a prompt?
The random three-word prompt is meant to help you avoid thinking too hard about the story. For me, seeing a random set of words often sparks an idea in my head complex enough to tell a story in six panels or less, rather than getting myself caught up in the epic saga trap. The goal is to get you drawing the thing as quickly as possible, so you can learn from it and move on.
That’s why if my 3-word prompt has you stumped, I encourage you to generate your own!
The process also works if you base your comic off of a spark of inspiration you had by just living life–maybe you read something in an article that gave you an idea for a story. Or maybe it was something you saw at an antique store, or out on the street, or while walking in nature. Wherever the story comes from, the key is to keep it short.
Regardless of whether you follow the prompt or not, as long as you tell a story in six panels or less and tag your post with #sixpanelchallenge, your entry counts. Just share in your post where the story idea came from–I’ll be interested to know!
Can I use my OC's?
In line with keeping the story short and avoiding the saga, I encourage that your stories be self-contained. This will help you pack as much story as possible into six panels.
Avoiding using your OC's can help you experiment with storytelling in its purest form, challenging yourself not to rely on previously-established context to tell the story.
However, you’re more than welcome to adapt the challenge to suit your needs as you see fit–if you want to use it to experiment with your OC’s in several different short scenarios, I won’t stop you.
Is there a set format?
Nope! You can draw your comic in literally any way you want to.
There's also (of course) no limit to the style--You can draw it as simple as possible, or as detailed as possible. Color is also optional. Here are two examples of six-panel comics I've drawn in two different formats and styles:
The Six Panel Challenge is intended to be done many times over, so that you can practice making comics and telling stories, and get faster at it through the process. The more Six Panel Comics you make, the more you’ll have the chance to experiment with your art, and hopefully find ways to simplify your style. Whatever you learn while making six-panel stories should translate well to larger projects, as you build yourself up toward that long-anticipated saga.
The second reason I created this challenge was to cultivate a comic-making community. I wanted to find a way to connect with other artists interested in comics, and establish a platform where we could all grow together. That’s why I have decided to select “winners” each month from the entries. Each month I’ll select up to three of my favorite entries and will share on social media why I think they’re good comics.
I’m certainly NOT an authority on comics, and so my personal judgment on who “wins” is strictly based on my own opinion. It’s more of a way for me to learn from the creative solutions others have come up with, and for us to connect as creatives.
At the end of the day, all I really want is to encourage more people to make comics–and I figured that six panels is attainable for even the busiest of people. So why not give it a shot?
I look forward to making comics with you.