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What is a Comic Book Illustrator?

Cassie L. Damewood
Cassie L. Damewood

A comic book illustrator is the creative force behind the words that make a comic book story come alive. The artistically drawn characters and events distinguish comic books from the rest of available reading choices. The illustrator makes the mind’s eye see what the writer is describing. These aspects normally include setting the scene, depicting action and giving the characters personality and spirit.

An illustrator in this profession commonly uses more than one instrument to sketch and draw images for comic books. These normally include ink pens, regular pencils and colored pencils. Paintbrushes and mechanical pencils are also common choices of an illustrator. A light blue colored pencil is frequently used for notes and comments as the blue disappears during the photocopying process.

Comic books feature vivid art.
Comic books feature vivid art.

Depending on the assignment, a comic book illustrator is usually required to either draw or color a story. In some instances, he is asked to perform both tasks. The comic book writer may provide a description of exactly how the character, scene and action should be drawn. Other writers may provide no guidance in these areas and leave the visual depiction of these items up to the illustrator.

A comic book illustrator might work with mechanical pencils.
A comic book illustrator might work with mechanical pencils.

Besides being a talented artist, the success of a comic book illustrator typically heavily relies on his ability to comprehend and accurately depict the vision of the writer. This may involve extensive interaction with the writer while the work is in progress. Another common way illustrators understand what a writer seeks in illustrations is by reviewing drawings in previously published works.

A comic book illustrator might be hired to draw a story.
A comic book illustrator might be hired to draw a story.

Oral and written communication skills are necessary to be a successful comic book illustrator. In addition to communicating with writers and editors on creative topics, a good rapport with them is an asset when discussing deadlines, pricing and promotion. Illustrators are frequently asked to appear with authors at comic book conventions and promotional events.

Analytical abilities are also valuable tools for an illustrator. Often the author’s concept for a comic book is vague and undeveloped. An illustrator can be instrumental in bringing that concept to fruition through analyzing the author’s purpose or reviewing past works to discern a particular theme or realize a recurring character’s personality traits.

Although demonstrated talent in illustration is the most important requirement for success in this position, a bachelor’s degree in art or illustration is highly desirable. Concentrations in particular areas of illustration are part of some art curricula. A portfolio that reflects excellence and diversity is an excellent promotional tool for aspiring comic book illustrators. Any professional experience in drawing or illustration is helpful.

Discussion Comments


@irontoenail - On the other hand, sometimes people just need the practice. I follow several web comics where the art and the story lines have been getting better and better over the years as the person creating them got better at their work. And that wouldn't happen if they had bought freelance illustration or hired someone to do the writing.


@browncoat - Actually, I hate the fact that this is becoming more common. I suspect that illustration artists think that they can write because they have a great idea for a story, and sometimes that's true but more often they turn out to be terrible writers. It might be disguised by the art, but I'm always disappointed when beautiful pictures are used to convey cliches, or the characters fall flat in spite of their vibrant looks.

I'd much rather have two experts working in collaboration, rather than one person trying to fit both roles.


I think it's great that it seems like I come across more and more people who are both writing the stories and illustrating their work. I feel like comic book illustration is such a huge part of the story that you can't really get a feel for what the author intended unless he or she is also the one who illustrates the work.

Of course, there are plenty of people who are only good at one thing or another. But if you look at a lot of the award winning graphic novels recently, they are usually made by someone doing both the writing and the illustration.

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    • Comic books feature vivid art.
      By: Joseph Bremson
      Comic books feature vivid art.
    • A comic book illustrator might work with mechanical pencils.
      By: igor
      A comic book illustrator might work with mechanical pencils.
    • A comic book illustrator might be hired to draw a story.
      By: Pakhnyushchyy
      A comic book illustrator might be hired to draw a story.