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Comics/Graphic Novels

How Graphic Novels are Made

Mara Franzen

Staff Writer

Mara (They/Them) has accidentally on purpose made their entire life about books and stories. Mara graduated with a B.A in creative writing and theatre and is halfway through an MFA in Creative writing. In addition to writing for Book Riot, Mara also has written for The Independent Book Review, Wargamer, and The Other Half, to name a few. They also work as a fiction editor with The Minison Project. Nearly all of their published articles can be found here.

The world of publishing can seem really confusing. Between editors, agents, authors, beta readers, and more, a lot of people work on a book before it ever hits the shelves. It seems there are just about a million steps in traditional publishing. But what about when it comes to graphic novels?

Sales of adult graphic novels more than doubled in 2021. The interest and demand for graphic novels have been skyrocketing as more and more people are introduced to the wonderful variety out there. As the demand grows, so does publishing interest in acquiring more comics and graphic novels to keep up with the demand.

But how does it all work? Well, it turns out that publishing a graphic novel isn’t too far off from traditionally publishing any other novel. There are just a few extra steps. This will be an overview of the process a graphic novel goes through to get published — not a step-by-step guide on how to publish a graphic novel.

So with that out of the way, let’s dive into the intricate world of graphic novel publishing! There’s a ton to learn!

How It Starts

Like any other book, the graphic novel starts out with an idea. The author writes it and creates several drafts until it’s perfect. Once ready, the author will typically find an agent, though this is not always required, and from there the agent and the author workshop the piece. After shopping it around, it gets picked up by a publisher, who connects the author with an artist!

Sometimes, the artist and the author are the same person or created the draft together. If that’s the case, they are able to shorten the process.

Usually, authors are able to at least make requests for their dream illustrators and hopefully one on the list is ready and available to illustrate. If not, there can be some back and forth between the author and the publisher until the right artist for the job is found.

The main difference at the beginning of the process is the layout of the book. When an author is writing a graphic novel but not illustrating it, they create what’s called a script. This script lays out what’s on the page, and what each caption says, panel by panel. Once this is drafted, it is sent off to the artist or artists who bring the visuals to life.

If an author is also the illustrator, they still often will lay out the book like this, but they don’t have to send it off and wait for the full page to get back to them from the art team. They just get to do it themselves!

How the Art is Developed

The process of adding art usually takes about four steps and can be a long process. First, the artist will send a rough sketch to the author to make sure everything looks good.

The second step is rendering the art in black and white. This gives everyone a super clear picture of how it’s going to look once color and shading are added.

The third step is to add in all that color and finish off the actual art. Once all the art is approved, the last and final step is to add in all the text to the image.

And That’s Just Draft One

As the graphic novel receives feedback from editors, more changes will be made along the way. If the creator has an agent, they might also suggest edits or changes before the graphic novel even finds its way into an editor’s hands.

Once everything is approved by the editor, and the more or less final draft is complete, the book will move into actual production.


From here on out the process is really similar to how other books are processed. The author/illustrator gets to see how the book looks laid out on the page and makes any last-second small changes.

Then the book is off to be printed and made ready for distribution! Once it hits its release date, the graphic novel will be on the shelf waiting for you at your local bookstore!

The whole process can take years, especially if there’s more than one person working on it! But despite its complexities, I for one am so glad that graphic novels are popular and getting the recognition they deserve.

If you’re interested in getting into graphic novels there are so many amazing ones out there! If nothing else, I hope you learn something about the wonderful world of graphic novel publishing!