Computers are a necessary tool to create modern comics

There will always be people who argue on one side or the other over whether it is better to go traditional or digital when you’re making comics. I would say that argument misses the point. The reality of the matter is you can choose either approach when you make your comics. If you have the right fundamental skills and knowledge in place, you can make it in comics. If you’re still working on the skills, don’t worry. I’m gonna tell you what you can work on and how to refine your skills in another article.

As it stands now, it doesn’t matter whether you create your comics by hand or with a computer. It’s the process afterwards that makes publishing any type of book in the modern market impossible without computer equipment.

Computers and mobile devices are necessary for things like formatting files, creating manuscripts, turning those manuscripts into a finished professional layout for print or converting them into digital book formats. It just can’t be done without them, so instead of arguing about whether computers are ruining the art of comics or comics in general, let’s talk about the necessities of them and where we need them, regardless of how we feel about digital art creation.

Windows versus Mac

Another age-old grudge that’s likely to never be resolved. Let me fill you in on my background. When I was a young man breaking into comics neither I nor my family could’ve afforded a Mac system. Thankfully we had access to the software I needed and budget for a Windows system.  Through time and effort I learned how to do anything you could want to do on a Mac on a PC. If you can do something on a Mac, you can do it on a Windows system. It might be a slightly different approach, with some different commands, but what’s more important is the software you are using to make your work, as opposed to the actual operating system.

For years I was a Windows guy. I would explain to people that “I can create anything on my Windows PC that they can on a Mac,” and that has always been true. The difference between the two really comes down to quality and ease-of-use. I was a solid proponent for the Windows and PC format for at least two decades. Today, I am a Mac advocate. What caused this change?

It’s really simple. If you can afford it, Macs in general are more reliable. They are less susceptible to things like viruses, as you can’t accidentally get a virus on your Mac the way you do on a Windows system. It’s just a difference in the operating systems. Nothing can be installed unless you personally make the decision to install it onto your system when working with the Mac. Also Macs do come with a higher value because they are just a better made unit; they’re solid built with sturdy, high-quality parts and casing and last much longer. You get a lot more use and life out of a Mac system than you do a Windows system and that’s why they come with a higher price tag. A PC system can start as low as $250 and for a fully featured system go up to $1600 or more. A Mac system generally starts at $1100 and goes up from there. There’s nothing wrong if a Mac isn’t in your price range. There’s no sense in feeling sad about not being able to afford it. If you can get a Windows system in your price range, which is likely because PCs are just so much more affordable, then I really recommend that anyone who wants to take this seriously and is on a budget to start with a Windows system. You can perfect your skills on a Windows PC and refine. In a few years, if you keep at it and you stay dedicated to your craft, you’ll be making enough money to be able to afford the Mac system of your dreams…or a really super tricked out Windows system. Just keep in mind that a Windows system will be outdated faster than a Mac system.

That’s the difference. Windows is less stable, it’s more prone to viruses and things like crashing, but it’s a lot cheaper. Mac is much more stable, reliable and longer-lasting, but very expensive. I don’t believe in judging someone based on their system and a real artist creates art with whatever they have available. Meaning, if you’re talented, you’ll always create better work with a Windows system than someone who doesn’t take their career seriously and spends the time and money on a Mac. I’m not part of either cult. I’m just making sure you’re aware that anyone who wants to judge you based on your computer system is probably not worth hanging out with. Either computer system is a tool. Use it to make your creative work and express yourself.

One last note, if you’re trying to determine whether it’s better to go with the laptop versions of a Windows or a Mac as opposed to the desktop versions, it’s really a matter of preference. Do you want to be able to take your system with you and travel wherever you go in order to work on things wherever you choose? Or do you prefer to sit and focus at home? Only you can answer that question. People always ask about the advantages and disadvantages of choosing mobile over stationary computer systems. It’s gotten to the point where there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference between the two of them. Essentially if you’re going to go with the mobile laptop, expect that it will have a little bit less memory and a little bit less computing power because it’s all gotta fit in that little laptop shell. That being said, laptops have come a very long way. The battery life lasts longer than ever and they’re building them with more and more memory and computing power to the point where they are nearly equal to a standard desktop system. There are even some specialty manufacturers that will make you a custom, super-powerful, tricked out laptop that rival desktop counterparts. A few simple searches on the Internet should help you find a reputable dealer.

Graphic tablets

In recent years the whole term “tablet” has taken on a different meaning. Just to make sure that all the terminology is clarified: when I’m talking about a graphic tablet, I am talking about an accessory that attaches to your existing computer system, whether it’s a Windows or Mac. A graphic tablet is the original meaning of the term “tablet” when it comes to computer devices and accessories. A graphic tablet is a large plastic plate that comes with an electronic pen, called a stylus, for creating freehand style drawings in your desktop computer environment. They can range in size anywhere from a few inches to over a foot or more in length and width. Essentially the advantage to a larger one is having a more natural and larger drawing surface area. Some sets will also come with a wireless electronic mouse that you can use with the graphic tablet as well.

A graphic tablet is meant to be laid flat on a desk surface wherever you have any space to work with your computer system. You can use the electronic pen to sketch and draw, among other creative disciplines. Whatever your hand does with your electronic pen on your tablet, it shows up on the screen in the art software of your choosing.

There are a wide variety of graphic tablets available. One of the original and most well-known brands is called Wacom. Wacom has several lines of tablets for every level of budget. They have a series called “Bamboo” that has small graphic tablet and pen sets that start as low as $60 retail. In recent years the Bamboo line has converted from tablets to styluses that can be used on multiple devices at around the same price point. Wacom’s Intuos line has moved into the price point region that used to be occupied by their Bamboo tablets. The Intuos is very similar to the Bamboo line of tablets with slightly different features and design. It now occupies the $70–$80 price range to start with the basic Intuos set making it affordable. They also have another line known as Cintiq and it is a much higher price range. The advantage with the Cintiq graphic tablets is that it actually is a miniature touchscreen monitor that works with an electronic pen. That means that the tablet actually has a screen on it that serves as a second computer screen and lets you draw directly onto the visual image of whatever software you’re working in on its surface, so it’s much more like directly drawing onto the screen and less of a learning curve than when you’re working blind with a traditional graphic tablet. Be aware that Cintiqs, though popular, are not cheap. They will range anywhere from about $1000 for an 13 inch graphic tablet, all the way up to $3100 for large 27 inch displays. They even have a Cintiq monitor where the two are combined. It’s like a giant Cintiq graphic tablet that you use instead of a computer monitor, letting you draw right on the screen in various sizes, again with a very high-price tag.

Cintiq has even released a tablet PC called the Cintiq Companion, which are actually large touchscreen laptops and mobile devices. The Cintiq Companion is available with the Windows operating system or the Android operating system, usually found on mobile devices. They are just like a large Android tablet or a Windows touchscreen laptop. You can install whichever software that you want to use that is compatible with those respective operating systems and then you can draw right on the screen. The Cintiq Companions run roughly $2,200 USD and sell out so quickly that you often have to get yourself on a waiting list through the company’s website at http://www.cintiq.com.

For those looking for something a little more affordable for their budgets, consider some aftermarket brands. Genius, in particular, makes some decent and reliable graphic tablets, usually with some extras to help incentivize purchasing their tablets over the more recognized competitors. Again, sizes will range and generally retail from $30–$80.

Of course there are other manufacturers and price ranges. The only way to really get all the information is to head out on the Internet superhighway and do some research.

Another option is to check out sites like eBay.com or Kijiji.com, where you may find someone who no longer needs their equipment or has upgraded and is now getting rid of their old equipment at a great price.

Mobile devices

The proliferation of mobile devices has taken the entire computer and communication world by storm. Art is no exception. Currently mobile technology is revolutionizing the way people create digital art and creative projects. If you are looking for an affordable alternative to any of the desktop or laptop computer systems along with the additional purchase of a graphic tablet, mobile devices may be the answer for you. Comparatively they’re more cost-effective and solve all the problems of needing devices for generating art, being able to write scripts or do anything creative. You can even publish a book to the web or print.

Although a brand-new iPad may cost upwards of $900 if it’s fully loaded, the benefits and usefulness have greatly surpassed the complications and obligations of a home computer system. Personally, 90% of my work is now done on mobile devices.

The beauty of it is that mobile devices have become so popular that people already own them just for entertainment purposes. There’s a good chance that you already own a tablet, Android device or an Apple device. You may be holding an incredibly powerful computing machine for making anything your creative mind can imagine right now and not even know it! On top of that, although some tablets can cost more than a laptop would, they can also save you money and your pocketbook in the long run. How? Let me explain.

Major software developers have realized that people are moving to mobile formats and no longer use the products that they offer on traditional computer systems. Microsoft has developed very functional mobile versions of its popular Office software, including Word, which is my preferred software for writing scripts. Even major art software developers, such as Adobe and SmithMicro, have made mobile platform versions of some of their best software. Why is that important? Well because mobile platform software, known as apps, are tremendously cheaper. Most apps are no more than $10. Many very, very useful and powerful art and writing tools are available for free or less than $5. Some of the apps that I use most on a mobile system cost me $1.99 on average, (note that app prices go up depending on platform and popularity, so the best deals are at the ground floor. Some of those apps have gone up to $3.49 since I first purchased them) and they are just as powerful, useful, and often even more intuitive than their desktop counterparts. Let me say that again. You can spend hundreds or thousands on desktop or laptop software in order to make your creative work, or you can use a mobile device and buy more software than you will ever need for under $50. Apps are always updated for free once you purchase them. In the long run it’s just a much more convenient and cost-effective option. Plus, so many great developers are out there and they develop these apps that will do the same thing as the desktop versions just as well, but they’re actually easier and more intuitive because of not having to learn the functions and techniques of how to work in that software’s interface. You can simply touch the screen and use your fingers or a stylus to make amazing feats of artistic expression. For me right now, this is the future of digital creativity.

The phone you’re holding in your hand, the one that you send texts with 1000 times a day? Well guess what? Chances are that it is compatible with all the software that I’ve been mentioning. I personally use an iPad and an iPhone together to create my work. If I forget my iPad at home or don’t feel like bringing it somewhere or I get an idea on the run and wasn’t expecting to be working on my book while I’m doing errands, I can grab my phone and work on my project. It has all the same software installed on it and I can work on the script, write a note or sketch up an idea right on the screen. If you’ve got an iPhone or an Android smartphone, then it is likely that you can begin to get very serious about creating your own books and comics without having to buy any additional equipment.

Again, you have a wide variety of price ranges and options for this type of technology. Personally I prefer the Apple iOS devices such as iPads and iPhones simply because of the ease of use and quality of apps. An iPad is gonna range $250-$900 depending on how much memory and features you want to have. I also own a Windows operating tablet. That’s right, a little Windows device called a WinBook that runs a fully functioning Windows software cost me about $60. I can do a lot of the things on that little 8 inch tablet device that I could on my PC or a desktop. There are also many options for Android tablets that range from the $50 price point to the $400 price point. There is even a service called modbook.com that manufactures super advanced graphic tablets at a premium price. I’m not a sales person for them and I’m sure I can’t fully explain the product that they offer, but the gist is that they take the guts of either a Windows laptop or a MacBook, the mobile laptop version of Mac, and shove it into a Cintiq body, turning a laptop into a touchscreen tablet with a huge drawing surface. You can check modbook.com for more info and they will run you roughly $2,600 USD.

The key to any computing system is that it needs to be reliable and functional. I’ve used many and have had good and bad experiences all over the board. For me personally, I’m getting to the point in my career where I prefer something that is much more reliable and one I have more confidence in, and so I have gone over to working mostly with the mobile devices made by Apple, such as the iPad and iPhone. I do still do some work on desktop systems and generally find a Mac more reliable, but I do have both systems set up in my work space. It probably sounds like I’m some sort of wealthy zillionaire able to set up all these computer devices, but in reality this is something that has taken a lot of time that I’ve built up over a 15-year period. Some of my devices are pretty old and out-of-date, but because they are reliable, I still have them. It takes time and experimentation to match your budget, your preferences, and the necessary ability to build your own system.

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