Review: Comic Draw

You may not be aware that in addition to Calling All Platforms tech and gaming, I also write and illustrate a webcomic (you're aware now, so you should totally check it out). With my recent purchase of a new 10.5 inch iPad Pro (which has revolutionized how I think about computers), I was able to move the entire production process for my webcomic into digital formats, and in large part that's thanks to one specific app.
Comic Draw is from developer Plasq, and they've been developing software for small-time comic creators for years. I've used their Comic Life desktop app for ages to create the panels and lettering for my comic, and while that app certainly has limitations, it does those things very well. Comic Draw was created for the iPad from the ground up, and while it keeps some aspects of Comic Life intact, a lot of the functionality was built for iPad uses specifically.

I get that there's probably a very small subset of you reading this that even barely care about what kinds of apps are available for comic creators. I'm a member of a very small, very bizarre subset of the human population, and I've got no illusions about that. But if you are at all interested in creating comics for digital or print production, this is an app you should definitely check out. They'll even let you try it out for free for a week before going in on the full $20 experience. They're doing this because they're confident that the app is good enough you'll want to pay for it once your free week is up.

They're right. Or at least they were for me.

Comic Draw, as the name suggests, is designed for drawing comics. It comes with a nice selection of pre-loaded formats, styles, and brushes that are all consistent with the stuff used in the creation of actual comics, though if you want you can edit those presets and create new ones to suit your needs. Paired with an Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro, the drawing experience is very smooth and natural, though I imagine if you've got a good Adonit or Wacom bluetooth stylus, it should be nearly as good with a non-Pro iPad. Navigation inside the app is also pretty smooth, though I do wish the undo and redo buttons were a bit closer to where my left thumb usually sits over along the left side of the screen.

Comic Draw tries to break the app up into sections designed around the traditional steps of creating a comic. There's a pencilling tab, an inking tab, and a lettering tab. All three saddle you with a different set of tools, and pencilling also tries to keep you on a separate image layer so that deleting the pencilled lines after you ink is as simple as making that layer invisible. This system works pretty well, and helps keep me mentally focused on which part of my process I'm in. My one complaint is that the lettering tab doesn't automatically jump you to a new layer, so if you want your words on a different layer from your inks, you need to remember to manually create one. I've also noticed that on occasion switching from the pencilling tab to the inking tab will duplicate all of my pencil lines into my inking layer. So it pays to be diligent about your layers, to keep little bugs like that from biting you.

That said, the layering works well. There are certainly theoretical limits to how many layers you can have on a single page, though for my money the number is high enough to be effectually limitless. Layers can be grouped and reordered like you might expect if you ever used something like Photoshop before. They can be made invisible individually or as groups, and you can also edit the transparency of them, which is useful for Comic Draw's unspoken fourth stage, coloring. That's where the layer tools need to be robust, because otherwise I'd be able to get by fine with just two actual layers.

But along with the complement of various pencils and pens needed for drawing and inking, Comic Draw also comes with a variety of brushes you can use to color. I'm no painter, and this app definitely isn't designed with fine artists in mind (you folks really should be using Procreate anyways). But if you want to throw some classic bold colors or textures in behind your inks, the brush and layer tools are up to the task.

The lettering tools in Comic Life were by far the tools I used the most, but there were always a few things that bugged me. First was that lettering happened last, and thus leaving room for the actual words was difficult. Second was just how much space you had to have inside the bubbles. Both of those things are still the case in Comic Draw, but because the words are just another layer and all of the artwork happens inside the app, it's pretty easy to get around these limitations. I've created a custom style for word bubbles that removes the line around the bubble and the fill behind it, rendering everything but the words invisible. That means I can drop a bubble onto the page, get the words sized how I want, and then just apply that style and draw my own bubble in manually.

There are a few little things that play out like that, where Plasq tried to develop something that was useable for someone who had never worked with comics before and just wanted to turn their family reunion photos into something funny to post on Facebook. But while they were doing that they made sure that those of us who wanted to use the app for something more would be able to. I've been very pleased with the final product.

There are other features I haven't messed with, including script management tools and various options for export beyond simply spitting out a PDF. All in all, the app is very full featured, and considering how efficient it makes the process of creating a comic from scratch, it pays for itself very, very quickly. Like, within days in my case. I'd gotten more than $20 worth of use out of it before I even had to pay the $20 at the end of the free trial.

Comic Draw is available on the App Store as a free download with in-app purchases. For anyone interested in creating comics on an iPad, you should definitely give it a try.