I think it's fair to say we're all looking for ways to be more productive. We want to make our workflow as streamlined as possible so we can get more done in a day. Well, if you do any comic or graphic novel work and have yet to try out the Story Editor in Manga Studio, you may want to read this mini review - it could help improve your workflow and increase your productivity.
While working on my current graphic novel, I decided to try the Story Editor in Manga Studio EX 4 to see if it could help me save time and make the whole process easier.
One of the main benefits I've found in using the Story Editor is that it’s helped me focus more on working out the flow and pacing of the story and less time managing different files. I can quickly lay out my rough sketch pages, add in dialogue, and move pages or scenes around to fine tune the flow and pacing of the story - all from one application.
The Story Editor - Overview
When creating a new file in Manga Studio, you have the option of creating either a page or a story. Basically, a story is a file that groups all of your individual pages together in one place (think Adobe Bridge but with a lot more functionality). With the Story Editor you can easily write or import all your dialogue, view and edit all your pages, make global changes to dialogue or font styles, and export your pages to individual files or as a PDF (great for creating a book dummy).
Creating a new story
When creating a new story file you are presented with a window where you can set the dimensions of all the pages (you can set your own or choose from a number of templates), margin guides, output resolution, and indicate the number of pages you would like to set up for your story. You are also given the option to add some footer information to all of your pages (title, copyright info, and position of page numbering). All of these settings can easily be changed later if you need to adjust things.
Setting up individual pages in your story
After you create a new story file, you will see a thumbnail grid of blank pages. From here you can double click on any page to open it. Once you have a page open you can work on it as any normal page. At this point, I like to import my thumbnail sketch for the page (this acts as my sketch layer). Once I have all of my pages prepared with the sketch artwork (which I will use as a guide when I do my inking on a new layer), I am ready to add in the dialogue for each page.
Adding and working with dialogue
The Story Editor window is where you can either manually type in all of your dialogue or import it from a separate file. Manually entering dialogue is really easy. All the pages are shown, and you simply pick a page, click in the box under the page number, and start typing your dialogue. Then, your next line of dialogue for that page would be typed in the box underneath that, and so on. What’s really handy here is that you can easily drag the lines of dialogue around to reorder them, or click between lines of dialogue to insert additional dialogue. You can even insert new pages here, and they will created in your story file when you go back to your thumbnail view.
From this Story Editor window you can also apply global font styles which you can apply to all your pages or only certain pages or lines of dialogue. You can also search and replace text (this can come in handy if you need to change a character’s name in your story).
Once you are finished entering all of your dialogue in this window, the story editor will automatically place the dialogue text on all of the individual pages for you. Then, you can go into each individual page and edit or move the text as you need, or even go back into the Story Editor Window to make text changes, and the changes will be automatically applied on the individual pages.
Adding word balloons
Once you have your dialogue placed on your individual pages you can now move it into position and place it in word balloons. Manga Studio has a nice feature where you can auto generate a word balloon for each line of dialogue. This balloon can be the standard ellipse or you can choose from custom word balloons in the materials library. (you can also add your own custom balloons to the materials library). Another useful feature when generating a balloon for your dialogue - you can indicate that you want the balloon to resize to fit the dialogue - this is handy if you end up adding or removing text as the balloon will automatically resize to fit.
There are quite a few more options and features for the word balloons, but I won't go into detail on them here.
Editing and reordering pages in your story
When viewing all your page thumbnails in the story editor, all you need to do to edit a page is double-click to open it, make your changes, and save it (or you can set it to auto save when you close the page). You can also quickly and easily reorder or move pages, or whole groups of pages. It’s as easy as dragging and dropping them where you want them. Adding or removing a pages is simple as well - just click where you want to insert/remove and choose the insert/delete command. All of your pages will automatically be renumbered to accommodate the new or removed pages. This can come in handy when you are working on your story and want to move certain scenes around or add some new pages within a scene.
Zooming & previewing
In the thumbnail view of all your pages, you can easily zoom in and out. Zoom out so you can preview all of you pages at once, or zoom in a little so you can read the dialogue as you check the pacing of your story.
Page List view
When you click on one of your pages to work on it, you can choose to open a little sidebar window on your screen which will show the thumbnail view all your pages at the same time. This can be handy if you need to refer to some lines of dialogue that are on adjacent pages while you are editing your page.
Panel Ruler Tool
While not part of the story editor, I want to quickly mention the Panel Ruler tool. Once you use this tool you’ll never want to hand draw your panels again! The panel ruler tool allows you to quickly make panel guides for your page, and you can easily set up the thickness of your panel lines and gutters in the preferences screen. All you need to do is create a new Panel Ruler layer from the new layer dialog box. This will create a ruler border that snaps to the margins of your page. Then, all you need to do is use the Panel Ruler Cutter tool to cut out your panels. With this tool you can easily make straight cuts, diagonal cuts, or create custom panel shapes using the object selector tool. After you have your panels cut out how you want them, you simply rasterize the Panel Ruler layer, and you now have an inked line layer based on the ruler lines. If you drag this layer above your artwork layer it will automatically crop any page content that falls outside of the panels (love this!)
Exporting your story or pages
One of the great benefits of using the story editor is that you can very quickly export the whole story. So, in a matter of seconds you can export all pages to one PDF file if you need to create a book dummy for previewing. Or, after you have inked your pages - you can export them all as layered Photoshop files (with panels, text, inks all on separate layers if you want). You can choose to export only one page, or specific pages of your choosing.
Even if you prefer to work traditionally, there are still many ways you can use the Story Editor to help your process. You could simply use it to import your page sketches, place your dialogue, and fine tune your scenes and pacing before exporting everything to ink your pages traditionally.
If you are reluctant to try out Manga Studio due to the somewhat clunky and confusing UI, I urge you to give it a try. After a bit of time you will get used to the interface, and I believe the benefits of using the Story Editor are well worth the initial learning curve. Plus, Manga Studio comes with a huge (over 400 page) PDF user guide that is quite easy to follow.