Graphic Novel Best Practices: 4 Ways to Blend Text and Art to Create a Storyline

If you're writing a graphic novel or a comic, you need to consider how your images and text work together to spin the story. Here are a few ways to play with combining words and pictures in sequential art from author-illustrator Whitney Gardner.
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

A vast range of experiences can be portrayed through the combination of words and pictures. Nothing takes better advantage of this than sequential art. Of course, words and pictures can act independently of each other to provoke emotional responses, but when creators utilize both, their powers for storytelling are almost unlimited.

The different ways you can combine words and pictures in sequential art feels infinite, but there are some recognizable patterns commonly used in comics that we can learn from and use in our own work. I’ll use some characters from FAKE BLOOD to help me illustrate these concepts.

Writing and Publishing Graphic Novels from Start to Finish

There are picture specific combinations where the text in the panels provides more ambiance than information. The pictures do all the heavy lifting.

Image placeholder title

Here we see Hunter toss his stone into the river without the text telling us what he’s doing. If we were read the text alone, we’d have no idea what he is boasting about. The illustrations are doing the storytelling.

There are also word specific parings where the pictures don’t add to the message of the text.

Image placeholder title

Here we see AJ running through Pier Park, but the text is doing the heavy lifting and revealing his inner monologue. The illustration shows us what AJ is doing but doesn’t literally translate the text.

Then there are additive pairings where the words and pictures work in tandem to intensify or exaggerate an idea.

Image placeholder title

We can see how AJ feels about his vampire disguise from his posture and projected confidence. The text amplifies this idea for us.

And there are inter-dependent pairings. Parings where the words and pictures convey two different ideas at the same time.

Image placeholder title

Here, in the text, Ivy agrees that AJ’s disguise is very good. But the illustration of her facial expression could lead us to believe she actually thinks otherwise.

These are just a few ways to play with combining words and pictures in sequential art. The best comics use a variety of these approaches throughout, and aim to strike a good balance between the two. Don't be afraid to experiment and find the balance that best suits your storytelling style.

Image placeholder title

Whitney Gardner is an author, illustrator, and coffee addict whose books include the Middle Grade graphic novel, FAKE BLOOD (September 4, 2018; Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers); and the Young Adult illustrated novels, CHAOTIC GOOD (March 13, 2018; Knopf Books for Young Readers) and YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE (March 7, 2017; Knopf Books for Young Readers). Originally from New York, she studied design and worked as an art teacher and school librarian before moving to Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives by the Salish Sea with her husband and two pugs. In the rare moment Whitney isn’t writing or drawing, she’s likely to be reading comics, knitting, or roasting coffee. You can visit her online at

Image placeholder title

Comics Experience Guide to Writing Comics

Scripting Your Story Ideas from Start to Finish

This is the book on writing you’ve been waiting for, a nuts-and-bolts guide to writing fiction for comics. While it is true that there is no set way to write a comic book script, no set format, no industry standard, it is equally true that someone learning to write comics needs structure. That’s where Comics Experience® Guide to Writing Comics can help. Comics veteran Andy Schmidt offers sage advice and practical instruction for everything from writing realistic dialogue to communicating your ideas to other comics professionals.Get a copy here.


The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.


Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.


Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.


Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.


Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.


Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.


New Agent Alert: Tasneem Motala of The Rights Factory

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Tasneem Motala of The Rights Factory) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.