On the Lack of Open Source Comic Software

In the world of free(dom) and open source software, there’s one type of application that’s missing. Well, technically there’s a lot, but there’s one that I’ve oft wondered why there is no open source software for: making comics.

For Mac users, there’s Comic Life. For Windows users, there’s the Windows version of Comic Life, and a number of other offerings. I’ve played with the latter, and found a number of limitations, but even with limitations, it’s more than the open source software sector has. (I can get the same kind of results for basic Comic Life functionality using a combination of Krita and Gimp, the two playing off of one anothers’ lackings, but it ain’t pretty, and it takes a few days longer per panel.)

I’m a software programmer, but I wouldn’t know where to start when it comes to working with images. It seems simple enough: make templates with rectangles which are SVG images using masks. Drop images inside the rectangles. Allow resizing both either the rectangle (preferably with grid snapping, something not found in Comic Life for Windows) or inner image (which has resulted in very bad quality in the resized image for me in Comic Life, but it only occurs sometimes, and can be worked around by deleting the image, then replacing it and resizing it again). Speech balloons and their tails would be SVG images, preferably with an intelligent whitespace inner border, keeping text from bleeding over the edges of the bubble (and more control over the tail than Comic Life offers).

If only I knew where to start (using either Qt or KDE), this would definitely be the type of program that a lot of people would use. Not just those 20 Linux users and two BSD users interested in making comics, but also Windows users who can’t (won’t) afford to pay for Comic Life for Windows. (Well, minus those who simply pirate the software, taking it down to a target market of maybe 50 more users there.) I could probably learn where to start, but between fiction writing, anime watching, and photograph taking, my software programming’s looking rather restricted to what I do at work (which does not involve comics).

Running Comic Life on Linux via a Win32 compatability layer (Wine) is a flawed implementation, and running it on Windows Vista has stability issues for me. Maybe after NaNoWriMo, I should invest a month into learning/writing such software. Yes, I should do that “one day”. In the meantime, I’ll simply wish someone else would do it, let someone else serve the target market of 72 comic maker hopefuls.

Perhaps it’s best this way, as I have no ability when it comes to comic dialogue. But, that’s all right. I’m not planning on doing a series of anime comics (others handle that), but I did have a random idea come up during a discussion on racism earlier this year.

Class Racist Page 2
Class Racist Page 1

Yeah, maybe it’s for the better that Linux/BSD users such as myself don’t have access to comic software.

(Yes, there’s a typo in page two, panel one, where it should read “It appears to me“, but I’m not going to spend half an hour booting into Windows Vista and having Comic Life crash once and freeze Windows once just to correct it.)


Speech Balloon in Inkscape

After playing with Inkscape’s ellipses and Bezier curves, with path union, and stroke and fill controls, speech balloons become a barely tolerable task. We’ll ignore thinking about what would go into making a thought balloon. At the very least, it should work for photo comics.

Image masking might become tolerable with preset templates, so long as I don’t plan to change the style of a template after starting a comic with it. I need to play with clipping and see if that’s what I should be using instead of masking. Neither masking nor clipping appears to allow moving/resizing the masked/clipped object while not moving/resizing the masker/clipper.

Update 2:

Doing a path union on multiple ellipses makes for a nice speech balloon.

Heads Up, Seven Up

For the curious, Wikipedia’s article on “Heads Up, Seven Up”.

Update 3:

Yamazaki...Doesn't Lie?

Okay, with a little bit of work, making comics in Inkscape has officially become “considerably easy”. I might have to put together one of those tutorials I’ve always felt someone should have put together. (I’m “someone”, after all!)

(Please ignore the part where the student says “Sakura” when it should be “Kinomoto-san”.)

Update 4:

Speech balloon manipulation in Inkscape is super-easy, and that scares me.

Tutorial: Exclamation Balloon
Tutorial: Misshapen Speech Balloon

I’m starting to think thought balloons will be quick and easy, after playing with making an exclamation balloon.

Update 5:

Colored balloons aren’t that hard to make, either, but they require a little more time and effort. If there’s any kind of scripting engine (such as Gimp has), that would make things a lot easier.


I beg the forgiveness of any and all Syaoran fans. I grew up on He-Man (and Smurfs) in my very young years.

Update 6:

Someone found this post via Google on a search for “comic software for linux” (no quotes), where this post was the fifth result. Okay, that’s it, I’m going to be doing a series of tutorial posts on this using Inkscape, because 1) I’ve wanted to find such tutorials for over two years now, and 2) I might forget anything I learn, and need to refer to it. But no tutorials just yet. I have NaNoWriMo this week.

13 Responses to “On the Lack of Open Source Comic Software”

  1. Pete Zaitcev Says:

    Maybe you can just use Inkscape… You know, like Greg Dean uses Illustrator to make Real Life.

  2. Chris Says:

    I’ve used Inkscape and Sodipodi for attempts at comic-making, but neither is really up to the task as far as I can tell. If there’s some way to mask SVGs that I don’t know about, and an easy way to drop images on the same layer (or in the same layer folder) in one of these programs, then that would definitely be a jump in the right direction. I don’t know if either of these programs has any sort of scripting engine that would ease things.

    I have read that Greg Dean uses Illustrator (I’m a daily reader of Real Life), and I do wonder how he does the speech balloons. If there were any “easy” (relatively) way to do such comics in Inkscape or another open source program, then it’d be very much worthwhile for someone to put together some tutorials and resources.

  3. Matt Perry Says:

    I know that this post is a few months old upon my finding it just today, however I wanted to point out a gimp script I found.


    perhaps this might speed up your thought/speech bubble creation

  4. Chris Says:

    Thanks for the link, Matt. I have seen that script before, but I haven’t tried it. My guess is it makes a bitmap balloons, rather than a vector (this is Gimp after all). These days I’m happy using Inkscape for the balloon process, as well as the entire process from start to stop. I like working with vectors for something like this, although Gimp sees a lot of use by me for other works.

  5. Rob Says:

    Did you ever find any simple to use comic making software for Linux? I’m a primary (elementary) school teacher in a school that uses Linux and I’m trying to find easy to use comic book software for the kids to use, I know they’d love it.

  6. Chris Says:

    I wish I could say I found something, but I never did. Inkscape works, but it’s a vector program, not a comic software, so it’s very cumbersome to use to make comics with.

  7. Laura S Says:

    I share your frustration. While I still use Windows, I have been for a long time searching for decent Linux replacements for the apps I use to make comics with under XP.

    I use Paint Shop Pro and Fireworks to my comics. PSP is primarily poor person’s Photoshop with some vector and natural media capability – I have a lot of experience using it (and in fact recently upgraded to X2) and like many of the features it has. However, I use an old version of Fireworks MX 2004 to do the finishing touches mainly because it has better export settings and superior vector ability (it’s mainly a vector editor with some bitmap capability meant for creating web pages). Adding text and balloons, and creating reusable styles is very easy to do.

    Looking at replacements, I was pretty disappointed with GIMP which seemed hard to use and had a “clunky UI”. It works and no doubt works well (I use it to apply GIMP filters on bitmaps), but learning to use GIMP isn’t a pleasant experience. The nearest equivalent under Linux is very hard to find. There is another bitmap editor called Krita (KDE based) but I found that very buggy. My ideal (which I know probably won’t happen) would be for Corel to port PSP to Linux!

    A replacement for Fireworks was a different matter. Inkscape comes so very close, though it’s lacking some things that prevent me from adopting it yet as a replacement. It only exports to PNG format (still like to export to JPEG); doesn’t have proper styles management (one has to copy those from other objects rather than a saved list) and limited text functions (no spell checking – I’m a terrible speller). Still, I found that what I could do in Fireworks I could mostly do in Inkscape. Compare http://www.flickr.com/photos/7895693@N03/3926966597/ to http://www.flickr.com/photos/7895693@N03/3927748864/ . Strangely enough I also tried a free version of MS Expressions (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/7895693@N03/3927749080/) but seemed extremely tedious to do the same things in it as I could do in FW and IS. In Linux there may be two other alternatives though – see http://osrevolution.com/os-misc/top-3-linux-vector-graphics-editors for Karbon14 and Xara Xtreme.

    I think though that I will continue to come back to Inkscape. It has an active community and is still developing. I’ve already suggested scripts and styles managers and maybe they’ll be added some time in the future. I made a couple of suggestions for GIMP at the GIMP UI Brainstorm. There’s even a suggestion there to integrate Inkscape with GIMP – see http://gimp-brainstorm.blogspot.com/. Now that would be interesting!

    Apart from graphics editors, the other Comics software I’m interested in is script and story writing applications (helpful with graphic novels). For plots I found http://storybook.intertec.ch/joomla/ and for scripts (almost open source) I found http://celtix.ow2.org/. Both though have limitations, and StoryBook could do with a lot more development.

  8. Laura S Says:

    Almost forget. Someone I know has just gone from bitmap over to vector for their web comic. See http://jenndolari.livejournal.com/1434226.html for a post they did on it, and http://www.dolari.org/cs/ for the finished result.

    One day I might two, but so far I’ve had little success with graphics tablets, which would be a prerequisite for that.

  9. Chris Says:

    Your experiences with Linux graphics software mirror my own. I’m only able to do more with Gimp than with Photoshop due to familiarity with the former and lack of training/learning of the latter. (That, and I’ve only used Photoshop a few times in my life; I used Fireworks 4, then MX, on Windows 98, due to it being used in a college course I was taking years back.)

    The lack of reusable styles in Inkscape is a huge issue for me. I can use various duplication and inheritance, but it always comes up short and is trouble all around. A lack of JPG export is a problem for me when exporting huge photo comics, although if I was doing web comics, I’d be using PNG, as they’re relatively small.

    Inkscape spellchecking is supported in Linux, but maybe not in Windows. When I open the “Text and Font” dialog, and navigate to the “Text” tab, it spellchecks with my install spellchecker.

    I haven’t looked into Karbon yet. I may just have to check it out.

    Regarding Gimp’s interface, I don’t have my hopes up, but I wouldn’t mind any pleasant surprised it may hold in the future!

    I’ve played around with using a tablet, but I can’t draw worth anything, so I know I won’t be breaking into the web comic scene any time soon =P Funny thing, I can get it working just fine in Linux, but Windows Vista struggles with it.

  10. Antonio Says:

    Nice comics!

    I’m in agreement about making comics in Inkscape. It’s a bit too overkill for my needs.

    The only open source software for creating comics that I’ve come across is Comicbookedit http://www.tuitman.org/cgi-bin/blog.pl/command/showpage/page/comicbookedit.html and it isn’t really all that great

  11. Geeta Says:

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  12. xmorg Says:

    I agree there needs to be a comics targeted app.
    I have experience making a manga of my own on FreeBSD.
    I used a combination of OpenOffice draw for the Conversation bubbles, and Gimp for touchup.

    What a comics software would need would be
    -the ability to easily create comic pages from different premade templates as well as create your own
    -import your own images
    -Add various conversation bubbles
    -specify dpi, and export to pdf features.

  13. daPhyre Says:

    3 years since this post, and now it is the second place in Google Search when looking for “Making Comics in Linux”. Well, It seems to answer my question that InkScape is still the best Linux option for making comics…

    To bad, so much time and there is not already an alternative to make comics for linux users… As well as you, I have the general idea of how a software of this kind could work, but not enough knowledge to make so…

    Now, for the popular task of making though balloons, the quick way to do it is making an oval, then surround with with circular olvals and merge them as one. That would create a quick and easy though balloon ;)

    Thanks for your post! It was interesting and informative! =)