Friday, June 1, 2012

Free Form Panel and Page Design for Comics and Graphic Novels

How to Become a Comic Strip, Comic Book and Graphic Novel Artist

Let's look at a few examples of how to make decisions for a free form designed page based on story, action, anchor image and time progression.

Making decisions based on story.
If you have a very quiet or character driven story, you may decide to use smaller and square panels to make the story feel more intimate.

A story with an epic scale may use larger panels and more horizontal panels to give a sense of grandeur and large vistas.

An action story may have a combination of small panels and large panels to contrast the pedestrian and active or dramatic moments.

© Chris Ware

A nice quiet page of normal events.

The Man who could fly by Will Eisner
© Will Eisner

The last page invokes sadness by designing the page to have the panels represent eyes that seem to be crying.

© Will Eisner

This page is designed to give the readers the sense of looking through the files with the character.

Making decisions based on action and psychological thrillers.
A few different options are available to you.
Use slanted panels where there is action and standard square and rectangles where there is not.
Design the panels to flow with the action.
May use vey haphazard and irregular panels to reflect the chaos or mental state of characters.

art by Joe Madureira
© Marvel Comics 

art by Alex Toth
© DC Comics

© Chris Ware

Awesome page design reflects the mental and emotional state of the character.

Making decisions based on anchor image.
The anchor image is the one image you decide to build your page around to hold it together.

That image can be an active single figure or a close-up. It can also be a dramatic moment and built around a scene.

art by Walt Simonson
© DC Comics

Here the anchor image is the structure. Excellent page design. The structure is designed to be seen first yet it moves your eye to each panel.

Making decisions based on time progression.
This one is the trickiest and where you can be very creative. 

So far I've kept content separate from the design. In this case the design decision to manage time can be altered by the content. As I pointed out earlier film and video are still frames projected at a rapid rate to give the illusion of movement. Panels and gutters are used to give the illusion of time passing. I'll get into this later when I start dealing with content. Page design and panel layout do not decide the content and meaning.

Let's say you decide to use 4 small square panels to condense time. The same 4 square panels can show either:

  • quick action
  • simultaneous events
  • stretch out an action
  • no temporal transitions - just a series of cuts to object of attention in the same scene.

The gutters can be widened or condensed to indicate time has passed at different rate between panels. Large gutter means more time has passed between panels. Smaller than normal gutter can indicate a shorter time passage between panels.

© Walt Simonson

Simultaneous events shown.

Now this would seem to be a good time to segue into content and it looks like I have set it up that way, but alas such is not the case.

I still have balloons, captions, sound effects, actions, expressions, symbols, glyphs, feelings and emotions to discuss.

Next… word balloons.

read next - Introduction to Speech Balloons
previous - Review Panels in Comics and Graphic Novels

Keep reading and follow me. If you have found this helpful, please let me know and share with other creators. Are the explanations clear and complete? Feel free to ask me questions.

Remember… Just Create!

If you are interested in further expanding your knowledge, then I recommend these books.

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copyright 2012 H. Simpson

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