Mar 05 2009

Experimental Panel Layouts

The typical comic book page is a grid of panels. That’s fine, but it can get boring. This article will help you play around with your panel layout. Your pages don’t all have to look like this.

SLANTED PANEL-EDGES

Fighting Evolution- HAUZER by *UdonCrew on deviantART

Slanting the panels usually makes the scene look more intense and chaotic.  For example, in the above page you can see that the panels are slanted only when the dinosaur attacks.

Here are a few possible situations that lend themselves well to slanted panels.

1. There’s a wild fight scene or action sequence.  For example, this page uses slanted panels on a chase sequence as well.

2.  The main character learns something startling or disturbing.  “I want a divorce!”  Slanting the edges on that panel will make it stand out in an appropriately jarring way.

3.  The main character of the panel is greatly disoriented.  For example, if he’s drunk, delirious, badly wounded, etc…

INSERT PANELS

Insert panels are panels that are set inside of other panels.  Here are a few reasons you might use an insert panel.

1.  It helps draw the reader’s attention to an important object or character that might otherwise be hard to notice.

2.  You want to bring in something closer than you could “accurately” depict it.  For example, in the above panel, the shot is zoomed in on a naked guy showering.  It’d look creepy if the journalist were actually two or three feet away from him.

3. To make characters look farther apart than they actually are.  The panel border can be used as a barrier between the characters.

4.  To draw the reader’s attention to artistic contrast.  For example, the colors and styles of the journalist and the showering guy above are very different.  Setting the journalist in his own panel helps remind readers that that isn’t accidental; the journalist is supposed to look warmer and more decent.

INSERTED OBJECTS BRIDGING PANELS

Here are a few reasons you might try bridging your panels.

1.  The scene is progressing very quickly, or more quickly than the action/dialogue would suggest.  This is one way of blurring one panel into the next.

2.  Bridging the panels can make them feel very crowded and uncomfortable.  That might be thematically useful if a character is confined or cornered.

3.  To center the reader’s attention.

4.  To create distance.

5.  To suggest a connection that might not otherwise be obvious.  For example, let’s imagine a scene where panel 1 shows a character holding a gun on someone.  The apparent victim asks him why he’s doing this.  Panel 2 shows the gunman shooting the victim.  The bridge might be a photograph of the gunman’s family (if he’s trying to protect them), a smiling shot of a criminal mastermind, an image that represents justice or revenge, etc.

UNUSUALLY TALL PANELS

(Art taken courtesy of Benny Fuentes; please see the original here).

Unusually tall panels are more noteworthy than wide panels because comic book pages are substantially taller than they are wide.

Here are a few reasons you might want to use an extra-tall shot.

1.  You want to emphasize that one character or object is higher or taller than another.  Above, we can see that the figure in black is substantially higher than the soldiers.

2.  To show us a narrow slice of something, usually for frightening or mysterious effect.  For example, you might have a character standing with something enormous looming behind him.  We probably won’t be able to see all of the sinister creature, but that just emphasizes how big he is.

3.  You want to draw the reader’s attention to something that’s narrow and tall, like a building.

63 responses so far

63 Responses to “Experimental Panel Layouts”

  1. Ragged Boyon 06 Mar 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Here’s another. The Bleed.

    It’s a panel in which a character or object is standing outside of the borders of the panel.

    Uses:

    1. To emphasize space or distance.

    2. To break the fourth wall if you wish.

    3. To suggest omnipresence of a particular character. Although they aren’t really there they are somewhere watching what is occuring.

    I love this list. Admittedly, I wasn’t very experimentatious with this first panel. I suspect I’ll take a few more risks with the next issue.

  2. Jacobon 06 Mar 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Ah, yeah. Here’s one example of that, RB.

    Ultimate Fantastic Four 59 p20 by *BlondTheColorist on deviantART

  3. B. Macon 06 Mar 2009 at 8:04 pm

    Good thinking, RB. I like that style. I was kind of past my preferred word-count on this article… I had a few other ideas as well.

    For example, in a typical grid, all of the space is used for panels. However, one alternative layout is to include vacuums of dead space between panels. You might do that to…

    1. Make a sparse scene feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable.

    2. Make it seem like more time is passing between panels. This is especially good for awkward pauses.

    Another strategy you can try is having each panel overlap the one before it. The main purpose is to make the sequence seem like it’s going faster.

  4. Stefan the Exploding Manon 07 Mar 2009 at 2:32 am

    Aha, I recognise those Ben Urich panels from Brian Michael Bendis’ first four issues on Daredevil. Excellent art there. This article got me really interested because I’ve been playing around with ideas for a comic book but I am clueless when it comes to techniques for panel layouts. Thanks for this!

  5. B. Macon 07 Mar 2009 at 6:25 am

    Yeah, as you can probably tell, I was reading Daredevil while I was writing this article. My other reference was our collection of comic book art on DeviantArt.

  6. Alice2on 08 Mar 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I was quite adventurous with panel layouts when I was 11. On old, unfinished comic sticks out in my mind. I had a page with a layout similar to this:

    Everything was sort of happening at once. I think the middle panel showed SpongeBob being brought back from the dead, and the corner panels showed everyone’s reactions. I thought it looked really cool back then, but now I think it looked a little clumsy and weird.

  7. B. Macon 09 Mar 2009 at 3:20 am

    I think that it’s interesting, but I’d recommend tweaking the layout so that we see Spongebob resurrecting before we see the reactions. Right now, I think the reaction in the upper-left corner is the first thing we see.

  8. Rustyon 19 May 2009 at 9:15 am

    I was wondering if any of you could help me. I have an idea for a comic, superhero of course, but I have no idea how to go about it. I’ve never done comics before.

  9. Ragged Boyon 19 May 2009 at 9:24 am

    Hola, Rusty. Nice to meet you.

    Personally, my story are usually character-driven, so I come up with a main character first. However, I don’t know if this a conventional way of going about starting a story. I suspect you would want to think of the types of stories that you like. Then, find a style best suited to your ability.

    I think many people have a spur of the moment idea and just roll with it. They have an idea, then they get an outline for a plot, create a setting, add characters and abilities, etc.

    Do you have any ideas in mind? That would really help me help you.

  10. Rustyon 19 May 2009 at 9:33 am

    Enchante.

    Well I have a main Character, The Watcher(a.k.a. The Dark Rider). The setting is New York City. I’ve got a plot for the first few segments and I know where I want the story to go. I’ve already come up with what I call templates for other characters, both main and sub, they’re already designed for the most part.

    I was originally going to do a novel with my idea, but realized that a comic might better suit my designs.

  11. Rustyon 19 May 2009 at 9:33 am

    Sorry, forgive my bad grammar in my last post.

  12. Holliequon 19 May 2009 at 9:34 am

    Hi, Rusty! As RB says, the best place to start is with your story and characters – like pretty much any writing undertaking, in fact.

    After that, you probably want to start with a comic book script. (RB’s review forum shows an example of one). Generally, you’d want to hire an artist (probably freelance) to illustrate it. I think that most comic publishers want at least 5 pages.

    It’s best to check out what individual companies want. Each one of them will want something slightly different.

  13. Rustyon 19 May 2009 at 9:44 am

    How much would you say it would cost, on average, to create a comic?

  14. Holliequon 19 May 2009 at 9:51 am

    Humm . . . for the 5 sample pages, I think maybe paid $200? I’m really not sure. It depends on the artist, I think.

    Dark Horse accept scripts without the sample pages, I think, but you’d have to have a very impressive script.

  15. Ragged Boyon 19 May 2009 at 11:02 am

    5 sample pages (plus the cover page) could range from $200-400, maybe $500, depending on the quality of the art and the artist. If you’re published the company pays for the rest of the comic’s production.

    “Well, I have a main character, The Watcher(a.k.a. The Dark Rider). The setting is New York City. I’ve got a plot for the first few segments and I know where I want the story to go. I’ve already come up with what I call templates for other characters, both main and sub, they’re already designed for the most part.”

    – How necessary is it for your protaganist to have two titles? I think one alias would be smoother.

    – How dead-set are you on setting your story in New York City. It’s a bit cliche for a superhero story. I’d recommend changing the setting for freshness or coming up with a fictional city based after NYC. For example, My San Libra City is closely based after Los Angeles.

    -What do you have in mind for the central story?

  16. Ragged Boyon 19 May 2009 at 11:05 am

    Dark Horse, Image, and a myriad of other companies accept scripts from first-time writers. It won’t be much a problem finding a company that you like. But as for now, I think your focus should be development. Then, you can move on to writing your script.

  17. B. Macon 19 May 2009 at 12:03 pm

    As RB noted, you would probably need 5 pages and possibly a cover to submit to publishers. I’d probably budget $300-500 (or $200-400 if you’re doing black-and-white). At that price-range, you can get art that is serviceable but probably not great. You probably could find someone on DeviantArt who would do it for $200, but anyone that charges so little is probably not very good.

    The other requirements vary a bit based on the publisher in question and what kind of comic book project you have in mind. If you’re doing a one-shot comic, then you just need the script for the comic and a brief synopsis. If you’re doing a limited series, you’d still need a complete script for the first issue but you’d also have to have a loose idea of the main plot points for the later issues. You’d include those in the synopsis.

  18. Rustyon 21 May 2009 at 7:29 am

    OK, thanks for the help.

    “How necessary is it for your protaganist to have two titles? I think one alias would be smoother.”

    It’s not really what he calls himself, it’s more of a given name from the public. I guess I could ditch the Dark Rider bit if it were necessary.

    Here are some basic reasons why he has two names:

    He’s called the Watcher because he’s, for the most part, always seen on rooftops watching the city. He’s also called the Dark Rider because, when patrolling the streets, he is riding a jet black motorcycle. His costume is also all black.

    “How dead-set are you on setting your story in New York City. It’s a bit cliche for a superhero story. I’d recommend changing the setting for freshness or coming up with a fictional city based after NYC. For example, My San Libra City is closely based after Los Angeles.”

    I was actually thinking of setting it in Los Angelos at one point. Perhaps if I combined the two into a fictional city?

  19. Ragged Boyon 21 May 2009 at 7:40 am

    I think the Watcher is better out of the two. Although, I’m not feeling either that much.

    What are his powers and mode of operation?

  20. Anonymouson 21 May 2009 at 9:11 am

    His powers are enhanced strength, speed, agility, endurance, durability, and senses(hearing, sight, smell etc.). He gained these powers from an experimental syrum he created.

    He only goes out in the night, during the day he spends time with his family and business associates. He prefers a cruder method of justice than the conventional heroes. Sometimes he works with a few other vigilantes, one at a time.

  21. Banana Slugon 21 May 2009 at 9:16 am

    “Perhaps if I combined the two into a fictional city?”
    I think that might be a good idea. Using real cities rarely suspends my disbelief, and after a while they stop offering much variety. Plus, I imagine it’s a little hard to reach readers from New York City when you’ve got so many bizarre events taking place in their own home.

  22. B. Macon 21 May 2009 at 9:25 am

    I think it’s hard to reach readers from New York City because there are so many books/comic books/TV shows already set in NYC. In contrast, if you set it in Chicago, you’re only competing with Savage Dragon and the Dresden Files. 😉

  23. Ragged Boyon 21 May 2009 at 9:28 am

    Chicago would be a pretty cool setting.

  24. Asayaon 21 May 2009 at 9:32 am

    Besides Chicago, what about Philadelphia or some city in Orlando? They’re both pretty populated places and given the crime rates lately, there would be a lot of crime to fight.

  25. B. Macon 21 May 2009 at 10:07 am

    I’m biased (given that I’m ridiculously Chicagoan), but I think that Chicago is the best of the three because it has an iconic skyline. That’s not the only consideration, but it matters to a comic book. Aside from Chicago and NYC, I think Seattle, DC, and maybe Las Vegas have particularly interesting cityscapes.

    There are also cultural considerations. I think that Miami, Las Vegas and southern California get a lot of screentime in TV shows not merely because it’s easier to film in a sunny climate but also because they feel fun and loose. No one takes vacations to Salt Lake City. Well, no one but me. 😉

  26. Ragged Boyon 21 May 2009 at 7:09 pm

    How about Anchorage, Alaska? There’s a city you don’t see often. 😉

  27. Ragged Boyon 21 May 2009 at 7:58 pm

    No one’s ever around when I am actually on. 🙁

  28. B. Macon 21 May 2009 at 8:53 pm

    Me too. I think the problem is that my internal clock is on Baghdad time. That would be much less strange if I were actually in Baghdad.

  29. Rustyon 26 May 2009 at 9:47 am

    What about New Haven City? Not New Haven, Connecticut.

    P.S. Anonymous was me btw, although I think you all got that.

  30. B. Macon 26 May 2009 at 9:49 am

    I’d recommend naming it just New Haven rather than New Haven City. Or, alternately, just Haven City.

    I’ve been to New Haven by the way. I don’t blame you for not wanting to use it. 🙂 (It’s Yale territory!)

  31. Rustyon 27 May 2009 at 7:52 am

    Well I was just going to shorten it to New Haven anyways so I guess dropping the City won’t matter. New Haven just has a better ring to it than Haven City.

    Lol, yeah. Not the kind of place I want to set my story.

    Well, if you don’t think the Watcher/the Dark Rider is a good enough name what are your suggestions? I should probably go more in depth with my character but I don’t have time right now.

  32. Ragged Boyon 27 May 2009 at 8:15 am

    I don’t think I know enough about the character to make a good suggestion for the name. All I know is that he’s sort of dark, rides a motorcycle, and watches the city. I’ll need a little more info.

  33. Tomon 27 May 2009 at 9:10 am

    Hence the names Dark Rider and Watcher… 😛

    How about Dark Watcher?
    Rider?
    Dark?
    Watching Rider?

    Okay I’m just messing around here.

  34. Ragged Boyon 27 May 2009 at 9:17 am

    I only knew that about him because of what you told me. What’s his personality and mode of operation?

  35. Ragged Boyon 27 May 2009 at 9:18 am

    I meant ‘he’ told me. I thought Tom was Rusty for a second.

  36. Rustyon 27 May 2009 at 9:46 am

    Yeah, like I said I didn’t have time right then to go in depth and explain his characteristics. I still don’t have that much time. I’ll have to get back to you later.

  37. Friendon 28 May 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Hi. I’m a friend of…Rusty I guess is the name he uses here. I was asked to talk about his character, but I don’t know exactly what you want or what he’s told you.

    Alex Harding, that’s The Watcher’s real name, is probably more violent than the average hero. He believes villains (mainly of the super kind) deserve to face his own brand of justice. While in his suit he’s kind of dark and brooding, keeping mostly to himself. He rarely excepts help, but on some occasions he requires the assistance of a few other heroes who work in the city. He uses some technology weapons and equipment, ones that the average person might think of as futuristic. (For example: his motorcycle has Artificial Intelligence, like Kitt.)

    Uh…I think that’s all I can remember from what he’s told me of him for the past couple months. If you ask me some more specific questions I can look at his notes and get back to you.

    Rusty’s dealing with personal stuff and won’t be able to talk for awhile, in case you were wondering.

  38. Ragged Boyon 28 May 2009 at 7:18 pm

    In my opinion, he sounds like Rorshach on a motorcycle. What’s Alex like out of costume?

  39. Tomon 29 May 2009 at 3:32 am

    You say that like it’s a bad thing. Rorschach=awesome. Motorcycles=awesome. Therefore Rorschach on a motorcycle=awesome SQUARED!

  40. Ragged Boyon 29 May 2009 at 6:30 am

    I hated Rorshach. He was a crybaby and a broody jerk. Motorcycles are pretty high up on the badass chart, but I don’t like them that much.

  41. B. Macon 29 May 2009 at 12:10 pm

    One of the things that struck me about Rorschach was that he was wildly conservative and that it’s not clear that the audience is supposed to dislike him for that. In fact, he and his newspaper friends are the only guys that do the right thing at the end, and Rorschach dies for it. He’s definitely unhinged, but it’s because he’s unhinged that he dies to do the right thing.

    Other than that, I found him forgettable. His voice (particularly the monologues) is terribly overwrought and the plot didn’t give him many chances to play investigator. In contrast, the Question got the chance to plant fake clues and do all sorts of other wacky-and-brilliant stuff on Justice League.

  42. Ragged Boyon 29 May 2009 at 12:29 pm

    “In fact, he and his newspaper friends are the only guys that do the right thing at the end, and Rorschach dies for it.”

    I guess telling the world would be the “right” thing in an ethical sense. But I definitely feel that it would not be the smart thing. I mean, Ozy did stop America and Russia from practically blowing each other off the map. Telling the world would probably reignite angers and lead to a nuclear holocaust.

  43. Friendon 03 Jun 2009 at 9:31 am

    Yeah, I told him it reminded me of Rorschach. His response was “who?”. I guess he had never heard of the Watchmen before.

    As far as I can tell Alex is a loving and caring family man. He doesn’t let his day work or his work as a hero affect his family life, at first. Eventually Rusty told me that he wants Alex to change for the worse, he becomes darker because of his hero work.

  44. B. Macon 03 Jun 2009 at 9:52 am

    They don’t have to tell the world, just kill Ozymandias.

  45. Baystreeton 10 Jun 2009 at 12:18 pm

    The thing that has always bothered me was that quite simply, the whole issue was created by Ozymandias, Blue Balls Manhattan was complacent, he was active, the issue with the Russians only truly became dire because Ozymandias’s machinations led to him abandoning humanity.

    Alan Moore’s masterpiece wasn’t anything revolutionary at all. The villain was a villain because of his massive ego, his plot was pointless because of his massive ego, and his end game was pointless because…of his massive ego.

    And in the movie, nipples.

    Nipples.

    Nipples.

    Ozycontin wanted to save the world from a problem that he created, like setting fire to the store room so you can get a promotion for putting it out. Dreiberg and company acted like idiots, like every superhero and they did the wrong thing by doing the right thing, just like Superman has since day one by putting Lex Luthor in prison instead of throwing him into the sun, or Batman and the Joker.

    The Watchmen is so well regarded because they had fetishes, and they had sex. Alan Moore didn’t tell a great or masterfully painted story, he just perved out Silver Age superheroes and the issues don’t go any deeper then that. It was new for it’s time because everyone else that came before had enough sense to think “Hmm, maybe Batman doesn’t need to suffer from erectile dysfunction.”

  46. Jamieon 11 Jun 2009 at 8:15 am

    Is Watchmen a graphic novel or a comic.

  47. Ragged Boyon 11 Jun 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Watchmen was originally released as a 12-issue comic series. Graphic novels are usually just compilations of the comics. Nowadays, we usually see it in the big graphic novel form with the yellow cover.

  48. Jamieon 13 Jun 2009 at 7:14 am

    K, thanks.

  49. Rustyon 04 Jul 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Okay. For a superhero team what do you think of the name; ‘The Supers’? I had my eyes set on ‘The Ultimates’ but then I found out it was taken by Marvel.

  50. B. Macon 05 Jul 2009 at 1:51 am

    From a legal perspective, it might be problematic that The Incredibles already used The Supers. However, I’d be more concerned that “The Supers” sounds generic and a bit forgettable. It might help to work in some defining trait about the team.

  51. Rustyon 05 Jul 2009 at 6:27 am

    Never heard of the Incredibles before.

    Also, do you think that me using the term ‘Mutants’ to describe humans that undergo genetic changes to obtain their power would be too similar to the ‘X-Men’?

  52. B. Macon 05 Jul 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Hmm. I think it might help to come up with a unique name in place of mutants. It’s a generic-enough word that you could use it without getting sued, I think, but X-Men is popular enough that it sort of has the mutant angle locked up.

  53. Bretton 05 Jul 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Mutants is a bit generic. I would suggest:

    -Genemorphs
    -Abnormals
    -NextGens
    or something like that

  54. Rustyon 08 Jul 2009 at 12:34 pm

    How about for the team name “Guardian Force”?

  55. Bretton 08 Jul 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Guardian Force has been done.

    More than once, actually.

  56. Rustyon 08 Jul 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Yes, but not for a team of superhumans.

  57. B. Macon 08 Jul 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I’d recommend leaving Guardian Force alone because there’s a good chance of confusion.

  58. Rustyon 08 Jul 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I liked Guardian Force and I’m not sure yet if I feel comfortable letting it go without an alternative.

  59. RICKY RAGon 23 Dec 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Man, it’s hard doing panels.

  60. XNSon 26 Jul 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Has a comic book used a fold-out splash page before?

    And what do you think of the title ‘Fallen’?

  61. B. Macon 26 Jul 2011 at 6:30 pm

    “Has a comic book used a fold-out splash page before?” All-Star Batman and Robin did and I’d recommend checking out The Ultimates’ Grand Theft America. I’m not sure on the logistics there but I imagine it would drive up the printing costs, so it might be easier to hold off on that until you’ve already been published.



    The visual content generally has to be pretty spectacular to justify spending 2 pages on a double-splash, let alone more than 2.



    I don’t feel like Fallen is as memorable as it could be. Could you describe your series in a few sentences?

  62. XNSon 27 Jul 2011 at 6:57 am

    The descendants of the Fallen find themselves the unwitting inheritors of a powerful legacy, one that could help end the war that they now find themselves apart of. The question they now find themselves asking is will they be able to cope with being the containers their ancestors’ legacy and being the future leaders of their respective home planets? Or will their power corrupt?

  63. Samon 16 Aug 2012 at 6:36 pm

    “Has a comic book used a fold-out splash page before?”

    I saw it in Astonishing Spiderman and Wolverine.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply