Page layout is a huge aspect of the art of comics, yet the nuances that make it work tend to go unnoticed. Like lettering, fluidity is part of the job. But between panel size, shape, placement, and perhaps the lack of borders all together, choosing how you want your page to look at the end of the day can be a daunting task. Luckily there are a few tried and true techniques and goals fellow bloggers and websites have pointed out that can give us insight into this unique art.
Ultimately the most important goal in constructing the layout of a page is to communicate a sequence of events/visual aesthetics as clearly as possible. The creative potential of a comic artist is limitless, but without communication as the number one priority, any artistic vision she may have runs the risk of being lost to the audience.
This idrawdigital tutorial points out a key goal in creating one’s page layout: leading the reader’s eye. The comic should most often produce a seamless flow from character to text and from panel to panel, left to right and up to down.
To accomplish this it’s important to be conscious of three things: the grid, creating a point of focus, and lines of sight/backgrounds/characters. The tutorial goes into explaining the most popular grids, the 3×3 and 3×2 and such, but I think it’s also important to note how easy it is to accidentally mix up the reader and create a grid without a clear and logical progression.
The idea behind the proper placement of points of focus can be better explained as allowing the composition of a particular panel to compliment those of the surrounding panels and not counteract the balance and flow of the page. Each panel will have a focal point from its overall composition, and it should lie in such a way that it encourages proper eye movement. The same could be said of lines of sight/backgrounds/characters; the composition of the panel, the characters’ positions, their line of sight, and their speech bubbles all influence where the read subconsciously directs her eyes.
The panel itself is simply a tool used as a means to better communicate to the reader. Granted it’s been around a while and has certainly proven to be the easiest and most reliable choice, but it is by no means the only choice. Rivkah offers an interesting perspective on what effects an absent panel border might have on a comic. First, by quoting Will Eisner, she describes how the variation between having and not having a panel border can create a rhythm that keeps the reader interested and gives the story momentum. Secondly, if one is to go with the idea that larger panels demand more attention from the reader and therefor create a longer sense of time and greater sense of significance, then a shot completely open stretching from one side of the page to the other can create a sense of timelessness. This can lend itself well to pivotal points in the story, establishing shots, scenes where emotions run high, or even at just the right time in a normal scene. As she plainly and clearly puts it, “Any change in mood, theme, tone, or setting usually asks for more time, more dominance on the page, and therefore more space.”
And just for kicks and gigs I thought I’d include a link to ADVANCED layout techniques. After learning about the ridiculous complexity behind page designing, the stuff that these guys do is just incredible. A Lesson Learned was particularly good, a gem of a find.