To Panel, or not to Panel?

Our most recent readings in class have led to me wonder about the structure of graphic novels and whether or not that structure even exists. I mean, compare these two pictures, one from What It Is, the other a Garfield comic strip.

What It Is
From What It Is
From Garfield
From Garfield

One is extremely structured and has a regulated, paneled structure, while the other is kind of all over the place. While the structure is definitely appreciated – especially in complex books like Watchmen, the playing around with paneling in graphic novels can “create a more immersive, fantastic world.”

If there’s anything our readings have taught us in class, it’s that paneling and the general structure of a graphic novel is completely up to the writer. The purpose of What It Is was to make us think and imagine. The structure of Watchmen and Contract with God was to tell a structured, planned out story – if the writers had just put pictures and snippets of writing everywhere, it wouldn’t have made sense.

There is also immense freedom within paneling. There isn’t one solid template to use for graphic novels – “a single page could contain only one distinctive, dramatic panel or it could be made of lots of small panels to help indicate the passage of time or to display multiple reactions to an event.” So, paneling then, depends on the purpose of the graphic novel. If it’s a simple comic, like Garfield, simply meant to make you laugh, you’re probably best of with a simple 6-square template. A more complex story can be told my obscure paneling that drags the reader’s eyes around the page. Or, you can completely get rid of paneling, like in What It Is and make it whatever you want. The purpose of the novel will determine what structure, if any, is needed.