- We had a great question on the board about how to visualize
a page to the best advantage of the story. (Thanks, Ted!) How many panels, what
arrangement of panels, when's a good time for a splash or how do you decide to go for a
double page spread and like that.
- It all depends on what you're setting out to accomplish and
who you're working with. There's some basic page layouts that never fail and then there's
Scott McDaniel who breaks all the rules and makes it work.
YOU HAVE TO VISUALIZE THE PAGE IN YOUR HEAD.
Make a sketch using blocks if it helps. Then you have to decide what it is you want the
page to put forward. Is it a dialogue heavy page? Is there a lot of action? The more
panels per page the more you have to be aware of your wordiness. You're restricting the
panel size on your penciler and thereby trading a lot of room that would be for art in
exchange for word balloons. More panels also mean more panel gutters and they eat up space
as well. So if it's just a back and forth exchange and you've already established your
setting on the previous page then you can have the characters yak their brains out so long
as you don't require much more action than walking down a street. If you finesse this
right you can go to six panels and it won't seem cramped. You can go to eight or nine if
your penciler is very strong on panel composition as Dave Gibbons was on Watchman.
- But keep in mind the balance between words and pictures.
See the page in your head. If you know the artist then you can visualize it easier. But
don't expect the page to come out in the end as you saw it in your head. The artist will
put his own spin on it. But at least you've considered the task ahead of him and given him
a firm guideline as to what you're going for.
- IF THERE'S MORE ACTION THEN YOU NEED LESS PANELS.
And less words! If it's a chase or a rooftop battle you need to give your penciler
room to move and show locations and perspective and spatial relationships and all that
stuff that's so EASY to write and so damn hard to draw. You want to leave a lot of this to
the artist so he can make it flow easier. You can suggest what you see as a big panel and
that gets across the emphasis you want. Or a big panel can simply give you a really cool
intro shot of a new villain or popular guest star or like that. I mean, if Catwoman or
Galactus drop by surprise you wanna get them as much exposure as you can in their first
shot. That brings us to---
TO SPLASH OT NOT TO SPLASH?
Splash pages are for special occasions.
That big surprise ending cliffhanger where the last person in the universe you'd expect to
show up does indeed show up.
When some big guest star or villain is making his first appearance in a long time.
You have a complex setting that will take a splash page to put across.
You have an artist who does a damn fine splash page and why the hell not? And wouldn't a
big money shot of the Black Canary and Batgirl wrestling look great matted and framed over
DON'T just throw away a splash on something unworthy. A number of years ago, in a comic
which shall remain nameless, I saw a splash page of two people carrying a sofa up a flight
of stairs. Now, while this character moving into new digs may have been of deadly serious
importance to the story it made for a lousy splash page.
DOUBLE PAGE SPREADS
I love the big spread if it's in the right hands. Especially to open an issue. Some guys
eat 'em up and some guys should never go near them. A 2-pager takes a really ballsy artist
to make work. Other guys work better small.
But you'd better have some REAL strong visuals or these things go flop!
Another reason to do splashes and spreads is that they jump out at the guy leafing through
your book at the Ol' Comic Shoppe while he's trying to decide whether or not to buy your
LOTSA TINY PANELS
You can do action in lots of small panels as well. But there has to be a different
emphasis to make that work. Rising tension is one.
Let's say Barbara Gordon comes home after shopping and wheels through the living room. We
see a sinister shadow on the wall and know that she's not alone. We cut to her putting the
yogurt and Bud Lite away in the fridge. We cut back to a sinister figure looming down the
hallway. She's making a sandwich. The figure is nearing the kitchen doorway. She's
spreading the mayo and we see something behind her looming nearer. She turns to look over
her shoulder in a tight shot with an alarmed expression as a gloved hand reaches for her
from the extreme foreground. That's your page turn panel and you're out.
The IMPORTANT thing on a page like I just described is that the panels have to all be
the same size. If they're all different sizes it won't work. Why? Cause you've set up
a pattern that's easiest to follow and drawn to the reader into what's INSIDE each panel
rather than looking at the page as a whole. This is the equivalent of the quick-cut in a
Oh, who's sneaking up behind Babs? It's Denny O'Neil telling her to lay off the
mayonnaise. "That crap'll KILL ya!"
WHEN ARE ALL BETS OFF?
When Joe Kubert or Johnny Romita Jr come to town. You don't wanna tell those guys how to
lay your work out 'cause they'll always have a better idea than you will.
WHAT IF THE #$%&IN' ARTIST DOESN'T FOLLOW MY LAYOUTS?
It's a collaborative medium.
Encourage the guys who work with you to call you if they have major changes. If you're
working with a master like Graham Nolan or Rodolfo Damaggio or Dick Giordano and they make
changes then those are probably for the best. These guys spend a lot more time on each
page than you ever will (unless you're the slowest writer on the planet!). Graham will
spend an entire DAY on a page that took me a half hour to write. If he sees a way to make
it work better then God bless him and keep him. If your penciler makes you look like a
genius than who are you to complain?