02 February 2011

Stumbling Through Scott Pilgrim?

Back in July, Bryan Lee O’Malley posted one page from the third volume of his Scott Pilgrim epic on his website under the label “what not to do.” Specifically, what not to do in laying out panels and word balloons on a comics page.

As this counterexample from his fifth volume shows, a page can have a complex design but still provide the readers with a clear path from one panel and balloon to the next.

I think O’Malley was being too hard on himself in suggesting that the bottom of the earlier page doesn’t work. The balloon placement and characters’ eyelines strike me as setting out the proper visual path. Maybe the balloon over Wallace’s head could be a little lower so the reader’s eye doesn’t trip over it while moving down from the middle tier, but that’s it.

But the top half—what to do with the top? How to keep readers along the intended path (marked in red) and not following momentum and the direction of Wallace’s look to the big panel on the right, which should actually come last? This must be why most comics manuals recommend against trying to stack panels in a left-hand column alongside a tall panel on the right—though one can find plenty of successful examples of just that. Perhaps even some in Scott Pilgrim.


Glenn Ingersoll said...

I'm working my way thru Scott Pilgrim and enjoying it - LOVED the movie.

Whenever artists stack panels which we're supposed to work our way DOWN before we move left I typically get confused. Left to right is the way to go ... sometimes an artist will help out an unconventional arrangement with an arrow, for which I'm grateful.

J. L. Bell said...

Within hours after posting this, I spotted panels stacked on the left in J. H. Williams’s acclaimed Batwoman pages. I studied them closely to see the elements—gutter width, balloon placement, and so on—which make them less confusing than this page.

One important difference is that O’Malley’s first two panels set up a left-to-right movement that naturally leads on to the rightmost panel. So one rule is that once one sends readers in a particular direction, don’t jerk them around.

I’m more fond of the Scott Pilgrim comics than of the movie, but I enjoyed both.