25 August 2011

Blood, Toil, Sweat, and Tiers

Carol Burrell of Lerner Graphic Universe just offered a posting on comics page design that gave me cause to think:
  • “If we compare comics to prose, I like to think of a panel as a sentence.” Okay, that makes sense: a panel and a sentence are both discrete, complete units of a whole.
  • “A horizontal row of panels is called a tier. I like to think of the tier as a paragraph. Like a paragraph, it is a unifying element. The start a new paragraph is the start of new idea, it signals change. A new tier is also great opportunity to signal change.” In scripts I’ve been thinking in terms of pages; I don’t think I’ve gotten down to tiers. Burrell’s own SPQR Blues webcomic usually came in installments of a single tier each, suitable for assembling into pages, so it would be natural for her to approach those tiers as discrete and complete units, too.
  • “A big panel equals a big moment.” That’s basic, but can’t be repeated enough. Burrell offers some good visual examples (particularly from Scott McCloud) of how a big panel works alongside others.
  • “Creating a good page of comics, and then a good sequence of pages, is a bit like solving a puzzle.” I definitely agree with that.
In fact, envisioning a comics page seems more like doing a puzzle than telling stories in any other media I can think of. That’s because every few “sentences” and “paragraphs” have to fit together to fill a set amount of space—the page. They can’t take up less space than nearly the whole page; we feel cheated as readers if there’s too much blank. And panels can’t fill more than a page because paper doesn’t stretch. (Digital comics have more flexibility, of course.) So designing a comics page is like creating sentences and paragraphs and then playing Tetris with them.

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