20 November 2011

Eleven Nightwings in One Panel

Earlier this month Miguel Rosa at Comics Without Frontiers set himself to “find a panel that shows a character doing multiple actions.”

This was because Devin Grayson had advised novice comics scripters to be sure they ask artists to depict only one action per panel, something she had to learn early on. In that respect, comics panels are not like shots in a movie.

Rosa found two examples of multiple-action panels from Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Yet another appears in this month’s Nightwing, drawn by Eddy Barrows:

There are also plenty of examples in the Flash comics: a speedster moves so fast that he or she appears in several places at once (yet another form of “showing the invisible”). But the relative rarity of such panels supports Devin Grayson’s point, that generally comics scripts need to specify one moment per image.

Artists pull out the technique of showing one person several times in one big panel to portray that character’s exceptional speed (as with the Flashes) or exceptional grace (as with Nightwing and Daredevil). Those images achieve their power because they’re unusual, and break the expected rules.

Furthermore, those panels almost always show only the main character doing multiple actions, and that character has a single goal and mood throughout. It would be much harder for one image to comprehensibly show two characters reacting to each other multiple times, or changing goals or emotions as they move.

Occasionally artists use the technique symbolically, as in the lower example showing how Dick Grayson grew up. This particular image demands that readers already know that history, however.

To make such panels easier to interpret, as Rosa’s examples and the picture above show, colorists usually render most of the figures in lighter shades. Motion lines can also guide our eyes from one figure to another in the proper order.

(The larger point of Rosa’s post is about how motion lines are vanishing from recent American superhero comics, along with other “show the invisible” techniques. He complains that pencilers are acting as “nothing more than glorified illustrators” rather than using the form’s full potential.)

6 comments:

icon-uk said...

Yeah, I think it depends entirely on the "multiple actions" being shown being like a strobe light shone on one over-arching action. Dick moving from roof to ground really is one action, if it were Dick orders coffee and rearranges his sock drawer, it wouldn't have the same... "oomph!"

collectededitions said...

Scott McDaniel is another example of an artist who shows multiple movements in one panel/page -- I'm picturing his Nightwing and Batman work specifically.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, here’s yet another example of Nightwings bouncing across rooftops from Scott McDaniel. In this image he used size rather than coloring to make clear which is the “main” Nightwing, and there’s an obvious left-to-right, background-to-foreground movement.

Cameron Stewart provided another variation in Batman and Robin. Interestingly, he converted a single panel with multiple Dick Graysons as Batman into a series of five panels with six Batmen. The one panel with two Batmen also broke the pattern of movement: suddenly Dick was smaller, and further back, than in the preceding panel, and the bigger Batman was the later one. I didn’t find that as clear as his original sketch.

J. L. Bell said...

One character who might appear in the same panel doing multiple, unrelated things is Impulse, since he’s (a) a speedster, and (b) short of attention span. But that’s just another exception that shows the value of the general rule.

Miguel Rosa said...

Hello, thanks for bringing up my article on your blog!

I'd just like to comment on some things you wrote:

"But the relative rarity of such panels supports Devin Grayson’s point, that generally comics scripts need to specify one moment per image."

Well, of course I can't show thousands of examples, because it'd clog the page, but I disagree they're rare. Anyone who has - as I have - grown up reading comics from the '70s and '80s and '90s won't have any trouble thinking of thousands upon thousands of such examples from varied series, from Master of Kung Fu to Uncanny X-Men to Power Pack. This was very common in the past, and my point is that they're becoming rare nowadays.

"Furthermore, those panels almost always show only the main character doing multiple actions, and that character has a single goal and mood throughout."

I agree. However, I was replying to Grayson's panel description that got her in trouble, which I quote here:

'Batman whirls around and plants a firm side kick into Mook 1, knocking him several feet back.´

And this is in fact three actions moving towards the same goal. So now disagreements there.

"It would be much harder for one image to comprehensibly show two characters reacting to each other multiple times, or changing goals or emotions as they move."

Until a few days ago, I would have agreed this was impossible, but then I discovered the '70s Shakespeare adaptations by the Italian artist Gianni de Luca, and now I must disagree too:

http://img189.imageshack.us/img189/5374/romegiur2.jpg

http://img811.imageshack.us/img811/4755/001giulietta.jpg

http://img41.imageshack.us/img41/3315/lucagiannidehamlet.jpg

http://img267.imageshack.us/img267/8826/88621334.jpg

Well, they're in Italian, but I think you can get the point from the images alone; these are several characters reacting to each other and changing emotions as they move, in panel-less pages.

What do you think?

Once again, thanks for promoting my blog.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for sharing the De Luca pages! I respond at more length in this post.

I agree that the multiple-figure panel is an established technique, still in use, but I think it usually gets its power from breaking the general rule Devin Grayson passed on to novice writers.

Would Grayson’s example of “Batman whirls around and plants a firm side kick into Mook 1, knocking him several feet back,” communicate to an artist to draw three Batmans and two mooks? I don’t think it would be clear that that’s what this scripter has in mind. And Grayson didn’t have that mind.

I could picture such a multiple-figure panel (as long as a full tier is possible), but I’d much prefer a scripter to write something like, “You remember those old Daredevil panels when he's bouncing around the Hulk? Let's try that with Batman whirling around and…”