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Paneling, Pacing, and Layout in Comics and Manga #1 [Aug. 5th, 2006|04:09 pm]
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PANELING, PACING, & LAYOUT IN COMICS & MANGA #1 by Rivkah


Working on Steady Beat Volume 2, I started to seriously focus on how I pace my stories. After penciling the last four chapters, I even went back and reworked (almost redrew) the first two. There's a consistency now to the pacing that makes it feel much more natural than perhaps the previous volume did. To me, at least. We'll see what the fans have to say once it hits the shelves. ^_~

For me, the most important thing to keep in mind when working with pacing in your graphic novel is:

Variety.

Intentional, controlled variety.

There are many ways to control the pacing in your story. There's the writing itself. There's the art. And then there's the actual layout of the page. Think of it like an advertisement; you want the reader to look somewhere specific on the page first and then to intentionally lead their eye around the page for extra information. In the case of a comic page, you're leading the reader from art to dialog to art to dialog again at a pace that controls the feel and flow behind the story. People stutter when they talk. Characters have breaks in speech and uncomfortable silences. Sometimes we just want the eye to linger on a page to experience the intensity of a particular emotion. Other times we want the reader to move as quick and fast as possible in order to feel the character's urgency for speed or to feel the flow of frames as though the action were moving in real time.

When we look at a single panel:



We recognize this as a single instance in time. When we look at two panels:




We recognize that the first and second panels are a sequence in time, the first panel occurring before the first.

But what about time within the panel itself?



The illusion of time is created by the time it takes for the eye to travel across the page. Think of your page as a series of blocks of time like so:



The larger your panel:



The longer your eye will linger on that particular instance. The smaller your panel:



The shorter the moment will feel and the more quickly your reader will move on to other, more important panels.

So how do you know when to use larger and smaller panels? Well, let's take a few pages from Volume 2 of "Steady Beat"*:









Now that you've read that, let's take out the art and dialog and just leave in the panels:







What's the "beat" like? Where do your eyes linger? Where do they quickly pass? Maybe you'll notice that last page is a page all of the same panel size while the rest are of varying widths, heights, and even a variety of border vs. non-border. What's the logic behind it all?

The first page of this sequence also happens to be the first page of chapter four ("Beat 9"):



In this scene, the first panel is of Leah obviously in her room, busy at her desk. Note that it is also the largest panel on the page. Establishing shots should be the largest panel on the page. The setting sets the tone for the entire scene, relaying to the reader mood, location, and where they should expect the story to go. Also, making a point of establishing setting on the first page of a sequence of events makes it not so necessary to have to draw so many backgrounds in subsequent panels. There are times I leave out backgrounds entirely if I feel the need is for an emotionally heightened scene, but I don't do that without having an establishing shot first.

After the establishing shot, the scene moves on to show Leah apparently conducting an experiment on her cat, Schrödinger (physics fans should feel the love). However, before showing exactly what's going on, notice how there's a sort of "in-between" shot? You can see just a bit of what's going to happen next, but it doesn't give the full information away:



Japanese manga does this a lot. Little in-between moments that help spread out the pacing of the story. It's a transition from one moment to the next so that the pacing doesn't feel so jarring. Imagine walking into a room and suddenly being thrown into a conversation. That doesn't typically happen, though, does it? When we walk into a room of people, we take a good look at our surroundings, then we take an assessment of the situation, and THEN we join the conversation.

As these transition panels tend to be less important than the actual action or dialog in a scene, I make the panels smaller.

So, in order of most important panel (1) to least (3), here's how the page would look:



Starting to see a pattern here?

Any change in mood, theme, tone, or setting usually asks for more time, more dominance on the page, and therefore more space. If you take a look again at the sequence, try to pick out the major transitions or moments:



So then, what about borders? Why do some panels have borders while others bleed out onto the page? Well, there's two explanations for this:

Will Eisner set a precedent in his paneling by going with an "A, B, A, B" approach. A rhythmic variation from bordered panel to borderless and back again. It creates a sort of "beat" that helps maintain a constant interest in the storytelling. Like the bass beat in dance music. There's no tune necessary for the melody itself, but somehow . . . it keeps you tapping your feet and interested in the song. It's rhythmic and therefore unstoppable.

On the other hand, sometimes this approach doesn't quite work. What about something like the first page? If the last panel were open, it'd bleed into the first panel. And how do I know to start with an open panel rather than a closed one?

Well, again, like the concept of larger panels creating a longer sense of time and importance, the absence of a panel tacks on a little more time. Instead of traveling from panel border to panel border, The eye then travels across the ENTIRE page, lending a sense of timelessness . . .




. . . like a moment lingering in the air. This is wonderful for emotionally heightened moments (like that kissing scene you've been building up to or the moment Achilles is finally struck on the heel). Of course, there are lots of these little moments in normal scenes as well, and establishing shots are one of those.

So we take the two theories and adjust: Instead of thinking of the panels as "A,B,A,B", we think in blocks of panels. Here's how these pages would break down:



This is a technique utilized more in shonen manga than shoujo, but it's one I like nonetheless. It keeps that same steady beat in pacing without being overly complex.

Which brings us to last rule of sizing panels on a page. Try not to make all your panels the same size, whether it's a block of panels or individual. A page that looks like this:



Or even this:



Doesn't look nearly so appealing as this:



A little visual variety keeps the storytelling interesting. Remember that!



In tomorrow’s installment, we’re going to move on a bit and talk about layout. Or specifically, overall layout, including how to utilize balloon position with art in order to direct the reader’s eye at a specific pace and direction across the page.





*pages that don't actually give the plot of the book away, that is. ^_~

-----------------

And here's installment #2!
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: selphish
2006-08-05 09:46 pm (UTC)

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Wow! I know that good paneling really helps the pace of the story, but I didn't realize how much the size of the box itself affects time within the panel.

Thanks. Memory'd.
[User Picture]From: lnhammer
2006-08-05 09:56 pm (UTC)

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Intentional, controlled variety.

Something I'm learning how to incorporate into narrative poetry. Especially helpful when your borders are FIXED to be the same size, with regular meter or stanzas.

---L.
[User Picture]From: christymarx
2006-08-05 09:57 pm (UTC)

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Excellent stuff, both the theory and the art. ;)

There is an exception to the rule of panel variation: The Watchmen. Of course, without the strength of Alan Moore's writing, it could have been a disaster.
[User Picture]From: goraina
2006-08-05 10:36 pm (UTC)

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scott mccloud would approve!

this book is looking SMASHING, by the way. :)
[User Picture]From: smccloud
2006-08-08 07:36 pm (UTC)

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Scott McCloud *does* approve. ^__^

Great observations, Rivkah!
[User Picture]From: lilrivkah
2006-08-08 09:47 pm (UTC)

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O_O
[User Picture]From: janni
2006-08-05 10:47 pm (UTC)

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Fascinating stuff--thank you!
[User Picture]From: killsmanygopher
2006-08-05 11:09 pm (UTC)

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This is so amazing--I JUST came home from Borders frustrated that there are no books delving deeply enough into pacing and panel layout!!! How did you read my mind?!! >:D

I am preparing a submission for Tokyopop and just decided to re-do my manga pages because I like the layout less and less every time I look at them. So this is mui mui (I don't know...I don't speak Spanish...) appreciated.
[User Picture]From: sxyblkmn
2006-08-06 01:24 am (UTC)

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look forward to part 2 :)
[User Picture]From: honilee
2006-08-06 04:07 am (UTC)

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Wow! I've always looked at manga and thought, How do they plan ahead for their layouts?

This was informative and so easy to follow... Thank you so much for taking the time to type it up! (Out of curiousity, are you planning on making a book on drawing comics?

I am really looking forward to Vol. 2! Can't wait to get my hands on it!
[User Picture]From: tristantzara
2006-08-06 04:07 am (UTC)

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Awesome stuff, Rivkah...you should do a book all about this!

Also, have you studied Carl Barks's use of page design and how he used it to create meaning? I found a really interesting article in a magazine about it (if you're interested I can forward you the reference or copy it or whatever).
From: erickalikys
2008-07-13 10:48 am (UTC)

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If you’re interested in a specific field, publishing a news blog forces you to keep up with what other people are talking about.
[User Picture]From: melisayshello
2006-08-06 04:25 am (UTC)

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You should make a section about your brilliance with this in it.
[User Picture]From: melisayshello
2006-08-07 12:32 am (UTC)

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On your site that is.
[User Picture]From: teh_uglykitten
2006-08-06 05:47 am (UTC)

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You.

Are.

An.

ANGEL!!!!

You read my mind. O.O TOTALLY read my mind. I've been frustrated for DAYS trying to figure out how to get my panels into a good rhythm...this definitely helps a BUNCH. I should like...send you flowers or something. .__. You helpful, wonderful person, you!

Rivkah=Angel!
[User Picture]From: silver08
2006-08-06 11:10 pm (UTC)

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I wondered how it is that you and other manga creators decide on the page layouts. Its one of the things that I like about manga that the American "Funnies" don't have. Thanks for the "inside look" on it. I'm looking forward to tommorows installment.
From: hasakiw
2006-08-07 03:05 pm (UTC)

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wow, very informative. Good show!
From: ranrata
2006-08-07 08:57 pm (UTC)

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Wow. I'm going to have to look at my thumbnails and check the "beat" to them now. (And this is a perfect time to go look through some manga!)
[User Picture]From: dernjg
2006-08-08 08:23 pm (UTC)

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Dominant art is always a good thing. I learned this from my days as a copy editor for newspapers.
Basically, you want one image with twice as much weight as anything else on the page. For comics, I don't recommend it on every page, but at least on quite a few of them.
The dominant art formula that I always use to determine the weight of an image is (No. of columns) x (depth in inches). For a standard comic page, go with five columns. Lop off a column for the traditional manga format.
[User Picture]From: absurdhero
2006-08-09 08:34 pm (UTC)

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Pretty cool information. Since I do a webcomic, I try to provide more or less self-contained pages every day, so I'm often stuck with the basic 4-equal-sized-panels, but these techniques will be useful when I move on to upcoming projects.
[User Picture]From: crazyrey
2006-08-10 08:53 pm (UTC)

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This is an awesome post!
From: (Anonymous)
2006-08-13 06:07 pm (UTC)

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I really liked your take on pacing.

I wonder what you think of the idea that the amount of detail in each picture also effects how a quickly page will be read by the viewer. A panel with more detail should take longer to process than a simpler panel.

Best Regards,
CEL
From: (Anonymous)
2007-01-29 04:14 pm (UTC)

Thank you for those hints

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I've been working on my manga for a while and i always noticed that when i read it i wouldn't focus on the important parts like i wanted my readers to, but now i know why... thanks
From: (Anonymous)
2007-02-05 12:00 pm (UTC)

hey thanks

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thank you. your tips in paneling helped me a lot thanks ^___^
From: markcrilley
2007-02-08 11:09 am (UTC)

Paneling, Pacing, and Layout

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Hi Rivkah,

Scott McCloud pointed out your wonderful essay to me and I just wanted to stop by and thank you for it. So incredibly useful and insightful! As it happens I've got something that amounts to a drop in the bucket by comparison at my website, but I thought you might enjoy taking a peek:

http://www.markcrilley.com/

It's called 'Battle of the Layouts' and is (for the moment) at the top of the page.

Thanks again, Rivkeh, I really enjoyed reading your piece!

Best wishes,

Mark
From: nativedance
2007-02-21 01:34 am (UTC)

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This is a very useful post! Will definitely bookmark it for references when I draw manga!
[User Picture]From: akuwa_neko
2007-05-03 04:48 am (UTC)

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Oh thank you for this. I have read Scott McCloud's books of course, but I don't own them, I borrow them. This I can always look back on. :D
[User Picture]From: unicornlane
2007-11-05 05:53 pm (UTC)

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Lol I've read "Making Comics" by Scott McCloud atleast 3 times. All of my Sequential professors have it on the text book list >.<

Great page though, helps a lot! I've always been pretty unimaginative with panels.
From: amono
2008-01-04 07:03 pm (UTC)

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There are a lot of amazing tips in here ^_^, this and FARP on elfwood.com are the best look on layouts I have seen so far and Dan Head's short videos on graphic novels (expertvillage.com) are cool too. Thanks for posting Rivkah, I will have to check out your manga.
[User Picture]From: lim
2008-01-30 11:35 am (UTC)

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Awesome post.
[User Picture]From: el_corbinism
2008-02-08 06:55 pm (UTC)

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I googled "comic panel layout" while looking for some help with a class project, and yours was the first that came up! I love the physics reference and the way you've outlined using spacing and panels. It's a huge help! Thanks a lot :)
[User Picture]From: reebear
2008-04-11 09:52 pm (UTC)

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Thanks! Great tutorial!
From: (Anonymous)
2008-07-12 05:58 pm (UTC)

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Wow. This is really helpful. I'm just trying to start my first manga, so stuff like this is really helpful. Thank-you for posting this!
From: (Anonymous)
2008-08-10 01:23 am (UTC)

You're amazing!

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I've been trying to examine and study paneling through re-reading comics and such, and now I come here and it blew everything I thought I learned away.
No words can describe how helpful you are. You put things into clear and precise instruction (in which I thought was not possible). You're very helpful.
But in summary, You Rock!!
From: (Anonymous)
2008-08-14 12:59 am (UTC)

o.O

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this was very helpful:) thanks for posting such a detailed tutorial:)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-10-22 10:53 pm (UTC)

Awesome

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Great stuff! Another element you may want to consider is which way your reader is reading-- left to right, right to left, etc. and work the action that way into your panels. Meaning, if there is a chase sequence and someone is running, for an english speaking audience, you will probably want the person running from left to right, seeing as that's the way your eye naturally moves and reads the page. This way, the action of the person running is not stilted and the flow/action moves freely. The reverse applies for 'stopping' action or slowing down the reading.
This can also be applied to the vertical dimensions of the page.
Someone recently pointed this out to me and, though people have a natural inclination to lay things out in this way, it's been very helpful to do this purposefully and with a critical eye.
look to Herge (creator of Tin Tin)--> he's wonderful with this.
From: (Anonymous)
2009-01-06 04:27 am (UTC)

wow thanks i need it to create my own

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sweet thanks it helps bcus paneling is such a pain in making the comic book
[User Picture]From: pingback_bot
2010-09-23 10:56 pm (UTC)

Layout Question?

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User tatsumi_senpai referenced to your post from Layout Question? saying: [...] one if Island Enchantment. Using the advice from ~ http://lilrivkah.livejournal.com/168859.html [...]
[User Picture]From: pingback_bot
2010-09-26 04:57 pm (UTC)

Layout Question Redone?

(Link)

User tatsumi_senpai referenced to your post from Layout Question Redone? saying: [...] one if Island Enchantment. Using the advice from ~ http://lilrivkah.livejournal.com/168859.html [...]
[User Picture]From: Simonjfletcher
2011-03-22 01:21 am (UTC)

wow this is helpful

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Really, thanks for taking the time to post up these articles, they are really helpful, and interesting. Also (taken from the comments) the idea of comics in a rhythm of poetry abbabbc for eg, is something that never crossed my mind, it could be interesting to experiment with
[User Picture]From: reno_delirium
2011-04-26 04:27 am (UTC)

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Thanks for taking the time to do all this. It's best tutorial I've found *puts in memories* =D