Comics Class with Frank
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Welcome to CC’s weekend edition with yours truly, Frankie the Wop. This week I’m gonna walk you through my pickled brain. Below is something I wrote in my notebook. I’m obsessed with comic book layouts.
GIVING UP THE CENTER
I’m a big fan of the grid in comics. Meaning, I like to read comics that employ a fixed grid of some sort to sequence the panels. Grids in North American comics usually look like this:
Also, most grids in comics fluctuate – the panel size may be uniform for a page, but often not for a spread. Or one side will have uniform sized panels and the other page of the spread will be different. Alot of times an artist will go in and out of using it when it feels appropriate:
The most common fixed grid is the six panel per page grid. This grid is really suitable for North American-size comic books. NA comics are taller and thinner than Japanese manga, and European BD (Bande Dessine) which are more like a magazine proportion. In manga and BD – you see more horizontal grids without a center vertical line. In manga, I think this is due in some part to the vertical Japanese writing and providing space on the left and right of the image – so the movie screen size panels work better to accommodate the text. The balloons do not stay necessarily on the top of the panel like alot of English language comics. (I know I’m generalizing, just go with it).
In B.D. you see alot of symmetrical tiers but not panels. Think Tintin. Also, I think the mag format doesn’t lend itself so much to grids. It’s too wide. Eight panels per page looks better but often that’s too many panels. It’s overwhelming.
Essentially, the thinner North American format with a 6 panel grid is 2 squares in tension with each other. The top tier and the middle tier create a square of four panels. The bottom tier and the center tier create a square of four panels. The diagonal axis of the top and bottom squares are perfectly aligned with the horizontal and vertical axis of each square.
With the mag format (BD) the squares or panels are not even, so the stacking of 3 tiers with a center line creates tall rectangles and not squares. The effect is not as pleasing.
There are lot’s of variations – I’m generalizing for sure – but this is what I see – not so many fixed grids in BD and manga as in North American comics, and consequently most BD and manga do not give up the center as much as NA comics. The influence of manga in the last 20 years in NA comics is definitely changing the situation.
I employ the fixed grid often in my own work. but recently, I’ve been frustrated that using the fixed 6 panel grid takes away the center of the 6.75 x 10 inch NA comic book. I like the rhythm of the sequencing – but often, I dislike the fracturing of the page and the spread. I get around this by moving the readers eye about the page and spread by isolating certain panels and grouping others. It’s like a chess game. Pathways. The movement of a knight – the “L” shaped paths, two squares either forward, backward, left, or right and then left or right one square – is something I think about alot. Thinking ahead. Seeing the whole board at once. Simultaneity.
I’ve been painting single images for a month or so, and now, returning to the comics page, I find it kind of annoying. The center of a 6 panel grid is just a “II” of lines – a gutter – and I think “why should I give up that prime real estate”? In a single image the center is, of course, incredibly important. In the graphic design of any book, any newspaper – the center is of the utmost importance – it needs to be addressed somehow, some way.
And then I started noticing in a lot of comics that employ a grid, the center tier’s vertical line would be offset slightly.
I think a lot of cartoonists are consciously or unconsciously aware of “giving up the center” of the page and that’s where I often see a disruption of the fixed grid – this way of making it organic enough to accommodate a center focus. Often the center of the gridded page becomes a focus – an emblem of the page’s narrative – if the grid is adjusted because the cross-hairs of the grid lead the eye to the center.
NEXT WEEK: Chester Brown and Jack Kirby grids and how the center is just a (“II”) gutter of lines – and how the sequencing, the fracturing is key- it reads very differently than a page with a center focus. It’s like the flickering of a movie screen. No image takes precedence because there is no center focus of the page itself. The center is a gutter line, a boundary, not a resting place for the eye. If time can be measured by the shape of the panels then a fixed grid creates a sort of even film reel. The reader takes in the page all at once, I think, in a way that is more fluid than with “organic” layouts. There is a different rhythm. And it is tuned to the tension of the squares – the architecture of the page and format.
Also, next week (in theory) I’ll riff on 9 panel grids and Steve Ditko.