This is the next step we need to learn before we do our thumbnails. Now there’s a lot of information on the web about paneling comic books. And most of it is amateurish nonsense by people who have no idea what they‘re talking about. There is such a thing as “ too much information”. Simply throwing out so much information for people can have a negative effect by making any creator a Nervous Nelly. I’ve read a lot of tutorials and How To Books on the subject. But I also did another thing, I’ve read a lot of comic books in my time. My conclusion is this, paneling is as simple and complex as we make it out to be.
To understand how to properly panel our pages we need to learn the history of paneling. For decades the standard 6 even squares on both pages was the standard. In fact it’s still used today. I know many of us might find that boring, but consider this. The layout of the panels isn’t nearly as important as what we put in them.
I mentioned earlier that one of our goals is to make sure we get the reader to read our entire book. Having a simple panel layout will help us achieve that goal. If we go too complex with angled panel borders, characters jumping out of panels, and bleeding off the pages we run the risk of making it look too busy. Even if we have less than 8 panels per page.
As with any medium, whatever is popular is emulated at that time. I consider extreme panel layouts to the shaky-cam technique used in movies and TV shows of the last 5 years. Much like how lens-flares were all the rage back in the 90’s. Those extreme panel layouts that litter comic books and manga today, they’re a fad. At the heart of any project we start we need to keep the readers attention. The more simple we keep our story and panel layouts, the better our odds are that people will read the whole thing. But that doesn’t mean we have to tone it down.
There are simple techniques we can use to ensure that every panel is just as exciting as the most extreme panel layouts we see in today‘s comics, yet modest enough to keep the reader clued in on what’s happening. Just like with our story structure we’ll have several simple guides in place to help us along the way. The overall goal here is balance. On one hand we want our panels to look exciting, but we also don’t want them to be too confusing. By learning the basics of what makes the panels work together, and what all goes inside them, we can carefully layout our panels that will help direct reader.
So let us begin.
The 5 Panel Shots, yup, Only 5
You’ve probably been frustrated with paneling in the past. So much so that you’ve downloaded preset pages, read countless books on the subject, or even read some tutorial that throws in so much information that you end up lost. I’ve found the best way to tackle paneling is to dissect the process of what makes up the panels. Once you know the basics, you can go on to bigger and extreme things later on. But for now, let’s just focus on the minimum that we need to know. The first thing we need to know is there are only 5 different panel shots.
These are the 5 shots that will help us fill out our pages. Each shot has a specific purpose, or job to them. Knowing those jobs will allow us to layout out thumbnails much easier. Before we begin let’s get one thing straight, all these panel shots can be any size we want them to be. The size of the panel has nothing to do with the shot it uses. We’ll determine the size of our panels by using our story, but we’ll touch on that later. Right now let’s get a better understanding of the 5 Panel Shots.
We’ll start with the Close-up. The Close-up is used to express a character’s emotions or for key points of interest related to the story. The contents of it must fall in those two category’s. For instance a character could have just finished up a conversation with another character and begins crying. The Close-up can be used to show their tears. A key point of interest could be an action or an action performed on an object. Such as a shot of an object that’s critical to the story, or an action a character is performing such as shaking another character’s hand.
The Bust shot is of a character from the chest up. This is the most common panel shot we’ll use when we have characters engaged with both conversations and actions. It’s also a utility panel shot, which means it works as a great panel to use in-between others to create variety for the reader. This will be the panel shot we’ll probably use the most, especially in a dialog heavy story.
The Mid shot is mostly used to help the reader determine what the characters are doing, where they are, and even what time of day it is. This is mostly used at the beginning of scenes. In theory we could use one Mid Shot at the beginning of scene and not use another one until the next scene. That’s how powerful the Mid shot is. If done correctly, the reader will think the next 2 or three pages of Bust and Close-ups are still taking place in the same setting. That is, until we use another Mid shot to change locations or actions.
The Full shot contains a person or persons whole body. This is a great panel to use for action scenes. Especially at the end of an action scene. By having a panel with a characters entire body you can create the illusion of movement. It can also be used for dramatic purposes or to introduce a new character in our story. Full shots will help break the mold of the Mid, Bust, and Close-up shots and should be used sparingly to create tension or drama for the reader. When they see a Full shot, they know something is going down.
The Wide shot is a different version of the Mid shot. It does all the same things that the Mid shot does, only it specifies on the setting and time of day. You can still put characters in a Wide shot, but it’s mostly used when doing a story that contains different locations. The Wide shot is also used at the beginning of scenes, but can also be used to end scene. Thus transitioning to another Wide shot on the next scene. All panels are meant to help the reader get from page 1 to page 16, but proper use of the Wide shot will help make that even easier.
Now that we know the 5 Panel Shots, we need to understand how to use them. We need to provide variety for the reader so our panels don‘t all look a like. For that we go into Composition, and this is the probably the biggest key element to not only making panels, but creating a variety of them to keep the reader entertained. Even if we decide to go with the standard 6 panel layout.
This is an esential read. Also be sure to check out Scott's website to explore other ideas and exercises. Like the 24 hour comic.
Even if you prefer manga, this book is old school. It's full of the basics to get the ball rolling.
Even more old school. This is a must have book to learn how to create Sequential Art. Even the pros use this book.
There are a ton of How to Draw Manga Books, but this one is the complete package. It covers everything one will need to know to get started. Highly recommended.