As you can see I’m using pages 2 and 3. The reason for this is because those two pages are a Pagination Area ( remember that? ). The Pagination Area was used in our story layout to help provide scene changes and locations of our story sections. They will also be used together when laying out our panels. The reason for this is because we need to treat each Pagination Area as a small story. It will contain a beginning, middle, and end. In the old days of comic books each page was treated this way. But back then comic books were full of ads, and two page spreads were pretty rare until the 80‘s.
By treating each page as it’s own little story it was easier for the printers to add advertising without worrying about the reader getting confused. Each page contained enough information for the reader to stay on track. One artist who was best known for his one page panel layouts was Jack Kirby. However as comic books grew over the years, so did the page layouts.
That basic 6 panel layout might seem boring by today’s standards, but even if you do your entire comic book like this it’s still acceptable. It might not be flashy, but it’s still a good way to layout your pages and tell a story. Bone is one of my favorite comic books off all time and this basic layout occupies a majority of its pages. The reason I’m showing this layout is because it’s a good place to start before we get real fancy since we also have to know how a comic book is read and which direction it should flow for the reader.
As you can see the reader will start at the top left and zigzag from left to right until he/she reaches the end of the page. From there they continue on the next page from the top left making there way to the bottom. This is in just about every How To Book you can find, but I figure I should mention it here because it will effect how we lay out our panels. We still don’t have enough information to actually free ourselves from the basic 6 panel layout, but by understanding the flow of the pages we can use our angles and composition to keep the reader on the page.
Now we’ll begin the real work. By using our story layout process from earlier, we will use both the dialog and artwork to determine the size of each panel. Before we do that there is one handy little tool we can use to help us fill this Pagination Area up with panels. I found this little tidbit in How To Draw Manga Vol 3. It was neatly tucked away in-between all the previous information I just told you about paneling. They didn’t spend much time on it, nor did they have a name for it. They just knew that this was most important part of laying out the panels. I call it the Page Breaker.
The Page Breaker is the first panel the reader sees in every Pagination Area before any other panel when they turn the page. This is the one area of each Pagination Area that needs to be focused on the most. And logically, it is where you’ll start each area as well. Remember how I said back in the Story Layout that we started with the Climax and Ending first? Well we’re going to do something like that with each Pagination Area. And once you know where the Page Breaker is you’ll see what I mean.
The Page Breaker takes up the top half of every second page in each Pagination Area. Our One-Shot comic book will have a total of 7 of them. The reason the Page Breaker is somewhat important is because every time the reader flips the page, that area of the next two pages is the first area they’ll see. They don’t know it’s the first thing they’ll see, but it’s in the back of their mind. If our best panels and best artwork occupy those 7 areas in our One-Shot, we could leave a good impression on the reader. But if it’s phoned in art wise and not at all exciting they could bored.
Now the Page Breaker doesn’t have to be one huge panel taking up that area, it can be divided up in a series of panels that make up an action, or even take up 2/3rds or the entire page. The most important thing to remember is you want to get the reader’s subconscious attention when they turn the page, using that area of the page to do so. And we only have to do it 7 times in our 16 page One-Shot.
Since we’re going to be treating each Pagination Area as a small story, consider the Page Breaker as the Climax for that area. It will be the first thing we work on for each Pagination Area. Next we’ll work on the beginning and ending of that area. Just like we did with our story structure. We’ll be working around the whole Pagination Area first before filling in the detail.
With these 3 areas worked on first, we now have an outline of how to fill up the rest of it. Think of it as if you were drawing a person. The Beginning being the head of that person, the Page Breaker the body, and the Ending where the feet will end up. That’s what we’re doing, building an outline structure so we’ll have a properly proportioned Pagination Area.
Now that we got an idea of how this area will be laid out, we can start adding in the other panels. This is where we rely on our story to tell us how to make the rest of the panels. And it’s not as hard as it sounds. Before we fill in the rest of the area we have to remember a few simple rules. And trust me these aren’t hard to remember. Knowing them will help us determine not only what kind of panels to use, but how to lay them out. And in the end we’ll find ourselves breaking free of that basic 6 panel layout.
- Use small panels for conversations and action sequences.
- Use large panels for high points, not mundane ones.
- Use 20-25 words per word balloon, 30-35 per panel. Don’t repeat dialog.
- Don’t use the same Panel Design in two panels that are next to each other.
Those are the rules we’ll use. Not only to fill in the rest of our panels, but also for the Page Breaker, Beginning, and Ending panels as well. To get a better understanding on how we use those rules I’ll go into more detail about each one. First we have to know what I mean by large and small panels. Remember the picture that showed the basic 6 panel page layout? Each panel in that picture is an average sized panel. Anything smaller than that will be a small panel, anything larger will be a large panel. That will be our guide for determining the size of our panels.
Let’s start with small panels. Small panels are perfect for characters engaged in conversations or action sequences. In conversations we’ll keep in mind rule #3 to help us along the way. We don’t want to use too much dialog. For example if we have a panel that contains nearly 35 words of dialog, that will probably take up 2/3rds of the panel. That is a lot of words to cram into one panel, so when we’re doing our thumbnails and using dialog to dictate the artwork we’ll keep in mind the word limit to help us judge the composition we‘ll use for that panel. Otherwise we could end up with too many small panels full of word balloons. When a reader sees a wall of text ahead of them, they’ll probably close the book early ( I‘ve done this as well ) we don’t want that to happen.
An action sequence will be a series of small panels that lead up to a large panel for the high point. They can average in 2 to 3 panels in length and will have an animation like feeling to them. They can also be tapered starting from a small panel, to an average one for the second action, and ending with the conclusion of that action in a large panel.
Its one thing to consider when we thumbnail our One-Shot and decide to illustrate a big action sequence. If we made all the panels in an action sequence large, the end of the action won’t be as dramatic as the series of events that led up to it. That’s why it’s best to use small panels or a variety of sizes leaving the large panels for the final action. It gives the reader a kind of payoff that in the end will leave them satisfied.
That brings us to large panels. These should be used to illustrate high points in our story. Examples would be the result of a conversation, a scene change, a setting change, or the final result of an action. If we want we can start a page with a large panel to set the tone for the rest of the Pagination Area without adding any more large panels. Or we can end on a large panel to make everything that happened in that Pagination Area feel more dramatic on its conclusion. Either way large panels are there for us to create a certain mood or tension. They are used to reward the reader for reading a series of small panels, or give them a taste of something even more dramatic yet to come when they turn the page.
The word limit is actually pretty generous. I’ve tried, and filling 20-25 words per balloon is a challenge for me. Even more so with the panel limit of 30-35. The idea with that rule is to make sure we don’t exceed those limits making our pages look like a wall of text, something the reader doesn’t want. We need that balance of artwork and dialog to keep them interested in our One-Shot. And too much of either one of those could tune them out. So when we start working on our thumbnails we’ll keep that in mind so we’re not concentrating on one aspect more than the other. We want an equal balance of both dialog and artwork.
Panel Designs are the combination of a panel shot, panel angle, and panel composition. Just as we have to make sure we don’t repeat ourselves in the dialog part of our One-Shot, we also can’t repeat ourselves in the artwork. An example would be two panels next to each other that both use a close-up shot, a mid angle, and a traditional composition that has the subject taking up 2/3rds of the panel. To mix it up we only have to switch one thing. Say we still want it to be a close-up with a mid angle shot. We could just change the composition to having the subject take up 1/3rd of the panel then 2/3rd‘s in the next. Or use a Triangle composition instead. All we know is we don’t want to have identical looking panels sitting right next to each other.
Some artist can get away with this, but for an amateur who’s just starting out, it’s best to use variety between each panel to keep them from looking boring. It helps keep the reader interested and that’s what we want to accomplish. If all our panels had identical designs it will look like we didn’t put any effort into our One-Shot at all.
With these simple rules to go off of we’ll start seeing ourselves coming up with a variety of page designs, each one different from the other. The reason that happens is because we’re using our story to determine our art for our One-Shot. After a while we’ll see that every new project we start will look different from each other because of the difference in stories. Despite the fact we’ll use the same structure when laying out our 5 story sections for every One-Shot we make.
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.