Page Composition

Comic Book Paper - You pick the number of panels in your page and it provides a whole bunch sample page layouts. Really, really cool.

Advanced Layouts: Paneling Outside the Box - Aaron Diaz

Panel Layout: The Golden Ratio - Making Comics

Your first focus when designing a page should be it’s composition: how the panels fit together on the page. One of the best and most efficient methods of doing so is through what we call thumbnails.

For many artists, thumbnails are an essential first step to the drawing process. By very quickly sketching out a page, an artist can determine the key aspects of the page as well as the elements that do and don’t work. The rough nature of them also allows the artist to go through a bunch of designs in a short period of time.

It’s important to remember that thumbnails are experimental in nature. They are most definitely not meant to be perfect and so you should expect to be throwing out a lot of your designs as you go along. Do yourself a favour and don’t spend an hour filling in all the details of your thumbnails. Save that hard work for the penciling stage.

Here are some tips to make sure your page layout is fully optimized:

  • Make sure your panels have a natural reading order. People read in “Z” order (left to right, top to bottom). If you disrupt that order without properly guiding the reader you risk throwing off the flow of your page. Here’s the result of an actual study to reflect this point.

  • Use smaller gutters in between panels that are read together. This picture expresses the point well (though it could be argued it goes a bit too far). Larger gutters are used to split up the page into sections. This is so the reader doesn’t accidently move to the next tier before reading all the panels.

  • Unless you’re going for a specific effect, or are pairing panels like the previous point states, keep your gutters the same size throughout your pages. This just makes it easier for the reader to get through your pages and know what panel comes next.

  • Consider the rhythmic flow of your panels.

By keeping paired panels in the same tier, we maintain a steady rhythm between them. By splitting them into their own tiers, we allow for a beat/pause in the flow. This point is key for comedy. It’s why almost all gag comic that you see in newspapers are a single row. Unfortunately there isn’t a golden rule whether or not to allow that pause in the flow so you’re going to have to decide which option works best for you. Here’s a video that covers this point.

  • Use large panels to slow the reader down.

Big panels take longer to read because there’s more stuff in them. This is useful when establishing a new scene when you usually want to reset the pacing. Large panels are also used in climactic moments when you have something major to reveal.

  • On the flip side, use more narrow panels to build tension.

Narrow panels pull the reader quickly through the page. This ramps up the pacing similar to how movies make lots of jump cuts in action scenes.

  • Borderless panels can be used as emphasis or to create a feeling of timelessness.

By bleeding a panel to the edges of a page, the reader gets the feeling that it continues beyond the page. This can be used to imply scale, to freeze a moment in time or to amplify an emotional effect such as loneliness.