Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Inner Space Comic Layout Tutorial

Original Tutorial Here:

Disclaimer: I hesitate to call this a tutorial - it’s really more like ‘observations I made when making my comic and looking at other comics’. I’m not an expert so what’s written below should be taken with a grain of salt! Hopefully you’ll be able to glean some interesting tidbits out of it despite that. ;)
Laying out panels – it seems like a really simple task, but I’ve discovered it’s a little more complicated than that in my own comic. I guess I’ll start this tutorial at the beginning – thumbnails! Making a thumbnail sketch of the comic page is important. It’s much easier to fix a five minute scribble than a page that took 5 hours. So let’s start with a sketch of the page:
Okay… well, that’s a little boring. You can do full pages every once in a while, but not with every page! Let’s just divide that up into panels already:
That’s about as boring as you can get with a panel layout. It’s good to remember that a comic page is just like any other art piece. You want to lead the viewer around the page in a pleasing way, get them to feel involved. The above layout is just too boring to do any of that.
This is a little more exciting – you got a couple of different sizes that you can do different things with. You also have some different shapes that you can use to lead the viewer’s eye around.
Try not to get carried away though. When you start adding too many boxes, the comic can feel overcrowded, with everything far too squished. It can also get confusing for the viewer to figure out the order in which the panels are supposed to be read. If you have a lot of plot, try spreading it between 2 or even 3 pages instead.

Let’s go back to that first try at panels again:
There’s actually another problem with it. There aren’t any margins in the page. One of the things margins do is create a buffer between panels – take that away and you have a confused and crowded page.
Also, the viewer can misinterpret such close panels in weird ways.
That said, you CAN have some panels with no margins (this is isn’t something I do though.) This helps emphasize connecting actions, closely interacting scenes, etc. Just make sure the viewer can differentiate the panels in some way.
Thoughts on Panel Sizes
So, we have a page with margins, with different sized panels arranged in an interesting way. But what are the best things to put in each of these different sized panels? Larger panels command more attention, so these would be the best places to put establishment scenes – the scenes that show where the characters are going to be speaking or doing something.
Borderless panels can also be used well when they are the large panels. The lack of borders puts no limits on where the viewer can look - so they actually end up looking at more of the panel. You can also skirt around the margin problem using borderless panels as long as you’re careful. Just make sure you don’t have borderless panels spilling over on each other, because that can be really confusing and odd-looking.Aside from using the large panels as establishment scenes, pretty much everything else goes in all the other panels – dialogue, action, facial expressions, etc. Generally speaking, put the larger actions in the larger panels and the smaller actions in the smaller panels. If you want to emphasize on action over another, put it in the larger panel. You can also put a bunch of similarly sized panels in a row to emphasize a repetitive action – it creates a nice rhythm.
There’s one more thing to address aside from margins and panel content and size. That would be the compositional flow – the way the viewer’s eye is drawn through the comic. There are a lot of the same principles in use here that you use in traditional art as well (, so keep those in mind. Also keep in mind that most English speaking audiences read from top left to bottom right, so it’s great if you can get your comic to naturally flow that way.
Take a look at this comic:
You can see how, even without the dialogue, the eyes are (hopefully) drawn in the correct way through the comic. If you flip the comic horizontally, it loses some of its readability due to the flow being off.
Since the viewer is reading a comic and expects to be going from top left to bottom right, it’s not absolutely vital to artfully construct a proper flow, but it always helps. And remember, never make your viewer have to visually fight to get through a comic page!
I don’t do as much with dialogue as I could, but there are a few things I’ve picked up. You want to make sure the dialogue follows the composition flow – if you can put the thought and speech bubbles right on that line, that’s the best.
At least make sure your bubbles don’t confuse the viewer – you want them to read everything in the correct order. My main audience likes to read top left to bottom right (as I stated a few thousand times) so if I put a speech bubble on the bottom LEFT and top RIGHT of the panel, that may confuse people. If you’re not sure about the readability of your page, it always helps to get an outside opinion.
Also make sure you’ve saved enough room for all the dialogue on the page. You don’t want to accidentally cover a characters head!
And too much dialogue can get wearisome to read and not be quite as entertaining to look at.
You can also break up the dialogue to force pauses. For instance, compare how these two panels read:
The second panel forces the viewer to not only slow down, but explore more of the art in the panel while they read the rest of the dialogue.
Yet another thing to keep in mind are the sound effects bubbles. Obviously, these bubbles visually illustrate sound effects that you would hear if the comic were, say, a movie. You can also use these bubbles to separate two action panels – this creates a nice quick rhythm.
If I haven’t confused the heck out of you (and convinced you I’m a raving lunatic) this should help you make a decent looking comic page.And that’s it. At least, all I can think of. For now.


  1. Wow I never thought about all of the intricacies of panel-based comics like this. Kinda reminds me of the aspects of cinema they talked about in my freshman-level film class at university. (only class of its kind i took, everything else was engineering)

  2. This is really awesome! Also the characters in the examples are so cute XD

  3. This is like a godsend for timing. I just issued a challenge that I would create my own webcomic on my blog, so you can imagine how much this will help. Thanks so much!!

  4. you really have a great understanding of form/

  5. Wow, I never looked at comics this way...

  6. Many webcomics "artists" could learn a thing or two from this :)

  7. I showed this to my brother, and he's going to try it

  8. Really neat. I will definitely come back here when I start my next "choose your own adventure graphic novel" :D