Kav's Tips for Comic Artists - Panels

by A. "Kav" Kaviraj

Comic book artist, A. Kaviraj, continues his series of providing useful tutorials for comic book artists.

Okay, today we examine the single unit of a comic-the panel. What to put in it. How big to make it. What shape. There are so many clever things you can do with panels. You can inset smaller panels over a large scene (See Phillip's SLEEPER Page).

You can switch the camera angle around to have shots from above, below or straight on. I suggest you follow the rule of Film which has the camera always a little above or a little below the character-straight on shots are to be avoided. If it's not an extreme shot from above or a shot from below, in films the 'straight on' shot is never actually 'Straight On". You will rarely if ever see a film character shot dead on. It's what helps make the characters seem dynamic.

So: extreme shot from above-distances the reader from the character. Extreme or medium shot from below draws the reader into the character, his emotional state or reaction.

Here's a pretty cool link that shows a wide variety of panel designs that should be studied:

One thing to note however-do not just make wild or different panels for no reason. Dave Gibbons did the 9 panel per page thing almost exclusively in Watchmen. There were some larger panels and splash pages where needed but mainly he wanted to depict 9 panels per page plodding forward relentlessly like the clock ticking down towards doomsday. Watchmen would have been nowhere near as effective if it had a bunch of wild psychedelic Steranko-like panels.

So it's a good idea to mix up camera angles and think about what you are drawing in order to decide what shape and what to put in a panel. If its an establishing or de-establishing shot or shows some wide action like a car driving down the Vegas Strip, a long horizontal panel. If the protagonist just watched his partner fall off a train to his death a low angle shot might be good. Square panels are calm panels. Verticle panels are ACTION.

Check out the wild Steranko page:

An awesome 17 panel page with a variety of techniques. Let's analyze this great gothic horror page. At the top we see the two characters interacting with a bleed thru effect to the center panel which is the focus of this third of the page. We have a long shot of the man, followed by a C/U of the woman. The panels are thin verticle panels which makes you feel the events are happening quickly or coalescing into something. The center panel is in black and white to seperate its reality from the colorized 'real world'. The perspective lines all focus on the mysterious door, leading the reader's eyes to this mysterious portal.

The next third of the page is three panels, but its just panel lines seperating what is one continuous drawing. The effect of paneling like this is to denote time passing as the characters walk into the room and start looking around. Then we have the bottom third with a series of vertical panels. Very effective in setting up mood tone and sequence of events. The last two panels are stark B & W-very effective.

Don't feel you have to make every page a unique tour de force like this-Steranko was one of a kind. But just see what you can do-and start getting in the habit of thinking outside the box. Realize that just 6 square panels is maybe boring-that panels are tools-and the artist can help communicate the story with his or her or its panel design.

Another great page is a montage of different shaped panels in which you don't always know which panel is next because it doesn't matter-it's a series of events in spacetime which become blurred-just like a crisis situation where the victim can't remember what happened first. Or a party where everything seems to be happening at once. AWESOME!

Charlie Adlard is a master of panelling. Nothing scares this dude-he draws awesome inset panels like over splash-like pages, often seen from above. Very effective and very dynamic. Even if you are not a big fan of Adlard's drawing - at least study his panelling man.

Another thing an artist should do is collect as much original art as possible. Every time I get a page of original art I learn like 10 new things about drawing and my output gets cleaner tighter more professional. Like an archeologist you need to see the actual artefact, not a picture of it.

A Kaviraj

A. KAVIRAJ: Kav is an artist, teacher, and biologist who lives in Sacramento, California. He is the artist forThe End of Paradise, Rapid City, and Dr Death vs The Zombie. He is the writer and artist for Dr. Death vs. The Vampire. E-mail: ddkaviraj@aol.com

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