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Layout research

The Grid

The earliest comics were always set up in a grid format, contained within white
gutters (borders) and followed the logical Western method of reading across
from left to right + down to the next level & repeat. In this example from Jack
Kirby, you see Captain America and Batroc the Leaper battling it out over a 9
square grid page layout, which reads very easily. The red arrows were added to
illustrate the reader movement.
The most common grids are the 9 and 6 panel grids. In a 20-24 page issue, the 9
panel grid is most useful when the story contains a lot of information that needs
to be conveyed. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did this effectively in The
Watchmen series. The sample below is another 9 panel layout that splits two
scenes going on at the exact same time, and creates an interesting visual effect.
In sharp contrast to the traditional linear aligned storytelling method, here is a
sample of a manga influenced comic book page layout. Note, the grid is skewed
to create a feeling of motion and adds a sense of dynamic action the readers
eye is forced about from one end to the other at a high rate of speed.
Yet another grid format which is gaining popularity is the widescreen panel. This
type of panel layout is used to create a cinematic feel. These longer panels also
create the illusion of extended time.
Once you have established your grid, it is now time to determine where your
main focal point for each panel will be. The standard in comics/webcomics is to
place the focal point in certain areas to avoid visual confusion from one panel to
the next. For example a panel which is predominantly horizontal should have its
focus in one of three locations the center of the panel, left of center or right of
center. For a vertical panel, the focal points should be center, slightly above
center or slightly below center. The trickiest panel to set up a focal point is the
square. You have the option of above, below, left and right of center, and the
center itself. When placing a focal point in a square panel, plan accordingly
make sure it will lead your reader towards the next panel.
First up, panel sizes depend on the importance of the scene you are trying to
create. For example, the dramatic scene after a drastic action scene is given a
big frame, while small scenes with a one-man thinking dialogue can get a smaller
frame. Margins are also important when making comic panels, for one should be
able to distinguish one frame from the other, and not look at it as one big frame,
which would be confusing. Single lines are okay when you want to try to connect
the two panels in some way, but you have to make sure that it is clear that those
are two separate pieces. Usually, spaces are put in between panels to signify
that they are different, but in sequence. Some people also are used to shading
the next panel of the story so one can clearly distinguish that the panel is not
one with the last, but is continuous.
Comic layout is just as important as the storyline. It assures the smooth
transition of panels without mixing up the readers mind. There are a few
guidelines to these as well to ensure that the reader will definitely be reading on
until the last page.
When doing layout for comics, speech bubble placing is very important. First, you
have to consider its size, and how much information or conversation you are
willing to cram into that bubble. Big speech bubbles are unavoidable, but you
have to make sure that they do not fill most of the panel wherein you are
drawing, for even if the story line is important, you wouldn't want your comic to
seem like a book. Don't make too large bubbles because it might get in the way
of your drawing. A good idea would be to break up the bubbles into two separate
panels, that way they wouldn't take too much space, and your characters (and
readers) can breathe. People break up bubbles for a lot of reasons. Aside from
breaking up really long conversation pieces, they also do it to signify a break, or
a pause, in the character's "voice". For comics have no audio involved, the
reader should feel that the characters can speak, and this involves them taking a
breath. Therefore, people sometimes put bubbles in another part of the panel, to
signify that the thought was said after the first. Be careful with this placing that it
will not confuse the reader of the sequence of the conversation.
That brings us to another thing to address when it comes to comic book layout.
I'm talking about the compositional flow and dialogue sequencing, which is
placing the right bubbles at the right measure of space to indicate the flow of the
conversation. Different kinds of comics require different sequencing, for example,
I understand that anime comics are read differently from other kinds of comics,
so it's a basic need to know what kind of comic you are making, and how readers
actually read that comic. If you are an English reader, it is just natural to read
from top left to bottom right, so it is essential to place the speech bubbles in a
way that the reader gets the flow of the conversation easily, which would be top
left to bottom right. Once they have established that, you should now be
consistent all throughout the story, to avoid confusion and mix-ups. This is to
ensure that the reader gets the gist of the comic even without dialogue, because
the eyes are already drawn to the direction of the story flow.

Panel layout is one of those features, or more accurately functions, of a comic

that goes completely unnoticed unless it breaks out of the established
boundaries. The other function that slips by is lettering but thats a topic for
another day.

Before plunging any further the question should be asked if panel layout should
receive attention or recognition. As readers were focused on the story that
appears within the panels: dialogue and art. The panel provides the boundary of
that moment, and the story is made up of however panels are required to tell it.
It should in no way interfere with the telling of the story, but without it what
would we have? Integral yet mostly invisible, until its not.

Looking at the history of comics and the comic strip most roads lead to The
Yellow Kid. While mostly employing a full page illustration with spot text Richard
Outcault begins using a frame by frame paneling sequence in 1896; note the
panels are numbered so the reader can follow the sequence in the proper order.

From that point we have the panel grid page, with the same basic layout today.
Panels may shrink or grow on the page to tell the story of that moment but were
still following this for good reason: it works. Looking at Buck Rogers, Flash
Gordon and Prince Valiant all show an adherence to this basic formula. In those
days if panels were different sizes the artist would include directional arrows so
the reader would know the reading sequence.

When an artist with an eye foe design comes along they use the page layout as
an element of the story. Jim Steranko and his page size figures along the panels
is one of the most striking examples. By the 1960s everyone knew how to read a
comic page: either left to right or top to bottom. Steranko gives us full on visuals,
using background as a panel break, layering of panels onto a main image and
overall tearing down the established rules.

If you make a comic strip on a regular basis, chances are strong that you have a
standard panel template file that you use for all your strips. (And if you dont,
you should!)
On PC Weenies I have been using the same four panel layout for the past 4
years, with minor tweaks here and there.
Lately, Ive re-examined my template file. While it works, its fairly rigid. There
are occasions where Id like to have a three panel strip, or maybe even a single
panel comic (like the old days), but to create those formats, Id have to make 4
separate templates (one for each format).
Instead of keeping four separate template comic strip files, now I use only one.
This new comic strip template file lets me easily switch between a myriad of
panel layouts.
In this blog post, Ill show you how Ive set my comic strip template and talk
about some specifics on prepping your file:
Size Matters
If youre making a comic online, youll want to consider print. Yes, you may never
make a book with your comic but you might and its always a good idea to
plan ahead.
Always work at the largest size possible. The dimensions for my Photoshop file
are 7.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches tall, with a resolution of 600ppi. I work in RGB

Using guides, I measure off a square (shown in maroon, below), keeping in mind
margins for all four sides. Next, I apply a 10 pixel inner stroke (via Edit > Stoke)
around the maroon box. In my template file, I make sure to include the title, my
website address and my name.
Creating the Panel Borders
Next comes the gutters the separators that make and isolate each panel
within the strip. On a new layer, above the maroon panel, I use the rectangular
selection tool (keyboard shortcut: M) to make a thin, vertical rectangle. Once Im
satisfied with its thickness, I flood white inside the rectangle (Option-Delete) add

an inner 10 pixel stroke around this rectangle. (Inner strokes give you crisp,
pointy edges.)

Above the gutter layer that I just created, I make two more rectangular
selections, to cap off the borders that extend beyond the panel. I flood these
selections with white, the results which you see below:

Make sure to label this gutter as Gutter1 or something along those lines. From
here, all you have to do is duplicate the gutter layer (Command-J, with the gutter
layer selected) and position it as desired. Heres what my layer structure looks
like, if youre curious:

In addition to 4-panel layouts, I can now quickly reconfigure my comic strip to

three, two and one panel formats quickly and easily.

Save the file

out and youre in business!