Saturday, January 23, 2010

Comix Panels: 5 Rows is Too Many!

I was working on Circus Season, and i learned a valuable lesson about pacing.

First, some background. Circus Season was supposed to be a little quick over-the-summer project. A group of us, Lauren Andrews, Jamaica Dyer, Aidan Casserly and myself among them, agreed to do a little comic on the theme "burlesque apocalypse" and then release them all together as a zine. I don't know what became of anyone else's project, but me, i did 6 pages and then didn't touch it for 2 years. I wanted to come back and finish it, both because i thought it would be a relatively quick way to get good comix experience and because i just need to finish things, goddammit. So now i'm doing 3 pages a week and i'm learning a lot. Nothing like doing something to help you learn how to do something.

For instance, i learned that you don't really want more than 3 rows of panels in a single page, unless you're using Infinite Canvas or you've got a really good reason. As the plot thickened, i noticed that i was putting more rows of panels in each page to speed up the action and create tension. By page 13 it was really getting out of hand. Here's my initial page layout:

It doesn't read clearly, it's hard to see what's happening in those little tiny drawings, and the eye just skims over sections. Instead of creating fast, tense action, it creates confusing opacity. I thought i could just ignore it and vow never to do that again, but it bothered me more and more as i inked it. So i broke it up into two pages. Here's the final layout:

It's much easier to tell what's happening, especially in the long shots. Take two lessons from this:
1. Don't go row crazy! Think real hard about how your panels read, and whether you've given them the space they need to shine.
2. When you know something is dumb, fix it. If you spend 4 hours inking it and then finally give in and redo the page, you're out 4 hours and a good sheet of paper.

Lesson learned!