Writing for Comics, Part 2 : Your Panels, Your Rules

Going on the heels of last week’s entry, discussing my “Rule of Six”, this week we will discuss the exact opposite – how to effectively use more than six panels.

Trust me when I say this isn’t contradictory. For simple, effective storytelling in comics, under six panels is ideal. Four panels is great. Three panels is magic. Two panels are sublime.

One panel? That’s perfection.

But there are different ways of finding perfection, and no end to the inventive use of multiple panels. And my perfection is not your perfection, although we may come to mutually agree on some standards of greatness. In this way, you should push your visual storytelling to new heights wherever you can.

Some great examples of 6+ panels being used well, that I could think up offhand : anything Matt Wagner’s done (Mage, Grendel, Madame Xanadu), The Twins – Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon (Umbrella Academy, Daytripper, Casanova), Frank Quietly (We3, All-Star Superman, Flex Mentallo), JH Williams III (Detective Comics, Promethea) – the list goes on.

You CAN effectively tell a story with a confluence of panels. The trick is in how you use them.

For example; in my first to-be-published work – “Fury”, which will be in Insomnia Press’s Layer Zero anthology this summer, I started out with an eight-panel page. I could have just as easily done it in four panels; but I decided to play with the concept of sequential motion. Hence, the first four give a visual representation of a man running; the fifth is him falling, and the sixth is him flat on the ground.

It also accomplishes what I wanted to do with the introduction – rather than just say “here is this man, who’s running away from a nameless evil and terrified out of his mind”, I wanted to create an interesting visual element where he “falls into” the frame, and is introduced that way, putting the focus on the running (and as such, the fear) before I focused on the man.

I think the biggest impact made was the way I planned it; I had the visuals in mind before I had the dialogue. If you’re insistent on using multiple panels, I’d definitely recommend doing that – it’s the best way to make every panel count.

That’s why I like my Rule of Six; that’s also why more than six panels works. If every panel accomplishes something, you’ve done your job as a storyteller.

Also, if you’re curious – the art for FURY was done by the incomparable Ben Bates, who’s currently apprenticing with Periscope Studios.

If you have anything you’d like me to discuss, or writing questions in general, please send them along to Bristclaireatgmaildotcom – I’d love to answer them!

-Brian

P.S. Go pick up Atomic Robo : Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #1, out this week. I’m not just saying that because I’m in the fan letters section. Nope. No conflict of interest there.

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