Friday, September 10, 2010

Anatomy of a Comic Book Page

If you're going to make comic books, especially if you are going to be writing them, then it's important to know what everything is called so you can describe it to your editor and to your artist.

Traditionally, the first page of a comic book was a big full panel which took up the entire page and contained the title of the story, the credits, and a bunch of other stuff. Nowadays, the splash page is not always the first page of a story, sometimes it's the second, third, or even the last page of a story. Some people say it can only be called a splash page if it's the first page. I'm not one of those people. If it has the title of the story and the credits and it takes up the full page, I think of it as the splash page. It's usually a pretty exciting image, too.

This part above is called the title of the story, for obvious reasons. 

Above is what are called the credits. Just like in a movie, the credits give the names of everyone who worked on this particular story and also what their jobs were.

Often times now, comics that contain several shorter stories, rather than one longer one, will place the title and credits in one or more panels on a page, rather than in a single panel page. This is done mostly because a short story doesn't allow for a full panel page due to space. On those stories we usually need all the panels we can get.

This oddly spelled word running along the monster's back is called a sound effect, because it is spelled and written in a  stylized fashion meant to convey a sound. In this case it is the sound of a monster roaring.

A full page panel (or single panel page) which does not contain the title and credit information, and can fall anywhere in a story is NOT a splash page but is simply a single panel page. They are great for showcasing a big dramatic moment such as the one above from SCOOBY-DOO #96. It has another great monster roaring sound effect, too.

A typical page of a comic book looks like the one above. Each of the "squares" or "boxes" no matter what shape it's in is called a panel. Each horizontal row of panels is called a tier. Each panel on a page is called in order, panel one, panel two, panel three, and so on.

The bunch of text at the very bottom of the page is called the indicia. It includes publishing information for the particular issue it's found in. Traditionally this was always found at the bottom of the first page of a comic book (as it is above) at the bottom of the splash page. Now it can be found in different places such as at the bottom of a letters page, or on the inside of the cover, depending on the publisher and the comic book. The publisher adds this information and the writer is not responsible for it.

The blank white space that you find separating the panels are called the gutters.

You'll notice that the first two panels of our sample page don't have gutters between them. Panel one seems to be resting on top of panel two. This is called overlapping panels.

The rectangular boxes you see that have text in them are called captions, or sometimes narrative captions. These contain description of what might be happening in a scene that is not, or cannot easily be conveyed in the drawing such as "Batman is down to his last batarang." They can also tell us the location a scene is set in, as does the caption above, or the passage of time such as "meanwhile..." or "the following day." Sometimes the caption will carry over dialogue from the previous scene, or show what the character is thinking.

These are more sound effects.

The above is called a speech balloon and contains dialogue spoken out loud by characters in the story.

The part of the speech balloon that points to the character talking is called the pointer. It's job is to indicate who is talking.

Balloons that have what looks like a stream of bubbles leading to a character instead of a pointer are called thought balloons. They are often more cloud shaped as well. These show you what a character is thinking. The bubbles pointing to the character thinking are called bubbles. It's rare to find thought balloons in comic books these days. Most people use captions instead.

Go back to our sample page and look at the first panel which shows the city of Townsville. This panel is called an establishing shot because it shows the location where the story (or part of it) takes place. The text that runs sideways along the outside of the panel which reads DCPPG49 is something the publisher has included to keep track of what this story is for. I don't know what this is called, so ignore it. Instead, here is another establishing shot of Townsville from a different story.

Panels, such as the two above, that show a character or object up close, are called close-up shots, just like in photography, or filmmaking.

If you move back a bit and can see more of the characters and their backgrounds, these are called medium shots. They typically show the characters from the waist up, but can even show the full figures. These are often used for scenes in which two or more characters need to appear, either speaking, or performing an action. We get a better sense of their surroundings as well.

A long shot shows a scene from far away. This is often done when the scene, or location surrounding the characters is more important than the characters, such as in an establishing shot which sets the scene for a story. The three panels above are all examples of long shots.

In the sequence above, panel one and panel two are medium shots. Panel three and panel four are close ups. Panel five and six (which actaully form one larger panel) are extreme close-ups. What do these panels in a sequence suggest to you? Why do you think the writer and artist chose to use them like this in this scene?

We can also describe the angles of view chosen for a panel. Above are some examples of what are called a down angle, or bird's-eye view, because you are looking down, seeing the scene much as a bird flying over would see it, from high above the scene. In the third example, the circular panel which overlaps the orange, down angle panel, and the pink medium shot panel is called an inset panel. This is because it is set into another panel. Inset panels are often used to show a detail in extreme close-up of something seen in the larger panel, to bring attention to it in a way that the composition of the large panel does not. 

The opposite of a down angle, or bird's-eye view is an up angle, or worm's eye view. In this view you are looking up at the action from below, almost as if you were watching it from a point on the ground like a worm would see it -- if a worm had eyes. 

Look at the all the different panels shown in this entry. What does the choice of view do for the scenes depicted in each of the panels? Would they be as effective if they were done using a different perspective? Would a close-up be better as a long shot? Why or why not? What does a worm's eye view do that a bird's eye view doesn't, or even a regular straight on view the way we usually look at things? 

Almost everything that was identified in this post will be discussed in more length in future posts, so keep checking back. If you have any thoughts, or questions, please leave them in the comments area below. 

Artwork used to illustrate this post came from:

SCOOBY-DOO #145 (see story title and credits at the top of this page) published by DC Comics.

SCOOBY-DOO #96 "Follow That Monster!" John Rozum: writer, Joe Staton: penciller, Horacio Ottolini: inker, Nick J. Napolitano: letterer, Heroic Age: colorist, Rachel Gluckstern: assistant editor, Joan Hilty: editor. Published by DC Comics.

THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #22 "My Fair Fuzzy" John Rozum: writer, Bill Alger: penciller, Mike DeCarlo: inker, Jenna Garcia: letterer, Dave Tanguay: colorist, Harvey Richards: assistant editor, Joan Hilty: editor. Published by DC Comics.

WALT DISNEY'S UNCLE SCROOGE #210 Carl Barks: writer and artist. Published by Gladstone Publishing, Ltd.

THE POWERPUFF GIRLS #14 "Gone Squiggly" John Rozum: writer, Phil Moy: artist, Ryan Cline: letterer, Dave Tanguay: colorist, Harvey Richards: assistant editor, Joan Hilty: editor. Published by DC Comics. 

SCOOBY-DOO #96 "Another Mystery All Wrapped Up" John Rozum: writer, Robert Pope: artist, Nick J. Napolitano: letterer, Heroic Age: colorist, Rachel Gluckstern: assistant editor, Joan Hilty: editor.
Published by DC Comics. 

SCOOBY-DOO #60 "The Dragon's Eye - part 2: Russian Into Danger" John Rozum: writer, Joe Staton: penciller, Horacio Ottolini: inker, Tom Orzechowski: letterer, Paul Becton: colorist, Digital Chameleon: separations, Harvey Richards: assistant editor, Joan Hilty: editor. published by DC Comics.

CARTOON NETWORK ACTION PACK #39 The Secret Saturdays in: "The Cave of the Cacus" John Rozum: writer, Will Sweeny: penciller, Mike Manley: inker, Heroic Age: colorist, Travis Lanham: letterer, Sean Ryan: editor. Published by DC Comics. 

CARTOON NETWORK ACTION PACK #47 The Secret Saturdays in: "Attack of the Lake Monster" John Rozum: writer, Scott Jeralds: penciller, Scott Awley: inker, Rob Clark Jr.: letterer, Heroic Age: colorist, Sean Ryan: editor. Published by DC Comics.

SCOOBY-DOO #37 "Witch Pitch" John Rozum: writer, Cameron Stewart: penciller, Andrew Pepoy: inker, John Costanza: letterer, Paul Becton: colorist, Harvey Richards: assistant editor, Joan Hilty: editor. Published by DC Comics.

SCOOBY-DOO #92 "The Curse of the Living Statue" John Rozum: writer, John McCrea: artist, Nick J. Napolitano: letterer, Heroic Age: colorist, Harvey Richards: assistant editor, Joan Hilty: editor. Published by DC Comics. 


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  2. An excellent primer for understanding comic book terminology & art. I've been collecting for many years now, and this is the most clear & concise piece of writing on the terminology, and which also helps the reader (young and old) better analyze and understand comic book artwork & its uses. Thank you!