Layout and Design

The style of art establishes the tone of the novel, but design and layouts are equally important in the success of a graphic novel. This is a major difference between mass-produced comic books and graphic novels.

Although many comics artists are natural designers (Alex Toth, Will Eisner, and Darryl Banks come to mind), not everyone's design skills are that good. If in doubt about technical issues, it's a good idea to consult with someone who has a background in publication layout and design. A very helpful resource in this area is Panel Discussions: Design in Sequential Art Storytelling, by Durwin Talon, Will Eisner, Walter Simonson, Mike Mignola, and Mark Schultz.

Early comic books were composed and laid out for children who were just learning to read. The panel sequence was very straightforward with four rows of two panels each for a total of eight panels per page. Only rarely did this structure vary. Fortunately for readers, the rigidity of page and panel layout was loosened considerably starting in the 1960s.

In this beautifully designed and laid out page from Lot No. 249, artist Darryl Banks establishes characterization and moves the story forward without the traditional panel grid.

To envision how your completed novel will look, create a prototype, or dummy, by folding 8½ × 11-inch sheets of paper in half and arranging them so they will have the same page count as you want for your novel. The first page of the story will usually fall onto a right-hand page. Don't forget to factor in pages for the title, copyright, and other information pages. Begin laying out your story using thumbnail sketches of the action with the goal in mind of planning the overall guide you will follow.

E-FACT

DURING COMICS’ GOLDEN AGE, ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION TO THE EIGHT-PANELS-PER-PAGE RULE WAS MAX GAINES OF EC COMICS, WHO IN THE EARLY 1950s ENCOURAGED HIS STABLE OF ARTISTS TO DEVELOP IDIOSYNCRATIC STYLES, INCLUDING EXPERIMENTAL PAGE AND PANEL LAYOUTS. UNLIKE THE STANDARD OF PUBLISHERS AT THE TIME, WHICH MAINTAINED ARTIST ANONYMITY, EC PUBLISHED ONE-PAGE BIOGRAPHIES OF ALL THEIR ARTISTS IN THEIR COMIC BOOKS.

Also keep in mind that experimenting with panel size on the page can affect the pacing of the story, either speeding it up or slowing it down. Although many artists are quite experimental with their layouts, sometimes the storytelling suffers because it becomes difficult for the reader to understand panel flow. It's best to keep the layout easy to follow.

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