Hey there. Welcome to another behind the scenes look at the making of Rocket & Bounce. This time we’re going to talk a little about page layout and panel flow. I’m not claiming to be a wiz here or anything, but here are the things I try to consider as I lay out a page. In general, a good layout is clear and easy to follow and leads the reader’s eye smoothly from one panel to the next. Even if you’re depicting a dynamic or complex scene, you want your reader to be able to understand it and enjoy it. A confused reader is not a happy reader, lol.
Basic panel flow
As you know, people generally read from left to right and top to bottom (in manga it’s the opposite of course). Here’s a really simple example:
In this basic 6 panel layout the reader’s eye moves from panel 1, across the right to panel 2, then it travels down to the next row, starting with panel 3, then right into panel 4, then down to the next row, etc. Nothing fancy here, but it’s helpful to be aware of how your audience interprets and moves through a page because you can use that knowledge when designing your layouts.
Using the reader’s eye movement to reinforce action
It’s a simple idea, but remember, you get to decide what panel goes where, how many rows there will be, how tall or small or thin or wide any given panel will be, etc. As such, you decide when a reader should move across a row or when a reader should move down or back, etc. Be conscious of this and you can plan your action and your panels to maximum effect.
Here are some examples from Rocket & Bounce’s first adventure “The Bank Job”:
Check out Rocket & Bounce page 3. On the left in blue is how I pictured the reader’s natural path through the page, left to right, then down, etc. On the right is how I tried to plan the action so that it mimiced the natural flow of the reader’s eye movement. There’s no backtracking or confusion (I hope, heh). They can just read from panel to panel and go with the flow.
It’s fun to think of the reader’s eye like a camera panning through the page, following the action. In panel one the idea is that the reader follows Bounce jumping off the rooftop and moves downward with her. In panel 3 the camera moves to the right, then is pushed back to the left (because that’s how the eye naturally moves to the next panel) in a movement that mimics Bounce careening off the bank window.
Here’s Rocket & Bounce page 8 . Again, on the left in blue is how I think the reader’s going to move through the page. On the right the action parallels that movement. In the first row of panels, the heroes sweep up and over the van from one panel to the next. Their trajectory takes the reader’s eye down into panel 4 on the row below. From there it’s down into panel 5 where the arc of Rocket’s flight around the van (and the lure of the word balloon) pull the reader to the right and then back to the left and down into the last row of panels.
Same kind of thing with page 9. The action mimics the panel flow. On this page I specifically made panel 5 (not counting the tiny inset panels) where the getaway van is skidding around and changing direction the last panel in row 3, because I knew the reader’s eye would reach that panel and have to change direction there as well. The hope is that the reader “feels” the action a bit more by moving with the van. Granted I’ve got plenty of room to grow in terms of making the action more dynamic – a manga artist would have really made that van scream, lol – but one step at a time.
This kind of planning during page composition applies to talk scenes and non-action pages as well of course. The simple tilt of a building or the position of a body or limb can be all you need to help lead the reader’s eye from one panel to the next (notice the diagonal lines in the backgrounds on page 3). I just thought this batch of pages would be a more overt set of examples.
Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed this little tutorial. Those of you who are interested should pick up Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art which is a great resource on this and a zillion other subjects when it comes to the craft of comics. And as always, feel free to visit the forum to share your thoughts or ask more questions. And if there’s a particular area of making comics that you’d be interesting in seeing more how-to’s on, let us know!
Thanks for reading!
Want to keep your action nice and action-y while keeping your comic page clean and easy to follow? Check out today’s bonus content! A behind the scenes look at the layout and panel flow of Rocket & Bounce. Enjoy!