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Thread: The Comics Panel Time-Master--PART 3: Learning To Control Consideration Inside Panels

  1. LeeNordling Guest

    The Comics Panel Time-Master--PART 3: Learning To Control Consideration Inside Panels

    WARNING: We’re about to jump into the pool. To those of you who have not yet fully absorbed the lessons of columns 1 & 2, you should turn back now and reread them until the gage in your brain reads: “full.” Otherwise, possible side effects may include: throbbing headaches, confusion, loss of ability to specify and articulate your points of confusion, more confusion, anger over confusion, more confusion, self-loathing over confusion, an irrational belief that this stuff is more complicated than it really is (because you did not fully absorb the lessons of columns 1 & 2 until the gage in your brain read “full”)...and did I mention there might be a bit of confusion?

    Ready?

    “Wait!” you cry. “I can’t just jump in all at once. I need to prepare myself.”

    Fine, we’ll start with one big toe dipped into the water, and summarize to get our bearings.

    “What was Part 1 about?” I ask.

    “We discussed that sequential art isn’t film,” you answer correctly, “and how the two media are different.”

    Check.

    “And Part 2?” I ask.

    “We covered how comics read (left to right, by the way, for folks who missed it),” you respond, feeling as though this is starting to become second nature, “and how frozen moments of time progress from left to right inside panels.”

    “What was the purpose?” I ask, harkening back to the follow-up discussions of Part 2.

    “Since most bad comics writers put continuous time into their panels,” you say, repeating something I wrote. “The exercise was designed to get them think in terms of writing panels as a series of consecutive frozen moments.”

    “That’s right,” I say. “Writing from left to right. Writing more than one frozen moment. Writing consecutively. Reversing what was written, so both directions would be fully understood.”

    “But why did we go through all that?” you ask. “Why was it important, beyond knowing for knowing’s sake?”

    “Well,” I answer, repeating something else we previously discussed, “I've noted that my goal is to show how to write with intention.

    “How can somebody do that, if they can't clearly write a panel?

    “How can somebody do that, if they don't clearly understand all the components that go into creating a panel?

    “How can somebody do that, if they can't clearly consider the different ways to write a panel that would change its intention, just as changing words alters the intention of a sentence?”

    “I guess they can’t,” you venture.

    “That’s right,” I continue. “The purpose of our previous exploration was to learn to understand all this so that, most importantly, you’d have the tools to be able to bend sequential art storytelling to your will, to write stuff that is less likely to be misunderstood, in short, to write with intention.”

    “Does that mean,” you ask, now ready to jump into the pool, “you’ll finally show us how to become Comics Panel Time-Masters.

    Part 3.

    Welcome to the deep end of the pool.

    The Comics Panel Time-Master
    (or why people should stop trying to write movies on paper)

    PART 3: Learning To Control Consideration Inside Panels

    A sequential art panel can be read in a glimpse or it can take a significant amount of time to absorb.

    Did you know that the power to determine this is already at your fingertips? It’s just like the ruby slippers you’ve been wearing?

    “I’m wearing ruby slippers?” you mumble, afraid to look down.

    “Yeah,” I say, continuing the analogy, “I thought it might be premature to suggest you’ve already been hopping willy-nilly all over everyplace, and have likely only landed where you hoped to as a result of the occasional, intuitive accident.

    “But, with focused dedication to your sequential art craft, you’ll be able to go exactly where you wish, even if it’s dusty ol’ Kansas, instead of a phallic green city with ornery orchards that throw fruit at people.”

    Let’s consider the elements that slow down the way we read a panel.

    “Wait!” you exclaim. “Does every element inside a panel slow us down?”

    The major ones, like a prominently placed character, object, implicit action, balloon, and caption: yes.

    The minor ones, like a cross-hatched section of the darkest reaches of a deserted alley, the second building in from the right of a cityscape, or a face in a crowd: no.

    Where is, ultimately, the dividing line between the two? It slides.

    It probably slides toward things that stand out in each panel, which is an added incentive for making the script clear so the artist will know what’s important.

    “In other words, knowing what we need to focus on will help us write clearly and with intention?” you ask, already knowing the answer.

    “Yes,” I say. “But let’s do some crawling before trying to walk.”

    A blank page takes the least amount of time to absorb. If we divide the page into four panels, even blank ones, the time it takes to consider their number slows us down. To look at it another way, each one of the four takes individual consideration, which translates into time, even if that amount of time is infinitesimal.

    It’s still a pause, consideration, time, a beat.

    A beat you created.

    Somebody will probably note that if a page is evenly divided into eight, sixteen, or thirty-two equal panels, it may take the same amount time, at a glance, to note they’re all empty.

    Yes, that’s true, too. There’s a point where repetition and monotony become an immediately perceivable pattern that will take equal amounts of time to absorb. We’ll come back to this point another day when we discuss putting panels in sequence, but please don’t allow it to take your eye off the current ball we’re observing.

    For now, consider one fact: Each element of consideration takes…some consideration.

    It’s stunningly simple. Adding elements of consideration affects how long each reader will take to consider a panel or page.

    Increase the number of elements, and you’ve increased the cumulative amount of consideration.

    Decrease the number of elements, and you’ve decreased the cumulative amount of consideration.

    1 + 1 = 2.

    2 - 1 = 1.

    However, one variable is beyond our control: how much specific time it takes us to consider something, because everybody reads at a different pace.

    We can’t make any balloon, panel, or page take two seconds to read or observe. I’m a slow reader and like to look at a lot of different stuff; it could take me three seconds.

    For this reason, we must simplify our measuring stick to “adding elements” simply taking “more time,” and “subtracting elements” taking “less time.”

    Let’s review a list of elements that will affect the reader’s consideration of a panel:
    • Prominently placed characters.
    • Prominently placed objects.
    • Frozen actions, which lead our eye from one place to another.
    • Compositions, which are intended to lead our eye from one place to another.
    • Word balloons, captions, sound effects, prominently placed signage, anything we read.
    • Anything that’s designed, with drawing or color, to catch our attention.

    We previously discussed a second building in from the right of a cityscape as not being something that would normally catch our attention.

    What if that building is the only one with lights on?

    What if, in an unlit cityscape, there is only one window in that building that has its lights on?

    You get the point, I hope: it draws our attention, our consideration, takes time, adds a beat.

    You can have as many or as few of these elements of consideration as you wish in a panel.

    If you’re a writer who plans ahead, it’s important to recognize how much relative consideration you wish the reader to spend on any given panel on a page or in a story.

    Or, if you’re an intuitive first-draft writer, it’s important to be able to determine later how much relative consideration your panel has taken, within the context of your editorial goals, so that you’ll know whether to lengthen, shorten, or maintain that amount of relative consideration.

    That’s all.

    “That’s all?!!!” you exclaim. “Your big revelation for us to become Comics Panel Time-Masters is to simply consider how much important stuff we should put in a panel so people will spend more or less time reading it?”

    “Yep,” I say. “However you get there, you need to make sure the finished panel reflects your intention.”

    “Can you give us some examples?” you ask.

    “I’m glad you asked,” I respond.

    Please review the following visuals, and come to some personal determination about how much additional consideration each added element takes within a panel.

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence.

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing toward a beaten Boy Scout who lies on the lawn.

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing to stop the pintsized bully who has pinned a frightened Boy Scout to the lawn. Having turned to see Johnny rushing toward them, Bully #1 is alarmed.

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing to stop the two pintsized bullies who’ve pinned a frightened Boy Scout to the lawn. Having turned to see Johnny rushing toward them, Bully #1 is alarmed; Bully #2 is more concerned with demolishing the Boy Scout, his arm cocked back, his fist clenched, ready to deliver a punishing blow to the face. The frightened Boy Scott anticipates the blow, wincing, his eyes clenched shut.

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing to stop the two pintsized bullies who’ve pinned a frightened Boy Scout to the lawn. Having turned to see Johnny rushing toward them, Bully #1 is alarmed; Bully #2 is more concerned with demolishing the Boy Scout, his arm cocked back, his fist clenched, ready to deliver a punishing blow to the face. The frightened Boy Scott anticipates the blow, wincing, his eyes clenched shut. Inside the house behind them, an Angry Little Old Lady leans out her kitchen window, brandishing a rolling pin, calling for the bullies to leave her grandson alone.

    ***

    Note that each one doesn’t simply take longer to read, but that each added element adds to the overall context of the panel, requires additional consideration, adds an additional beat.

    Now, let’s add more beats by adding dialogue.

    ***

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence.

    JOHNNY ACTION JR.: I’ll help you, frightened Boy Scout!

    ***

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing toward a beaten Boy Scout who lies on the lawn.

    JOHNNY ACTION JR.: I’ll help you, frightened Boy Scout!

    FRIGHTENED BOY SCOUT: Man--I really got my ass kicked!

    ***

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing to stop the pintsized bully who has pinned a frightened Boy Scout to the lawn. Having turned to see Johnny rushing toward them, Bully #1 is alarmed.

    JOHNNY ACTION JR.: I’ll help you, frightened Boy Scout!

    BULLY #1: You can’t help everybody, Johnny Action Jr.!

    FRIGHTENED BOY SCOUT: I can’t bear to get my ass kicked!

    ***

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing to stop the two pintsized bullies who’ve pinned a frightened Boy Scout to the lawn. Having turned to see Johnny rushing toward them, Bully #1 is alarmed; Bully #2 is more concerned with demolishing the Boy Scout, his arm cocked back, his fist clenched, ready to deliver a punishing blow to the face. The frightened Boy Scott anticipates the blow, wincing, his eyes clenched shut.

    JOHNNY ACTION JR.: I’ll help you, frightened Boy Scout!

    BULLY #1: You can’t help everybody, Johnny Action Jr.!

    BULLY #2: That’s right! And I’m going to kick this frightened Boy Scout’s ass before he can reach us!

    FRIGHTENED BOY SCOUT: I can’t bear to get my ass kicked!

    ***

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing to stop the two pintsized bullies who’ve pinned a frightened Boy Scout to the lawn. Having turned to see Johnny rushing toward them, Bully #1 is alarmed; Bully #2 is more concerned with demolishing the Boy Scout, his arm cocked back, his fist clenched, ready to deliver a punishing blow to the face. The frightened Boy Scott anticipates the blow, wincing, his eyes clenched shut. Inside the house behind them, an Angry Little Old Lady leans out her kitchen window, brandishing a rolling pin, calling for the bullies to leave her grandson alone.

    JOHNNY ACTION JR.: I’ll help you, frightened Boy Scout!

    BULLY #1: You can’t help everybody, Johnny Action Jr.!

    BULLY #2: That’s right! And I’m going to kick this frightened Boy Scout’s ass before he can reach us!

    FRIGHTENED BOY SCOUT: I can’t bear to get my ass kicked!

    ANGRY OLD LADY: That’s right, you meanies!

    ***

    Now let’s add some additional balloons, to really slow it down.

    ***

    Johnny Action Jr. is in mid-leap over the picket fence, fiercely racing to stop the two pintsized bullies who’ve pinned a frightened Boy Scout to the lawn. Having turned to see Johnny rushing toward them, Bully #1 is alarmed; Bully #2 is more concerned with demolishing the Boy Scout, his arm cocked back, his fist clenched, ready to deliver a punishing blow to the face. The frightened Boy Scott anticipates the blow, wincing, his eyes clenched shut. Inside the house behind them, an Angry Little Old Lady leans out her kitchen window, brandishing a rolling pin, calling for the bullies to leave her grandson alone.

    JOHNNY ACTION JR.: I’ll help you, frightened Boy Scout!

    BULLY #1: You can’t help everybody, Johnny Action Jr.!

    BULLY #2: That’s right! And I’m going to kick this frightened Boy Scout’s ass before he can reach us!

    FRIGHTENED BOY SCOUT: I can’t bear to get my ass kicked!

    FRIGHTENED BOY SCOUT: My grandma hates having to scrub the blood stains out of my clothes!

    ANGRY OLD LADY: That’s right, you meanies!

    ANGRY OLD LADY: New & Improved Super-Terrific Cheer isn’t any better than the crap they were supposed to be improving!

    ***

    If you read through each of these, and didn’t just scan over them, you saw that each additional balloon added a beat, some longer or shorter, based on the numbers of words used.

    In short, added complication compounds consideration. (For those of you looking for a quick note to post next to your computer screen, this is it.)

    It’s almost so obvious that you must be wondering why I’m even bothering to mention it.

    Would it surprise you to know that too many creators would write that last example and still believe their story was moving like a bullet train?

    Why?

    Because look at all that “action”!

    Johnny Action Jr. is leaping a fence, a Boy Scout’s getting pulverized, and Granny’s waving a rolling pin!

    Action! Action! Action!

    Except there isn’t any action in comics, and comics isn’t film.

    Every important element you include within a panel adds on a reader’s consideration. It doesn’t matter how much implicit action there is; what matters is how much stuff there is to consider, and that’s up to you.

    So you can do it by accident, or do it on purpose.

    If you do it by accident, the result will be accidental.

    If you do it on purpose, then you will be a Comics Panel Time-Master.

    (See how we neatly came full circle to the point?)

    “So that’s it?” you ask, hoping against hope that we’re done. “I read the articles, and now I’m a Comics Panel Time-Master!”

    Um…nope, sorry.

    You need to practice this stuff.

    No practice, no constant consideration, no Comics Panel Time-Master gold star on your report card.

    “How am I supposed to practice this?” you ask.

    “I’m glad you asked,” I say.

    Our assignment for this week is as follows:

    Write a panel with a foreground and background element in it. Read it. Consider it.

    Add one character, doing whatever you wish, to the panel. Read it. Consider it.

    Then add another character. Read it. Consider it.

    Add another character. Read it. Consider it.

    Add another character. Read it. Consider it.

    Add a last and fifth character to the panel. Read it. Consider it.

    Note that it took longer to absorb what was in each successive panel.

    Now add a balloon, with a short sentence, and point it to one of the characters. Read it. Consider it.

    Add another balloon, with a short sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Add another balloon, with a short sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Add another balloon, with a short sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Add another balloon, with a short sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Note that it took longer to absorb what was in each successive panel.

    Now add dialogue to one of the balloons, at least another sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Add more dialogue to one of the balloons, at least another sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Add more dialogue to one of the balloons, at least another sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Add more dialogue to one of the balloons, at least another sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Add more dialogue to one of the balloons, at least another sentence. Read it. Consider it.

    Note that it took longer to absorb what was in each successive panel.

    Now split one of the balloons into two balloons, in a way that makes sense. Read it. Consider it.

    Split another of the balloons into two balloons, in a way that makes sense. Read it. Consider it.

    Split another of the balloons into two balloons, in a way that makes sense. Read it. Consider it.

    Split another of the balloons into two balloons, in a way that makes sense. Read it. Consider it.

    Split another of the balloons into two balloons, in a way that makes sense. Read it. Consider it.

    Which took longer for you to read, this or the previous set of incarnations?

    I believe splitting balloons adds a beat.

    I also believe that two balloons connected by a stem read more quickly than two separate balloons pointing to the same character. I believe that not having the eye drawn directly to the second balloon by a connecting stem adds a beat.

    I once got into a fight with an Acclaim editor on this topic. He was the editor; I lost. (Won’t we have fun, when we get around to discussing balloons?)

    What do you believe?

    To become a Comics Panel Time-Master, this is what it takes: consciously considering how each elemental option will affect the pace of each panel.

    “So that’s the trick to becoming a Comics Panel Time-Master?” you ask. “Simply figuring out how much consideration I want a reader to spend inside a panel, then making sure I put in some combination of stuff that correlates to this?”

    “Yes,” I reply.

    “But how do I know how much is too much or too little?”

    “Well,” I answer, “that depends on the goals of the panel in relation to the ones that precede and follow it, all, of course, within the additional context of the page and the story.

    “This is why we’re learning to walk before we blast off in a rocket ship.”

    “Well, if we don’t yet know the context of the panel, what’s the point in doing the exercise?” you ask.

    “Because when you actually know how much consideration you need from a reader in a panel, for whatever reason you need it, you’ll know why you’re writing what you’re writing.”

    “By adding or subtracting stuff, whether they’re balloons or characters or implicit actions?”

    “Yes,” I reply, liking that I get to answer with only one word.

    “These are my tools for crafting, with intention, the time a reader takes to consider a panel?”

    “Yes,” I reply, repeating myself again, and liking it.

    “That way I can review what I wrote or drew, and make an estimated determination about whether I accomplished my goal for that panel…or not?”

    “Yes,” I reply, also nodding this time to emphasize the point.

    “So now I have the rudimentary sequential art tools I need to become a Comics Panel Time-Master?”

    “Yes.”

    “But knowing the tools isn’t the same as knowing how to use the tools, is it?”

    “No,” I say, happy to break the monotony.

    “Thus the need, especially at first, for constantly examining my work, within this context?”

    “Yes,” I say, for the final time. “Class dismissed.”

    “Yay!!” everybody cries in unison.

    “And don’t forget to do your homework,” I add.

    “Boo!!” everybody cries in unison.

    ***

    Lee Nordling is the owner and founding partner of The Pack (the-pack.biz), a comics-related content provider for the publishing industry. He is also author of “Your Career In the Comics,” an overview of the newspaper comics syndication profession and industry.

    If you wish to contact Lee separately from Comics Pro Prep, please write to him at lee@projectfanboy.



  2. drgerb Guest

    I'll get to the exercise in a day or two, but I'd like to throw something out there. First off, another great article that had me thinking about things I didn't even realize I *could* think about, let alone want to think about.

    Secondly, elements in a panel, slowing down the reader. I'm assuming the bigger panels will usually have more elements, more beats to them than smaller panels, understandably so. And I'm assuming major points in the story, focal points you wanna drive home to the reader (which for me, will also probably be the bigger panels of a page) could benefit from adding multiple elements / beats, to keep the readers eye on that one image you hope to ascentuate.

    I did this without even realizing it in one of my scripts a few days ago. I have a wide open shot of a guy walking down a road in a zombie infested city. It's a closeup of the guy, with the road / zombies / corpses in the background, and I wanted to ascentutate his loneliness and the desolation. I had one or two narrative captions, and I had him holding an axe in one hand and a bottle of hard liquor in the other (both are theoretically elements, added beats to the single image, in that it takes time for the eye to examine which each hand is holding, in this case to read the label of the liquor to know it's liquor and not just some bottle of water).. And driving home this "loneliness" I added another element to the axe; A sticker on it that reads, 'Hello, my name is: Killin' Jill.' So no only do you see desolation, a single man, axe and alcohol in hand, but after reading the dialogue, your eye goes BACK to the bottle to read it's label, and back to the axe to read about the guy's sense of humor.

    And these seemingly non-time related aspects add to the overall time a reader will spend on this single panel. Adding things in the background, signs, words on cars, anything you can read, logos, all that (Bomb Queen does a great example of this, in the backgrounds of the city), adds to the time a reader will spend on any given panel. And the time won't ONLY be for examining arbitrary background information, cause the whole time, as your eyes are panning around, from apparent arbitrary detail to meaningless detail, the foreground, and whatever is happening in it is constantly reminding you where we are.

    Which brings me back to my panel; If I want to ascentuate desolation, despair, and loneliness, adding in beats to the panel may drive home the intended message and remind the reader exactly where we are in this particular story. Woohoo.

    But that all said, I haven't done the exercise as I gotta go to bed. Gah, curse you working overnights. I hopefully will try it out tomorrow or the next day. This one seems a bit rough. The idea of constantly adding more and more into a panel. Eek.



  3. LeeNordling Guest

    Thanks for the kind words and the Eek, Roberts.

    Size of panels is not yet a consideration; remember, even though we've had to wander into the mention of multiple panels to establish SOME context, we have not yet ventured toward the sequential panels aspect of sequential art.

    So we don't jump the tracks too early (though I realize we're bound to do so), let's not continue this discussion here of the impact that larger panels have on a page or story.

    Again, thanks.

    And yep, this one requires even more participation (to actually LEARN to APPLY this stuff) than the previous one.

    Ah, if only you could simply read this all to grok sequential art...but then everybody would be able to do it, and they can't.

    This stuff takes writing, examination, re-writing, examination, etc.

    At some point, you'll consider the drama of a scene, and think about conveying it through a succession of panels, not of linear cinematic scenes.

    For those wondering, that's the goal here: for you to learn to think like comics creators.

    You'd be surprised how few do.

    --Lee



  4. Join Date
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    I've been told I think like a comics character. Is that close?

    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5



  5. LeeNordling Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by SebastianPiccione View Post
    I've been told I think like a comics character. Is that close?

    Apparently somebody didn't read columns 1 & 2 until his brain read "full."

    Then #3 caused it to leak all over the place.

    --Lee



  6. StevenForbes Guest

    He said "grok"!

    I LOVE that book!

    To jump the tracks a little, someone once asked what novels they'd like to see turned into graphic novels.

    I immediately chimed in with Lord of Light. I friggin LOVE Zelazny, and his Amber series gets too much attention. Lord of Light needs some loving, too.

    Then, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land. I fell in total love near the end of the book. It was one of those that you don't see coming until you get near the end, and then, all of a sudden, you grok it.

    So, the second book, in almost a tie, is Stranger in a Strange Land.

    And that's what I'm going to base my examples on, when I get around to doing it this week. Other stuff came up first, and those take precedence. But Mr. Smith, like Destry, will ride again!



  7. LeeNordling Guest

    I wondered who'd be the first, if any, to jump on my use of the word "grok."

    My use of it was a cultural quiz, and Steven gets the lollipop.

    --Lee



  8. StevenForbes Guest

    Oooh.

    Sweet, delicious lollipop... How I adore thee. Yum!

    Anyway, I'm just trying to grok in fullness, and one day, I would like to share my water with Lee.



  9. CalvinCamp Guest

    an irrational belief that this stuff is more complicated than it really is
    Ah, yes... my natural state. So, of course, this is the installment that doesn't leave me scratching my head over something. Figures.

    It does bring up a question, though. Is it too early to ask about the difference in apparent time flow between a single panel with many elements and a series of panels which depict the same elements, but does so with fewer elements per panel?

    Choosing between the two seems like an important part of applying what you've been talking about here, but it's also stepping into "panels in sequence" territory, so just call this a request to touch on the subject somewhere along the way. Thanks!



  10. danialworks Guest

    --glub--



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