Layouts & Sketching – Episode three
Getting from story to comic book pages can be a daunting task. What is the process behind breaking the script down into pages and breaking pages down into panels? How do you decide on the best possible way to tell your story in pictures? How do you avoid the fear of the blank page?
In this episode, Palle covers all the basics in page layouts and how to plan out your story, including thumbnails, establishing shots, cliffhangers, thumbnails, splash pages and bleed – and some pitfalls to be aware of.
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EPISODE 3: LAY-OUTS AND SKETCHING
Welcome back! You made it! You wrote a script! No? All-right, you’re out!
No, seriously. You can watch, come on back. What I’m going to talk about in this episode of comics for beginners is breaking down your script into pages, and breaking your pages into panels.
Like I told you in episode 2, I always write a script for my comics. I don’t describe every panel, just what happens in the story.
So when I get to the actual drawing, I print out my script and read through it, marking it wherever I think might be a good idea to cut to a new page. There are techniques for this, like the cliffhanger ending, where something exciting is about to happen. That’s a great way to keep your readers interest in the story. End the page JUST where they open up the cellar door, or JUST when a hand-grenade goes through the window. All right, maybe not on EVERY page, but you get the idea. Mark your script where you think it might be a good idea to cut it, and then when you’re done, count the pages you broke it down to. Is it too long or too short? Only YOU know that, it’s your story. But try to have something at least vaguely interesting happen on every page. Not only does that make for a better read, it’s also a lot more interesting for you to draw. A great location or a great line of dialogue should do it, you don’t need hand-grenades. Be careful how much information you cram into every page, remember, you have to break it down into panels! More than 6 or 9 panels per page is usually very hard on the eyes. And more than three speech balloons in one frame makes the story hard to follow. Also, think about what kind of pacing you want. Some scenes you might want to be calm and quiet. That’s usually done with the use of big pictures, with not a lot of dialogue. You might have some key images in your head or already sketched out in your head. Make sure you leave room for those images. They’re probably one of the main reasons you are even making this story!
When I break down my pages into panels, I usually do small sketches that some call thumbnails. The reason for that is, they’re faster to draw, and you get a feel for the layout a lot easier, than with a big, expensive piece over oversize drawing board. Again, this preparation will save you time and grief, believe me. You don’t want to be halfway done with a page, only to find out it needs two more panels to work. Do the thumbnails, and get a feel for the pace, then start doing the sketches for the actual pages. I know, we’re three episodes in, and NOW he starts talking about drawing!
Well, not just yet actually. Here’s what I do: I usually TEXT my pages before I draw. Two reasons for that:
1: I want to be SURE my dialogue fits in my speech balloons!
2: It’s BORING! So I want to get it done right away.
I’ll go into details about texting in episode 5, so let’s just skip that for now.
When you layout your pages, here are a couple of guidelines:
Make sure you have an ESTABLISHING SHOT. You’ll know that technique from the movies or even better, television. You start out with a New York skyline. Then you see a house, and zoom in on a window. The next image is probably two people sitting in a kitchen talking. That scene is shot in a studio somewhere most certainly NOT in the New York building you just saw. But because we had the establishing shot, we all know and believe they’re inside a building in New York. On TV, they do this to save money. In comics, we do it to save time. We DON’T want to have to to show the whole city of New York in every panel! And we also want to give the reader an idea where we are, which helps them follow the story! If you do your establishing shot right, you can get away with drawing very little background on the rest of your page. We go over backgrounds and perspective drawing in lesson 6, so don’t worry about that now.
The next guideline I want to give you, is VARIATION. Make sure every panel is not the same.
Variation in size is good. When I started out making comics, I actually copied a bunch of page layouts just like this, just to get an idea of what to do. But variation within the frames is even more important. And that ALSO saves you some time. If you already had two close-ups of your characters talking, let’s shake things up a bit, and show them in full figure silhouettes for frame 3. Because we KNOW what they look like now, no need to show every detail. When you have a specific reaction panel, an emotional outburst or something like that, it might not be the best time for a silhouette. But then again, that might be EXACTLY right. Only YOU will know. It’s your story.
Before we go on to lesson 3 about character design, I want to give you a few ideas for page layouts.
Now you can’t really go wrong with a 9 panel grid. If you want to shake things up a bit, make some variations in size and number of panels, but more than 9 panels on a page tends to give a very hectic feel. The bigger and more detailed your panels are, the more it tends to slow down the reading of it. An OPEN PANEL here and there is great for variation, but works best with a single character, object, a car or a building in full view. You can also SKEW your grid and make irregular panels, giving off the idea of a world gone out of whack.
If you’ve read American superhero comics, you’ll know the SPLASH PAGE, a panel that stretches across two a two-page spread. You’ll also have noticed, that a lot of US comics tend to BLEED, meaning the art goes all the way to the end of the page. If you’re using this method for print, be sure to have your art extend OVER the edge of the page. Another interesting idea for a layout, is the SPLIT PANEL, where something that’s really one image is split into several panels, giving of the illusion of time passing.
When you’re experimenting with your grid, proceed with caution. Always be aware of your reading order. Your view of the page should flow naturally. If you have to stop and think about what panel or speech balloon to read next, that hurts the storytelling.
Now let’s put some PEOPLE in your comic. On to lesson 4; Character Design
Feedback, comments and questions are more than welcome.