Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Forgotten Wisdom: Part One (continued)

After I'd made yesterday's post which was -- essentially -- about the importance of remembering that a comic page reads from left to right, I remembered one more example that arises from not remembering this. So, before we move on to another topic, here's an addendum to yesterday's post…

Two Wides And A Tall: Don't Do It!

I think it's uncontroversial to say that any layout which requires little arrows between the frames is a layout that the artist should have re-thought. I don't care if you can find me examples by Kirby, or Byrne, or Miller… the fact is that a page layout should be immediately readable and the eye should flow effortlessly through that layout.* 

There is one particular arrangement of panels that is used with tiresome regularity, and it simply does not work. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

Two wide panels and a tall one.

Nine times out of ten, the artist has interpreted the script so that the panels read like this:

Which is simply not the way that the reader will want to read this layout. The reader's natural instinct will be to read left to right until they hit the right-hand edge of the page, and then move down to the next row, as they would with lines of text.

In some circumstances, the letter can rescue this layout by bridging the panels in such a way as to pull the reader's eye in the required direction:

However, if there is no dialogue, or if there is a scene change from panel 1 to panel 2, then this is not always an option.

Additionally, the solution is still less than ideal, since it then expects the reader's eye to travel from bottom to top when it jumps from panel 2 to panel 3:

Remember that Left-to-Right and Top-to-Bottom are reading conventions that have been imprinted on the reader's brain since they first learned to read. As a storyteller, you mess with this at your peril.

OK, so you've decide to use this layout in one-in-ten arrangement instead, like this:

Now panels 1 and 2 follow the Left-to-Right rule, so surely all is well, then?

No, it really isn't, for two reasons, Firstly, you're expecting the reader to read Right-to-Left between panels 2 and 3, but, more subtly but just as importantly, you're messing with the Page Out…

Page Out is what I call (perhaps incorrectly, I don't know!) the bottom right corner of each page. On a left-hand page, the reader knows to jump to the top of the right-hand page, and on a right-hander, they know it's time to turn the page.

In the last panel of any page, if it's humanly possible to put a caption, sound effect or speech balloon in the bottom right hand corner without disrupting the flow of the panel, then I will do, because I think it helps the flow of the book to lead the reader out of a page.

In this example, the Page Out is bottom left and the reader's eye has to travel across a bunch of stuff they've already read to get the position it should have been in to start with.

So, basically, there are things you can do to salvage this layout to an extent, but it's a bad layout, it forces counter-intuitive reading and you should not do it.

It's worth noting in closing, however, that the mirror of this layout -- One Tall and Two Wides -- is just fine. The reader's eye will travel quite naturally through the layout and end up exactly where it needs to be!

Two wides and a tall. Don't do it. I don't think I can be any clearer than that!

*As with all rules, I can think of specific circumstances where one might wish to disorientate the reader as a narrative effect but, let's be honest, this isn't something any artist should be looking to do on a regular basis…


  1. I was just going to comment that a tall and two wides can work, although you'd have to know what you are doing to make this work. A great example is from Paul Grist's Jack Staff.

  2. One should note that you are writing this under the assumption that all poster visitors are from a country where left-to-right reading is the tradition.
    If the viewer is native Hebrew or Chinese reader, where right-to-left is the tradition, all results are of course the opposite. So actually one tall and two wide in any order can be both right and wrong depending on the audience.

  3. Actually, Patrik, I did note precisely that in the preceding post (of which this post is clearly stated to be a continuation) when I wrote:

    (Note: if your comic is not in a Western language that reads left-to-right and top-to-bottom then this rule, obviously, applies relative to the reading direction of the particular language!)

  4. Fascinating analysis! I'd love to see more artists analysing art like this!