A reworking of individual comics from Randall Munroe's webcomic xkcd.com. Got questions? Go here

Friday, April 30, 2010

More on Comic #734

I don't really feel like my block of text about the format of the last comic really explained it well, so I'll devote a post to it since it's something worth sharing.

Anyways, comics are pretty typically composed of three general parts - the top, the middle, and the bottom. The eye interprets things this way. Let's divide the current comic into these three parts:

I drew these lines was based on the precedents set in the first panel. The narrative panel is in the top, the dialogue is in the middle, and the action is in the bottom. This is a fine setup, except for two problems.

First, there's dialogue in the top half. This interrupts the "flow" of the comic, and is the primary reason why it turns out so choppy. You expect that area to be reserved for narration, but there's dialogue instead. It appears messy and disorganized, which hampers the impact of the comic.

Second, the portions are skewed. The bottom alone takes up more than half, which leaves an awkward amount of white space for the third panel. Typically, "heavy action" panels work best when there's a sense of scale. For instance, the bottom panel of a comic shows a massive field with a guy shooting another guy. Usually the action will be in the middle or bottom of the panel. The point is to communicate the singularity of the moment; there's no dialogue, there's no other action, there's not even many (or any) other landmarks; there's just the two men and the single "BANG", occupying about 1/3rd of the vertical space. It emphasizes that nothing is or should be there. Think of it like an angle shot in cinema.

Conversely, the third panel doesn't have anything because there just isn't anything that's appropriate. It's just a flat shot. There's no emotion in it. It communicates state of being and nothing more; these guys are shooting a zombie. Wheeee.

Let's redo the first three panels to make this work, shall we?

A quick and dirty resizing, but I think it proves my point.

Now why did I only do the first three panels? Because the fourth panel is, frankly, completely asinine and deserves its own explanation. It moves everything around for very little reason; there's narrative on top and bottom and the figures, which until now have been entirely on the bottom, in sync with each other, are now higher up and have punctured into the middle of the comic. If the dialogue in the top half broke the flow, then the fourth panel takes the flow and shoves it up a Canadian's ass. Why is the door suddenly gone? Why are they surrounded by narration? Why is everything out of skew?

Isn't that nice and clean? Note that there's narrative in panel 3 now. You can still have narrative in a perspective shot, as long as it's the only voice. Remember, a perspective shot is there to show a situation in comparison to something else. In this case, action-heavy bottom versus no action in the rest of the panel; narrative dialogue versus no character dialogue.

Now, since the art in my remake there is admittedly shitty (quick is dirty for a reason), let's have an outside example of proper internal lateralization. Believe it or not, it comes from Garfield:

Truthfully, this is Garfield Minus Garfield, but the proper lateralization is what allows the minimalistic dialogue. There's an almost equal amount of empty area surrounding Jon on all sides; this implies to the viewer that there's a void in his life. When he says "I dread tomorrow", you believe him; you believe he leads an empty existence. Jim Davis might not know funny, but he does know how to properly format a comic (though, of course, it could be improved).

The great point we can take from this is that in visual mediums like comics, which relies on imagery to help tell a narrative (there's a reason why a picture is worth a thousand words), it's best to keep things as uniform as possible so that narrative is told smoothly. This is especially true of a minimalist comic like xkcd; you *need* to have every single element working together as flawlessly as possible. Sadly, in this xkcd it simply does not happen.

[EDIT] For funsies, let's throw in a version with only three panels:

Is it better? Is it worse? You be the judge.

No comments:

Post a Comment