Looking for some nice forum thread or off-site references talking about comic panels and/or (comic) page layouts in general. Very interested in learning what various approaches may be used or discouraged when giving this a legitimate bit of practice. If anyone has any links, I'd appreciate it! Thanks.
Draw Comics with Dick Giordano has a pretty good chapter dedicated to paneling styles over time, non-standard page layouts, and workflow systems (e.g. having one or two sentence briefs about what's going on in a particular page that the artist extrapolates into a full, visual narrative).
I have also purchased two of Will Eisner's books, "Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative" and "Comics and Sequential Art." In the foreword to "Comics," he has this to say, "This work was originally written as a series of essays that appeared randomly in 'The Spirit Magazine.' They were an outgrowth of my teaching a course in Sequential Art at the School of Visual Arts in New York City." Both books read very much like lectures for a college course, and are accompanied by some plates of very old comic books and graphic novels.
I would recommend all of the books I described, Giordano's for his technical approach (supplemented with plenty of original, full-page sketches and some borrowed sketches from other artists in the industry) and Eisner's books for their intellectual approach.
What I think is important in a comic, is the reading direction. We read from left to right and from up to down. But following a clear line makes it easy on the eye's and interpreting the flow of the story and it's action. So it's good to know how you can use this in a clear and creative way by using panels, characters, scenes and balloons. You're not limited, as long as you keep the flow going.
I made down here a quick example of what I am trying to say, follow the red line guys:
I agree. I've seen too many times that an artist will lay out bubbles for a dialogue, and a bubble ends up either to the left or above something it comes after in the logical order of the conversation.
Another great book is Scott McCloud's Making Comics. He devotes a lot of time to how to lay out panels and plan what goes in them.
A Mad Tea-Party (it's a webcomic)
Thanks everyone for your replies on this! I'll look up all of the suggested books and artists for some study material--god knows I could use some advice in this department.
Panel flow is something that takes a lot of people a long time to get. (Or at least it took me forever.) So do read up! There are lots of styles of panel layouts, it's good to study up on lots of them.
Another artist I'm reminded of who regularly wows me with her layouts is Colleen Doran. Her main work is A Distant Soil (which is excellent) and is definitely worth checking out for her moments of sheer panelling brilliance alone.
The biggest problem most people run into is trying to be too "cute" or complicated with their layouts because they're trying to copy published pros that have been doing it for years. If you're just beginning, keep it simple. As you get more comfortable, get more adventurous.
The story also has a lot to say about the general appearance of the layout/page. A subtle back-and-forth between two characters can be killed by two much of an attempt to make huge splash pages full of weird angles and activity because they overpower the story. An action-packed shoot-em-up, on the other hand, just dies if the characters are all seen from ground level side-on in a series of repetitive panels. The art and text should support and reinforce, and in some cases--replace, each other.
One big problem is the tendency to build up a massive amount of "powerful" art that you try to fit dialogue into. It should be the other way around. If your idea can stand as a black and white sketch/inking first and make the reader get involved, you've got a good start for coloring/shading.
Think in terms of rhythm. Two or three pages of dialogue-heavy imagery with a lot of close-ups and body cuts alternating with one or two massive single images that blow the reader off his chair (repeat until done) is better than a constant bludgeoning of high energy imagery page after page. It is possible to actually do an interesting 6-8 page comic with every thing done in panels exactly the same size and from the same angles if the dialogue is the primary driving force of the comic. This forces the reader to more-or-less ignore the "art" and concentrate on the message. This is how most newspaper comic strips are done, and the technique works equally well with pages.
Be real. Your characters are talking to the reader as well as each other. Make us believe it. If I feel like I'm not wanted or needed, I'm not going to pay attention to all your hoo-haw, no matter how pretty it is. Great illustrations tell a story in one punch. Comics sneak up behind you, crawl down your shorts and bite you in the ass when your least expect it. THAT'S a good comic, no matter what form your art takes.
No position or belief, whether religious, political or social, is valid if one has to lie to support it.--Alj Mary
Ironically, the concept of SIMPLICITY is most often misunderstood by simple-minded people. --Alj Mary
Though I'll definitely take what you've mentioned here to heart--maybe even make a conscious effort to make "minimal" panels for practice sake and, as you said, gradually become more adventurous. :]