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Follow the Yellow Brick Layout

damehelsing at 12:00AM, June 20, 2021
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Last week, errrrrrrrr… the week before that, I talked about frames, the magical use of frames, the emotion you can give them, the shapes, sizes, how that can all add to the story you’re telling.
Kind of like how music can really be important in movies, it just gives that extra boost of feels that is -Chef’s kiss- juicy.

So now, let’s talk about layouts. I should have talked about layouts first then frames, but.. I’m more experienced in frames than I am in layouts so I’ve been stalling, to be honest.

Moving on.

Layouts, why are layouts important? The layout of your comic will help guide the reader through the scenes. And just like frames, it’s important to have a layout work with the scene you want to represent; an important scene would get a bigger frame right? Or maybe just have an entire page to itself! You want to make sure your layout works with what you’re doing.

As much as I hate to say it and hear it, comics do rely on visuals to a point, because they’re comics and not a book. Your art doesn’t have to be pretty and not every frame needs to be some sort of intricate architectural map, but you do want a good and clear indication of how the story is flowing, no fancy stuff necessary; with books, there’s only one way to read: Left to Right (mostly, I think) but with comics, you can switch that up, and because you can switch that up, it can be VERY confusing to readers. You want to make sure there is a clear pathway for your readers.

Thumbnail, sketch, play around, make sure you have a decent image of what you have in mind with the scenes you want to play out and make sure that the script of your characters has space to flow, your layout can also be heavily dependent on your little text bubbles. Why? Because there’s a huge chance your audience reads left to right, and having your layout be a crazy mix, can… well, it make the audience confused.

In one page of mine(TW: violence), I had purposely listed in the footnote of the comic to read the page clockwise because I had the layout of my comic/my frame placement be in an almost circular position, and I wanted to make sure the readers knew where to start, however, if my comic were physical, there are no footnotes for the readers, it’s up to them to figure out how to read that page, and honestly, that’s not the best thing to do.
Why?
Readers can get annoyed, and if it’s a continuous cycle, they might actually the book down because they can’t read along or they’re struggling to.

Layouts are super crucial. They’re forging the pathway for our story in our comic and they’re forging the path for the reader to join us in this adventure. A bumpy journey that you have to keep taking two steps back to figure out what is going on is not that fun, but being part of a smooth ride filled with fantasy or no, that’s fun.

So, how do you figure out a clear layout?
Creating thumbnails/sketching is the best way to start. Look at your script, lay it down on the page, figure out the imagery you’re conveying or wish to convey here. Follow the script and visuals you have in mind to create your layout.
Example: Frame #1 and Frame #2 are just friends going back and forth talking about recent events but then all of a sudden in Frame #3 some madman (or woman, I don’t judge) bursts in and causes a scene? Make Frame #1 and Frame #2 be the top two frames of the page and make Frame #3 be the splash frame, it is the biggest frame of the page, why? Because it has an impact on that page, it’s going to lead us down the road to future events, it should be larger because it is meaningful. I hope, I mean, I really don’t think you’d draw a mad person bursting into the scenery out of nowhere for no reason, right? Now, what if it’s not something crazy? What if the friends of Frame #1 and Frame #2 are still talking? Well depending on how the conversation goes, the frames could remain simple and the layout could be simple too, maybe you can even fit Frame #3 into the top line with Frame 1 and Frame #2. This all might sound mundane, but these basic and simple steps will lead you to finding a decent layout.
The script makes up the frames and the frames make up the layout.
When you figure out how you want to do the first two, then the layout should actually be fairly easy.

A layout really is about showing off the full potential of your story-telling with an easy ride for the readers. Frame work? That can make the page look fancy, but having your readers know where to look? That’s really the key to your page.

I’m not going to lie, there were a few comics (only one, really) that I read where the layout was kind of crazy and the speech bubbles had no indication of where to look and how to follow, now I stood around with this story because it seemed promising, but it got very tiring to have to figure out where I have to look first.
Not every reader is guaranteed to ghost your comic because the layout wasn’t clear, but it will get annoying and tiring trying to figure things out. And even though at the end of the day, our creations are really just for ourselves, we wouldn’t want to be stuck in a situation where we wouldn’t be able to comprehend which way to look in a comic that we’re into.

Just remember, think of the page, think of the events you want to display and how you want to display them, make sure you’ve got room for your script and go play around with the layout, just make sure it makes sense.

Now, as I said previously, I don’t have much to share on layouts, so I would absolutely love to hear your opinions and thoughts. How do you go about planning your layouts and have you ever encountered a comic where you just had no idea where to look? Let me know.

Just a reminder that my articles aren’t a concrete way to define webcomics or even tell you how to make them, it’s really just an opinion and I am always willing to learn from you. :)

comment

anonymous?

Banes at 5:24PM, June 20, 2021

Your example page is really cool

Xade at 1:02PM, June 20, 2021

Oh yeah, and I try to lead the eye to get the reader to look at things the way I want them to look by making something stand out a little more than the rest of the panel

Xade at 1:00PM, June 20, 2021

My favorite way is to make a 15 pix grid and layout the panels first, going by a loose script. Just says what happens in the panels and the text, with no great detail. But if I know exactly what I want I do go into detail full force. Anyhow, using my basic script as a guide I lay out the panels then break out the text and describe what is in the panels in the center with a mall box, for lack of better word, of text that I can easily move around. I decide which one, or two (since I average 4-5 panels per page) panels to feature. I resize and shift around the boxes until it feels right. Then I get to work on the next stage. Sometimes laying out the page takes just as much time as it does planning the panels themselves but that's another discussion.

PaulEberhardt at 3:23AM, June 20, 2021

... If you do this right, readers will start from whatever is the designated centre of attention. AFTER THAT, they'll of course follow the "Z" pattern bravo pointed out, but they'll trace the angles of the shapes as well. Shapes that slope upwards or downwards, which you create by deftly placing your vanishing points, lead the wandering path of the eye up or down or from the foreground to the background and vice versa any which way you wish. That way, you can let several things happen in one single-panel page - either at once or even in a fixed sequence that will always roll off the same way. You can convey movement that way, too. Pretty much every page of mine has some examples. The first panel and the "Shaman"-scene further below will show what I mean as well as any: https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/Master_the_Tiger/5542055/ Not even the wall of text (that actually annoys me quite a lot myself there) and shoddy page layout can stop the magic of panel composition from working.

PaulEberhardt at 2:41AM, June 20, 2021

All of this is just as true and important even in storybook style when you don't use panels or clear panel borders at all, or do one panel a page. When designing these my first thought always goes to what should be the focus of attention. It's usually the first thing I sketch, too, and then I develop the panel/page from there. To guide the reader's eye within the picture, it helps to think of every object and character as a geometric shape it/he/she fits in: Where do these shapes point? In what relation do they stand to each other? Which shapes would distract from your point of focus and what can you do to avoid that? From what angle does the scene work best? ...

bravo1102 at 1:32AM, June 20, 2021

Layout is based on how the brain in programed to see what is before it. Upper left to right, cross down to lower left to right. The "Z" pattern. I learned it first in the army for how to visually scan a potential battlefield, then had it reinforced in graphic arts classes. It is human instinct and strangely enough cross cultural so even folks who read right to left will still most often scan an image starting in the upper left. Following the "Z" pattern you really can't go wrong.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 12:47AM, June 20, 2021

There are certain points where I might deviate from the left and right formula and in those cases I inform this to the reader by placing a directing arrow onto the frame between panels. I believe it was reading all of those Disney comics back in the day that taught me this and it is pretty much that whole layout formula I'm going by, because it's simply burnt into my brain I guess. Then again I do deviate a bit from this too by sometimes using the frames as caption boxes. I Don't think I've seen anyone else do that^^

Andreas_Helixfinger at 12:42AM, June 20, 2021

Well, in my case its fairly simple. I look at my script, visualize what is supposed to transpire from it on the page and size things up as I go on drawing the scenes panel to panel, and usually in the most basic, simple to follow way I can. Left to right, from the top to the bottom. Sometimes its a straight line up of panels, other times its more like a ladder thing. I do the same thing with the speech bubbles, always making sure that the bubble where the dialouge starts in the panel is at the top and its a downward, left to right climb from bubble to bubble. It feels like the most crystal clear way, letting the reader know immidiately where to read next. And like one of the examples you gave there I try to give impactful moments, such as Molly Lusc saving her husband in a split second from shooting himself through the head, that extra space momentum i.e. a splash panel.


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