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Panel By Panel: Phantasos and Perspective

hpkomic at 8:09AM, July 29, 2022

Hello and welcome to Panel by Panel, an analysis of panels from comics right here on The Duck and exploring what they do, how they work, and what we can learn from them.

This week we will check out a panel from the webcomic Phantasos by user jslongstreet. This is the very first page in the archive, in a storyline titled “The Contender.”

So, I wanted to talk about perspective in art this week and how sometimes breaking conventions is incredibly useful to comics. We know as clear back in the period of the Greeks and Romans that there was an understanding of perspective, or as the dictionary defines it, “the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.”

After that whole “Fall of the Roman Empire” thing, the knowledge of perspective was ‘lost’ until it was ‘rediscovered’ by the Italian architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi in the 1400s. Since then, perspective has been an important component of art for many artists because it helps to create an illusion of depth that is generally consistent with how we see the world in real life.

For many of us, perspective can signify care and attention. Sometimes it can also be a source of frustration, leading to proper perspective as a compositional focus, even in comics. But as much as proper perspective can lend a lot to a scene, breaking what is proper perspective can add a lot, too.

That is why I latched onto that page of Phantasos so quickly. The image depicts multiple horizon lines, and the clocktower on the page seems to bend on several, simultaneously being something we manage to look “up” and “down” at in the same image. It does a lot to create a sense of motion as well. It's a very off-kilter image, supplemented by the exaggeration of the landscape, including the graveyard and the hill in the foreground.

It's very stylized and dynamic and tells a story in a single image. Does it follow the traditional rules of perspective? Not at all. But rules are meant to be broken, especially in comics. Why limit yourself to tradition all the time?

But that begs the question to you, dear readers. Have you ever “cheated” perspective on purpose? Please share your links to pages where you feel like you've fudged perspective a bit for dramatic effect. I would love to see them. Going through my own archive, I can't find many examples of this sort of thing in my work. I think I may need to break some rules.

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skyangel at 4:30AM, July 30, 2022

Very atmospheric! Great article and it certainly makes me want to check out the rest of the comic seeing that lovely art.

PaulEberhardt at 11:38AM, July 29, 2022

I like what jslongstreet did here. First of all it looks really damn cool. Secondly, this is an awesome way of focusing the reader's attention in a similar way the human eye does it all the time without us ever realising it. You don't believe me? Think of watching a rock star on a stage or animals in nature: both will dominate what you see, seemingly filling your whole field of vision, because they'll be your main focus of interest. Take a photo of the scene using a wide angle lens (to bring your camera's angle of view as close as possible to the usual 120° of human vision - it'll always be a good deal less) and you'll see how small the musician or the animals actually are in relation to everything else. Human perception is selective, and that's why cheating with perspective like this can look more lifelike and dynamic than a photo. Working out vanishing points and all that too accurately may make a drawing look pretty sterile - which is why I have few qualms about cheating, myself.

dragonsong12 at 10:51AM, July 29, 2022

Wow, yeah. The way the tower leans one way and the shadow the other but somehow both seem "right" feels so great! So off-kilter. It immediately draws you in!

Unka John at 10:08AM, July 29, 2022

Puts me in mind of The cabinet of Dr Caligari.

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