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Panel by Panel: Charby the Vampirate and the Three-Beat Sequence

hpkomic at 12:24PM, June 17, 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.

We're mixing things up a bit this week by looking at three panels. We're talking about the three-beat sequence and how slowing down time is a helpful tool for arranging your comics. Our spotlight comic to illustrate this week's principle is the long-time Duck classic Charby the Vampirate by Amelius.

We'll look at this deceptively simple but useful three-beat sequence from the update “Shields Deployed.”

Before we begin, be sure you visit the comic, leave a comment, and look at these three panels in the context of the larger page.

So what is going on here? Well, we generally consider panels to be abstracted slices of time. The shape may change, and the way we see a moment play out might vary, hence the abstraction, but generally, in most comics, a panel is like a single moment in time. Because we are getting moments and space on the page is limited, we tend to jump forward quite a bit in a sequence, panel to panel. In that sense, if we were watching a movie, it would be like cutting out certain frames.

In comics, we understand the language and know that the gutter, the space between, takes us to different moments in time. This was brilliantly explained in Scott McCloud's book Understanding Comics:

What we see in the sequence I chose for Charby the Vampirate is a sequence where the gutters are still creating a break in time, but due to the relatively minor changes in the action of the subject in the panels, we get the sense that this is far less time progression between moments compared to other parts of the source page. However, ironically enough, the character's confusion is also drawn out by extending the sequence depicting the actions that show confusion. So these three beats end up doing a lot to sell what is happening now.

Again, it is weird to consider, right? The three beats shorten the time jump between the images but simultaneously lengthen the gag, almost like slowing time. Comics are great.

But now, a question for you: Do you have a variation on this three-beat sequence in your comic? Please share an example of what you've done that is similar to this. I expect many of us to have similar moments in our work. My guess? It might be a two-panel sequence.


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PaulEberhardt at 2:26PM, June 19, 2022

I love sequences like this for what they do in terms of comic timing. In this example wolfy here is pausing for a moment to let its cerebral cogwheels click into place - anyone who spends a lot of time observing animals will have seen a moment just like that - and that just wouldn't come across in "real time". Besides, this kind of thing is too much fun to draw and watch to miss out on it. I've done this both with the tiger and the squirrel in my comic multiple times, even if I never use bordered panels there. Since my critters talk through their body language only, it's practically a necessity.

Ironscarf at 6:21AM, June 19, 2022

This great little sequence has a very animated feel to it, as well as looking very pretty! There's even a sense of the wolf's increasing confusion from one panel to the next, helped no end by the third ear in the last one - nice touch!

Amelius at 7:49PM, June 18, 2022

Oh! I was so surprised to see my comic title my heart skipped a beat, haha! I'm really enjoying this article series, and I'm delighted that I could be an example for something in here. I honestly was never expecting that haha! One of the other times I did a 4-beat sequence with character Kavonn putting his hat on and giving it a twist back in place, finishing with a smirk and the audience went NUTS for it (I even got an animated fan art of it!) In this one I wanted to show the wolf losing the signal he was following, crackling to static before being plunged into a sensory darkness, and I coulda done that with 2 panels maybe but it just wouldn't have the same impact as slowing it down a bit while the wolf was in a hurry to get somewhere.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 11:08PM, June 17, 2022

I think what is happening on panel 3 to 6 on Spark in the Deep: page 4 of Molly Lusc could be an example of a four-beat sequence, maybe:P

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