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Panel By Panel: How Do We Know What We're Seeing? (feat. 'VIRTUS')

hpkomic at 1:04PM, Feb. 23, 2024

Hello, everyone, and welcome to Panel by Panel, a periodic exploration of comic panels around The Duck.

Last time, we discussed expanding the scope of the topics covered in Panel By Panel, but I promised we'd get back to the normal swing this time. We have another panel to look at from a comic here on The Duck, but I also wanted to pick your brains about it.

So, this week, we're looking at a panel from the comic VIRTUS by SpeedslideArts. This panel comes from page 8 of issue #3. Don't check out the comic yet, though. Read on a bit because I have a question about your impression of the panel without the context of the larger comic page.

Here is a panel presenting a person speaking in the present with a flashback. When taken in with the whole of the page, it reads pretty obviously, but I also think that even cropped to just this single panel, there are some excellent choices by the creator to imply what is going on. But what is your impression before I bring up the design elements that provide this effect?

If you saw this single plane, do you think you would have an idea that we're simultaneously seeing a flashback and the present? Feel free to gather your thoughts and then check the full page the panel came from.

So, my initial feeling is that, devoid of the context, the panel would not be clear about what is going on. That is in no way a criticism of the work, though. I am removing something from its context, and we can't expect any panel to stick out on its own and be self-contained in any given situation. I think because of some design choices, we can lean toward not taking the panel as a scene where two people are occupying a physical location together, but I don't know if we'd quite get the flashback nature of the panel.

But, when taken into the context of the whole page and extended scene, the panel is fantastic storytelling with outstanding design choices within the panel. Here are three things to note.

1- The varying sizes of the figures present imply different positions that are not on the same plane. We get a sense these characters do not occupy the same visual space.
2 - The dominant yellow spotlight provides a color barrier, especially with the darkness around it, almost “boxing in” the musician. It is like an inset panel, in a way.
3- Color tricks with the shading and saturation make the figure of the flashback feel “brighter” than the person in the present. The difference in their respective lighting, though they are shaded similarly, suggests they exist in different states.

Of course, regarding that third point - this flashback's spotlight is also lighting our person in the present, which may throw things off regarding how many would interpret the moment, but I feel stylization like that is worth doing, and I don't think it does any harm. Again, if we were looking at it from the context of the single panel, I could imagine some confusion, but taken as part of a whole sequence, it is a nice touch and a bit of weirdness that makes comics unique.

But, those are just my thoughts. Please share your thoughts, and let me know if you could tell what was going on in the panel without the context of the larger page. Next time, we're gonna step away from panel analysis and turn to free resources you can use for your webcomics. See you then.

If you want to find earlier editions of Panel By Panel, click here.

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SpeedslideArts at 1:08AM, Feb. 25, 2024

Wow, I did not expect to see this! Thank you so much for the feature and analysis! I had no idea my experiments with rim lighting would gain attention like this. It's true that I deliberately went with different color palettes to indicate what was now and part of the flashback. The use of the rim lighting from the spotlight on the character in the foreground was meant to convey the idea that this was her memories, still fresh enough in mind to cast a light over her, yet not enough for her to be absorbed into her memories. Thank you so much for the kind words!

PaulEberhardt at 7:02AM, Feb. 24, 2024

I could, too. It's the interpretation that makes most sense. In addition to your three points, which I completely agree with, the very different camera angles that you would never get in one single scene without warping reality itself are a big giveaway, too. The way the spotlight reflects on the figure in the foreground, which you mentioned, didn't throw me off, but I rather think it creates a kind of frame, as if the person in the foreground were cut out from some other panel and pasted on top, effectively giving us readers two panels in one.

marcorossi at 2:42PM, Feb. 23, 2024

I did realize it was a flashback before reading it, in part because of the visual effects and in part because of the text in the balloon.

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