Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Teaching Comics (4)

Cerebus #216 (March 1997)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
The most common error I saw (and it IS an error - some things are not idiosyncratic) was misplaced word balloons. The Western eye reads one of two ways: left to right and/or top to bottom. The reader closes in his or her attention on the most obvious first word balloon or caption - the one closest to the top left corner of the page. The eye then pulls back a bit and seeks out the next most natural block of words (or word) either below the first  one or to the right of that one. The character who speaks first in a panel has to be one the left side of the panel or near the top of the panel. Panels should be planned to give a balance of words and pictures. If there are two people in a panel and each of them has one word balloon, you have to divide the panel into four sections - one section for each person and one for each word balloon. You have to rough in the words at the same time you're roughing in the people and leave space around the words to put in the shape of the balloon. The word balloons are part of the composition - an integral part.

I got really tired of reading panel that went 'I don't doubt that for a minute.' 'I could kill you right here and now.' 'Nor should you doubt it - even for a second.' Nothing defeats the purpose of a rapid-fire exchange than having to rearrange the dialogue in your mind as you're reading it. 'I could kill you...' goes in the top left. 'I don't doubt that...' goes directly under it. If it goes to the right of it, you have to move 'Nor should you...' as far below the exchange lines as you can get it, so the eye isn't tempted for a millisecond to read it second. If you put the 'I don't doubt that...' in between the other two lines of dialogue, then put it IN BETWEEN them. Spread 'em apart and get that interruption in there where it is actually interrupting.

In 1995 Dave Sim spent two days at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) teaching sequential art, via workshops, portfolio reviews and lectures. He summarised the experience in his essay 'Misunderstainding Comics' printed in Cerebus #194 (May 1995).

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