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Sunday, 20 November 2011

Earlier this month Miguel Rosa at Comics Without Frontiers set himself to “find a panel that shows a character doing multiple actions.”

This was because Devin Grayson had advised novice comics scripters to be sure they ask artists to depict only one action per panel, something she had to learn early on. In that respect, comics panels are not like shots in a movie.

Rosa found two examples of multiple-action panels from Frank Miller’s Daredevil. Yet another appears in this month’s Nightwing, drawn by Eddy Barrows:
There are also plenty of examples in the Flash comics: a speedster moves so fast that he or she appears in several places at once (yet another form of “showing the invisible”). But the relative rarity of such panels supports Devin Grayson’s point, that generally comics scripts need to specify one moment per image.

Artists pull out the technique of showing one person several times in one big panel to portray that character’s exceptional speed (as with the Flashes) or exceptional grace (as with Nightwing and Daredevil). Those images achieve their power because they’re unusual, and break the expected rules.

Furthermore, those panels almost always show only the main character doing multiple actions, and that character has a single goal and mood throughout. It would be much harder for one image to comprehensibly show two characters reacting to each other multiple times, or changing goals or emotions as they move.

Occasionally artists use the technique symbolically, as in the lower example showing how Dick Grayson grew up. This particular image demands that readers already know that history, however.

To make such panels easier to interpret, as Rosa’s examples and the picture above show, colorists usually render most of the figures in lighter shades. Motion lines can also guide our eyes from one figure to another in the proper order.

(The larger point of Rosa’s post is about how motion lines are vanishing from recent American superhero comics, along with other “show the invisible” techniques. He complains that pencilers are acting as “nothing more than glorified illustrators” rather than using the form’s full potential.)

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