Briefly on: Panel Composition

The composition of panels is not something I see discussed much. A few of the books I’ve been reading recently have got thinking about composition, that is, the organization of elements inside the panel. Will Eisner’s compositions in The Spirit (I’m rereading the newly released Best of the Spirit (DC)) are interesting for two main reasons. One is the way he uses point of view to create mood (mood being one of the main concerns in his work). The other, due to his 7 page per story restriction, is having multiple elements of the story happening in the same panel, usually foreground and background events.

Kiriko Nananan, in her manga Blue, uses harshly cropped composition: characters’ heads half cropped so only mouth and nose are visible, heads pushed to the edge (and often half off) of the panel, bodies half cropped to show only legs and feet or headless torsoes. These strange compositions that often hide much of the characters and their interactions add to the sense of awkwardness in her characters, teenage girls dealing with their internal relationships and quickly approaching futures.

Jack Kirby’s compositions (in this case I’m reading Essential Fantastic Four vol. 3 (Marvel) which includes issues 43 to 63) accent the dynamic action of his storylines. He heightens drama by using such devices as extended depth of field (one character really close, perhaps just a head, and another further away, most or all of the body; also used with a single character bounding across foreground and background, like a character throwing a punch into the foreground or the amorphous movements of Mr. Fantastic or the Sandman), ever-changing points of view (gives the appearance of a lot of motion), and of course the exaggerated poses of his characters.

Something else to keep in mind when reading a comic. How does composition affect the workings of the comic.