Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Break Panels Revealed: 5 Times When You Just HAVE TO Break out of the Box (Literally!)

There are lots of little tricks that good Comic Artists do in order to keep their readers in thrall and show off their wonderful (HA!) artistic skills. One of these worth pointing out -- and one I happen to use often -- is the notorious Break Panel.

What is a Break Panel? I've got an example of one at the top of this entry. In the simplest explanation I can think of, It's a Panel with something in it that "Breaks" out through the usual panel border/gutter.

Why use Break Panels? Well, there's lots of reasons that make sense:
  1. You Want to Emphasize Certain Parts of Your Characters. We all like certain parts of our drawings, and if you just don't feel like clipping off a certain amount of hair from the shot, you shouldn't have to. This is usually good as a minor break, where there's just a few bits of the character that need saving, but you shouldn't just draw in random chunks of hair or crown to justify doing a break panel. This reason is meant for continuity's sake , so those certain parts that need emphasis (for plot or characterization reasons) remain in shot and (more importantly) in the reader's mind.
  2. There's a certain emotion needed from the panel. This is the excuse rationale for our example; Jigsaw's mouth is agape (presumably from seeing Slick), and it simply helps emphasize the jaw if it's breaking more than just the laws of cartoon physics. The shocked expression continues through in the hairs poking out of the panel as well,
  3. You're Foreshortening. Let's face it, it's easier to foreshorten a single character than an entire background. As long as you do this sparingly, it works, and it helps further emphasize whatever is in the foreground as well.
  4. You're doing 'Tight Paneling'. I hope you have a good reason for doing tight paneling, but if you've already consigned yourself to a 'crowded' effect for whatever other reasons you've already got in mind, you're probably cutting off bits left and right in order to fit everything in. Break Panels allow you further crowd things in without sacrificing the artwork.
  5. You misjudged on the gutters and/or panel sizes. It happens. It's better to provide some continuity of an image than to randomly cut off a few fingers.
Like any tool in your visual arsenal, be sure to only use it when it needs it -- overusing any particular element reduces the impact of that element. Every other panel doesn't need to be broken, just like you don't always need super-close-ups of people's eyeballs and you don't always have to draw women's chests with inflatable cleavage.

As far as Break Panels go, each panel draws attention to itself, which means it also draws attention away from the other panels. It's a great way to bring more attention to your page's MVP (Most Valuable Panel), but they can't all be all-stars.

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