Principles of Design…as Revealed in “Nancy”

November 30, 2011 @ 7:39 pm | Filed under: Books, Comics, Graphic Novels

The other day I was sharing some thoughts on Twitter about storytelling and layout problems I see in many (but by no means ALL) of the graphic novels coming out of book publishing houses lately, and Raina Telgemeier (Smile) chimed in with a link to an essay that had a profound affect on her development as an artist. Here’s our conversation, with the essay link at the bottom. The essay is called “How to Read Nancy” by Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik, and it’s fascinating. The authors take a close, critical look at the old Nancy comic strip by Ernie Bushmiller. Yes, really! It’s some of the best analysis of visual design principles I’ve ever read.

Me:

Dear book publishers branching into graphic novels: Thrilled, but your ballooning & storytelling mistakes are KILLING me.

@ryancecil asked:

Wouldn’t that be the author/artist’s mistake first?

Me:

Yes but it’s the editor’s job to hire good pencillers, correct clumsy storytelling.

First Second, Random House, Scholastic are doing graphic novels well. Sometimes lettering/ballooning could be better but hey, so could Big 2’s [Marvel & DC]

I’m talking about readability here, not plot. Visual storytelling, ballooning, lettering. Layouts, camera angles, the way a page flows.

Am seeing books from other publishers which make what seem to me rookie mistakes. Confusing layouts & ballooning, stacking panels on left, etc.

Raina:

Just reading your thoughts on GNs. I agree, confusing balloon/panel layout is a real problem! Especially for kids’ books.

Me:

Yes, in kids’ graphic novels, good ballooning/layout even more important. Should lead eye, not perplex. YOUR layouts rock, btw!

Have read several dozen kids’/YA graphic novels for Cybils this month, dozens to go by end of year. At least 1/2 make panel layout mistakes.

I think many GN artists are following film storytelling technique rather than good comics technique. Also too much fancy lettering.

I’m seeing some stellar graphic novels this year, mind you. Some that make you feel lucky to be alive & reading in 2011.

Raina:

When I’m laying out pages, I start with the panels/boxes. Lettering & balloons come next—before the drawings!

Mark Newgarden wrote a terrific article called How To Read Nancy with the bare bones of comics principles… http://t.co/rflMWCFF [link opens a PDF]

I read it as a teenager and have applied the logic to my work ever since.

Specifically, how to lead the reader’s eye thru a comic, to arrive at the punchline/end of the page exactly as artist intends.

This explains a lot about why Raina’s work is so terrific.

(I am champing at the bit for her upcoming middle-grade graphic novel, Drama, about a school drama club, aka MY PEOPLE.)

Enjoy the “Nancy” essay.

P.S. Raina is the only other person I know whose husband proposed to her in a comic book. Read it and melt. πŸ™‚


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Comments

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  1. Oh! My! I am crying! That was so beautiful!! But what do you mean the only other person? Who else? Don’t tell me your husband is that cool as well as all the cooking and foot rubbing?

  2. He is indeed. πŸ˜‰ One of these days I really ought to post the story!