The 9 Panel Grid
Hello and welcome to a series of posts I want to do about the use and art behind particular paneling styles that are common in comic book work. In the several tasks that are performed in the creation of comic books, there is one that falls between story boarding and layouts on a page. And that is the the task of creating a visual language through the aesthetic of each of the boxes that contains the images and text for the page; Paneling.
This post will focus on the form of 9 panels occupying the page, the grid feature that it creates is the result of the panels being congruent and equidistant from each other. It’s a style worth talking about because the uniform nature of having consistent panels from page to page, is not only similar to the beat by beat dialogue intensive nature of comic strips found in news papers but is a great departure from the dynamics, flowing and inconsistent paneling that is the staple of action comic books. But it’s use in face paced action titles is still a unique story telling tool for many reasons.
The 9 panels often serve a very specific function; so many aspects of a traditional panel could be thrown away. Particularly backgrounds which read better in landscape panels. The vertical tendency of the 9 panels makes for better portrait images, and up close facial expressions which are regularly lost when you have to balance out the scaling of your images over all between your back and fore grounds. I recently used the 9 panel grid style in a preview comic that I release online, available here. In the comic, the events occurring on the pages are relayed through television and various social media platforms. So the portrait form perfectly captures phone screens and screenshots of different information.
However these are all basic pieces of information and comprehension if you’ve ever read a comic book or have tried to draw with no prior knowledge.
The mastery of the 9 Panel grid comes in when you are closer to your layout tasks. This takes us down two paths that while are similar in nature are contrasts in application. For the sake of terminology so we don’t get lost we will call the first ‘Cross Mapping‘ and the second ‘Merging‘.
Cross Mapping, which is arguably the harder style to pull off is: the ability to conceptualize one image over several panels, the compartmentalization of over a continuous beat and understanding the readers eye movement so not to strain them finding what panel to read next (common in dynamic paneling styles).
The reasons you would break up an image over several panel vary from situation to situation. But as a overly simplistic, I would say that there is not enough space in a less than 1/9th of a page to convey imagery. Personally, I don’t like to let my brushes get too thin so, the limited space and a big drawing tool are a bad pairing.
The core advantage of this style over ‘Merging’ is in the lettering. Lettering one of the overall tasks of a comic books, making use of space and flow to create tempo/pacing, speech bubble and sound effects. In Cross Mapping, the existence of the panel borders creates a framing for whatever text is floating over the image. To minimize the work done on placements with a now awkwardly large panel.
Merging, if you hadn’t figured it out by now is the erasure of the panel borders between selected panels. This creates it’s own form of dynamism if you know how to play with the panels. And honestly, its hard to not get carried away with the combinational geometry.
Thanks for stopping by be sure to check in again for new updates on paneling, comic book creation and all that good stuff. Cheers!
Popular comics that make use of the 9 Panel grid style are: