1 Mastodon is new and the interface isn't great yet, but we all want a viable twitter alternative, so maybe it's time to put some content here. Time for my first tootstorm™

This'll be about enlivening a comic page.

2 Painters & songwriters can sometimes go from conception to completion in a single session, fueled by new-idea energy. Comics tend to take a lot longer. Some pages will just lay there, not engaging you. And if you're not engaged, the reader won't be either.

3 I'll be talking about ways to solve those problems from the picture-making side. Your goal should always be STORYTELLING. If the scene isn't interesting, the problem might be that there's nothing happening to engage the reader—no relevant conflict, no attempt to overcome an obstacle in pursuit of a goal. If it's your script that has problems, fix them rather than trying to obscure them with clever pictures.

4 So here goes. Treat these as options to deploy, like Wally Wood's "22 Panels that Always Work."

CONTRAST is always interesting. It can add humor and make elements in a panel comment on each other. Your shabby romantic lead never looks so worn down as when you show him next to a spotless butler in a tuxedo. Juxtapose opposites. Big vs. little. Warm color vs. cool. Dark vs. white. Curvy vs. angular. Plain vs. lavish. Young vs. old.

5 PROPS. Build a scene around a single striking prop or detail of setting. It could be a gorgeous, exotic object, or something rough-hewn or oddly sized. Make it MEMORABLE. Ideally, this will tell the reader something about the character or setting it belongs to. Look at the mid-century illustrator Al Parker for some great uses of props. mastodon.social/media/_zuoNaU7 mastodon.social/media/O6rD3ABf

6 MOOD SWITCH Life can be perverse. Funny moments at a funeral. Deeply sad incidents at a child's birthday party. Sometimes you can leave behind the dominant mood of a scene for a panel and insert something incongruous in there that, just for a moment, reminds the reader that this isn't a one-note world you're creating.

7 MOVEMENT Even in a static medium like comics, movement is a continual source of interest. When your characters have that important conversation, they can stretch, bend, twist, gesture. Let them fiddle with their glasses, rubs their hands together, reach to tie a shoe, wave away an insect. Movement does more than just make a page more lively. It can make characters more interesting.

8 APPROACH TO LAYOUT Been sticking to a grid? Maybe introducing unusual panel shapes, or a montage or poster-ish approach to a page will wake things up. Be careful with this one. You still want to control the order with which your reader receives information. Take extra care with how you guide the eye around the page. But for a lot of artists breaking free from the strict grid opens up a world of graphic possibilities. mastodon.social/media/sOSR4wEr

9 TAKE SOMETHING OUT You don't have to treat every panel like a window on a scene. Try vignetting the important stuff and letting the parts that aren't important fade into the white of the page.

Early 20th century illustrators were brilliant at this. Here are some examples from Dean Cornwell. mastodon.social/media/BdjUsQrC mastodon.social/media/LbsS0ihK mastodon.social/media/9Dxw4r6j


10 CHARACTER MOMENT Sometimes a character has to do something prosaic. Let's say… shopping for groceries. If you've got a page of your character shopping, find a way for them to do it that tells your reader exactly who this person is.

Does she kick an apple into the cart like a hacky-sack? Does she pile the cart alarmingly high with junk food and whistle as she pushes it? Does she unknowingly knock over displays as she passes? Find a way to do it that's uniquely her.

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Dialogue in the scene carries all the required information? Perk things up by running a parallel narrative. While the off-duty cops have their big conversation at the diner counter in the foreground, maybe a new family in the background can be seated, get their baby into a high chair, place an order and struggle to get him to eat. Just be sure to stage it so that the reader doesn't forget that this is the cops' story.

12 Your parallel story can comment on the main action. It can reinforce a theme. It can even be used as a slight-of-hand distraction from some important detail you're subtly planting for later on


Generally you want your reader to be paying attention to the story rather than what an impressive draftsman you are, but there are time when these goals reinforce each other. If you're in a place in the story where it's appropriate for the reader to stop and be impressed with how beautiful something or someone is, cut loose and let your drawing be flashy.

14 It signals to the reader that this moment or object is something of significance. And if you're stuck drawing a page with absolutely nothing to care about, it's always a good idea to at least do some cool picture-making to at least provide some measure of value for your reader.

15 RESTATE THE RELATIONSHIP Your pictures can clarify the relationship between two things on your page. Does the boss have all the power? Let him blow smoke at his underling, or take a sandwich from him, take a bite and hand it back. Is Louise's crush on Janine unrequited? Show Janine looking anywhere but at Louise. If Michael is heartbroken that he didn't make the basketball team, put his brother's trophies where you can juxtapose their rigid poses of triumph with Michael's slouch of despair.

16 BUILD THE WORLD Do some research and show your reader something real and relevant to your story.

As the brash young pilot and his older, wiser trainer cross the airfield talking about the mission, you can show all the fascinating things the ground crew have to do to get a plane ready to take off. And when the knight and squire catch fish in the river, showing real fishing techniques will make for engaging visual business.

17 ...and that's ten! Thanks for following along on my first real thread here. If you want to share it, I think this is the correct link: mastodon.social/@stevelieber/9
And I'd love to hear your own ideas about enlivening a page!

Oh cool! In response to my mention of Al Parker, Tony Renner posted a link on twitter to an article about the Al Parker archives at Washington University in St. Louis. Here's the link: library.wustl.edu/traveling-wi

I like Steve Eptin's approach of giving us a dominant panel that has a lot of setting and texture, and going for close shots of individual action/interaction in the other panels.
mastodon.social/media/VPfbUCOZ mastodon.social/media/ZJnErXp0

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