When it comes to comics--when it comes to visual mediums--I think it's imperative that we cultivate a visual experience that plays outside our comfort zones. More often the case than not, you will see a comic with what I view as a "typical page layout"--let's say a three-to-five horizontal panel layout--dominating the entire issue. Perhaps the story calls for that type of feel, that aesthetically easy, pleasing look that's associated with most of the material on the shelves...
There’s of course nothing wrong with this approach, and I don’t profess to know any better, but I do know what grabs my attention—what, in small doses, works for me as a reader, and keeps things fresh as writer.
Quite frankly, I would've been okay with scripting page after page of layouts just like the one mentioned above in my career as a comic book writer, until I saw layouts like the ones JH Williams III incorporates into his work...
(It was around double-ought-five when I first saw his work in the form of Desolation Jones--at this point he had already had his run with Alan Moore on Promethea--and since then, he's been my indefinite favorite and unequivocal inspiration when it comes to page layouts).
With this revelation—this epiphany that comics can adjust their looks, their visual flow to how you want them—I strived, often to my detriment, to come up with layouts that would challenge the readers' eye; that forced them to piece together certain material. Here then, was one of my first attempts: page 18 in Flying Saucers vs the Earth #1:
(In the scene, the protagonist is having an alien tell his fortune through shamanic rituals and fortune telling).
Several other pages from that issue shared a similar layout and were far too common to have the desired effect I was looking for; they took away from the story, as opposed to visually boosting it. From that experience, it became a desire of mine to effectively balance the norm with the extraordinary. The common page layout versus the uncommon.
How, then, to keep a reader amazed through panel layout? Let’s take away dialogue, script, story, and let’s just have sequential pages. Art dancing across a myriad of possible layouts.
A reader flipping through your book, an editor pondering whether you have the chops to make it in their lineup, a friend or family member taking your aspirations seriously...
I don’t profess to have the slightest mastery of panel layout, but I do know what I like, what keeps me interested, and what makes my brain broil with happiness.
Four printed comics, and two mini web comics later, here are three sequential pages from my upcoming children’s graphic novel, Roopster Roux, trying to balance the common with the uncommon.