Friday, 15 January 2010

3X3 or 2X3?


I had a long and very useful conversation with Paul Nash at Bloomsbury about the format of my graphic novel proposal for Bloomsbury. As I have already mentioned, we are all agreed that the book should be standard B format paperback or slightly larger, so that it can sit alongside my other books if and when it is published.

A black and white, paperback-sized graphic novel is hardly a new idea. The Japanese produce copious amounts of such books. Horror, to my mind, is what they do best with books like Kazuo Umezu's Drifting Classroom series and Junji Ito's bizarre and disturbing Uzumaki. Nobody does creepy schoolgirls like the Japanese.

But this is only part of the formatting issue with a graphic novel. The next thing is the layout of the panels on the page. There is no set rule to this and some graphic novels have a very loose structure in terms of the panels. In the best of these, the design of the pages plays a vital part in the pacing and atmosphere of the story.

Having said that, some of my favourite graphic novels of recent years have employed a rigid grid of panels which harks back to the old days of comics. What you lose in visual fireworks, you gain in readability and a kind of neutral film strip feel.

Alan Moore's classic Watchmen is one of these. Dave Gibbons' drawings are quite conventional (though very accomplished in their way) and this solid approach suits the complexity of Moore's story. There is a lot of story to get through.


Watchmen has a basic nine panel template - three across by three down. Sometimes panels are joined together to form wider, taller or just plain bigger, frames. But behind them all is that 3X3 grid.


This 3X3 grid is also employed to great effect in David Muzzucchelli's and Paul Karasik's brilliant adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass. The film strip idea is used more overtly here, with passages that do read as sequences of stills from a movie.


Frederik Peeters' Blue Pills is another beautifully drawn graphic novel, and, like City of Glass, is black and white. Peeters uses a six panel grid of two across and three down. This allows the individual panels to be larger on the page, which is useful not just for the drawings, but also for allowing vital room for the text.

I think I shall probably try a similar 2X3 panel grid myself.

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