The latest big movies aren’t from the typical source. Sure comics have always provided blockbuster entertainment, but never before have the stories they’ve provided reached such levels of depth and scope. The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises have cemented the idea comics can be taken seriously in film, but it’s still an industry fighting for legitimacy in other domains. Arguably, graphic design hasn’t accepted the comic to be a prestigious place to field one’s work. But a lot of designers see much more in the potential and kinetic power of comics.
Grids and Websites
The Comics and Design panel at the recent San Diego annual Comic Con went into this issue and explored some professionals’ work. Without the media coverage the upcoming film expos get, the pictures from 2011 of the event aren’t as impressive as the topic. But, indeed, the idea that comic books are actually making better designers isn’t old and is getting fresh attention. Even the layout can be influential.
Jenni Chasteen takes pains to explain how the grid layout of a comic book can often be more dynamic and variable than website layouts:
“Scan a ’25 Great Examples of Web Design’ list and you’ll find at least a dozen that look more or less the same or follow some kind of grid layout. Thumb through 32 pages of a comic book and you won’t find two pages that are exactly alike. Comic book pages don’t conform to any one standard layout and are designed to keep the reader’s eye moving while highlighting the most interesting action.”
Comic book design layouts seem to be the optimal place to consider how it might work using grids in graphic design.
Graphic Novels Demand a Punch
The comic book has gotten renewed attention for other reasons. Longer forms of comics, graphic novels, can depict entirely visual stories that have the same elements of writing present in text-centered novels. It also transcends the traditional comic centerpiece – the superhero genre. Whether a commentary on that genre like The Watchmen or using allegory to relay historical messages like Maus, the possibility to impact readers in a literally more artful way has brought a new found and profound respect for comic-style designs and animation.
A landmark in the history of graphic novels was Palestine. Written and drawn by journalist Joe Sacco, it projects an extremely sympathetic light on Palestinians living in the West Bank interspersed with incidents from the 1948 war. Describing how effective this medium has been for political discourse and public relations, the late Palestinian laureate Edward Said once said:
“With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco.”
A tutorial on paneling is available here for anyone who wants to give comic design a go themselves. Proving itself to be a medium for both epic fiction and gritty reality, the pictorial power of comics is reinspiring graphic designers. Joe Sacco wasn’t originally planning to get into the field of authoring comics – now his name is required knowledge for graphic novelists.
The diversity of designers who have found themselves in the comic industry knows no bounds. Neil Egan of Abrams ComicArts didn’t grab his degree in graphic design; his was in visual communication and digital imaging. Chris Ware came from a background in printmaking and English.
The diversity is creating a diverse culture in the comic book world. Novelists and artists, writers and designers are collaborating to produce both visually and mentally piercing works of art. They all see something in the art form that also truly delivers on substance. If you’ve got an idea worth writing down or posting to your blog, it’s worth seeing what potential the comic book has to express more.