Page turns are a powerful tool in comics, and one unique to the medium. Using them well can make your readers tense with anticipation, recoil with a sudden reveal, or better feel the momentum of a motion. They can communicate subtle shifts in time or place, and punctuate change within a story or character.
The power of the page turn lies in the involvement of the readers - we have to make a choice, conscious or otherwise to turn to the next page once we've reached the last panel.
Playing with this interaction can be a great way to creatively communicate with your audience - read on for a look at some of the ways you can use the Page Turn in your own work!
Anticipation is a way of telling the reader what is going to happen before it happens. This can be as subtle or explicit as it needs to be, but the point is to build within a reader an expectation they feel will be fulfilled by turning the page, so that they anticipate what the contents of the next panel or page will be.
In the positive cases, anticipation can build up to a cathartic moment where a character arc pays off - in the negative, it can make us too scared to turn the page, to reveal the horror that we know is waiting for us overleaf.
So how do we create this feeling for our readers?
The main way Anticipation is built is through the timing and content of the panels on the preceding page(s) immediately before the page is turned.
Comics manipulate our sense of time through the clever arrangement of space. Frequently anticipation can be created when the comic artist elongates the moment(s) before an event, building up more time than would naturally be there and delaying the payoff.
A good simple formula for managing your timing in comics panels is:
Small Panel - Fast
Large Panel - Slow
Low detail - Fast
Hight detail - Slow
Small panels with focused detail arranged in quick succession can describe moments occurring over a short time. Large open panels with lots of interwoven details can slow us down, allowing time to pass more gradually over the course of that panel.
Depending on the context, both of these squashing and stretching approaches can heighten a sense of expectation or anticipation for what is to arrive next.
You can see a very simple example of this principle below, where we see the gem flying through the air before being grabbed by a fist.
Another way that you can create anticipation is by adding a dialog/sound effect hook from an off screen character in the final panel of the page. In the same way that if we hear a crash or a voice from behind us, we are driven to turn and look for the source, when the same thing happens in a comic, we are programmed as humans to want to turn the page. This is a technique frequently used by Daniel Warren Johnson in the fantastic comic series Extremity (which you probably know we love by now) and by Brian K Vaughan of the well known Saga series.
In this example from The Girl and the Glim, we coupled the anticipation with the feeling of motion as your eye traces the path Jove's hand would take to yank the book up out of Midge's grasp.
This kind of explicit foreshadowing (priming the audience with a certain expectation) alludes to trouble over the page. In this case, we know that Jove's text is orange (thanks to our letterer Hass), and because we know him as a character, we can anticipate trouble before it happens. This is an example of using the connotations we have attached to colour to create anticipation.
Using soft pinks and blues to create a romantic atmosphere between two people can foreshadow a kiss happening soon. Likewise, the palette of an entire page can be constructed to drive suspense and fear toward a climactic moment. Reinforcing the anticipations through clever use of colour will strengthen the feeling you give your audience!
Asides the panel timings and dialog, the main way in which anticipation is created is through the panel imagery.
Frequently this is done by showing the moment immediately preceding a big event. The run before the jump, the trigger squeeze before the gunblast, the moment of realisation on a characters' face before the reaction. Likewise, a character reacting to a situation before the audience is aware of it themselves can create a tension that is only dispersed through the turning of a page.
Like any good principle, there are times when actively choosing not to use Anticipation is the best course of action. Creating expectation within the readers is great when you want to stir a feeling of fear or excitement - sometimes though, the most effective page reveals happen when the artist/write chooses to create no anticipation whatsoever, so that it is completely unexpected.
It is also worth saying that not every build up of anticipation has to result in a page reveal, or in anything at all. A legitimate decision is to engender a feeling of dissatisfaction/emptiness in your reader through building them up to a payoff that never... well.... Pays off! Sometimes this feeling is the very point you are trying to make in your story.
There is a vulnerability with turning a comic page, a moment where you're both fully in control and out of control at the same time. You can choose when to turn the page, but you can't control what is waiting for you on the other side.
You open yourself to the possibility of being scared, delighted, shocked, or taken by surprise - and the best comic books take advantage of this! Super Eyepatch Wolf talks about Junji Ito's spectacular use of suspense / distress with his signature use of page turns here.
As well as being a good way to make an emotional impact on your readers, page turn Reveals also have many practical functions you can utilise for your story (though there is no reason you can't do both!).
A spectacular landscape reveal can establish a sense of place and put you in the character's shoes. On a page turn, the artist has the opportunity to unveil a full 2 page illustration filling your field of view.
Changing of Time & Place
If your comic includes a stark change of time of day, or a change to a new location, this new scene change can be tucked behind the turn of a page. It feels cleaner, like a fresh slate and adds that punctuation of separation from the last pages events.
In The Girl and the Glim, we paced it so that the classroom lights going out were revealed on the next page, meaning we could drastically alter the colour palette and lighting to communicate the new scenario. The change is sudden, and the new colours fill the whole page. In addition to this, Swifty mirrors the last panel before the page turn with the first panel after the page turn to further emphasize this change through the visual comparison.
A sense of motion can be heightened by the active motion of a comics panel crossing our field of vision. Take for example this set up for a punch in Daniel Warren Johnson's Extremity (Colours by Mike Spicer). The added power of the motion of a page turn can really amplify the ferocity of what is in essence a still image. We feel the fist travel, BECAUSE IT DID! Woosh, there it goes.
I didn’t want to give away too much from Extremity, so I blurred everything but the to and from panels in the page turn motion. Blurring it in this way though allows us to really to focus on the motion in the drawing combined with the page turn!
Witch of the West
A lot has changed in the Wild West since the last update. We now have fiv-- er.... Six thumbs to go forward with.
However, it wasn't long before I ran into problems whilst thumbnailing! Despite best efforts, I was finding it nigh impossible to fit the story I had come up with into the five pages.
This could be a failing with my story in the first place - maybe I just made it too long or complex? I tried to do something I thought was simple, but when it came to the thumbnails themselves, getting across the details of protecting this gem, and the levitation potions, and the hatching of a plan felt like it needed more page space to explain than I had.
Maybe the problem is actually with the way I tell stories in comics - I have been told by many about my tendency to overpanel. Perhaps somebody else could have taken my story structure and conveyed all of the beats without as much of a problem? I love letting the characters act and express themselves, and though I want to learn to be more economic with my storytelling, it's hard to want to reject something I enjoy spending so many panels expressing.
Or perhaps it was just a natural result of not having much time to thumbnail - the fast turnaround stopped me from exploring to the extent I would have liked to. There are seemingly endless possibilities with thumbnails, which is both a strength and weakness. If I had more time, maybe I could have found a succinct way to thumb the story?
When I found I couldn't fit the story, I started exploring other options. Looking at the thumbs below, you can see where I started to try new things to get the story working.
The story began to hinge itself around two pages I felt most happy with.
In the first, the Witch recognizes the lead bandit but is pulled out of the way of the gunfire by the Thief who admonishes her. Getting pulled to the floor draws her attention to the potion bottles there.
In the second, she hurls one of these at a bandit, who is sent sprawling off his horse, with some yet-to-be-decided magical effect taking hold on his face.
These pages feel like they show the dynamic between the characters and also get some fun action and magic into the mix. It's also nice to highlight our main bandit, since we spent that time last week designing him.
Iterating from there, a story began to develop where the Old Codger driving the wagon sees they are being followed and urges his young companions to use the 'secret weapon' stored within the chest in the back. The Thief takes to lockpicking it open, while the Witch tries to hold off the Bandits. When they eventually get into the chest they are shocked to find a baby Sand Dragon. It's caterwauling attracts the momma Dragon for a climactic ending page where it sends all of the characters flying as it erupts out of the sand.
You can see how many iterations I've made on just one or two pages!
You may be able to see even here that I was having trouble fitting everything I wanted to say onto page one. Luckily, I checked the Creators for Creators entry requirements, and it says 'at least' five pages... So the story has been padded out to six to help the beginning moments feel less rushed.
The story is simpler, but feels like it is driven more by the characters and less by my magic gem story device. They don't complete arcs, but we get a feel of how the three of them interact with one another, and show more of the scope of the world than before. The Witch gets to be naive and impulsive, the Thief gets to pick a lock and mentally facepalm at the others, and the Old Codger gets to show his kookier side.
I'm still not 100% on page one, but the time has come to make the darned thing, so I will have to adjust it on the fly or roll with it! Either way, here are the six pages I decided on!
I'll continue to try my best to craft stories. I guess this is maybe a lesson in the advantage of using your gut instinct to guide you. Story structure is a helpful way to look at and approach story, but sometimes it feels more natural to go with the flow, and learning to be able to let go and trust your instincts can save you when your structured approach doesn't pan out.
I’ve been working towards thumbnailing the 5 pages I’ll submit and in a very real sense I began my thumbnail journey from the ending, and clawed my way backwards using milestones events I saw happening more clarity than the other ideas that are in flux..
In the following pages I am attempting to depict the scenario where a pack of SnakeWolf hunters close in an Old man, a Girl and a Raven, after spotting their campfire.
It's been a really tough slog for me so far, and I definitely feel like I need to try a lot more different variations on the pages and the panels. Thankfully, I'm discovering a shorthand for drawing the characters and working digitally allows me the freedom to mix and match ideas, and rework panels.
I knew I wanted the moment of the Old Man holding the upper torso of the Hunter to carry more weight and so I increased the space allocated to the last image to let it breathe and dominate the page more. Sensing this still lacked the power I hoped for, I pushed back this image to beyond a page turn and bumped it onto the next page as a reveal.
This gives me more space to accentuate the action with both an anticipation and a follow through, and I'd like to use this space to explore more interaction here between the Old Man and the Girl as I feel that is lacking a lot in the current draft. It would be really nice to spend more time with the characters :D
The Old Man has an otherworldy quality to him and I'm trying to demonstrate this through his relationship to the comics panels, which are the rules of this world. Seen here, he can exist outside of the panels. He can also be seen here (when I draw it more clearly… ^^’) crushing and shattering a panel when he breaks the crystal he is holding.
Often some ideas can happen and be conceived organically while in the thick of the drawing process. I knew I wanted the Old Man to open a portal to escape the wolves, but I didn't know exactly how until it came time to start drawing it.
I knew I had certain criteria for summoning the portal. It couldn't take a lot of time to do and it needed to be a one time consumable that either took too much energy to do more than once in a short space of time (which drained the Old Man) or it needed to be a item with a one use limit.
Crushing something and throwing it felt direct and in keeping with the Old Man's abrupt/eccentric nature and once he's thrown that over to the unoccupied space, I was then painting the magical energy around the portal, and I noticed I could depict the smoke tendrils as though they were roots, and the portal itself gained Tree Rings. I linked this conceptually to Yggdrasil, the world tree the connects the nine worlds in Norse cosmology.
Allowing the portal to open into an empty panel allowed me to visualise the chaarcter stopping into the unknown. This is my attempt at creating an anticipation for what could come next in the story. I think I could strengthen this further by showing the Girl's facial expression/emotion more and by showing the Old Man is already disappearing through the portal. Thanks for joining me on this journey and I'm beyond excited to be working on this comic!
Tracking your Progress!
As we're about to launch into actually producing our pages for the March 31st Creators for Creators comic deadline, (AAAAAAAAARGH!) I thought this would be a good time to talk about keeping your eyes on the bigger picture with project tracking sheets. Although these can be used for any medium, from books to animation, I'm going to give comic examples today, as I have these to hand!
These sheets are generally something I create just as a project is kicking off. They show me how quickly I'm getting through the work which helps me work out if I'm on schedule, and give me a much needed mood and motivation boost when I get to check a page off the list!
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Above is the very simple sheet I made last week for the five Witch of the West pages.
I use Google Sheets, which because it is stored on my drive, is accessible anywhere I have an internet connection. Sheets is also great when you are trying to coordinate a team, as everyone can see and use the same sheet simultaneously.
In the end, use whichever software is most comfortable for you! You can even use good ol' pencil and paper like my awesome friend Henrike does here!
So, lemme break it down!
» To start, I list the page numbers along the left hand column.
When it's a comic I intend to print, I also like including adding a column to show if the page is on the left or the right. This way, the team and I can see which pages will form double page spreads!
» With larger projects, I like having a page description column. When all you have is a list of numbers, knowing which page is which can get confusing! Noting down landmark page moments every now and then will let everyone where they are in the story in a more memorable way.
» Next, I get into the Nitty Gritty!
I break the pages down into columns for each aspect I need to complete.
Thumbs, inks, and colours are usual.
For larger more complex projects like The Girl and the Glim, I had columns for:
Backgrounds (separated for Mike's convenience when colouring)
You can see this on The Girl and the Glim Book 1 tracking sheet below!
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With these columns, there is a simple colour coding process that I borrowed Boulder Media animation studio. I always really loved the way they organised their tracking sheets back when I was there. Is there anything more satisfying than a green box? If there is, I haven't found it.
Blank means unstarted
Yellow means in progress
Blue means completed.
You can see above that all of the cells are highlighted blue because the project has since been completed. These would start out white, and then step through each colour as I make progress.
» Now for the Fix List and Approved column!
Basically, once a page is complete and I am happy with it, I'll pop a Green box into 'Approved'. However, if I notice a problem or I need changes made to a page, I will turn the approved column Red and then put a note detailing changes needed into the fixes column!
When you're in a team, this lets your colleagues know when you need changes made. If it's a solo project, it acts as a handy way to note down things you notice and want to come back and fix later.
If you're wondering how a tracking sheet would apply to an animated project, below you can see the sheet I set up today for the Girl and the Glim Animated Trailer we announced last update.
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Again, the animation is broken down into the component parts that need to be completed, and I will use colour coded blocks to track their progress. The only real addition is the Send? column, which is a way to confirm with Mike that I have uploaded the animated lineart for him to grab before he begins the colours.
And that's everything! It usually only takes 10-30 minutes to set one up, and it makes your life much easier. I hope you guys find a way to apply this to your own projects! They key is just breaking down the project into smaller tasks that you can check off as you go.
I had a couple of people recently ask if I am naturally organised, or if I had to learn how to organise myself this way.
The truth is that I am one of the most disorganized people around! I need to set up a lot of fail safes for myself, to make sure I'm on schedule. I learned quickly when freelancing that the only way for me to juggle multiple deadlines was to keep track of them.
I'm still learning as I get more used to organizing my time! If any of you guys have any tips, let me know :)
I guess it's time we actually start wrangling some pages for the comics deadline! I'm a few days behind on my schedule, so it's going to be a sprint to the finish.
We'll be posting up some finished pages for you to see and talking about our experiences and struggles making them.
~ Doig & Swift