Thursday, January 27, 2011

Down the Trap Door

a contemplative series by Serhend Sirkecioglu

#1 : Form, Layout, Grids and 3D Comics

For those who don't know me, I'm one to travel the more unconventional roads in comics and play with narrative and form along the way.  A Formalist/Iconoclast if you must.  For my thesis I've been working on a bit of an experiment...
... a sculpture comic, which, for the sake of getting to the point, I'll leave at that.

Prior to working on my thesis (one year ago), I was tinkering with the conversion of the 2D space we are familiar with in comics to a 3D one.  In this process i realized an error on my part.  My conversion was too literal, and i paid the price with countless redesigns and artist's blocks during this semester.  Looking to one of my muses,  documentary film, I re-watched Objectified (a documentary film about industrial design, which I highly recommend, along with Helvetica).  One of the interviewees briefly chronicled the design of the camera.
Since its invention, the camera has been designed designed around holding film.  Why is it that even today, digital cameras still retain the same shape?  "Familiarity," one would say, but I'll go out on a limb and say "conditioning."  We are so tuned to the shape and function of the camera, from where the flash button is to where to put the film, that even today we are slaves to an old design

Human nature is learning, which leads to tradition and inevitably to "the norm."  That said,  why is it that we cartoonists acknowledge only two forms of layout: 1) the grid and 2) free-form (everything else)?  The grid has a consistent rhythm, consistent passing of time, and a natural design.  We can see examples of this in the work of Chris Ware and Dash Shaw.  On the other hand, manga makes a a fine example of the ebb and flow of time and space that is the free-form layout.

The question I pose: Why 2 forms?

 In graphic design, the grid is more than a series of identical boxes (I cite Making and Breaking the Grid by Timothy Samara and Basics Design: Grids by Ambrose and Harris, also highly recommended).  It has variants worthy of distinction.  "Free form, in my opinion, is a cop out term, one that amounts to gambling.  Free-form by nature is hit or miss, which next to the Grid, is the more amateurish approach.  I recently have been using the graphic design grid as a means of building free-form layouts on my side projects... Please forgive me, I'm a VERY secretive artist.

By no means am I saying we need to sit down and figure out and define every possible layout (exactly) but I am saying we need to be more observant about the design of the page and make note of recurring designs.  What makes them work?  We can solve problems for future cartoonists - and ourselves - by defining an expanded set of layouts.


  1. I'm not sure what you're talking about. Divining comic layouts into 'grids' and 'everything else' is simply a convenient classification system, not some be-all end-all list of every layout every. And within those two categories are nearly infinite possible arrangements. That's why it's 'everything else'. The thoughtful cartoonist will no doubt already observe page design and note recurring designs, their benefits and drawbacks, so that the cartoonist might utilized these designs better in their own work. Further subdividing the 'grid' or 'everything else' categories does not provide us with more layouts or more knowledge of page design. The lack of defined layouts has never negatively impacted my work, or that of my peers, or my teachers, or anyone else who has ever drawn a successful comic. Ever. They gained understanding of design by drawing comics constantly and by reading the work of people they admire. Perhaps if you spent more time on that and less time bemoaning the inadequacy of this page design classification system it wouldn't be a problem for you.

  2. I do apologizee this was edited after I sent it despite sending my own edited version back.

    You pretty much said: "I like the way things are, so why change them?" with a dash of "you can't draw" with no concrete evidence or citation, not off to a good start. Maybe you did not read my second paragraph where I summarized how over time people tend to hold on to forms and principles, even if they have no practical reason for it, just the way you said in your longwinded anecdote. you talk about "anyone else who has ever drawn a successful comic" who? Bring evidence and clarity into your arguement until you type something besides that hokey "Eat your Wheaties and all will be good!" at the near end.another way to look at your argument would be "me and my friends love red yellow and blue, stop complicating things with orange, green, and purple." which is why I feel you have a very narrowminded approach and must have hated my opinion by the first word and skimmed to the last sentence. finally, i never said there was anything negative or bemoaned about using two layout system i essentially said it needs an overhaul cause there are infinite possibilities: good and not so good. Would it not be so much betther if there were four or even ten different forms of layouts that we know worked and could refer to in desiging our pages? that would make our art less labour intensive where we can focus on more things since page design is a much quicker process.

    Now with that aside, let me being my counter arguement. To keep things the way they are and not further define comics layout makes the art more uninclusive by default. computer programming(along with more and more fields) was the same way, but with constant redefining of old canon and replacing it with further defined principles the field became more democratized and painful problems solving was cast aside for future generations. the Ford Model T is no longer used today, but the cars we have today are far more complicated because of re-evaluation of old design and replacing it with newer concepts and principles.

    Let me CITE the example of the history typography. The initial design of letters dating back to greco-roman times was composed in a square(roman capitals) because the buildings were designed according to euclidean theory and the type had to be according to the form of the building(another old concept we improved upon)so it could be in the desired mathematical beauty the architect sought along with basing the shape of all the other on the M and W. The base form we use for typography today(though we do revisit the the old design, but with a more informed perspective) is a rectangle basing the design of letters off of the H and S.

    Why can't comics seriously evaluate thier own canon and principles outside of "my friends and faculty" and the "few successful cartoonists?", personally i feel more people should be reading and drawing comics and we need to develop work for the masses (hence the pen name). I suggest you have a more ecletic approach to viewing the world than a anectdotal vacuum. You could start by reading some of the books I suggested and watch Objectified all of which I highly recommend.

  3. having pre laid out layouts is the most absurd thing i have ever heard. having templates already made for them would make them like the grid that you seem to think is so boring. watchmen is done in a grid and is looked to as one of the best comics ever and is not considered boring by any means. i cant help but feel your just going out on a limb here and blowing smoke to make yourself appear vastly superior which by know means are you. you draw with the crude sensibilities of a 2nd grader. i could put a pencil in my buttcheeks and create a better drawn comic than you could and i would even say i could do it faster. in my opinion you need to stop looking for problems with the form thats "preventing" you from good work and work on basic figure drawing and draftsman skills which you have none of.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. My bad, I meant to re-edit my comment again. Silly labtop mouse!

    A cartoonist with bad grammar and comprehension IMO is a bad sign for thier future. I was not saying we need pre laid layouts, I was saying we should further define layout. personally the graphic design grid is a great way compose pages and can lead to interesting comps which offer a narrative challenge in finding a story to tell in what crazy layout I devise from that system.
    Where did you get me calling the grid boring? Read the article and comments before you post.

    I guess I should write a part two.

  6. You wrote in your last comment that "A cartoonist with bad grammar and comprehension IMO is a bad sign for THIER future".
    I would simply like to point out that your spelling and your grammar are both pretty atrocious. Maybe you should re-re-edit some things before posting them and calling other people out on their writing.

  7. Well at least my comprehension is still intact, lol(a little more valuable than grammar I suppose). If all you have are empty childish replies and baseless critcism(still waiting for that evidence to back up your claims) despite having the INTERNET at your fingertips, you should do your research before posting and maybe we could have a civilized discussion.

  8. Why do you want evidence? For what purpose? How has anyone here been anymore uncivilized than you?

  9. You're calling for cartoonists to be more observant and actively define what exactly makes the page work, a good cartoonist would already be doing that. The layouts we choose to go with and how we arrange our panels, it is all in service to the story and for the understanding and entertainment of the reader.

    A free form page is not amateurish, I'll go as far as to say that the free form system is not for amateurs. More thought goes into the free form system. The artists needs to take into context the story itself, the readers eye flow, composition in each panel, and each panels relationship to one another and to the page as a whole. A free from grid allows us to add more emphasis on specific moments in the story by making the panels bigger. In the free form system, we can create unique ways to inform and entertain the reader.

    In the grid system, since all the panels on the page are identical in size, and there is a set number of panels per page, some thought is taken out of the work. What the grid system does is places more emphasis on each panel.

    "The gird design fades into the background very quickly, forcing the reader to focus more on the interior images."
    - Klaus Janson

  10. Comic Books in and of itself, ARE works for the masses. Simple pictures depicting actions which can be understood by all especially without the dialogue.

    Maybe you should cut back on reading all those random indie comics, design books, watching documentary films, and look towards the more traditional comics.

  11. @ 02/18/11 4:13AM

    Aside from you repeating the difference between grid and free-form(which everyone here clearly knows and understands)..again, A "good" cartoonist is a rather abstract. Financially good? Critically good? Aesthetically good? it's such a empty statement. your quote @ the end is rather splashed on too.

    I say free form is amateurish in the sense it's like a bargain bin @ a dept store. there some good layouts mixed in with bad(a situational bad I might add)ones and your plodding through because the only format(grid) was not what you wanted for your narrative.
    By hypothetically looking deeper into layout we could find recurring layouts and expand the amount of layouts to work with, opening up more formal options to cartoonists. what if there was a layout that started out with a large panel and diminished into smaller ones or a layout the started and ended with the same shaped and sized panel? In music there is not only classical and free-form jazz, there are many genres of music with distinct tones, rhythms, and meter(personally I would love to the black metal equivalent of comics layout).
    In art there are many styles and aesthetics born out of two distinct approaches external(looking at the outside world) and internal(looking at the conceptual world).
    I see this as a necessary step in the evolution of comics, one that will open up the art-form and make even more approachable. what's wrong with questioning your field of study?

  12. @ 2/18/2011

    "Comic Books in and of itself, ARE works for the masses. Simple pictures depicting actions which can be understood by all especially without the dialogue."

    I never knew a obviously niche market was for the masses. you rly should check your numbers. simple pictures depicting actions that can be understood by all is a bit off too. there is nothing natural about the language of comics(yet) it's a conditioned art form. back in the hearst era, comic panels were numbered for readers to keep track of the story and it was not until the golden age where the numbers disappeared. when you take into account the CCA fiasco and the stigmatism of the medium, a large majority of the population in the states did not read comics, even now a comic breaking the 1,000,000 barrier in its first year is a anomaly(selling in the 100k's is great in our profession, while it's mediocre for the rest of publishing).So how is this a medium for the masses?

    "Maybe you should cut back on reading all those random indie comics, design books, watching documentary films, and look towards the more traditional comics."

    Wow, I guess your a freshman or sophomore. Indie/Alternative comics is not a genre, it's an umbrella term used to define comics outside of the "mainstream" publishers (Marvel and DC).
    within that umbrella are many genres. there are indie superheores, indie manga, indie genre, indie adult comics, and so on and so forth.
    I honestly think you should read more comics and about comics in general before commenting.
    better replies will follow.

  13. The concept is okay, but ...
    Your story telling is pretty bad. It doesn't translate. There are too many gaps.
    The grammar is just flat out ignored in some places (advice: place a comma after the dialogue and before the character's name that it is directed toward).
    The art is forgettable.
    The character's anatomy is terrible.
    I'd suggest some life drawing lessons.