There’s an exception for everything, I guess. Last week I came across an example of one of my least favourite stylistic tricks in comics - the four-panel-per-page widescreen grid reproducing an identical image in each panel - that I actually found well-executed, involving and appropriate to the story.
I’ve mentioned in passing a shining example of the four-panel page layout featuring the same image in every panel. It’s lazy and terrible, and I think this image and accompanying post will tell you why. But Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples use the same structure in Saga #2 to make a page that actually works as part of a comic.
Let’s talk pacing. Each panel (usually) represents a discrete moment; a cartoonist can measure out any length of time in the gutters between panels. Looking at the Thief Of Thieves page I linked above, what does the panel layout and composition say about the passage of time within the page? Essentially, nothing - the writer has scripted a reproduction of a movie or TV show two-shot (perhaps with one eye on the inevitable studio pitch) and the artist has brought this flat, affectless vision to life.
In Saga, Staples’ lush painted backgrounds (great insight into her techniques here) add depth to the depiction of the comic’s alien worlds. And here they indicate night falling around the vulnerable trio of mother, father and baby. Marko and Alana’s dialogue fades out into silence as they fall asleep. The child’s narration deepens the sense of impending threat, matching the fading colour scheme, each panel transition falling like a drumbeat, increasing our sense of unease. Until the red glowing eyes in the last panel provide the twist that makes us go “OHSHIT”.
It’s the difference between reflexively reaching for a technique because you can’t come up with anything better, and knowing how to use that technique’s strengths and weaknesses to serve the story.
It’s good comics.