Is there a narrative medium as open to structural flexibility as the comic book? From the classic (if crowded) nine-panel grid, to artists who completely eschew panels altogether, there's more than one way to plot a comic. In the newest episode of Strip Panel Naked, the weekly mini-comic making masterclass, host Hass Otsmane-Elhaou takes a look at one of the most popular DC Comic runs in recent years, and the ways in which it subverts the formatted expectations of the genre.
"Darwyn Cooke produced the six issue series called The New Frontier for DC Comics," says Otsmane-Elhaou. "It was simple in its endeavor to recreate the past of the DC Superhero universe in the golden age and retell that story. But to give it such a simple description belies a lot of the clever work actually happening in the pages of the book." Cooke decided to stick, almost completely, to a three-panel grid for Frontier. And while less panels on a page means less possibility for progression and "movement" in a comic, Otsmane-Elhaou argues that "less panels per page doesn't necessarily mean less information, but Darwyn Cooke's style is also kind of minimal, he's got a very clean and clear way of storytelling."
"Each page has a very, very specific function," Otsmane-Elhaou explains, "and each panel typically contains a singular point to build that function. That's really, really powerful, because it imbues every page with a very clear rhythm. Every page reads about the same, and it starts to feel like a specific time signature in music. [...] Each panel has a very obvious beat. Keeping these panels widescreen means [...] there's nothing competing for information."
This leads to a bold, brash comic that gets right to the point. "What's interesting about the three-panel structure is you need to get rid of any of the superfluous information visually. [...] You can't waste panels when you've only got three."
To see exactly how Darwyn Cooke pulls of this tricky comic layout, check out the full video below: