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Work in Progress: Toriyama and Mignola Got My Mind In The Gutter

December 3rd, 2012 by | Tags: ,

I’m trying to write about the panel layout in a comic that comes out this week and what it means. More specifically, I’m mulling over the best way to discuss the layouts, rather than being stumped or blocked. That sort of thing isn’t my strength, mainly because I don’t have the vocabulary for it. It’s a level of nitty-gritty that I only have a passing familiarity with. I can’t even fake it at a high enough level to convince people, you know?

I read most of my comics on iPad at this point. It’s cool, because if you press power and the button at the same time, it’ll save a screenshot. I can then dropbox that screenshot to my laptop, where I forget about it for a few months. I’ll trip over it later, always in the middle of trying to hook up images for paying work, and wonder why I clipped it. Anyway, here’s a page from Akira Toriyama’s Dr Slump, specifically volume nine.

Toriyama gets chewed up a lot because of the excesses of Dragon Ball Z‘s tv series, but the guy is a pretty incredible cartoonist. He can do realistic, he can do cartoony, and he can do stuff like this, where he shatters the fourth wall in the pursuit of telling a story. Arale (glasses girl) and Gatchan (weird pre-verbal flying baby thing) are hanging onto the gutters and above some of the art.

Comics have been breaking panel borders for years. Probably one hundred of them, if my memories of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comics are true. Spider-Man swings from one panel to another, Batman throws a Batarang through the gutters, and a Chris Ware protagonist… I dunno, cries and the tears land in the tier (“tear” ha ha) below him and collect in a puddle. You know what I’m talking about. Breaking panel borders isn’t that ground-breaking.

But this bit from Slump really caught my eye. It’s a cute joke in a dumb gag manga for children, yes, buuuuuuut… it’s also a great magic trick.

In the top panel, Arale and Gatchan are behind Senbei Norimaki. They’re facing us and speaking directly to us, right? So if that panel is panel 1, their kicking legs take up panel 2, then panels 3 and 4 are directly below that. Arale and Gatchan are facing away from us while Senbei runs directly at us. The camera’s POV has switched around.

Panels 5 and 6 to the left of those panels are where it gets really good, assuming you’re into this stuff. The camera swings back around as Senbei looks back at Arale & Gatchan & us. They’re on an angle now, instead of a flat bar, because the camera isn’t head-on any more.

I like how the dumb joke gives the spread a sense of place, too. We’re rotating around the same area, which I feel like does a better job of world-building than Toriyama’s generally randomized landscapes.

(also of note: the different ways Toriyama draws running. Speedo Sonic the Hedgehog spirals vs a pose… the spirals are rushing, right, while the pose is just “running normally”? I think.)

I also clipped this page from Dragon Ball. I think it’s from volume one.

Toriyama’s panel-to-panel storytelling is immaculate as ever (the rock-scissors-paper sequence in particular, check out Goku’s arms and how his body turns), but the bit I want to point out is the bump at the top of page 131. It’s another irrelevant detail, but it’s cool, because now you realize Goku hit the guy SUPER hard, right? Toriyama doesn’t call a lot of attention to it. It’s just another cute joke. But it really, really works. It’s Looney Tunes-style comedy. It’s fun.

(This was definitely a jan-ken-pon-ken joke in the original Japanese, right?)


Here’s three pages from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell. It ships this week. You’ll have to visit CBR for the rest of the preview. Page 3 has a little of what I’m trying to figure out, that tall red panel transitioning to tall black to tiny grey. I realize what I’m talking about is kind of vague, but I’m really interested in how you’re supposed to read this comic. The effect Mignola is going for. I really want to figure this out, which is a pretty good place to start from when writing about comics, I think.

But even talking about Slump and looking at this preview again has sparked further thoughts. I’m right that Mignola uses gutters in interesting ways, but I was wrong in thinking of it in terms of gutters alone. It’s about the pacing he creates by placing his gutters. The inset panels, the bit where Hellboy crumbles into dust… Mignola is giving his comic a lot of room to breathe, isn’t he? What’s that all about? Is it about atmosphere? Pacing? Something else? All of the above?

I’m going to figure it out. How does “The Anatomy of a Hellboy Comic” sound? Does that sound like something you’d like to read, possibly later this week????

(Clem Robins’s lettering is super good in this, isn’t it? I don’t know what he’s doing different, but it really caught my eye, especially that “AHHHHHH”. Dave Stewart’s colors are as good as ever, too.)

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16 comments to “Work in Progress: Toriyama and Mignola Got My Mind In The Gutter”

  1. It’s a shame that those touches with the panel borders were kinda lost the further we go into Toriyama’s career, they were this easy to miss thing that just added to it relishing in what it is; a comic. Loved that stuff.


  2. “How does “The Anatomy of a Hellboy Comic” sound? Does that sound like something you’d like to read, possibly later this week????”

    I’m never not up for smart people talking about Hellboy.


  3. “How does “The Anatomy of a Hellboy Comic” sound? Does that sound like something you’d like to read, possibly later this week????”

    I’d hit that.


  4. I think what’s going on in panel 3 there of the Hellboy in Hell is that you’re seeing the red panel, which is damage, the black transition to the gray which is like a cold awakening. Like blacking out and coming to. That’s how I read it.

    Matt Howarth’s Those Annoying Post Bros. has some really great panel work if you ever get a chance to read it.


  5. I love Mignola and I love good writing, so go for it.


  6. I love Hellboy. It’s one of the best comics around pacing- and atmosphere-wise, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!


  7. Yes. Please write this piece. Please please please.


  8. Have you read “Panel Discussions“? Mignola is quizzed in the sixth chapter and it’s mostly about his approach to panelling, gutters, timing and “slowing it down” like movie storytelling. Mignola is outstanding on this stuff.


  9. I looooooove Mignola’s panels layouts and narrative structure. The man has pacing down to a maddening extent.

    I love the square panel of his hand stabbing the dragon, as square panels usually freeze-frame key moments in a story. It’s a beat where your eyes rest, if even for half a second. I also love his ‘key frame’ animation sequences, like when he falls back and crumbles to dust. Seeing each beat is like slow motion, which is very effective when, say, your favorite character dies as you watch helplessly, just going “no… NO… NOOO!”

    Mignola’s use of gutters are effortless. A writer/artist makes your brain manifest the actions in-between, no drawing necessary, and I am never confused when I read his panels. The first three panels of page 2 are a good example of this: Hellboy’s captivated by the defeat of the dragon, Nimue’s ghost manifests and has him by the shoulder, the next panel she’s taken his heart. We filled in all the action in-between those three beats ourselves. But actually…

    It’s worth pointing out that these pages are Mignola recapping key panels from the five-page climax at the end of The Fury, drawn by Fegredo. The first panel of new story here is the shot of the Baba Yaga. So with that considered, those first two pages of recap are actually demanding more in the gutters than a regular page of Mignola narrative, while still focusing on the key points of the final battle with Nimue and the death of Hellboy.

    Not coincidentally, Mignola’s recaps are great. When The Fury’s issues were coming out, Issue 1 had a great 2-page recap at the start using existing panels from The Storm along with a plot summary. This was not included in the trade, for obvious reasons. The recap did a REALLY good job of refreshing the reader on The Storm and amping them up for The Fury.

    My parents were visiting when The Fury #1 came out. Seeing as my dad is responsible for getting me into comic books, and he being a huge Kirby fan, I threw the issue to him and told him to read the first two pages. He knew of the character because I love Hellboy, but had no prior knowledge of Hellboy’s adventures. When he finished the 2-page recap he exclaimed, “WHOA! This is COOL!”

    I just searched the internet but could not find those pages. Suffice it to say, after the recap summarizes the events of The Storm, the final panel has a word balloon that says ‘And NOW…’ Then The Fury begins, which is the amazing page with the shot of the castle and the HUGE cracking lightning bolt in the sky, with the caption “Somewhere.”

    So good.

    ANYway. Please write this piece, Mr. Brothers!


  10. @Karl Savage: I wrote it! I even talked about the square panel and the dusty panels, though differently than you did. I need to edit it in the morning, but I’m going to unleash it soon~

    I love the recap for Hellboy in Hell. It’s so glib.


  11. [...] Brothers looks at some of Akira Toriyama’s storytelling flourishes in Dr. [...]


  12. Glad you’re actually talking about comics this week. I always enjoy your comic articles. So please, please write about Hellboy.


  13. -_- For what it’s worth, some of us like the non-comics stuff too.


  14. Here’s the post in question.


  15. I love reading comics from a structural standpoint, but like you, I can’t really put into proper terminology what I’m looking at.

    From art history and design fundamentals we’re taught that the main focus of an image is where your eyes are supposed to go first, and from there there’s a path the artist intends us to follow. Since comics are kind of like literature, we’re more accustomed to reading them like so, left to right or right to left. But since images are employed, it feels like a lot of pages that catch my eye, pages like these, have a really good understanding of those design basics and can give the reader little hints on how they might be read. It’s fun enough when one panel composes things nicely, or when a page has a nice panel layout, but when every image on every panel of a page does some kind of magic juggling like in those Toriyama pages, I can spend a good ten minutes just staring at them.

    The third Hellboy page in particular got my brain working. Since Hellboy is the focus on the first panel, my eyes go straight to him and work their way upward. Since it fades from red to black, it makes me feel like that’s a transition from the first to second panel. So from that, I read the whole page clockwise from the bottom left, instead of scanning each page individually. Or I could be completely wrong. But I think there’s fun in not knowing 100%, and that not knowing means everyone paces their reading differently depending on how they read it.

    It kinda reminded me of this page from All-Star Superman. I read that one counter-clockwise.


  16. Hey David, as a long time reader of this site ( I’m just realizing this is my first time commenting. Feels weird!) I just wanted to say I think you’re plenty qualified to talk about layouts. For example, they may not be that old, but your posts on those sequences from Vagabond and the Vegetta/Captain Ginyu fight in DBZ have been some of my favorites. Very enlightening, and they’ve stuck with me.