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18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #11

The text and dialogue are beautifully placed and become part of the composition in this Moebius Major Grubert page.

11) The narration must harmonize with the drawings.

Gir's spotting and placement of the word balloons leads the reader effortlessly and clearly through the page.

There must be a visual rhythm created by the placement of your text.

Alex Toth placed his dialogue balloons so as to lead the reader exactly where Toth wanted them to go.

Few (if any) comic artists did this better than Alex Toth. Also, eliminate any redundant text. You don’t need to describe an action that your reader can already clearly see your character doing.

Here are some other Toth examples:

Toth was a master at using sound effects to help tell his story. From the way he designed them, you can tell where the sound is coming from — or whether the sound overlapped and dominated into the next panel.

Note the percussive sound effects as the plane engine sputters and how in the following panel Toth uses the sound effects to also convey trouble and motion.

Toth designed the laughter so that it appears to echo in the background. Brilliant.

Toth’s made his design and placement of sound effects crucial to the enhancement of this story’s action sequences.

The text in this Toth page is nearly all sound effects (ignore the stupid Hot Wheels logo).

The sound effects in these Toth panels express both time, volume (loudness) and movement.

The rhythm of your plot should be reflected in your visual cadence and the way you compress or expand time.

In the panel above, Toth breaks up the dialogue block into a series of small balloons that slow down time and take the reader through the character’s thought process.

Harvey Kurtzman was great at this, too. By visual repetition Kurtzman has conveyed the slow meander down the sluggish river of this corpse of a fallen soldier.

By slowly pulling back, Harvey again slows time while also conveying the corpse’s somber merging with its environment.

Kurtzman’s series of vertical sound balloons in this page reinforce the art’s vertical nature and composition while creating an effect that evokes the staccato nature of his characters’ dialogue.

By slightly varying his repetition of the same images, Harvey slows down time to allow the male characters in his story to savor the charms of and fantasize about the beautiful woman who is strolling their way.

The size that Kurtzman chose to make his sound effects on this page help to indicate their distance from the characters.

This Kurtzman story (Kurtzman: script and layouts; Wallace Wood: finished pencils and inks) for MAD was famously without dialogue — the entire story was told using only sound effects.

By having the hero standing with his back to us and the careful placement of the dialogue balloons, Moebius takes you from our hero and leads you right in to focus on the story’s heavies. The sounds of the “quiver shivs” emanate from the weapons themselves in these scenes from “The Long Tomorrow”.

Sometimes dialogue and descriptions aren’t necessary.

Moebius broke new ground with his Arzak stories which were completely devoid of description and dialogue.

Some more of “The Long Tomorrow”, Jean’s collaboration with Dan (Alien) O’Bannon, showing minimal (but well-placed) dialogue. This story became the design template for the film Blade Runner.

Moebius’ placement of dialogue on this page is superb, as is his storytelling. The sex, of course, grabs you but it’s the last four panels that slowly draw you closer to the story’s protagonist, taking you into his personal space, as he is about to learn a very important secret…

Like a film maker, you must be very careful in how you cast your characters and in how you direct them.

Even in this extremely simple Moebius drawing, the schlubs are interesting. Jean even depicts himself unflatteringly as a somewhat dazed schlub (twice!).

Even “dull” characters should be interesting. The seemingly mundane characters on the brilliant and compelling TV show Fargo are a great example of this.

Use your characters or “actors”  like a director, studying and then selecting from all of your characters’ different takes.

Experiment with different reactions. Try having your character react in a fashion opposite to what you (or your reader) would expect. The female sex partner in “The Long Tomorrow” turns out to be very different from what we as the reader assumed she would be:

Next: Dipping Below the Surface to Do Something Different

4 thoughts on “18 Tips for Comic Book Artists by Jean “Moebius” Giraud: #11

  1. In the final Moebius panel with Pete and the Arcurian spy turned back into its alien form, Dan especially enjoyed that Moebius had curled Pete’s toes.

  2. Hi Diane!
    That’s hilarious! That’s so Dan and so Moebius. I also love that in the big panel that follows, our hero is caught past the point of no return, sexually.

  3. What a great selection of examples, Bill! Alex Toth was really amazing. I had forgotten about his wonderful way with sound effects.

  4. All great layouts! What a wonderfully bold use of type!

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