Comic Layout Techniques in Hob 11 – Diana Huang

This week’s assignment was to read the Hob storyline of Dresden Codak and comment on layout techniques used in a particular strip. I read several webcomics, but all have had very straightforward, standard layouts – they move from left to right, panels are all rectangles of mostly the same size, etc. I’ve also read many Japanese manga, which more commonly incorporate complex layouts similar to Dresden Codak. However, the color format of Dresden Codak definitely packs more punch than the typical manga, in my opinion.

Hob 11 - The Impasse

Hob 11 - The Impasse

I chose to analyze Hob 11 because it incorporates one of the most unique layout techniques – changing the direction of panel flow. As author Aaron Diaz says himself in his blog, changing the flow should only be used as necessary and when the reader is clearly guided. Otherwise, the technique only causes confusion and has no additional impact on the reader.

Above, I’ve marked the comic with the proper reading flow. How does Diaz guide us through this?

  1. Alina’s face leads in the direction of flow – Alina (the blonde) looks down and to the left in two panels where nothing else is really happening. The reader unconsciously follows her eyes since there is nothing else to do.
  2. Image of Kimiko’s backside – Kimiko is definitely portrayed as a sexy character throughout the series, and readers are drawn to the image by the show of skin and the way it is not confined to a panel, instead protruding over the adjacent panel.
  3. Placement of text bubbles – To break the reader from traditional left to right flow, Diaz emphasizes the equally traditional up to down flow. Once the reader is focused on the panel with Kimiko’s butt, he uses the downward trajectory of the text bubbles to guide the reader in the leftward direction.
  4. Shape of panels on the left edge – If a reader misses all other cues and tries to start the new row left-to-right, he or she is confused by the strange shape and white space on the left edge. To read from this direction, the text bubbles would unnaturally move upward. Read from the proper direction, the shape of these panels instead guides the reader to turn back to the original left-to-right flow in the next row, since they form the shape of a looping arrow. The placement of the three characters in this panel reinforces the suggestion of an arrow.

Why does Diaz find this technique so necessary that he goes through all this trouble to guide the reader against the traditional flow? Well, part of it is that Diaz is uncommonly interested in how comics work. But also, this part of the page is meant to be a shock. The reader thinks of the visitors as silly (due to their wacky costumes and inability to open the door) and Kimiko as the powerful figure up to this point. But here, it is revealed that the visitors are dangerous. The new flow of the panels emphasizes the important information that is revealed here.

There are many other layout techniques used in this one page, but they are much more common and less noteworthy, in my mind. Here are two others.

In the first row, the shape and increasing size of the panels builds up to Kimiko’s rejection. Kimiko’s is emphasized in the main panels, with the visitors relegated to small circular panels and only mouths. This again emphasizes Kimiko as the power figure and the visitors as laugh-worthy (until this idea is destroyed in the reversal of flow I’ve already discussed).

In the final row, in contrast to the much more complex layouts above, Diaz splits the row into two equal rectangles. Both show the exact same scene as a before and after. This very clearly shows the reader what has changed, and also draws upon the reader’s recollections of childhood “spot the changes” games. The simplicity and lack of text prevents from reader from becoming distracted from the contrast of the two images.

Through the many techniques he uses in one short comic strip, Diaz shows his mastery of using comic layout to draw in the reader into the story. Used in combination with engaging dialogue, Diaz is able to manipulate the reader’s feelings to enhance their reading experience.

– Diana Huang

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~ by Diana Huang on March 21, 2011.

7 Responses to “Comic Layout Techniques in Hob 11 – Diana Huang”

  1. Diana,

    This is a fantastic analysis. You’ve broken down all of the parts of the page, explained how to read it, why it was set up that way, what the structure makes the reader do and how and why it works. I can’t imagine how much time you spent on this. Very nice work.

    Clayton

  2. This is a very concise, well thought-out blog post and I learned quite a bit just from reading it. You commented on the question that you were answering and then continued to answer it with flying colors. I could tell just from my first read that you had planned this blog post out very specifically and didn’t just start writing like I often do. Planning your blog post seems to have worked very well for you here. The post looks neat and packs a huge informative punch. Good work!

  3. Diana consistently puts forth good work for our weekly blog posts. In this particular post, she not only explains her point clearly with words, but also through her own visual creations. Instead of just pasting the original picture into her post, she incorporates her own images with directional cues (arrows in the first, numbered boxes in the second). She addresses each of the ways Codak guides his readers in a clear, concise manner below her visual aids. Finally, she makes sure to address all the techniques present in the comic, not just the main one.

    — Jen Hirsch

  4. I like the way you explained with cropped pictures, arrows and square boxes. It’s easy to follow.

  5. Diana,

    First of all, a comment on style: this post is extremely well organized and structured. I like that you not only posted a picture of the comic, you broke down the page into sections in order to emphasize your point. Your bullet points and rhetorical questions also helped to to do this. As a reader, all of this really helped to orient me, especially the section with the arrows.

    Now, the content: I feel like most people addressed Dresden Codak’s lack of boxes as a stylistic technique, but it was interesting and refreshing to talk about a frame that didn’t read from left to right. Our first instinct is to think that this would be confusing for the reader and unnecessary, but you showed in insightful steps how this was effective for Codak.

    Thanks for the great analysis!

    Kayla

  6. When I first saw this post, I was like “Wow, this is incredible.” Even without reading it, you can tell you really broke it down. However, now that I am being asked to analyze a post, I picked yours because it stood out to me!

    You sort of combined the genres of a How-To/DIY post and an analysis. It is nice that you are both critical and helpful–first drawing out the flow then taking a step back and looking more carefully. Your various techniques of bullets, small paragraphs, and images all made this post easy to follow and understand.

    Outside the realm of formatting style, I also appreciate that you ask the reader questions. I have always felt that this grabs the readers attention. You execute this well, as you answer them.

    Overall, I think all your ideas are well-put. You present your idea, give examples, and back it up or expand further. I get a thorough understanding of the style, layout, content, and story of this comic.

    -Aly Ferguson

  7. I really enjoyed your in depth analysis of the reverse panel flow trick. When I read Diaz’s blog post I was intrigued by the actual idea, but had a hard time really getting into the nitty gritty of how to utilize it. As such your blog post gives me a very thorough example to work from.

    – Rory Coble

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