Feathers are one of the odder shapes, actually.
"thog will always treasure thog's adventure with talky-man. it featured non-traditional panel layout."
A Comic Book
panel takes on an irregular shape as a form of Painting the Medium
. (Many of the same effects can be used on Speech Bubbles
, only from a default shape of round.)
The simplest form is to depict something protruding from it in the Frame Break
— but anything 2D is possible. There are a thousand ways to do this, and a million reasons.
- To represent the passage of time.
- A four-panel newspaper strip might go like this... First panel: Alice says something weird.; Second & Third panel combined into one double-sized panel: Alice and Bob stare at each other.; Last panel: Bob calls Alice a weirdo. (In this case, the long panel represents a long pause.)
- A full page in a comic might depict someone jumping out a window. The page will be divided into narrow vertical panels depicting stages of the character's fall. (Here, the narrow panels indicate that the action is happening very quickly.)
- Two events are happening simultaneously in different places. Two triangular panels joined along their hypotenuses depict the events.
- "Pop-up" panels around a central illustration might depict different characters' reactions.
- To visually reinforce the action.
- An explosion might be depicted in a jagged, pointy... umm... explosion-shaped panel.
- If broken glass is involved, the panels might be shaped like jagged fragments of broken glass.
- The path of a bullet might be drawn in a panel which spans the page left-to-right, but only occupies a small amount of vertical space.
- A character picking a lock might be depicted in a key-shaped panel.
- To reinforce a character's thoughts, the theme of a conversation, or a theme of the work in general.
- A character who is very angry might be drawn in... err... a jagged, explosion-shaped panel.
- Two characters flirting might be drawn in a heart-shaped panel.
- A situation involving recursion or infinite regress might be drawn as panels within panels, getting smaller to the point of invisibility.
- To break up visual monotony. This is at least part of the reason for probably 95% of oddly shaped panels.
Depending on how they are juxtaposed, can make following the sequence difficult, since there may not be a left-to-right (or right-to-left in manga), top-to-bottom order. Sometimes panels are even "superimposed" as if they were on top of each other; this is commonest in the Sub-Trope Speechbubbles Interruption
, where it is used to show talking over each other.
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- Will Eisner's The Spirit may be the Ur Example of using unusual page layouts to visually reinforce story elements. This series invented many of the techniques mentioned above; indeed, much of the visual vocabulary of action-oriented comics can be traced to The Spirit. Only Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane is comparable in its acknowledged influence over an entire medium.
- Jack Cole, who assisted Eisner on the Spirit for a while, would employ odd panels in his own comics, for example in the second Plastic Man story in this post all the parts of the story set in dreamland had wavy panel borders with black gutters in between them.
- Sam Kieth's The Maxx did this all the time.
- Frequently used in the Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strips, particularly after Bill Watterson's first sabbatical.
- In the Tenth Anniversary collection Watterson says he spent a lot of time trying to escape the "tyranny" of panels.
- Archie Comics did this routinely in the 1970s.
- The first couple of issues of ElfQuest drawn by Wendy Pini almost exclusively used rectangular panels, but by issue #4 she was starting to experiment with more ambitious layouts.
- The Death of Superman comics, in 1992, has a very interesting example. It starts by the wake of Doomsday, who then starts attacking everything in sight, until Superman arrives. Then Doomsday focus on him only, and they start fighting, without dialogue (since Doomsday can't talk at all and won't stop its attacks), each page having 8 panels. The next issue was more pure fight, with each page having 7 panels. Then 6, then 5, and so on. The last issue, then, is composed only of single-panel pages of Supes and Dooms beating the crap out of each other, and in the last one both of them die.
- When he draws Detective Comics, JH Williams III divides the Batwoman segments from the ones focusing on Kate Kane by giving Kate standard panel layouts while Batwoman's scenes feature all manner of Odd Shaped Panels, from jagged-edged starbursts to fight scenes shown entirely in panels shaped like lightning bolts.
- Frank Quitely often experiments with odd panels, for example he will occasionally make the panel the literal fourth wall of a room. In We3 he gets really inventive with sequences using a large panel with a series of tiny panels showing all the small details of the scene layered on top of the larger panel, or in one sequence he tilts a series of panels sideways as a character is moving through them, and its awesome looking.
- In the Graphic Novel Joker, a crash involving The Joker and the protagonist shows the characters' reactions to the impact drawn inside of the word "CRASH" as if the word was a panel. It also uses the "Broken Glass" effect mentioned above, as if the reader is watching the characters' reaction through the breaking windshield of the car.
- Sounds as panels also appear in Frank Miller's work, for example when Marv shoots a corrupt preist in Sin City.
- Winsor McCay's Little Nemo (1905) and George Herriman's Krazy Kat (1914), are possibly the trope makers. McCay created the elastic layout- in the later pages, almost no two panels are the same shape. In several story arcs, he has panel borders break or shatter after being pushed- or in one case eaten by the main cast. He was also one of the first to use the 'explosion' panel. Herriman's sunday layouts featured nested panels, inset panels on open backgrounds, slanted and sliding panels, and circular panels, among others. The layout varied wildly week to week- except for a brief color run in the 20's- and sometimes dispensed with panels entirely.
- The Sandman uses this often and to great effect, being an account of the Lord of Dreams and those connected to him.
- Regularly used in Alan Moore's Promethea. Most often this trope takes the form of having the panels evoke mystic symbols relevant to the subject of the chapter.
- It should be noted that Promethea is Playing Against Type for Moore; most of his works are famous for adhering to extremely rigid panel divisions (specifically, the 3X3 grid), even in an age where such things have become outdated. Even his biggest action sequences rarely, if ever, step outside the boundaries of their respective panels.
- One issue of John Byrne's run on Alpha Flight featured Snowbird facing one of the Great Beasts, Komolaq, described as "the living embodiment of winter". The battle featured a number of unusual frame shapes and placements, made all the more noticeable in that the frames were all blank(the idea was to depict the battle taking place within a severe blizzard, with nothing but flying snow visible). Only the frame shapes and locations, along with dialogue, provided any clues to the action. A Crowning Moment of Awesome for John Byrne, in that he made the fight work on the page.
- The New 52's version of Swamp Thing makes the panel borders shaped like tree branches, most often when Alec Holland is using his powers.
- One issue of The Fox And The Crow featured Crow dressed as a giant (with stilts); the reveal-panel was elongated to accommodate his increased height.
- In part one of Maus, when Vladek sees a pair of Nazis up and shoot somebody in the street for the first time, he is depicted panicked looking, in a Star of David shaped panel, emphasizing his vulnerability, as a Jew, in how to respond. If he ran, he singles himself out as a target, if he stays, he could be caught up in a broader pogrom.
- Luther Arkwright: Done very liberally from the beginning of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright in 1978. Some examples:
- Overlapping panels
- A single scene covering an entire page, with panels overlaid
- Pages with no panel borders at all, all the "panels" bleed together and form a single whole
- Bleach in particular uses this a lot, with fans of triangular frames to show individual reactions of members of a group.
- Fruits Basket: The most common is a diagonal side.
- There's some panels in Ichigo Mashimaro that are convex quadrilaterals, some of which are right-angled trapezia. ...trapeziums? Nothing odder than that, though...
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure uses a lot of slanted panels. The end of Part 5 gets especially hectic. Though he makes pretty good use out of this. Instead of entire panels to show character reactions like he did before part 4, he later uses only small, circular panels to show character reactions, possibly a lampshading of how quick such reactions would be in real life, therefor it'd be just as quick to look at them.
- Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro plays with this quite a lot.
- Ode To Kirihito contains spiral-shaped panels at points to convey multiple actions in quick succession by a single character.
- Adekan has a lot of round panels.
- Project 0 does this all the time to the point that no two pages are really designed alike. Notable example on page 6 where Owen's fall is fragmented into vertical frames like the symbol for signal strength bars to show that his powers don't 'get reception' in the Machine Graveyard.
- No Rest for the Wicked has panels in the form of feathers.
- Sluggy Freelance switches from its usual rectangular panels to slightly irregular, smooth-sided ones when depicting Gwynn's demon-possessed dream sequences. These are also surrounded by border text, usually the repetition of Arc Words, but occasionally the panel boundaries open slightly and the border text nearby changes to reveal a meta-clue.
- Aaron Diaz doesn't seem to like even rectangular layouts. He frequently uses circles or cuts the page into triangular shapes.
- Casey and Andy did this once when they were literally breaking their own reality.
- Tally Road constantly does it, either with radical and strange panel shapes or by simply using the angle of vertical panel borders to imply the state of mind of the characters. More askew angles are associated with more unstable feelings. At one point, passing time is represented by the panel borders 'sweeping' to increasing angles like the hands of a clock.
- PolkOut has used some funky panels before.
- HERO regularly uses oddly shaped or oddly placed panels for narrative effect.
- Darths & Droids uses irregular polygon shaped panels whenever the action includes a fight sequence (usually with laser-swords).
- El Goonish Shive has it well established that rounded corners are fantasy, dream, or narrative. The artist also likes to let force effect the panels, one particularly powerful punch actually made the whole panel order bow to the left.
- Girl Genius. Examples here, here, and here.
- Murry Purry Fresh And Furry uses free-form panels with wavy borders.
- The panels of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name are very frequently irregularly-shaped (check out the center bottom panel here) or overlapping. It fits with the high-energy feel of the comic and its manic protagonist.
- The Life of Nob T. Mouse often has the top of a character's head popping out of a skewed ellipse during conversation pieces.
- Every panel in Cwynhild's Loom has rounded corners.
- All Over The House also often has the top of a talking character's head popping out of an elliptical frame.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: Here, and a trapezoidal one here. The comic very often skews the panel borders during action scenes. Etheric views usually have non-typical panel appearance, such as all melded together with objects (usually Annie's hair) serving as visual separators, or one panel as a background and others on top of it.
- In Penny and Aggie, when Brandi knocks out Xena, the panel borders buckle as if from the force of the blow.
- A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible is famous for doing this effectively in a great many of their comics to reinforce events or theme, such as here.
- Stuff protrudes from panels in The Way of the Metagamer a lot, but this comic is a particularly notable example.
- Little Worlds regularly uses blurred and oddly shaped panels in its pages.
- Pumpkin Flower normally has boxes in lines of three, but panels get funky when characters are hallucinating  
- Far Out There lives by this trope, seriously. The most jarring thing it can do now is a normal layout.
- Keychain of Creation uses angled panel gutters for action scenes.
- The Dreamland Chronicles, mostly overlapping.
- Bob and George, rarely.
- MegaTokyo: trapezoids
- Non-rectangular panels are rare, but more recently, floaty-freeform-layout panels superimposed on a partial background have become the norm. Tilted panels show up occasionally in action scenes, such as the "Kyaaa!" panel here.
- Last Res0rt has one page where one of the characters goes out of the panel(possibly onto the next page)
- Wapsi Square like here
- Pibgorn triangles
- Eerie Cuties pentagon
- Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger: Three panels merged into one -- one on top, two below
- Evil Diva: overlapping here and here
- Wooden Rose not lined up straight or with slanted edges
- Fey Winds Slanted and overlapping
- The Phoenix Requiem Slants here and here.
- Actually, odd shaped panels are the norm in this comic rather than an exception.
- Strays slanted sides and superimposed
- Familiar Ground An inset square
- Dork Tower Cut-out corner
- Tamuran slanting sides
- Footloose Slanting sides
- Impure Blood superimpose a long, short panel over the middle division
- Dreamkeepers Prelude
- Thistil Mistil Kistil During a fight, slanted sides
- Derelict as wide as the strip, and wavey, to indicate that she slept a long time.
- In Nip and Tuck, one without a border, to indicate it's not part of the Flashback.
- In Endstone, slantwise borders during a fight.
- In Next Town Over, framing faces in panels like lockets.
- In Doodze, slanted across the line of their fall
- In American Barbarian, a triangle to introduce the second plot line.
- In The Adventures of Shan Shan, superimposed and trapezoidal.
- In Blue Yonder, superimposed.
- This Order of the Stick strip organizes panels along a twisty tunnel, with the bumpy sides being two sides of the panel. Thog lampshades this in a much later strip.
- In Erstwhile,
- In Far from Home, Eyak's reaction to the pilotting is shown in a hexagon on top of two panels showing the ship dodging asteroids.
- In Ears for Elves, a series of short, wide rectangular panels indicate zooming in/panning down here.
- In Dominic Deegan Oracle For Hire, planar or psychic magic is shown via unusual panels. If an extraplanar entity is spying on the cast, he will show up outside the panel. When Dominic went to the elemental plane of destruction, his progress was shown as a panel getting periodically blasted and damaged. Most recently, when the King held the demiplane with Nimmel on it hostage, he elbowed the panel, which then chipped away at the demiplane. In that same battle, the fight taking place on two planes is shown by the King reaching from one panel to the other.
- In Monsieur Charlatan, objects within the panel serve as the edges -- whatever their shape is.
- Oglaf has a minor example: the final page of a story usually has a small triangular piece cut out of the bottom-right corner.
- In Parallels, the panels are superimposed, shifting right and left, until the final landing.
- In The Specialists, overlapping squares show enlarged pieces of the room.
- In Dragon Mango a black and red-outlined speech bubble, shaped like a smoke cloud.
- Ava's Demon is usually one square panel, but one is split, slantwise, to show two different characters at once.
- In Penny Arcade, a telephone conversation shown in diagonally sliced -- with a jaggy in the middle -- panels.