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Odd-Shaped Panel

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"thog will always treasure thog's adventure with talky-man. it featured non-traditional panel layout."
Thog, The Order of the Stick #788, referring to strip #51

A Comic Book/Comic Strip/Manga/Webcomic 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 Speech-Bubbles Interruption, where it is used to show talking over each other.


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    Comic Books 
  • 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.
    • In Detective Comics (Rebirth), both Eddie Barrows and Alvaro Martínez use such panelling as an homage to Williams, since Batwoman is a starring character in the series.
  • Frank Quitely often experiments with odd panels, for example he will occasionally make the panel the literal fourth wall of a room. In WE 3, 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 priest 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 (1989) 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.
  • 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
  • In Astro City, Camilla at the carnival in "Pastoral" features panels like a ferris wheel — with the borders being lights.
  • Batman: Black and White: "Funny Money" features a Time Passes Montage in which the panels keep getting smaller as time goes on: three panels are arranged in a grid where the fourth quadrant contains three panels arranged in a grid where the fourth quadrant contains ... and so on, vanishing into infinity.
  • The Wacky Adventures of Pedro doesn't have a standard panel layout.
  • The Golden Age Wonder Woman comics would occasionally have a circular panel, generally with just the bust of a single character being focused on inside.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy story "Time Waits For No Mandy" has Mandy tricking Father Time into going on vacation permanently so time will stand still and pre-empt her future birthdays. A spiral panel shows instances of how the stoppage of time has affected their circumstances, not needlessly for the good.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Adventures of Prudence Prim was Nell Brinkley's first big foray into serial, multi-panel comics, as opposed to the full-page illustrations and standalone editorial comics she had produced throughout the 1910's. She put her own spin on the format by drawing her comics as small vignettes arranged around a larger, more detailed "glamour shot" that dominated the composition. Those glamour shots allowed Brinkley to show off her famous sense of style, dolling protagonist Prudence up in stylish modern outfits that were as much of a draw for readers as the plot or the prose of writer Carolyn Wells. Separation between the vignettes and the glamour shot were organically plotted, taking their shape from the action and figures presented in each scene. The brim or an umbrella or a billowing scarf might mark the border of one panel, while a curving border decorated with flowers and ivy might set off a panel set in a garden.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • 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 Strawberry Marshmallow 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.
  • Shiawase Tori-mingu: The series is a Yonkoma, but it frequently breaks the four-panel layout for artistic effect. The main character is an artist who embraces birdwatching to get material for her art, and the series emphasizes the majestic nature of birds with soaring, multi-panel illustrations.
  • Shows up quite a bit in Shy, usually in ways thematically relevant to when they're used. For instance, when Shy and her allies shatter a dome of darkness that had surrounded part of Tokyo, the panels are drawn as a sun emanating rays of light.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Pearls Before Swine does this a lot.
    • Normally the strip uses square panels — but when it parodies/references The Family Circus, it often switches to that strip's circle panels.
    • Because of the strip's propensity for Breaking the Fourth Wall, characters often step outside the panels, damage the panels, etc.