How to compose a comic panel

From the Ancient Greeks to the New Gods, from the Leonardo DaVinci to Leonardo the Turtle, composition has always been an essential component of art. It is the difference between something being drawn accurately and something being drawn beautifully. So, what is the secret to great composition?

How to use dynamic symmetry to stage your comic

While studying Greek architecture, pottery, and sculpture, Jay Hambidge noticed that there seemed to be a larger pattern connecting the shapes and dimensions chosen by those classical artists. As a result, he developed a set of rules which he called Dynamic Symmetry and it has been referenced ever since by painters, photographers, and comic book artists, to elevate their work from good to great.

What is dynamic symmetry?

If you are familiar with the rule of thirds, dynamic symmetry is this cranked up to 11. Developed from the golden and silver ratios, dynamic symmetry is a tool you can use to create a grid to guide where to align and place elements of your composition.

The quick and easy explanation breaks down as follows:

  1. Put focal points and areas of importance at spots where the lines intersect.
  2. Create flow to those focal points by aligning the elements of your image along those lines.

From the Hulk Cover above, you can see Banner’s body aligns at various points along the different lines. His back and head fall neatly on one line, which carries on up towards the moon focal point with the Hulk’s face. The tombstone he is leaning on runs parallel to that same line.

Banner’s right leg runs exactly along another of the lines, as does his left foot, and this line is parallel with the horizon. There’s another line connecting his eyes, with his mouth, hands, and knee leading to a focal point of a cluster of graves. Not to mention that Banner’s head is right in the middle of the page.

Here is another example of the grid in action from Alex Ross:

Harley Quinn (Paul Dini, Yvel Guichet, Aaron Sowd, Alex Ross, DC Comics)

The edge of white created by Joker’s face and body align perfectly with the vertical line leading up to a focal point level with Joker’s eyes. The diagonal line leading to this runs perfectly through Joker’s smile, along Harley’s face, her neck, and her body, to a second focal point where Joker’s hand is on her stomach. Practically every line and point of importance sits exactly on the grid.

Setting up the grid

  1. Start with the standard rectangle panel. Draw two diagonal lines from the opposite corners to form an X. These are the Barroque (line from bottom left to top right corner) and the Sinister (line from top left to bottom right corner).
  2. For each corner, draw a new line outwards so that it meets the existing line at right angle (90 degrees or perpendicular). These are the Reciprocal lines.
  1. Create two vertical lines to connect the points where the current lines intersect.
  2. Create two horizontal lines to connect the points where the current lines intersect.

Using the grid

It’s important to remember that this is a tool, not a rule, but having said that, here is how you can utilize Dynamic Symmetry in your art.

Take a blank piece of paper and use a ruler and set square to draw out a grid. For extra ease, try laying out the grid on some tracing paper.

Sketch out your rough layout using the grid.

Line up background elements, buildings, and items so that they run parallel to the sinister, baroque, or reciprocal lines.

Place things that you want to draw attention to on spots where the lines intersect.

Angle your poses so that your characters align with the lines.

Daredevil (Joe Quesada, Kevin Smith, Jimmy Palmiotti, Marvel Comics)

Get drawing.

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