Comic Structure is Your New Fantasy

by ryankl

If you are writing comics then you absolutely must be thinking about comic structure.
The whole idea of page construction, panel layout, gutters, page turns, etc is why comics is so exciting as a medium. That idea of control is like so few other media. I always say comics are like a sonnet in iambic pentameter and this is why, the structure of it is key.
A comic with superb structure is usually indicative of an artist and writer being on point.
So, I can only assume structure is something you are thinking about a lot. You’ve no doubt read McCloud/Eisner/Bendis (which are my trio of start up #makecomics guides) and now you’re branching out, finding your voice/style, becoming a comic structure citizen of the world. As such, let your thoughts be informed by much, read plenty, dissect it all, and if you need a hand, start here:
HAWKEYE by David Aja + Annie Wu + Matt Hollingsworth + Chris Eliopoulos + Matt Fraction, from Marvel.
This book is an insane structure dream come true. This book is must read material if you are looking to level up the ways in which you make your comics – and don’t worry, I was beyond ambivalent about the character of Clint Barton before this title started up. In fact, I wasn’t even pulling the title at first and then reviews dropped and so I had to sample and now I think it is the best book craft-wise being put out right now. So if you even downright loathe Hawkeye, still consider dipping into this.
As an example, I offer up HAWKEYE #20 – a Kate Bishop tale of her taking on Madame Masque. Read the issue.
Now read it again.
Now marvel at how Wu/Fraction use time. They bounce all over the place, from locations, to times, and back again, and around, and they never tell you how, when, or where, they just do it. They assume the reader is smart enough to get it. They don’t pander with non-diagetic captions for reference, they believe half the fun, half the beauty, is just making you do the work. They play a conversation across two pages, the first page, and the last page, and you only get one side of the conversation on one page, and then you wait until the final page to get the other half of the conversation – and everything in between informs what Kate has to say. It’s a brilliant move and one that made the process junkie here start salivating.
Moves like these takes guts, and precision like you’re shaving someone on the moon with a laser from earth. You have to be bold, and sure, and you certainly need to plan like you’re invading Russia in winter. Structure doesn’t just happen, you do it, you make it, you force it into the world like you won’t settle for the standard mediocrity.
Now read the issue one more time…
…and start to think about how you structure your comics. I’m not saying you need to play fast and loose with time like some drunk wizard, but I am hoping you’ll think about the myriad ways you can tell your story. A-B-C-D storytelling might get the job done, but if I want someone to get me from home to the holidays I guess they can drive me in their beat up Datto, or they can sling me into a private jet and let me sip G+T while listening to ELO while I’m pondering my ETA, you down with OPP?
And this should come as no shock, Matt Fraction has been an out and open process junkie for years. He tears apart the work of others so he might drink from its soul and redefine his own process. Think about his Reverse Engineering script activity, or the things he wrote about BORN AGAIN. It should come as no shock that Fraction thinks this much and this hard about comics and then his books are just this good (and for the quality debate I lay at your bare feet: CASANOVA, IMMORTAL IRON FIST, SEX CRIMINALS, and HAWKEYE – argument over).

Ergo: you also need to think this hard about the books you are reading, and then the things you are writing. Again, good quality is no accident.

Structure, it’s the difference between a one-bedroom basement dwelling and a liquid labyrinthine Hogwarts dorm-frat funhouse.
You wanna make something as good as HAWKEYE, think about the structure.