The comic, by its definition and common concept, is an art form that is bound by tangible, specific limits. When we think of the word comic, the most defining trait of the genre that comes to mind is the panel: “a separate or distinct part of a surface[,] such as [a] comic strip,” or “a frame of a comic strip”. However, just because a story is portrayed in a medium with strict rules, this doesn’t mean that artists haven’t found inventive and thematically enriching ways to break these rules, shifting them to their advantage.
Osamu Tezuka, a prolific Japanese manga artist who authored many influential and renowned titles such as Astro Boy, Black Jack, and Phoenix during his lifetime, experiments heavily with the panels in his work. Tezuka often relies on a pattern in which the more thin, elongated panels reflect a shorter span of time; in this way, a scene with very quick changes in movement can be portrayed with a single page filled with numerous “snapshot” panels. Take, for example, this page from Tezuka’s The Book of Human Insects (read right to left):
Still relying on the iconography we have come to expect from his work, Tezuka now creates a two-page spread that forces the reader to slow down and take in the scope of this moment. Each panel, rotated from the short-and-wide shape we are used to, extends from the top to the bottom of the page, signalling that this page portrays a slow, still moment instead of a quick scene heavy with movement. Each panel shows the reflection of a pagoda in the water, and the scene changes only slightly from each image to the next. As readers, we are given plenty of time to observe and absorb not only the serene imagery and how it is disrupted, but the accompanying dialogue as well.
Tezuka is a master at his craft, visually enriching his works with many aspects not discussed here, such as the shape, placement, and weight in his panels, but his creation of time through each panel as a "scene" one might see in a film acts as a firm base on which his other exploratory techniques can shine through.
*Note: Due to differences in publisher translation, some examples are read from left to right.
4/10/2019 06:22:28 pm
I enjoyed your visual analysis of manga panels, specifically Tezuka's thin, vertical and horizontal style. I've seen different panel styles in western comics as well as Japanese manga, but was unaware that this style was specific to the creator of Astro Boy.
4/11/2019 08:38:42 pm
Thank you, this was a fun read for me. I have read many Japanese comics and manga but i had never seen a style like this before. the long panels are intriguing in relations to the fixed framing multiples and the narrative. Also the style makes me think of Metropolis anime.
4/11/2019 10:09:59 pm
I love the unique ability of comics to convey time or action through something so simple as how the images are laid out. I love reading comics and love it when the artists and authors put that extra effort into doing something new with the format. I feel like the strategies that you've outlines here are subtle, but effective ways to convey an idea visually.
4/11/2019 10:22:19 pm
Thank you for sharing your interest in this comic style and these artists. I find manga artists to be so awe-inspiring, its truly incredible. But you never really notice how incredible a manga artist really is until you pull one page out of the manga and see that it is a work of art alone by itself. Truly innovative ways to break out of the box!
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