A post about drawing grids and squares...

Yes, this is a post about drawing grids.

One of the first things I like to do is work out the dimensions of the grid I’ll draw the story into. Usually I work in columns of three, four or six panels, but the width and height of these can vary depending on the project. I also need to work out the margins for the “bleed” area — sometimes my drawings leak out of the grid and flow to the edge of the page.

I haven’t decided if I will draw this story on a fixed grid, or alternate the number and size of panels in each sequence. Someday I would like to try a floating manga layout where each page has it’s own unique design, and panels hover around the page. In this project however there will be a lot of slow moments featuring repeated actions in panels, so it might be best to have some kind of formal structure. I find having a grid in place helps me during the initial writing stage, because I know the rhythm of the page and when to start, stop and add quiet moments. When dialogue or action ends up running longer than the amount of panels on a given page, it’s a signal that things have to be cut or rewritten.

From Ikeda Riyoko's Versailles No Bara (1973) - for me the ultimate "floating panel" manga.

Working with a fixed grid is the quickest way to make the formal layout of the story become invisible to the reader. This is important because when the grid becomes invisible, you can suddenly break the rules and surprise the reader. This is a page from the end of A Shioya Story. At the pivotal moment I wanted to make the clearest expression of freedom I could imagine, so I had the cat, who was being harassed by the community, walk straight through the grid and off the page (incidently to show the boy's freedom was restricted by the community, I trapped him behind a grid made from the bystander's legs).

From my own A Shioya Story (2013)

One layout I haven’t tried, but would like to, is a semi-fixed grid, where perhaps the height of the panels is fixed but the width is fluid. This is the technique used in Tintin and Asterix, where the width of panels is constantly changing depending on what is depicted in them, but the fixed height and number of rows give the overall page an elegant yet simple look. (The page below is interesting because he also breaks up the height to include small panels from time to time.)

From Herge's Destination Moon (1953)

For this story, I’ll begin with an overall dimension of 180 x 270 mm, which can easily be broken into a grid of 3, 4, 6, 9 or even 12 panels. This will at least help me start plotting out the story. One decision I’ll have to make at the very end is wether to have a white space between the panels or not, but I won’t really know that till I look at the drafts and see if the artwork becomes too complicated or not.

Sigh, after hunting for that image from Tintin I suddenly want to spend the afternoon reading Destination Moon instead of working on my own book!

Working out the dimensions for the grid - primary school mathematics was useful after all.