Monday, January 23, 2012

Jack Kirby's use of 4 panel grid

I find comics fascinating, not only in their content but also in the way that content is communicated. With this and subsequent posts I'd like to look at some of the more popular forms of panel arrangements in comics.
Besides the splash page (which is technically not a comic page in the true definition of comics being a medium of sequential panels) the most basic of the common page divisions is the 4 panel grid.
When I think of the 4 panel grid I think of Kirby's Silver and Copper age work on titles like the Fantastic Four and the New Gods, in fact I have a hard time thinking of any other artist that does use this form of page layout.
The 4 panel grid can be good when you have a very wordy page. The sameness of the panels creates a rhythm that is easier to follow. A 9 panel grid might work as well or better depending on the page.

One advantage that the 4 panel grid has over other layouts is that it allows for more space in each panel to include more details and backgrounds.

when you have a lot of action like say a fight sequence and you don't wish to accent one panel more than the others, the big panels of the 4 panel grid might work very well.
One disadvantage to the 4 panel grid is uniformity, not allowing any one panel to dominate the page over the others which makes a kind of sameness or uniformity of the panels. Because of this it might also be said to be one of the least dynamic of panel arrangements. Add to this the eyes tendency to immediately go to the center of a page bringing it to the blank center of the crossing panel borders and following the strong panel border lines right off the page.
This is a good set up, creating tension for something that is about to come.

In the Orient they actually consider equal numbers static, whereas odd numbers are considered more dynamic. When comparing this page of 2 panels by 2 panels verses the 2 panels by 3 panels of the 6 panel grid. I can see this some what.
The large upper panel dominates the page, creating a great into to this coming scene.
the large bottom panel creates a nice 'beat' to the rhythm set up by the repetitive upper 4 panels.
Here, no one panel dominates the page. It's one beat after the other. Though this page appears more 'meaty' than the sparse 4 panel grid, giving you more interesting action to get into.

Unfortunately for me using Kirby's highly dynamic art as an example of the staticness of the 4 panel grid is hard to prove. In Kirby's hands the 4 panel grid becomes a procession of action and explosiveness.

Here the upper 2 action packed panels set up for the 'rock-em, sock-em' lower 2 panels. You get 2 dynamic punches for the price of one!
These 4 panels, one not being larger than the others, acts like a crank on a wind-up toy, each effectively building  a tension that we assume will play itself out on the next page.

So as you can see from the examples the 4 panel grid is very good at creating a rhythm that can be used to painlessly supply the reader with lots of information or create and build tension for the next page.

On subsequent posts I will be dealing with more page layout issue so stay tuned. And if you know of any other artists use of the 4 panel grid please send us a link!


  1. I think when considering Kirby's art we have to think about when he went from the large board down to the current Bristol board size. I feel it affected his panel usage.....just a thought.
    Great posts and I look forward to more. I really enjoy discussions to do with the creation of great comics.
    And as an aside....I have used the 4 panel grid a few times.

  2. Wow, I'm honored to have you visit my blog Tom. I've often visited your great Captain Spectre web comic and even took some valuable drawing tips from some sketches you posted. You've got a great thing going on there!