I defined the concept of ‘cinematic panels’ in order to differentiate my practice from what is called ‘panel delivery’. I will describe panel delivery as an image stream and a motion graphic technique that feeds or replaces panels, either through automation or interaction/reader navigation. If a given case of panel delivery involves instant and/or dissolving images, it uses an image stream; if the panels fly in and out and move around in full motion, it (the given panel delivery) uses the spatial form of motion graphics. In this chapter I will mainly refer to the image-stream form of panel delivery. If a panel overlaps the previous panel, then this is not a case of panel delivery but of cinematic panels. The difference is that while cinematic panels change the fictional space within a single frame, panel delivery changes the panels in the negative space. Panels can appear, disappear, shrink, grow, change format, cover each other, move around, and so on. Since panel delivery, cinematic panels and pages are all image-stream forms, they can readily be combined with each other. That said, in my study of digital comics, the most common combination seems to be panel delivery with elements of cinematic panels (Video 83). Close, Closer, Closest is mainly made with cinematic panels, however, I have added a stanza of panel delivery to create a rhythmic and temporal shift in the comic (Video 84).
‘Panel delivery’ is not a well-established concept. Comic artists who are new to digital comics might find it confusing because the technique has different names from publisher to publisher. Marvel calls its panel-delivery comics ‘Infinite Comics’, but I see this more as a product tag. Comixology called its panel-delivery comics ‘Native Guided View’ for a while. ‘Native’ could mean a comic that is designed specifically for the digital platform. To combine ‘Native’ and ‘Guided View’, however, I do not think was a good idea. The Guided View mode was, according to my own observations, introduced in the early 2000s. Marvel has also launched digital comics on its website, and members pay a fee to access them online, either reading page-by-page or entering the Guided View mode. In this mode the screen becomes a mobile frame, moving in on the first panel on the page, then moving from panel to panel and adjusting the frame when necessary (Video 85). The mobile frame follows a programmed track with dynamic motion – a ‘dynamic track’ as I call it in chapter 2 (the section on ‘Mobile Framing’). The mobile frame exposes panels by browsing over a comic book page. The screen plays the role of the eyes, navigating on the spatial surface, and it takes control away from the eyes, which makes the term quite accurate. I do, however, see a similarity between Guided View and panel delivery, for both focus on one or a small group of panels at the time. But Guided View is a spatial model using a mobile frame. The screen moves rather like a slow and fixed representation of what the eyes would ideally choose to focus on. In panel delivery, by contrast, panels are fed onto the screen. As such, the image stream affects the layout, building up, moving and continuously developing the onscreen content. Thrillbent, the digital comic publisher which was established by Mark Waid and John Rogers in 2014, is a pioneer in panel delivery because all its publications are based on panel delivery and cinematic panels. However, this company, as far as I know, has not introduced any terms for these two presentation forms. The term ‘panel delivery’ is suggested by Daniel M. Goodbrey, and I find it quite accurate because it describes the actual function of the presentation form.
Comics in general rely on the concept of ‘reading direction’. Reading direction relates to all continuous, spatial arrangements. In a comic, these are the panels, texts and elements of the illustrations. If the reading direction is not taken into consideration when composing a comic, the reader will misunderstand the chronology, and the relationships between the various bits of information will be hard to understand. In the West, this direction goes from left to right and from top to bottom. The panel or object on which the eyes focus represents the present time.
In panel delivery and cinematic panels, however, I find the reading direction to be overruled by what is called the ‘order of appearance’. When a panel appears on screen, regardless of whether it happens through an instant transition, a dissolving image or a spatial change as in motion graphics, I find that it claims the reader’s focal attention and becomes the most relevant information on the screen. It overrules the control of the eyes and represents the present time. Because of this, a panel can appear wherever it likes in panel delivery. The same principle applies to speech bubbles in cinematic panels. Still, the rule of reading direction does not disappear entirely, for it is still active within the composition of the panel or object that appears. Two or more panels can be fed onto the screen at the same time, and they will also need to relate to reading direction.
But a panel-delivery feed is not tied to the reading direction in the same way as is a comic with a pure spatial arrangement. The panels that appear can be built in a direction that moves from left to right or from top to bottom. Either way will create a flow, since the pattern is based on a norm that the reader can predict. Breaking the reading direction can convey contrasts and chaos. It will change the rhythm and probably generate surprize. Two things – the order of appearance and the reading direction – give the digital comic artist more opportunities to create variations in composition and rhythm than would be possible in traditional static comics. In Close, Closer, Closest, I use a split screen in my panel delivery. The three first frames of the panel delivery build the split screen. From then on, the panel grid is fixed and allows for a seamless mix of panel delivery and cinematic panels. The panels in the grid are cinematic panels, but I do not change the same panel consecutively; I jump to the next panel to make a change there, and then to the next as the reader advances. This is panel delivery made through cinematic panels in a split-screen layout. It is a short sequence, but I have tracked the rhythm of the order of appearance in a video (Video 86):
I break the reading direction from the start, jumping back and forth, as if trying to establish rooms in the submarine. Breaking the reading direction creates a staccato sequence that conveys the tenseness of the situation as well as the communication between the rooms the panels represent. Before the captain gives the order to fire, there are two panels that follow the reading direction on a row. They create a short but flowing leap to the picture of the lever that is pulled in the full-screen image. This panel-delivery sequence represents a shift in Close, Closer, Closest’s rhythm and presentation form. It stands in contrast to the more static full-screen cinematic panel sequences that dominate the comic, and it shows one way in which panel delivery and cinematic panels can co-exist and cooperate.
Another aspect of panel delivery is how it relates to time. On a traditional comic page with a panel layout, all the panels that are exposed have the opportunity to represent the past, the present and the future. It is the eyes’ focus that decides the status of the panels: whatever is focused on at any given time represents the present, whereas previously focused-on panels represent the past and upcoming panels represent the future. Previous pages are always the past and future pages are always the future. In the case of cinematic panels, the future panels and the panels of the past are hidden from the reader, just like the pages in a book. In panel delivery, however, panels coexist much as do panels on a page, but at the same time they are different because new panels are always being added and removed. The most recent panel in the feed must relate to the other panels on screen. I have formulated four models to describe how panel delivery deals with time:
A) Future – present – past:
This model of panel delivery has a panel layout in which all panels are visible. They can be presented on pages or a larger canvas. Instead of feeding panels, panels are activated. An early example made with this structure is Marvel’s first The Amazing Spider-Man Cyber Comic, Sandblaster (1998). The panels of the page are shaded and lit up when activated in a form that can remind of model B. This comic mixes cinematic panels and panel delivery (Video 71).
B) Present – past:
This model only shows the panels of the present and the past. The future is always hidden. It is a common panel delivery model in which the layout is built panel by panel (Video 87). Every new panel represents the present, and every previous image represents the past. In some comics, the panels are erased when the screen is filled, then a new series of panels begins and builds a new layout. It can be explained as building page layouts. Other comics of this type create the layout by building and removing panels simultaneously. This last approach, in which the oldest panels give way to new ones, is used by Eric Loyer, who did the programming for Ezra Claytan Daniel’s digital comic Upgrade Soul. Here Loyer uses a model he calls ‘Zero Sum’, meaning that when a new image comes onto the screen, an earlier image must exit the screen. If a large image enters, an equally-large image (or images which in combination are equal in size to the new image) must exit the screen. The result is that the frame size of all the frames in the layout adapt to the new content every time the reader moves forward in the comic (Video 88).
C) Future – present:
This model is the opposite of model B, and I have never seen an example of it. In this model all the panels are visible, but when the reader interacts and navigates, panels disappear as the reader advances. This means the past is never visible to the reader. The reader is like Pac-Man eating up the panels (Video 89). It can symbolize that time is spent, wasted or gone. I would guess this is not a very functional model because the eyes would read faster than the reader would interact, and I will claim that it is more functional to feed new panels than to discard read panels. It can, however, be an interesting model for a hypercomic: if there are multiple pathways and no possibility to go backwards to retrieve erased panels, the choices the reader makes are decisive – perhaps even devastating. Being able to look at future panels can help the reader make a choice.
This model, which only shows the present time, is the one I use in Close, Closer, Closest. The past and the future are hidden just as in cinematic panels. Panels are still fed onto the screen, but all the on-screen panels must represent the present (Video 90). In chapter 1, I wrote about how the split screen in film shared similarities with the magazine in its visual expression. Well, this model of panel delivery can be compared to the split-screen technique in film, where multiple frames show simultaneous events. When all images on screen need to represent the same moment in time, past actions must always be removed or masked away. While making Close, Closer, Closest, I also explored this form in an experiment I made at Eric Loyer’s motion comic workshop at Fumetto International Comic Festival in Lucerne (2015) (as I also mentioned in chapter 1). In this experiment, I worked with this time mode within a fixed panel layout, which can be compared to a fixed split screen. The sequences I made within this fixed panel layout had a combination of cinematic panels and panel delivery (Video 8 in chapter 1). The fixed panel layout is a form that differs from most panel-delivery comics I have seen. The most normal approach is adaptable dynamic-panel layouts, at least layouts that change over time. The small stanza of panel delivery in Close, Closer, Closest builds up the layout, which turns out to be fixed. Basing a whole comic on a fixed panel layout is a form I want to explore further after this artistic research. A slightly different approach than the one I used for my panel delivery sequence in Close, Closer, Closest and my experiment at Fumetto is the one used by Daniel M. Goodbrey for Empty Kingdom (2014). In this game comic, all the panels on screen represent the same time. Every hyperframe forms an open world via fixed panel layouts that the main character (who is controlled by the reader/player) can move around in (Video 3 in chapter 1).
I will close this section with a brief look at terminology used when working with panel delivery and cinematic panels. The Norwegian digital comic pioneers Morten F. Thomsen and Lars Schwed Nygård made a (short-lived) publishing app for digital comics in 2012 called Oxicomics. In making the app, they consulted with Mark Waid from Thrillbent, a publisher known for digital comic publications that use the techniques I call panel delivery and cinematic panels in this artistic research. According to Schwed Nygård, Waid had not developed terms when they worked with the Oxicomics format, so Thomsen and Schwed Nygård made their own concepts to verbalize the process (Schwed Nygård 2017).
A ‘step’, in their terminology, is when a reader advances to the next panel or change through an input action such as a click, tap or swipe. They used the term ‘screen’ for a sequence of steps that constructs a panel layout that forms a page (Video 91). At a time when the medium of digital comics is still finding itself, terms like this will always vary from artist to artist. To collect terms would therefore be an interesting research project in itself. To contribute to this, I will present the terminology I used when working with the programmer Hans Philip Eide and the composer Stephan Meidell. I also used the term ‘steps’, but gave it a different meaning.
I used the term ‘frame’ to describe all the panels, including their steps, and all the frames in the full-screen animations in the comic. I used ‘scene’ as a term to divide the scenarios, as in film, and I gave the panels numbers within each scene. If a panel sequence was represented through several panels with the same point of view, as in a take in film, I used the term ‘steps’ within this sequence. For example, the first panel in Close, Closer, Closest consist of 19 steps (Video 92). Close, Closer, Closest has 12 scenes, as shown in the top menu (Video 93). It has 46 panels which then form the multiframe. However, when counting all the frames with full motion, the multiframe consists of a total of 2,238 frames. There are frames in animated loops too: for instance in the swimming sailors, the record player and the cell-phone video, but these are not counted in the total amount of frames. These animations represent what I call ‘sub-sequences’ within the frames. There are 12 sub-sequences in Close, Closer, Closest (Video 94).