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The Falcone Essay

March 2022

Hello everyone! Thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. As part of this thanks here is the second in a series of short essays that I’ve written exclusively for my subscribers. Your support means the world and I hope that you’ll enjoy my musings on writing, pop culture, productivity, and ancient history.
On The Page Turn

Comic books as a medium is a series of sequential images that tell a story. It is unique but also shares some of its component parts with other media. You need the words found in the caption boxes or dialogue bubbles, but it isn’t a novel. You need the images, but it isn't a painting. And you need the space between the panel to convey time and change, but a comic book isn’t a movie or television show shifting from scene to scene. Because novels, paintings, and movies came before comic books we tend to borrow their terminology when talking about comics. We refer to shots, a comic book script might look like a screenplay, or we might talk about the story being structured in acts. All of this is fine of course, you need some type of structure to analyze and discuss art, but this often means that we discuss comic books in terms of what is similar to other media rather than what is wholly unique.

A standard North American comic book currently clocks in at about twenty pages of story. Page one is found on the right-hand side of the book, meaning that when you open the cover all you see is page one. In order to read more story, you need to turn the page (naturally) but until you turn that page the entirety of what is happening next is a mystery. However, once you do turn the page you don’t just see what happens immediately next; you also get a glimpse of what is to come.

Let me explain a bit further. As stated above, page one is found on the right side of the book, so when you turn to page two you don’t just see page two. You see page two and page three. After the next page turn you then see pages four and five, and so on and so on until you get to pages eighteen and nineteen. When you turn the page at nineteen you then get the end of the story at page twenty.

This means that you get a page turn ten times throughout the story. And ten opportunities to surprise your reader. Other media have this discovery process too of course. In novels, you never know what is going to come next. You need to read one word after another and the story forms in your mind. But the words you read are directed by the author. In movies or television, the shots and scene composition are dictated by the director, cinematographer, and editor. You get to see images but only in the way that the author of the work intends you to.

In comics, it’s a little bit different in that we digest the double-page unit at once, just for a second, before we begin reading the top panel on the left. We are shown the whole but then focus on each individual panel as we progress through the two-page unit. This creates both a tool and a limitation for comic book writers and artists.

The page turn from page one to two and from page nineteen to twenty are often used for a large reveal. The first page will set up some aspect of the story, like a robbery, or a small piece of intrigue that will then be fleshed out in full on pages two and three. The final page turn of the story from page nineteen to twenty often provides either a satisfying resolution or a cliff-hanger to ensure that you’ll purchase the next issue.

The other page turns in the story also can but used to surprise the reader but they also need to make sense in a logical fashion. That is, scenes rarely would be a half page or even a single page. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, but rather a scene normally is completed by the page turn, and the reader is then shown a new scene. The page turn ends up being akin to the cut of the camera in film.

This means that when you are writing scenes you also tend to write them in two-page increments. You can deviate from this but mostly you’ll find your favourite comics will follow this pattern.

So then as a comic book writer, you are basically given the task each month to provide the reader with a complete story that has one page of setup, five to nine scenes that drive the story, and a page of resolution. It is a tight structure that doesn’t give you a lot of space for excess. But it also demonstrates the strength of the comic book medium.

Think about your favourite comics. What do you remember from them? A specific image that might be a hero or team arriving to save the day in a two-page spread. A long-dead villain emerging from behind a curtain to reveal that they were the mastermind behind a nefarious plot. A hero falling after giving their all to save the world from destruction. These images that burn in our minds are from the page turn that seared into your memory as the reader. A surprise of storytelling that left its impact.
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