Feb 21, 2011

Comics Techniques and Tricks: Tony Harris and Talking Heads

Welcome to another edition of Comics Techniques and Tricks, in which we showcase techniques that only comics can do! Click here for the archive!

One of the biggest challenges for any comic book artist is when a writer or a scene calls for a lot of talking, known affectionately in the business as "talking heads," because, uh, you know, you have to show the heads to show them talking. It's understandably hard in a visual medium like comics to keep such a scene dynamic, but there are ways around it. Wally Wood, for example, had a catalog of 22 panels that would always work.

In James Robinson and Tony Harris' STARMAN, though, which is my favorite longform mainstream comic book series ever, Harris has a way to circumvent the problem. Instead of showing multiple talking heads in succession, he draws the two people talking in one gigantic picture, almost a splash page, and then separates them with gutters.

Never underestimate the power of a gutter, folks. The simple addition of gutters to an otherwise static picture creates the feeling of time and movement.

In addition, it facilitates easier placement of the word balloons, because the reader retains the sense of up-to-down and left-to-right reading orientation. Without the gutters, figuring out the order of the word balloons may be hard, like below.

It also doesn't hurt that Tony Harris has an incredible design sense and it makes the pages look great!

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