Feb 19, 2014

Techniques and Tricks: The Foreground Polyptych

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

So a polyptych is when you have a figure moving across a continuous background. It's the comics equivalent of the film technique of panning across a scene. Here's an example from Frank King's Gasoline Alley.

What happens when the foreground element is the one that anchors the sequence? This is what I call the "foreground polyptych," and it's one that I first encountered in MAD About the 50s, the best-of collection of 50s MAD stuff, mostly with Harvey Kurtzman behind the wheel. Here's an example from "Mole," from Tales Calculated to Drive You MAD #2.

Here's one that works under the same principle, although it's clearly taking more liberties, from "Shermlock Shomes," from the 7th issue.

I haven't really seen much of this technique in wide use, but I saw it recently in Daredevil #28, drawn by Javier Rodriguez.

I think it's a cool effect. It doesn't even really take much in the way of visual cues to work with — that Shermlock Shomes example retains nothing in between the three panels but the main characters. Even their mode of transportation changes each time! There's a tacit understanding between reader and author that they're following a continuous narrative, to the point that the creator can take advantage of it and change things without much of a disruption in flow.

Plus, it's awesome! I love this technique. If it happened in animation, it'd be a little jarring. Over here, it's seamless. It just screams "comics"!

Got a comics trick or technique you want featured? Email me at comicscube@gmail.com!

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