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B&N Week 182: Ghosting Panels

| June 17, 2014

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Welcome to another Tuesday.

I’m interrupting the flow of asking questions this week with a column that I thought I had posted, but obviously haven’t. This week was going to be all about checking in to see what you’ve done over the past six months, to see if you’ve stuck to the path you laid out for yourself in January, and to check your progress. However, something much more important has to come to the fore.

I want to talk about Moving Panels and what I term “ghosting.” So, let’s get into the Bolts & Nuts of it, shall we?

Let’s backtrack a bit, and talk some about Panels, Time, and movement between them. We all know that comic panels are nothing more than slivers of captured Time. You can add more Time to a panel by making it bigger and having separate actions within it, but the easiest way to add more Time to a panel is through Dialogue. The more words you add, the more Time is added to the panel.

You can decrease Time in a panel, either by making it smaller, or by adding more panels around it.

While panels hold a certain amount of Time, you generally cannot have two different actions in a single panel. Remember, we’re talking about static images, and with those static images, you have to give the illusion of movement.

Here’s an example of a static panel:

Panel 1: Sayleen is lying prone on the ground, firing her gun, as bullets impact all around her, but not hitting her.

SFX: BANG

That panel is easily drawn, and has no movement to it at all, although I’ve captured more Time by adding the bullet impacts around her. [It isn’t much, but every little bit counts].

Now, some of you would write this, and think it good:

Panel 1: Sayleen lies prone behind a barrel, firing her gun, then rolls out from behind it, firing her gun some more, before getting up and running so she can dive for cover behind the handy brick wall.

In this panel, we have four distinct actions: Sayleen is crouching behind a barrel firing her gun [1], she rolls out and fires her gun some more [2], she gets up and runs [3], and then dives [4]. There could even be a case made for her getting up and running being two panels, which would then bring the panel count up to 5. Know what that is? That’s an entire page. As written here, this panel cannot be drawn.

But there’s a way to cut that down. This is generally reserved for speedsters or for those who are pretty fast, or for certain types of actions.

I call it “ghosting.” Well, Jeph Loeb and I. I was calling it that when I was a kid, and then he reaffirmed it a few years ago when he was writing Wolverine. Bear with me. I’ll explain it.

Remember back in the day when Spider-Man would show off his speed by jumping all around an opponent, hitting them multiple times in one panel? Remember what that looked like? There would be these faded, sometimes semi-transparent images of Spidey in a single panel, where he’d be punching the crap out of someone, wearing them down, showing off how fast he is, and there’d be a single, regular image showing where he was right now in that panel. The faded images, or “ghosts”, would follow some sort of path that could be followed, showing you where he was just moments ago, leading your eye to where he is right now.

Or let’s say you have a largish panel of The Flash as he’s doing some research in a library. There’s ghosted images of him all over the place: one of him holding his chin as he things, one of him at a desk looking in a book, one of him holding a different book near a shelf on the wall, another of him plucking yet another book from the second floor of the library. Where is he right now? Pick one. It doesn’t matter.

These are perfect examples of ghosting.

Ghosting is simple to do, as long as you realize the capabilities of the character you’re ghosting, and the amount of Time you want to pack into a panel.

Let’s go back to Sayleen, and turn that second example into something that is more plausible and that the artist can definitely draw.

First, Sayleen is a regular human. Because she’s a regular human, she’s not going to be able to do half of the things within that panel description. So we’re going to cut it down to only the most necessary element of the panel, and turn that element into something that can be drawn.

Let’s look at it again:

Panel 1: Sayleen lies prone behind a barrel, firing her gun, then rolls out from behind it, firing her gun some more, before getting up and running so she can dive for cover behind the handy brick wall.

Personally, I believe that Sayleen rolling from behind the barrel and firing her gun is the most important part of that panel. Here’s how I would make that into a ghosted panel, so that everything can be drawn, and there are no actions that would make it into a moving panel.

Panel 1: Sayleen is lying prone on the ground, facing us, and rolling to the right, firing her gun several times as she seeks the safety of the brick wall to the side of her. A hail of bullets fall impact around her, but don’t hit her. Graeme, I want three views of Sayleen firing her gun as she rolls: one on her belly, one on her back, and the last on her belly. Ghost out the first two, and make the last shot where she is right now.

SFX: BANG

SFX: BANG

SFX: BANG

See that? That can be drawn, with no problem at all. I’ve told Graeme McFreelancer exactly what I wanted, and between him and the colorist [Graeme does his own inks], they would make this happen.

Question: is ghosting dependent upon color? Ah, that’s a good one, isn’t it? Because how else would you get the fading, right?

I’m going to say that if you want to do it well, ghosting is dependent upon color. That doesn’t mean you can’t do the same type of thing in black and white, though. You just have to know the limits within which you’re working.

If the previous panel were in black and white, then I’d cut out the ghosting, but I would have Graeme make speed lines that rolled, showing Sayleen’s path. He’d make two or three of them, and I’d have a bullet being fired from two or three of those swirls, with the sound effect under each. This would let the reader know that Sayleen rolled and fired her gun as she did it, but there’s no ghosting.

It takes some thought to do, and a little bit to get used to. I said before that you can capture different actions in a single panel, but that most of you weren’t ready for it. This is something of an advanced technique, because you’re walking the line between moving panel and static image. I didn’t want to go into it until static images and single actions had been drilled into you. Why?

The majority of your scripting will be single actions within a panel. I’d say 99.9% of them, with that .1 being something out of the norm. If you take a look at books that have ghosting, you’d soon realize that it doesn’t happen too often within the issue. It more than likely doesn’t happen more than once on the page. The bulk of comics in your collection doesn’t have them at all. [99.9% of them.] Most of the time, you’ll find ghosting in a superhero book. Most of the time.

You now have the tools to do ghosting. I suggest trying it out in the comments. I’ll go over all of them, and make corrections as necessary. Single panels only. Just follow the example, and you should be fine.

That’s your homework for the week. See you in seven!

Click here to discuss in the ComixTribe forum at Digital Webbing!

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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