Learning about Graphic Novel Design

Who knew studying books was so tricky!? Our first assignment for the graphic novel class is to list what you like and don’t about a favorite graphic novel. Not surprisingly, I got out The Way of the House Husband. I sat down and studied the panels on the first page. Then I went over the ones on the second page. Before long, I had fallen into joyful reading.

I refocused and tried again. No good. The same thing happened.

Next, I paged through it from the back. Without the reading flow, I could look at font, inking, and various illustration techniques. I didn’t notice things that I disliked but I did notice various things that Oono did. The font is all caps as is the font in Amulet.

Normal Dialogue
Intense Dialogue

Thunder and Cluck and Sprinkles and Swirls use caps as lower case as I do here on the blog. That makes sense since these are early reader graphic novels. Beginning readers are still getting a feel for language and writing and are still learning the rules for when to use caps and when to use lower case.

In Oono’s work, normal dialogue bubbles are bubble-shaped, nice and rounded (see left). But other times dialogue bubbles are bounded by straight lines and angles (see right). At first I thought that was angry dialogue but then I realized that those are the times when someone feels something intense. It is a subtle technique but I like it. In Amulet, intense dialogue is bolder.

Blurry fastness aka zoom

This isn’t the only thing that Oono does differently from other artists. It isn’t unusual to show speed or force with lines streaming back from a figure. Oono does that but that isn’t all. Instead of black lines to outline the figure’s hand, broken lines show it is a blur of speed.

I don’t know that I’m achieving a new level of mastery but I am definitely learning to look at graphic novels in a different way — right up until I forget that I’m studying and just start reading.