I’ve never mastered the art of moving from one panel to the next. When I reach the end of a panel, I am pulled in multiple directions and clumsily leap towards whatever I feel is closest. Often I am forced to read for context and then sort out which panel occurs first in the sequence, like listening to a skipping CD and trying not to lose the beat.
It’s impossible to get lost in Jaime Hernandez’s Love Bunglers.
Not all comics are equally challenging. I appreciate the sturdy 2 by 3 layouts in the work of Chester Brown and the Hernandez Brothers. In these comics, the panel design disappears, much like the word “said” disappears in literature. On the other end of the spectrum is a book like Adam Hines’s Duncan the Wonderdog, in which I felt like I was constantly losing my way in a forest of nearly identical panels.
Duncan the Wonderdog by Adam Hines
Each time I misread the sequence of panels, I experience a temporal hiccup in the flow of the story. It is not the foresight into the future that one gains from glancing at the bottom of the page, but a jarring experience of learning that something you have already witnessed has not yet happened.
Building Stories by Chris Ware
Recently, while reading Chris Ware’s Building Stories, I found myself completely ignoring the path that he had imagined. Instead of a narrative progression, I read the pages as clouds of remembered moments, letting each fall into place in due time.
But what if an author embraced a more fluid, path-dependent story-telling style?
Image of path dependent comics: By Orion Martin
Art by Lyman Anderson
By traditional rules, the comic would be read in rows, +#=~. However, it can also be read in columns (+=#~) for a compatible, but different, meaning.
It seems bizarre to structure a page layout in multiple ways, but I’ve found some comics that can be read multi-directionally with only mild discomfort. Has anyone seen this technique used intentionally?