The Three Basic Types Of Webcomic Panels (And How To Use Them)

2016 Artwork Webcomic panel types article sketch

Well, I thought that I’d talk about some of the basics of making webcomics today. In particular, I’d talk about the three most common types of panels in “newspaper comic”-style webcomics, and how to use them. Although these panel types can (and should!) be combined in interesting ways, they are each suited to different types of storytelling.

If anyone is curious where the examples in this article come from, they’re from the numerous “Damania” webcomic mini series that are linked to in the “2016” part of this page. However, the example for the second point on the list is actually a preview of an upcoming comic from my Christmas mini series.

1) Art panel: This one is fairly self-explanatory. It’s a panel that consists of nothing but art:

As you can see, there's no dialogue here, just art.

As you can see, there’s no dialogue here, just art.

Since there is no dialogue in these types of panels, they can be “read” a lot more quickly. This makes them perfect for both “setting the scene” at the beginning of your comic and for dramatic visual punchlines at the end of your comic. In addition to this, they can also provide a short “break” for the reader after a dialogue-based panel. It takes a bit of experimentation to get it right, but they can be useful tools when working out the pacing of your webcomic.

These panels are also often the quickest and most enjoyable type of panel to make, since you only have to focus on art rather than writing. However, since you only have a few panels at your disposal in each webcomic update you shouldn’t use too many of these panels unless absolutely necessary. Likewise, the audience will be paying far more attention to the art in these panels than they will in other types of panel – so, try to make the art as good as possible.

2) Dialogue panel: This is the most common, basic and functional type of webcomic panel. It simply consists of two or more characters talking to each other:

Here's a dialogue panel from my upcoming Christmas webcomic mini series.

Here’s a dialogue panel from my upcoming Christmas webcomic mini series.

If you’re short on time when making your comic, one of the advantages of a dialogue panel is that you can simplify the art slightly (if you want to), and it won’t be too noticeable because the audience’s attention will be focused on reading the dialogue. This is different to an art-based panel, where all of the audience’s attention is focused on the art.

Anyway, The general rule with dialogue panels is that all dialogue is read from top to bottom. So, if a character is speaking first, their speech bubble should be above the other character’s speech bubble.

Since you’ll probably only have a small amount of room for dialogue, learning how to write concise dialogue is essential if you’re making a “newspaper comic”-style webcomic.

This takes a bit of practice, but a good general rule is that – when you’re learning – brief “functional” dialogue (eg: “I saw Mary at the bookshop yesterday”) is preferable to long-winded dialogue (eg: “You wouldn’t believe who I ran into when I went to the bookshop yesterday, Mary from over the road.”). Yes, it might sound very boring when you’re learning but, once you get used to the format, you’ll be able to add a bit more flair to your dialogue.

Since dialogue panels are one of the easiest ways to convey information to the reader, it can be tempting to produce “talking head” comics where two characters do nothing but stand still and talk to each other. These comics can be extremely boring to read, so it’s usually a good idea to break up the visual monotony by adding an art panel or a….

3) Caption panel: This is a panel that consists of an image, with a “voice over” style caption above it, like this:

This is an example of a caption panel. You can, of course, also add dialogue to the illustration if you want to.

This is an example of a caption panel. You can, of course, also add dialogue to the illustration if you want to.

This panel type has some of the advantages of the previous two types of panels. It’s main role is to either show what your characters are thinking, to show something that doesn’t appear in the main setting of your webcomic and/or to make a “talking head” comic look a bit less boring. Not only that, you can obviously also include dialogue in these panels too.

One other advantage of this panel type is that, since you don’t have to cram the dialogue into a small speech bubble, you can include slightly more writing here than you might be able to do in a dialogue-based panel. Just make sure to leave some room for the art though.

However, this type of panel can be slightly slower to read than both art-based and dialogue-based panels, so it’s probably best not to use it in more fast-paced parts of your webcomic. It’s best when used for descriptions, thoughts and other slow-paced things.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


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