what I did on my summer vacation

I guess the thing that bothers me most about these ‘reducto’ formatted strips is what, at the outset, looks like an abhorrent use of space. I’m talking about space on the page, here, the real estate of comicbook design. Privately, I call Two for No a webcomic, but this is 2013. Any lines between comics and webcomics have been stretched and blurred if not outright obliterated by now. Sure there are pans and proponents for each side, points and counterpoints. People still like boundaries to be set, and are willing to argue their point, I’m sure. I’m not really interested in that, and its not useful to what I want to talk about here. Lets just say these strips are designed first and foremost as comic book pages.

Boundaries, though, boundaries. . . I am talking about boundaries. The boundaries we set on ourselves, Alexander and I, while writing and drawing these strips, boundaries in the form of constraints. A set of formal rules to follow. Now, these are useful to me.

I don’t know if you’ve read any of my diary comics, but I don’t use a whole lot of structural forethought in those. The structure is sort of defined by my tools (mostly just my cellphone, really, and the various photo and limited design apps on it) but I’m not looking towards narrative or any specific format (or even really syntax) there. I don’t even care if it’s comics (to you) or not. I’m not even necessarily trying to make sense. But that’s my stuff. Here, with Alexander – where I’m following his scripts, following his stories – I need a little something more to go on. It’s his house, but I need somewhere to hang my coat. We wanted to do some formal play (it’s what I like) and we needed to start with a common syntax. So: the reducto.

Alexander already talked about the challenges of these from his scripting standpoint. There are certain elements he has to fit into each panel, while still trying to form some sort of “meaningful” (i.e. parsable) narrative. I won’t go back over that here. You can read about ‘the rules’ of the form on our ‘about‘ page, or better yet, take it to the source: Neil Cohn’s original article proposing the form (with an eye towards a comics poetry. I’ll admit, he takes a tack that doesn’t sit too completely comfortably with my own view on poetics. It’s not incompatible, per se. But I digress. . .) Alexander’s got his rules to follow. By the time these strips come to me, I don’t have to think about that stuff too much. It’s all in the script, I just have to draw it. I just have to fill the page. And that’s where the problem is.

Now, Neil. . . Neil Cohn. I love Neil like a brother (albeit, a brother whom I’ve met in person only once, who I’m not related to or even knew of until my mid twenties, and really don’t know super well or anything now. I mean, he’s been to my house. Is that enough? Can I call him brother?) I love Neil like a brother, but this reducto formatting. . . what a mess!

Let’s take a look:


(neil’s original design)

I get it. A reducto is a distillation. A reduction of lexical elements, reinforced visually along a vertical progression. Take a look, too, at this example from Neil’s article:


(the world’s first reducto!)

So, let’s talk ratios:
The panel heights are equal, with the h:w (panel size) ratio dropping as we reduce the panel elements. Its a reduction, see. The ratios make it obvious (Shrinking width = shrinking number of panel elments). That’s kind of a lot of panels, linked vertically. Look how it just keeps going down. Assuming a pretty standard 2:3 (live area) page ratio (Remember? These are for pages?), how does that fit?

reducto pages

Three possible layouts. All kinda awkward.

So, not a big deal. I can fill the page. Squish and stretch the panels around, keep the relative ratios similar. The distillation is still apparent. Still obviously a reducto in form.

So we have, what? Onetwothreefour. . . five tiers of panels. You don’t see too many five tier layouts, but it’s doable. Over a fixed ratio page space that gives me. . . not much room to cram pictures into. Well, as long as Alexander doesn’t expect much from. . . what? He wants what?

“Looking out through the windows of the subway car, we see multiple instances of the woman, as we are speeding away from her. The narrator’s own reflection is visible in the glass. She is passing a large wall mounted advertisement for cat food—a cat happily eats.”

One panel. Okay, well that’s. . . that’s quite a bit of. . . Oh! And dialog? Sure.

It takes some doing, sometimes, to fit the elements into the panels, but that’s just my job. I’ll get it, but I also want to get it in a way that’s somehow pleasing to (at least) my eye. What’s that stuff that Frank Santoro‘s always going on about? The center? Don’t give up the center? The center of the page is a focus area. Following that, we pretty much build the page around panel five. The mono. Quite often (but not always) the panel with the least amount of action (save the amorphic panel at the bottom). Something to chew on there.
Sorry. Frank? Mr Santoro? I haven’t yet tried to cram the reducto into some kind of grid form on the page. I’ll work on it, okay?

What else? This layout’s kind of top heavy. The shrinking panels leave a lot of extra space toward the bottom. Should I fill it? With what? If I draw something there, is that cheating? Does that take it out of the form?

But you see, that’s what’s good about constraints. There’s a lot of tension in getting what you want to fit into a preset structural format. That tension is pleasing, it’s fun to push against some boundaries and to see what pushes back. And reductos are fun for me. A pain in the ass, but fun.

I hurt my arm the other day patting myself on the back for a job well done on this weeks strip. It’s my favorite of the ‘Crouton’ pages, and I talk a little about why on my tumblr. I cheat a lot, to try and make things fit into Neil’s form. I’m playing with the space and design of the page. It’s play. I’m having a lot of fun drawing a set of robot themed reductos right now. I stretch the confines of the reducto layout quite a bit on these new ones. Maybe you can argue that it won’t fit the form. But I like the results anyway. In the end, all that other stuff isn’t really important.

crouton page3


3 thoughts on “what I did on my summer vacation

  1. With out deep-diving on too many points, I think you hit on a very important point that may give Neil more to write about (if he hasn’t already). And that is the impact of word balloons on the pacing and execution of a panel. A panel full of text takes longer to read. A panel with no text takes much less time to read. Without varying the size of the panel, you can still achieve the effect that Neil is going after using time instead of space. There’s a lot more to be said on this, but it’s important to note that most junior comic book artists neglect to account for word balloons in their composition. This might be a practice carried over from story boarding where the text is off panel. Part of what makes comics special is the relationship that dialog has with the art and how the dialog can create sequence in as equally powerful way as the gutter between panels.

  2. The way text works in these is a big open question for me. I suspect (though I don’t think he ever said this) that Neil presumed this form to be a predominantly silent form. His own piece has no text, as were most of the other attempts I’ve seen other artists take at this. If so, then really the only true reducto we’ve done is Death of An Astronaut, with a reasonable argument to make for Good Fortunes, since most of the text is acting as a visual element rather than dialogue or narration.

    Of course, without a specific prohibition on text, I went ahead and included it. But there’s certainly work to do in figuring out the best way to include it. I do like your solution of allowing the text to flow into the negative space–from my perspective, that’s absolutely fair game, and I’ll be giving some thought to other ways to use that idea.

    And you certainly had me laughing at my propensity for asking maybe a bit too much in some of my panels!

  3. Nice post, brother! Alex is correct that I originally conceived of this form as a “silent”, purely visual pattern. I was mostly playing with the idea of “formal visual poetry” that would be unconnected to some sort of translation of a verbal form (like a “visual haiku”), so I didn’t really consider the text issue. I suppose though that if you REALLY wanted to constrain it as a visual language poetic form, then it might be worth considering constraints on the text as well, such as making the amount of text be “reduced” as one moves to the next tier of panels (one word only in the mono?).

    As I’ve said before though, I in fact made this all up as I went along while writing the article. I didn’t pre-plan any of it! It was all a thought experiment, so I find it fascinating how interested people have been in both creating these forms and actually sticking to the rules of it!

    WIth regards to layout, I can definitely see how awkward the “long” format might be. I think that my original conception of it was to be much fatter in width than it turned out. If I recall, in my mind I wanted there to be a shape like an upsidedown triangle on top of a rectangle, such that the wideness of the original panels would then “funnel” the flow into the bottom panel. (Rather than being kind of a tall stack as it turned out)

    That dimension got altered when I drew the actual example since I think I drew it first as the “linear” version and then just pulled it apart to make the version in the layout once I realized that could be another layer of formalism. At that point I just went with what I ended up with. Again… lack of preplanning and just doing it as I made it up.

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