When Mouse Guard first came out, one of the things people noticed about it right away was it's odd format. There were folks who loved it for being different, and folks who hated it because it was hard to store or display. And while it was an unusual decision on my part (and Archaia's willingness to publish it that way) it seems that the square format is becoming more popular with titles like Dear Dracula, Stuff of Legend, & the upcoming Archaia Fraggle Rock comic.
There have been unusual format books before Mouse Guard, so be sure I'm staking no claim on the idea. Though I had never seen another square comic until I started Mouse Guard...or so I thought...
As a kid I had a Muppet comic called Muppets at Sea. It was lost at some point and a few years ago I remembered it and tracked it down on ebay...only to find that it was an 8" x 8" square comic! The panel borders even tend to be divided on the 1/3 page lines. I have no clue if the residual memory of this book (I didn't own a copy when I started Mouse Guard and hadn't seen mine in a decade) influenced my format or not, but it was fun to see the commonality.
My path to square started with the idea of mini comics (comics made by folding standard copy paper in half). To stand out, I had the idea of using legal sized copy paper (8.5" x 14") instead of the traditional letter sized paper (8.5" x 11"). This would give me something different without increasing my costs like colored paper stock or color printing would. The resulting mini comic had a heavier horizontal weight and I liked that. And though I never ended up printing a mini comic, the few sketches of panel layouts I did helped me see my horizontal bias.
Because a traditional comic page is vertical, it forces the artist to draw panels that either tend to be more vertical, or horizontal panels that are not very tall (the taller you make them, the less horizontal they feel). I like panels that feel like a David Lean movie, epic, vast, sweeping, with room to breathe. And I find that horizontal panels on square pages give me that sense more than on traditional pages. Here I have taken two pages and compared panoramic panels. The square format feels easier to read and doesn't get lost on the page. (and though the last panel on the traditional page is similar in size to the horizontal panel on the square page, I argue that it doesn't 'feel' like a panoramic panel in that format)
As I mentioned with the Muppets at Sea comic, I tend to break the panels on the 1/3 lines (or the 9 panel grid). There have only been a handful of times that I have strayed from those grid lines. I find comfort in having a set grouping of panel arrangements to work in, but still a great deal of freedom because with mirroring or rotating those panel arrangements, I have lots, and lots, and lots of options (shown here are still not every combination of readable layouts).
I'll tend to pick a moment in the page that I feel is most important, and then pick a panel shape that fits that image. I can use this sheet to help me figure out how the remaining panels could fit (if they don't I start refiguring until I get a layout that works)
Last year the folks at Strathmore Paper approached me to do illustrations for and to promote their new line of sequential paper line (with Katie Cook and Tommy Castillo). I was already using Strathmore at the time, so I was excited about the idea. While I had them there, I asked for a quote on having them cut and bind custom pads for me at 12" x 12" of their 300 series bristol. I had been buying 14" x 17" and trimming each sheet down. They offered to make it part of their new line of products for comic artists. I explained that it isn't a standard size for comic artists and doesn't really belong there, they smiled and included it anyhow. Guess they were on to something.
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