In Park Chan Wook’s 2003 crime thriller Oldboy, private prison owner Chul Woong, as he is about to pull out protagonist Dae Su’s teeth with a hammer, provides an invaluable insight that every filmmaker and comic book writer/ artist should remember:
“You know, people shrivel up because they have imaginations”
Because of our active imagination, anticipation is often more thrilling than action. No modern filmmaker understands this better than Steven Spielberg. Look at how he builds up to the first dinosaur reveal in Jurassic Park:
Spielberg only cuts to the wide shot of a Brachiosaurus after showing a series of close-ups of baffled facial reactions. In the 33 seconds leading up to the shot that kicked off the age of CGI special effects, he achieved two important things:
- He made the reveal more rewarding by giving the audience time to imagine what’s waiting for them outside the frame
- He made the reveal feel bigger by contrasting the wide shot with tight close-ups
Compare this to the Optimus Prime reveal in Transformers:
The sequence is simply staged as a coverage shot of CGI effects. It’s a nice demonstration of ILM’s technological progress but lacks the wonder of Jurassic Park because there is no build up.
The so called “Spielberg face” (cutting from a close-up of facial reaction to a key wide shot) has been an effective visual strategy that Spielberg repeatedly employed throughout his filmography. (Check out Kevin B. Lee’s visual essay “The Spielberg Face”)
In comics, you can similarly toy with reader anticipation with a tool unique to the medium:
The Power of Page Turn
US comics have pages.
You have to lift your fingers, gently crease the top corner of the paper, and flip to the next page (all the while making sure you don’t get a paper cut that will sting you every time you type next day at work) to see what happens next.
It’s a more active experience than watching a cut in a movie.
Below are commonly used strategies for page turn reveals in US comics:
- A key reveal page is preceded by a set-up page that consists of tighter panels
- A wider panel (often a splash page or double page spread) is used for the reveal
- In standard US comics issues, page turn reveals are on even numbered pages
One of the comics that best understands the versatile dramatic potential of page turn reveal is Saga. (Written by Brian K. Vaughn, Art by Fiona Staples)
*There are spoilers going forward
Using page turn to make a reveal more spectacular (Saga issue #6, page 5, 6, 7)
In Saga issue #6 page 5, 6, and 7, Marko and Alana, lovers on the run from warring factions, finally find the spaceship that they have been looking for.
- Page 5 has 5 panels which consists of mostly close-ups and mid shots. Note that the last panel of the page is pretty much a “Spielberg face” moment
- Vaughn and Staples reveals the spaceship in a double page spread. Transition from a 5 panel page to a double page spread has a similar effect that a cut from a close-up to wide shot has
Using page turn to make a plot twist more shocking (Saga issue #3, page 23, 24)
In Saga issue #3 page 23 and 24, injured Marko is on the verge of death.
- The actual plot twist (Marko had an ex-wife that Alana didn’t know about) is presented in the last panel of page 23. However, the twist is presented in an off-hand manner. (Small panel that mostly repeats prior panel) This is more of a “Huh? Wait what?” moment
- Readers feel the full shock as they flip to the splash page. Note that you transition again from a tight frame to a wider frame
- Page 24 is also the last page of the issue. Most issues of Saga conclude with a splash page of a cliffhanger (like here) or an emotional climax (more on this below)
Using page-turn to heighten emotional impact (Saga issue #3 page 43, 44)
In Saga issue #1 page 43 and 44, Marko and Alana enjoys a brief moment of peace.
- Note how the panels are blocked according to the emotional flow of the sequence. In the first tier of page 44, Alana and Marko are in separate panels. The distance between them is widest at this point. As they reaffirm their love, distance between them close and framing becomes tighter
- Scene culminates in a splash page of them kissing. Just as the last example, this is the last page of the issue
Page Turn in Page-less Comics
US comics have pages.
But most Korean comics don’t.
Over the last decade, web comics (called webtoons) became a dominant medium in Korea. Most webtoons, primarily read in mobile devices, employ a horizontal scroll format with no page breakout.
So can you have page turn reveals in comics without pages?
More and more webtoons are replicating the impact of page turn by varying the length of scroll time. The best example of this is Yoon Tae-Ho’s Moss, a murder mystery set in a closed rural community.
In below sequence, Ryu (protagonist), who is becoming increasingly suspicious that the villagers were involved in his estranged father’s death, is sleeping alone in his father’s old house.
- As the sequence slowly builds toward a key reveal (a villager is watching Ryu), panels and white spaces become longer, elongating the scroll time
- The last 3 panels are sized so that you can only have 1 panel on screen at a time, effectively becoming 3 pages. In the last reveal panel, Yoon transitions from a tight frame to a wider frame
While you are scrolling down to the chilling last panel, you feel as if you are discovering a dreadful secret yourself.
There is a subtle magic in the split seconds before you turn a page or scroll down.
A character you have grown to love over the last 50 issues can get his head blown out. Long lost lovers, stranded in different time streams, can reunite. After 7 years of cliffhangers, the identity of the mysterious masked cult leader can finally be revealed.
0.1 mm thick portal separates you from Infinite possibilities.
You just have to flip.