Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Render Robos Right : Panel Design and Tone in Till All Are One

- Leigh Gregurke

My eye is immediately drawn to panel design as it can be such a vital element of a page, assisting telling a story or capturing tone. There are books where a few pages in I get the feeling that while the art and storytelling is great, the panel design is functionary and a second consideration, it doesn't necessarily detract from a work but it definitely adds when it is present. Sometimes the best moments are when the panel design is functionary and tight and then an important sequence is partnered with a wonderfully contrasting use of shape and form enabling that moment to pop and add weight to the artists decision making.

Welcome to another entry in Render Robos Right where I talk about a book that had that exact panel design pop, IDW's Till All Are One, penned by Mairghread Scott with art by Sara Pitre-Durocher.  Sadly now cancelled, I am late to the work and in my slow pace have only finished the first 4 is however excellent and while I am lucky to have issues ahead of me still to read I hope the talent involved lands in suitable projects.

Till All Are One begins as a dense investigation story against a backdrop of political intrigue, pressure and social change; the work is heavy with dialogue, talking figures all stacked into often reasonably simple 4 to 6 page panel designs.  Akin to Milne on MTMTE credit has to be given to Pitre-Durocher for her ability to create a cohesive visual balance, often in those 4 to 6 panels are up to 9 characters often sharing tight physical proximity. The social and political tension reads well in those tight spaces, I wouldn't say it's cinematic but it has a single camera high quality television sense of capturing multiple talking characters avoiding A and B shots and instead utilizing great blocking to get the characters together. 

Deep into issue two it hit one of the panel design pop moments that really sold me on the storytelling of this team. Breaking away from the cramped character heavy shots a wonderful piece of panel design. Don't read the dialogue, just look at the page and soak in the emotion it conveys.


More than any page previously this is about negative space and focused panel design as a storytelling tool. Pitre-Durocher narrows in on one character and keeps them central throughout then the shrinking panel and increasing borders mirror the characters emotional state, the walls close in and the character shrinks. The contrast from the first panel, bold chest puffed, chin thrusting and arm open exudes confidence and status. The final panel has final eyes downward, shoulders shrugged, defeated and trapped by the borders, diminishing in status both narratively and physically on the page. Each panel shrinks, funneling downwards, echoing the confidence of the central character. I love the way the panel borders feel like the mob, the audience is in the gutters slowly chocking the protagonist.

The creative team all contribute to the focus as upon further inspection I noticed Tom Long's lettering all funnels in a similar direction keeping the shape harmony to the panel borders while also keeping tight to the right of the page for eye line direction and ease of reading, your eyes never leave the path downwards and never cross the central fulcrum.

Tramontano's colour work also gives a nice contrast to some of the high saturated pages previously through the second panels usage of colour layer and desaturation of hues. It allows the focus to stay on the important central figure and tells us a little of the mood.

It might seem a little obvious or perhaps you are wondering if the panel really does change the page that much? Consider the following edited example:

I apologise for butchering the image a little but I wanted to show what the page would look like without the diminishing panel size design.  It lacks the same feeling of escalation of pressure and tension and while it tells much of the same story it doesn't tell the mood. It feels more like a camera push and close up and lacks the depth and information that the gutters provide.

I like to draw upon examples other artists using similar techniques so here is some classic Arthur Adams on Fantastic Four. Using similar diminished of panels in this case to represent the shrinking of physical space the page is an excellent fit for the character and the creative, physics warping of the book.

Marvel. Arthur Adams.

I know I am late to Till All Are One but it might be one of my favourite Transformers comics of recent time. While sad to hear of its demise I encourage you to pick it up and show support for the creators. I had not given much attention to the work of Sara Pitre-Durcoher previously but find myself tremendously impressed as with the rest of the creative team. The panel design in this book is great, it sits idle and functional letting the story do the work but when the right scene arises the artist is allowed to give the punch required to make the important pieces stand out.

As always, keep it #refined

Follow Leigh on Twitter @ambushthem

Till All are One. IDW publishing. Written- Mairghread Scott Art- Sara Pitre-Durocher
Colours- Priscilla Tramontano Lettering - Tom B Long


  1. Well written. It's great to hear somebody analyze and articulate the strengths of a book I thoroughly enjoyed. :) ...Now I'll miss it even more!

  2. I haven't read Transformers comics for years. It sounds like it might be time to dive back in.

  3. That's a page of Walt Simonson art, not Art Adams.