Improve Your Graphic Novel with Composition Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Use compositional elements to guide the reader's eye
  2. Apply rule of thirds in your panels
  3. Utilize dynamic lines for movement
  4. Incorporate variety in panel size and shape
  5. Balance negatives and positives space effectively
  6. Create contrast with shading and color
  7. Apply text and speech bubbles strategically
  8. Tell story with camera angles

Imagine creating a graphic novel where every page is a symphony of images, where each panel sings the story to your readers. That's the power of good composition. It's like a visual GPS that guides your reader's eye through the landscape of your narrative. If you're wondering how to improve composition in a graphic novel, you're in the right place. This blog will help you fine-tune your composition techniques for a more engaging storytelling experience.

Use Compositional Elements To Guide The Reader's Eye

One of the first steps to improve your graphic novel's composition is to learn how to guide your reader's eye. Your job as an artist is similar to a film director: you decide where your audience should look. Here are a few techniques that can help you do just that:

  • Focus on the Foreground: What's in the front often grabs attention first. Use this to your advantage. If you want the reader's eye to land on your main character, place them in the foreground. For instance, if Spider-Man is swinging through New York, you might draw him larger and more detailed than the cityscape behind him.
  • Lines Lead the Way: Lines are like invisible roads that guide the reader's eye. In your panels, use lines that lead to the focus of your scene. For example, if Batman is standing on a rooftop, the lines of the buildings could point towards him.
  • Frame within a Frame: This is a classic technique used in painting and photography, and it works great in graphic novels too. You can use elements in your scene to create a frame around your focus point. Imagine drawing a scene where Superman is flying through the clouds: you could use the shape of the clouds to frame him.
  • Color is Key: Bright, bold colors naturally draw the eye. If Wonder Woman is in a fight scene, you might color her costume in vibrant red and blue, while the background characters are in more muted tones. This will draw the reader's eye to her first.

Remember, the goal here is to guide your reader's eye, not dictate. You want to subtly suggest where to look, like whispers on a page, guiding them through the visual story you've created. So, go ahead, play around with these techniques — and watch how they improve the composition in your graphic novel.

Apply Rule of Thirds in Your Panels

Ever heard of the rule of thirds? It's a composition technique borrowed from the world of photography, and it can dramatically improve how you design your panels. But what is it exactly? Simply put, it's about dividing your image into nine equal parts, using two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and placing your points of interest along these lines or at their intersections.

Why does this work? It's all about balance. Our eyes naturally gravitate towards these points, creating a more natural, engaging view. Here's how you can use it in your graphic novel:

  • Character Placement: Instead of placing your character smack in the middle of the panel, try positioning them along one of the vertical lines. For example, if you're drawing a panel with Iron Man, place him on the line to the left or right for a more dynamic look.
  • Horizon Lines: These are the imaginary lines where the ground meets the sky. In a panel showing a landscape, use the rule of thirds to position your horizon line. If the ground is more interesting, place the horizon line along the top third line. If the sky is more engaging, place it along the bottom third line.
  • Action Scenes: The rule of thirds can also add excitement to your action scenes. Let's say you're drawing a battle scene between Thor and Loki. You could place Thor on one intersection and Loki on the opposite, creating a visual tension between them.

Don't let the word 'rule' intimidate you — it's more of a guideline, really. Experiment with it. Break it occasionally. It's all part of the creative process. The rule of thirds is a tool in your artist toolbox, and it's there to help you improve the composition of your graphic novel.

Utilize Dynamic Lines for Movement

Movement is a key part of storytelling, and in a graphic novel, it's all about dynamic lines. These lines are your secret weapon, helping to show the direction and speed of a character's movement. Let's dive into how you can use them to improve the composition of your graphic novel.

  • Diagonal Lines: These are your best friends when it comes to suggesting action. They create a sense of dynamism and can guide the reader's eye across the panel. For instance, if Spider-Man is swinging through New York, use diagonal lines to show the trajectory of his movement.
  • Curved Lines: These lines can also suggest movement, but in a more fluid, graceful manner. They're perfect for showing the arc of a character's movement or even the path of an object. Picture Wonder Woman throwing her Lasso of Truth; you'd use curved lines to indicate the lasso's path.
  • Multiple Lines: Want to show speed? Use multiple lines. The Flash sprinting, for example, would be best represented by multiple lines trailing behind him, giving the illusion of super speed.

Remember, the key is to experiment and see what works best for your style and story. Dynamic lines are a powerful tool, and they can greatly enhance the movement and action in your graphic novel. So, why not give them a try? They might just be the missing piece you've been looking for to improve your graphic novel's composition.

Incorporate Variety in Panel Size and Shape

Think of your graphic novel's panels as the building blocks of your story. By varying their size and shape, you can control the flow of your narrative, highlight important moments, and keep the reader's eyes engaged on the page.

  • Small Panels: Small panels can be great for quick exchanges or action sequences. They can speed up the pace of the story and create a sense of urgency or excitement. Picture a scene in Batman where he's exchanging quick blows with The Joker - small panels would work perfectly here.
  • Large Panels: Large panels, on the other hand, can slow down the pace, giving the reader more time to soak in the details of a scene or character. Imagine Superman standing tall against a city skyline - a large panel would give you the space to capture the grandeur of this moment.
  • Unusual Shapes: Don't be afraid to play with unusual panel shapes too. Circular panels can draw attention to a key event or detail, while jagged panels can create a sense of tension or chaos. Remember that epic scene when Hulk smashes? A jagged panel could be a great way to depict that.

Using a variety of panel sizes and shapes not only makes your pages visually interesting, but it also helps guide your reader through the story. It's another fantastic way to improve the composition of your graphic novel. So, why not get creative with your panels and see the difference it can make?

Balance Negatives and Positives Space Effectively

Mastering the art of balancing negative and positive space is like learning to dance on your graphic novel's pages. It's all about creating a visual harmony that guides your reader's eye and enhances your storytelling. But first, let's break this down:

  • Negative Space: This is the empty or white space around and between the elements of your design. It gives your drawings room to breathe. If you've ever seen a page from a Spider-Man comic with lots of skyscrapers and tiny slivers of sky, that sky is your negative space.
  • Positive Space: This is the area that your subjects or elements occupy. If we stick with the Spider-Man example, the buildings and characters are your positive space.

Now, let's get to the balancing act. A page that's too crowded with detail can be overwhelming, while a page that's too empty can feel like a missed opportunity. By balancing these two types of space, you ensure your pages are not too busy or too sparse, and create a pleasing visual rhythm that keeps your readers hooked.

Imagine a scene in which Wonder Woman is standing alone on a hilltop. You could use a large amount of negative space to emphasize her solitude and highlight her against the sky. On the other hand, if you're drawing an intense battle scene with Iron Man, you might want to fill the panel with positive space to convey the chaos and drama of the moment.

Remember, how you balance negative and positive space can greatly improve the composition of your graphic novel. So, why not experiment with it in your next few pages?

Create Contrast with Shading and Color

Let's delve into color and shading, two vital tools in your graphic novel toolbox that can significantly improve your composition. It's like a chef using the right spices in a dish—without them, everything might taste a bit bland.

First off, shading. Shading gives your drawings depth and volume, making your characters and objects pop out and appear three-dimensional. It's all about understanding where light hits your subjects and how it casts shadows. For example, if you're depicting Batman lurking in a dark alley, use deep shades to emphasize the darkness and create a mood of suspense.

Next, let's talk about color. Colors can set the tone of your story, evoke emotions, and highlight important elements. Think about Superman's iconic blue and red suit. The vibrant colors not only make him easily recognizable, but also symbolize qualities like strength and heroism. Conversely, using muted or monochromatic colors can suggest a more serious or somber tone.

But here's the crux: balance is key. Excessive shading can make a scene look overcast and confusing, whereas too bright or bold colors can be jarring and distract from the narrative. So, the trick is to be mindful of your color and shading choices, and use them to your advantage to enhance your storytelling.

So, grab your pencils, paints, or digital tools, and start playing with shades and colors. Remember, it's all about trial and error, so don't be afraid to experiment. After all, every great artist had to start somewhere, right?

Apply Text and Speech Bubbles Strategically

Let's get into a tool that's unique to the world of graphic novels: speech bubbles and text boxes. They're your heroes when it comes to communicating dialogue and narration. But did you know that they can also play a major role in improving your composition? Let's see how.

Firstly, the placement of your text and speech bubbles can guide the reader's eye across the page. For example, placing a speech bubble at the top left corner of a panel will naturally lead the reader's eye there first. From there, the reader can follow the conversation through the panel, moving from bubble to bubble in the order you've set. It's like a treasure map, steering your readers through the story.

Secondly, the shape and size of your speech bubbles can reflect the tone and volume of the dialogue. A giant bubble with large, bold text can represent a loud shout, while a small bubble with tiny text can suggest a whisper. Similarly, a jagged bubble can indicate anger or excitement, while a smooth bubble can imply calm or quiet speech. Experiment with these elements to bring your characters' voices to life.

Lastly, consider color and font. Different colors can signify different speakers or emotions, while unique fonts can help distinguish between characters or emphasize certain words. Ever noticed how villains often speak in creepy, jagged fonts? That's a great example of using text creatively.

Remember, text and speech bubbles are more than just vessels for words. They're visual elements that contribute to the overall composition of your graphic novel. So, use them strategically to enrich your storytelling and guide your readers' journey.

Tell Story with Camera Angles

Imagine you're not only the writer and artist of your graphic novel, but also the director of a movie. What would happen? Well, you'd start thinking about camera angles, wouldn't you? Just as camera angles can dramatically alter the feel of a film scene, they can also breathe life into the panels of your graphic novel.

Consider an overhead shot. From this angle, your readers can see the layout of the scene, understand the characters' positions, and grasp the scale of their surroundings. You might use this camera angle to establish a new setting or to give readers a bird's-eye view of a critical moment.

Now, think about a close-up. This camera angle allows you to zoom in on a character's face or an important object. It's an excellent way to show raw emotions, reveal critical details, or build tension. Close-ups invite readers to get up close and personal with your characters and their world.

What about a worm's-eye view? This unusual perspective can make a character appear larger and more intimidating, or it can add a touch of surrealism to the scene. It's a creative way to play with perception and make your panels more dynamic.

In short, don't limit yourself to eye-level shots. Experiment with different camera angles to enhance the visual storytelling of your graphic novel. It's not just about what you show—it's also about how you show it. Remember, you're the director of your own graphic novel, so take control of the camera and make it tell your story.

If you want to take your graphic novel's composition techniques to the next level, we highly recommend checking out the workshop 'Comics 101: Crafting a Page' by Kit Buss. This workshop will guide you through the process of creating visually stunning and engaging pages for your graphic novel, ensuring your story stands out and keeps readers captivated.