Transition Overload!

I’ve frequently heard it said that every panel in a comic has to connect to every other panel. I’ve tried to go about showing the problems with individual transitions or McCloud’s closure, but I have yet to tap into this issue on the blog.

Potentially, this could be at least somewhat the notion behind Groensteen’s ideas of braiding and arthrology. “Restrained arthrology” says there are meaningful connections made between all juxtaposed panel relationships (i.e. what McCloud would call panel transitions), while “general arthrology” pushes this up to possible connections between all panels in a book (“braiding”).

In my book, I toyed with a similar idea of multi-connected transitions for very specific examples, but cast it aside before proposing my alternative approach based on Chomsky’s generative grammar. However, the “every panel with every other” viewpoints are far more unconstrained than my approach ever was.

One of the biggest problems with this “every panel with every other” as a theory of comprehension is that it would just overwhelm a person’s working memory to keep that many things active in their head with no guiding structures. So, I figured it would be worth the exercise of showing how ridiculous such an assertion might be…

For an average book that has 6 panels per page for 24 pages, this would give 144 panels in a book. Connections between any two panels in those 144 would be calculable as 144!/(2!•142!). This would build up to 10,296 possible transitions as every possible combination would additively create with each successive panel read, as the mind continuously retained them all in memory. Granted, not all panel relationships might need to establish an explicit “transition”, but all connections would be necessary to at least confirm or deny the need for an explicit transition.

Without any underlying structure to guide such connections, this would be overwhelming for human memory to handle. Rather, there needs to be something explicit provided by the mind to manage (and group/subdivide) such connections— just like a grammar for language. Transitions and general principles of “arthrology” just won’t do it.


  • Somehow I missed this post earlier…I'm busy with a graphic novel (or 3-part miniseries) script and I'm dealing with similar considerations as well as parallel issues concerning page hooks (whatever happens on the last panel of a page to induce the reader to turn the page). Not sure every page needs such a dynamic page hook, though. I mean, after a while I'll have raised so many questions in the plot that I should be able insert dynamic / explosive / attention-grabbing page hooks less frequently (e.g. not on every page]. Then there's also the issue of tempo and beat…

  • Write a Reply or Comment