Robot 6

Finding the squares: Tintin snaps to the grid

In his latest post at The Comics Journal, Frank Santoro engages in a little bit of compositional analysis, explaining how an artist determines where the eye will fall, and what are the static and dynamic areas of the page, using a page from a Tintin comic, King Otokar’s Sceptre, to demonstrate the ideas in action. In this case, the components of the drawn comic line up so neatly with Santoro’s diagram that it’s hard to believe Herge wasn’t doing it deliberately.

I’m usually suspicious of after-the-fact dissections, because it’s easy to look at a completed work and see things the artist may not have put in deliberately. But Santoro says that Herge was probably aware of the technique, but that for some artists it just comes naturally, like playing music by ear. And just as the artist may use it unconsciously, the reader probably isn’t aware of it, observing only that some pages are more attractive or compelling than others. It’s useful to be reminded that such swift impressions are often born of painstaking planning. Sometimes you have to work hard to make it look easy.

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There is a problem there. Tintin from that vintage was published originally in B&W double pages. When Hergé decided to republish it in color, he remounted it so that most B&W “two pagers” became a single color page, so his composition was acidental, at best.

Take a gander at a page that includes part of the one Santoro is analysing (the big color splash page at the side was exclusive to those old B&W books and isn’t part of the original narrative):
http://www.images-librairies.com/ima3/original/792/937792_8217398.jpg

Here is another double page from a different part of the book (taken from the original art and without the intrusive color page) for comparison:
http://www.artcurial.com/fr/actualite/cp/2010/_media/1874-bd/le-sceptre-d-ottokar.jpg

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