Comics Vocabulary: Page-Turn Reveal

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The set-up for a page-turn reveal. Crossed Plus One Hundred No.2 Page 3, panel 5 detail. Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Gabriel Andrade

The set-up for a page-turn reveal: Cautious Optimism Kriswyczki sees “something” that readers don’t see until we turn the page. The full reveal is shown below. Click on any image to enlarge. Crossed Plus One Hundred No.2 Page 3, panel 5 detail. Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Gabriel Andrade

(Spoiler Note: very minor Crossed Plus One Hundred spoiler after the jump)

I enjoy exploring the story-telling vocabularies that are unique to comics. Many of these are explored in Scott McCloud‘s comic Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and his follow-up books, also Will Eisner‘s book Comics and Sequential Art. Those books are excellent, and look at broader sweeping subjects like time; I can get into seemingly trivial panel-by-panel detail, though.

Earlier I’ve written about comics multi-panel pans (also called a polyptich or super-panel – which I compiled a hundred year index of examples), fixed-camera sequences, how covers work, and even how Art Spiegelman plays tricks with comics vocabulary.

Lately I’ve been geeking out annotating Alan Moore comics: recently Splash Brannigan and underway now Crossed Plus One Hundred. In the first two issues of CPOH, Moore has been using a clever trick that plays with the action of turning the page.

I am going to call this comics vocabulary a “Page-Turn Reveal.”

How a page-turn reveal works: At the bottom right of the first page, there’s some hint of what’s coming. Generally some character sees something that the reader doesn’t see yet. Then the reader turns the page and sees what the character has already seen. For a full-on page turn reveal, the first page is an odd page, so the bottom right panel precedes a page-turn. Often the second (even) page is a larger panel, or even a full page panel or a 2-page spread.

Note that these reveals are a three-dimensional experience a little bit difficult to convey clearly via the two-dimensional computer screen blog. I guess I could film turning the actual page to really tell this story better… but I’ll do the best I can here.

These page-turn reveals seem unique to comics. In other page-turning media, say novels (non-graphic – just text), the pagination is such that the author doesn’t really know where the page turn will occur. The exception to this is chapter-to-chapter transitions, which are sometimes page-turn reveals.

In some ways, maybe page-turn reveals are slightly analogous to a cliffhanger to-be-continued ending in any episodic media: comic books, comic strips, serialized literature, TV, radio, probably others. But it’s a somewhat low-stakes version of a cliffhanger-episode-ending, because the reveal comes just a page later; the comics reader doesn’t have to wait for the next episode. They’re slightly reminiscent of the way a TV show might do something suspenseful just before an advertising break, in order to keep the audience tuned in, then reveals something after the break.

Though these page-turn reveals have probably been around a while, I suspect that they’ve been fairly sparse. One big reason for this is commercial. The comics of my 1970s youth had plenty of advertisement pages. In many cases, comics artists and writers probably couldn’t count on a given page-turn to not be rearranged by re-pagination in a case where a publisher decided to make some change to the way the ads were inserted.

I suspect that the interspersed ads also inhibited 2-page layouts that span the central page fold. Though those are also somewhat limited by printing technology that couldn’t assure that the left and right images would line up precisely. The exception to this would be the fold in the very middle of the issue.

The exceptions to these historic pagination uncertainties are the first three pages. Page one of an issue is traditionally a full-page single-panel splash page. Pages 2 and 3 typically did not include ads. So, occasionally, earlier comics creators used page 1-3 for a page-turn reveal.

The artist who comes to mind who exploits the page-turn from page one to two is Jack Kirby

Kirby probably did it in other places, but the first good example that came to my mind is from the story “Genocide Spray” in Jimmy Olsen No. 143, published in 1971. This is reprinted on pages 31-33 of the trade paperback Jimmy Olsen Adventures by Jack Kirby, Volume Two. (You can sometimes tell these are coming when the trade paperbacks add extra non-reprint pages – to get the odd and even pages back to supporting an upcoming 2-page spread.)

Pages 1-3 of Jimmy Olsen No. 143

Jimmy Olsen No. 143 Page 1 (left) and Pages 2-3 (right.) Written and drawn by Jack Kirby. Images via AusReprints and Technicolor Dream

Page one shows Superman and Jimmy Olsen looking off-panel describing something horrific that they can see and the reader cannot. Superman says “Who would believe it!!?” Olsen responds “Even looking at it is a sensation with no know frame of reference, Superman!” Clunky Kirby dialog, yes, but there’s something big they’re looking at… then…  the reader turns the page, and we see the large-room-sized planet Transilvane.

Kirby uses this page 1-3 page-turn reveal in other Jimmy Olsen stories:

  • “The Newsboy Legion” Jimmy Olsen No.133
  • “The Saga of the D.N.Aliens” Jimmy Olsen No.136
  • “Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?” Jimmy Olsen No.140
  • “Brigadoom” Jimmy Olsen No.145

Oddball footnote: Other comics geeks can probably tell me, but I think that numbers 140,143 and 145 are actually kind of tacked-on intro sequences when DC and Marvel upped both price and page count – taking regular monthly comics from 15 cents to 25 cents. This only lasted a few months, before both reverted back down to 20 cents and regular page counts. During this time there were extra pages to fill, so there are a few more full-page and full-two-page images than usual, I think.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of the more innovative 1960s comics artists, such as Neal Adams or Jim Steranko, used these somewhere. I’ll keep an eye out.

Let’s go back to the present day, and Crossed Plus One Hundred examples, which are numerous in the first two issues (only the first two issues are out at the time of this writing.)

These issues contain no ad pages within the story, so Alan Moore and Gabriel Andrade can be sure there will always be a page-turn between every odd page and the subsequent even page.

Page-turn reveal from CPOH No.2 Pages 3-4. Left is bottom right of P3, right is top of P4. Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Gabriel Andrade

Page-turn reveal from CPOH No.2 Pages 3-4. Left image is the bottom right panel of P3. The reader then turns the page to reveal the right image, which is the top of P4. Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Gabriel Andrade

On the last panel of page three, Cautious Optimism Kriswyczki is looking at something the reader can’t see, and shouting “Runboss Greer! It’s… it’s something.” The reader turns the page to reveal a beautiful quadruple-size panel showing feral elephants who are grazing in post-apocalyptic downtown Memphis, TN.

I remember the first time reading CPOH2, last month, at a coffee shop on the home from Meltdown Comics, turning this page gave me a big smile. At the time, I took a picture of it and posted on Instagram.

Moore and Andrade use these transitions very frequently. I count three or four in CPOH No.1, and six or seven in CPOH No.2. I am not going to post more here now, because a few of them are kinda spoilery. You can find them all noted in my issue-by-issue CPOH annotations, though.

There is also what I might call a half-reveal on pages 16-17 in CPOH1, where the reveal just goes from the bottom right of an even page, across the central page fold, to the first panel at the top of the subsequent even page. There’s no page-turn, but the reader’s eye goes from bottom of the left page to the top of the right page for the reveal.

The bottom right panel of the first page of the first issue of Crossed Plus One Hundred. Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Gabriel Andrade.

The bottom right panel of the first page of the first issue of Crossed Plus One Hundred. Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Gabriel Andrade.

And, in hindsight, I think that CPOH1’s first page is a sort of prologue that page-turn reveals into the whole story. The actions on the first page take place later in time and separate from the main thread of the story. In panel 6 on Page 1, a character named Forward Dietrich sits down on a large tire. He’s looking off-panel to the right, excited to watch the events unfolding before him. He says “movie” which is year 2108 slang for “spectacular.” (Alan Moore plays with language, inventing a future English language as removed from ours as Shakespeare’s is.) We readers turn the page and then the CPOH story really begins.

Anyhow… Maybe this is old news. I don’t read as many mainstream comics these days as I used to in my youth. Perhaps these page-turn reveals are ubiquitous in recent years, now that few comics contain the ads that they used to. I don’t really read horror fiction or horror comics where they may already be common.

What do you think reader? What do you think of Moore and Andrade’s page-turn reveals? Are there other examples of comics creators who have been using these reveals to good effect?

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One Response to “Comics Vocabulary: Page-Turn Reveal”

  1. ghastlydemon@formconstant.com Says:

    Other examples? Frank Hampson was doing it in the ’50s.
    My all time favourite is in Richard Corben’s ‘How Howie Made It in the Real World’

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