(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.