Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why Kirby Is King: Page Layout

I've been reading the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on The Mighty Thor, and I came across these pages from Thor 137 ("The Thunder God and the Troll") that demonstrate Kirby's command of page layout.  Here's page 2, my first example:

Here Kirby depicts a competition between Thor and the goddess Sif, his new love interest.  (I get the sense that, by issue 137, even Lee was getting tired of mortal love interest Jane Foster.)  What I love about the layout on this page is the interaction of the six panels.  The first panel (Sif launching a javelin toward the reader's right) is mirrored by the sixth and last panel (Thor throwing Mjolnir toward the reader's left).  The second panel (Sif's javelin lodging in the pole) is mirrored by the fifth and penultimate panel (where the force of Mjolnir's impact on the ground causes the spears to burst out of the pole).  The overall effect is that of an "X" pattern: panels 1 and 6 form the first line of the X while panels 2 and 5 form the second line.  The coloring ties the layout together even more.  (There's no colorist credited for the issue, so I'm not sure who to praise here.)  Panels 2 and 6 match up due to their yellow backgrounds—but they're also linked diagonally to panel 3 by virtue of the rather large swatch of yellow represented by Thor's golden locks.  Blue dominates the reverse pattern of panels 1, 4, and 5.

My second example is page 5:

Yellow backdrops and action lines tie together panels 1 and 4.  So does content: in both panels, Thor is smashing an enemy's weapon.  The result is a diagonal pairing that continues the force of Thor's panel 1 blow down into panel 4: in both cases, Mjolnir moves down and to the reader's right.  Panels 2 and 3 are tied together by the diagonal line linking the troll missile before and after it is launched at Thor.  In panel 2, the missile points down and left to the center of the layout; in panel 3, it zooms up and right.  The layout is once again an "X" shape.  At the same time, though, Kirby ties together panels 3 and 4 in a lovely action sequence: in panel 3, Thor prepares to strike by moving Mjolnir down and to his left.  Then, in panel 4, Thor ends the page with a "Thbooom!" by swinging his hammer across his body to his right.  The layout result is a beautiful arc of motion across the gutter between the panels.


  1. Something else I just noticed about p. 5: the vertical columns are both held together by color. The panels in the left column are linked by blues: the blue of the troll's shattered mace in panel 1 and the blue of the background in panel 3. The panels in the right column are linked by browns and oranges, first in panel 2's depiction of the troll ballista and then again in the sound effect in panel 4.

  2. That's a really nice analysis of those pages - I've been slowly warming up to Kirby's work in recent years (I couldn't stand it as a kid), and it's really nice to discover all the qualities he had as an artist that I didn't quite get when I was younger.

    Also, your blog's name is AWESOME.


  3. Thanks! It's not the first KRACALACTAKA! blog, but I hope it's the longest running in the end. :)

  4. Also just noticed that panels 1 and 4 are the only two panels with sound effects in them--so another diagonal connection between those panels is established.