Conventions in Graphic Novels | Style of Writing in Comics

Narration Box

A hard line or box separates the narrator's speech at the top or bottom of a panel, providing insights and guiding readers through the story. In Alan Moore's "Watchmen," narration boxes are used to provide a deeper understanding of characters' motivations and the complex narrative. For instance, a narration box might reveal a character's inner thoughts or backstory.


Individual frames contain a combination of image and text, encapsulating a specific moment or sequence in the narrative. Frames act as visual snapshots, capturing key instances. In Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns," frames are skillfully employed to intensify the impact of Batman's actions, creating a sense of urgency and drama. For example, a frame might focus on Batman's facial expression during a critical moment.


The lines and borders that contain the panels, varying in shapes and sizes, shape the visual structure of the graphic novel. The gutter plays a crucial role in pacing and transitions between scenes. In Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis," the gutter is effectively used to navigate between the protagonist's childhood and adulthood, creating a seamless storytelling experience. It helps establish the flow of time and events.


A kind of panel that spans the entire width of the page, often used for dramatic or impactful scenes, creating a visual spectacle. Splashes are powerful visual tools, emphasizing key moments. In Art Spiegelman's "Maus," a splash is employed to depict a pivotal event in the Holocaust, evoking a strong emotional response from the readers. For instance, a splash might showcase a powerful image representing a turning point in the story.

Speech Bubbles

Rounded frames around characters' direct speech, providing a clear visual indication of who is speaking and conveying dialogue. Speech bubbles are essential for character interaction. In Raina Telgemeier's "Smile," speech bubbles effectively convey the protagonist's emotions and conversations, enhancing the reader's connection to the story. For example, different shapes of speech bubbles may denote different characters or tones.


Little symbols or motion lines that portray characters' emotions or movement, adding dynamic visual elements to the storytelling. Onomatopoeic expressions bring action scenes to life. In Roy Lichtenstein's graphic adaptations of comic panels, onomatopoeia like "Wham!" and "Pow!" visually accentuates the impact of the depicted actions. For instance, onomatopoeia can be used to illustrate the sound of a punch or an explosion.


Abstract symbols or lines that represent emotions, thoughts, or sensations emanating from characters, enhancing the expressive depth of the artwork. Emanata contribute to the visual language of emotions. In Craig Thompson's "Blankets," emanata are used to depict the swirling emotions and thoughts during intense personal moments. For example, emanata can illustrate a character's excitement or anxiety.


When images extend beyond the frame to the edges of the page, creating a sense of continuity and immersion in the visual narrative. Bleed is employed to break the confines of traditional panels. In Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman," bleed is utilized to blend dream sequences seamlessly into reality, blurring the lines between the fantastical and the mundane. For instance, a bleed might be used to transition between dream and reality with a gradual fade.


The spaces between framed panels, inviting readers to fill in the gaps and actively engage with the unfolding story, fostering a sense of co-creation. Panels are the building blocks of visual storytelling. In Osamu Tezuka's "Buddha," carefully designed panels guide readers through complex narratives, allowing for an immersive reading experience. For example, a panel layout may vary to create a dynamic sequence during an action scene or a contemplative moment.

Structural and Stylistic Elements

Authors and illustrators employ the following elements for various effects in graphic novels:

  • Use of narration boxes to provide additional context and perspective, as seen in "Persepolis."
  • Creative framing to emphasize specific moments or viewpoints, exemplified in "The Dark Knight Returns."
  • Strategic placement of speech bubbles for clear communication of dialogue, as showcased in "Smile."
  • Incorporation of onomatopoeia for enhanced visual and auditory experiences, as seen in Roy Lichtenstein's adaptations.
  • Utilization of bleed for impactful scenes that break the boundaries of the page, as demonstrated in "The Sandman."
  • Varied panel layouts to control pacing and emphasize narrative flow, evident in "Buddha."

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Conventions in Graphic Novels

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