The one page is the only page.

The one page comic is a hard format to work in, maybe second only to the single panel cartoon. But when it works, it's the best sort of comic. The first impulse is to do a gag when given the task. The mind automatically conjures up something simple because its just 'one page', and comics only take a couple seconds to read anyway, so both reader and cartoonist often think ONE PAGER=SLIGHT. And of course, that impulse is well earned because gags only need a page at most, and the best funny cartoonists do their best work on one pager's. In fact a whole page for set up/punchline is probably too much space. But the page unit is perfect because it has clearly defined limitations to work with. You have to be precise. You may have too many ideas which lead to not enough space, so you have to combine things, edit, and really pick and choose what you want to have in the strip. Which, though may be painful at the time, will make the comic better. And best of all, the reader doesn't expect much because its just a page. I really think a strip that's good at 10 pages will often read better and be more satisfying as a page (either with the same amount of panels but drawn smaller, or by condensing ideas to fewer panels).
There is also the element of nuance and subtlety that can make something much more powerful, emotionally, if placed in a packed page of information as opposed to alone on the page (not all great one pagers follow this, but from here on out I am talking about a certain type of one page strip). Because you make the emotional moment smaller (both literally and figuretively), you allow the reader to reach a little deeper for it. It's like that old screenwriting thing " the audience cries when the characters do not"-emotionally you keep the scene constricted which make the reader get in to the experience more.

Brian chippendale is the master of filling the page with story and letting the emotional weight creep up on you. I was reading Ninja #4 (the whole series recently collected and released in the oversized Ninja collection from Picture Box), and that comic is just jammed with panels/information. It's a funny comic, satiric and goofy. Its also got things like inter-dimensional portals and monsters and giant pyramids and talking animals. The pace is non stop. And as you get into the flow of reading it you barely stop at each panel. Amongst this crazy strip, he put in a scene where one character sees another who is carrying a severed arm. He asks him about the limb, and he responds that the arm is all that remains of his love. Mind you this guy has a skull for a face and the scene moves 180 degrees in the next panel and its one interaction amongst hundreds. But it's a powerful moment that stays with you and is affecting because you dont expect it and its fleeting-The arm is literally what remains of his love and it also represents his love-a severed arm. and Chippendale moves on quickly because the strip moves on and the strip represents the world and the world moves on so no one cares and you only hear about it for one panel because other things are more important.
It's not a one page strip, but you get the idea. It's the use of space and getting the most out of it and still making it visually beautiful so it doesn't feel crammed (unless thats the visual beauty like with chippendale whose pages often have more white space then black).

I have been thinking about all this stuff a lot lately and then I saw chris ware's comic for the New Yorker online supplement. and its everything that I find exciting about the one page format done right both in idea and execution. It's focused on an idea and each panel/moment works at showing another aspect of that idea, little tangents and connections all bouncing off each other as oppsed to one short scene being milked. Which gives it a nice feeling of real life randomness. He keeps it moving forward, some of it funny, other parts more heartfelt and some of it tragic in an everyday sort of way. It's not trying to force you into anything (which of course is the best way of forcing). Ware is such a master of the form, the actual nuts and bolts of cartooning, he wraps you in the world of the strip better than anyone in that way of holding your attention and feeling the physical space within the story, he doesn't need to make it 'big'.
He uses the comic strip as memory in the subject matter, in the layout-with scenes out of order, echoing mirroring throughout, and a panel order that allows the reader to decide in which way they read the strip, a sort of free association. And of course, he makes it about memory by using the simple age old cartooning technique of having no panel borders which often signify a dream or memory or past tense.
I am struck dumb.
In order of appreance, the excellent one pagers above: J. Bradley Johnson, frank king, Ron Rege, jr, Brian Chippendale, Chris Ware.

posted by sammy at 7:44 PM

Blogger Pol Watcher said...

A particular one pager that sticks with me is actually a two pager but I think it was the center spread in the old D&Q (Vol. 1, No. 9, July 1992 according to Wikipedia)- A Brief History of Civilization by David Mazzucchelli.

The example from Frank King is so amazing- can you imagine pulling out the Sunday comics section and seeing this thing hit you full in the face- a whole page?!

Thanks for the thought-provoking words.

5:41 PM  

Blogger sammy said...

yeah, that mazzucchelli strip is amazing. its like the giving tree in how tight it is conceptually and visually.

9:18 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Particularily for me because last year I did a series of strips with a shared theme and format. I made 11"x17" posters and posted them around the city I lived in at the time. I never got any response of any kind, but I like to think people were distracted while they waited for the bus.
They've been cut in half for the internet, but if you'd like to see, the last 7 strips on this page are part of the series of one-pagers:
starting with this one:


1:14 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the one panel gag is also very intense as you tell in this post. I have been thinking a lot about this, also after seeing Ware´s strip.
And i have been revisiting one of my heroes Chas Addams because of that.
I think what makes a one panel even more intense tha n a one page comic is that the reader has to close the idea in his mind and that makes the work very "genorous".
You, as a reader, have to discover something the same way the author discovered his story.
It is diferent to the 4 panel strip or one page where the artist guides you through the story with it´s pacing and almost directs you with his planed momentum. There is no discovering, almost, there.
In doing that exam i remembered Scott Mcloud telling that the one panel is NOT sequential art (he refers to this in "Understanding Comic", where he points out "The family circus")
But i reached the conclusion that in a one panel, every element, object acts like a "panel" you read. Even the text line is a panel. So it is sequential, and more important:
there is pacing there!!
And the reader makes that pacing function.
It was an amazing discovery for me (since i understood a lot where does the magic of the one panel comes from, why is it so powerfull)
Good print advertising functions in the same way.
Then i discovered that Schulz had done the inverse process when he went from "Little Folks" one panel gags to the 4 panel strip he developed with Peanuts.
I think the one panel is also amazing and Chas Addams really shows how you can tell a story with them.


3:07 AM  

Blogger sammy said...

M M thanks for sharing those. I wish someone was posting stuff like that at the bus stops here!
kioskerman-your totally rigt about the one panel cartoon.

3:18 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with sammy

7:41 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merci pour cet article très interressant !
bonne continuation

5:04 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Super blog j'adore
bonne continuation
bonne chance

4:24 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

great article
I like your blog
good continuation

4:45 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bon article, très interressant, je vous félicite vivement pour votre blog.
je vous souhaite une bonne continuation et longue vie à votre site
à bientôt


8:55 AM  

Blogger Midwives For President; said...

hey Sammy did you get my letter Circa 2007? You were in Sydney and i talked to your wife but you didn't call me back. I want to meet your son. Love jasmine

2:45 PM  

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