Secrets of Manga #5 – Composition

It’s time for Secrets of Manga #5.


Today we’re going to be talking about composition. I’ll be honest — I only use a certain number of composition patterns when I draw. Character-wise, I use long shots that show the character’s entire body, bust shots, facial close-ups, and then close-ups on body parts like hands and eyes.  I draw them from bird’s-eye views, from below, or from eye level. This is the basic formula by which I draw most of my manga. All I think about with the panels are the size and the angle of the object I’m trying to draw.


Have you ever read a manga drawn by an illustrator or a children’s book author — basically, a manga drawn by any pro artist who isn’t a pro mangaka — and thought that even though the art was beautifully drawn, it was somewhat hard to read? They may draw warriors fighting in mid-air from a ground level view, or the main character hanging from a building and looking down on throngs of people who look like little ants, or faithfully sketch in every single wrinkle in a high schooler’s panties, which can just barely be seen under her skirt from a lower step on the elevator. These professionals are all skilled artists who can draw anything from any angle, but for some reason, when it’s in manga form, it becomes hard to follow. Every single image is extremely high-level and good-looking, but looking at them all in succession makes the reader feel like they’re zig-zagging around. Do you know what I mean?


I think that with manga, the most important thing is art ability, rather than unconventional composition. It’s important that all the art flows well together.


In order to make the art flow, the first thing I always think about is “Where are we looking from?” For example, if this was something being videotaped, where would the camera be standing? Is the camera close to the ground, or is someone carrying it, or is it high on the second story of a building? The angle can really change the picture.


When showing images in succession, one thing to remember is that changing the camera angle too much can confuse the viewers. When I’m drawing images that all happen in the same place and I think: the first panel will be low, the second panel will be about ten meters off the ground, and the third panel will come from beneath ground level, as if there’s a hole dug there… I’ll end up moving the perspective around so much that it’ll take time for readers to figure out where they are and what they’re looking at.


I always try to draw characters and backgrounds from the same angle. I also take care not to change the height of the angle when I change the camera position. (Eye level = the horizon) In the end, it may seem boring to have a bunch of images all lined up that are more or less from the same angle, but I feel that the story and characters can make up for that, so I always try to make my images flow.


 “How can I make it easier for them to understand what I’m trying to say?”


I’m always thinking about the same thing. It’s really a pain to try and explain this in words, so let’s look at the example we always use.





Let’s try drawing where the camera would be in each panel.









In Panels 1, 2 and 3, the camera is looking down on the characters from the ceiling. Do you see how it starts out as a long shot, then gradually moves in closer to the character in the center? Here’s where the camera would be.





Since it’s just closing in on one character from the same angle, when readers look at these images in succession, they should be able to clearly follow the zoom. It’s necessary to start with a long shot to show the characters and what they’re doing. I used an angle from around the ceiling to get a better view of the entire room.


In Panels 4, 5 and 6, we move from the center character’s shoulder inward.








Can you see how these three panels are also coming from the same angle? We see the center character’s shoulder in Panel 4, so even when the camera switches over to character behind him, the images are still connected. In Panel 5, we zoom into one of the characters in the back, and then, in Panel 6, we show the center character again.


Here’s where the camera would be.





The camera has gotten down off the ladder and is looking at the characters eye-to-eye. Panels 7, 8 and 9 move to a different place, but the angle is the same. The camera is looking at the character from eye level.







Panel 7 is a bust shot. Panel 8 switches to yet another place, but it’s still at the same level, and Panel 9 is just a zoomed-in version of Panel 7.


Here’s where the camera would be.





Here’s how Panel 8 works.






The camera position changes four times, and the point of view only changes one: from the ceiling to eye level. If I were to change the point of view a lot, it would make the pages really messy and stress out the readers. I think not changing the angle unless I have a specific reason to is the safest strategy.


So, as you can see, I just figure out the camera position, then decide whether it’ll be a close-up or a long shot. I just keep repeating that. I keep the connection between the images in mind as I draw, and make sure not to draw from too many different locations and angles.


What should we talk about next time? I think this is about everything I think about when I draw the art and the panels, so next time I guess I’ll write a summary of everything we’ve talked about.


My biggest fear is that someone reading this will think that they have to memorize everything I’ve written in order to draw manga.


Manga is easy to draw.


All anyone needs to draw manga is a pencil and paper.


If you think that what I’m writing is too complicated, then just don’t worry about it.


There’s only one thing I’m always thinking about — and I included it in this post already — “How can I make it easier for them to understand what I’m trying to say?” Everyone thinks a different way in relation to their personal style, so as long as you remember that there are people out there with different opinions toward manga, you should be fine.


But as far as reading and drawing go, understanding how manga works makes everything much more fun.