Why and When to Break a Panel Border

I came across an interesting question when I was on Comicfury’s webcomic forums. An individual asked for assistance with references or tutorials going over the subject of panel borders. I thought the topic of panels is great material for a tutorial article. Today’s article will go over why and when an artist should draw a character breaking a panel. There are other terms for this artistic practice: panel breakout, frame break, breaking a border. I’m going with the term “breaking a panel” in this article.

Why would an artist break a panel border?

A comic deals with 2-dimensional space. There are various techniques an artist has at their disposal which can be used to give their comic’s artwork a more 3-dimensional appearance. One technique would be to have the artwork in the foreground sharper, more in focus, with heavier line weight versus background elements which would have less value, blurrier with smaller line weight. Another tool an artist has in their toolbox is that they can draw a character at an angle using foreshortening techniques. An example of this would be a fighting character with a punching fist appearing very large and thrust out in the direction of the reader. An artist also can use the technique of breaking a panel border to give the illusion of the 2-dimensional character popping out of a panel.

When would an artist break the panel border?

It depends. It is mainly used to show the dynamic movement of a character. Examples could be a character is crashing out a window, crossing a chasm, or getting punched across the room.

Character breaking panel border.

It can also be used to portray a character who should attract special attention because of their larger than life attitude and/or actions, which cannot be contained by a mere panel border.

Larger than life example
Larger than life example

In most cases, the technique should be used in moderation, to increase the impact. If an artist uses it too much or in odd places (like a polite dialogue between characters) it losses its effectiveness.

I have seen some very skilled artists successfully use it on several action pages throughout the same comic. The panel which has the character breaking the border is the main action point that anchors the page.

This concludes today’s article about why and when an artist breaks a panel. Until next time, have fun making comics!

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