ymmv .22 – Splash Pages in the New Millennium
I was going to title this one ‘Do you even splash, bro?’ but decided against it. Anything to do with ‘Making a Splash’ didn’t even get a run. C’mon, this is serious business, let’s get down to it.
Okay, splash pages, just the words no doubt raise an instinctual reaction from you. People usually have a view on splash pages and it’s quite often a strong view.
To the uninitiated, a splash page is a single page comprised of a single image. One big panel. You can also have a double splash page [or spread] which is two facing pages that are one gigantic image.
A splash page, like anything else, has very specific uses – and it can elevate the story, or it can tank. Like anything with art, there is no formula nor guarantees, but there are trends with splash pages you can analyse. So let’s delve into history a little.
Splash pages were often used to open issues. Marvel were stalwarts at opening their comics with one big image, often in media res, just as often non-diegetic, and it laid out the hero, the villain, the central conflict, and perhaps a supporting character [often in danger]. Sometimes, these splashes were actually unused covers for the issue they were in. Usually, they were just flashy ways to open a comic, grab attention, and lay everything out so the reader [old or on their first comic] felt like they were okay to proceed.
Over time, splash pages worked their way into other places in the comics. They were also a big way to end an issue, to drop a reveal on the audience. Or perhaps something monstrous happens in the middle of the issue and you want to show it’s important, you want to lay this reveal in one big go, well, you go to a splash page. Buildings explode, characters die, the world is changed on a splash page.
Peak splash page was reached in 1992 when “The Death of Superman” – a titanic rumble between Supes and Doomsday which saw the big blue boy scout shuffle loose this Kryptonian immortal coil in Superman #75 – showed one big fight through an entire issue of only splash pages. You can’t help but feel subtlety and craft died a slow death alongside the very first superhero the moment that issue came out.
But much like the Red S, you can’t keep a good guy down and the splash has lived on, used up to this very week in comics. But I’m not concerned with history anywhere near as much as I am the questions:
How are splash pages being used now?
And, how do I want to be using splash pages now?
Both of these should happily inform the other so let’s tie them all together.
At present, splash pages work well in the standard US print format, as they have for many decades, and they have even adapted well to the digital revolution as a splash page sits on a tablet screen in portrait view quite snug.
However, comics are shrinking, page counts are dwindling, and when a single issue has only 17-20 pages in it, having one whole page become a splash page can feel like a thief who slaps you on his way out the door. Obviously, add a little knuckle to the tap if a double page splash is involved.
Readers want bang for their ever increasing buck, and let’s be honest, creators want room to breathe sometimes. I know 20 pages isn’t ideal, that’s half an issue gone over a 5-6 issue arc, and so the splash pages become a commodity to be used with more discretion [“But is this moment splash worthy?” you can hear Elaine Benes asking with genuine ferocity]. And readers will analyse it more because they want/need more from it. You have to earn your right to such real estate. This is the realistic assessment of the modern economic climate, it’s prove yourself and your merit or gtfo.
But adjudicating on merit and quality is a tiger too tough to tackle now. So let’s double back to that digital idea for a second.
The splash page fits on a tablet device perfectly. But you know what doesn’t? A double page splash, that’s what. You have to turn your tablet into landscape view to fit it in, and then the text is small, and in short: it’s a pixel level disaster.
You can’t only imagine your work in print anymore, you have to be considering the digital options. This is where a small market for you will also grow, you have to give them the same quality as anyone else. Now, that doesn’t mean no splash pages, but it means considering how much text drops there and what size it is. It means make it something that’ll still read when shrunk down to the tablet dimensions. For my money, the double splash is the home of the truly epic, the cities crumbling, the armies amassed, the curve of the horizon. The single splash can be this but can also be smaller things, can be intricate, more delicate in a way the double can no longer afford to be.
One work around I have found for this is to create your comic built for landscape tablet screens. This means pages that are wider than they are tall – more specifically, they should be 1988 pixels wide, and 1528 tall [allowing a 9 pixel bleed on all sides to be safe]. And that can also mean, take the top half of a standard US comic page and that’s one tablet view page, which means the bottom half is another page.
I did this for Deer Editor with Sami Kivelä and loved it for two reasons. First of all, when Sami draws 24 pages of art, you get 48 pages on the tablet. And scripting for this, you build more panels in, and a denser story, because it ‘feels’ like more room to play with [though you have to have a collaborator with Sami levels of game to pull it off]. I like having a story that acts and feels longer. The scenes/pages are shorter but they build constantly, and that’s because of this huge digital advantage:
There are four page turns on the tablet for every one page turn in the print format at standard size. Swiping those tablet pages is constant so you can’t spoil yourself by glancing ahead, and anything can happen after a swipe. But on paper, you only get that one surprise every time you turn after having read two whole pages [four tablet pages]. It’s a big difference, and you should treat it as such.
I plotted Deer Editor out in tablet pages but always kept track of where the eventual print page turns would also be [because I have done short con printings of the first two issues in the standard format size]. Always consider both [all] audiences for your work. The page turns are important, don’t waste any.
I’ll also admit that I’m clearly not the first to do things this way, and one huge study guide I found was the Injustice: Gods Among Us comic written by Tom Taylor at DC Comics. The way they use tablet page turns/swipes shows how much better that book is in digital than in print, where the pages are collected into the standard format as above.
The other advantage the tablet pages have is that you can drop a splash page in and it’s only half of the full print page. This means you are giving weight to the moment, it’s the only panel on the screen, but you aren’t losing too much storytelling time. I found it meant I could give out a few more ‘splashes’ than I normally would.
Dealing out splash pages is no science, but it helps to consider your format and audience when doing it. And then you also consult your story.
You don’t drop a splash just because your script ran 21 pages so you want to pad out by just grabbing any old moment and giving it a splash. A great splash has to serve a purpose for being that large. It should be a page/moment for the: a) character/world, b) artist, and c) writer to shine. In that order.
A pretty splash helps the artist, but not if it isn’t tied into the story. A splash page is tied into the larger canvas of the story being a series of interconnected panels, that are a part of a series of interconnected pages, and also a series of interconnected issues. It’s turtles all the way down, and this splash is just one stepping stone, so you have to make it stable. The narrative has to hum through it all, and then all three stakeholders benefit.
If any of you have read Saga from Fiona Staples and Brian K Vaughan through Image Comics you’ll have seen many splash pages. They like to open with one and close with one and usually for two very different reasons. The opening splash grabs your attention, often as a non sequitur. I mean, consider the fact the series opened on a female alien giving birth and wondering if she’s shitting concurrently. The book wants to shock, to forge new paths, and they’ve found a great way to do this with an opening splash because whatever they present gets to sit out of context until you turn the page.
Whereas, the final splash is usually some kind of reveal, something built up to. There’s structure supporting every moment until the final splash, it can’t randomly just do its own thing, not like an opening splash floating about in space/time can.
Aside from structure, the other great choice of a splash is to devote it to character or location. Is it bombastic, or it is emotional?
One of my favourite splashes [a double actually] is in a Conan comic. And it involves a big shot of him sitting down.
You see, Conan is a big action hero, so when he falls for Belit, the Queen of the Black Seas, it throws him for a loop. Then [SPOILER KLAXON] when she falls pregnant, it’s like nothing else he’s ever faced. However, she loses that baby, and this hits Conan the hardest and so we get a spread of him just floored, literally, taking it all in. It’s a heady thing to turn the page and just get two big pages of muscle stopped in his tracks. The script is Brian Wood and the art Declan Shalvey and they do a great job of loading the previous pages, keeping things moving at quite a pace, so that when you get this giant image/panel, it slows you down, and you connect which means you feel.
That’s smart comics.
Because the polar alternative is a splash of a city exploding and I’ve seen that in a comic and I could not have cared less.
I’ll admit that when iPads were obviously taking off, with ComiXology well in tow, I internally swore that I’d not write splash pages anymore, and I’d Capital N Never write a double page splash again.
I was wrong on both these counts, but it is a matter of working out how exactly you’ll wield these beasts.
I don’t write many double page spreads, but I noticed I ended both Headspace and Negative Space on one. And both of these occurred because I end on a big beat, a final send off, a splash moment, and of course it’s the left page to use the page turn. So I asked Eric Zawadzki and Owen Gieni respectively if they’d mind widening those splashes out east and giving the reader a spread to fall into. Both are gentlemen so they obliged, and I think the results are great because they are low on text and high on emotion on the page.
I’ve also just started a collaboration with Matt Lesniewski and we open on a silent splash, a little bit character/a little bit location. As I scripted and tinkered, I realised I wanted to play with the opening of the comic and so had a chat with Matt about maybe opening on a double page splash, going onto the inside of the cover, and he’s drawn it and it looks amazing. It’ll also set a different, hopefully more immersive, tone for the reader when they open the book. They start and instantly fall into the importance of the location, the city, and our lead within it. Then after that first in-story page turn, we drop a title page, with credits, and at the bottom a single panel moving our story along.
I’m consciously trying something different here because sometimes you don’t know what will work, and how, until you do it. Comics, and especially indie comics, are wild enough and able to sustain experimentation that you can do something that hasn’t been done before just to see if it’ll do something new. There’s no need to be beholden to the old ways and structures just because.
I think about Rick Remender writing a splash of black with the text “ONE YEAR LATER” on it and I knew Captain America was changed now. That’s something [a little] new that suddenly serves this whole new narrative purpose.
Moving forward, I still don’t have any concrete formulas for splash pages. I know I try to limit them for economics sake, and I know I prefer emotional splashes rather than action based ones. I often prefer dense panel counts on the first page to show the intro in minutiae, but then I started “Gloves,” my Vertigo short with Tommy Lee Edwards on a splash of a man’s face, and that was because I wanted you to invest in him super-quickly through the look on his face.
CHUM #1 didn’t have a splash scripted in it, but Sami Kivelä turned a page of violence into one, and it’s gorgeous. Whereas the splash in the middle of #2 is just Standard sitting on his car and looking over the water into the horizon. It’s a quiet moment, no movement, and so serves a whole different purpose and aims to connect with the reader on a very different level.
I haven’t eradicated splashes from my vocabulary, but nor am I ever aiming to write an issue with them alone. I want them to be emotional because they fit on a tablet page well, though Deer Editor splashes are only half a page, and read in landscape view to enlarge them, and as such they run from thinking to violence to post-death with gleeful abandon.
A splash page is something to meter out, and you need to be able to ask yourself – why is this moment getting a splash page? Define that answer, and convince yourself [your hardest critic and audience], and you’re obviously onto a winner.
Ryan K. Lindsay is a comics writer who has logged time at Dark Horse, Monkeybrain, Vertigo and other esteemed publishers. He currently writes Negative Space, a comic we here at Loser City love quite a bit. You can (and should) pick Negative Space up from your local comic shop or directly through Dark Horse.