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A Comic Book/Comic Strip/Manga/Web Comic panel takes on an irregular shape as a form of Painting the Medium. (Many of the same effects can be used on Speech Bubbles, only from a default shape of round.)

The simplest form is to depict something protruding from it in the Frame Break — but anything 2D is possible. There are a thousand ways to do this, and a million reasons.

  • To represent the passage of time.
    • A four-panel newspaper strip might go like this... First panel: Alice says something weird.; Second & Third panel combined into one double-sized panel: Alice and Bob stare at each other.; Last panel: Bob calls Alice a weirdo. (In this case, the long panel represents a long pause.)
    • A full page in a comic might depict someone jumping out a window. The page will be divided into narrow vertical panels depicting stages of the character's fall. (Here, the narrow panels indicate that the action is happening very quickly.)
    • Two events are happening simultaneously in different places. Two triangular panels joined along their hypotenuses depict the events.
    • "Pop-up" panels around a central illustration might depict different characters' reactions.
  • To visually reinforce the action.
    • An explosion might be depicted in a jagged, pointy... umm... explosion-shaped panel.
    • If broken glass is involved, the panels might be shaped like jagged fragments of broken glass.
    • The path of a bullet might be drawn in a panel which spans the page left-to-right, but only occupies a small amount of vertical space.
    • A character picking a lock might be depicted in a key-shaped panel.
  • To reinforce a character's thoughts, the theme of a conversation, or a theme of the work in general.
    • A character who is very angry might be drawn in... err... a jagged, explosion-shaped panel.
    • Two characters flirting might be drawn in a heart-shaped panel.
    • A situation involving recursion or infinite regress might be drawn as panels within panels, getting smaller to the point of invisibility.
  • To break up visual monotony. This is at least part of the reason for probably 95% of oddly shaped panels.

Depending on how they are juxtaposed, can make following the sequence difficult, since there may not be a left-to-right (or right-to-left in manga), top-to-bottom order. Sometimes panels are even "superimposed" as if they were on top of each other; this is commonest in the Sub-Trope Speechbubbles Interruption, where it is used to show talking over each other.

Examples of Odd-Shaped Panel include:


  • Will Eisner's The Spirit may be the Ur Example of using unusual page layouts to visually reinforce story elements. This series invented many of the techniques mentioned above; indeed, much of the visual vocabulary of action-oriented comics can be traced to The Spirit. Only Orson Welles' film Citizen Kane is comparable in its acknowledged influence over an entire medium.
  • Jack Cole, who assisted Eisner on the Spirit for a while, would employ odd panels in his own comics, for example in the second Plastic Man story in this post all the parts of the story set in dreamland had wavy panel borders with black gutters in between them.
  • Sam Kieth's The Maxx did this all the time.
  • Frequently used in the Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strips, particularly after Bill Watterson's first sabbatical.
    • In the Tenth Anniversary collection Watterson says he spent a lot of time trying to escape the "tyranny" of panels.
  • Archie Comics did this routinely in the 1970s.
  • The first couple of issues of Elf Quest drawn by Wendy Pini almost exclusively used rectangular panels, but by issue #4 she was starting to experiment with more ambitious layouts.
  • The Death of Superman comics, in 1992, has a very interesting example. It starts by the wake of Doomsday, who then starts attacking everything in sight, until Superman arrives. Then Doomsday focus on him only, and they start fighting, without dialogue (since Doomsday can't talk at all and won't stop its attacks), each page having 8 panels. The next issue was more pure fight, with each page having 7 panels. Then 6, then 5, and so on. The last issue, then, is composed only of single-panel pages of Supes and Dooms beating the crap out of each other, and in the last one both of them die.
  • When he draws Detective Comics, JH Williams III divides the Batwoman segments from the ones focusing on Kate Kane by giving Kate standard panel layouts while Batwoman's scenes feature all manner of Odd Shaped Panels, from jagged-edged starbursts to fight scenes shown entirely in panels shaped like lightning bolts.
  • Frank Quitely often experiments with odd panels, for example he will occasionally make the panel the literal fourth wall of a room. In WE 3 he gets really inventive with sequences using a large panel with a series of tiny panels showing all the small details of the scene layered on top of the larger panel, or in one sequence he tilts a series of panels sideways as a character is moving through them, and its awesome looking.
  • In the Graphic Novel Joker, a crash involving The Joker and the protagonist shows the characters' reactions to the impact drawn inside of the word "CRASH" as if the word was a panel. It also uses the "Broken Glass" effect mentioned above, as if the reader is watching the characters' reaction through the breaking windshield of the car.
  • Sounds as panels also appear in Frank Miller's work, for example when Marv shoots a corrupt preist in Sin City.
  • Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905) and George Herriman's Krazy Kat (1914), are possibly the trope makers. McCay created the elastic layout- in the later pages, almost no two panels are the same shape. In several story arcs, he has panel borders break or shatter after being pushed- or in one case eaten by the main cast. He was also one of the first to use the 'explosion' panel. Herriman's sunday layouts featured nested panels, inset panels on open backgrounds, slanted and sliding panels, and circular panels, among others. The layout varied wildly week to week- except for a brief color run in the 20's- and sometimes dispensed with panels entirely.
  • The Sandman uses this often and to great effect, being an account of the Lord of Dreams and those connected to him.
  • Regularly used in Alan Moore's Promethea. Most often this trope takes the form of having the panels evoke mystic symbols relevant to the subject of the chapter.
  • One issue of John Byrne's run on Alpha Flight featured Snowbird facing one of the Great Beasts, Komolaq, described as "the living embodiment of winter". The battle featured a number of unusual frame shapes and placements, made all the more noticeable in that the frames were all blank(the idea was to depict the battle taking place within a severe blizzard, with nothing but flying snow visible). Only the frame shapes and locations, along with dialogue, provided any clues to the action. A Crowning Moment of Awesome for John Byrne, in that he made the fight work on the page.



  • There's some panels in Ichigo Mashimaro that are convex quadrilaterals, some of which are right-angled trapezia. ...trapeziums? Nothing odder than that, though...
  • Bleach in particular uses this a lot, with fans of triangular frames to show individual reactions of members of a group.
  • Fruits Basket: The most common is a diagonal side.
  • Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro plays with this quite a lot.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure uses a lot of slanted panels. The end of Part 5 gets especially hectic.
  • Ode to Kirihito contains spiral-shaped panels at points to convey multiple actions in quick succession by a single character.