Establishing Shot

According to comic writer Tyler James, an “establishing shot” refers to a panel that often comes at the beginning of a scene to convey basic facts about setting, such as when and where the scene will be taking place, as well as the mood and characters’ location. In comics, establishing shots fill the same purpose as in film, where they are used to contextualize the new scene, often as one of the first panels (Establishing shot). These panels are often characterized by having elaborate details. Klaus Janson, a penciller and colorist for comics such as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Amazing Spiderman, considers establishing shots mandatory and essential (Janson, 2002, p. 101).Often, establishing shots are long, horizontal panels (Kaviraj), generally at the top of a page (Tyler). However, these shots can also found drawn as long, vertical panels (Tyler).

Figure Two. Chapter Two jumps almost ten years in the past and starts with a post-college trip Brás and his friend take. This especially beautiful establishing shot conveys that transition between chapters. Image source: Moon, Fábio and Bá, Gabriel. (2010) Daytripper. Vertigo.
Figure 1. Chapter Two of Daytripper jumps almost ten years in the past and starts with a post-college trip Brás and his friend take. This especially beautiful establishing shot conveys that transition between chapters. Image source: Moon, Fábio and Bá, Gabriel. (2010) Daytripper. Vertigo.

Figure 1 shows an example of a jarring jump in storytelling where an establishing shot is especially necessary. In Fábrio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s story Daytripper, the main character’s life is examined in a nonlinear way. Because new chapters often jump many years in the past or future, establishing shots are crucial in cluing the reader in to the new chapter’s setting for time, scene location, and characters’ location. This beautiful establishing shot at the top of the left page lets the reader know that the story has changed setting in both physical location and time.

Figure 2 is an example of an effective establishing shot used at the beginning of a comic book. While one of these panels alone would constitute an establishing shot, these multiple panels and two-page spread takes an interesting approach to the traditional long, horizontal establishing shot. Because this book is a road trip story dealing with themes of a quest, these establishing shots ultimately fulfill two purposes. They give the reader an introduction to both the story’s physical setting and its thematic motifs.

The Bone characters are introduced in this interesting vertical establishing shot. The reader can see who the characters are, their personalities, and their desert location. Image source: Smith, Jeff. (2005). Out from Boneville. New York: Graphix.
Figure 3 The Bone characters are introduced in this interesting vertical establishing shot. The reader can see who the characters are, their personalities, and their desert location. Image source: Smith, Jeff. (2005). Out from Boneville. New York: Graphix.
reise mit bill
Figure 2. This two-page spread of establishing shots lets the reader know that the characters are traveling across the Western United States by car. Image source: Schultheiss, Matthias. (2010) Die Reise mit Bill. Bielefeld: Splitter Verlag GmbH & Co. KG.

Similarly, Figure 3 also shows an example of an early establishing shot. This panel from Bone is the first panel of the entire series. Therefore, an opening establishing shot fills a very important function. In this shot, the reader is introduced to the characters and their setting. Understanding where these characters begin–in exile–is crucial for understanding what happens as they continue in their adventures.  Jeff Smith also uses a unique technique for his establishing shot. Instead of drawing the standard large, horizontal panel, he not only uses a vertical panel but also layers the following panels on top of the first one.

REFERENCES

Establishing shot. (n.d.) Retrieved September 29, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/establishing shot.

James, Tyler. (2011, Jan 31) Are You Using Your Establishing Shots Effectively? ComixTribe (Online resources for comic creators). Retrieved from http://www.comixtribe.com/2011/01/31/establishing-shots/.

Janson, Klaus. (2002) The DC Comics Guide to Pencilling Comics. New York: DC Comics.

Kaviraj, A. (n.d.) Kav’s Tips for Comic Artist–Panels. ComixTribe (Online comic community, forums, and blogs). Retrieved from http://comicrelated.com/news/15024/kavs-tips.

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