Motion Lines

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Figure 1. An action sequence from the manga comic Bleach, which utilizes extreme motion lines. The comic tells the story of a teenager with Grim Reaper powers. Image source: Kubo, Tite. (2011). Shueisha. Bleach 436: The Time Discipline (June). Retrieved from

Motion lines are one of the most distinctive characteristics of the comic genre. As a still, two-dimensional medium, comic creator Aaron Albert explains that artists rely on motion lines to show action, force, or sound (Albert). When conveying action, motion lines can be utilized to show the type of motion, speed (Albert), or direction (Rio). How motion lines are applied varies by comic style. Japanese manga is especially known for backgrounds completely made up of motion lines in high-action panels (Albert). Because the background is comprised entirely of motion lines, the reader moves along with the character and has “a sense of being a part of the action with the subject” (Rio).

motion lines
Figure 2. Tubb hits another town citizen with his father’s club, with a subtle motion lines emphasizing a dramatic moment. Image source: Aaron, Jason and Latour, Jason. (2014). Southern Bastards: Here Was A Man. Berkeley, CA: Image.

This last technique is demonstrated in Figure 1. From the manga comic Bleached, these panels show a character jumping through the air. Because the entire background is made up of these motion lines, the character seems to be jumping faster and more powerfully than he would otherwise. The technique also dramatizes the moment, making the reader focus on the intensity in his face versus anything in the background.

Figure 2 shows a less dramatic approach, though the situation is no less extreme. This panel from Southern Bastards is part of an intense fight scene, which, in turn, is part of a larger power struggle between an old man and the corrupting drug lords who have taken over his Alabama hometown. Given this dramatic situation, the use of motion lines is surprisingly limited, especially for such a powerful hit. Because the shot is drawn from such a close perspective, the motion lines are only seen in the top left corner near the bat. Though more discreet, the motion lines show the direction of Tubb’s arms and bat. Additionally, the shaky nature of the lines conveys some of the tension in the fight.

Figure Three. Superhero Black Cat jumps into action to be introduced and to solve crime. Image source: Harvey, Leon. (1946) Black Cat. New York: Home Comics.
Figure 3. Superhero Black Cat jumps into action to be introduced and to solve crime. Image source: Harvey, Leon. (1946) Black Cat. New York: Home Comics.

Similarly, Figure 3 also utilizes very subtle motion lines. However, in this case, they fit a cheerful introduction sequence. In panel, the comic’s hero, Black Cat, is introduced. To explain her character–a Hollywood star who moonlights as a detective–Black Cat is first drawn in costume and in action. Because the portrayal is not a high-intensity, crime-fighting moment but she is still moving, these delicate, almost imperceivable motion lines are very fitting. They make Black Cat look like a genuine superhero, while still matching the upbeat introduction.

Finally, Figure 4 shows a much tamer version of these motion lines. Motion lines can also be used in every day situations, such as Brás of Daytripper shutting his cell phone. This panel has none of the violence or action of the previous two examples. However, a clear and distinctive motion arc is created with motion lines to show the direction of the phone flip, as well as the fluidity and force of the movement. [I bet we can find a bigger version of this amazing panel. Do you know which chapter this appears in?]

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Figure 4. Brás shuts his cell phone, a smooth motion shown in only one panel through motion lines. Image source: Moon, Fábio and Bá, Gabriel. (2010) Daytripper. Vertigo.


Albert, Aaron. (n.d.) Motion Lines Comic Book Definition. Retrieved from

Rio. (1998). Motion Lines. Retrieved from