Richard Sala’s latest work is The Grave Robber’s Daughter, which, at comicsreporter.com, Tom Spurgeon says “is as creepy a crystallization of the broken-town school of horror as you’re likely to see in comics form. It’s also funny, casual and confident. I enjoyed it quite a bit.” And then he interviews Sala, asking, among other things, whether his approach to designing characters has changed over the years. Sala said that when he started drawing novel-length stories, he had to “tighten up” the way he drew his characters: “It might be a good idea if a character looked consistent from panel to panel,” he quipped. Previously, he’d been fairly nonchalant in depicting characters, but lately, he’s created model sheets so he’d have “a guide to what my characters would look like from every angle.”

Spurgeon also noted that in Daughter, Sala made “significant use of some scattered-panel pages, where the panels are not rigidly placed on each page in the same place but are spread into different configurations.” What, he asked, is the purpose of that. Said Sala: “I was experimenting with pacing. It can be tough in comics to get the reader to follow the story at a certain pace. In Grave Robber’s Daughter, the intention was to build slowly from a somewhat eerie and foreboding beginning. I found that by putting fewer panels on the pages of Judy walking into town, it seemed to slow the reading down (although you would think the opposite would be true).” He realized, conversely, that the more panels to a page, the more rapid the reading seems. This phenomenon is a result, Sala says, of an illusion that there is less “time” between the panels because there are more of them. “The more panels to a page, the ‘time’ between the action in each panel is less, so hopefully the reader’s eye moves through them more rapidly. Anyway,” he joked, “these are the kinds of things one thinks about while working on a drawing for hours! Who knows if it amounts to anything. You try to control the reading experience as much as you can -- but I’ve learned to let go of these things once they go out into the world and try not to worry too much about them.”

Sala may not worry about such matters, but he’s certainly described a quirk in comics reading with more precision and insight than I’ve seen elsewhere. I think it might be true that the more panels on a page, the faster the reading is likely to be. But I’m not sure his explanation is altogether valid. The fewer panels on a page, the more picture there is to look at, so the reader goes slow, not wanting to miss some visual detail. The more panels on a page, the smaller the panels and the less visual detail there is in each of them. With less to look at, the reader reads more rapidly. Could be. Either way, the more panels on a page, the faster the reading pace.

The Grave Robber’s Daughter, Sala told Spurgeon, may have been more influenced by the political climate of the times than his other efforts. “It was done before the Democrats got back control of Congress,” he said. “I had kind of lost whatever faith I had that things were going to get better. It seemed like the entire country had become so deluded and hypnotized by the administration that there was no way out and that the country was doomed....I was thinking a lot about how hopeless a cycle of violence is. How cruelty and violence always lead to more cruelty and violence, and it never ends and can never be stopped -- that those who are victimized will victimize others. And it seemed like a pretty appropriate theme for a horror story.”

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