Apple Keynote Frustrations

Apple’s Keynote is an app that I’ve enjoyed using for years. It brings a lot of power and polish for a low effort, and reminds me of the thrill I  had when first using Macromedia’s Director 8, upon discovering how much of the app’s abilities were available without using any form of scripting language.

Yesterday, however I discovered a coupe of really serious gotchas that reveal some major limitations with the current software.

Presenter View

Presenter view is an option, which on a multiple display system, allows one screen to show the current slide, and the other screen to show the speaker’s notes, a timer, and the current slide.

A problem surfaces when you want to use your iPad to show your presenter notes, while the presentation itself is being run off a different device. For example, consider a Pecha-Kucha presentation, where you have 20 seconds per slide, 20 slides, auto advancing, and the slides are being run off a central slidedeck on a laptop.

Keynote for iPad won’t show presenter view unless an external display is connected.

Even if you bring along an AppleTV, and set up screen mirroring to it, unless that AppleTV is plugged into a display or projector, you’re out of luck. I’ve heard tell that you can set up Keynote on the iPad to be a remote for keynote on an iPhone, running the presentation on your phone, but that’s still a workaround.

Keynote for iPad needs an update to allow Presenter View to run, without an external display connected – if for no other reason than to allow you to practice your talk.

Mac and iPad

With the launch of iCloud-ified versions of Keynote for Mac and iPad, a lot of features were shed, towards the goal of creating documents that are equally at home in either Mac or iPad. Great, I can get on board with this. The only problem is that it isn’t a complete process, and yesterday, while doing the techtest for a presentation I was going to give, I was bitten HARD by this.

So here is the workspace UI for Keynote for Mac. What’s important to note is that palette on the right, with 3 tabs:

  • Build In
  • Action
  • Build Out

The way it works is that when a slide loads, the Build In settings are run to create the slide, then the Action settings, then Build Out, and finally the Transition effect when leaving the slide itself.

In order to get around the problem above of not having Presenter View available, I created a new slideshow, with a goal of it running in time to the Pecha-Kucha slidedeck, that was essentially what you see in Presenter View.

Since you only have 20 seconds per slide, I wanted a countdown timer for each slide, but rather than using numbers, which are visually distracting, I decided a simple graphical solution would be better. Thus, a blue bar across the top of the slide, and next to the bullet points, which disappears off screen to the right in the former, and downwards past the various bullet points in the latter. This was done with an Action, known as Move, which allows you to set the endpoint and duration of the movement.

Then, with the slide set to auto transition after zero delay, you have a 20 second presenter slide, with time remaining indicator, that then goes immediately to the next slide. Fantastic! Or, so I thought.

When I arrived at the event and did the tech rehearsal, what I discovered is that Powerpoint running on a Mac has a different idea about what 20 seconds is, to Keynote on an iPad, and I had tested my stack against my iPhone’s stopwatch. With Powerpoint set to 20 seconds and no transition time, the iPad about 5 seconds behind by the end of my last slide.

So, no problems, I’ll just edit each of my slides to remove 0.25 seconds from the Move action, that’ll compensate and I’ll be up to speed.

Nope!

While Keynote for iPad knows that the Action stage of the build process exists, and will play the Action stage, it offers no way to create or edit an Action.

As you can see from the video linked on the left here, when you go to add a Build In or Out, you can see that there are actions on the object when you go to look at the Build Order, but there’s no option to adjust it.

A final gripe about the Mac version of Keynote, selecting an image, right clicking and choosing “Replace Image” brings up an iOS style image picker that only shows you the contents of your system’s photo library – in my case, Aperture. It locks you out of accessing your actual filesystem, where for example, you might have kept all the images you’re planning to use within a main project folder in ~/Documents.

This is a symptom of the overall problem I’ve found trying to use the iPad to get actual work done. If everything you do is in a single app, like say, drawing in Procreate, it’s fantastic. But, if your task is assembly, bringing together media from multiple sources, tweaking and adjusting etc, the fundamental nature of iOS – its inability to be file-centric, the way Finder makes a Mac, causes tasks that are mundane and easy, to be like trying to run, while up to your waist in water.

iCould Drive is not a solution – anyone who thinks that the way to move files between devices, is to send them through a server on the other side of the world needs to be sentenced to a year on dialup. iOS needs full peer networking with Macs. It needs the ability to access, and be accessed by filesharing with the same capabilities as the Mac. Finally, it needs to ditch this ridiculous notion that data and documents are contained within apps themselves. I should be able to delete an app, without losing anything I’ve done using that app.

When your Mac Refuses to Sleep.

The Symptoms:

You put your mac to seep, the screen(s) go black, but the machine doesn’t power down its drive(s) and sleep. Pressing a mouse button or keyboard key brings the screen(s) straight back up.

The problem persists through reboots, logouts, changing user accounts, deleting com.apple.PowerManagement.plist, and even doing a full SMC reset.

The Solution:

Go to the Printers & Scanners preference pane, and make sure you haven’t got a printer with a paused print queue, or a printer which isn’t actually connected any more, which you may have accidentally sent a job to, which the system is trying to find.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.

Another Thing Done.

So, Surfing The Deathline part 4 is now live and on sale, which ticks off one of the things I was going to do once I had relocated.

16018 Lamkin Lane fileOther exciting things happening at the moment – this Friday I’m exhibiting a few small sculptures in an event happening down the coast a bit “Lamkin Lane Live”. So, there’s been a bit of work digging out a few old works, and getting them back into fresh and new condition.

After that’s done, I’m taking part in a talk on the theme of “animate”, talking about re-animating my artistic practice to lead to The Metaning.

It’s a really interesting dynamic about being out of the city – the people who are in arts-supporting positions really want to make things grow.

2015 Wrapup

The end of another year, and I’m looking back at the past 16 months, since they mark a two major shifts in life. The first was mentioned here. The move to a warehouse turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my adult life. Once we’d moved in, it became apparent that the landlord’s version of what we were promised, was very different to what we believed it had been when we moved in. We spent months freezing through the tail end of winter, chasing leaks in the roof when it rained, then roasting through a brutal summer – desperately trying to block the sun from the windows and keep the heat out. Our neighbours, as far as we could tell, were putting human excrement on their garden, so every week or so there’d be a reek so pungent you couldn’t step outside. The suburb itself, may as well be a demilitarised zone. All night you’d hear the sounds of idiots in hotted up cars.

It’s a low socio-economic area, and frankly when you see the way people drive, you can see why. I watched someone overtake a car which was stopped at a red light with a pedestrian crossing, on the crest of a road bridge over a rail line. To do this, they crossed an unbroken centre line onto the wrong side of the road & ignored the red light. I saw someone else driving down the main road overtaking cars that were waiting to parallel park, by driving on the other side of planter boxes and pedestrian islands that separated the two lanes of traffic. My car insurance went from $800 for a $17k vehicle, to $1100 for a $14k vehicle, per year.

Two months after we moved in, we were flooded. Several inches of water throughout the building, sewer breathers underwater, so bathroom drains backing up, and that neighbour’s garden, which was uphill of us, flooded all of its contents in as well.  I lost a about a third of my college drawing work to the water. We were flooded again, to a much smaller extent, almost a year later. This time the water simply came in through the base of the walls, because the building’s dampcourse was too close to the ground.

The extra distance from the city did a large amount to kill off the social life I’d enjoyed previously. Night buses became enough of a pain point, that the non-taxi distance we were just made going out more effort than it was worth.

By early 2015, It was apparent that this wasn’t going to work, so I started working on an escape plan.

Artistically, the year saw a number of major things happen. My sculpture out at UWS was destroyed in a wind gust (at least that what they said happened), or rather, it was destroyed as a result of being left in a damaged state for 2 days before I was contacted. So I brought it back home in pieces, and then scrapped it – something I’d never done for a large work. I managed to finish off all the drawing for Surfing The Deathline, and I finally got to the top of the panoramic photography mountain I’ve been climbing for 15 or so years, by getting a hardware and software workflow that produces super-accurate and predictable results.

My biggest artistic achievement of the year was the exhibition of The Metaning – as far as I know, a first within Australian comics. The exhibition had some hiccups – most regrettably, there was no video recording of the opening speeches, but overall was a success.

With the exhibition out of the way, I was able to prepare for the most significant event of the last year – leaving Sydney.

For 40 years I’ve lived in the one city, half of that in the same small enclave of the inner-west. However, Sydney has become an insane city, ruled over by the avarice of property developers, and a police force drunk with power. Every bit of life is being squeezed from the town. My year away from the inner west saw many of the things I loved about it disappear, and as rents inexorably climb, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford to live anywhere in which I’d actually want to live.

So, I left. I moved 700 miles north, into the sub-tropics of the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland. It’s a very different life up here. For the first time, I don’t feel a constant pressure, a constant stress of anxiety and fear. Granted, part of this is because I’m staying with family (but still paying market rents). Most of it, however, is an absence of a part of the experience of Sydney if you’re renting – constant fear of the whims of landlords. Will they raise rents in retaliation for asking for necessary repairs? Will they be so heavily geared, they’ll go bust and the bank will sell out from under you, will they put the place back on the rental market, because they know they can get a higher rent, just by getting a new tenant in?

Here, things are different (for now). It’s a short walk to some nice bars, with a view over the river, everywhere has separated bicycle paths, so I bought a bike, my car insurance is down to ~$600 / year, and I’m getting significant work completed on Surfing The Deathline – the end is in sight for a project that has been a constant in my life for the past 12 years.

One that’s done, I need to look at the next stage artistically. I’ll try to look for what the options will be in terms of new things. I’ve already attended my first local comics convention as an exhibitor, and the first week of the year is scheduled to be concluded delivering a workshop to children on Manga and comics design. Getting my sculpture practice back up & running is going to be a bit of a challenge, but I’m going to get much more heavily into photography, until then. The other change I decided to make, is to get a Lynda subscription, and teach myself to program software. With Apple launching a new language that looks like it’s going to be a pretty big deal, and the little bits I taught myself to do for the EPUB comics I released, I think this’ll be a good use of my time between finishing Surfing The Deathline, and having  a workshop again.

Surfing The Deathline progress.

Longrunning doesn’t really seem to do justice to how long, how painfully long, the development of Surfing The Deathline has been. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and all going well, it’s not an oncoming train.

As we draw to the end of 2015, the main environmental lighting and toning is complete for part 4, and I’m getting back into something I haven’t really touched in a couple of years – the covers for 4, and now 5.

All this time, I had a holding image in place – a rough that was to form the basis of the final art, and a very specific idea of how the cover would look colour-wise. Once I got down to it, however, I just wasn’t happy with the direction it was headed – plus, I had a second book to contend with. Trying to keep all the different images in my head, so I could work out the flow of the whole series, was proving unwieldy, until I discovered something I hadn’t realised I could do previously – embed one InDesign document inside another.

Now, the process works quite smoothly – page art is in Photoshop, and any updates made flow through to the master InDesign document where the whole book is assembled. That document is then embedded in a large composite document, pictured here, which racks up the front and inside front covers, frontispiece art, inside back, and back covers.

Getting that big picture made it far easier to do a number of things related to which book would get which cover image, and which set of intro words. The last two books flow like a single long book in many ways – much like 1 & 2, it was originally written as a single book, before being split and extended in the middle.

The upshot is that all the questions I had about this are settled. The final theme colours for the issues are green, red, blue, black, and white, respectively. It was a moment of grooving out to Nick Cave that cracked the problem of part 4’s cover art, furnishing me with an image that both matches the events of the book, and the red spot colour theme that carries through the series. Having a black theme colour against a black background is difficult, but workable and appropriate given what happens in that part.

 

When iTunes Wi-Fi Sync Stops working.

Sometimes, the ability for iTunes to sync with your iPad, iPhone, or other iOS devices, will simply vanish, and nothing you do seems to solve the problem. The solution may be counter-intuitive, but comes back to the first rule of tech support:

“Did you try turning it off and on?”

There I was, working away, when I noticed the Wi-Fi indicator on my Mac’s menubar suddenly doing the searching for a signal animation. It found the basestation again, and all seemed fine – but then I noticed both my iOS devices had disappeared from iTunes. Odd, I thought, but not without precedent. Sometimes this happens, and switching the Mac’s Wi-Fi on and off will fix the problem.

Alas, this time it didn’t.

Plugging them in via USB and everything worked fine – both devices had the necessary check mark for Sync via Wi-Fi, but as soon as they were unplugged, nothing.

Going through the process of elimination of what worked:

  • The Mac still had network access to the internet via Wi-Fi.
  • The iOS devices still had access to the internet via Wi-Fi.
  • My fileserver / storage app on iOS could still be reached by the Mac.
  • Airdrop still worked between my Mac and iPad.

Most perplexing – in all respects, all the devices seemed to be able to do everything over Wi-Fi except see each other for iTunes Wi-Fi sync.

Here’s the list of the things I tried:

  • Complete shutdown / restart of Mac and all iOS devices.
  • Switching all devices from DHCP to fixed IP addresses.
  • Running the latest Yosemite security patch, and updating iTunes to the latest version (total shot in the dark).
  • Sacrificing a goat.
  • Restoring iTunes .itl files to versions prior to the problem manifesting.

After wasting about 3 hours on trying to solve this, eventually, in desperation, I rebooted the modem, which is also the Wi-Fi basestation.

Bingo! Problem solved.

So, it seems that somehow, part of the modem’s software which allows for service discovery specific to iTunes Wi-Fi sync had failed. This failure only effected those specific functions, allowing everything else on Wi-Fi to continue working, which threw suspicion over on to the Mac where iTunes was running.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.

F-Stop Lotus (2015) Unboxing & First Impressions

Only the truly damned can know the suffering of those, for whom the perfect camera bag is a white whale obsession. Too big, too small, the wrong access, no hydration – we mutter this to ourselves, as those who love us climb the widow’s walk of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and curse the sea for its cruel humour, for not just taking us and ending the pain.

Yes, buying a camera bag can be a fraught experience. This isn’t helped by the fact that the subject of this first look must be making its bags out of unicorn skin, with chickenteeth zippers, such is their rarity in retail outlets. I’ve just taken delivery of one of the first production run of the (now sold out) new F-Stop Lotus bags, so here’s an unboxing and first look.

Quick statistics – the Lotus is the smallest of F-Stop’s Mountain series packs. It’s a 32 litre shell with one main compartment, and side, front and top-of-lid compartments. Why would you get it? In my case – it’s compact enough to be a large daybag / everyday carry (with camera), but has a harness and numerous external attachment points, to enable it to be loaded up for lightweight overnighting.

Unboxing

The purchasing experience was, well, it was ordered & paid for on F-Stop’s website in late June, with a scheduled July delivery, and it arrived at the end of September. Once the delivery was scheduled, it arrived a few days earlier than forecast. As you can see by the photos, the delivered box isn’t exactly Apple-pristine in terms of packaging , but it did the job of protecting the contents. The drawstring F-Stop duffel bag, which an ICU I bought earlier also had, is a really nice packaging idea, rather than a plastic bag or similar.

My bag is the Anthracite colour. It’s black. VERY Black. Like “sucking all the light out of the room so you can only see it by its silhouette” black. All these pics were shot in daylight, metered with incident light, and colour meters, then shadow recovery in Aperture had to be turned up to the maximum to show the details. When you look carefully, you can see a checkered pattern, and it’s got this slightly rubbery texture.

The inside of the side and front pockets are of a lighter material, and don’t have the same rubberised feel to them. Given that the front pocket has a weep-hole, and is intended to be a place to stow wet outer layers, or snow tools, a question that arises is…

Moisture Ingress?

The best test I could think of was to get a bottle of water out of the fridge, run it under the tap, to simulate condensation, and then rotate it against the inside lining of the front pocket, while holding up a tissue to the other side, to see if any water wicked through. While the cold came across, as far as I can tell, the tissue itself is bone dry.

The inside of that front pocket is actually the pouch for an internal water bladder, so you might be wondering why I’m concerned – it’s mainly down to that pouch also being where an iPad or small laptop is supposed to sit, if you’re not carrying water internally. More on that later on.

ICU Fitting

What’s an ICU? F-Stop’s bag system is based around the camera being in a padded, removable bag, the Internal Camera Unit, which straps into the shell, to be accessed via the back panel. These ICUs come in numerous sizes, and styles. One of F-Stop’s weaknesses, however, is their pre-sale documentation. When I bought this pack, for example, there was nothing on their website to tell me which ICUs were suited to the pack. As a result, I made a best guess, and bought one which is listed as “compatible” but not “recommended”. The bag itself has a tag showing what they recommend, but this startlingly useful information is not available online.

In the Large Slope ICU, I can fit my full current kit, which comprises: Nikon d800, Nikkor 14-24g, 60g Micro, Spherical pano head, Manfrotto magnesium 3-way head, light meter, colour meter, some filters, and a few other cables, battery charger etc.

The way this is supposed to work, is you fold the top of the ICU under it, slip it into the bag, then attach the velcro tabs around the eyelets on the bag’s frame to hold the ICU against the back aperture. What I found is that the ICU didn’t naturally rest far enough into the bag for the tabs and eyelets to line up. Pulling the foam from the ICU lid went part way to alleviating the problem, but it still felt like I was forcing it to fit in place.

Now, it may be that this serves a purpose, ensuring the ICU is tensioned against the bottom of the bag.

The other problem is that when attached, the ICU is actually taller than the inside of the bag, so with the back unzipped, the ICU wedges the back open. Again, maybe there’s a logic to this, but my next ICU is going to be a shallow model.

There’s also a mystery eyelet at the top, which should be perfect for securing the top of a tall ICU, but there’s no matching velcro tab on mine.

Hydration

Hydration was one of the features which really caused headaches for me while looking around for bags. My previous (non-camera) bag, by Camelbak, is more of less the gold standard for this. The bladder is kept in a sealed, insulated compartment, centred on your spine. Looking around at camera bags, hydration was either absent, or fixed on one side. I wanted the freedom to shift water-weight depending on whether I had a tripod strapped to the side of the bag or not.

The Lotus’ external pockets are large enough that you can put a 2 litre bladder in any of them. There’s an internal pocket to hang a bladder in, but it shares duty as the laptop sleeve. I also can’t quite trust the idea of keeping water inside the pack with my electronics.

If there’s a criticism I can level here, and an improvement for the next version of the pack, it’s that hanging loops in the side and front pockets would provide a huge utility and flexibility boost, with no appreciable downside.

Compatibility

One of my favourite accessories, Thinktank’s Camera Support Straps, rely on the webbing rails on the shoulder straps of most packs. The Lotus lacks these, but thankfully, the webbing loop used for the built-in D rings is large enough that the clip for the strap can thread through it. As an added bonus, by rethreading the tag end back through, and up under the snack trampoline (there’s a springy pocket in the shoulder strap for snacks – I think that term is as good as any), it’s neater than on my previous pack.

The other great compatibility feature is the molle webbing on the inside of the back panel. This gives you the flexibility to mount other bags inside the Lotus, as shown here, a Lowepro holster bag attached with carabenas (which I’m doing while I wait for a local dealer to get stock of the shallow ICUs). It’s not quite as elegant as an ICU, but it still means the camera can be accessed separately from the contents of the top of the bag.

Conclusion?

It’s been a couple of days of carrying this around all the time. The Lotus is a bigger bag than I’m used to, but small enough that I can adjust to that, for the freedom to have a well designed bag to constant carry a couple of kilos of camera and lens. Also worth mentioning, the pockets in the lid, one accessible from the outside, one from inside, are spacious and majorly convenient for getting access to a lot of stuff without disturbing the inside of the bag. Further on the topic of the lid, it’s attached to open away from you when the pack on on your back, which means the zips can sit near your neck, away from potential pick-pocketing.

So, overall, my initial impressions are that this is going to be a serious piece of kit. It’s got its quirks (like the 14-24), but my gut feeling is that it’s going to be a tremendously enabling piece of gear.

If this article was of use, a donation would help support my projects.

About our new Prime Minister…

Back in the late 1990s I worked in tech support for OzEmail, a company owned & managed to varying degrees by the man who is now Prime Minister of Australia.

Back in those days, Internet access was dialup, and sold based on time connected. Every time you connected to the internet, you also incurred a local phone call with Telstra, who were the dominant local telephony provider, as a part of the process.

So eventually, the economics arrived at a point where we could offer a product that provided for unlimited time dialup – an “always on” internet, provided you could dedicate a phone line to it. The name of this product (from memory) was OzMegaSaver.

Well, there was a problem with OzMegaSaver that soon became apparent – dropouts. People were having huge numbers of disconnections, even after we went through optimising their modem’s initialisation strings, and running up huge phone bills in the process. Thirty cents a call adds up when you’re having multiple disconnects every day. We were instructed, by higher levels of management, to tell customers that at the end of the day, the problem was that their modems were letting go of the connection because their phone line couldn’t sustain the high speed connection.

We certainly didn’t tell them what was common knowledge within the support department – that it was OUR Bay Networks dialup equipment that was disconnecting the customers, and that the problem was so endemic, that Bay Networks had sent staff out from America to try and make the gear they’d sold us work correctly.

You can imagine the outcry, if all those customers knew their massive phone bills were a result of their ISP dumping their connection.

It’s just one anecdote, and Turnbull’s involvement in the company may have been completely incidental to the problems, and subsequent coverup. However, let’s say that when people argued Turnbull’s “experience” in telecommunications counted positively towards his plans for the NBN, that just sounded like a tsunami of fail and farce.

Manga Panel Design Theory

Introduction.

“Poor artists copy, great artists steal”

This quote, in various forms, including the less judgemental “Immature artists copy, developed artists steal”, has been (mis)attributed to many artists throughout history. It expresses a fundamental truth within any artist’s practice – that all technique is learned through imitation, but that imitation is only the first part of the process. The difference between copied and stolen techniques comes down, in my opinion, to understanding not only the how (copying), but more importantly the why of a technique. To steal in art, is to take an idea, and be able to pull it apart and rework it to suit your own needs, without breaking the things that made the idea valid in the first place.

What does this have to do with comics? Well, comics is an artform which is not only built upon copying – witness the plethora of “how to draw (style) comics” manuals, but is also practiced, frequently, by people who are not formally trained as artists. In my experience, academic training is where the why mindset is nurtured.

This brings us to the point – the often misunderstood theory of panel design, especially as it relates to Manga, and most especially as it relates to Manga-style comics produced by westerners.

In western comics, the order in which panels on a page are read is often expressed along the lines of “left to right, then down”, sometimes with the addition of a “look at what’s happening in the panels if there’s any confusion”.

In the world of western languages, this may seem self-evident, after all, western scripts are universally(?) written in a left-to-right horizontal direction. Given the popularity of Manga, and the number of westerners for whom the graphical style of Manga is the dominant influence, this requires a deeper consideration. Unlike western scripts, Japanese is written from right-to-left, and may be either horizontally or vertically aligned. When a western, english language “manga artist” tells you the rule is “top right to bottom left, and always horizontal before vertical”, it becomes apparent that there are some fundamental misunderstandings about the design theory behind Manga amongst western practitioners.

Left to right or right to left?

When published in Japanese, Manga employs a right-to-left reading order, and broadly a top right to bottom left page reading direction. This is obviously the opposite of the way a western book is laid out and typeset. Japanese books are read right-to-left, because the Japanese language is written right-to-left. Starting in the origin corner of the page, the text you read progresses in the same direction as the overall page. Likewise, western comics, and western languages are written and read in the same direction.

When Manga were first translated and released to western audiences in the 1980s, publishers like Eclipse Comics, and translators like Studio Proteus would mirror-image flip the pages, so they could be read left-to-right. This also required subtle re-writes of the script, to ensure that spatial references (characters noting on which side an eye-patch restricts vision, for example) are updated. In the 2000s a counter-trend emerged, of translating text, but not flipping pages. This often extended to not translating or retouching the sound effect text, and was claimed to be in aid of producing a more “authentic” translation of the original. A cynic, or perhaps a realist, might suggest that it’s a bit convenient for “authentic” to coincide with “less work” and “cheaper”, especially when it produces a product that reduces the ease with which the reader can access the work.

Mirror-flipped or not, however, remains a controversy for translated Manga. When it comes to Manga-esque comics written in english, or any other left-to-right script, there should be no controversy – your comic should be read in the same direction as your language. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, there seems to be a (sub)culture of creating right-to-left Manga-styled books amongst western comics artists.

This is a perfect example of the copying vs stealing dichotomy: The immature artist copies the right-to-left reading order because that’s what Japanese language Manga does, the developed artist steals the design methodology, and understands that the reading direction is a function of that language in which it’s written, and is a means to the end of communicating the story, not an end in of itself.

“Authentic” Manga.

I’ve seen a defence of using right-to-left direction for english language Manga-like comics expressed along the lines of claims to authenticity – that Japanese Manga is right-to-left, so doing western Manga-style comics right-to-left is more “authentic”, and presumably, more correct.

This is where we get into the fraught world of cultural appropriation (and potentially identity politics) – where is the line drawn between adopting elements of the style of another culture’s art, and attempting to pass oneself off as an “authentic” practitioner of another culture’s art? Manga itself is a result of the traditions of Japanese drawing encountering Disney’s cartoons during the postwar occupation of Japan by American troops. The big eyes, the animation style – that’s yet another example of stealing in the artistic sense. Something from one culture was so thoroughly adopted and coopted by another, that it is now synonymous with the thief.

What’s happening with Manga produced by westerners is often not that, however. If you’re a westerner, you’re not an “authentic” Manga artist. What you produce will never be “authentic” Manga. A white Australian could learn everything there is to know about Aboriginal art techniques, learn the cultural stories, live with local Aboriginal groups – they will never be able to sustain a challenge to the authenticity of calling themselves “Aboriginal Artists”. In the Aboriginal case there’s also post-colonial and socio-economic outrages involved – so not to suggest that these two analogies are of equal severity, merely that they are structurally equivalent.

We have a long and sordid history of white artists passing themselves off with fake Aboriginal names in Australia, and this is the thing with authenticity – it derives from the artist, not the art.

Get to the point!

What is the actual theory behind panel layout in Manga? Here it is, in it’s simplest form:

Scanning from Origin to Destination (top left to bottom right for western script, horizontally flipped for Japanese), find the first edge-to-edge gutter, and divide the page. Repeat recursively.

The Manga layout formula is inherent to the design. It’s a hierarchical rule, built on a consistent internal logic, independent of, and adaptable to any language. What this means, and what is a defining characteristic of Manga panel design, is that grid layouts, where edge-to-edge gutters intersect, are rare / forbidden.

Grid layouts are claimed to “work” (and I would argue they don’t actually work) in western comics because western script is always horizontal – it’s always across before down. That’s a problem as far as I’m concerned – the “rule” isn’t inherent to the design, it’s imposed from an external set of knowledge. Without the content of the panels, and without knowing that the language was written horizontally, there is nothing in the way western comics are designed which reveals the correct panel order.

It is only the fact that people in western society are raised in a horizontal text culture, that makes the idea of “horizontal before vertical” seem like a natural, intuitive rule. Worse still, most people who would argue for grid layouts have probably been reading comics for so long, that they are unaware of having internalised that arbitrary rule.

“I want equal sized panels to communicate the experience of equally spaced, equal-length moments in time.”

Ok, try this:


But what about an artist’s personal vision? What if an artist really likes the symmetry of the grid? Why should an artist follow these rules?

At the end of the day, a comic page is about communicating the events depicted in the panels. That is the ultimate goal. A panel layout is the user interface for that goal, and when the artist’s personal desire for aesthetic expression conflicts with clear, unambiguous readability, it is their responsibility to get over themselves, and put the reader first.