Frank Santoro’s Grid Theories

In this post, I will reflect on Frank Santoro’s Grid Theories from This post is a summary and reflection of the first four of Santoro’s Layout Workshops.

Frank Santoro is a comics creator whose work has exhibited at the American Academy of Arts in New York. He teaches the Comics Workbook, an online correspondence course, and residency based in Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

Santoro’s Layout workshops focus on the importance of comic page layout and composition. He looks at the value of symmetry and center in page architecture. Santoro explores the advantages and disadvantages of grid systems and how to experiment with them. Finally, he looks at breaking down the work of masters and finding harmonic points on any page or format.

In his first workshop, Santoro explains the ‘Live Area’ on a comics page. In North American comics, this is the 6″ X 9″ space containing the artwork. This ‘Live Area’ floats on a 6.5″ X 10.25″ comic page. Two live areas side by side form a 2-page spread which creates a 9″ X 12″ rectangle. This is important because the 9″ X 12″ rectangle is a 3/4 grid and is a harmonious proportion.

Figure 01: My 9″ X 12″ comic page layout grid designed using Frank Santoro’s Grid Layout Workshops. In landscape orientation, the layout consists of two 6″ X 9″ comic page live areas side by side to form a 2-page spread.

Santoro expands on the value of these proportions in the second workshop. He states that a standard comic book is a pleasing shape because it consists of both static and dynamic symmetries. The standard 6″ X 9″ live area is half a 9″ X 12″ rectangle or 3/4 grid. This rectangle is of harmonious proportion. The standard 6.5″ X 10.25″ comic page is close in measurement to the Golden Proportion. Santoro makes the argument that there is a tension between the live area and the margins of the page. The live area supports static symmetry and the page itself supports dynamic symmetry through the use of margins.

Giving Up the Center

Santoro continues to investigate comic page architecture with the concept of the center. Santoro states there is often no center focus on a comic page that uses a layout grid. He refers to this as “giving up the center”. (Santoro, 2011)
Figure 02: Franks Santoro’s 4, 6 and 8 Panel Layout Grids illustrating a lack of center in each.

Most 6 or 8-panel grids work well for short stories because they offer a balanced rhythm that doesn’t cite importance on any one image. This allows the viewer to move through the story, panel to panel, without distraction.

Santoro argues that continuous use of these grids, over more than 8 pages, fractures the page into two columns. He cites Jack Kirby as an example of an artist who often used a three-tiered page. Kirby would switch between fixed 6-panel grids and pages with a wide center panel to ‘unify’ the two columns. The purpose of this change was to return the viewer’s eye to the center of the page and in turn, extend the timing of the sequence.

Figure 03: “The Silver Surfer” Graphic Novel Issue: 1, P.4 Pencils by Jack Kirby. In this example, we see Kirby using a three-tiered page. Kirby switches from a fixed 6-panel grid to a three-tiered page with a wide center panel to ‘unify’ the two columns.

In the above video, Santoro expands on the concept of the center and compares the use of grids to music composition. This video lecture provides an overview of Santoro’s Layout Workbook Lectures.

In his third workshop, Santoro examines the use of margins in North American Comics. He states that margins determine timing and sequencing in comics.

In 2010, Santoro wrote and drew a Silver Surfer story for Marvel’s Strange Tales anthology. He explains his design decisions such as using a 4-tier arrangement and removing the margins between the spread. Thus, allowing him to compose in rectangular panels and design the spread to read like a Sunday page comic strip.

The removal of the margins between the spread allowed for an experimental approach. This formalist thinking provided the reader with four or more readings of the same story. The inclusion of a tall panel further ‘disrupts’ the reading as they tend to mess up the sequencing.

Figure 04: From Stange Tales volume 2 – Silver Surfer by Frank Santoro copyright Marvel Comics. Santoro uses a 4-tier grid but removes the center margin which provides multiple readings either page to page or across the spread like a Sunday comic page. The use of the tall panel on the right further disrupts the sequencing.

In the final layout workshop, Santoro investigates breaking down a page. Before doing so, he explains the process of finding the harmonic points on any size paper. Santoro calls this “finding the squares” or “squaring the paper”. (Santoro, 2011)The process involves finding squares, center axis’ and circles within the page. With these drawn, we can map the static (rectangle) and dynamic (circle) symmetries. These spatial relationships are key to understanding visual harmonic progressions. Using the square, circle and triangle is a simple way to understand the architecture of any page proportion.

Figure 05: Page 13 from King Ottokar’s Sceptre (The Adventures of Tintin) by Hergé annotated by Frank Santoro.

Santoro applies this mapping to a Tin Tin page from King Ottokar’s Sceptre. Though the page is not a traditional grid it contains a static area defined by squares. The circle within the top square defines the composition and placement of the figures. There is tension between the dynamic symmetry of the figures and the static symmetry of the live area. In this example, Santoro illustrates that the majority of the action occurs at the absolute center of the page.


The process of summarising Santoro’s workshops has been a valuable learning tool. It has provided a reference point when considering page layout for sequential art.

I designed a 9″ X 12″ page grid that is valid for North American and European comics following his method. But more importantly, I can apply this process to create grids for any size paper.

This has made me consider printing formats and the planning process of designing a page. Before starting a comic strip or page I will need to consider such formalities as scaling up artwork. This, in turn, will impact the paper sizes and materials to use for a project.

I have a better understanding of comics page architecture and the use of the live area. But I’ll admit that I need further study of static and dynamic symmetries to apply the concepts.

I found the layout workshop on the Silver Surfer spread very useful. It gave great insight into planning, the use of margins and choosing grids. It illustrated an experimental thought process of setting up a page from a formalist point of view.

His approach to breaking down a page provides a method of visual analysis applied to the comics page. This will be valuable in researching the methods of other comics artists and their work.

References (2016). Comics Workbook – All About It! – Comics Workbook. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017]. (2017). Quick Guide to Frank Santoro’s Grid Theories – Comics Workbook. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Santoro, F. (2011). Layout Workbook | The Comics Journal. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

Santoro, F. (2011). Layout Workbook 2 | The Comics Journal. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Santoro, F. and Pisano, M. (2016). Frank Santoro-Comics As Music. [online] Vimeo. Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

Santoro, F. (2011). Layout Workbook 3 | The Comics Journal. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

Santoro, F. (2011). Layout Workbook 4 | The Comics Journal. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].


Santoro, F. (2010). Frank Santoro Basic Panel Grids. [image] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

Marvel Comics Group (1978). “The Silver Surfer” GRAPHIC NOVEL ISSUE: 1 PAGE: 4. [image] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

Marvel Comics (2011). surferspread2 – From Stange Tales volume 2 – Silver Surfer. [image] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

Santoro, F. (2017). A page from King Ottokar’s Sceptre (The Adventures of Tintin) annotated by Frank Santoro. [image] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].


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