The Secrets behind Miura’s Art and Writing

Concepts and Planning

However, before going on with his techniques of creating a manga itself and the planning process, I want to point a few other important principles of his art.

  • Art and Dialog belong closely together
  • Layout supports the message
  • Black and white balance

Art and Dialog belong closely together

What also plays a big role in getting his drawings right and making them as impactful as they are is the fact they are emotionally loaded through context, layout and placement of dialogue.

Kentaro Miura plans out his manga strictly visually. If you ever read Attack on Titan, it reads like someone sat down writing a large script and then attempted to fit that script into ANY visualization, without much regard for emotional or theatrical presentation. Most panels are kept very simple and almost look the same, especially in the beginning. Here, the writing is somehow disconnected to what is being shown — or at least that was my impression.

Now what Miura is doing with Berserk is the opposite:

He plans dialogue and visualization together and treats them as single unit, where text and visuals complement the other — just like writing poetry, like he said himself in one of his interviews. This is why planning and drawing Berserk are tightly knit together. You cannot do one without also doing the other.

layout supports the message

What is also noteworthy that Miura also keeps his pages interesting from a layout perspective: You do not ever see the exact same layout twice within a single chapter (I actually haven’t verified this but you can still quote me on it!). We often get interesting panel layouts, e.g. you often see panels that do not possess square angles to create a stronger sense of tension; this is mostly used in action shots, like the two top panels and to lesser extent the bottom panels here:

Miura not only takes care of the layout when he plans out a page, but also the black and white balance of the page. Note how the top right panel is the darkest, while the rest of the smaller panels is rather bright. This puts emphasis on the sheer terror the hawks are currently facing in this page.

Designing the layout, Miura also groups together pages that thematically belong together: note the white bar between the Moonlight Boy and the panels of Casca here. This creates a tiny little pause before going on looking at the next panel, which can be important for the page flow. What is also noteworthy is middle panel overlapping the bottom panel.

Even the way panels are arranged on the same base line, where a tiny pause is created as your eyes move along the next line of panels, matters! In the page of Wyald above, let’s examine the page flow:

The blue arrows indicate panels that are read together and “flow”. In purple/magenta, we see the pauses that are created by arrangement or white space. There is meaning in these breaks and flows as well: the pause you have while moving on to the smaller row of panels gives you time to process the previous panels, that convey the sense of “danger” and “terror”. It subconsciously gives you time to form an emotional reaction. It also creates a sense of “timing”: a larger page takes more time for your brain to process (all the more if it’s black like here) and rests in your mind for longer; panels that are next to each other and not separated by white space are read much quicker. This is exactly why Miura’s work reads a lot like a movie. I have also attempted to pull this off in my fancomic.

I can dig much much deeper into the panel layout in Berserk and how it plays into the emotional impact it makes (e.g. panel and character placement to express superiority/inferiority of a character). I feel this post will explode even more if I do, so I’ll keep it for later!

Black and white balance

The balance of black and white areas is also carefully planned for each page. If you ignore this, your pages will look off and your eyes won’t know where to focus. I will give you an example of this later!

Stages of Planning

The stages of each drawing are as follows and each stage may require its own drawing, depending on how lazy efficient you are:

  • Concept
  • Posing/Construction
  • Detailing: Clothes/Armor
  • Final ink job

First concept sketches always look really messy. They exist to get the idea how a page or drawing will look like. In the bigger scheme of things, panel layout and the pacing of the manga is defined here as best as possible.

If you are happy with the concept, the drawing goes further to the posing or construction stage. This is where the posing is being improved on, errors in perspective are fixed, rough backgrounds designed, and the black and white balance of the page is defined. In the bigger scheme of things — changes to panel layout and pacing happen here too, but are very costly!

Once the construction stage is done, you go on to the next one, which is creating another drawing or layer for details, mostly clothes and armor, belts, bags, and so on. Armor specifically has to be constructed properly, especially if you want to do justice to Miura’s high standards. This stage in particular is very time-consuming and most of the magic and refinement happens here.

The final ink job involves putting all sketches and drawings together, especially if they are layered. The final ink job is accomplished by transferring your final sketch onto a new piece of paper via a backlit table (as listed in the tools above).

A layered drawing that is ready to ink looks like this:

From the Movie Trilogy Artbook.

In all stages, Miura additionally takes care of proper layering separating background and foreground, which requires additional effort (which is exponentially growing if you do this, too). This especially applies to his traditional work. Another thing that drives the time you spend creating a single page to an insane amount is how complex a page is: The more panels a page has, the more tedious it is to draw.

To give you a better idea behind the planning processes and what it actually means in practice, I’m going to provide some examples in regards to my fancomic.

Update November 2019: In the meantime, I have also written a breakdown of stages using a page from the manga here.

Creating a chapter (or fancomic)

A chapter usually follows a red threat of direction. Often, you can the boil down the purpose of a chapter by one or two words. Then, in addition to the direction you have a couple of cornerstones, that describe the feelings or thoughts of the characters. These two things are the essentials for character-based writing and also determine the outcome of the chapter. They are are also why Miura cannot say for sure how Berserk will end.

In my fancomic’ case — which is about Guts’ and Casca’ reunion and has the scope of a single chapter — the purpose of the chapter is “closure” and “confession”. It explores the idea how their interaction would turn out to be were Casca receptive of Guts (Hint: this fancomic was planned and drawn before the events of episode 359). A few of the cornerstones in this comic are “regret/remorse”, “pain” but also “relief”, “understanding” and “forgiveness”.

Example: splitting up a concept page into multiple final pages

Somewhere in this comic Guts is confessing that he screwed up during his journey and feels remorse for the things that went wrong, ultimately causing Casca pain. The concept page of this has the cornerstone “regret/remorse” and is caused by Guts seeing Casca upset and crying.

This concept page where Guts admits that Casca was his only hope and attempts to relate to her. This page was created by placing and writing down the dialogue like in a poem, then sketching first rough visuals for the dialogue. Once that is done, I review the page and adjust both visuals and dialogue to fit the other in another sketch.

Because I felt the pacing was way too fast in this page, I decided to give more depth to what is being said by pulling it apart and pacing it down as a result. I also added flashbacks and reused imagery from previous arcs to make it even more powerful and emotionally loaded.

What I am also trying to convey in those sketches is the black and white balance of the page.

The following are (almost) final sketches before inking.

In retrospect, what Guts is saying here isn’t out of character for him in itself, but he is actually not the kind of person to say it aloud. Instead, he would act on it, which he, interestingly enough, already started doing in episode 359.

The changes compared to the raw concept page are both in visuals and dialog, but the conceptual idea (aka the cornerstone) behind these pages remained the same. That being said, I am 100% sure Miura does this a lot with his drafts as well.

Example: “visual leads”

By “visual lead” I mean alignments that form a visual unit. They effectively lead the reader’s eyes across the page and affect the way a page is being perceived and how impactful it is.

I’ve done this with one page here. The “visual lead” here also happens to be the reading direction. The arc of the bridge is aligned with the trunk in the next panel and the texture in the background in the top panel (which will be almost black) also supports the reading direction.

You can find these alignments o’ plenty in Miura’s work:

A very obvious example of leading the reader’s eyes across a page from the Golden Age

In above page, there is one additional thing that is also happening that I did not point out yet, and that is “the order of what your eyes see and what you read”. You first see the eye and threatening fangs of the Beast of Darkness, then read the text “She’s a sacrifice so you can continue longing for Griffith”.

Then as your eyes move along, you see Guts’ eye that appears to convey shock or rebellion, then read how he is telling the Beast to go away. Then, your eyes directly move to the tongue of the Beast and next you read the line “If she’s a sacrifice, there is better use for her”.

If I put ANY of the speech bubbles in this page somewhere else, reading this would become very bothersome and it would also lose its emotional power. Like this, reading this page really flows smoothly with maximum emotional and cinematic impact. The order of visuals and dialogue right here is one of the most important aspects of Miura’s genius writing.

Example: Planning black and white balance

Black and white balance also requires careful planning for each page. I’m going to pick a rather unremarkable page from volume 23 to prove my point.

Even this page looks very balanced out. That is because the clouds on the top and Guts kneeling on the ground form a dark frame, and at its center, there is a dark triangle at the spot where the boulder with Guts and Casca is.

Everything around it is kept rather bright, which creates a perfect balance and is easy on the eyes. Also noteworthy is that from afar, the left side of the page is brighter than the right side, so there even is some kind of “gradient” to it. What is also noteworthy is the angle of the top panels (going slightly upwards if you look from right to left), that also supports said gradient. The white space between the panels make this page appear less “heavy” in terms of black space, too.

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