I don't "cut" or "draw" my panels into my page; my panels float. I think this comes from my having more interest in newspaper comic than comic books and manga, and newspaper comics always float their panels.
I've gravitated toward a general (though not concrete) method of having 12 panels on a page. By default, each the same size, arranged in a grid.
I'm honestly a bit jealous of the comics that use a manga-style and generate new panels for each page, cutting them into new patterns with a great variety of sizes. I would love to move my method more toward one that allows more freedom.
Now some may look at my comic and wonder what I'm talking about with my 12-panel grid talk. I'll get to that.
So here's my process for a page. I take a script that I have already written, and I put the dialogue into a blank template I made. I have guidelines for my basic 12-panel grid, so I know where to start for a basic panel size. Usually, panels fit into this format just fine. Often enough, I have to make a particular panel bigger, add smaller panels, whatever. Anything in regards to this is usually written in as a note, in the file, as text.
For me, a bigger panel means a wider panel. I haven't made a taller panel in ages. I regret this. But I'm too verbose and I have a lot to try to cram into each page, so it's really hard to arrange a page to have more than four rows.
This is done well in advance before I get around to drawing the page, so I can plan the layouts thoroughly. I create my pages to simultaneously work for both print and web, so I need to account for page breaks in the middle of a web's page, add extra panels into the print version for easier transitions, etc.
When I have artwork to put in the page, I start getting creative. Like I said, I have floating panels. This lets me adjust the shape of each panel individually. I look at the individual panel and try to get a grasp on the emotion of that panel, and craft a panel shape that reflects that emotion. Mundane panels get a simple box. If somethings slightly askew, so is the panel. I often use this as a way to convey more subtle emotions that are sometimes hidden.
Panel 1 was meant to feel very dry and bland, so it's a simple square.
Panel 2 was breaking sharply against that dry-and-bland, it cuts against the first panel, and the background almost lines up but doesn't.
Panel 4 was meant to reflect Cherise's hidden emotion; Danson was leaning in too close to her so I made the panel feel a little cramped. In retrospect, this would have been more successful had I bent the middle inward. (I learn a lot of this as I go.)
In panel 7 Cherise is lying by telling the truth. The panel shape looks normal and understandable, but one corner flecks out.
Of course, sometimes I just like to have fun and make the panels interesting, but I've been gravitating more and more to making the panels reflect a proper emotion, but I still experiment a bit to try to uncover what emotions a particular shape can accomplish.
I also try to pay attention to the negative space, gaps between panels carry emotions as well. I especially see what this accomplishes when I composite a page for the web. While I need to fit everything in neatly for a printed page, when I take those panels out for the web, I have a a change to re-arrange them, and I do.
Here's a couple things I've learned:
FOREMOST: The best format for a webcomic layout is a strictly vertical one:
Example: (Not my comic)
This lets the reader scroll down to see each new panel.
There are two main problems with not using
this layout: One, the reader can see future panels ahead of time, potentially spoiling a surprise or a joke. Two, long panels next to regular panels can have content missed. For example:
The bottom of A might have dialogue or other important information that the reader does not see before reading B, because it is cut off at the bottom of the monitor. This is not a problem with printed pages, but it is with web pages.
When I lay out my panels for the web, I keep scrolling in mind and try to make my comic read as best as I can in a vertical layout. Instead of having three panel on a row I might have two. I might stagger some panels just to gently lead them down, so more of the page is not seen until the reader gets to that part.
Circle panels draw a lot of focus. If ever there is something important that the reader needs to see, put it in a circle panel You are literally circling an element of the comic, and the reader will focus on it more.
As was mentioned earlier, size of a panel indicates time. It also indicated focus. You could also say that panel size indicates how long the reader should stare at the panel.
Here's another example from a comic that is not mine. Look at the emotion the last panel brings because of its size:
A small panel is great for a quick quip. A large panel or even a splash page demand big focus. Don't use a large panel unless you have a reason to do so.
My webcomic: Mischief in Maytia