Too often, people approach Jack [Kirby] as an illustrator and liken his individual pages and panels to works of art meant to be complete in themselves. Jack was an illustrator and yet again, he wasn’t. To get the “big picture” (to use a term he used often), you have to view him as a storyteller if not a writer.
That was the only way Jack viewed his work: Not whether he’d done a good drawing but whether he’d done the right drawing. To him, if it conveyed what he wanted the panel to convey, it was a good drawing. When I spoke at the wonderful, recent exhibit of Jack’s work out at Cal State Northridge, I tried to make the point that to fully appreciate and comprehend his work, you have to consider the art in the context of its intention.
Which doesn’t mean you can’t hang Jack in galleries and discuss him in the same breath as guys who unquestionably belong there. It just means that in addition to looking at panels or pages, you ought to read the comic.
— Mark Evanier, in Kirby, konsidered
This addresses perfectly the role of single comics panels in relation to the page — and the larger context of the work — as a critical puzzle piece rather than an individual work of capital-a Art.
Take image composition; I’ve been trying to formulate a post on the way surrounding panels and placement on the page affect the construction of each panel in a comic. I think there are different rules at play in composing a comics panel than any old photo or painting, and this way of looking at comics as a whole is key to that.