Mark Tatulli, in his strip Lio, riffed on comic strip panels before. They're so much a part of the comic strip convention, most readers never notice the rectangular shapes that frame the pictures and order the events. In September and October of 2016, Tatulli offered up several different ways of considering the panel border, each one imaginative and unique.
Note that there is no center panel. Lio bends open the side of the second panel and flies across to the fourth. Why? Because without its borders, the middle panel is a vast empty void.
Tautlli's poked fun at Family Circus before (sometimes with a rather sharp stick). The Family Circus began as the Family Circle in 1960, which is why it's drawn in a circle rather than a rectangular panel. Family Circle magazine objected, and so the name was changed -- but not the panel shape. In this strip, Tatulli suggests it's not a circle, but a globe -- with another poke at the too-cute Family Circle characters.
This sequence is very simple. The first panel sets up the gag, the second delivers. But take a moment to consider what the second panel means. In the first panel, the borders are treated like wire frames around a 3-D world. Here, the zipper implies the entire panel is a flat 2-D surface, with the border forming the edge of this fabric-like material.
Is this a panel border gag? I think it is. There's no panel border in the first frame. Lio is literally outside the comic strip, seeking admission. If there were a border around him, the sequence wouldn't make any sense.
In this final example, Lio's flame, Eva Rose, blows up the panel to separate them. The first and last panels have borders, but they're shredded around the explosion. The single panel has been broken in two. And, like in the first example, the middle panel has no frame -- it's that empty void again, only this time with a surface (where the crater is). Tatulli suggests the openness of the void by having the smoke rise above the tops of the outside panels.
One concept, five different takes -- and that's just with this batch. The inventiveness of Tatulli is remarkable and it keeps me reading Lio every day.