Friday, February 26, 2010

Wally Wood - Look Beneath The Surface

It’s hard not to love the snazzy new
ComicsComics website run by Tim Holder, Dan Nadel and Jason Miles with the kind of writing we’re seeing from it lately. Dan recently contributed a terrific summary of why Wally Wood was one of the most talented journeymen in comics history - Wally Should Have Beaten Them All - in which Nadel summarizes Wally’s undeniable talent and the key weaknesses (emotional and creative) that kept him from moving further during his lifetime.

Nadel grounds his insights firmly with concrete examples rather than relying on his opinion alone, which places the piece on a higher plane than much of the fan-based comics writing available on the web. But his writing is beautiful in of itself. Not only is it concise and direct, but the dude can also turn a beautiful phrase, as when he beautifully sums up the early, detail-obsessed Wally:
…Wood was a maximalist in a business that could not afford the indulgence. Comics were and remain published on a tight schedule and demand quick turnarounds.”
One of the great takeaways from the article, quite apart from the cautionary tale Wood’s alcoholic, chain-smoking, overworking life provides us all, is the famous 22 Panels That Always Work": or some interesting ways to get some variety into those boring panels where some dumb writer has a bunch of lame characters sitting and talking for page after page." Wood created as a reminder to keep his work simple (at least in comparison to his ‘maximalist’ compulsions). The original art and some additional background are posted at
As Nadel notes, “It’s an infamous document, as ingenious in its craft as it is telling about the industry it comes from.”

Like Wood and his work, the panels are deceptively simple, but in fact they provide a sophisticated insight into comics and how they work. The key is not to assume these panels provide a one-stop secret weapon for interesting panel design (because that would make a decidedly unengaging and repetitive comic) but rather to learn from what the panels reveal about the comics form itself and how it can tell a story in ways no other medium can duplicate.
The Wood document (apparently notated at Marvel Comics years ago by Larry Hama) gives us examples of separating foreground, midground and background with black, white and grey. It shows how dynamic framing and design can direct the eye and how focusing on a portion of image can add intensity to a simple moment. So study it but look beyond the surface to find out what the pictures are really telling you underneath the surface.
Beavers Up!

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