I recently acquired Kitchen Sink’s The Outer Space Spirit collection, two months’ worth of Spirit comic strips from 1952, written by Jules Feiffer (yes) and drawn by Wally Wood. They are truly something—and I’ll write more about them soon, soon.
In the meantime, I wanted to call some attention to “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work!!”, a well-known crib sheet that Wood drew, demonstrating different basic panel layout options. (See below for the image—but be warned, there’s some not-safe-for-work content down there, as well).
Now that I’ve got your attention…
Wood was an amazingly talented artist, one of the truly great comics illustrators. He started working professionally as a teenager in the late 1940s, drawing for EC Comics, where he did many issues of Weird Science and Weird Fantasy. (Those two titles were later combined—and you must admit this is brilliant—as Weird Science-Fantasy). Wood also worked on Galaxy Science Fiction and MAD Magazine, as well as many, many, many, many other books (including the classic Daredevil #7, which introduced Daredevil’s red costume).
Wood produced a ton of work, a small amount of which is online. Click here for three complete stories by Wood: pieces from Captain Science #1 (Nov. 1951), Strange Worlds #4 (Sept. 1951), and Journey into Mystery #39 (Oct. 1956). And click here for a story from Amazing Adventures #1 (1950).
Wood specialized in drawing complicated but never confusing landscapes packed with rocket ships, spacemen, monsters, and beautiful women…
…although he was also famous for his ability to imitate anyone else’s style. (He was a popular ghost artist.) This skill eventually made him fairly notorious, for his heavily-bootlegged “Disneyland Memorial Orgy,” a poster that appeared in issue 74 of The Realist (May 1967):
A meticulous and innovative draughtsman (who often ran behind schedule), Wood sketched out three pages of twenty-two basic panel layouts, cheat-sheets he could refer to when deadlines were pressing, and he was still busy cramming details into the corners (as he was wont to do). As his one-time assistant Larry Hama wrote:
The ’22 Panels’ never existed as a collected single piece during Woody’s lifetime. Another ex-Wood assistant, Paul Kirchner had saved three Xeroxed sheets of the panels that would comprise the compilation. I don’t believe that Woody put the examples together as a teaching aid for his assistants, but rather as a reminder to himself. He was always trying to kick himself to put less labor into the work! He had a framed motto on the wall, ‘Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up.’ He hung the sheets with the panels on the wall of his studio to constantly remind himself to stop what he called ‘noodling.’
Hama (later the auteur behind Marvel’s beautifully subversive G.I. Joe comic), assembled these panels on a single sheet of Bristol board and gave it a title, then went on to distribute photocopies to fellow artists:
You can read more about this collage at Joel Johnson’s blog. Johnson bought the original drawing and did some great detective work, tracking down the story behind it (this post is indebted to his research). His site offers the above image plus other scans; he generously encourages people to disseminate the drawing freely.
So. In order to add a little literary value to this post: Let’s try assembling our own list of 22. What are 22 basic fiction/poetry ideas that can be reached for in a pinch?
To clarify: I’m looking less for rules of thumb like “show, don’t tell,” and more for “compositional” or structural concepts in the spirit of Wood’s drawing. For example, here’s something I learned from The Crying of Lot 49; I tend to call it “the mini-scene”:
“Why would he do a thing like that,” Roseman puzzled, after reading the letter.
“You mean die?”
“No,” said Roseman, “name you to help execute it.”
“He was unpredictable.” They went to lunch. Roseman tried to play footsie with her under the table. She was wearing boots, and couldn’t feel much of anything. So, insulated, she decided not to make a fuss.
“Run away with me,” said Roseman when the coffee came.
“Where?” she asked. That shut him up.
Back at the office, he outlined what she was in for: learn intimately the books and the business, go through probate, collect all debts, inventory the assets, get an appraisal of the estate, decide what to liquidate and what to hold on to, pay off claims, square away taxes, distribute legacies . . . (10)
Lunch takes all of six sentences, serving mostly to get Oedipa Maas and Roseman out of the office so they can immediately return to it, providing a break (and character details) before Roseman delivers his lawyerly exposition. (Many writers write predominantly in scene, switching occasionally to summary, but Pynchon tends to write predominantly in summary, dropping occasionally into brief scenes.)
So there’s one. …Any others?
Or, if you prefer, we can make notes toward a literary version of the Disneyland drawing…