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Panel Madness! Day Nine: Containing Multitudes

So, we’re gonna play “Guess Where this (Slightly Edited) Image is From.”

Answer Waaaaayyyyy down at the bottom.

Klek    Klek   Klek   Klek   Klek    Klek    Klek.

Heh heh.

So, folks, welcome to PANEL MADNESS WEEK (Because we don’t talk enough about the art) a ten part jaunt round the comics blogsphere where everyone picks one ONE panel, or book cover, or any image that is a small part of a larger work, and talks about it.  The whole she-bang was organized by my good virtual buddy Plok of Trout In The Milk fame, and he’ll report to work monday with the final piece of the puzzle.

Before we get into it, a word of w-a-r-n-i-n-g.   This is gonna get nerdy, and nerdy in a “Obsessively interested in graphic design and the philosophy of information” way. What’s more, it’s gonna deal with stuff that you (seasoned and cynical comic reader that you are) already know. Anyway, this here post is enough different from most CSBG content as to merit a disclaimer.


One panel.

One panel by itself isn’t really a functional thing, so-ta-speak.  It’s not doing what a comic panel is supposed to do; IE pleasure the eye long enough to impart 1/145 of a story’s worth of information.  (Or 1/24th in an Ed McGuiness Hulk comic.  Whatevs.)

In a lot of ways one, panel is like an amputated limb, all cut off from the main story and flopping and dripping and spurting.  In OTHER ways, though…  There’s a lot of interesting stuff going down here.

So what IS an individual panel?

Here’s five answers.  This panel is a…

Story Unto Itself: Most panels imply –  If very rarely show – enough action that they can serve as a  small story unto themselves, complete with a beginning and an end.  The story here is “A woman is walking briskly through a city at night.  She’s alone.”  The story begins at one edge of the page and ends at the other.

Unit of TIme: Or “How long does the story take?”  While a single panel implies only the briefest sliver of time, there’s usually (again) implied action before and after the stuff we see on the page.  This panel, ferinstance
Curt Swan

Takes around 30 seconds, as Superman swoops down, says his piece, and Lana replies.

OUR panel probably takes around 15 seconds, or 9 klecks worth.  Often the panels that take the most time are the most important (and biggest) on the page.

Abstract Composition: We all know Whistler’s Mother right?

Except that it’s not.  Whistler was always adamant about this.  “It’s not my mother!  It’s just paint splattered on a canvas!’   In fact, The actual name of the above painting is disappointingly un-poetic: “Arrangement In Grey and Black.”

And comics panels are not Whistler’s Mother either.  OUR panel is lines and colors on paper that we interpret as buildings and a human figure, but that’s because we’re trained in a language of visual abstraction.  All it really is… is lines on paper and colors.   And what-the-artist-is-DOING with lines on paper (other than, y’know, drawing stuff) can be important, too.  So if we actively ignore Whistler’s Mother, and focus on the lines and colors, what do we see?

Black and white.  Lots of blacks and whites fighting it out on top, with a BIG chunka black in the middle – both horizontally and vertically.  Noting but negative space at the bottom, which makes the shocking red in the lower right really stand out.

What else?    Lots of sharp, pointy shapes.  Everything here looks like it has an edge on it.  Even the street lamps are more angular than rounded.  The only “safe” place in the painting is the female figure, but even her scarf looks like a knife blade…  And there’s a reason for this, it’s setting the

Mood Indicator/Foreshadower: Ominous, right?  The reason there’s a lot of deep, deep blacks and uncomfortable contrasts and sharp, pointy angles is that that stuff looks FREAKY.  In fact, y’all probably won’t be too surprised when I pull out the full panel….

A vampire story.  That’s hardly a surprise. The story has a woman, totally alone, at night, in an urban setting.  We’ve all seen enough movies to tie THAT particular sequence of events to a particular genre, and it ain’t romantic comedy.  And, on top of that, the artist is going out of his way to draw off-kilter, pointy, dangerous looking imagery.

Story continues below

Some of you might have even put the city as London, which would, in 90% of horror films, mean either Jack the Ripper or Dracula.

But on the other hand… the letters… bright yellow?  The stutter?   And, come to think, the klek…klek..klek sound effects are more than a little tongue in cheek as well.  Somethings not right here.

One Element of the Overall Page:

Now we have MORE panels, each of them a story, a unit of time, an abstract composition, a mood setter, and an element of the overall page.  OUR panel is an establishing shot, setting the scene before we get a better look at the woman below.  Thinking in Whistler’s Mother terms, it’s worth noting that the bright red, (and the immediately recognizable human form wearing it)   are probably going to be the first thing we look at before we get to the top panel which is more abstract, less immediately eye-catching, and full of boring words.

I don’t want to spend too much time here, but one more cool thing:  In the first panel the woman is walking into the light.  In the bottom panels, she’s proceeding on into the dark.

The Panel as Cultural History: New game!

imagine that it’s three hundred years in the future, comics have long since died out and all entertainment media is distributed via telep-o-vision.

You are seeing a comic, this comic, for the first time.

What can you tell me about the bizzare, alien culture that produced this image?  Specifically, what can you tell me about (A) the societal role of women and (B) their media’s approach to sexuality?

What?  I’m not going to answer for ya.  That’s what comments are for.

Art always, always mirrors/is defined by/defines the culture it’s part of.  Even one single panel of one comic book.

The Panel as Comics History:

And there you have it. It’s a story from back when venerable ol’ MAD was an EC comic book, 57 years ago.  This particular panel is drawn by the great Wally Wood.

This image is reprinted, and has been substantially altered –  re-colored and re-printed on larger and better quality paper – so many of the technological cues that might tell us when this comic was originally published are absent…

But I bet there’s still plenty of you who recognize this page, OR the style of the artist, Or the content, level of detail and general tone of the image with sufficient acuity to be able to tell me WHEN this comic was published, and the company that published it.  Plok actually knew the artist, series title, and issue number.  And being part of a specific story by a specific artist in a specific school in a specific time of history in a specific medium in (again) a specific culture –  All of those things make it a little chunk of history.

So this panel is a teeny part of the whole “V-Vampires!” narrative, and it’s a teeny part of a lot of other stories as well. The “How the absurdist satire in Mad shaped the anti-authoritarian culture of the ’60s” The “How Harvey Kurtzman influenced Spiegelman and Crumb and kind of created alternative comics” story. The “Why the hell did Wally Wood kill himself?” story.

And the ACTUAL story, which we’ve been so steadfastly ignoring?

End of the Story

(Scanned from the MAD Archives vol. 1.  Written and edited by Harvey Kurtzman.)

Gets pretty silly.  I’m a huge fan of the art in EC Comics.  The writing?  Not so much.  But even when the stories ain’t up to snuff I’ve got 1,116 individual panels to look at.

Panel Madness Recap: (Click on the panels to be transported.)

Day 1

Jim Steranko at Trout in the Milk

Day 2

Sean Phillips at Vibrational Match

Day 3

Jack Kirby at Fortress of Fortitude

Day 4


Day 5

Paul Pope at Supervillain

Day 6

Leandro Fernandez and Scott Koblish at the Factual Opinion

Day 7

Dave Gibbons at 20th Century Danny Boy

Day 7 anna Half

Steve Rude by Harvey Jerkwater

And we’ll be heading back to Plok one more time for Day 9.


[…] you, Harvey! A fine contribution, and great pinch-hitting! Not to mention a wonderful segue over to MarkAndrew, who has something rather stunning prepared for […]

The first panel on its own was really reminding me of something P. Craig Russel would draw…the slightly surreal cityscape and the klek sound effect were my audio/visual pointers. But then I guess it’s totally believeable that there is a similar line in style and design from Wood to Russel.

Dandy stuff, MarkAndrew! Your veering off into the panel as little piece o’ historical context was nicely unanticipated by me…but of course just as you say, that’s what a panel is too. That female figure is a real specific kind of female figure, in a real culture-specific juxtaposition with the background…which is a specific kind of thing in its own right.

I’m still a bit ga-ga over how my eye climbs up into this page from the lower left at first, then follows the “kleks” until it hits the lampposts, and then swivels up to top left where it oughtta be before taking the whole thing in again in “proper” order…like a lightning-stroke, first the “pilot” bolt (or whatever they call it, the precursor stroke) goes faintly up from the ground, and then SNAP! down comes the big discharge, grounding out. I tend to think of this whole page almost as a “panel”, if I can just twist definitions around a bit: the “kleks” form the top gutter for the bottom three images, don’t they? And to my eye anyway, there’s not so much a bunch of panels as there is a path of seeing that swirls around the whole page a bit…which like Whistler’s Mother is, well, just a bunch of drawing…insisting on the distinction between panels in this case may sort of be an artificial rigour? Part-in-whole stuff…it certainly is. There’s nothing about the page layout itself that creates the wonky path my eyes travel, it’s all done by the drawn-in content of each little square…I might note that the change from light to dark is accompanied by rotation, as well. Damn, it’s a neat thing. But then it’s Wood, isn’t it?

Wonderful little excursion you’ve taken us on, here! Also these link-in-panel things are pretty cool-looking…


Not to mention, a nice symmetry with the substance of my own piece…among others…

That first panel, if you hadn’t mentioned the artist being Wally Wood, I might have guessed Will Eisner.

However, I do recognize that last panel, by Rude the Dude. This is either in the first 5 issues of the on-going series (or the first 3-issue mini-series).

I thought this was drawn by Tim Sale at first.

Yeah, I thought Eisner at first – other than that I thought it was EC. Cool article.

Speaking of spotting story-related details in a panel, the Superman one has Supes wearing Clark Kent’s glasses! (either that or his eyes are REALLY bugging out from seeing Lana doing actual WORK! :D ) Oh, and his chest insignia is BACKWARDS. All of this tells me that this a wackier-than-usual Silver Age Superman story, either involving Mr. Mxyzptlk, or a parallel universe. Which is it?

Good article I think I got the panel aritists down.
1. P Craig Russell (maybe Killraven)
2. Sean Phillips (Criminal)
3. Kirby (Challengers of the Unknown)
4. poss. David Mazzucchelli (either Rubber Blanket or City of Glass)
5. Paul Pope (Batman 100)
6. Ton y Salmons or JP Leon?
7. Dave Gibbons (For the Man Who Has Everything)
8. Steve Rude (Nexus… the new mini perhaps?)

DubipR you’re 6 for 8. # 1 is a paper-back book cover, not a comic panel. It IS by a noted comic artist though, certainly someone you’ve heard of. (Assuming you can name the ten-or-so most famous silver and bronze age comic artists.) And the image was swiped from Greg Hatcher’s column. (Which is the only reason I knew it.)

# 6 Is from a recent issue of Punisher MAX. I didn’t even recognize this guy’s name.

I wouldn’t have got # 4 either, (which is Rubber Blanket.) After reading MadkinBeard, though, I’m pretty sure I need to greater-familiarize myself.

P. Craig Russell’s a good guess. (I actually almost went with an image from Fairy Tales of Oscar WIlde when I was deciding on my panel.) He’s cited Wood as a major influence, and did a whole story as a homage back when he was working for Epic.


I totally see Tim Sale, too, mostly because of the way the panel was re-colored. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some Wally influence there, as well. (I have a 60 page Comics Journal interview with Sale that I haven’t got around to reading. Maybe now’s the time?)

Eisner’s pretty great guess, ‘specially since W. W. actually drew The Spirit for a while when Eisner was in the army during WWII.

I always have trouble recognizing Wood myself. Of all the really-famous-classic comic artist types, he seems to have the least distinctive and most flexible style.

The Superman panel? I just grabbed it off Google Image search, and now I can’t find the original context. I dun no what-the-hey is going on.

Plok – Yeah! There is a kind of circular thing movement to the whole thing, with a big nothing-too-interesting HERE spot in the middle. I’m glad it worked well – Took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to choose a panel.

The Superman Panel(“Burn!”) was from Superman Annual #8, “For The Man Who Has Everything”, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons(who also did this other book, uh, something about watching something…er…it’ll come to me). Damn good story. DC has a trade out collecting Moore’s DCU work, including “For The Man…”, “The Killing Joke”, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”, “Mogo Doesn’t Socalize” and a host of other cool stuff. Check it out.

I guessed Wally Wood soon as I saw it. No one draws women so beautifully and distinctly except for maybe John Romita Sr. One of my all-time dream pics would have been to see a Wally Wood inkred by John Romita.

1. Steranko.

Wait….Panel 1….. Steranko?

Once upon a time, DC would occasionally produce a competition in their comics. For example, they had a whole story where they used the letters ‘D’ or ‘C’ only once. The Superman with glasses/Lana selling ice-cream panel looks like it might be a challenge to ‘spot all the deliberate mistakes’.

You can find the Gibbons panel and my write up here: http://ohdannyboy.blogspot.com/2009/02/panel-madness-on-seventh-day.html Guess the link slipped by MarkAndrew.

With the Superman in Kent’s glasses, I believe that’s from a story that contained a lot of deliberate mistakes that DC once printed. It was full of things like Clark Kent walking into the Daily Planet wearing his cape, people referring to him as Kal-El whilst dressed as Kent and other such mistakes.

Wood was in high school most of WWII, and then signed up himself in its last year. Eisner hired Wood after they finished their service.

onion – Very nice. That was a tough one, unless you hit the link.

T – Ha! Good point. I’m not sure I would’ve ID’d the artist with the first panel, but by the second there’s no mistaking.

Daniel – Shoot, sorry. I thought I caught that. Anyway, it’s fixed now. ‘

Mike – Shoot, yeah, you’re absolutely right. I’ll edit my comment.

Or not, sine I can’t figure out how to edit comments anymore. But Mike’s absolutely right.

I remember hearing Eisner comment on how Wood’s talent was ahead of its time, and would have flourished during the growth of the independent comic stores. He said Wood was always doodling gnomes. Imagine something like Bone drawn by Wally Wood.

I also remember Al Williamson describing Wood with very indulgent appetites, somehow not being able to stop salting his food. That actually makes sense, when you consider the delight of his shapes and contours. Ron Goulart also mentioned how his young son was a fan, and they encountered Wood (presumably at a con or at a publisher) traveling drunk in a stairwell.

[…] end of Panel Madness. If you’ve got a moment you might like to click backwards one step to MarkAndrew, in order to view all the images presented thus […]

Wally Wood was a master cartoonist.

[…] as how I just tackled my piece for the fun of it. The easiest way to catch up would be to click here and then […]

[…] as how I just tackled my piece for the fun of it. The easiest way to catch up would be to click here and then […]

[…] Leave a Comment » Wally Wood Mad #3 (1953) Random Post » Seen in CBR Live! […]

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