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CSBG Archive

31 Days of Comics – A Comic With Witty Dialogue

Our pal Seth Hahne, of GoodOKBad fame, came up with this 31 Days of Comics challenge, one of those things where each day of the month you’re given a different category that you then make a choice of a comic to fill that category. I figured it would be a fun bit to do, so here we are! Click here to see each of the categories so far!

We continue with Day 20, which is A Comic With Witty Dialogue

Read on for my pick and then you can share yours!

When I think about witty dialogue in comic books, I always think of my man, John Marc DeMatteis, and his amazing run on Justice League International with Keith Giffen (he is also killing it on Larfleeze with Giffen right now – hilarious dialogue). However, I’ve already spotlighted that book and I feel like I should spread the love around a little bit, so I’ll go with Chris Onstad’s amazing Achewood instead.

As an example, let’s go with the classic Williams-Sonoma storyline from 2009…

The storyline began with Ray (who is always looking to make a quick buck) discovering his friend Cornelius, who is a refined gentlemen who also will write more or less anything – including tawdry romance novels, in the midst of one such tawdry romance novel. Ray then strikes upon an idea (that Ray is a cat and Cornelius is a bear is immaterial to the story)…

Amazingly bizarre.

Click here to read what happens next! It gets a whoooooooole lot stranger.

Onstad has a really way with words. He takes ideas to places you would never dream anyone would go and yet when he goes there, it totally works.


Almost anything written by Warren Ellis, but especially Planetary.

And Nextwave.

Nextwave, so much.

I get the impression that comics readers these days think “witty dialogue” means “people talking like characters on Family Guy” instead of the Shakespearean concept of the term that was used historically, and the comments sections seems to be backing that impression up.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that… There is a time and place for everything… But my point is that it’s virtually impossible to answer this question when a definition of the term can’t be universally agreed upon.

So I’m tempted to say the old Samm Schwartz Jughead comics, but that might not be what the majority of the rest of the posters here mean by “witty”. (hint: the word isn’t a synonym for “funny”).

Okay, so it’s bizarre—and I’ll add satirical, and funny—but an exemplar of witty dialogue?? Dialogue (conversation between characters) is a relatively small part of the excerpt here, and while Ray and Cornelius have effectively distinct voices, I don’t see any particular wit (which to me means clever responses to each other) in their interaction.

For me, the series that’s a stellar example of witty dialogue in comics is Brian Vaughn’s Ex Machina. The scenes between Mayor Hundred and his staff (or Hundred and reporters, or the governor’s minions, or the police chief, or…) just CRACKLED with energy and cleverness.

Morrison/Phillip Bond’s Kill Your Boyfriend. Its a great little pop comic that has so many clever off the cuff remarks and quotable dialog, its easy to fall in love with it.

would have to go with any of warrens early work like planetary. though would throws some hellblazer like where constitine out smarts the devil.

@Anonymous: If you know Shakespeare so well then you think you do then you should know that language evolves and changes. The word witty has taken on the meaning of being funny in a particularly clever way, typically through the use of wordplay.

But back from the smug-off now, Young Avengers and Hawkeye have been on fire with witty dialog.

The Crazed Spruce

January 21, 2014 at 7:26 am

Aside from Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League, I’d have to go with Damage Control, by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie. Particularly the first series, though the second has one of my favourite lines. She-Hulk (who, at the time was starring in a series written and drawn by John Byrne, wherein she spoke to the “camera” pretty regularly) was fighting a bad guy, and during the fight they bust through the exterior walls of a building. As they knock down the last one, the building falls down on top of them, and Damage Control’s head foreman Lenny remarks, “I tried to tell ‘em! You break the fourth wall, and the whole structure collapses!”

Off the top of my head, the Milligan/ Allred & Co. X-Force/ X-Statix had some nice biting dialogue betwwen cast members.

I’m trying not to say Sandman again, I swear… but I liked Dream’s interplay with the various deities and concepts in Season of Mists.

The “clever dialogue” William Messner-Loebs added to the Maxx was usually funny and even witty at times. Epicurus the Sage, by W M-L & Sam Kieth, was another comicthat strayed into witty territory.

Many writers use “witty dialog” as a way of disguising a weak or insubstantial story. Personally, I’ve read enough “witty dialog” and sarcastic, smart-ass characters to last me a lifetime.

In comics, “witty dialog” really just means “adolescent” dialog.

A beautiful woman needs no makeup and lipstick to be beautiful, and a wonderful story doesn’t need witty dialog.

Why I Hate Saturn for me. That book is all about the banter.

And Jake – just because some writers pass off adolescent crap as witty dialogue – and/or use that dialogue to mask a weak story doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with witty dialogue.

@Dalarsco — If you know Shakespeare so well then you think you do then you should know that language evolves and changes.

And as we see here, occasionally gets brutally massacred.

@The Crazed Spruce —

That sounds awesome. Were there actually two minis for Damage Control Inc.? I’ve only read the first, which was one of the few bright spots in Marvel’s catalog around that time period.

I really kind of adore the verbal jousting that blankets so many of the romantic comedies of the ’30s and ’40s. Realism in dialogue has never been a hallmark goal of either film or literature. The way real people speak is a jumbled, halting, Frankenstein’s monster of grammatical forms and lowest-common-denominator vocabulary. Nothing about dialogical verity sings, so why not have fun with it? The patter that carves the soundscape of those older films is smart and charming and reveals a sense of humour that we too often forget are universals of place and era. Outside David Mamet productions (and maybe Rian Johnson’s Brick), it’s pretty far out of vogue to feature witty reparteé really at all anymore.

So something like the Immonen’s Moving Pictures is especially delightful. Set in the same era as Casablanca (Vichy France), the creative pair use the era and the black-and-white nature of the book to ease readers into something like a love letter to the snappy banter that draped classics like Philadelphia Story, Maltese Falcon, Hitchcock’s Secret Agent, and even late-gamers like Charade. The book is wonderful and sexy—as sexy as words!

GIffen and DeMatteis’s JLI, hands down. After that, maybe Joe Casey’s Wildcats runs.

Most any of Kyle Baker’s comics do it for me. The Cowboy Wally Show is my favorite, and also falls strongly under the “quotable” category. Why I Hate Saturn. You Are Here, and I Die At Midnight are all great examples of Baker’s snappy, witty dialog.

JLI is at the top of my list.

I think Dan Slott does it well, to. His She-Hulk was great and I loved his run on the Thing, which was cancelled way too soon.

I’ve stayed away from his Spider-Man run, so I can’t comment on that.


Nexus by Baron, all the way.

Warren Ellis’ Excalibur 91 where he sends the team to a pub is so delightfully witty that it’s the only comic that’s ever been able to make me literally laugh out loud.

@Seth, thanks for the tip on “Moving Pictures.” I’ve had that on my “maybe someday” list for a while, mostly on the strength of Stuart Immonen’s art, but you have just bumped it up to the “buy” list.

NextWave and X-Force/X-Statix immediately come to mind with witty dialogue.
I also want to give a shout out to TRUER THAN TRUE ROMANCE. The dialogue in this book had me laughing out loud, eventually in tears and having to put the book down to catch my breath. Such a fun book!

100 Bullets. Multi-leveled wordplay and a pun density that I’ve seen frighten English professors. With such classics as “Shittin me? Nah, shootin’ you. Goddamn… You done saying your prayers? I’m just getting started. Well you’re about to be finished. I may be just a minute… man.” and “waste the garbage who trashed me.”

And the works of Dean Motter, giving us hilarious drug and business names and “He was a two-bit hard boiled poacher. A real Benedict Arnold who scrambled away from danger and wouldn’t go over easy. A bad egg all around.”

Ambush Bug.

@Perry – Awesome. I love Kathryn Immonen’s writing on it. I bought it for Stuart Immonen’s art, but the writing was what made me love it. Very playful. They make a very good creative team.

JLI was ground-breaking, of course, but my personal fave is *The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius.*

What about that Peter David issue of Spider Man where he went to the suburbs?

William Shakespeare

January 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm

I agree with Anonymous.

Though I think the movie they took their name from was a real piece of crap.

Love the dialogue in Moving Pictures, great call.

And although the art tends to oversell it in the body language, the dialogue in Al Ewing’s Jennifer Blood is really sharp as well. Actually, the dialogue’s been clever in everything I’ve read from him, so all-around props for Ewing.

And as for the above, I can’t say I’m surprised at the nominations for Brian Azzarello, Brian K Vaughn, and Warren Ellis, but no, sorry, their dialogue sucks. Azzarello goes to such unbelievable lengths to deliver his puns that reading his dialogue creates the same painful sensation of watching a contortionist twist herself into an impossible position. It’s cringingly unnatural.

For Ellis, I will just say that, to me, witty dialogue means the characters are saying the smartest things THEY would say in a given situation. In Ellis comics, the characters say the smartest thing Warren Ellis would say in a given situation.

As for Vaughn, I haven’t read a ton of his stuff, so I won’t be too harsh, but basically the dialogue I have read from him always felt precious in an extremely calculated way – as if the entire scene was made so he could have the character deliver a preconceived punchline.

Achewood was the correct call here. Nothing beat’s Onstad’s dialogue, except /maybe/ David Milch (Deadwood, Luck)’s dialogue.

The triangle era Superman books.

Oh, I’m sorry, that’s comics with TV show host Whitty Banter. Always get that mixed up.

Journey into Mystery. Both Kid Loki and Sif eras.

And Nextwave, perhaps? Not sure if that counts as traditional witty.

Anything written by Evan Dorkin

@Travis Pelkie — Whitty Banter

Oh boy I wish you hadn’t reminded me of that. What a stupid concept that was.

Peter David’s X-Factor

100 Bullets. Mostly because I am a man who loves wordplay and Brian Azzarello does it very well. I know some readers find it a bit much (especially in the Counterfifth Detective, but in that one, it is kind of the point), but it hits all the right buttons for me.

And of course Calvin and Hobbes and the better Peanuts strips.

I second Ambush Bug. I laughed out loud reading it as a teenager. So much so that I really don’t want to re-read it, because I’m sure the humor wouldn’t hold up.

More recently, I think Bendis at times created witty scenes playing around with the different personalities and characters on the Avengers. Unfortunately, sometimes it seemed the book was witty scenes and little else.


January 22, 2014 at 8:35 am

I third Ambush Bug.

Kellogg, it’s been my experience that some of it holds up some doesn’t but by and large it’s still very funny/good.

I recently picked up the first issue of Ambush Bug Year None from several years ago and I chuckled so much that my wife eventually asked (from another room) “What are you reading?”

I’m afraid to reread a lot of the JLI series, out of the same fear that it won’t hold up.

Groo the Wanderer was not a complicated book by any means, but the dialogue was astonishly witty throughout the entire run. It holds up well over time.

Wait, the Bendis Avengers had different personalities…?

No votes for Claremont?

A lot of the really good ones have been mentioned (and not so famous ones…love seeing everything from Damage Control to Charade mentioned), but to add to the dialogue how much was a thing like JLI helped by really great LETTERING. It wasn’t just the word; you could practically get the inflection of the speech.

Anything by Matt Fraction qualifies for me. He’s good at making characters sound witty but he hits the right balance between characters trying unnaturally hard to sound clever and characters sounding overly bland; he’s one of the few writers in mainstream comics gifted with a conversational ear. Hawkeye and Sex Criminals are great recent examples of Fraction’s skill with dialogue.

No votes for Claremont?

Not from me. His dialogue is almost as bad as his captions.

No contest. Mark Waid’s Ruse, hands down.

Cable and Deadpool by Nicieza and many artists. Really underrated comic.

Saga. Hands down. So clever it makes you feel warm and inadequate at ever trying to write with a pen.

I would say NextWave is kind of witty in its blatant wittless-ness. It’s very abrasive, and I think of witty dialogue is very mannered and based upon delivery, exchange, and timing. For that I’ll go with Hawkguy. A lot of Fraction’s mainstream work can feel really forced with trying to be witty, but Hawkguy’s incredibly natural and smooth. Well, except for all the “Bro, bro, bro!” parts. Love those too.

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