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COMIC LEGEND: Since working on American comics, Alan Moore has followed a strict rule for how many words he would use on each page.
Reader Bob H. wrote in about an odd story he heard that since Alan Moore first began working in American comics that he specifically limits how many words he uses on each page.
What Bob is referring to is a “Rule” that Alan Moore has discussed in a fascinating interview with Daniel Whiston in 2002:
But anyway, Mort Weisinger, because he was the toughest of the editors, I thought: “Alright, I’ll take his standard as the strictest”. What he said was: if you’ve got 6 panels on a page, then the maximum number of words that you should have in each panel, is 35. No more. That’s the maximum. 35 words per panel. Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it’s gonna look too big. 25 words is the absolute maximum for balloon size. Right, once you’ve taken on board those two simple rules, laying out comics pages – it gives you somewhere to start – you sort of know: “OK, so 6 panels, 35 words a panel, that means about 210 words per page maximum”.
DW: And if you’ve got one panel you’d have 210…
AM:…and if you’ve got 2 panels you’d have 105 each. If you’ve got 9 panels it’s about 23-24 words – that’ll be about the right balance of words and pictures. So that is why I obsessively count all the words, to make sure that I’m not gonna overwhelm the pictures, that I’m not gonna make – oh, I’ve seen some terrible comic writing where the balloons are huge, cover the entire of the background –
So Moore referring to that RULE made it seemed as though Moore actually followed that rule to the letter, and of course he didn’t. Watchmen, for instance, routinely had over 210 words per page.
However, not MUCH more than 210 words. Because he IS saying that the idea of limiting your words per word balloon, panel and page is a very good idea. So he uses that rule as a GUIDE to himself so as to not overload the page. Not that he actually holds himself to a strict word limit per page. But yes, he does count his words to make sure that he is not putting too many words in each panel. So it is very close to being true, but I think that the whole “Alan Moore follows a strict rule” is so enticing that the RULE part gets oversold and that has become a legend of its own right.
Heck, even Weisinger didn’t always go by this strict rule…
Because lines in the sand are always silly. Rough guidelines for the win!
Thanks to Bob for the suggestion and thanks to Moore and Whiston for the info! Really go read that interview. Moore drops some awesome information about how he approaches comic book writing from a technical standpoint.
Check out the latest edition of my weekly Movie/TV Legends Revealed Column at Spinoff Online: Did Robin Williams vow to not work for Disney anymore after a dispute over the size of the Genie on the Aladdin movie poster?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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