Sunday, 15 July 2012

Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work!!

Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work!!
Click image to enlarge.
(from Cerebus TV Season 3 Episode 30, July 2012)
Sandeep found this actually on the internet someplace: Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work. "Are you interested in this or have you ever heard of this?" Interested? I was darn near hypnotised. I'd seen it once decades ago before I was working on Cerebus and even though I could remember very few of them it was certainly a mental checklist that I always had in mind.

I love Wood's subheading: Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work or Some Interesting Ways To Get Variety In To Those Boring Panels Where Some Dumb Writer Has A Bunch Of Lame Characters Sitting Around And Talking For Page After Page. Guilty as charged your Honour.

I quoted from Wood's other credo in Glamourpuss #6, "Never draw what you can swipe. Never swipe what you can trace. Never trace what you can photocopy. Never photocopy what you can clip out and paste down." As I said in Glamourpuss #6, I was tempted to clip the Gilbert Ortiz photo and the Sally Forth panels, just clip them right out of my copy of Vanguard Press’s Wally’s World: The Brilliant Life And Tragic Death Of Wally Wood, The World’s Second-Best Comic Book Artist by Steve Atarger and J. David Spurlock, and just paste them on to the page. Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck.
Glamourpuss #6 (2009)
Art by Dave Sim
As Wood’s long time assistant, student and collaborator Dan Atkins said in his contribution "He got the highest rate in the industry. $200 per page at MAD Magazine where he was the most popular artist. When he quit MAD Magazine and went over to Marvel Comics, Marvel's starting rate at the time were $20 per page to pencil and $15 per page to ink. Out of respect to Wally, they paid him $45 per page to pencil and ink, but not the bonus money he was looking for."

People forget how enormous a deal it was for Wally Wood to go to Marvel Comics back in 1964. Just a huge deal. How huge a deal? So huge that on the front cover of Daredevil #5, his first contribution, there was the unprecedented caption block, "Under the brilliant artistic craftsmanship of famous illustrator Wally Wood, Daredevil reaches new heights of glory!"

So the swipe / trace / photocopy / cut out and paste down credo which certainly has come to be seen that Wally Wood was this complete unrepentant hack, an assessment that has in many was also attached itself to the 22 Panel That Always Work, I think has to be viewed through a prism of context. Here’s a guy 37 years old getting paid $200 a page for his work at MAD, he quits MAD, and even getting the top rate at Marvel. He’s now only getting $45 a page. At the ripe old age of 37 he's now got to do 4 pages for every page that he used to do, just to make the same money.

It really cuts to the heart of what a comics illustrator is. Whoever you are, if you're drawing comics, you have to draw a lot of pictures and you have to do it in a very short space of time if you want to make a living at it. Period. Which means in conventional illustrators frames of reference, any one who draws comics is, by definition because of how much drawing they produce and in what space of time, a hack.

There are mitigating circumstances. Atkins mentions that when Wood was made an offer by Tower Comics "he was actually happy to take slightly less per page, $40 per page for pencil and ink, because he practically had total control. It was his show. He also made $20 a page to write and made $2 a page off of the pages he gave others to do." It seems to me the mere fact of choosing artistic control over financial compensation takes you out of the realm of being a hack... So you can call it cynical if you want, but its also a very intelligent thing to do when you’re working with assistants. You don't want them sitting and staring at the page going, "Ah. I really don't know what to do next." Here's 22 panels that always work. Keep it next to your drawing board and if you’re sitting and staring at the page going "I don't know what I’m going to do next." Pick one. Do it. And move on.

And there you have it. Wally Wood’s 22 Panel That Always Work. Now that I've finally got my own copy of it after 30 some odd years it's never going to be too far away from my drawing board.

An official Wallace Wood Estate-authorized print of 22 Panels That Always Work is currently available from Vanguard Productions for $20.


gil ortiz said...

A good rendition of my photograph, thanks for the credit line.
Best, Gilbert Ortiz

Ben Herman said...

Interesting background to this. I was not aware that Wally Wood had to take such an amazingly steep pay cut when he moved from MAD to Marvel Comics. In that light, yes, it makes sense that he would rely on "shortcuts" in order to increase his output and continue to make a decent living.

In any case, when it comes to artists using Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work as a tool or guide, I do not see any real problem. After all, many film makers have utilized the styles and camera-work of pioneers such as Hitchcock and Welles in their own films. Along those lines, it makes sense for comic book artists to draw on the storytelling devices enumerated by Wally Wood. As long as you can actually draw, possess your own talent & skill, I don't think there is anything wrong with that.