Robot 6

Mike Oeming’s homage to Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work

You wouldn’t think it, but comics are a relatively new art form. Sure, people have used drawings to tell stories as far back as the caveman era, but comics as a realized art form are just over a 100 years old. Creators have frequently been flying by the seat of their pants to understand (and work successfully in) comics, with many of them learning for themselves as comics-specific classes are still relatively rare. As a guide to help artists avoid common mistakes, writer/artist/editor Larry Hama assembled what would become a key part of any creator’s toolkit: Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work.

After the original has been photocopied, faxed and passed around for more than three decades, artist Michael Avon Oeming has created an homage/update to that seminal reference using characters from his and Brian Michael Bendis’ Powers comic. Take a look:

The history of 22 Panels That Always Work is an interesting one, and thankfully technology writer Joel Johnson has compiled the entire story in a post describing its origin and how he ended up buying the original collage Hama created. Johnson has posted high-resolution scans of the original, as well as asking Hama himself to describe how the original came to be. Here’s what Hama told Johnson:

I worked for Wally Wood as his assistant in the early ’70s, mostly on the Sally Forth and Cannon strips he did for the Overseas Weekly. I lettered the strips, ruled borders, swipe-o-graphed reference, penciled backgrounds and did all the other regular stuff as well as alternating with Woody on scripting Cannon and Sally Forth.

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.”

When I was starting out as an editor at Marvel, I found myself in the position of having to coach fledgling artists on the basics of visual storytelling, and it occurred to me that the reminder sheets would help in that regard, but three eight-by-ten pieces of paper were a bit unwieldy, so I had Robby Carosella, the Marvel photostat guy at the time, make me re-sized copies of all the panels so I could fit them all on one sheet. I over-compensated for the half-inch on the height (letter paper is actually 8 1/2 by 11) so the main body of images once pasted up came a little short. I compensated for that by hand lettering the title.

And a scan of the original provided by Johnson:

Wally Wood Panels That Always Work is © 1980 & 2012 Wallace Wood Properties, LLC



i have been trying to figure out panel 15 (last panel row 2) for years. Wth does that mean????

Oh god, there’s great irony in the description over Wood’s 22 panels – about “a bunch of lame characters sitting around talking”, and then a work of Bendis as the other example

@horsey, it says “contrast”. I think in this case, it’s more an example of a specific way to render a panel than to compose one.

I don’t think it works as well without the word balloon explanations describing why the panels work.

Oeming’s motivation that parts are barely readable from excessive real-world copying seems strange. There are high res copies online all over the place.

@Scratchie Row 2, not Row 3.

i have been trying to figure out panel 15 (last panel row 2) for years. Wth does that mean????

Daigr. Eye Level. If not for the R, I’d say it was supposed to be “diagonal” eye level…

Imagine it would be fun to see “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work” sketchbook drawn by various artists.

What do you think?

Mike Oeming, well, done!


I’d like to see more examples of this. I’m sure there are way more than 22 out there. I bet if you look at people like Kirby and Romita you could find some other examples like these.


Daigr. Eye Level means Diagram Eye Level.

When an artist has something potentially confusing and wants something to be clear to reader they draw it at eye level or parallel to the picture plane.

It’s not dramatic by any means, but the story is told clearly, hence the term “diagram”.

Wally Wood Panels That Always Work is © 1980 & 2012 Wallace Wood Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Playing now on http://www.Cerebus.TV an episode spotlighting “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work”

Howard Simpson,

Yes, “Diagr.” means diagram.

“Silh” means Silhouttee.

“Ben Day” the the term involving a process for adding shaded or tinted areas made up for reproducation by line engraving. Ben Day was something Wally Wood was very famous for used it, you know the outer space backgrounds, explosive patterns, etc.

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