Robot 6

Mark Waid’s ‘4 Panels That Never Work’

Most comic artists are familiar with Wally Wood’s famous 22 Panels That Always Work. It’s a one-page manual explaining how to spice up panels in which people are talking or otherwise doing visually uninteresting things. That, of course, also makes it required learning for comic book writers who need to realize how hard artists have to work to make this stuff readable in a visual medium.

Not confident that writers learned the appropriate lessons from Wood’s advice, Mark Waid has partnered with Jeremy Rock to speak directly to members of his profession. Gutters has the entire lesson.



The criticisms in panels 2 and 3 are silly. Sure the jumbotron does not have speakers, and store fronts with TVs do no really exist anymore, but radiation kills you instead of giving you super powers. Super hero comics assume a bit of suspension of disbelief. Plus, how else is the villain supposed to make his announcement to the world? Send out a mass email or twitter? While probably more effective, on panel it will just appear as a boring block of text (although I will admit that Judd Winick did a good alternative at the end of Generation Lost, when Max Lord posted his announcement as an internet video).

Metal Woman

Not sure this should be labeled as “panels that never work” so much as “storytelling methods that don’t work.” It doesn’t really have anything to do with panels, so much as the information within them.

I believe that’s three panels.

Also, good thing he took this opportunity to take a shot at Geoff Johns.

Yeah yeah, I know it’s a “joke.”

“It doesn’t really have anything to do with panels, so much as the information within them.”

Right. The panels.

What about the page? Or the book? The information is within those too.

I did like the Johns swipe, as well as the fact that the characters in the panel were labeled “S&M.”

This was a pretty informative, fun little one page comic lesson. As to the last panel… Are we to assume from this that Geoff and Mark pretty much aren’t cool anymore?

Mark Waid is a child.

He’s been a child for most of his career, I’m just disappointed he still has yet to grow up. Thought this was okay till the Geoff Johns diss. I’m not Geoff fan but come on. That’s grade school level stuff right there.

There is no such thing as a panel that doesn’t work, just means who ever is doing it is not using it right. Should be called four common mistakes with panels.

Secondly panel three is not that big a deal. I do not live in New York and had no idea that the Jumbotron did not have speakers, and I can honestly say that it never bothered me. It’s a not that big a deal.

The third panel does not bother me either. Yeah sure twitter is the way most people get their information, but its just not that exciting to see a bunch of people checking twitter.

If these panels take you out of the story or hurt the art or book in anyway, then chances are the book was not that interesting to begin with. Comics are meant to be fun, a means of escape from the real world, so if the world that Superman, Spider-Man or Invincible are in, does not live up to the real world, well then it does not bother me as long as the everything else is fun.

Justice, dead on. I *am* a Johns fan, and I admit I’m probably biased.

I laughed at the whole page, but I couldn’t stop thinking “How would Waid like it if someone poked fun at his storytelling methods?”

Ultimately, Waid is everything he has always claimed to hate — John Byrne. Everything is his way or the highway. He knows what’s right, and any creator who disagrees is ruining comics.

I took the second and third panels as direct attacks on Joe Kelly for “Superman vs. The Elite,” though perhaps that’s reaching.

Take the high road once in a while, Mark.

Geoff and I are cool so far as I know. It’s a joke, and it’s nothing I’ve not given him good-natured grief about to his face in years past. (Though looking at the two stabbings just in this week’s DC comics alone, I wish I’d generalized that joke simple to “DC comic.”) I’ll make fun of my own shortcomings in the upcoming sequel, “4 More Panels That Don’t Work,” fair enough?

Also, funny that Mark wants writers to adhere to the real world so strictly when the era of comics he defends so vociferously, the Silver Age, frequently and gleefully altered reality to fit its storytelling whims.


August 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm

John Byrne? I don’t get it. Does Waid really think Byrne is a bad writer?

I apologize, Mark. I honestly thought it was an attack. Now I have egg on my face!

“I laughed at the whole page, but I couldn’t stop thinking “How would Waid like it if someone poked fun at his storytelling methods?”

Have at. I think you’ll find that I have a pretty good and self-deprecating sense of humor about my own body of work. Hell, Peyer did an entire story in the 80-PAGE ELSEWORLDS GIANT that was a send-up of Kingdom Come, and it’s one of my favorite things ever. You should check it out.

I’m sorry, but can someone explain how he’s swiping at Geoff johns?

I’ll have to check out the Peyer story. Kingdom Come seems like a pretty tough story to parody.

That just comes across as douchey and petty, frankly. The criticism from panel 2 is specially silly, considering the medium’s conventions. And given the context, who’s to say that Random Villain Guy doesn’t have the ability to “synesthesise” onlookers through the jumbotron tubes? Have some imagination, geez..


August 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm


You have to click on one of the links in the story and see the 4th panel – which is not shown above

As far as comparing this to an 80-page Elseworlds story, that’s pretty far off. The stuff above is not satire, it is a direct criticism that names names.

Pretty sure the skrulls announced their presence to the world via jumbotron in Brian Bendis Secret Invasion. So i doubt it’s anything other than a good natured rib at the competition. Lord knows you can’t say anything in this industry without starting a flame war.

Keep in mind, too, that this was done as a gag strip for a comedic webcomic…


August 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm


I don’t think you get it. Making fun of these storytelling conventions was funny, naming names took it to a different place

Wow, that’s the first Gutters I’ve ever seen that was funny. They should have him back.

Things No One In The Entire History Of The Universe Has Ever Said, #264:

“You know what one of Mark Waids big strengths as a writer is? Comedy!”

Whilst you’re here, Mark, maybe you could tell us what drew you to do work for Ryan “Least I Could Do” Sohmer? Did you perhaps feel the mainsteam comics industry just wasn’t endorsing vile, women-hating misogynist shitbags hard enough?

Okay, so…everyone hates Mark Waid. Will remember for future reference.

R.D.: If you have issues with Ryan, I’d appreciate you not trying to take them out through me. All I know is I did a favor for a guy who has been very supportive towards my digital-comics efforts. No hidden agenda to it.

Also, I’d like to point out that if it weren’t for vile, women-hating misogynist shitbags, we wouldn’t HAVE a mainstream comics industry.

Though humor is of course subjective, I’d say Waid’s penned plenty of funny characters/comics in his day. His run on Impulse was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and his Human Torch/Thing antics in FF were, to me, very funny. You’re of course welcome to disagree, but turning your disagreement into being a jerkoff is just sad.

Deleted a couple of comments that turned to name-calling and personal attacks. Keep it clean, please.

They were funny! And come on, everyone knows Johns best work is behind him! Just try reading JL!! haha… (think of how good it would be with Snyder, Lemire, Parker or David to name a few)

Look forward to the next 4!! Waid is on fire lately – Daredevil is one of Marvel’s top books – and as long as his new Hulk book is $3 – I’ll be picking that up too!! If its $4?? To bad Waid, good luck with that! ;)

I really don’t see any problem with panels 2 and 3.
Remember, these super-heroes exist on an alternate earth, not ours.
Maybe their “jumbotron” has speakers. Maybe on their earth, they still stand in front of store windows to see breaking news.

I’m not a fan of extreme realism in super-hero comics. A pro-realism critic might also wish to rant about people that fly or shoot ray-beams out of their palms. That same critic might also want to gripe about how unrealistic it is that the hero always wins, or how often their costumes get shredded without doing any real harm to the body beneath it.

Is it realistic that Dr. Doom, Red Skull, etc., have died and come back many times? Is it realistic that the Joker has not been executed yet for his crimes? That heroes never grow old (or if they do, they get rebooted to be young again)? And what about all the unrealistic liberties that artists take, like showing a burst of light when a normal gun is fired?

I could probably list about fifty more unrealistic tropes prevalent in the super-hero genre, but I have to get to work. I do want to add, though — commenting on Mark’s fourth panel — that I believe today’s ultra-violent super-hero comics are not fun to read. NOT FUN. And they no longer have any shock value, either.

Weird. I didn’t realize there was more to this than humour. Guess I’m not quite as evolved as some people.

Jack, don’t feel bad. Neither did I.

It’s weird to me that people are mistaking a desire for relatablity for 100% realism in comics. That’s not what the comic is saying at all. Think of it like this: you wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if a character went grocery shopping and a loaf of bread cost $100, or if people were driving horse & buggy carriages down 8th Ave instead of taxi cabs? With no explanation whatsoever? Like, it’s not part of a supervillain plot to turn reality topsy-turvy or anything, that’s just how the writer and artist apparently think the modern world operates. That wouldn’t pull you out of the story?


August 10, 2012 at 11:05 am

I agree Chris. The use of the “TVs in store windows” for example, is just a silly convention, and lazy storytelling. So the strip above is not insisting on 100% realism, it’s just pointing out dumb tropes, and lazy things that writers do, perhaps unwittingly, at times

Mark Waid Rules :)

I always thought the jumbotron thing was stupid. Give ‘em hell, Mark!

Speaking of hell, perhaps in the sequel you can take yourself to task for having Doctor Doom fillet his childhood sweetheart.

NO! You can’t make jokes about fan-favorite writers. Remember, comics are serious business! ;)


August 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm

You guys are such hypocrites. If JMS had pulled a douche-y stunt like that, and taken shots at fellow creators, you would be verbally running him up a pole


You might be right. I think it depends on what they’re saying and the tone in which they say it, but who’s saying it and who they’re saying it about may also be factors.

In this case, Waid says it’s all in good fun and that he’s given Johns a ribbing for it in person, and I have no reason not to believe him, so I don’t think it’s a big deal. But I can see someone getting miffed if the target was their favorite creator, especially if they didn’t care for the creator making the criticism. I mean, if Bendis or Loeb was talking trash on Straczynski or Brubaker, my head would probably explode.

Dude, it’s criticism of a storytelling technique, not personal swiping.
Waid writes that they’re friends. No one got hurt. No douches were involved. It’s like people were writing some time ago that Snyder is always starting his comics with a father telling his son some metaphorical story, or Alan Moore having rape in every series he writes. And Johns likes his gore. Geoff Johns knows it, Mark Waid knows it, we know it.

>> Things No One In The Entire History Of The Universe Has Ever Said, #264: “You know what one of Mark Waids big strengths as a writer is? Comedy!” >>

I’ve said that. Back at DC, Mark wrote some absolutely hysterical backup stories that I thought made him the ideal guy to write a SEINFELD or DREW CAREY comic.

I’ve also written a panel where people stood outside an electronics store to get the news from the TVs, but it was set in the 1940s. And when I had a big event happening on the jumbotron, I had the audio coming from people following the news on smartphones.

And if naming names when criticizing something makes the critic a child, what does that say about comics readers? Or is this another of those “I can call Dan Slott a poopie-head but comics pros aren’t allowed to do anything but promote things even while we complain that they don’t share their actual opinions with us” things?



August 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Come on Kurt. Criticizing your piers publicly and fans whining about comics and creators are 2 far different things

When Twain ripped Fennimore Cooper a new one – I guarantee both men knew the stakes, and did not backpeddle later. You know before you print something like that what you are doing

And it bears repeating, if someone like Jim Shooter pulled this, folks would be gnashing their teeth and bringing out the pitch folks

Also, I see Mark hedged on Johns. Are we to assume John Byrne is happy with the pot shots too

You should listen to Mark Waid, he’s a cool guy. He’s trying to help you out. /hansel

>> Come on Kurt. Criticizing your piers publicly and fans whining about comics and creators are 2 far different things.>>

Maybe, but they’re both just fine. The New York Times hires working authors to write reviews of other working authors, for instance. Both fans and pros are allowed to criticize anything they choose to.

And it’s your assumption, apparently, that Mark was making a vicious critique of Geoff, so that Mark saying that he was making a good-natured joke — in a humor feature?! Jokes?! — is somehow backpedalling. Knowing both Mark and Geoff, I figure no one’s feuding with anyone.

And Jim Shooter regularly critiques other pros in his blog. Go figure.

This idea that if Mark makes a joke about Geoff, all commentary must be jokes is kind of absurd, isn’t it? You’re postulating that comics creators don’t dare critique one another, declaring that Mark was out for blood and retracted, and that anything he ever said about anyone must therefore be subject to the same process, but those are all your assumptions, and all you have to do to explode any logic in it is to not make those assumptions. Comics pros aren’t and don’t need to be bound by rules that dopey, just like Stephen King is fully capable of saying TWILIGHT is poorly written without anyone getting their bloomers in a swivet.

This whole idea that anything a comics pro says is both deadly serious and cannot contain criticism is dumb. It’s a weird message-board trope that doesn’t make any sense.

“You guys are such hypocrites. If JMS had pulled a douche-y stunt like that, and taken shots at fellow creators, you would be verbally running him up a pole”

Yeah, but JMS would have only written 3 of the 4 panels and then he would have quit.

Wow. This joke has really gotten out of hand.

Personally, I felt this page succeeded where all the other previous “Gutters” strips fail, and that was to tell a joke. To clarify, I always felt that the “Gutters” told snarky statements that were rarely humorous than a well told joke (like in Comic Critics). This page is the first time that I laugh-out-loud from a Gutters. Furthermore, this is a very inventive comic as the usual pattern for a gag strip is to build up to the final punchline panel; here Mark Waid uses each panel to successfully build up a observational joke that ends with a funny punchline.

As for the accusation that “he hates Geoff John”, I sensed no hatred to the man personally, nor a hatred for his storytelling. Rather I sensed a jab of how he overuses this violent cliché. Now if he was mocking Scott Snyder’s usage of impalements…I would still laugh because Snyder himself remarked in Bleeding Cool’s Swipe File article that he loved his impalements. This was not meant to be a personal vendetta, it was just meant to be critical joke on overused clichés, and pretty funny one considering the website it originated from.

I’m a big fan of Mark Waid, but frankly, I didn’t know this 4-panel thing was intended as a joke. How can you tell? This is what passes for humor these days? I thought it was a serious critique. Wally Wood’s 22 panels was not a joke.

Wow, this is funnier reading some of the comments. I don’t agree with Waid 100% or anyone else, but Waid has never been anything other then an advocate for comics and trying to push comics into the next generation. Humor, especially sarcasm is always laced with a some truth. Mark will ultimately go down as one the better creators we have ever had and he is a hell of an editor as his help in righting BOOM shows.

Jake – It’s a serious critique which uses the very things it criticizes to point out their inherent folly. Which may not be laugh-out-loud humor, but it’s the very definition of satire.

As to the Byrne “pot shot”, I thought it was clrearly aimed at those that followed. Byrne was wordy, which was misappropriated by others as long-windedness.

Sigh. Some fans only want certain pros to have the same opinions they do. Weird.

A related note, a fan of Aaron Sorkin compiled all of Sorkin’s re-used dialogue bits in this brilliantly edited piece:

But “Sorkinisms” isn’t supposed to be damning (or creepy), says its creator; instead, it’s “a tribute to the work of Aaron Sorkin: the recycled dialogue, recurring phrases, and familiar plot lines.”

Sorkin himself was amused by the video.

So, everyone, please calm down!

Also: The “4 Panels” piece was brilliant! I’m waiting for the other 18 that never work….

This got posted on John Byrne’s website yesterday. The original poster seemed to like it. The next few people just insulted Mark Waid and then it “mysteriously” just disappeared as if it was never posted. John must be mellowing. He normally lets them insult people he dislikes for a few pages before he deletes it.


August 11, 2012 at 9:56 am


First you compare someone criticizing a pier of theirs to fanboys criticizing on the Internet. Now you’re comparing it to critics who get paid to be critics

Some weird analogies

Also notice you’re still ignoring my question about Byrne, and fixating on Johns

First off, I didn’t “hedge.” You’re just looking for a level of vitriol that isn’t there. As I said earlier, though, my one regret is not just generalizing it to “DC”–but all that would have done was have bloodthirsty fans accusing me of picking a fight with DC/Didio/Lee/DC editorial/all DC writers and artists/anyone who buys DC, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Secondly, the first gag wasn’t a “pot shot” at John Byrne (or Don McGregor, who NO ONE bothered to defend, btw)–John’s done some brilliant work in his career, but we all (including myself, PLEN-T of times) fumble the ball now and again, and that first panel was a specific callback to a specific infamous Byrne moment–Superman (v2) #2, page 14 (oh, would that I could embed images!), the last panel of which wasn’t anyone’s finest moment but which has nonetheless been unintentionally aped many a time since by those who’ve learned the “wrong” lesson (as opposed to the many right lessons one can learn from Byrne, including clarity of storytelling and work ethic).

Finally, I have no piers, but that’s only because I don’t own a boat.

Can we let this lie now? I mean, it’s not as if I’m not liable to say five more equally inflammatory things in the weeks to come.

Henry Benton Jr

August 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I wouldn’t really think of the jab at Johns to really be anything mean spirited behind it. I mean, I remember a panel at a con where most of the creators on the panel were teasing Johns about killing off characters.
But I can see people not wanting to read his books because of that among similar things, for example I’ve stopped reading many of Bendis’ stuff for the amount of women killed in his comics and Millar’s comics for what seems like relying on rape a little too often.

Johns IS an overestimated writer – period.

Having read everything and had time to digest it all, I’d like to once again apologize to Mark. I AM hedging on my initial criticism, because I severely overreacted like a typical fanboy at a perceived slight of my favorite comics writer.

The behind-the-back impalement IS an overused panel in comics, and this Gutters succeeds where most have failed by being (as I mentioned initially) genuinely funny.

Basically, I agree with J.Hannan.

I also want to point out that Busiek raised a great point — creators have every right to criticize comics as fans.

Hello! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new apple iphone!
Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts!
Carry on the superb work!

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