Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work

It’s been interesting to see the explosion of blog entries about Joel Johnson’s buying of Wally Wood’s 22 Panels that always work. One part of me is a bit dismayed at the news, since a few months ago I actually contacted the seller contemplating buying it myself. I’m extremely greatful that with his new buy Mr. Johnson has made high resolution files available to the rest of us to share in this piece of history.

Theoretically 22 Panels… is an intriguing aspect of comics in America, because it gives a consistent panel sized unit that is (possibly) repeated in multiple books. Repetition (i.e. conventionality) of this sort is of course a hallmark of language. Like Mark Evanier I’d love to see a study probing just how widespread the use of these panels has become.

My own guess is that these compositions have become extremely widespread across authors, largely without them even referring to the 22 Panels… worksheet. That is, I think that some of these panels have become so common in usage that people imitate them without thinking about it, as they have just become a consistent part of the mental visual vocabulary. (As with all issues like this, if any enterprising students out there want to do a study on this, I’d be happy to advise and publish their piece!)

What’s also been interesting about reading the various blog posts on this topic is seeing the teetering balance of the Art vs. Language viewpoints. You can really tell the tension between those who have no problem with using the repetition of these panels (Language) and those who scoff at how unoriginal and un-innovative using them would be (Art).


  • Hah, I was just about to post about visual clichés, but was beat to the punch. I posted those panels over my art board to be more aware of when I was using them. After a closer look I realized it was often. I think for most amateur comic creators, we’d be illadvised to follow the advice that copying is key. We need to strive to develop our ultimate voice as artists, and that can only be achieved through constant experimentation. If we fall into the traps of copy/paste, we’ll create the visual equivilant of a monotone comic(?). Or something.

    By the way, I’ve been working through your book Neil – it’s not an easy read, but I’ve finally started to grasp some larger points that I was missing before. Thanks for your constant research.

  • Thanks fabricari! I promise the newer stuff will keep getting more and more easy to read.

    I would say that the 22 Panels… aren’t quite the level of idioms or clichés, because those require an internalized syntax. Polymorphic panels are closer to this, though they aren’t routinized. These single panels are closer to a “word” level in terms of how they unitize information.

    The difference is that these panels are systematized, whereas most panels aren’t. Most panels are built creatively from smaller parts, but don’t become consistently repeated.

    Imagine a language where it is built of smaller parts of roots and affixes, but when those combine they form nouns and verbs but aren’t consistently formed “words” (this is the way West Greenandic or Turkish are). That would be the way normal panels are built, as opposed to the 22 Panels which provide consistent forms, more like English.

    (See the A Visual Lexicon paper for discussion of this stuff. I’m actually revising that paper for a journal, maybe I should add in WW22panels…)

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