Reader Joel Johnson has done a huge service to comics by purchasing and making high res scans of Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work an elegantly simple primer to basic storytelling that has existed in the internet age as a small, bad scan.
I’d seen “Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work” around the net here and there for several years, always as a low-resolution scan of a copy that was clearly the product of dozens of generations of photocopies. As a comics fan and occasional artist who absorbed what little drawing skill I have by copying and tracing comics when I was a teenager, I found the juxtaposition in Wood’s piece telling. Here was a working artist distilling his craft into 22 panels that could be used to teleport across the occasional creative wasteland, yet each example was dashed off with effortless skill. I live by very few maxims, but there’s at least one I’ve found useful: Fake it ’til you make it. In Wood’s piece I could see an artist who had clearly made it but hadn’t forgotten the practicality of the occasional shortcut.
In the blog posting, Johnson reveals the history of the famed piece, including writer/editor Larry Hama’s account of its creation: :
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.”
It’s a fabulous context for one of the most famous pieces of visual advice in comics history.