Mark’s Remarks – Avengers #275 (January 1987)

On the letters pages of some of the other titles I edit I’ve been talking about some of the things that writers do (in stories I don’t edit,of course) that hampers my reading enjoyment. What it boiled down to were decisions on the writer’s part to be tricky instead of clear. This time around I want to talk about what artists do (in titles that I don’t edit) that hampers my enjoyment of their stories. It also boils down to decisions on the artist’s part to be tricky instead of clear.

In no particular order, here are some things artists can do to make the reader scratch his or her head and say, “Huh?” What’s going on here? What did I miss?”

  1. Drawing a scene in such great close-up that you’ve got to look and look and look to figure out what you’re looking at.
  2. Drawing a scene with such a long shot that you can’t tell what it is that you should be focusing on or notice.
  3. Drawing a panel at such a weird angle that it’s hard to figure out what anything is.
  4. Drawing a panel with such a weird panel shape that the shape of the panel calls more attention to itself than what’s drawn inside it.
  5. Arranging panels in such a way that it is unclear what order to read them.
  6. Overlapping panels in such a way as to call attention to the two-dimensionality of the picture surface.
  7. Forgetting to add gutters (the thin white spaces) between panels, making the whole page run together in a patchwork quilt design.
  8. Never drawing establishing shots so we see the environment we’re peeking into, know the spatial relationships between people and objects, and observe size relationships with that space.
  9. Just plain drawing something so badly that no one can tell what it is.

If hard pressed, I could probably come up with some more,  but the above nine constitute for me the Nine Principles of Bad Storytelling. (I ought to know – back when I was an aspiring artist, I used to practice all nine of them religiously.) One last thing about the art of telling a story in pictures ever notice that the really great storytellers manage to put cause and effect in the same panel? Why? Because that maximizes the amount of information. If we see a man shooting a gun in one panel, and in the next we see someone getting shot, we have no idea of spatial relationship between the gunman and the victim. If the cause (gun going off) and effect (someone getting shot) is in the same panel, we now also know if the target was three feet away, thirty, or three hundred. In telling a good story, that makes a difference.

–Mark Gruenwald­­

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