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Alan Moore: Horrible, tatty book, but what this has got in it is lots of crappy little drawings that are indecipherable to anybody else but me, but which are basically all I need for anything re: writing comics. They will give me a breakdown… they’ll just be sort of these pages—these are bits of Promethea—I will break down the page area into a number of panels. Now, I’ve got a simple, mathematical mindless formula that I follow that is—I mean if you look at these little bits of dialogue that go in each of the panels you’ll see that they have little numbers written after each of the lines and what this is is the number of words.

Now, this is basically something that I took from Mort Weisinger, who was the harshest and most brutal—

Daniel Whiston: DC editor?

AM: —of the DC editors during the ’60s.

DW: Bit of a tyrant from what I hear.

AM: Oh Christ, he was a monster, I remember Julie Schwartz telling me—who was a lovely man—he told me about Mort Weisinger’s funeral—and this was probably just an old Jewish joke that he’d adapted—for Mort Weisinger—but he said that apparently during Jewish funerals there’s a part where people can stand up and spontaneously will say a few words about the departed—personal tributes, things like that. So it’s Mort Weisinger’s funeral, and it gets to this bit in the funeral and there’s absolute dead silence, and the silence just goes on and on and on and nobody gets up and says anything and eventually this guy at the back of the synagogue gets up and says: “His brother was worse!” [Laughter.]

But anyway, Mort Weisinger, because he was the toughest of the editors, I thought: “All right, I’ll take his standard as the strictest.” What he said was: if you’ve got 6 panels on a page, then the maximum number of words that you should have in each panel, is 35. No more. That’s the maximum. 35 words per panel. Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it’s gonna look too big. 25 words is the absolute maximum for balloon size. Right, once you’ve taken on board those two simple rules, laying out comics pages—it gives you somewhere to start—you sort of know: “OK, so 6 panels, 35 words a panel, that means about 210 words per page maximum.”

DW: And if you’ve got one panel you’d have 210…

AM: ...and if you’ve got 2 panels you’d have 105 each. If you’ve got 9 panels it’s about 23 – 24 words—that’ll be about the right balance of words and pictures. So that is why I obsessively count all the words, to make sure that I’m not gonna overwhelm the pictures, that I’m not gonna make—oh, I’ve seen some terrible comic writing where the balloons are huge, cover the entire of the background—

  1. GreyDuck    Feb 5, 07:36 AM    #
    And then you have the mangaka who occasionally do without the balloon. Mind you, those are usually during the lighter moments, silly little side comments by chibi-style background characters.

    What this has to do with your post is anyone's guess, but there you have it.

  2. --k.    Feb 5, 08:49 AM    #
    Those little chibi-ish asides can be overdone (like anything else), but I like 'em in small, considered doses. Adds a dash of sotto voce to comics.

  3. matt    Feb 11, 07:22 AM    #
    So, fine, there's a rule. A guideline. I've seen similar from otheres. So, has anybody in comics ever do a good job breaking it? I feel like there should be someone who just bashes this rule into 210 pieces on a regular basis.

  4. --k.    Feb 11, 07:41 AM    #
    I dunno about regular basis, but Dave Sim certainly flaunted it with impunity. First that comes to mind, anyways.

    Bendis, also. But with less success.

  5. Vinnie    Mar 20, 01:10 PM    #

    Herge would sometimes run roughshod over that rule when it struck his fancy.

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