Writer. Creator. Large mammal.

Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 6

Storytelling Lecture Series, Part 17 (Edited from the transcript of a 1994 seminar)

JayJay here. The blog service has been down and I have a few things that Jim wants me to post so I will be putting up several extra articles later today and tomorrow. Check back!

Page Eight.

Panel one.

Action, a full figure.

Panel two.

Here’s the first time in the book where Kirby does not open with the establishing shot. He opens with a close up. This is a cinematic technique called “pull back to reveal.” He starts off real close. He still gives you little hints and details that tell you you’re on a rooftop. But look at this. With half the guy’s head and part of his hand you know he’s skulking on a rooftop. 

Panel three.

Kirby pulls back to reveal that Cap’s way up here, above the city. Crossing a wire.

When little Jimmy read this in a barber’s chair back when I was 11 years old I said, “Wow, cool! He’s going to fall!”

Panel four.

No he’s not, he’s going to jump! Whoa! 

I remembered those two panels, even after not having seen them for decades. I used to tell people, artists, writers, about those two panels. I used to tell people, “You know there’s this Kirby book and there are these two cool panels.” Marvel Comics reprinted this story in 1977.  We reprinted it and I said, “Yeah, here it is!”

Now wait a minute, last page I said, “Hey, Kirby didn’t want to repeat the same thing so he changed up.” Well, look at this. Here are two panels with two silhouette figures the same size in panels side by side.

Joe Orlando at DC Comics would probably have flapped his arms, screamed and pulled all his hair out. He doesn’t have that much anyway. Two similar panels side by side?! It’s not like the Ric Estrada page! But EVERY page MUST be like the Ric Estrada page! Has to be that way. Two similar panels would be “bad page design.”

Nonsense. We’re telling a story. Here’s the point. Kirby wouldn’t ordinarily do two panels of similar depth side by side, but THIS, panel three, was the best panel he could think of for a man crossing a tightrope, and THIS, panel four, was the best panel he could think of for a man jumping off, and that’s the priority—telling the story.

“Page design” is priority #14, or #36, or whatever you want, but #1 is telling the story. Don’t let ANYTHING compromise the story. Like I told you, there are guys who get away with it, putting other things before storytelling. 

I can hear you thinking, “Hey I know of a guy who makes a million bucks a year who doesn’t tell a story.” Fine. No one can teach you that, being glitzy enough so that people buy your stuff even though it’s vapid. Glitzy and glamorous, a series of pin-up shots that convey little, the flavor of the month succeeds once in a while. That’s luck. That’s a fad.

Do what I’m telling you and learn to draw, and you will always have work. For at least forty thousand years, good storytellers have made a living.

Panel five.

Action happens, full figure on Cap. This is interesting. The action takes place outside the jail cell, but he’s got to show these guys, the criminals, close enough up so we can recognize them as the robbers and see them react. He gets it done.



Storytelling Lecture, Strange Tales Part 5


Lettering and Balloon Placement Memo


  1. There is a real good interview with John Romita as a bonus feature on the Daredevil Movie DVD (I think!) where he talk about Kirby's storytelling and how Stan Lee wanted the panel action to flow from one to the next. Kirby was excellent at putting action in his panels. I seem to recall having read that Kirby had a short lived background in drawing animation either early in his career or before he started drawing comics. Sadly, I've forgotten a lot of stuff I've known about comics. I tend to compress what I remember and purge information I don't think I'll ever need. If I'm wrong, someone can correct me.

  2. About panels 2 and 3, The fact that they are the same size makes sense from the fact that it is (using McCloud terminology) an action to action sequence. when you put two panels next to each other that are so similar, the little details that make them different stand out. In this case it's that in one panel he is on the rope and the next he is jumping. I can remember a Cerebus where the whole issue was told with the same picture of Cerebus drinking. Every detail was the same with the exception of the amount of wine in the bottle. I thought it was very effective way to show Cerebus stewing in his misery. If you repeat enough, you can actually create a lot of tension and anticipation in the viewer who is getting more anxious with every panel for that something different that they assume will come.

  3. Dear Jim,

    If I were arguing with some DC editor about the two silhouette panels, I'd tell him that the panels pretty much obey the edict (not that I agree with it), because they're shot from different angles and Cap is moving in different directions. So Cap is the same size in both panels and the same distance from the reader's POV? Fine with me.

    By coincidence, last night I was reading your Time Trapper story in SUPERBOY #223 which had nearly identical panels. Didn't bug me at all because the whole point was to show that Legionnaires were taking each other's place in battle. If that was good enough for Murray Boltinoff, it's good enough for me.

    I was also flipping through your 60s Legion stories, looking for tilted horizons. Found some by Curt Swan (as you noted yesterday) and Win Mortimer. I confess that the tilting didn't bug me while I was reading those stories during the past couple of years. But then I looked up and noticed the horizon wasn't ever tilted in an anime show playing in the background. Your point from Wednesday's blog hit home. Cameron, Spielberg, and Lucas aren't the only ones who generally keep their cameras untilted. Good storytelling practices transcend borders.

  4. Hi guys, just wanted to tell you, looks like you are missing the blog from yesterday, 5/12. I guess it got deleted while the site was down :/ Anyway, really enjoying the storytelling series, Jim. Thank you!

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