A Novel-Length Epic!

The value of storytelling in Essential Spider-Man Volumes One and Two.

This was a tagline used in silver age comic books to promote an issue that had one continuous story rather than multiple shorter stories in an issue. It was also a promise of story value in exchange for your hard dime and two pennies.  Because, no, of course twenty pages isn’t novel length in page count but rather in terms of density of incident in the story. The reader is going to get ALOT of story. This is the pledge of the publisher! These comics are crammed not with just plot but incident. Things are always happening. The narrative is propulsive, every panel packed with information and pushing you forward into the next panel to learn more, to every page to get the next bit.  And when it got down to action you understood every bit of that fight. Look here from The Amazing Spider-Man #10:

The mind must create movement, motion, and propulsion from panel to panel. It is the artists job to make that happen with as little as possible. These days the standard comic page is 3-4 usually widescreen panels delivering static images, very little geography or locality, and then a splash page to show action rather than to punctuate the immensity of action. In this rigid six-panel grid artist Steve Ditko utilizes full and mostly uncropped figures in each panel. The first shot establishes that Spider-Man is fighting in a warehouse or a garage of some sort, a place where the gangsters he is fighting would be thought to congregate. He lands on the stuff the Big Man is squirting on the floor in the first panel and in the second panel uses it to propel himself into a group of gangsters continuing the forward motion of his landing.  Continuing that same momentum he slides into another group of gangsters and grabs onto a chain dangling from the ceiling.  The background has dropped out at this point to emphasize action but because the first panel established location and Ditko’s momentum has been unabated we know where we are and how we got here and why there would be a chain dangling from the ceiling.  Spider-Man flips using the chain as a ballast using his legs to provide momentum for the flip. In the panel before he was sliding on the heels of his feet leaning back meaning that’s where his gravity was centered and so it makes sense physically that the flip would look the way it does.  The rotation of the flip continues into the next panel and Spider-Man is landing the way a person who could perform such an acrobatic feet would land because even though he has spider-powers physics still mostly apply to him. It is landing in this way that allows Fancy Dan a chance to get a hit in and then to flip him because he is off-balance from being caught in mid-land.  We believe he can do this because as he informs us by way of bragging, he is a judo-master.  And from these six vertically stacked panels we get one clean and fluid motion that performs lots of tricks, leads the eye, and makes physical sense.

This is a page from an issue of Batman: The Dark Knight from this past year:

I think I’ve given you the tools to see why this isn’t as good.

-Daniel Von Egidy, 2012




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