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Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work: Unlimited Edition


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.

A few months ago my friend Felipe Li showed me yet another copy of "22 Panels," offhandedly mentioning that the original paste-up was for sale at Gotham City Art, with the dubious price of "Make Offer." The listing for the piece, now removed, read as follows:

Ask any working comic book artist who has been in the business for more than ten years about "Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work", and they know of it like it was the bible. Google "Wally Wood" and "22 panels", and you get over 150 hits. It is with great pleasure that GothamCityArt.com brings this historic piece to market. Once shrouded in secrecy, Wally Wood would selectively give assistants and those close to him three 8x10 photocopies of comic panels that bore the absolute essence of drawing comic book panels. 22 images in total, they held the secret to a comic book illustrator's success, and those who learned from them benefited from the master's wisdom. The panels were gold, but were not packaged in such a way that was easily disseminated.

Years later as an Editor at Marvel, Wood's former assistant, Larry Hama, needed a tool to give direction to his would-be artists. He had two copies of the three sheets. With the help of another ex-assistant of Wally Wood's (whom he recalls may have been Paul Kirchner), Hama reassembled the "Tri-Force" of Wally Wood sheets. On the back of a Marvel art Bristol board, Hama wrote the now-famous caption "Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work", and had Robbie Carosella and Elliot Brown stat down the sheets. He ran off 50 copies from the board, and handed them out to potential pencilers. Pretty soon, other editors were sending pencilers and even some old pros down the hall to get copies from him. Eventually, he had more master copies statted and gave them to other editors so they could make their own copies to pass out. The original paste-up, with Hama's original hand-lettering, was eventually tucked into an envelope and put in the back of a flatfile, where it stayed for more than a decade. Second, third, fourth, tenth and twentieth generation copies continue to be made and handed down. The artwork pictured here is the original pasteup, as well as the three 8x10 copies that were statted down to make the board. Some of the panels, which were lost through use, were restated to the original board over the years.

I made what I considered to be a low bid and it was accepted. It is now my pleasure to offer these relatively high-resolution versions of "Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work" in "Unlimited Edition," scanned in from the original paste-up. The widescreen versions include the whole of the paste board, including a serendipitously open area on the left hand side of the image that makes them practical to use as desktops for your computer, despite the otherwise busy background of the rest of the piece. My scanner is not large enough to scan the entire paste board at once, so I have tried to make a reasonable effort to stitch together four separate scans, although I did not go to any great length to remove all trace of seams.

There is also a 4:3 black-and-white version, tweaked to provide a 1600 by 1200 pixel duotone that emulates the previous versions available on the internet, albeit with greater fidelity.

While I did not leave any watermark or URL on the specific image files, I would ask that you refrain from using the images for any commercial purposes without my permission. Otherwise, please disseminate as freely as you like. Part of the reason I bought the piece was to ensure that it remained available to any artists who might find it inspiring or useful.

Larry Hama, who pasted together the piece and did the lettering, was kind enough to respond to an email I had sent him after purchasing the piece. Note especially his suggestion that Wood created this piece not for others, but as a reminder to himself to not become bogged down in unproductive eddies. Hama's correspondence follows:

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."

When I was starting out as an editor at Marvel, I found myself in the position of having to coach fledgling artists on the basics of visual storytelling, and it occurred to me that the reminder sheets would help in that regard, but three eight-by-ten pieces of paper were a bit unwieldy, so I had Robby Carosella, the Marvel photostat guy at the time, make me re-sized copies of all the panels so I could fit them all on one sheet. I over-compensated for the half-inch on the height (letter paper is actually 8 1/2 by 11) so the main body of images once pasted up came a little short. I compensated for that by hand lettering the title.

Original Scan, 2560 x 1600 pixels
Original Scan, 1920 x 1200 pixels
Original Scan, 1680 x 1050 pixels
Original Scan, 1440 x 900 pixels
Original Scan, 1280 x 800 pixels

4:3 Black and White "Clean" Scan, 1600 x 1200 pixels


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