Skip to main content

16 Panels That I Don't Think Work All That Well

16 Panels That I Don't Think Work All That Well by Jon Morris

Re: 16 Panels That I Don't Think Work All That Well

Max Vaehling's picture

Damn, why didn't I notice this earlier?

A lot of good stuff there, not so much on the these-pictures-are-stupid scale but on the this-has-been-done-a-lot field. Gotta agree with GiantPanda, though. I've used #1 a lot myself, for several good reasons.

One, still pistures of people with their mouths open tend to look stupid.

Then, sometimes there are two or more people talking in one panel. If they all have their mouths open, it will look as if they're talking at the same time.

Most importantly, though: The purpose of the panel isn't to show that someone is talking. The speech balloon covers that. The image should deliver emotional information on how the speech is delivered, and sometimes an open mouth just gives the wrong impression. Related to that, the image can focus on an entirely different action (like the Ridiculous Fight Scene mentioned in the comments). The image doesn't follow the text or mark the moment when the text is being said. The image stands for itself, and the text illuminates an aspect of it.

Life in Hell

Wow just about every one of those were Matt Groening's bread and butter in that series!

I love this list not because

Neil Cohn's picture

I love this list not because of its judgments about people's usage, but because it identifies so many great patterns in the way people create panels. I wish more people would make lists of conventional patterns like this. I don't want to bogart your comments section, but if anyone's interested, I've written up a bit more about this article over at my blog. ------- Studying the Visual Language of "Comics" -

------- Studying the Visual Language of "Comics" -

Interesting thoughts

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

That's an interesting angle on Jon's comic. Folks jumping over to Neil's post unfamiliar with his previous writing might want to read through some of his Comics Theory 101 columns here at Comixpedia to understand better Neil's terms "visual language" and "art perspective".


Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

8 my nemesis

Danny Way's picture

I think 8, when used well can convey a sense of awkwardness, however, I certainly use it quite a bit mainly due to laziness.

haha, awesome. I'm a

Erik Melander's picture

haha, awesome. I'm a frequent offender of several. Nr 1, 2, 9, 10 and especially nr 13 (feet in perspective *brrrrrr!*). The only one I don't agree with is nr 1. I actually prefer talking heads with their mouth closed for most types of art unless there is a particular expression that is needed. For four through eight I think it's ok to not redraw backgrounds for every panel.

Vir Bonus

I'll cede photostatting the

CalamityJon's picture

I'll cede photostatting the backgrounds, but oh lord how I hate the photostatted foreground figure ...

OMG, I am guilty of so many

WillieHewes's picture

OMG, I am guilty of so many of those... *cries* I phail!

Thanks Jon, that's really good. This is going up on the wall next to Wally's.

Comics by a girl who likes sad things (but sometimes they are funny) -

Comics by a girl who likes sad things (but sometimes they are funny) -

It's not about the's who uses them

sxilverdragonclaws's picture

I think these panels actually work pretty well in an organized comic strip. Yes, they can be overused (and they sure are), but these are the basic structures that show emotion and depth, where the 2D art can only fo so far. If anyone's ever studied theater or film making, the same basic shots are used over and over again in every film, but it's HOW and HOW MUCH they're used that makes the difference between something being redundant or being new and interesting.

The same thing with webcomics. The problem is not useing them, but how and how much they're used.
...except the "Bad guy standing over the arterial spray". Yeah, I agree, that's got to go...

Re: It's not about the's who uses them

Pear-pear's picture

I'll riff off of what sxilverdragonclaws is saying here. Yes, a lot of these "don't work" because they're overused, not because they are inherently bad artistic choices. Wood's panels are certainly super-conventionalized, and that's what seems to motivate your placement of some of these panels on the naughty list.

Some of them (the photostatting examples) are annoying because they are lazy. But on the other hand, if cartooning is a visual language, and the idea is to communicate, not really to impress with how detailed and varied your crowd scene is, a crowd of all the same guy communicates "crowd" pretty efficiently. Right?

Can Emerson's comment on how a poets' job is to "restore the edges" of words (i'm misquoting probably) be applied to comix artists? Is our job to restore the edge of the panel?


Lipstick on a pig

What I don't get, is making a good strip, out of every bad strip. I like the color... but I don't understand TCampbells enthusiasm. This strip reminds me of why I hate Garfield actually.

look at it as a list and not

look at it as a list and not a strip.

<a xhref="" target=blank>Kiwis by beat!</a>


Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I'm not getting what you're talking about - Are you saying Jon's comic above reminds you of Garfield?


Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

"Are you saying Jon's comic

"Are you saying Jon's comic above reminds you of Garfield?"

Only when I try to think of an example of where one of Jon's example is overused, Garfield comes to mind almost every time. I think Garfield sucked.

I'd find that to be utterly

CalamityJon's picture

I'd find that to be utterly heartbreaking, as I was trying for more of a "Heathcliff" feel.

I got more of a Marmaduke

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I got more of a Marmaduke vibe myself :)


Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

I really don't see a problem

I really don't see a problem with any of the panels above. I suppose that says more about me than anyone else, but I'm having trouble dredging up the energy to care.

You've hit the nail on the

bobweiner's picture

You've hit the nail on the head, Jon. This would make for a beautiful poster that cartoonists could plaster on their wall, ya know. (hint, hint) :)

Krishna M. Sadasivam Cartoonist, "The PC Weenies"

There are so many bad panels ...

CalamityJon's picture

...I'd say that the "James Joyce's Ulysses reprinted in two panels of fight dialogue" is a perfect contender, even by my criteria - it really does give you too little information, considering that the volume of dialogue overwhelms the simplicity of the action.

But hey, even if it didn't fit my criteria, I welcome folks to use their own guidelines in identifying other criminally overused or poorly applied panels common to comics ...

(My last comment went up

(My last comment went up almost the same time as Jon's, so it doesn't realize that Jon was going after panels that don't provide much information. Whereas the talky fight provides TOO MUCH information at the expense of realism and mood.)

I'd say that example you wanted to include could be called "the irrelevant hot-cootchie mama... who brings nothin' to the storytellin' but T and/or A."

And one more idea, related to that one: PORNFACE. (Not EVERYBODY uses that one, I guess. But the few who do make up for everyone else.)

Beautiful! Best thing I've

Beautiful! Best thing I've read on Comixpedia all year.

#12 is not to be confused with the "reaction shot" but often is.

The photostat series does work occasionally, but it's so badly overused that it usually needs a serious twist to it, especially since the photostats usually include people or other things that shouldn't be quite THAT frozen. Best example: your standard PENNY ARCADE knockoff showing three identical panels of guys playing video games.

More panels that don't work that everybody uses? How about the talky fight panel, where people compose thirty-five-word paragraphs during punches?

They actually riffed on that

They actually riffed on that in an issue of Deadpool. As Wolverine attacked Wade while spewing out a huge chunk of dialogue, Wade noted that giving speeches during mid-air attacks was on of Wolverine's mutant superpowers.

By me, Jon, hi.

CalamityJon's picture

Hey all – I wanted to expand a little upon this month’s strip, beyond what was covered in the page itself. The idea is obviously inspired by Wally Wood’s “22 Panels That Always Work” (which, if you haven’t seen, you owe it to yourself to check out – there are many sources online. Some artists make their entire careers out of those 22 panels …).

Now, just as Wood’s 22 panels which always work are not the ONLY 22 panels which always work, these 16 panels of which I am not terribly fond are not the only 16 panels in comics with problems. And likewise, just as the wrong artist can make shambles of any of Wood’s seemingly foolproof panels, ther are undoubtedly artists who can pull off some of the sixteen panels mentioned here (I seem to recall that Los Bros Hernandez have tackled examples nine and ten before, to their usual great effect).

My criteria for picking these particular panels was to look for panel layouts which were exceptionally overused (and if I could pick one off the top of my head, that meant I’d seen it wayyyy too often) and which gave me, as a reader, the least amount of useful information. Thus, these sixteen…

There were two panels I ultimately decided not to include. The first was just Rob Liefeld’s signature and the note “Anything attached to this,” but it’s sort of an old joke that’s been overrun into the ground as of several years ago. Yes, the man clearly has some deficiencies in his artwork, yet his fans gloss over it. If only we all had such fans …

The other one was suggested by folks on my blog; I ended up not including it because I just plain had no idea how to describe such a specific scenario in a short, concise comic panel. Apparently – and now that it’s been mentioned to me, I’m seeing it all over the place – there is a trend in superhero comics to compose a scene with the prominent pulchritude of a lady superhero framing the foreground, while some male hero carries out the actual story-advancing action. So what you get is Iron Man offering exposition over the curvaceous cosine of She-Hulk’s pert posterior, or Wildcat in some punch-drunk panorama within the proscenium arch of Power Girl’s ginormous gazongas.

I also didn’t include that one because it can be a valid visual storytelling device – assuming the naughty bits being brought to the foreground have SOMEthing to do with the story, or how two characters interact, or … well, anything. That they’re not is evidently the problem with this particular panel, and since that’s a lot of ground to cover and explain in a single panel of my own, I decided to stick with the eminently divisible “16” as my final count …