There are those who believe that comics should tell their stories primarily visually, and use words sparingly. It's true that strong visual storytelling can be very effective, and comics can have striking sequences where words aren't used at all.


But personally, I like wordy comics. I find them enjoyable to read. It makes sense. The movie is a visual form too, and most of us prefer sound movies. For that matter, I like reading prose. Comics are less demanding reading than prose, and that's one of the reason I like them. But it doesn't follow that comics are under an aesthetic obligation to minimise their text blocks.


For example, a speech by a single character might be spread over several panels instead of appearing in one. That breaks the text up, and leaves space for more visuals. When the art is good it's hard to argue that more of it should have been covered up. Yet the result might be a story that reads more quickly but moves more slowly.


This post displaced the thread So, What Are You Reading These Days? (besides comics) from the home page.

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I think that the comics form works with varying amounts of dialogue. I like dialogue in my comics and good lyrics in songs. The example that comes to mind with

no dialogue except, I think, a single word in the last panel is Batman #433 (May 1989), "The Many Deaths of the Batman, Chapter One". A body in a Batman

uniform is found and rushed to the hospital. The last panel reveals to the reader (who knows it's not Bruce Wayne) that it's someone else. Of course, the other

people in the story still think it's Batman. As well-done as it is, however, this is just a curiosity/experiment. It could never work long-term.

There's no one "right" way to do comics (and I know Luke is not suggesting that there is). As Richard suggests, the amount of dialogue should vary to fulfill the story requirements. Having said that, the appeal of comics (for me) is the interraction of words and pictures. I'm always among the first to complain about the "decompressed" nature of today's comics. As a matter of personal preference, I'll err on the "wordy" side of the debate.

The best use of it I've ever seen was in Watchmen, with the Under the Hood excerpts.

But do you ever read a comic and spend far too long on one page? And then you lose interest? I've done that before. Never with a text-only book, but with comics and graphic novels, it happens. Can't stand the "info-dump" series of massive word balloons.

Alexandra Kitty said:

No words in comics = too short of a read and with prices today, the book better last me more than half a minute of my time...

It really is a fine line in comics of being too much. I think a lot of Marvel's work from the '70s were hurt by just being too wordy. Caption boxes, thought balloons, and speech would just push the art out of the panel, and it would get lost. It was one of the reason I thought the Essential Warlock was pretty terrible (although it had a lot of problems).

When used well it is great when it isn't it bogs the story down. In all comics from EC, to the Silver Age, to the 80s, to today.

Yet, obviously when it swings too far the other way I feel like I am getting gypped. As I mentioned when I dropped Greg Rucka's Punisher series I read it so fast I could finish an issue in less time than a commercial break would run.

I've been following this thread, and it occurs to me that the question of balance between words and pictures rarely comes up outside of superhero comics. Vertigo projects tend to be writer-driven, so usually there's plenty of text, if not too much (occasionally). The horror comics I read from other imprints are generally well-balanced as well.

Luke, I'm wondering if this thread was prompted by my DC One Million blog?  Specifically the one where I hold Karl Kesel's Superboy #1,000,000 up against other books in that crossover, and find it wanting?  


It must be prompted by something someone said as you've labeled it a 'defence' rather than an 'appreciation'. :-)


Whether or not that was the incitement, I posted 3 pages from Superboy 1,000,000 there and let their dreary yabbering heads, and relentless info-dumping of plotpoints speak for themselves.  Superhero comics are capable of doing so much more than that, and I feel that comics like that are selling the artform and superhero genre seriously short.  But I'll come back to the DC One Million comics in a moment.


To react to some of the opinions so far:  'Nuff Said' was a fun experiment, that took the most extreme argument we are talking about here - having NO dialogue - and seeing how the creators could work with that.  Sure the comics were quick reads, but did demand that the readers interact with the comics more, figuring out what the characters might be thinking etc, rather than being spoonfed everything.  It's good for creators to think about how much they should leave to the reader to figure out themselves, or bring to the work themselves.  As worthwhile as the experiment was, no-one is saying comics should have no text though.


As with many things I agree with Wandering Sensai above.  Pages of info-dumping send me to sleep too.  Those Superboy pages are tough going.  And then there's the fact that people don't speak like that at all.  We give out information in bits and pieces and check along the way how much is being understood by whoever we're talking to.  It's just very unnatural dialogue.


Much of Roy Thomas' X-Men work without Neal Adams illustrates beautifully how pathetic and useless the Marvel method was for producing quality comics.  Again and again you see Roy adding in essential info that he either never saw fit to communicate in his brief plot-outline to the artist, or that the artist didn't include in his pencilled pages.  The Marvel Method works if you have comics geniuses like Ditko and Kirby doing the work/plotting.  Otherwise you have heads drawn where the artist has no idea what they'll be saying or emoting and other dulling of the possible effects of the comics page.


Yes, give me plenty of text if the writer is adding something over and above whats on the page, or good fun prose.  Yes to Engelhart and Gerber and of course Alan Moore's florid (hee hee) Swamp Thing verbiage.  (Gerber's 'Dreaded Deadline Doom', mostly text issue of Howard the Duck is a fascinating issue to me and reveals much about Gerber's creative process and the pressures the monthly production model put on artists.


What this discussion hasn't touched on is where full pages of text are used as part of a comic.  The backmatter that bulked out Watchmen and helped build its world has rarely been attempted.  The early issues of Morrison and Millar's Aztek did something similar, and interestingly, they had a whole new city with its own personality to bring to life so used it in a similar way to Watchmen's world-building.  That both series went for pages of text, tells me perhaps that comics are perhaps limited in how they can build worlds and layer on the details of a new stage for the readers. 


I also agree that Stan did a service to his young readers (including myself) with the exuberance of his verbosity.  Mind you, DC also had all those scientific facts and nuggets of not-so-general knowledge that their plots spun around.

The comparison with Vertigo comics is interesting.  I'd say Vertigo comics generally give their readers what they need to follow the 'spine' of the story.  Superhero comics can fall down either by telling the readers more than they need to know in order to tie everything into events elsewhere/elsewhen in the shared Universe (snore), or by telling readers stuff they already know, (usually by having two characters who also already know everything explain to each other what they already know!  See my commnet above about how unnatural this seems.)  And superhero comics also fall down too by making their stories turn on characters and developments that only the hardcore coninuity committed would care about, and not explain them properly.  This can happen even when the text is still telling the reader too much of stuff they already know, or don't need to know!


It happens with me every time some obscure characters from the Legion of Superheroes' 50 years of continuity turns up.

Anyway, reading all of DC One Million so closely did make me think about how different creative teams went about pretty much the same task in so many different ways.  I saw that how they used text, including how much and where they used it, had a big effect on the quality and enjoyability of the finished comic.


The best comics gave the art room to 'breath' and credited the artist with being able to produce an effect on the reader without tons of words.  In that last DC 1m post, I looked at Abnett and Lanning's (and Breyfogle's) Superman 1,000,000.  I was surprised at the quality of it, as they were just fill-ins who probably produced it at short notice.  The opening 5 pages used the art to present a very exciting sequence of Superman 1 million attempting to stop a nuclear missile and then crashing to Earth at great speed, but also, startlingly and surprisingly, used that same sequence to 'infodump' everything that the reader needed to know to get up to speed.  Getting the infodumping over in the exciting opening sequence meant that the rest of the comic had a more natural pace and the scenes between future Superman and Lois Lane could work more naturally, although the issue has a headlong concentration on plot, but in a good way.  Although a bit of explaining is done along the way, nothing gets in the way of the forward rush of the story.  A lot of the One Million comics have this pulpish purity, where they are just about the story at hand rather than continuity or 'fanservice'.  Superman 1m and Lois developing too much closeness and overly discussing their personal situations in the few hours they are together in this issue would have been 'fanservice' for instance.



James Robinson and Peter Snejbjerg's Starman 1,000,000 was another superlative comic.  It's essentially just a long conversation, and should be boring talking heads, but it works well, because the creative team don't try to cram too much into each page, and the artist puts a lot of thought into making each page nice to look at on its own terms.  I read this comic a few times in order to write about it, but each time was a pleasure.  It's hard to analyse why it works so well, but a lack of oppressive walls of verbiage is a big part of it.

Morrison himself managed to include the major 'infodump' on the first page of his JLA #1,000,000 too, so that the rest of the comic could get on with being entertaining and carrying the reader forward.  All discussed at the blog.



Note how Robninson lets the artist carry his point about the unreliability of memory - a very literary point that - in a couple of panels that don't really give pertinent information, but it makes this conversation suddenly seem very real and enjoyable.

Google found for me pages relating to the sale of the original art that identify the artist of the Starman figure as Tony Harris, with whose work I'm not familiar.

Tony Harris was the regular artist on the series, and I think I read that the physical appearance of the main character Jack Knight, was based on him. 

While I can't comment on most recent comics as I haven't read them, this discussion is intriguing and I'd like to give a couple of examples of magnificent comics pages/stories with no, or hardly any,  text - one with sound effects and another silent.  Pages of this quality exemplify what great creators can do with the form, whether with lots of text, spare text, or none.

First is a Hugo pratt page of Corto Maltese, from Les Celtiques (the French edition - the later Italian coloured edition doesn't have this story)

The next is from Ragman #3 and is the silent story in that issue, by Joe Kubert.

In contrast please have a look at this link to the GN, La Marque Jaune, (now available in English) by Edgar P. Jacobs and a wonderful example of a classic European comics style but with piles of text and word balloons. (use arrows to see a few pages)

Don't know if any of this advances the discussion but you get to see some lovely work.

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