Thursday, March 12, 2015


Not really. But that was the open call that went out as part of the “Comics, So What?” event that took place recently, arranged by Chris Murray and Phillip Vaughan at The University of Dundee.

Attendees were invited to discuss favourite comic pages and why they liked them. I went along armed with two related pages.

Photo by Damon Herd.

As I said on the day, choosing your favourite comics page is an impossible task, so what I decided to do was concentrate on the first page I can remember appreciating for the comics storytelling devices it used, as opposed to purely enjoying the story for what was happening in it. I had definitely read comics prior to this, such as The Dandy and Spider-Man, but here is where I took a step towards appreciating comics for being comics…

This is Star Wars by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin, which puts us in the late 1970s. It would have been a case of me asking my Dad for this because it said Star Wars in big letters on it, in much the same way that I wanted the ice lolly, bubble gum cards, etc.

To set up the story of this page: As the cantina sequence in the movie had been so memorable and popular with audiences, one of the first things to occur in the comics was a visit to a similar establishment. Over the preceding couple of pages, the green lizard alien shown here has been bullying Han Solo, who at first displays his usual bravura self in dealing with this, and tells his aggressor to get lost before his wookiee friend beats him up. But Chewbacca has taken a temporary leave of absence and as Solo realises his predicament, so do we as readers. The lizard throws Solo across the room in the last panel of the page before this one.

In the first panel above he lands in the arms of Chewie. We now know where the story is going. The tables have been turned and Chewbacca is hopefully going to put the alien in his place. The page builds up nicely to this, the bully now going from offensively cocksure to scared.

Crucially, and the part that impressed me as a kid, was that we do not get to see the point of impact when Chewbacca moves from passive to aggressive. The scene switches to outside and the lizard is smashing through the window – we are left to picture for ourselves Chewbacca hitting him.

A couple of years after I read that, the 1962 Hulk page above by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was reprinted in a UK Hulk Annual. They were printed on nicer paper than the US comics, explaining the clarity of the page over the Star Wars one. I’ve written about it on this blog before, and decided to take it along for this talk as Kirby is applying the same device as Chaykin i.e. we don’t get to see the Hulk hitting the Human Cannonball.
This page also has a lot of other artistic merits; the movement and weight of the Hulk is dramatically shown in the third, fourth, fifth and seventh panels. The extreme angle switches for each panel are cleverly designed and effortless for the reader to understand. It’s a great example of Kirby’s prowess.

The decision to not actually depict the hero striking the villain in these two pages gives us two examples of the story telling trope of showing, and not telling. This practice does not apply only to physical action, but that was a great place to start for me as a kid.

Twenty years later Scott McCloud explained this in his very influential book Understanding Comics, but I was lucky enough to pick it up firsthand while sitting on my couch eating sweets and reading about Star Wars and The Hulk.

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