The Single Greatest Use of Word-Balloons in the History of Comics (Courtesy of Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita, Tony Mortellaro, and Artie Simek)

From Amazing Spider-Man #121, page 18, panel 3 (and with apologies to Dave Sim–whose work surely occupies 90% of the next hundred berths on this particular list):

(image via Mike Burkey’s Spiderman And Romita Gallery–you can actually read the whole issue at this site!)

For some reason, the image only shows up properly if you approach via http://www.ynot.motime.com

I wish I understood computers!

I’ll elaborate as the week progresses!

Good Night Friends!



  1. Uh…I don’t like this very much, certainly not as much as you, and I’ll tell you why!

    One particular convention of the comics “language” has always gotten on my nerves- the use of dialogue and/or captions to explain what’s going on in the pictures. The 70s were probably the all-time worst decade for it, and Conway (who I’ve always regarded as a quintessential hack) was one of the worst offenders. Here Spidey’s not exactly describing what’s going on, but his incessant chatter sticks out like a sore thumb…I find it a bit of a stretch that anyone who is frantically attempting to rescue someone who he loves more than almost anything else, even life itself as Pete did Gwen, would be giving himself a pep talk the whole time. I would think all he could manage would be monosyllabatic at best. I know, there are always exceptions to every rule, but this just kinda grates a little, to me, especially the dialogue in panels 2, 3 & 4, which is only there to heighten the tension, like a music score perhaps. My tension was certainly heightened, but in a different way!

    Different strokes, and all that…but this is another reason why I’m happy that the tendency among comics writers towards excess verbosity (Don McGregor excluded, (cause he was just gonzo-pretentious enough to make it enjoyable!) has dwindled away in the subsequent decades.

  2. When I started reading comics, the tendency of characters toward incredible verbosity in the midst of action scenes was disconcerting, but I’ve gotten used to it as one of the distinctive idiosyncricies of the comics form. Because there’s so much flexibility as to the length of time that passes in the gutters between panels, comics can play around with temporal effects in a way that other narrative forms can’t. This can break verisimilitude and push the texuality of the text right in your face (which is fine with me, personally), but it can also create some neat effects.

    Most of the dialogue in this particular page could just as easily have been done with thought balloons, but that would make for a very different text. Because it doesn’t make sense, realistically and narratively, for Spider-Man to be talking just to himself, his speech seems (to me, at least) to be half-diegetic asides to the reader. Spider-Man becomes his own chorus.

    Is this anything like what you’re thinking, David? Please do elaborate!

  3. But Johnny!

    “I’ve got to! I’ve got to!” The disembodied word balloons themselves are reaching out to do the impossible–and, as we all know, words never changed anything!

    Oh well, as you say, we may be looking for different things here–I don’t read superhero comics for the action, and I ceratainly don’t have a problem with verbosity (you’ve noticed that, I ‘m sure!) I read them for the self-doubt, the sense that the action is, ultimately, a meaningless distraction, which, nevertheless, cannot be foresworn. Peter talks to himself because he has no clue what he’s doing out there, or how to make things come out right–in fact, he can usually be pretty sure they won’t


  4. Steven, I began my reply to Johnny before your comment popped up. You do indeed seem to have hit upon an aspect of this page that I love! I don’t want verisimilitude in my action sequences–I don’t have any interest in action sequences except insofar as they provide a base for other things…

    I’ll have a lot more to say about this soon! Right now, I must go to a job interview!


  5. But when it’s done this way, it just becomes (to me) glaring, obvious, and clumsy. It draws attention to itself when it doesn’t seem like it belongs there…and that’s the problem I have with not only this sequence, but many others before and after.

    It just all comes down to personal preference, I know, and I have a feeling I’m definitely in the minority.

    And good luck with the interview, Dave!

  6. I gotta agree with JB (mostly). I think it’s a sequence of panels that doesn’t live up to it’s potential. I’m OK with the dialogue until the last panel: that’s the one that really grates on my nerves. Compounding the problem is that the art looks great for the first four panels, but doesn’t flow into the last panel–Spidey’s webbing moves from Gwen’s foot to her middle. I find myself thinking “Ah, it’s just a comic book” at that point.

    Of course, Jerry Conway has his own circle of Hell in the Treadmill’s universe, so I may be unfairly biased.

    I’m done babbling now.


  7. Mag & JB,

    I understand your objections, believe me–and, just as an aside, the only panel I’m really excited by on this page is number 3–but I do love a soliloquizing Spider-Man, and I’m gonna do my best in the next bunch of posts to explain why (hint hint–Herman Melville will figure prominently!)

    I certainly don’t expect many of you (or any of you, really) to love these comics as much as I do, though. I know they push a lot of the wrong buttons in a lot of intelligent minds.



    (the interview went okay JB, and thanks for the good wishes–I’m gonna be doing some temping to pick up some extra cash to pay for that first month of rent before my Michigan T.A. money kicks in!)

  8. You know, objectively I agree with Johnny. But I love that issue of ASM, and one of the reasons I love it is because it seems to me that Peter Parker/Spider Man uses words as weapons and supporters: he attacks his villains with a steady stream of patter to disorient and enrage them while distracting himself from the ridiculous amount of danger he puts himself in: without the horrible wisecracks, it just doesn’t seem like Spidey. And in that particular scene I get the sense that Peter is full-bore panicking: he’s babbling to convince himself everything is going to be all right. So I love the page, even though I don’t think i can really defend it properly, and that it is clumsy and awkward. Still, I like it.

    And good luck with the temping and TAing afterwards.

  9. Matt wrote:

    “And in that particular scene I get the sense that Peter is full-bore panicking: he’s babbling to convince himself everything is going to be all right.”

    That’s exactly how I feel about it Matt! It’s powerful because it’s pathetic and uncomfortable–especially on subsequent readings (or if encountered for the first time in a reprint collection called The Death of Gwen Stacy!)

    Conway’s ultramannered style is absolutely perfect on a title that deals with the adventures of a guy who, if the truth be told, is the furthest thing from the classical idea of a hero since Walter Mitty. And this very quality is what caused Conway to fail so badly when writing JSA, JLA, Avengers, etc


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