Quote Me: Word Counts in Comics by Alan Moore

One thing that was drummed into my head (by more than one writer or editor) is that when you’re writing comics, let the pictures tell the story. 

You should never overwrite and be ruthless about dialogue — cut it, cut it and cut it to tell the story through the images as well as the words, but most particularly, the pictures!


Alan Moore recalled the standards of DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger in an interview for the fanzine Zarjaz #3:
 

“What he said was: if you’ve got six panels on a page, then the maximum number of words you should have in each panel is 35. No more. That’s the maximum. 35 words per panel. 

“Also, if a balloon has more than 20 or 25 words in it, it’s going to look too big. 25 words is the absolute maximum for ballon size.
 

“Right, once you’ve taken on those two simple rules, laying out comics pages — it gives you somewhere to start — you sort of know ‘OK, so six panels, 35 words to a panel, that means about 210 words per page maximum… [so] if you’ve got two panels you’d have 105 each. If you’ve got nine panels, it’s about 23 – 24 words — that’ll be about the right balance of words and pictures. 

“So that is why I obsessively count all the words [in my scripts], to make sure that I’m not going to overwhelm the pictures. I’ve seen some terrible comic writing where the balloons are huge, cover the entire background…”

Published by

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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