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How to Heighten Dread in Comics—the 'Spider-Man' Way

This week’s ‘Strip Panel Naked’ video examines growing dread in a classic 'Spider-Man' comic.

by Giaco Furino
Jul 31 2016, 12:05pm

Panel from Web of Spider-Man #31 by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck. All screencaps via

One of the most famous Spider-Man storylines is the "Kraven’s Last Hunt" narrative, which spans multiple issues and follows Kraven the Hunter seemingly killing Spider-Man and taking on the superhero’s persona. It’s a bold, brash comic storyline full of terror and foreboding and has set the stage for much of what’s considered standard in modern comics. This week’s comic book masterclass, Strip Panel Naked by Hass Otsmane-Elhaou, digs into a specific issue—"Web of Spider-Man #31" by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck—to analyze how the comic uses disjointed recurring images to build dread.

“I was struck when I first read "Kraven's Last Hunt" by these odd panels that kept popping up (mostly) at the bottom of pages of this guy digging a grave,” explains Otsmane-Elhaou. “It had no relation to the story being presented, and most of the time just seemed really, really jarring to [the] narrative. It's designed to do that, though be off-putting, and by doing so builds this unease throughout the issue. It's a very clever trick.”

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Panel from Web of Spider-Man #31 by J.M. DeMatteis and Mike Zeck

That surprising, off-putting panel is so bold and stark, it’s meant to stop readers in their tracks. Otsmane-Elhaou continues, “The first time you see it, this gravedigging panel just cuts off the actual story being shown in the page—it forces you to take a step back and say, ‘wait—what?’ It's not often that creators purposefully try and throw you out of the story like that.”

Usually, Otsmane-Elhaou’s videos focus on more recent comics. So what was it like going back to a classic from the 1980s?

“You're talking about a time when the medium was often a little less complex, which I think is why when you get stories like this they do become classics. It's really smart, intelligent storytelling for the most part. Otherwise, a lot of the tricks of the trade still stand, books like this were setting up a lot of what's going on comics storytelling now, so you can flick through something like this and go, ‘Oh yeah, so this is where that technique came from.’ It's always great to trace these things back.”

Check out the entire dreadful dissection below:

For previous episodes of Strip Panel Naked, check it out on YouTube. If you like what you see, consider supporting Strip Panel Naked on Patreon.

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