You can call it cameos. You can call it Easter Eggs. You can call it in-jokes. Whatever your name of preference, it is one thing that comic book art can do better and easier than just about any form of entertainment I can think of. The artist can tell the story but put in little references to other things, if you look at it close enough.
Take Excalibur #14 by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis. The first page is the main image above.
Can you spot all the people hidden in the crowd shots? I can see Dr Strange at the top, the Black Knight, Thor, what looks like Dani Moonstar, even Grandma from the Giles cartoons in The Daily Express. What other medium could get away with that? Throwaway jokes but fun for fan of the art.
Alan Davis always had a sense of humour in his art, which was allowed free reign with Excalibur. This can be seen in the back cover of Excalibur #14, with alternate world versions of nearly superheroes.
The in-jokes come thick and fast in this issue. Claremont mocks all the versions of Wolverine that exist, with Davis aping the art styles of Logan’s first appearance, Patch, the Wolvie of Havok/Wolverine: Meltdown, John Buscema’s Logan in Madripoor, and his own version when he started drawing the X-Men.
There is even time to include a Dalek in the issue – the first Doctor Who crossover?
My favourite bit is the self-mocking of Claremont and Byrne, sitting at computers surrounded by Hellfire vixens and She-Hulk, respectively, gently chiding the slight troubles that developed between the two creators after their time together on The Uncanny X-Men.
Don’t you just love comics? The sense of fun (which might be missing a little nowadays, but that’s a topic for another post) and the feeling that the artists are putting a little extra into their work, providing more for your money, sharing in-jokes with the (small) community who enjoy it and feel the connection. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons I like Spaced so much, which does a similar thing in sitcom form, I don’t know, but comics does it best. God bless you, comic books.