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TPG Week 4: Comics Need Pictures & Words

| January 21, 2011 | 11 Comments

Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have something of a special treat.

James Hansard is developing comics in order to promote literacy skills development and as an exposure of the Maori language. A lofty goal, and I’m honored that he’s submitted part of his work to be shown here at The Proving Grounds. Let’s see how he does.

Comrade Hero

PART ONE

PAGE ONE: ONE PANEL

PAGE 1/PANEL 1:

DESCRIPTION:

RED BACKGROUND.

IMAGE: FIVE POINT YELLOW STAR.

TEXT: (As a heading, this is totally unnecessary. Every time you write Caption or the name of a character that’s going to speak, that tells the letterer there’s going to be text in the panel. Cut every instance of “Text.”)

CAPTION: COMRADE HERO I.

(Okay, I’ve had to do some research. The imagery here is of the Vietnamese flag. It’s an odd numbered page, and in English comics, that means it’s on a right hand page. Let’s call it another cover, and keep it moving.)

PAGE TWO: ONE PANEL (Okay. Two things, right off the bat. First, there are no page breaks here. Not good. The page breaks may balloon the amount of pages the script takes up, but the artist will be VERY happy because they’ll have a much better idea of where to go when they’re looking for a particular page in the script. Page breaks are your friend. They also make it easier to edit. The second thing is I’m not too sure about the use of another one-panel page so soon.)

PAGE 2/PANEL 1:

DESCRIPTION:

RED BACKGROUND.

TEXT:

CAPTION 1: ‘JUSTICE WITHOUT FORCE IS POWERLESS’

CAPTION 2: ‘FORCE WITHOUT JUSTICE IS TYRANNICAL’

CAPTION 3: BLAISE PASCAL. (1623-1662)

CREDITS.

(Okay. A quote and the credits. I had to take a look to see how many pages it was for this part. Twenty-four. What that means is that you’ve basically just wasted two pages with fluff. They’re not serving any purpose whatsoever. If you MUST have one of them, take the first page, and shove the quote on it. The credits can go somewhere else.)

PAGE THREE: ONE PANEL (Whoa! Now, no matter what’s here, it’s padding.)

PAGE 3/PANEL 1:

DESCRIPTION:

RED BACKGROUND. (So, if this is supposed to be a “comic book,” where are the pictures? Two consecutive pages with no drawings on them? Not good at all.)

TEXT:

TRAGEDY IN LOW-EARTH ORBIT!

COLONEL ALEKSANDR ALEXANDROVICH BIRYUKOV – Pilot, Cosmonaut, Hero of the Russian Federation. Explosion at the International Space Station! COLONEL BIRYUKOV is caught in the blast, and finds himself spiraling out of control, plummeting helplessly back to Earth!

BETTER RED THAN DEAD!

It is the one constant that dominates the lives of the young PROTÉGÉS of the THESAN PROJECT. Bleed and walk away, or bleed and fade away. No hesitation, no excuses, no margin for error.

THESAN PROTÉGÉ FOUR-FIVE-TWO knows nothing except a life of fear and discipline, of constant training and evaluation. Today is FOUR-FIVE-TWO’s sixteenth birthday. Her final evaluation is about to begin…

A lot of text on this page, which is fine because of the fact there is no artwork to cover up. The bad thing is that there is absolutely no art for 2 pages. The question becomes, can you get this information across WITH artwork on the page? What happens if it’s cut? Let’s take a look, shall we?

PAGE FOUR: ONE PANEL (Four pages in a row? Anyone who knows me knows that I’m going out of my mind. Let’s look at it like this: P1 is the flag page. It’s on the right, the first thing seen after opening the cover. P2 is on the left, because it’s a page turn. On this page is nothing more than a quote and the credits. We then slide our eyes over to P3, which is nothing but more text. We then turn the page to yet ANOTHER splash. Hopefully, we have some art on this page.)

PAGE 4/PANEL 1:

DESCRIPTION:

SPLASH PAGE. Low-Earth Orbit, three hundred and thirty kilometres above planet Earth. COLONEL BIRYUKOV in damaged ORLAN-MK space suit is spiralling helplessly towards Earth. There’s nothing he can do, and there’s no possibility of rescue. Around him are pieces of space derbies – twisted metal, plastic, cracked tiles, glass. (Art! It only took 4 pages to get here. No, I’m not considering P1 as actually having art. Here’s the problem, though: it’s describing the text of the previous page. And where’s the previous page? Literally, on the opposite side of this page. You had to turn the page to get here, so you have to turn it to get back. And it being the fourth splash page in a row, it loses a LOT of impact. You took too long to get here, James, and there’s not much of a story being told as yet, either. That’s terrible from a pacing standpoint, and horrible from a story standpoint, because the last thing you talked about on the previous page was a character who was numbered. So, is this the colonel, or is it 452? I’m confused, and so would the audience be.)

TEXT:

CAPTION 1: EXTENSIVE PHYSICAL AND NEUROLOGICAL TRAUMA…

CAPTION 2: SIGNIFICANT GENETIC AND CELLULAR DAMAGE…

CAPTION 3: TEMPERATURE EXTREMES…

CAPTION 4: VACUUM DECOMPRESSION…

CAPTION 5: RADIATION EXPOSURE…

REFERENCES/NOTES:

Russian ORLAN-MK Suit.

(Just to let everyone know, James embedded a pic of a space suit for reference for the artist. This is fantastic! Whenever possible, either insert a pic of exactly what you want, or a link for the artist to click on. The more reference you can give the artist, the happier they’ll be, and the closer to your vision the artist will be able to come.)

PAGE FIVE: FIVE PANELS (Five pages. Five pages before getting to multiple panels. This is WAY too long, James. You have story to tell, interest to gain, and a stated purpose to achieve. You’re not doing any of that in the first four pages. Let’s see what this page brings.)

PAGE 5/PANEL 1:

DESCRIPTION:

ESTABLISHING SHOT. Massive impact explosion as COLONEL BIRYUKOV hits frozen ground with terrific force. Snow and ice thrown violently into the air along with bursts of steam. Brilliant flash of crimson light. (An establishing shot gives Who, Where, When and What. We have Who and What, but that’s about it. Where is this? How far up is the camera supposed to be? What’s causing the flash of red light? These are questions that the artist is going to ask. The biggest one to answer, though, is Where this is happening. Where is he crashing into? Why aren’t we heightening the drama by showing him getting closer and closer to impact over two or three panels? The pacing on this thing is not good. When is this happening? What time of day is it? This is a poor establishing shot, because nothing was established.)

TEXT:

NO COPY. (I like “no copy.” Know what that does? It lets you, the editor, the letterer, and the artist know that there isn’t supposed to be anything here in terms of dialogue. I just don’t like the heading right before it. Why? Because it says there’s supposed to be something there. If the letterer wanted to be a complete jerk, they would put “NO COPY” on the page, because you told them so. Don’t give conflicting signals. Cut the Text heading when there’s no copy.)

PAGE 5/PANEL 2:

DESCRIPTION:

The large conning tower and fins of a RUSSIAN SUBMARINE protrude through shattered ice. Armed RUSSIAN SOLDIERS in WINTER UNIFORM and NBC EQUIPMENT (Nuclear Biological Chemical) stand guard nearby. (I’m still not liking the pacing. I think this is too fast.)

TEXT:

NO COPY. (Yep. What I said last time.)

REFERENCES/NOTES:

Russian Sankt Petersburg Class Submarine.

(Okay, there’s reference of the sub, but what about the winter uniform and NBC gear?)

PAGE 5/PANEL 3:

DESCRIPTION:

Looking down at the centre at very large, almost perfectly circular crater in the ice. Steam still rises from crater. A team of RUSSIAN SOLDIERS carefully walking into crater. (How many people make up the team? How are they getting into the crater? Are they surrounding whatever’s in it, or are they in a semicircle so they don’t shoot themselves? How far up are we? Can we see anything in the crater?)

TEXT:

NO COPY. (Yup.)

PAGE 5/PANEL 4:

DESCRIPTION:

View as seen looking out from the blistered and cracked visor of the helmet worn by COLONEL BIRYUKOV.

A RUSSIAN SOLDIER kneels, peering down, pointing a hand-held SCANNER at COLONEL BIRYUKOV.

TEXT:

NO COPY. (Way too quiet for way too long.)

PAGE 5/PANEL 5:

DESCRIPTION:

View as seen looking out from the blistered and cracked visor of the helmet worn by COLONEL BIRYUKOV

The RUSSIAN SOLDIER appears startled as if he can’t believe what the SCANNER is telling him. One hand raised to his right ear, excitedly relaying information through transmitter. (Hm. Can we see the face of the soldier? Because if they’re wearing cold weather gear, they’ll more than likely have their faces covered. I was in the Marines, and had to go through cold weather training in order to qualify for an exercise. Our faces were covered for part of the time. It’s a safety thing. And what about those in NBC gear? Lots of questions. Not many answers.)

TEXT:

RUSSIAN SOLDIER: ZHIVOĬ!*

CAPTION: *ALIVE! (Translated from Russian)

And that’s where I’m going to stop.

Let’s run it down.

Format: I’m not a fan of it. There are no page breaks, which makes reading everything pretty interesting. Now, in your defense, James, you’ve put a line to mark every time you start a new page, but the format isn’t very good for artists to read. If they’re printing these, they’ll have to flip and search, which is no fun. If you put page breaks in, it will be much easier to read and find stuff.

I’m also not a fan of the Text heading. It’s redundant. Clean those things up, and we’re good.

Panel descriptions: Again, I’m not a fan. There isn’t enough information for the artist to do their job in a lot of instances. They’re going to be asking a lot of questions—questions that could have been avoided if you had just given what they needed.

Dialogue: There isn’t enough of it! This is going to be a VERY fast read. I took a short peek ahead, and there still weren’t a lot of words to read. Not good. The job of dialogue is twofold: to compliment the art in telling the story, and to draw readers into the story. Without art to go with it, you can’t really do that.

Content: I’m going to say one of the worst things a writer wants to hear about the content of the story being told. I. Don’t. Know.

I have absolutely no idea what’s happening. It’s 5 pages in, and I don’t know. Why don’t I know? Because three pages have no art. The fourth page is an un-earned splash page, and the fifth page has almost no words to read. What you have here, James, is an absolutely criminal waste of space. You gave yourself 24 pages in order to tell part of your story. With four pages that aren’t doing much (because, really, you could start on P5 and not have hurt anything in the storytelling), you’re giving yourself 20 pages to tell the story.

This misuse of space is also hampering your stated goal of building literacy skills. What is your audience supposed to read within the first five pages? How are they supposed to get involved? The simple answer is that they aren’t, and they won’t.

From a retail perspective, if I saw this on the shelf, it would stay there, because you didn’t grab me in the first few pages.

As the writer, the onus is on you to do so many things, but the most important thing is to be interesting within the first few pages when you have a new property. It doesn’t matter whom you’re trying to sell it to: a seasoned comic reader or someone who’s picking up a comic for the first time. If you’re not interesting, you’ve failed.

And that’s it for this week. Check the list to see who’s next!

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Category: The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at [email protected] for rate inquiries.

Comments (11)

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  1. Milan Dare says:

    (Cap, I guess): My first visit to this site, and it is intriguing. I never imagined comic writing to be so technical. It’s great that you’re here then to remedy those issues then, although I can’t comment on the plot since I can’t keep up through all the edits. I probably just need to read more comic scripts. Keep it up Steven and James!

    • Hi, Milan! Thanks for stopping by!

      Yes, writing for a comic is pretty technical, if only because you have to be clear when communicating with your creative team.

      If you want to know the secret of keeping up with what’s going on in this particular piece (and every piece that I post up), just ignore everything you see in red. Just ignore it, and read it through. When you think you’re ready, come back and just glance at the black, concentrating more on the red.

      Hope that helps you. Don’t be afraid to jump in with questions. Discussion is good, and encouraged!

  2. Thanks Steven,

    Really appreciate both your honesty and candor. And you’ve given me good critical feedback that I will be using.

    One of the difficulties I faced was making a script that I could use for print as well as digital. From the point of view of print the first three pages are as you so rightly pointed out – filler.

    From digital content point of view those pages end up shooting past as intro material.

    For the benefit of readers there are how the Sample Pages turned out and they use Page 4 and 5 as the start of Five Pages for reference and illustrative purposes:

    Page 1: http://bit.ly/iiKrCz
    Page 2: http://bit.ly/gK9uYi
    Page 3: http://bit.ly/ibwzsF
    Page 4: http://bit.ly/fWEFug
    Page 5: http://bit.ly/hBK997

    Areas to Improve on as per Steven’s Assessment:

    Format:
    Page Break between each New Page.
    Redundant Wording: TEXT/NO COPY.
    Introduction of Sequential Art: From the first or second page.

    Breakdown:
    References – Make sure all relevant reference images/details are there for the artist to work from.
    Establishing Shot – elaborate and provide full details.
    Descriptions – make sure the artists have complete information to work from.
    Dialog – increase.
    Empty space – decrease.

    All revisions for Draft 1.2 of my Comrade Hero Project. 🙂

    And thanks again to Steven for taking the time to read through my material and provide this critique.

    And as a final note… I have entered the character of Comrade Hero in the Create a Superhero for the Stan Lee Foundation on Talenthouse. Would appreciate your support and votes. For more information, please visit: http://www.talenthouse.com/comradehero

    • Happy to be of help, James.

      There are a LOT of things that go into scripting. There are a ton of things to pay attention to, especially if you’re thinking about printing.

      When it comes to digital, you want to think about a few things there, as well. The first thing you want to think about is screen size, because that feeds directly into something you may want to get away from: the traditional comic book page.

      If you’re dealing with a smartphone (such as an iPhone), then you want to think in number of panels/screens, and NOT a number of pages. THIS is something that is hard to do. Because the screen is so small, you want to make sure that your story can fit on the screen. This also means you won’t be able to play with borders and such as much, because the border oftentimes will be the screen itself.

      When you’re thinking mobile/digital, you have to move even FASTER. These are people who are on the move, and if you throw up a big wall of text as the first screen/page, you’ve lost ’em. Grab ’em by the short and curlies as soon as you can, and hold ’em for the length of the story. Show them art as soon as possible. Keep them entertained, so they can continue to be on the move.

  3. Thanks for the added detail here as well. Invaluable. I’ve been doing the reading and research, but it’s nice to actually have comment on this area. Best quote I’ve read for a while:

    “Grab ‘em by the short and curlies as soon as you can, and hold ‘em for the length of the story. Show them art as soon as possible. Keep them entertained, so they can continue to be on the move.”

    • Yeah, I try to be colorful when I can.

      And doing the reading and the research will only get you so far. You’re actually DOING it, which is great. Getting feedback on it is pretty good, too, but the doing of it is all.

  4. If your interested in doing digital comics you should look into Scott McCloud (you should look into him no matter what sort of comics you want to make, but digital comics especially)

    When he does digital comics he doesn’t use pages at all, he uses ‘trails,’ which he explains here:

    http://www.scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/icst/icst-4/icst-4.html

  5. I feel a Yoda moment coming on here…

    I agree, you can read and understand the road code, but until you start driving you won’t learn to apply it properly.

    Have a great weekend Steven.

    Regards,

    James

  6. Great work guys! Although i dont agree that ALL comics need words. Eisner was a master of wordless comic strips.

    This doesnt however mean a writer is not needed! On the contrary a writer could still craft a superb wordless script for an artist.

    Also on Scott McCloud – He’s a genius, and the only person I know to at least put ALL comic art styles into context.

    This site is a blessing to all creators guys,Ii’m enjoying your articles very much!

    James

    • Thanks for coming by and commenting, James! I hope you stick around.

      No, not all comics need words. However, it helps a lot.

      However, the main thrust was that there were pages with nothing but words, and then pages with nothing but pictures. Pictures that actually depicted the words on the previous page. It didn’t flow well at all.

      I’m a big believer in McCloud. I love comics theory. However, I also love seeing that theory put into action.

      Stick around. See what else we have up our sleeves!

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