Welcome back, one and all, to another edition of The Proving Grounds!
This week, we have yet another new Brave One in the form of Kirk McCosker. Kirk is a writer/artist who does something a little different: he breaks his plots into pages, maybe has a bit of dialogue—or at least the general direction of where it should go—and doesn’t fool around with making anything final until he starts drawing.
Let’s take a look, and see if he gives himself any problems, shall we?
Issue 3: Shortbus Warzone
Dud sits idle in his cold dark cell. He rests against the cell door and ponders the mystery of how long he had been locked away. There is no sunlight in his cell. He’s been counting his meals but it’s hard to tell, because he’s been fed irregularly. (Typical way to start out a page. Most of this, I’m thinking, is going to come out in either an internal monologue, or an omniscient narrator. I’m going with monologue.)
Spoon fulls of slop are dumped on his head from a slot in the door. Dud asks the guard if there was any news about Supreme Court Justice Evans lately. The guard answers “He died shortly after being indited, about two weeks ago…. How did you know there was news about him?” Dud replies “Let me out and I’ll tell ya” The guard laughs “Good one bro” and slams the slot on the door. (I’m not a fan of the slot at the top of the door. I have visions of House of Frankenstein, where Boris reaches through and chokes his jailor. That shows a lack of safety. If the slot is to pass food through, it makes better sense on the floor. Here, Kirk seems to be going more for a visual than reason. That may come back to bite him. As for the content, I don’t think there is enough here to warrant a full page. He may be able to get five, if he padded it out. However, I’m only seeing three. That makes for a fast read.)
Young punks Dudley Compton and Richard Dunk are drinking heavily in line at the grocery store. It’s Dunk’s 21st birthday. Dud worries about the threat supreme court justice Evans and the Klan poses. He knows how important this story is and the good it would do, but who wants to die so young, so fuck all that noise. (I have no idea where we’re at or how we got here. Kirk doesn’t leave himself a note to say if this is a flashback or something different. I also have no idea about what the “story” he mentions is, but as long as it makes sense to him, that’s all that matters. Again, I think the content is light. Possibly three to four panels. Remember, folks, most pages are around five panels, maybe six. Without a lot of dialogue, this is going to be an extremely fast read.)
Dunk hands Dudley a brochure on a civilian combat training camp called “Crown Liberty”. Dunk says he can recommend him for a scholarship, because they owe him a favor. (half of the page will be an unfolded brochure) (See that? He left a note for himself, saying what the page will be. However, he doesn’t leave himself any notes about what the brochure looks like, or what claims it makes. Now, the question becomes, WHY would Dud want to go there? What does he get out of it? If Dunk is 21, he’s only worried about a few things: getting drunk (doing that), getting laid, and school/job. I’m assuming that Dud is around the same age, and if so, he should have the same worries.)
Dud is on a little yellow bus to Camp Crown. The engine starts to smoke. The driver bails from the moving bus. (Yet another extremely abrupt transition.)
Camp Crown is a salvage yard of decommissioned public school transit buses. An abandoned school house serves as the HQ. (I’m not seeing this. Combat training needs a LOT of space. I was in the Marine Corps. I know about combat training. A salvage yard isn’t big enough, nor does it have varied terrain. Again, I’m not seeing this.)
Passengers rush to the front in a panic. Dud calmly hops out of the rear emergency exit. (This page is fast, and it probably should be, since it is an action sequence. The fewer panels you have, the faster the action goes. However, this is P6, and the entire story seems to be flying by so far. Not good.)
The bus crashes into a tree. The other passengers are in quite the pickle. A man named CROW WILSON starts shooting at the wrecked bus. He shouts “Welcome to hell bitches! Any casualties?” Dud is ordered to drag the injured passengers out of the bus. (And here is where my incredulity snaps. I’m assuming this is the United States, because of the talk of a Supreme Court Justice. I’m okay with that. However, the salvage yard, I’m assuming, is within the city limits. If someone is shooting at the bus in a training exercise, I’m not seeing this happening within the city limits. Prying eyes and all that jazz. This has to be in a remote place. It’s too easy for someone to get shot. So, right here, I’m calling the thinking a complete failure, because of what it is and the location I have to assume it is in.)
We see a Character design sheet of Team Crown.
The firearm specialist and owner of the facility “Crow Willson” He has served in at least three wars that he can remember as an Army Ranger.
Counter Terrorism and Krav Maga expert Moe worked for Mossad since he was a teenager, But he had to leave Israel on bad terms.
Kidnap, ransom and rescue specialist “Swiss” used to be body guard to the Pope, until he was fired for spin kicking a drunk tourist. (Is this a character design sheet, or is it a rundown of the characters that are going to be doing the training? There’s a difference, and really, unless they’re important to the story, I’m not seeing the reason this is here. I’m hoping they show up later, instead of just being part of the training montage.)
Crow lectures everybody on the basics “Direct the pointy end at what you’d like to die and bang, it’s dead. Don’t think before you shoot. Thinking will only slow you down, when it’s time to find out who’s quick and who’s dead” (Another Speedy Gonzalez page. This is only about two panels worth, and gives absolutely no indication as to where the lecture is taking place. It also makes no mention of the injured passengers and what happened to them. No one is settled. No one has their gear stowed. I’m hoping it will at least get mentioned.)
Crow asks “Anybody here ever been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer?” He then shoots everyone in the chest with one pass. He then asks “So how did it feel?” Everybody screams in agony. As he walks away in disinterest he follows up asking “Let me know if the Kevlar is up to snuff” Dud is the only man standing. He’s not sure what the big deal is. (This page should be combined with the previous page. Hopefully, Kirk knows what kind of gun is being used. But right now, I’m getting that bloated feeling. That only comes from padding. It’s P10, and there’s yet to be any hint of a plot to this issue. I get that there were supposed to be two issues before it, but each issue needs to have its own plot, which helps to give the overall arc more stability. If the purpose of this issue is nothing more than training, then it fails.)
Dud runs around shooting at wild boars through a labyrinth of short buses. He has one hand tied behind his back. The pigs are escaping under a bus. It looks like they’re getting away. (Wild boars? I take it they’re imported from somewhere else. This has just taken a turn for the surreal, and not in a good way.)
Dud sits in a short bus loading a shotgun, counting targets. Once he stands up and racks the shotgun, all of the targets are pulled away. (What kind of targets? Where? Where is all the space coming from? Have you ever been to an outdoor shooting range? It’s something that needs a lot of space. You need the target, and some sort of berm behind it in case you miss, so that the bullets don’t go flying off everywhere. This is going from the surreal to the absurd, and not in a good way.)
Dud is taking a piss and abruptly gets his ass kicked by Swiss. Dud has a hard time putting up a fight. Swiss is giving him a lecture about how danger can arise anytime. (This can happen in a salvage yard. However, I fail to see how this page follows the previous one.)
Dud chases a VW Baja Bug through a maze of Short Buses. It turns an acute corner getting away. (I’m getting a Nightmare on Elm Street 3 vibe about this salvage yard. Anyway, chases how? On foot, or is he driving one himself? That’s important, because on foot, he’s already lost. Even at a dead sprint, he’s only going to go about 15mph. A little more if he’s world class or highly trained. A buggy can go faster than that without the limiting factor of getting tired. So, again, is he running or is he driving?)
Moe locks everybody in the bus and begins to lecture. He opens with “for better or worse dead men tell no tales” while cutting and stabbing everybody. His knife is only two inches long, but it’s coated with a paralytic. (Who’s everybody? Hopefully, Kirk has an idea of how many people he wants in this class. And to be honest, right now, it feels like this is all part of the same day. Hopefully, over some sort of monologue or narrator caption, we’re getting into a passage of time. But notice, not once does Kirk mention anything about resting or eating. The closest was taking a piss, and that was two pages ago. Now, is anyone fighting back? Or are they sitting there and taking it. And unless there are very few people on the bus, the more he cuts and stabs—especially with a two-inch knife—the more of the paralytic will be taken from the knife. Those in the front will get a heavier dose than those in the back, and depending how many people we’re talking about, those in the far back won’t get any. Unless he’s reloading the thing after every person, he’s going to be out of paralytic in about four cuts or one, maybe two stabs. )
He continues to explain “Your enemy wants to die for their cause. So keep them alive to serve your cause”
While everyone’s limbs are as limp as a noodle Moe announces there is a bomb ticking. (You need another page for this? This is nothing more than padding. Combine this with the previous page. And, we’re on P16. Where is the plot, and when is it going to be served?)
Dud dislocates Moe’s shoulder in an arm bar and stabs him in the ass with his own bade. He then points it at Moe’s throat and demands he disable the bomb. Moe closes his eyes and holds his breath. It’s a pepper gas bomb. (This barely covers a page. Breaking it into panels, the dislocation is one, the stabbing is two (and is better served as an inset or a small panel), and the pointing of the blade to the throat is three. The breath holding is four. Now, how does anyone know what type of bomb it is or where it’s located? Could that be panel five? I don’t know.)
Dud jumps over a short bus and lands in the Baja Bug, kicking the driver out. (Okay, we finally have superpowers. No matter what, though, this is not a full page. Not unless the clock is ticking, showing the countdown of the bomb, and even then, there isn’t much tension at all in this, because the reader knows this is a training exercise. Now, there is some indication that this follows the previous page in the story, but it could be its own action. There’s no way to tell. It could go either way. No matter what, though, it’s still padding.)
Dud defends himself in the bathroom and smashes Swiss’ head into a toilet. Knocking him out cold. (This could be a full page.)
Dud shoots all of the targets on the bus in one pass with two Sub-Compact Machine Pistols. (Padding.)
Dud chases the Boars as they run under a bus. He slides under after them. On the other side of the bus he sits on top of the dead boars and declares “Pork! It’s What’s for dinner” (This is supposed to show he’s getting better in training. I get it. But you don’t need an entire page for it. These three pages could have been combined into a single page. So, really, it’s padding.)
Everybody sits in the cafeteria covered in bandages, drinking milk from little boxes and eat TV dinners. Dud has a steak on his eye and a real dinner. Crow, Swiss and Moe join him. They hand him a brochure about the Crown Liberty Private Military Corp and an official Crown pinkie ring. They tell him there is medical, dental and a 401k. He should sleep on it. (So, what was all of this for? At no point is there a stated purpose in any of this. At least you can get a full page out of this.)
The instructors rile up the crowd by asking what special forces unit they belong to. They then aggravate these killing machines by letting them know Dudley the civilian tested better. They close by announcing to the group that the $25,000 tuition will be refunded if they can kill Dudley Compton before sun up. (The absurd just turned into the stupid. Training to kill and killing trainees are two different things.)
Dud steals a stun grenade and a side arm from Crow. He then jumps through the window, shoots out the lights and leaves the flash bang behind. (Yeah. Not seeing it. Which does he do first? Jump out the window or shoot out the lights? And I’m assuming this is at night, in order for there to be no light coming from the windows. Where does he leave the flashbang? Inside or outside? Does he leave it, or does he throw it in? Questions I hope you ask and answer for yourself when you’re drawing.)
They wake up in the dark cafeteria. The fire sprinklers are on and Dud is nowhere to be found. Narration states “I called them three weeks later to see if that job was still on the table. I figured the training alone was enough for a great story, Imagine the field work.” (This could fill an entire page.)
Okay, I can’t run it down like I usually do. There’s no Format, Panel Descriptions or Dialogue. So, let’s talk Pacing and Content.
From a pacing standpoint, this isn’t good at all. If the start of the book is the present, then the whole training thing has to be in the past, making it a flashback. Two pages of Now, and 23 pages of Then. Not good at all.
Most of the ideas you have for the pages won’t fill up an entire page. I think this is too loose. Realistically, you only have about ten pages of material here. That means you padded out 15 pages, which, simply put, is sinful.
From a content point of view, this story has no purpose at all. Let’s look at it like this: this is the third issue. It starts in the present, and then goes into a flashback of epic proportion for no apparent reason. You never come out of this flashback, never bringing it around full circle, and because there is no reason for anything given, you’ve failed your readers. And you did it for 25 pages.
What happens within this story that has any bearing on the character being in prison? You don’t have any dialogue that illuminates it at all, so I’m left with no choice but to answer “nothing.” That means you wasted space, and people wasted their money.
I think that, for the location to have so many buses, it has to be near a city. That’s telling me that the salvage yard itself is small. I’m not seeing the things you’re doing in a salvage yard full of school buses. It’s absurdist. While I do like the absurd, I don’t like it trying to play itself straight, as you’re doing here. Think of The Pink Panther (the original and the sequels, not the remake). You have Peter Sellers being absurd and playing it straight, and everyone else around him knowing he is a fool who still somehow manages to get the job done. None of that is evident here.
Editorially, I’d make you condense it to the 15 pages it is, make you come up with an actual plot, and then make you stick to it. Right now, this has no reason for being, and as such, you’re cheating your readership. They deserve a story, not a padded out attempt at one.
And that’s all I have! Check the calendar to see who’s up next!
Category: The Proving Grounds
About the Author (Author Profile)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. His new book is Runners, which throws vampires into the post-apocalyptic zombie-human mix. 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.
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