Welcome, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a returning Brave One in Connor McDonald. (Yes, folks, I generally misspell his name on purpose.) Let’s see what he brings us with
A Cannibal Story
Panel 1. Wide shot, not close enough to make out any expression. The jungle of Vietnam, day. Pvt. Bruce, with his rifle slung over his shoulder, walking along a high ridge. Ahead of him a waterfall. (OK, we can sort of assume that if an American soldier is trekking through the jungles of Vietnam then we must be in the late 60s. However, I would have preferred it if you had made this perfectly clear at first. Apart from that, good work on setting the scene!)
When I was a boy my father took me hunting. (Comma-fail at first line of dialogue. Bad Connor, bad!)
We trekked through the woods in complete silence– (The characters isn’t being interrupted here. That’s what the double-dash would be for. If his speech is continued in another panel, his line here should end with an ellipsis and the next line should start with one, too.)
Panel 2. Medium close up, low angle, of Privet (“Private”) Bruce. He looks to his side, looking down from the ridge. He appears tired and sweaty.
–Following scat and scrapes, searching for a big’ol buck.(See where that apostrophe is? It’s incorrect. The apostrophe is used as a replacement for a letter, in this case, it would be the “d” in “old,” or if you must, the “e” in “ole.” This is a case where an editor comes in handy, because the spellcheck will always say that this is spelled wrong, unless you’ve added it to your personal dictionary. It isn’t the letterer’s job to check for and correct spelling errors. That’s the editor’s job. If the writer is also acting as the editor, which happens a lot, then that puts the onus on you to get it right. This threw me right out of the story, and we’re only on the second panel,)
Panel 3.High angle, Wide shot, of Pvt. Bruce trudging through the knee high river, the edge of waterfall only a few feet away. (Is he walking towards us or away from us? Or is this a side shot?)
It was dull for me at ten. I’d much rather be back home watching reruns of Lucy.
But when we did finally catch up to that deer…
Panel 4. Medium close up of Pvt. Bruce wiping sweat from his brow.
…it was beautiful. (See? THIS is how you use the ellipsis!)
Panel 5. Mid shot of Pvt. Bruce climbing onto a large rock, he’s struggling slightly. (Where’s the camera? Are we still in the river watching him climb up or are we on the rock? The latter option at least lets us see his face making his struggle more apparent.)
My father then forced a rifle into my hands and told me to look down the sight–
–Instructed me to draw my breath, squeeze don’t pull. (Looking ahead, I see you have a severe case of double-dash poisoning. Almost all of your dialogue lines have them! This is comic book grammar, Connor: you can have a staccato delivery relying on small caption boxes instead of strict punctuation. Just finish those lines with periods. Oh, and comma-fail.)
P1 is finished, and I’m bored already. Never a good thing.
Let’s see. We’ve got some fuzzy-ish panel descriptions going on here. I can’t tell where the camera is supposed to be. Panel 1: is that supposed to be a side view, or a view from behind him? It can’t be from in front, because you said the waterfall was in front, and that’s something you want to be seen, which was why it was mentioned. So that only leaves two shots: side, or the rear. Which one would be most effective? That would be for the artist and editor to decide.
Punctuation: this is something that a lot of you seem to be struggling with lately. I’m not just talking about the comma-fails, I’m talking about punctuation, period. It’s either missing, or it is incorrect. I’m not going to say that learning punctuation is easy. What I am going to say, though, is that if you’re in doubt—and you’re writing, so you should be in doubt a lot—go to the internet. Learn what is and isn’t correct punctuation. The internet is a repository of knowledge. Use it, and I can retire the phrase “comma-fail.”
Now, not one word was “spoken” here. It’s all in captions. This means readers get to sit back and have the story told to them. Boring.
I wrote a boring story once. Two issues worth, and almost all captions. Hardly anyone actually spoke. Terrible. While the core is decent, it needs to be rewritten, adding dialogue. That’s something I know needs to happen in order to make the story viable.
Does this need to be rewritten? No. I’d say to add more dialogue, though. Five panels for this page, and the dialogue for it is sparse. Add more dialogue, some of it spoken, and you should be good.
Panel 1. Wide shot of Pvt. Bruce sitting on top of the rock, his knees up in front of him, he leans forward, resting on them. His pack is open between his legs. In his one hand is a canteen with its lid screwed off. He still just appears tired.
But I couldn’t do it.
I refused to do it. (YES! Someone uses underlining for emphasis!)
Panel 2. Close up of Pvt. Bruce, his expression isn’t just tiredness , its (“it’s”) sadness.
So, if I couldn’t kill some deer–
–A wild animal that we would eat–
Panel 3. Over Pvt. Bruce’s shoulder we see the down into a jungle valley, that the river runs through. Flying across the sky, above the horizon, back lit by the sun is an A1 Skyraider plane. Trailing behind the plane is fire shooting up from the earth, the results of a napalm strike.
–Then how can anyone expect me to kill a man?
Its (“It’s”) savage work, killing. That’s why I left.
Panel 4. Medium close up, profile of Pvt. Bruce. The background is dense jungle.
Its day two. I think I’m nearing the Cambodian border.
Not only is it day two, but it’s also page two. We finally get some reasoning as to why we should be reading this story. I think, though, this would be better served if this were sped up. You can get all of this information in on the first page. Add two panels, and add all of these captions to the panels that are already there.
So, what you’ve done here is you started late, as you should have, but you’re also boring the reader, which you shouldn’t do. Get them intrigued as fast as possible. Get all this on P1. You have the space. Use it.
Panel 1. Medium close up of Pvt. Bruce clearing his path by pushing some brush out of the way, a cautious look on his face. (You got a slight gap in border time here. At the bottom of last page, he was sitting on a rock. Now he’s trekking through the brush again. This wouldn’t be so bad if you had a page-turn in-between to act as a psychological barrier between these two panels. The readers however tend to view everything on the same spread as part of the same scene, unless you put in something to break up that impression, like a location caption or a new establishing shot.)
A neutral territory where I can wait out the war.
I heard rumours of other G.I’s setting up a camp, near some village called Ki Yong.
Panel 2. Close up of Pvt. Bruce’s hand pulling a folded map from his breast pocket. Have it about half way out.
Sounds like sanctuary to me.
Panel 3. Close up of Pvt. Bruce’s hand. Holding a compass at waist height, beside his pant pocket.
If I could only find it.
Panel 4. Wide shot. Pvt.Bruce standing in a clearing, he has his head down looking at the compass, and partly folded map in his hands (looking like the second map in column 1 of this sample page http://www.armystudyguide.com/content/moxiepix/b1_4936.gif. ). (VERY nice reference!)
Panel 5. A Small Inset panel, a close up of a small tanned foot stepping and breaking a twig.
Snap! (Generally, you don’t need punctuation for SFX.)
Panel 6. Medium Close up of Pvt. Bruce. An alarmed expression on his face.
When you’re deep in the jungle, begin hunted by V.C. Your sense’s (“senses”) get honed.
You learn pretty fast, through paranoia, what a foot step (“footstep”) sounds like.
And that was a footstep. (So you wrote it wrong first and then right? Sloppy, Connor…)
Okay, with P2, on the books, more stuff has managed to creep in.
Lots of close-ups, with little real impact for any of them except one, or call for them except for that one.
If you’re going for close-ups, you should be using them for dramatic effect. Lots of times, that dramatic effect is for mystery, or to heighten a moment. The only one to do that was also the only panel that needed more description.
You wrote that there is a tanned foot stepping on a twig. You didn’t say if it were a right or left foot, which isn’t all that important, so that’s fine. You didn’t say if it was either male or female, which could play a part later. You also didn’t say if this foot was shod or not, which is important. Then there’s the twig: is it part of a bunch of twigs, or is it a single twig that could have (and possibly should have) been missed? You didn’t say, so the artist has to guess. Never good.
As for the gap in border time, it’s an easy fix. Adding a simple panel is easy.
The big problem, though, is the lack of spoken dialogue. Personally, I’m tired of having the story told to me (and it’s only P3). I want some real dialogue. He could be talking to himself. The lack of real dialogue is putting me off. I don’t like being bored, and this is boring me.
Panel 1. Close up of an arrow going straight through Pvt. Bruce’s ankle. Blood sprays out slightly on each side. (What kind of arrow is this?)
Panel 2. Close up of Pvt. Bruce screaming in pain, a slight spray of spit from his mouth. (A silent scream? Where’s the dialogue line?)
Panel 3. Mid shot of Pvt. Bruce crumbled on the ground, the arrow is protruding from his ankle. The butt of his rifle is in his shoulder, intensity in his eyes. Muzzle flashes linking together show his erratic gun fire. (“gunfire”) (I know everything is there but I would have actually said that he was firing his rifle instead of just saying “The butt of his rifle is in his shoulder” if only to make it clearer for the artist. Details, I know, but the devil is in the details (and most contracts you’ll sign).)
I don’t even know what I’m aiming at!
Its just bluster. (You need an apostrophe for “it’s”, because you’re using the wrong form. You’re using the possessive, instead of the contraction.)
Panel 4. Medium close up. Pvt. Bruce has his rifle held single handed at his hip. His other hand is clawing at the dirt, crawling backwards. Pvt. Bruce points his gun in one direction, but looks to another terrified.
I have to get to cover.
I have to get safe.
Panel 5. Mid shot of Pvt. Bruce, sitting with his back against a tree, his rifle held tight to his chest. His expression is pure pain, his eyes clinched shut tightly.
The pacing here is pretty good. This would make a pretty nice P3. The main problem is that you’re dragging it out more than a little bit.
The big thing is lack of dialogue. (I kind a feel like I’m a parrot of a broken record.)
Generally, I like this page. I’m just not seeing how panel 4 is working. The crawling backwards bit. I’m not seeing how you’re going to show that. I don’t know if it will look like what you want it to.
Now, that being said, I also want you to rearrange the SFX and the captions in panel 3, unless this is the way you really want it.
This is what you’re telling your letterer: put the sound effects above all the captions/put all the captions below the sound effects. I don’t think that would work well. I think that the SFX should split those two captions. That would read a lot better. You’d have the first caption, then the sfx, and then the second caption. The sfx works better with the second caption than it does the first.
Now, just get on with it faster. You can be slow if you’re interesting, and this isn’t interesting. The shame of it is that this is only P4.
Panel 1. Close up of Pvt. Bruce, grimacing while peeking at his off panel wound. (It’s going to be hard to convey what he’s looking at off-panel. What I suggest is to make the next panel a POV shot of his ankle instead of a simple close-up.)
Panel 2. Close up of the arrow through ankle.
Charlie doesn’t use bows and arrows.
So who the heck is this?
Panel 3. Medium close up of Pvt. Bruce peeking around the tree. (Is the camera in front of the tree or is it behind with the character looking at it? I’d much prefer the latter. Always try to show the character’s expression as much as possible. The reader needs to see the character’s face in order to connect emotionally with him.)
And are they terrible shots–
–or do they just want to see me suffer?
Panel 4. Medium close up of Pvt. Bruce looking downward at his off panel wound.
Panel 5. Close up of the arrow through his ankle. He has a hand on each end of it, he’s snapped the point off, and just has a solid grip on the feather end. (No. You skipped a beat and could be using better angles here. Using the same number of panels, first show the private snapping the arrow head off, THEN you can have him brace himself for taking the arrow out in the next panel. As it is, the reader won’t understand when and how the head came off. Also, you just did the same shots at the top of the page – shake it up, private!)
Okay. Nice, and fast.
Try and keep from–
Panel 6. An aerial view of the expansive jungle.
PVT. BRUCE(Coming from the Jungle):
AGHHHHH! (Ha. Nice!)
You’re trying to lose your readers, and that’s never a good thing.
A good, strong artist, reading this, would fix your mistakes. They’d move the camera around for you, making sure that the storytelling is clear, propping you up where you’re falling down.
Whenever you have the opportunity, you should connect your two panels so that the reader is not lost. You do that by showing the first showing the character, and then showing thing from their point of view. By connecting the panels like this, you’re bridging the understanding for the reader, instead of them having to jump to conclusions themselves.
Don’t lose your readers.
Also, this is the first piece of spoken dialogue in the entire piece. Here’s a question: why have him scream silently on one page, and then have him screaming off panel on another? Yes, there’s some impact, but by now, the readers are only sticking around because they’re close to the end.
This needs to be tightened up.
Panel 1. Wide shot. Pvt. Bruce looks over his shoulder panicked. He is moving from right to left. He should be dragging his wounded leg. (See how this was a better transition than what you did from page 2 to page 3? By turning the page, the reader can better forgive a gap in border time. Now, if only you didn’t have him moving in the wrong direction.)
I’m up and moving before the tail end of my scream has even left my lips. (No. What timeframe are you working with? Is this happening now, or is the story already done?)
I’m not going fast. But at least I’m going.
Panel 2. Medium close up. Pvt. Bruce with his mouth a gape, taking a breath. (How should the artist show “taking a breath”? This can’t be drawn.) Sweat drips from his face, a drop is hanging from his chin. He has his gun at the ready.
I don’t have the slightest idea where though.
With good reason.
Panel 3. Medium close up of Pvt. Bruce, from behind. In front of him is just endless thick jungle.
Not only am I wounded–
Panel 4. Close up of Pvt. Bruce peeking over a downed tree. Panicked eyes.
Okay, deep breaths.
Panel 5. Close up of Pvt. Bruce’s hand holding his compass. The arrow points east. His hand is rattling, show such with motion lines.
Calm down, get your barrings, (“bearings” – This script needs some proofreading!) then beat feet.
The biggest thing with this page is the captions.
You’re switching back and forth a couple of times: sometimes, it’s from a past point of view, and others from a “right now” point of view.
Not good at all. Pick a timeframe and stick with it. This way, your readers aren’t confused about when this story takes place. It could be from someone looking back, telling the story, or it could be happening in real time. There’s a marked difference to each, and you can’t have it both ways.
And what’s with all the dragging? There’s only been a couple of intimations of him being “hunted,” and that’s it: one with the footfall, and the other with the arrow. What’s up with that? Where’s the feeling of danger? The feelings of fear, and being crowded by the jungle, and the heightening of anxiety? None of that is coming through.
The reason for that, though, is simple.
You’re not telling the story to its best effect.
I’ll go over that when I run it down.
Panel 1. Close up of the top half of Pvt. Bruce’s face, midway from the bridges of his nose up. He’s eyes burn with a great intensity.
You’ll get to that camp salvation.
There will be a medic, and shelter, and all will be taken care of.
Panel 2. Mid shot of Pvt. Bruce standing, a look of determination on his face.
Then all I have to do is wait out the war.
Panel 3. Wide shot. Pvt. Bruce is lurched forward his eyes wide in shock, another arrow is sticking out of his chest. His rifle is free falling. (You’re missing something important here. A crucial detail! But I want to see if anybody else can see it. It’s something that the artist NEEDS to know and it’s up for grabs for anyone reading.)
Panel 4. Mid shot of Pvt. Bruce laying on his side, a wide eye gaze on his face, arrow sticking out a blood soaked spot on his chest.
My father took me hunting once–
–I couldn’t even shoot a deer–
See what I mean about the lack of the feeling of danger? It’s so absent that even your character forgot it, and he was shot with an arrow!
Connor MacCleod of Clan MacCleod! Shame on thee!
This needs to be rewritten from the ground up.
Panel 1. Mid shot of a native man standing with his son. The boy has a bow in his hand. The Father seems very satisfied.
<Much better shot then your last one Yuk Jr.> (Yuk Jr.? Conner, you’ve just obliterated any sense of pathos or tragedy you had going with a single name particle. This is a major faux-pas in tone consistency that throws off the whole story. Do some research, find out what a real name from that culture sounds like and use that instead. Oh, and comma-fail, too.)
–I refused to do it–
Panel 2. Close up of the Father handing his Son a stone knife. The Son is reaching for it cautiously. (Since you’re in close-up – I suppose you’re just showing their hands – how is the artist going to depict “cautiously”?)
–So, if I couldn’t kill some deer–
<Now cut out his heart Yuk Jr. (Comma-fail) Like a big boy.>
Panel 3. Close up of Father smiling, a big toothy grin, looking down at his off panel son.
<And remember. Take a big bite! So you get all his power! Then we’ll bring the rest back to camp for everyone else.>
–A wild animal that we would eat–
Panel 4. Medium close up, high angle shot over the Son’s shoulder, looking down at the dead Pvt. Bruce.
–How can I kill a man?
(A final frightening shot that could bring this whole story down: is there even such a thing as primitive cannibal tribes in Vietnam? Did you research this?)
You basically saved the dialogue for the last page, and this is what we get? Let me say it for you: yuk.
Let’s run it down:
Format: Flawless victory!
Panel Descriptions: They could use some work. Not terrible, but not great.
You need to watch for being able to link your panels, and you need to watch out for things that cannot be drawn. You have both of these here, and it’s bringing you down.
Pacing: Not good.
You did in 8 pages what should have been done in five. Maybe even four. This could use a lot of tightening up.
Also, the over-use of captions—relying on them almost exclusively—is also hurting you and making the story seem to take longer than it does.
I love to read the Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny. I read The Great Book of Amber about once a year. However, even though I pore over every part of the story, there are patches that I skim over. Whenever characters are traveling through Shadow, or walking the Pattern, I generally skip those parts. Why? Because those sections seem to take forever. And when you have a slim book (about 150 pages) has sections that take forever, there’s something wrong.
Your captions-instead-of-spoken-dialogue approach is killing you.
Dialogue: Sometimes, you slip into The Corny Zone. P6, panel 1 is a good example of this. It’s also a great example of you screwing up your time reference.
Content: Okay, this isn’t crap. No, it isn’t good, but there’s something here that gives the story merit. As a reader, I wouldn’t have that many good things to say about this as it stands, but after a good rewriting, it should be pretty decent.
Why rewriting? Because it drags, and has absolutely no drama to it. These two things kill. This slips neatly into the editorial side, so let’s talk about it.
After getting you to cut this from 8 pages down to 5 or so, I’d also get you to inject more of him being hunted. Heighten that aspect. That’s the action that will carry the story. Like I said, the feeling of danger is missing so much that he doesn’t even feel it after he’s been shot with an arrow.
There’s also a small problem here. Not huge, which is why I didn’t make a stink of it before now.
Nowhere in this piece does his name come across. Of course, he’s not going to say his own name. However, not once do you call it out to be shown on his uniform or anything. Now, because this is a shortish piece, it isn’t that important. However, you named him in the script. Shouldn’t he be named where a reader can see him?
Rewrite this because it deserves to be. Give the story what it needs. Don’t be like me: don’t play this for yuks…
That’s all I’ve got, folks. Check the calendar to see who’s up next. And send in more scripts!