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TPG Week 90: The Blank Canvas

| September 14, 2012

Hello! Once again, we welcome you back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a returning Brave One in Jeremy Melloul. As usual, we have Steve Colle in blue, and me in red.

Now, let’s see if Jeremy is capable of

Taking Flight

 

PAGE ONE (4)

PANEL ONE: Lex’s pick-up truck speeding down an empty road cutting through pastures (going left to right).

PANEL TWO: View from ahead of Lex, facing forward, in the driver’s seat. He is shaking his head violently “in rhythm” with the heavy metal music playing from the radio. He is gripping the wheel with his left hand and holding a bag of chips with his other hand. (Is he eating from the bag?)

Beside him there is a row of two cupholders, the one closest to him holds a large gas station soda while the other is empty. Just in front of the cupholders (more in the foreground) is a closed compartment.

PANEL THREE: View from outside the passenger-side window into the car (Whose car? Michael’s? Is he the one driving?). Michael is sitting back in his seat, visibly irritated, looking out the window. We see Lex amped up further behind him. (Further behind in another vehicle?)

PANEL FOUR: View from inside car. Lex looking on at Michael as he taps him on the shoulder. Michael is still awake.

LEX: Michael, are you asleep, man?

 

Jeremy, you have me confused already, sir. Lex is in a truck speeding while he rocks out with a bag of chips. Michael is in a car, irritated. Lex taps Michael on the shoulder. HUH?? Are they in two separate vehicles? Are you saying the car is actually the truck misnamed? I have no idea how to visualize this page.

Le WOW!

Okay, this entire first page is a complete and total failure. There’s no other way to put it. Let’s see what’s wrong with it. (The only thing right with it is the format.)

The first panel tries to be an establishing shot, but falls extremely short of it.

To begin with, we don’t have a camera angle. No, a camera angle isn’t needed in every PD, but this isn’t written in such a way that we intuitively know where the camera is. The artist doesn’t know whether to be pushed in, pulled out, or have a medium shot. The only thing we know (and something done right in this panel) is that the truck is going from left to right. We don’t have a good Where. Pastures? That doesn’t tell me anything. Pastures look different in different areas. We don’t have anything approaching a When. I’ll assume it’s present day, and I’ll assume that it’s daytime. The first is an easy assumption, but the second? That’s something I shouldn’t have to assume.

This would be a two-panel establishment of the setting, which means that panel two should finish telling us Who and What. It does that, the but the camera placement is clear as mud.

Not only is the description of the camera placement nearly incoherent, but you have what would amount to be a moving panel, as well. How is the reader supposed to know that this guy is rocking out to anything? Drawn as the static image that it is, it will look like something else, especially considering there isn’t any music being shown and he isn’t singing.

To continue with panel 2, it’s undrawable. You won’t be able to see all of that from the murky angle you described the camera being (outside looking in), because the cupholders are going to be below eye level, and more than likely, so will the bag of chips (unless he’s holding it up for us to see).

Panel 3 has you describing another vehicle, at best. At worst, it’s the same vehicle, which means you just confused the hell out of your artist, because the first vehicle was a pickup truck, and now you’re talking about a car. Since you’re now talking about a car, everything else in this panel doesn’t work, because we’re talking about two different vehicles.

Folks, it’s like this: clear, consistent terminology is paramount. I don’t care about format. I don’t care about anything concerning the mechanics of how you get your story across. What I care about is clarity and consistency. Clarity and consistency will take you far. If you aren’t clear and consistent, you’ll have an editor making more notes on your script than you have script.

To get back to it: Michael should have been seen in panel 2. If we could see the unnamed driver, we should have been able to see the irritated passenger named Michael. If you had done that, instead of trying to show the impossible, then you wouldn’t have confused your artist or Steve. Personally, if I were an editor reading this as a submission, I would have thrown it right in the trash and sent you a bill for about fifty bucks. That would have covered the time you had me waste in reading this, the paper I wasted in printing this, and the envelope and stamp I had to use in order to send you the invoice. Yes, your first page is that bad.

Panel 4: This panel is undrawable. My head nearly exploded trying to wrap itself around where the camera could be placed in order to see all of this.

It’s about space, folks. Vehicles present a huge problem when it comes to space. Why? Because there isn’t a lot of it. You can only put the camera so many places when you’re in a vehicle. Watch tv or some movies. If people are in cars, the camera doesn’t go very many places: outside looking in, to either side looking in, backseat looking toward the front, front seat looking toward the back, driver seat looking toward the passenger, or passenger looking toward the driver. There aren’t very many more permutations of that.

If you want the camera inside the car, then you have to figure out what angle you want that makes sense and in which you can see everything you want to do. If you can’t envision it, go out to your car and take some pictures.

You have to work with the space that your settings give you. You aren’t doing that here, Jeremy, and it (along with other things) killed you.

PAGE TWO (4)

PANEL ONE: OTS of Michael, who has turned to face Lex, who is looking at him inquisitively. (If they are in a vehicle together, who’s driving? Lex?)

MICHAEL (icy balloon – so passive aggressive): Not likely.

PANEL TWO: Medium shot of Lex, smiling big.

LEX: Oh, my bad dude. (Comma-fail.)

PANEL THREE: Close-up Lex’s thumb and forefinger wrapped around the radio’s volume dial as he lowers the volume. (What is this panel for? How is it pushing the story forward or revealing character?)

PANEL FOUR: Lex, grinning mischievously, scratching the middle of his neck under his chin.

LEX: So, uh, since you’re not asleep and all…

LEX: Can you pack me a bowl?

 

Again, I’m still confused. Are they in a vehicle together? Why is Lex asking Michael to pack him a bowl while they’re driving. Does he mean when they get home? So far I’m not clear on what’s going on, which isn’t a good thing.

P2, and we’re not yet off to the races. Actually, I don’t know if we ever will be.

Personally, I’m tired of weed references. I’m editing someone else, and they have a whole exchange that has people smoking weed from a bong. Another writer has marijuana as a point in his story, but it’s used for more than just recreation. It’s a plot point, and integral to the story. But I digress…

Panels 1 and 2 are drawable. Uninteresting, but drawable. Panel 3? Panel 3 isn’t doing anything at all. It’s a waste of space. Why? Because you’re confusing film with comics. Film (generally) has sound, so you’d be able to hear really loud music. If this were a movie, we’d probably be able to hear the music in the opening of the scene, when we were establishing our whereabouts. Since there isn’t any sound in comics, and since you didn’t intimate anything about there being any sound, panel 3 does nothing for the reader.

How to fix it? Sound effects. Music from the car, starting on P1, panel 1, and continuing on. Musical notes work, or if you’re feeling really ambitious, you could write your own song. (Notice, I said write your own song. If you use someone else’s song without permission, you’d be in violation of their copyright, and would be open to them suing you.)

As for panel 4, what’s so interesting about this panel that you’re ending the page with it?

So far, we have two pages with four panels each, and a dearth of dialogue. You could have easily fit more on both pages. At least two more panels per page.

PAGE THREE (5)

PANEL ONE: Tight on Michael’s face. He’s stunned by the question.

MICHAEL: A bowl?

PANEL TWO: Same shot as before, in a row with the first one. Michael’s expression hasn’t changed.

PANEL THREE: Same shot as before, Michael looks inquisitive as in (”did you really just ask me that?”)

MICHAEL: Of weed?

PANEL FOUR: Lex nodding vigorously. (Reverse angle from the previous three, right?)

LEX: Obviously.

LEX: You ever pack a bowl before?

PANEL FIVE: Michael, running his hand through his hair. He looks a little uneasy.

MICHAEL: Uh, not really, no.

 

Why is it only now that clarity is kicking in? They’re in the same vehicle, Lex is driving, Michael is in the passenger seat. It’s Page Three and you’re finally making some visual headway. The problem being, your editor and artist are scratching their heads along with me because they couldn’t figure out what you were getting at with the first two pages.

So what I’m visualizing on this page is three panels going across the top, then either two wide panels stacked or two side-by-side panels recounting the last two actions. Is that right? That’s a lot of nothing to go into panels this large.

P3, and really, we’re about to get a lesson on how to pack a bowl of weed…

Comics are amazing.

Mini-tangent time. (Why? Because I can, and it’s more interesting that what’s going on in the script.)

I say comics are amazing because EVERYTHING can be a comic. Setting up a computer? If there are diagrams and words, that’s a comic. Setting up a dvd player? Got something from Ikea? Anything and everything can be a comic. And now, we’re about to read a comic about how to pack a bowl of weed. What would I use this information for? I don’t smoke, but I want to own a (regular) pipe. I would imagine that packing a bowl of weed would be very much akin to packing a pipeful of tobacco. If I were ever to get the urge to smoke a pipe, I could use the forthcoming information to pack it. (Some kind of cherry tobacco. I’m not a smoker, and I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes—not even cloves—but my cousin’s grandfather smoked a pipe, and had some sort of good smelling tobacco. I may be able to stand that.)

Okay, this page is a waste of space. So far, nothing of interest has happened, but I’m not going to dwell on that overmuch. Not on this page. This page, I want to dwell on panel four.

Panel four has the unnamed person nodding their head vigorously. (Unnamed to the reader. Michael has been named, and it was done well, because it was very organic. But Lex? Not named where a reader can see it.)

There are two ways that this can go down. The first way calls this a moving panel. I could say that you can’t show someone’s head nodding vigorously. I’d be something of a liar, though. It would depend on the style of art. If it’s going close to realism, then this would be a moving panel.

If I didn’t call it a moving panel, then again, it goes back to art. If it is more cartoony, then it would work, except for one thing.

The dialogue.

The dialogue doesn’t fit the panel description. For this panel, I’d have left it silent, and moved the dialogue down to another panel. This is very important. Remember, each panel is encapsulating Time, and that is predicated on actions and words. The words don’t match the actions here. There is too much Time in the panel. It’s going to read very awkwardly.

But, this is the best, most drawable page yet. Now, if only there were some story to go with it.

PAGE FOUR (5)

PANEL ONE: OTS from behind Michael. Lex has his right hand inside his jacket – he’s fishing his bowl and weed from inside his breast pocket.

LEX: It’s really simple.

PANEL TWO: View from inside car from windshield. Lex’s arm / hand is now outstretched toward Michael – he’s holding an ornate glass pipe and pill bottle half-filled with weed in the same hand. Michael is cautiously reaching for it.

LEX: All you gotta do is open the pill bottle, (Comma-fail) and grab a nugget. Then, crush it down into the bowl and pack it in. / (Separate balloon. Why? Because you have 50 words in one balloon, man!) You don’t want to pack it in too tightly, though, cause it needs room to breathe. It won’t light if there’s no space for the oxygen.

PANEL THREE: View from behind / over Michael (from Michael’s headrest) as he looks down at the pill bottle and pipe he is holding in his hands (1 in each hand).

PANEL FOUR: Close-up of Michael pulling out a nugget from the pill bottle. He is holding the bowl in one of his other hands. (How is he holding the pill bottle in order to take the nugget out? You have his other hand occupied!)

LEX (disembodied bubble): Woah, man! That’s way too big.

LEX (disembodied bubble): Grab another one.

What do you mean by “disembodied bubble? Do you mean the balloon’s text is coming from off panel?

PANEL FIVE: Head-on view of Michael, still facing forward, but head turned to look toward Lex. He’s thinking that Lex has gotta be kidding him.

MICHAEL: Can’t I just break it into a smaller piece?

LEX: No, dude! I don’t want weed all over my truck.

MICHAEL: All right, relax. (This would sound better as “All right! Relax.”)

 

You’re playing around with the camera in all of these pages to make them interesting visually, but it just ain’t working. Content is content, no matter what you do to play with it. And the content is terrible.

Again, we have another page that’s generally drawable. I’d call that progress! However, it’s boring. Not only boring, it isn’t thought out well. Again, it’s about space. There isn’t a lot of it, but at least you’re now trying to work with it instead of showing impossible things.

Terminology. When you have balloons coming from people speaking off camera, we call that Off Panel, or OP. Some studying of terminology would be good.

Would I call the content terrible? No. Terribly uninteresting? Yes. If this were to make it to the shelves, that’s where it would stay. You have yet to show anything that anyone would be interested in. This won’t sell.

It’s P4, and there’s no sign of a story.

PAGE FIVE (5)

PANEL ONE: View from in between Michael and Lex of Lex who is looking in ‘our’ / Michaels direction, albeit a little lower since he is focused on Michael’s inept packing. (This is a confusing panel description. View from between the two, but the camera is behind Michael as Lex is looking in “our” direction. Wow!)

LEX: You’re doing it all wrong! Give me it!

PANEL TWO: Lex trying to pull the partially-packed bowl out of Michael’s hand. (So he’s not looking at the road?

MICHAEL: You can’t pack it while you’re driving!

LEX: Chill, I’ve done it before.

MICHAEL: That doesn’t make me feel better!

PANEL THREE: Head-on view of the two of them. Lex is outraged, as outraged as stoner can get, while Michael is incredulous.

LEX: Hey man, not cool! It’s my weed!

MICHAEL: It’s my life!

PANEL FOUR: Close-up of Lex pulling the bowl hard in his direction.

PANEL FIVE: View from under of the bowl as it goes flying up as Michael lets go. Weed is spilling everywhere. Both of their eyes are fixed on it. A car honks at them.

SFX: HONK!

I’m stopping here, Jeremy. Not only am I bored with the content of the story so far, mainly because all it is is an exchange on how to pack a bowl of weed, but your panel descriptions are confusing as all get out. The dialogue is readable and sounds natural enough, but is it ever dull. There also isn’t enough of it to keep my attention. It doesn’t matter what part of the story this falls into, beginning, middle, or end, it just isn’t interesting. I don’t even think a magazine like High Times would publish something like this.

This, in my opinion, doesn’t just need a rewrite, but needs to seriously have the content evaluated. I have no issue with the whole weed-thing, even though I don’t like it personally, but the topic is uninteresting. Spruce it up with dialogue, have a conversation that’s interrupted by the need for weed, but make it more interesting, man.

Yeah. Not good. Let’s just run this down.

Format: Almost a flawless victory. Except for the “disembodied bubbles,” it would have been perfect.

Panel Descriptions: Ungood in the beginning, but they got better as you went further, only to get confusing again.

You have to take into account the space you’re working in, Jeremy. The space is first and foremost. If you don’t understand the space you’re working in, then everything else is going to fall short. Your artist will spend more time trying to interpret your meaning than drawing, or they’ll ask you a lot of questions, or they’ll take matters into their own hands, and you won’t get what you want.

Remember what your job is: your job is to be crystal clear in your instructions, so that the rest of the team an do their jobs. There are parts of this that are as clear as frosted windows. Not good.

Pacing: Nothing happens. Nothing at all. Five pages of total nothingness.

I remember watching an episode of Batman (Adam West), where the Joker was painting on canvas. However, he painted nothingness: a cow was in a meadow, but had eaten all the grass, and since he ate all the grass, he then moved off. The canvas was blank.

That was more story in that blank canvas than there was here. The story was simple: cow in meadow, cow ate grass, cow left. What story is here? Guys on trip. One wants to smoke pot. In five pages, there’s not one reference to where they’re going, why they’re there, who they are, what happens when they get to where they’re going, or what obstacles they either will face or have faced during their trip. There is a lot that can be done with five pages, and you didn’t do much of anything with it.

Like I said, nothing happens.

Dialogue: I generally have no problem with it. It’s pretty readable, which is a good thing. There are only two problems with it: the first is that there isn’t enough of it, and the second is that only one character is named where a reader can see it.

Dialogue is supposed to do the heavy lifting of the story. It’s what helps to reveal character and illuminate the art in moving the story along. The dialogue here does that: we know that one of the guys is a pothead and the other is uptight. However, we don’t know anything at all about the story. That’s criminal.

Content: This is a blank canvas. The cow ate all the grass, and then left.

There is no content here.

As a reader, there’s nothing here for me to latch on to. What’s of interest here? Literally nothing. For five pages. The cow ate all the grass.

Editorially, I’d have to call for a total rewrite. I’d have to see what the story is about, and then help you to re-plot it, so that there’s something interesting going on within the first few pages. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time.

And that’s all there is for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s next!

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Category: Columns, 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 stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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