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TPG Week 121: Reworking the Redraft

| April 19, 2013

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Welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a double-treat: we have Steve Colle returning with a revamped draft of his Captain America script, which isn’t something we get around here too often. This means the second treat is that we have Yannick Morin returning to take over the duties in blue. Today is the Canadian Connection: Steve & Yannick are from Canadia (yes, Canadia), and I’m from the 109th circle of Hell! (Yes, I’m an extremely minor demon. Trying to earn my horns.)

 

A bit of business before we begin: we’re running out of scripts! We literally cannot do this without you. The wait isn’t long! (I’ve been doing this for 121 weeks straight! Do you really want to give me a break now?)

 

Anyway, let’s see what happens in

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: “Casualties of War” Third draft

Written by Steve Colle 11/03/2013

 

PAGE ONE (six panels)

 

Panel 1. Long establishing shot of the interior of a clinic, with a reception desk and a dozen chairs in the waiting area. Out of the dozen, five are empty. Here’s what’s going on from left to right, making note that we can see the entrance to a hallway in the far left near the foreground. Two people of the seven seated are important to this story, both of whom are on the far left of the frame: VANESSA STUART (a Caucasian woman in her 40’s) and MATTHEW, her young son of 8. They are looking towards the far right of the panel with embarrassed expressions on their faces as they gaze at MICHAEL STUART (a Caucasian man in his late 50’s), who is hovering over the receptionist at the desk, yelling at her. She, in turn, is trying hard to maintain her composure as she is responding back to him. (This panel description started out great, but then it morphed into a math problem: “Out of the dozen [chairs], five are empty. […]Two people of the seven seated are important to this story, both of whom are on the far left of the frame…” Really, Steve, how hard would it have been to simply state: “There are around a dozen chairs in the waiting area. Roughly half of these are occupied by patients, including VANESSA STUART and MATTHEW.” Now I’ll grant you have cleaned this up nice – it’s way better ordered than last time – but you need to let go of insignificant details that serve no purpose but confusing the artist.)

 

NOTE TO LETTERER: There will be a mixture of narrator captioning as well as character captions within the story. They will be marked as such within the script. (No need to specify this as 1. a letterer who knows his stuff will see the difference, and 2. you should make this clear in your notations: CAPTION alone is for narrator captions and CAPTION (NAME OF CHARACTER) is for character captions.)

 

1 NARRATOR CAPTION: HANDS & HEARTS COUNSELLING CENTER, 11:13 AM.

 

2 RECEPTIONIST: LOOK, MR. STUART, I UNDERSTAND YOUR IMPATIENCE, BUT — (Extraneous space between the last word and the double-dash.)

 

3 STUART: NO, YOU DON’T, LADY!

 

4 STUART: I’M HERE WITH MY WIFE AND KID ALMOST TWO FREAKIN’ HOURS WAITIN’ FOR DR. MAZAR, AND — (Extraneous space between the last word and the double-dash.)

 

Panel 2. Medium profile of Stuart (left) and the receptionist (right). (Why specify “left” and “right”? You’re already mentioning the characters in the right order.) Stuart’s mouth is shut as he stares angrily at her, having been put in his place. The receptionist is pointing her index finger from an extended arm back to the left of the panel. She has a determined look on her face as she basically orders him to sit back down.

 

5 RECEPTIONIST: DR. MAZAR IS IN WITH A PATIENT, SIR.

 

6 RECEPTIONIST: NOW PLEASE SIT DOW– (Quibble: I’d cut right after the word “sit”, since it’s awkward to cut through a short word like “down”.)

 

7 SFX: BLAM!

(NOTE TO LETTERER: Have this SFX cross over from Panel 2 to 3 so it looks as though the sound has started in 2 and transcended into 3 across the gutter space.)(You think a gunshot is long enough to last through both panels? I beg to differ: it’s only after the shot has been heard that the characters will react. Keep the sound effect in panel 2 only. Besides, isn’t this something you should leave to the letterer?)

 

Panel 3. The same basic composition as the previous panel, but the pair are reacting to the gunshot differently. The receptionist’s eyes are wide in terror as she screams out, her face turned far to her left past the camera. Stuart’s posture and expression are battle ready as he looks in the opposite direction behind him (we see his face turned past the camera to his right) and orders everyone to hide. (Stuart is on the left. If he’s looking behind him, he should then be looking towards the left, not the right. If he looks towards the right, he’s looking past the receptionist and telling the medical files to duck for cover. But then again, none of this would have been confusing if you had just stated that he was looking back at the reception area. Same thing for the receptionist: she can’t be turning her face to the left; she’s already facing that direction! See how all those extraneous details are coming back to haunt you? Simplicity, simplicity…)

 

8 RECEPTIONIST (BURST): OMIGOD!

 

9 STUART: EVERYONE GET DOWN!

 

Panel 4. Full shot of Stuart as he begins to race towards the hall (in the foreground left) (You already specified in your first panel where the hallway was.) leading to the back offices where the shot came from. He has the expression of a battle ready soldier on his face, no fear.

 

10 MATTHEW (BURST from OP): DADDY!

 

Panel 5. Extreme close-up of a shotgun barrel mere inches away from Stuart’s startled eyes, Stuart on the left, shotgun barrel on the right. (You just flipped the camera past the 180 axis. Stuart was running towards the left, so he should be on the right and the shotgun barrel on the left to better convey his sudden running into the gun.)(Extremely good catch here. This panel threw me for a loop, too.)

 

11 KAY (OP): BACK IN THAT WAITING ROOM NOW, MISTER.

 

Panel 6. Close-up facing shot of KEVIN KAY, an unshaven man in an army jacket, arm outstretched with the shotgun aimed at the camera, finger on the trigger. We’re looking down the barrel of the shotgun at Kay’s eye level, his expression being that of a man holding all the cards, all the power to the situation.

 

12 KAY: GET THE COPS ON THE PHONE. TELL THEM I WANT CAPTAIN AMERICA HERE BY THIRTEEN HUNDRED HOURS … (Extraneous space between the last word and the ellipsis.)

 

13 KAY: … OR I’LL SHOOT A SECOND HOSTAGE. (Extraneous space between the ellipsis and the first word.)

 

 

(Now this is what I call a first page! Apart from the technical aspect of muddy panel descriptions, we have everything here to ensure that the reader is hooked and that he turns to that fateful second page: the setting is well established, characters are introduced, action already ramps up, and it ends on a cliffhanger that ensures we want to read more.)

 

P1 is on the books!

 

This page is a helluva lot stronger than the previous entry. A few technical quibbles, but there are two things I want to point out, and I’m glad Yannick did, or else I’d have to go into a long and boring explanation.

 

The first thing is Time. A panel is (generally) encapsulated by a border, and that border holds all the Time within it. You can add Time to a panel by adding dialogue, and you can also take Time away by removing it. Just remember that sound effects are part of dialogue, and thus, part of the Time within a panel.

 

I’m not a fan of having word balloons break borders. If the artist has done their job, they have accounted for the word balloons in their layouts. If the writer has done theirs, they should have a general idea of where the balloons should go.

 

I’m not a fan of a sound effect breaking a border. I’m especially not a fan of a short sound effect, like a gunshot, not only breaking a border, but also crossing into another panel. Remember, there are two types of Time: Border Time, which is what’s within each border, and Gutter Time, which is between the borders. A single gunshot doesn’t have enough personal time to break one border, cross the gutter, and break another border. Frankly, this is a terrible, terrible call to make, because if it were to go through untouched, it would make the letterer look like a rank amateur. (And I like the concept of dialogue having its own personal time.)

 

The next is the one-eighty rule. It goes something like this: there’s a line between two objects in a panel, and the camera shows them on one side of the line for every shot. This means that both objects are on the same side, no matter what the camera angle. The camera can swing in an arc of 180 degrees. As soon as the objects switch positions, you’ve crossed the line, and the camera has gone beyond the 180 degrees that it should go. Steve flipped that here, in the name of trying to keep the reader’s eyes moving in the correct direction: he was trying to get the eyes to go to the right, “into” the comic, so that there would be a subconscious “need” to turn the page.

 

However, it also had the unintended consequence of throwing the reader right out of the story because he broke the 180 rule.

 

Despite that, though, this is a much stronger opening. Much, much better. There’s good work here.

PAGE TWO (three panels)

 

Panel 1. Largest panel on the page. Exterior establishing full shot of Captain America in the foreground mid-panel walking onto the scene. He is facing the background away from the camera with his shield in his left hand. (Last time we went through this, you insisted that Cap have the shield on his back, saying it was iconic. It even was your whole reason for having your lead first appear from the back. Why is the shield in his hand now? Because not only haven’t you solved the initial problem, now you’ve made it worse.) In the middle ground on the left are LIEUTENANT MACINTYRE (the male police negotiator) and a female officer talking. She notices Cap coming and is indicating to Macintyre to turn around, while on the right is a large crowd of people trying to get past a police barricade, with people looking in one of three directions: Either at the building in the background (whose name of HANDS & HEARTS COUNSELLING CENTER is written above the doorway in a stylized heart shaped by hands) or at the police trying to keep them back or at the approaching Captain America. (Are you sure you have enough room to show all three of these behaviors? I’d just have the part of the crowd we can see look at Cap in awe and cal it a day. Also, that last sentence is a six-line nightmare in which you describe the actions of two groups – one with options – as well as a building, sorta. And you know how I can easily get confoozled…) Those looking at Cap are smiling, pointing, or just plain in awe at the presence of this symbol of liberty. (Again, flip this. Cap should be walking up toward us, not walking away from us. This puts the camera behind the cops, and puts Cap square in the middle of things, as it should be. The building isn’t important. The book would have been called Captain America, not Building in the Background.)

 

1 NARRATOR CAPTION: 12:46 PM.

 

2 FEMALE OFFICER: HE’S HERE, SIR.

 

3 CAPTAIN AMERICA: WHAT HAVE WE GOT, LIEUTENANT MACINTYRE?

 

4 TITLE: CASUALTIES OF WAR (I really like how the title seems like a response to Cap’s question!)

 

5 CREDITS:

 

Panel 2. Cap, in the middle ground, is walking up to Macintyre (towards us with an over the left shoulder shot from behind Macintyre). A crowd with police and barricades are visible behind him. Cap offers his hand in greeting with an intense, focused look on his face, all business. The female officer is out of the shot. (I added a word here just so no one thinks it’s Macintyre who’s out of the shot. After all, he’s an officer too.) (Most of this panel is padding. Shaking hands? What for? This isn’t a movie. Get on with it. Because now, since Cap has his hand out, you HAVE to go through with the shaking of it, or else it will seem like a snub, and no one snubs Cap without getting shield-bashed. Now, who wants to bet there’s going to be too much dialogue for this action? Anyone?)

 

6 MACINTYRE: CUTTING STRAIGHT TO THE CHASE, CAPTAIN…

 

7 MACINTYRE: THE HOSTAGE TAKER’S NAME IS KEVIN KAY, A FORMER ARMY CORPORAL WHO SERVED IN AFGHANISTAN BEFORE BEING HONORABLY DISCHARGED FIVE MONTHS AGO. (Now it may seem as though the lieutenant here just got a visit from the Exposition Fairy, but I won’t ding Steve for it. Why? Because it makes sense for the character to say this. He’s relaying important information to Captain America, information that pertains directly to the situation at hand. That’s the way to do exposition: making sure the exposé is justified by the needs of the plot.)

 

8 MACINTYRE: ODDLY ENOUGH, HE WAS INSISTENT THAT WE GIVE YOU HIS NAME. DOES IT RING ANY BELLS? (Speaking of names, notice how everyone got his out in the open quick and smooth? That’s nice work.)

 

Panel 3. Long shot from behind Cap and Macintyre as they look towards the building. They are off to the left of the panel so as to allow us a clear view of the front door to the building, the name written above the solid doorway (not glass as that would show too much inside; also, the entry pushes in from the right on the door, which is important for later). (I could see from reading further below how this could be important. Now you just have to write it in an intelligible manner.) Again, the officer is out of the shot. (I’m starting to suspect this character of being completely useless…)(And here is where Mac gets shield-bashed. He never takes Cap’s hand, never finishes the shake. And the dialogue in the previous panel? There’s too much of it there for the action that’s happening. What we have is a decent chunk taken out of Border Time in action, but not in dialogue. Weird. Cap’s hand is out for a shake, but instead of the shake happening, we get another view of the building, and the dialogue continues to roll. Oh, btw, this is the second time we get a view of the building. Right now, that building is sharing billing with Cap. Captain America and the Building. This should have been the first time we see the outside of it. More impact that way.)

 

9 CAPTAIN AMERICA: CAN’T SAY THAT IT DOES. HOW MANY HOSTAGES?

 

10 MACINTYRE: AS FAR AS WE CAN TELL, HE’S GOT TEN PEOPLE IN THERE … (Extraneous space between the last word and the ellipsis.)

 

11 MACINTYRE (connected balloon): … ONE OF WHICH HAS ALREADY BEEN SHOT. (Extraneous space between the ellipsis and the first word. And logically, if one person is dead already, then he’s really got nine people, not ten.)

 

(Pet peeve time. I’ve never really understood the deal with “connected balloon”. What do you care how the letterer places the balloons? Does it have any impact on the story? I have the strong feeling that it doesn’t, and anything that doesn’t have an impact on the story, you should stay away from.)

 

12 MACINTYRE: WITH THAT SAID, ALL HE WANTED WAS YOU. (Suggestion: if you want to milk more drama out of this, move Macintyre’ s last line to a new panel showing Cap’s face. The fact that Kay’s demand is meeting with Captain America has, in my opinion, enough importance to warrant getting its own emotional beat.)

 

P2 of Captain America and the Building!

 

There are things done well, and things done not-so-well here.

 

First, what was done well: getting the names of people out in a place where readers can see it. Not only was this done fast, it was done extremely smoothly. The only thing that kinda sticks me is that Cap knew the LT’s name already. Sure, it could be explained away, but it has the ring of familiarity to it. If he knows him, fine, if he doesn’t… It isn’t a real problem, only a small quibble (to use Yannick’s term). If Cap knows him, one of them should acknowledge it. If he doesn’t, then an introduction of sorts would be in order.

 

This keeps people from being shield-bashed.

 

The second thing that was done very well was getting the information out there in an extremely credible way. It gets everyone caught up, without a character telling another something they already know, also called Butler/Maid. Very nice work there.

 

What I’m not liking is that you’re focused more on the building than you are on Cap. In three panels, the building is in two of them. This is because of your seeming steadfast refusal to show Cap head-on in panel 1. I don’t care about his back, and I don’t care to look at his ass. However, that’s all you’re giving us in panel 1. Don’t. Put the camera behind and between the cops, so that we see them, and we also see Cap striding up. Frame him so that he’s the focus of the panel. Cap the icon, not Cap’s ass.

 

Again, the building should only be shown once on this page: in the last panel. Keep the focus where it should be, which is on Cap. If you dilute that, then Cap’s going to shield-bash either the building or you. He might just look at you, and tell you to run into his shield, full force. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do it myself, than have him do it. But then again, I wouldn’t give him a chance to even give me the choice. I’d remember whose book it is, and place the camera accordingly.

PAGE THREE (six panels)

 

Panel 1. Right profile long shot of Cap as he walks closer to the door of the center. Macintyre and the officer are standing together conversing on the left of the panel, with the door to the building on the right.

 

1 C.A. (SHOUTING): OKAY, KEVIN. I’M HERE.

 

2 C.A. (SHOUTING): NOW HOW ABOUT YOU RELEASE ONE OF THE HOSTAGES IN GOOD FAITH. (Change that period for a question mark.)

 

3 KAY (SHOUTING): NOT UNTIL YOU COME IN.

(NOTE TO LETTERER: The tail from Kay’s balloon should be coming from the door, not from off panel.) (Place the lettering notes before the dialogue so the letterer can better see them and take them into account as he reads the lines.)

 

Panel 2. Shot of the closed door to the building.

 

4 KAY (SHOUTING): NO SHIELD.

(NOTE TO LETTERER: The tail from Kay’s balloon should be coming from the closed door.)

 

 

Panel 3. Medium facing shot of Cap in the foreground handing his shield back to the female officer from his right hand. (It’s not important which hand he uses, unlike that door business we’re about to see.) She is looking concerned, with Macintyre’s hand on her shoulder. (Unless you have big plans for her further into the comic, I can’t see why Cap can’t just hand Macintyre his shield instead. She’s scenery – cut her out.)

 

5 FEMALE OFFICER: CAPTAIN, YOU CAN’T — (Extraneous space between the last word and the double-dash.)

 

6 C.A.: IT’S ALL RIGHT.

 

Panel 4. Medium profile shot as he begins to calmly push the door open.

 

Panel 5. Low angle close-up of Cap’s face in the foreground looking just above the camera. Behind him, hiding behind the open door, is Kay, the butt of the shotgun about to hit Cap in the back of the head. (I have trouble believing that Captain America, a soldier, a superhero, a WW2 veteran, would let someone like Kay pull the ol’ doorway gag on him. It looks like you had to slip Cap the Idiot Ball in order to get your plot rolling.)

 

Panel 6.Black. (And we end on another cliffhanger just before the page-turn. Nicely done!)

 

And then, we devolve into mediocrity.

 

Here’s the problem: Captain America, like Batman, is too damned good at his job. Unless he had a plan, there is no way that a single, regular guy can do something that an entire platoon of Hydra, AIM, and the German army couldn’t do: get the drop on Cap. It’s no easy thing to do, and he had to have expected it.

 

The thing about writing for Captain America is the same thing about writing for Batman: you have to be about a dozen steps ahead of the character, so that things are plotted out accordingly. I love to give the benefit of the doubt—we all know this. So, I’m giving it here. I don’t think there’s a plan that Cap is following, but I’m willing to admit the possibility of being wrong.

 

This makes Cap look like a chump. Being knocked out on P3? Especially after sharing the screen w/ The Building? Not good. “Trap” should have been smelled from about 10 miles out and three hours ago.

 

Let’s run this down.

 

Format: Flawless Victory. Although, like Yannick, I’d rather see the letterer’s notes closer to the beginning of the dialogue instead of at the end of it, and the naming convention that Yannick suggested is much simpler than we you have it here. This is more an editorial tweak than a mandate on format, but I think it reads easier. However, part of format is also consistency, and you were certainly consistent with where you placed your lettering notes. This is why you get the FV.

 

Panel Descriptions: Much better than before, but these still need some work. You’ve let go some, which is a great thing. Now, we need to get you to let go a little bit more. You have to be secure enough in your job in order to let the rest of the team do theirs.

 

The important takeaway here, which is something you already know, but aren’t putting into use: describe what’s important and leave the rest to the artist. Describe left to right, but do it in a simple manner. The less you make someone’s head hurt, the easier your script will be to digest.

 

Watch out for the 180 rule. We don’t see that one broken much around these parts.

 

One last thing about the panel descriptions: make sure you follow through. All kidding aside, Cap shouldn’t have had his hand out to be shaken if you don’t follow through with it being taken. It’s an unnecessary action, anyway, but since you had it, you have to follow through with it. You had it set up, you just didn’t follow through with it.

 

Pacing: Much better this time around! That was a pretty nice P1, and then you start to bury your lede on P2. I don’t wanna see Cap’s back and ass. Cap’s ass isn’t iconic. Cap’s star is iconic. The shape of Cap’s shield with the star is iconic. Don’t show me ass, show me something that will make my heart swell with pride, or something that will make me go “Aw, yeah!” Captainus Americus gluteus maximus does not do that. Chest or shield, striding toward me. The bigger, the better. This is why you have three panels on P2, which works. Just frame it more correctly.

 

Dialogue: It all works. I had no real problem with the dialogue, except for what I’ve already stated. Good work here.

 

Content: As a reader, you had me up until the end of P3. I believe Cap would willingly walk into a trap, because he’s done it before. He’s good enough to get out of most traps. I don’t believe that Cap would walk into a trap and allow himself to be knocked out. That’s where you lose me. True, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, but still, it’s a challenge for me to fathom as a reader.

 

Editorially, this needs little work (up to the end of P3). Some tweaks here and there. What I’d need to do, though, is read the entire thing before deciding to buy the story or not. You almost have a one-two punch that makes me throw it in the bin, though. The first is the Cap-ass. That’s a given. The second part of that, though, is Cap being knocked out. Since we don’t have an internal monologue or any thought balloons, we can’t see into Cap’s head. Since we can’t see into his head, we don’t know exactly what’s going on. Editorially, I don’t know if you can handle the corner you wrote yourself into on P3, and I’m not yet invested enough in the story to find out. That’s a problem.

 

I mean, come on! You have the ultimate soldier knocked out by a nobody within three pages of showing up in a brand new story in his own book. What does that tell me? Does it tell me that you really understand the character? The medium? The audience? Would the audience believe this? Who’s the better foe: Zemo, or Kay? Who has more of a chance of knocking Cap out, putting some sort of shackles on him, and then monologuing until Cap escapes?

 

It would be a tough decision, but one that would be made for me by others: as a Marvel editor, I’d have e-mails to answer, phone calls to take, art to go over, meetings to attend, scripts to go over for approval, and myriad other things to do. This script would be pushed down the chain of interest, probably forgotten, because I couldn’t make it past P3.

 

What would I suggest instead? Push Cap’s arrival out to P3. The end of P3, and give him a nice splash on P4. What do you do with the other two pages? You build up the situation in the office more. Is Kay desperate? Nervous? Calm? In control? Is he alone? Who got shot? Where is the body? Is anyone tending to it? Lots of questions to answer, and you can answer them by simply pushing it out Cap’s arrival for a bit.

 

And that’s all there is for this week.

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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.

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