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TPG Week 135: Knowing When To Cut

| July 26, 2013

TPGFeatured_01 

Hello one and all, and welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Jayson Cardwell entering into the Grounds. This week, as is the new norm, we’ve switched out, so we’ve got Samantha LeBas in purple, I’m in red, and we’ll both see if Jayson can find

Redemption

PAGE ONE (Four Panels)

PANEL ONE

A Midwestern wheat field, we’re looking at the field from eye level. The wind is blowing slightly from right to left so the stalks should have a slight bend in them. It is nearing sunset and the sky should reflect the warm colors. The wheat field should go on for some distance. Let’s give it some depth perhaps rolling hills, maybe a tree in the distance to provide perspective.(Given the global scope of this story, wouldn’t hurt to mention that this is Midwestern America.)(Here’s a thing to remember: we read American comics from left to right. You have the wind blowing from right to left. There’s nothing else here to catch the eye, so you want to be judicious in which way you lead the eye across the panel. This isn’t wrong, but it could lead the eye in the wrong way. Just something to be aware of.)

CAPTION (MATAOUS): 2020 AD (Your narrator doesn’t need to give this information. In fact it makes more sense if he doesn’t. This can just be a caption, also may want to give a location refrence.)

CAPTION (MATAOUS): The song says these are amber waves of grain(comma) but they are more like fields of gold.(I see where you are going with this, it is not bad as it is written here, but you might make it more symmetrical. The phrase you are parodying is ‘amber waves of grain,’ [adjective noun preposition noun] consider borrowing that structure in his comment.)

PANEL TWO

The panel is totally covered with various currencies and coins (no empty space, like a collage) from all around the world. Chinese Yuan, US Dollar, Euro, Canadian Dollar, Australian Dollar, Thai Baht, Swedish Krona, Swiss Franc, Japanese Yen. (References #1- #9)

CAPTION (MATAOUS): In 2016(comma) global economic markets collapsed. This collapse began with world currencies and quickly spread to other markets. (Two panels into the first page, and I’m bored already. It’s all setup, and it’s uninteresting setup at that. And it’s only two panels in…)

PANEL THREE

A medium shot inside a market exchange, specifically a trading pit. A male broker yelling with a pad of paper in one hand and his other hand gesturing away from his body, palm facing out, to someone else off panel. He should have a panicked look on his face, despair even. In the background you can see other men and women making the same gestures. The broker has a tie on, white cotton dress shirt, and a blazer that is colorfully decorated so he can stand out in the crowd of traders. Since it’s a trading pit the brokers will be on risers and you won’t be able to see much of anything behind them. (Reference #10 & #11).

CAPTION (MATAOUS): Panic gripped the markets. Gold, stocks, bonds, they all crumbled under the collective weight of fear. (Really think about your page turns, does this have enough resonance to make someone want to know more?)

(I feel like Mataous is looking at the field, and this reminds him of the events that led up to this moment. We don’t see that on this page. If you are using images from his memory to illustrate the story, and he is not actually observing the field you might want to amp up the scope, possibly including farming equipment at work and pulling back for an aerial shot.

This is the first page of a GN, we have wheat, money, and a trading pit; visually there is not much going on here. There’s not a lot of tension, characterization, or plot coming forward to speak for itself at this point. Why are you showing these images?)

P1, and what do we have?

We have death. We have a reader ready to put the book back on the shelf, because you bored them to death in three panels.

Here’s the thing: I understand and believe wholeheartedly that you have a little bit more time to spare to grab a reader when you’re writing a graphic novel. You nave more time, but not much more. Whereas in a regular comic, I believe you have three pages to grab the reader, I believe that graphic novels have about five.

You have only three images on this page, but there’s no hint at a story actually showing up yet. What you’re doing is telling us the setup before actually starting the story, instead of letting this information come about organically through exposition. That’s boring, and boring is death.

This means that, more than likely, your entire opening is padding. I haven’t looked ahead, but I don’t believe this page of information is important. It probably could have been a single panel of a page, instead of taking up the entire page. Could I be wrong? Of course, especially since I haven’t looked ahead. However, I don’t think I am. I don’t think that you actually start telling the story until about P3. Maybe even P5. Let’s see.

PAGE TWO (Splash)

A splash page of London. In the foreground we have men and women protestors. They all have bandanas covering the lower half of their faces. Some have cricket bats (it’s London) some have pipes(smoking pipes or lead pipes?) and sticks. In the midground is a male protestor and he’s holding a Molotov cocktail in his right hand. His arm is at the peak of a throw right before the release. The camera angle is from amongst the protestors. So the people in the foreground we can see from the shoulders up. In the background we have riot police in standard riot gear (Reference #12) in a line that stretches across the page. The riot is taking place on a two-lane street in downtown London. So we’ll have sidewalks, street lamps, commercial and residential buildings. Maybe we can see a turned over double decker bus on fire and a red phone booth. Big Ben can be seen in the far background, upper right portion of the page. The air is smoky from car fires and there should be a slight haze. (Is this the best way to show hunger? This image has little to do with the big point you are trying to get across and its familiar.)

CAPTION (MATAOUS): Riots broke out in every major city. Anger and rage consumed citizens of every nation. In every city worldwide there was one collective cry.(Just the cities? People in towns and villages were okay?)

FEMALE PROTESTOR: We demand change.(Exclamation point) (I don’t think they want change, I think they want food, something like: ‘We are startving to death!’ might be more effective.)

MALE PROTESTOR: Give us food now.(Exclamation point)

CAPTION: Food had become the world’s most valuable resource, and the land it’s grown on is now almost priceless.(Weird tense change. I don’t know. Seems like it should be all in past tense. ‘land it’s grown on became almost priceless’?)

(Here we have a recurring problem. You are telling this story, not showing it to us. The comic form presents unique opportunities to write in subtext that can be illustrated. Let the pictures do the talking… I hear they are going for 1000 words in some circles. On page 2, we have people standing on the street. What’s the point? They are hungry. How do we know that? Because the narrator and the characters told us so. At this point, I don’t why you have chosen this medium to tell this story. It could have been prose.)

P2, and we have a splash page that doesn’t do anything. There’s no big reveal, there’s nothing overly dramatic taking place, just a riot that everyone’s seen before.

Now, if there’s rioting, they’re rioting for a reason. Is it change, or is it food? Why are they demanding change? What’s happened that they’re rioting for change? Nothing. You said that the economies collapsed, but said nothing about the cause of the collapse. Things happen for a reason. The reason you’re giving is nothing but hot air. That leads directly to this page, which isn’t having the impact that it could or should.

The pacing of three panels, one panel, and possibly three or four panels…that’s fine. What isn’t fine is the fact that nothing of real interest is happening on these pages. These two pages are nothing but padding. I’m still waiting for the story to start.

PAGE THREE (Five Panels)

PANEL ONE

This panel should take up 1/2 of the page. It is a map of the globe, flattened out to show all the countries in the same shot. (World map, you mean? No need to explain what that is.) To the best of your abilities try to show the larger countries with defined borders, especially those that are going to have a different color. (Note to colorist on the map the following countries should be shown in green United States, Canada, Russia, Brazil, Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the rest in a burnt red. This is accentuate that certain countries are wealthy in land, and others poor).

CAPTION (MATAOUS): Countries with the most farm acreage became the wealthiest nations. Those who could not produce enough food soon become (became)impoverished. (This narration is really dry.)

CAPTION (MATAOUS): Your country was either first world or third. There was no in between.(Meh, maybe get rid of ‘your’ and make country ‘countries.’ Who is he talking to? The possessive throws me off.)

PANEL TWO

A close-up shot of a grocery store shelf with the sign “No Food” placed on it. Maybe show a crumb or two, possibly a cobweb to show that it’s been like that for awhile.

NO COPY (Dropsy.)

PANEL THREE

A panned out shot of a food line at mid-day inside a gymnasium. The people are holding empty bowls in their hands. There is table with piles of rice on it. We have a woman standing behind the table. You can see the lines zig-zag into the background for what seems to be infinite.

NO COPY (Dropsy.)

PANEL FOUR

A close up of a South American woman’s face. She’s malnutritioned.(This is so not a word. Malnourished?) (Looking at that word made me want to stab my eyes with a sledgehammer. Just saying.) Her eyes should show despair and should be sunken in slightly. Stringy thin hair that falls over part of her face, but doesn’t cover up her features entirely. The hair should be patchy as the lack of nutrition has caused hair to fall out. She’s looking directly at the reader as if asking them for help.

NO COPY (Dropsy.)

PANEL FIVE

A full body view of an Indian boy who has died from starvation. The body should be skeletal but not decomposing. It’s a birds-eye-view and should cover the entirety of the panel with a small section in the upper left hand corner for the caption. The ground he’s laying on should be void of any vegetation, a dirt patch. His eyes should be open and his mouth slightly agape. His head is turned to the side.He should be wearing only a pair of linen pants. They should be worn and tattered and covered in dirt.

CAPTION (MATAOUS): Everything spiraled out of control, and the only recourse left seemed to be — (he is interupted, so whatever comes next should tell us exactly what the recourse seemed to be.)

(For just pennies a day, you could help prevent world hunger, cue sad music and put up the 1-800 number. This montage isn’t doing much to advance the story, most of it is silent, and it feels familiar for all the wrong reasons. Also how hungry are people? Like, Hey, honey, maybe we should plant some tomatoes so we don’t have to go stand in that zig-zagging to infinity line for food at the Y hungry? Or cannibalism hungry?

We still don’t know who is talking, or why, or to whom…)

P3, and more of the same. Still no story to be had. It’s all background story, and it is neither good nor is it interesting. Couple that with the fact that we still have yet to get into anything resembling a story, and I was right in that these first few pages could be cut as padding.

And we have a case of the dropsies. What are the dropsies? That’s when dialogue is all in captions, but then the writer runs out of things to say for a while, and then comes back in later. Surprisingly, it doesn’t happen with “spoken” dialogue, only with captions. That’s what happened here. (How do I know? Because I’ve done it a couple of times myself. This was not deliberate. I just couldn’t think of anything else to say. The same thing, here. How to combat this? Spoken dialogue. You don’t run out of things to say when someone’s actually speaking in the panel.)

Nothing of any real merit is being said here, either. It’s another waste of a page with faux-story. However, we seem to be coming to actual story in the next page. Let’s see if that actually happens.

PAGE FOUR (THREE PANELS)

PANEL ONE

A close-up shot of a female Latino news anchor sitting behind a desk. She’s staring directly into the camera giving a news report. There should be a scrolling news feed along the bottom that says “BREAKING NEWS… Delegates from…”. In the bottom right corner of the feed the time should read 9:07 AM.

NEWS ANCHOR (elec): (connecting double dash)War. (Seperate balloon, ups the impact of the the news anchor finishing the narrator’s thought.) Delegates from nations across the globe are gathering in New YorkCity for a UN Peace Summit. The topic of discussion, the threat of global nuclearwar. (War and global nuclear war? Just…no. The good news, though, is that there’s actually someone speaking on panel. Too bad the first thing they said sounds like a bunch of nonsense. If feels like we did a timeslip back to the 80s. The early 80s. Would-you-like-to-play-a-game?)

MALE DINER PATRON (OFF PANEL): Nuclear war? Are you serious? What the heck is that gonna solve? (Heck?) (Huh? The person speaking here is off-panel, but you have the camera looking like it’s in the studio. The two don’t go together, because if it were actually in the studio, then the voice would have been heard. So, while this may be a close-up of the newsanchor, you still need to advise the artist that this is coming from a television, and that the tv should be shown in the shot. And it needs to be pulled out enough to give the letterer enough space to do their work.)

PANEL TWO

Medium shot of MATAOUS sitting in a diner at the counter. MATAOUS is on the left facing the TV which is wall-mounted and in the upper left hand corner of the panel. A male diner patron is on his right staring at the TV as well. MATAOUS has a cup of black coffee in front of him, the male patron has a half-eaten plate of eggs and bacon pushed to the side so his body doesn’t cover it up in the shot.. Maybe we see a stereotypical diner waitress behind the counter. The diner is run down. It shouldn’t be pristine looking, but more of a dingy hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon. (A diner as the first place to comment on the response to world hunger, is this meant to be ironic? Also, if the diner has food to sell wouldn’t they be really well off? Introducing the image of people eating into the hunger picture you have been building is confusing. If you want the contrast of diner/starvation make a big statement here, it shouldn’t be so familiar and accessible.)

MATAOUS: Nuclear war is a perfect tool for him to use.(He doesn’t answer the question, ‘it would solve everything,’ or contradict him, ‘actually…’ that makes this line feel disconnected.)

MALE PATRON: What?

MALE PATRON: How is it a tool number one, and number two are you crazy? And number three who is this ‘him’ that you’re talking about? (These are the questions a reader should be asking at this point, do you need to guide them so much?)

MATAOUS: It’s simple(comma) really. Detonate several nuclear warheads on rich fertile farm soil(comma) and the radiation will render that area useless for years to come. He has always been so very clever. (Usually, I’d call this just a little too much back-and-forth. However, seeing as there are only three panels on this page, this one should be more than large enough for this to accommodate the dialogue you have here.)

PANEL THREE

From the POV of a waitress who would be behind the counter looking at MATAOUS and the male patron. MATAOUS is still staring at the TV which is off panel; his eyes intently focused. The male patron is staring at MATAOUS with a confused look on his face. Not Note here that the necklace MATAOUS is wearing has to be visible in the shot.(See Character description for identifying features of the necklace). In the background we can see booths that are empty and through a large window a desert landscape.(If this place has food, and all they want in return is worthless money, wouldn’t it be packed?)

MATAOUS: I’ve seen him do time and time again, but this time happening on a far larger scale. He’ll be there in New York. I’ll finally be able to bring about the redemption that has so long alludedeluded my fallen brothers. The redemption that The Father sent me to bring. (This is really longwinded, and I am having a hard time believing that this mysterious figure would volunteer all this information, without provocation, to strangers.)(49. There are 49 words in this balloon. That’s too much for a balloon to hold with comfort. This should be about 35, at the max. We’ll talk about the content later. But, yes, he sounds crazy as he drinks his coffee.)

(I feel like you are just telling the story, and maybe spoonfeeding your audience more than necessary.

This diner thing is really throwing me off. You’ve just allowed a UNICEF for less than a dollar a day you could feed children like poor, poor Elmer advertisement to be interupted by an IHOP pancake month commercial. Why is this place still open? Where does their food come from? Why aren’t more people there? Why are they accepting defunct currency? Why isn’t it more glamourous if they are trading in one of the most sought after commodities on the planet? Why aren’t they bartering for goods? Why are they not hoarding their food?)

When I was a kid, I was writing prose stories. I was actually writing a book that was highly derivative of a book series I was reading at the time (Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series, if you must know). However, I was just writing, without really knowing where I was going, and unable to adequately explain the concepts I was writing about.

When I was older, I wanted to write a comic about politics, but I had no real interest in the subject matter. I knew what I wanted to do, but I was looking for a co-writer to work on the political part with/for me. Because I had little interest in politics, and I knew it would take me some time to learn things in order to get up to speed, I wouldn’t have done the comic the justice I thought it deserved.

This writing reminds me of a younger me. A me that knows he has a story to tell, but doesn’t yet have the life experience to back it up correctly, and thinking that the backstory being told is actually interesting and positively germane to the story being told now.

You could have actually started with this page, not lost anything, and gotten people interested immediately. Then there wouldn’t be as many questions asked that knocks at the credibility of the story. The first three pages are nothing but knocks to the story. This page, while harking back to the 80s with the understanding of radiation, is the first time I actually felt like I there is story being told. Actual story, and not something that is being spoonfed me because I wouldn’t indulge on my own.

Sam is right, though, that you’re leading the reader a bit too much. Even though I’m not the smartest guy in the world, I’m also reluctant to have my hand held throughout the entire thing. Instead of cutting pages, we just need to rework some of the dialogue here.

PAGE FIVE (FOUR PANELS) Page Break

PANEL ONE

First of three panels across the top of the page. A close-up shot of MATAOUS’s cup of coffee and $7.68 cents on the counter of the diner.(Why $7.68? Is that supposed to reflect inflation? If so, show the bill, or the amount could just as easily be a generous tip. Also, I am not sure that this amount for a cup of coffee reinforces the ‘food is the most valuable thing in the world’ idea that you are going for. $20 or more seems more reasonable, given that the world is on the brink of war because of starvation.)

CAPTION (MATAOUS): After all this time…

PANEL TWO

A close up of a beaten down brown Ford Bronco. It’s got rust spots along the trim, and the rear windshield is cracked. The camera angle is shot looking at the rear passenger side of the vehicle. Texas plates read “HVNLYHST”.(This seems like a break in the tone you have established. I am not sure that the vanity plate fits with the starving South American woman begging the reader for help with her eyes. Also personalized plates in Texas are are 7 characters max.)

CAPTION (MATAOUS): (continuing ellipses)my purpose will finally be fulfilled.

PANEL THREE

A close up of a pair of keys inserted into the ignition. There should only be two keys on a plain key ring. Nothing fancy. One key for the ignition and one for the doors of the vehicle.

CAPTION (MATAOUS): The Father sent me to deliver His divine judgement to The Beautiful One, the Fallen Angel… (This just got really painful to read… Now, how is the reader really supposed to connect the spoken dialogue to this internal monologue as one and the same person?)

PANEL FOUR

A large 3/4 page panel on the bottom page. A pulled out shot of the diner and landscape. We should have a two laned road running from the bottom left corner to the top right corner of the panel. On the left side of the road near the foreground of the shot we have the tiny roadside diner from the previous page. The small should be small and rectangular (I have no idea what this sentence is supposed to mean.). The sign over the main entrance should say ‘Mel’s Diner’. The color scheme and in-depth design I’ll leave to you to explore. We should see a semi-truck and a few other vehicles parked along the near-side roughly five to six. It’s morning so the shot should be very bright and the sun on the right side of the panel indicating East. It’s a desert landscape with sparse vegetation, dust, dirt, and sand everywhere, completely flat. On the road heading to the East is the brown bronco with no other vehicles.

CAPTION (MATAOUS): Lucifer. (Again, your visual doesn’t seem to line up with the text. There’s nothing forboding about what is happening on the panel, or in the previous diner panels either, for that matter. Dude got some coffee and now he is driving away from the diner after paying for said coffee. Doesn’t scream impending confrontation with the embodiment of evil to me. The tension you are building in the dialogue isn’t reflected in the illustrations you are describing.)

(Who is going to be in New York? Lucifer or The Father? If we are trying to get to the Doomsday clean slate, does that mean that God is behind the war and hunger? It could just as easily be the plot of Lucifer, who has a taste for inflicting pain and suffering. This is muddy. Everything is has been so clearly laid out, I might argue that there have been moments when it has been too clear, but here you haven’t gotten the central point of the story across.)

P5. Usually, I’d just run it down, but I have a little bit to say about this page.

It’s terrible, because nothing happens. Like Sam said, it’s unclear. Let’s take a look at what we actually have, from P1 to here.

We have an internal monologue by some character. Don’t know who, but because of the voice, we can definitely tell it isn’t an omniscient narrator. This character has a point of view. It’s long-winded until it drops, but it’s there. You go out on some limbs and the voice is a bit inconsistent, but there’s something there.

The dialogue doesn’t really fit the story being told. There seems to be a huge disconnect between the two. That’s rarely good. In this case, it isn’t good. The dialogue, even in contrast to the art, should be highlighting whatever it is the art is showing. Even if the dialogue is telling its own story that is counterpoint to the art, the reader should be able to follow. That isn’t happening here. The art and the dialogue seem to be telling their own, disparate tales. Again, that isn’t good.

Basically, one thing or another has to change: the art, or the dialogue. Which is more important to the story? Only you can answer that.

Now, let’s run this down.

Format: You missed a flawless victory by a single page break. Those are important.

Panel Descriptions: For the most part, I’d call them clear. However, with that clarity, I have to ask about the sensibility of what was shown. Did any of the images do much to push the story forward? Could a visual narrative be followed on P1? How about P2? How about P3? What about P1 to P3? I’m going to say the answer is no.

Spelling and terms. Normally, I don’t hit on spelling unless there’s a question about clarity. I only had a question about clarity once, but I felt stabbing pain in reading that one term… There are two books that every writer needs to own, unless they go online and look it up (but looking through books is always a good way to learn): a dictionary, and a thesaurus. You needed a thesaurus, and you needed it badly.

Work on your clarity. As a writer, you live and die by words. Have some respect for them.

Pacing: The pace of the panels I have no problem with. I only have a problem with one word balloon that has too much dialogue in it. Technically, I have no problem with the pacing, from a panel-to-page standpoint. However, what happens in the panels…that I have a problem with. In that sense, the pacing is terrible, because nothing happens.

We’ve got nothing of interest going on for P1. P2 is a splash, but since it wasn’t properly built up on P1, it’s ineffective. P3 continues to be ineffective, and we finally get to P4, where we have a disconnect.

Now, the first three pages could be totally cut from the story, and not a single thing would be lost. Read all the dialogue on the first three pages, and then read the dialogue on P4. The two are independent. If you cut the first three pages and just start on P4, you’ve lost nothing, and have started the story that much sooner.

If that were done, then the questions Sam had about the currency, its worth, and why the surroundings are shabby in what should be a first-world nation, would all be unasked. The only questions would then be about the clarity regarding who’s in NY and, of course, the use of nuclear weaponry. The fact that your speaker seems to be a religious nutjob would be a given.

Did you write these scenes separately and then try to connect them? That’s how it seems, and if that is the case, you did a very poor job of connecting the dots.

Dialogue: I had very little trouble in making sense of it. Near the end it got unclear, but that might have been on purpose. The dialogue betrays you, though, because there isn’t enough of it to back up the story. You tried to lay out the story, but really, you set up more questions than you really answered. That’s the opposite of good. Then, the first three pages have no spoken dialogue on them at all. Here is what this particular thing does:

When you don’t have characters speaking on-panel, and all the dialogue can be found in captions, then what you have is a “lean back” experience. What you’re doing is “telling” the story to the reader, instead of things actually happening “now.” When they lean back, they aren’t invested in the story. Want to get a reader invested? Have characters speak on-panel. I don’t count P2, because it’s a single panel, not much is said, and what is said doesn’t help to tell the story. Not the way it should.

Now, just because I had little trouble making sense of the dialogue doesn’t mean that the dialogue is good, or that there are questions unanswered. In fact, the dialogue hurts the story more than you think it does, because it doesn’t tell the entire story. This is why cutting the first three pages would be much better for the tale you have, rather than keeping them. They aren’t helping to tell the story in any way.

Content: I won’t call it crap. I’ve seen crap before, and this isn’t it. What I will say is that it is uninteresting. All the interest you had was drained by the captions and the actual spoken dialogue. As a reader, I’d call it a waste of time.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. The story needs to be clearer, the effects need to have more clearly defined causes, and whatever ambiguities there are in the dialogue need to be cleared up. Put plainly, this story needs to be told better.

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