Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have someone who’s no stranger to us: our Brave One is Rich Douek.
I know this week is supposed to have Steve Colle in blue, but he’s under the weather, and Samantha LeBas is taking care of some personal business, so you’re all going to have to deal with me, all by my lonesome. I’ll try to keep my maniacal glee to a minimum, and we’ll see what Rich makes of
THE WAILING BLADE
THE HEAD TAKER
A travelling executioner – heavily muscled, wearing black armor and trailing a long, dark cloak. He’s imposing, impassive, as implacable as death. His blade and his mask are technological artifacts preserved from an earlier age, and put to use by the Tyrant of the distant city Minturn to help keep his subjects in line.
Clytus is an officiant of the Tyrant’s court – it’s his job to read the sentence before the Head Taker does his thing – he wears rich, well made robes, with a clean, well-tailored look in contrast to the lower classes that surround him. Physically, he’s squat, overweight and rather ugly, sporting a bushy beard.
These are low-tech people, look like medieval peasants, with handmade clothes, simple tools, etc, though there should be a touch of the weird around the town to show that these aren’t medieval times – some examples could be weird pack animals, like bird-lizard hybrids instead of horses, or someone using a discarded piece of tech as a simple tool. Think of the kids in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome – they have some artifacts of previous civilizations, but no idea what their original purpose is.
A condemned man, dirty and starved from being in prison for a while.
Carrock’s wife, and mother to his children. She’s a commoner, her clothes are plain and utilitarian. She would be wearing black, as she’ll soon be in mourning.
Character breakdown, right in the beginning. I like it. It means the panel descriptions are going to get right to the meat of the story, instead of being bogged down with character descriptions. Good move.
PAGE ONE (FOUR PANELS)
Dawn, at the gates of the desert-town of Othern. The huge gates stand open, just wide enough to admit a tall, dark figure – the HEAD TAKER. Though dark and imposing, he’s dwarfed by the ornate, byzantine architecture of the gate and walls – arches and parapets soar above him, and the scale of the gates themselves are enormous. The cobblestone streets are deserted. (I’m not getting a good sense of place here. Where’s the camera? Where’s the best place to put it?)
1. CLTYUS (CAP): “They will hate you.” (Oh, come on. Misspelling your character’s name, first time out? For shame.)
Viewed from the side, as though we’re looking through a street-level window, the Headtaker strides down the empty street.
2. CLYTUS (CAP): “Fear you.”
Close on the Head Taker’s helmet, the empty eye sockets seem like a bottomless void.
3. CLYTUS (CAP): “And why should they not?”
4. CLYTUS (CAP): “You are the Head Taker.”
Close on the Head XTaker’s boot, as it crushes a dandelion underfoot. (Dandelion growing through the cobblestones? I’m not seeing it. And this panel really is padding. It’s not doing much to push the story forward or to reveal character. I’m not understanding how a single dandelion would be growing in a cobblestone road without being already crushed, and I’m not seeing how this panel is helping the telling of the tale. Actually, when combined with the text, it’s lightening the mood. I’m now expecting a Mel Brooks joke to appear.)
- CLYTUS (CAP): “You are death itself.”
Okay, so we have P1 on the books.
Overall, it isn’t bad. However, I don’t think the last panel is doing this page any favors at all. It feels like it’s setting up a joke, and that goes against the title of the book and the title of the story. Stepping on a flower and saying “You are death itself” doesn’t really go together. I know it’s supposed to be allegorical, but it isn’t coming off that way to me.
I would suggest doing this a little differently. The first panel is a bit too immediate. I would have started with an overview of the town as the first panel, and then come down to see the guy at the gates. This will give the reader a sense of place and scope, and then they can compare and contrast that against the guy when we come down to see him in the second panel.
The other panels are fine, except for the last, which, as we all know, is bothering me.
I’m not easily reconciling the idea of a single dandelion growing in the street. My problem is that it’s cobblestone, and as such, stuff doesn’t get a chance to really grow between them. Not unless the street is unused, and has been for a while. Now, if that is the case, then there should have been other growth being stepped on, as well, which also lessens the impact of the copy in that panel.
Again, I know you’re trying for allegory, but it’s falling short for me. Like I said, I’m expecting a joke to come around next page.
PAGE TWO (FOUR PANELS)
The town square – its full of people gathered around a wooden stage. Closest to us, the crowd has parted to form a path to the stage. Their faces look towards the camera with fear and trepidation. On the stage, in the distance, we can see the squat figure of Clytus, reading from a scroll, and an executioner’s block (http://farm1.staticflickr.com/5/4982077_dc491bfc73_z.jpg)
1. CLYTUS (CAP): “What you must realize, is that they are also grateful.”
Interior of a jail cell. CARROCK, a condemned man and his wife, AINA, embrace with their eyes closed, forehead to forehead.
2. GUARD (OP): It’s time.
A pair of guards drag Carrock down a dark corridor.
3. CLYTUS (CAP): “The men you slay.”
4 .CLYTUS (CAP): “Husbands. Brothers.” (I would reverse these two words, because it flows more logically with the next panel.)
Aina holds a pair of small children close – she’s in tears.
5. CLYTUS (CAP): “Fathers.”
P2, and really, this could have used another couple of panels.
There isn’t a lot to read here, and because there isn’t a lot of text, it’s a fast read at four panels.
Add more words. Make sure they’re pithy. Give us a reason to keep reading.
PAGE THREE (FOUR PANELS)
The guards shove Carrock through a doorway leading outside. (Where’s the camera?)
1. CLYTUS (CAP): “Criminals, to be sure.”
Carrock stumbles to his knees in the midst of the crowd gathered around the stage. (Here’s the problem: you don’t give a good idea of space between the doorway and the stage. I have no idea where this door is on the previous page when we can see the stage. Because of that, I’m having a hard time putting the elements together, and I shouldn’t.)
2. CLYTUS (CAP): “Wretched.”
A guard kicks Carrock in the gut.
3. GUARD: Up, worm.
4. CLYTUS (CAP): “But, in truth, at least by some…”
This should look like a reprise of Page 2, Panel 1 – but the town square is being viewed from the opposite direction – the faces gazing back at us now are more mixed – some are impassive, but others are full of sorrow and shame. In the back, on the stage, we can see the Head Taker has taken his place above the block.
5. CLYTUS (CAP): “…these men are loved.”
P3, and it’s another fast page.
Know what this page needs? The last page, too? Lots of small panels. The larger panels have the dialogue, but the small panels would be small, silent moments of reflection. Pepper these pages up with about fifteen panels apiece. Small squares, slivers, maybe other shapes of the crowd, the wife, kids, a close-up of the guy speaking on the stage, the guards, the Head Taker, a dog… Ground the story with some gravitas. Lots of small panels will add that.
The other thing is to add just a bit more description to the panels. I can’t reconcile the space between the stage and the door the prisoner comes through. That’s because you didn’t do a good enough job in giving the artist that info. They’re either going to ask, or they’ll assume, and if they don’t assume correctly, you’re going to be asking for redraws.
PAGE FOUR (SIX PANELS)
The guards usher Carrock through the crowd – he looks resolute.
1. CARROCK: Is this justice? I had to feed my family!
2. CLYTUS (CAP): “And yet, how can the people mourn?”
3. CARROCK: Any of you would do the same! Have done the same!
4. CLYTUS: … and for these crimes, against your community, and your
sovereign, the Tyrant of Minturn…
5. CLYTUS (CAP): “How can they cry out without casting suspicion on themselves?”
The Head Taker raises the blade up high, ready to strike. (Whoa! Teleportation! Not good. I don’t want to assume he gets to the stage. The last time we saw him, he was walking up a Soul Train line. How did he get up to the stage without us seeing him? Teleportation. Not good.)
6. CLYTUS (CAP): “In this, as in all things, the Tyrant is abundantly merciful.”
7. SFX (small sound): EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Carrock is fully fastened now, a rope holding his neck in place. Looking down from the Head Taker’s POV, we see a kind of overlay, highlighting the place on Carrock’s neck where the stroke must fall. Strange runes and readouts show the arc the blade will take, and other information.
8. CLYTUS (CAP): “The first mercy is that the stroke shall fall quick, and true.”
Close on the blade now, hanging above the Head Taker.
9. CLYTUS (CAP): “The second is that the blade itself wails, so the people
have no need to.”
10. SFX (louder): AAAAAAAIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEE
The blade has come down, spraying the hilt, and the Head Taker with blood. Would prefer not to show the head, and let the reader imagine it.
11. CLYTUS (CAP): “Oh, make no mistake… “
12. SFX: THUKK
13. CLYTUS (CAP): ”…they hate you, Head Taker…”
Finally, we have a six-panel page.
We also have teleportation. That’s really the only bad thing about this page. The teleportation.
Here’s what I suggest, which would help with that: more small panels. Have the artist put in lots of small panels throughout the story, to help fill some of the spaces and to to tell the story. Cut down the number of panels when you have a lot of dialogue on the page, but other than that, don’t clutter it up, but fill the blank spaces with small panels. Know what small panels would have done?
The HT could have made it to the dias; could have had a close-up of the blade while in the scabbard; could have shown the blade being drawn; could have shown the blade being raised, could have had a close-up of some of the crowd; could have had a close-up of the scroll-reader…
So many different things could have been done, and would still be in keeping with the story being told. Lots of small panels, and it could be an aesthetic to the story itself.
PAGE FIVE (SPLASH)
The Head Taker holds Carrock’s severed head up before the crowd, who react with a mixture of horror, sadness, and cynicism. Nobody’s cheering, though.
1. CLYTUS (CAP): “… but only because they cannot bear to hate themselves.”
This page is badly placed.
This is P5. P5 is on the right. The gutter between pages 4 & 5 is not enough of a gap to give the mind the break it needs between the beheading and the holding up of the head. If you put it on an even-numbered page, you give that break, as well as raise the drama because you have a page turn there.
Let’s run this down.
Format: Flawless Victory. And to be honest, I expected no less.
Panel Descriptions: Pretty good. I just think they need to be beefed up a touch. Spacial relationships need to be addressed, as well as a slight case of teleportation. And then, there’s the dandelion… Yeah. I’m just not seeing it.
Pacing: This is a fast read. A reader can literally run through this. That isn’t good at all. That’s the only problem I have with pacing. It’s too fast. Either add dialogue, or add the lots of little panels I suggested. That would help keep readers on the page longer.
Dialogue: Very nice! Very readable. The only problem is that, as a piece unto itself, the reader has no idea who the other characters are. The only character named is the Head Taker. That’s something to think about. You at least had an opportunity to name the prisoner when the guy was reading the scroll. That’s an opportunity missed.
The other thing about the dialogue is that there wasn’t enough of it. Like I said before, this is a fast read. Anchor it with more words. Just make sure they mean something, and aren’t just filler.
Content: As a reader, I’m intrigued! I like being intrigued. I’d be interested in reading more.
Editorially, this needs a nudge here and there. Nothing too glaring. I still think the lots of little panels is the way to go with this story. The rest of the team may hate you for it, though.
And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!
And we’re still having trouble with the forums, so comments are open.