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TPG Week 182: Reaching For The Funny

| June 20, 2014

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Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a Brave One who is no stranger around these parts: Jon Parrish! We have the irritable Yannick Morin in green, I’m in the soothing red (HA!), and let’s see what Jon has to say about

Professionalism

[Page 1][4 Panels]

Panel 1: An establishing shot of a two story beach house on the coast, something like this. It is night time with a full moon. All of the lights in the house are off.

CAP (SAM): “I don’t understand. Is this about money because I can get you—”

CAP (PATRICK): “Mr. Murphy, haven’t you been paying attention?”

LINGUISTIC – Grammar error: “Two-story” instead of “two story.”

LINGUISTIC – Grammar error: “Nighttime” instead of “night time.”

LINGUISTIC – Punctuation error: Missing interrogation mark after “Is this about money.” Start the next sentence with a capital letter: “Because I can get you–“

TECHNICAL – Comic punctuation error: Double-dash before an interruption instead of an em dash. Make sure you deactivate the autocorrect option that changes double-dashes into em dashes. (There’s a way around that. Put a space after the double-dash, and then backspace once and put in the quotation mark. The program turns a double-dash into an em-dash as soon as you put in another character immediately after it. It doesn’t read a space as a character, so putting the space in after the second dash breaks the chain. You can then backspace and put in the quotation mark, and you won’t have an em-dash but a double-dash. Kinda—like this kinda–like this. You could also put the quotation mark after the space and then go back and delete the space. The important thing is breaking the chain. And that is your word processing tip of the day!)

TECHNICAL – Incorrect dialogue header: Though not absolutely wrong, since the dialogue is occurring in the same location, albeit not on panel, tailless balloons would be better here. Thus, use regular dialogue headers with the (OP) lettering tag instead. (I disagree. Being tailless, it could be misconstrued as the same person, or multiple conversations at the same time. If there were tails, they’d have to come from the building. I like the captions. It denotes that the people speaking aren’t immediately seen, but are talking to one another. I wouldn’t call this an error, I’d call it an editorial preference.)

Panel 2: A shot of the front entrance to the home. There are two dead guards, one on each side. The door looks like it was opened without force.

CAP (PATRICK): “We tracked you down, shut down your security system, disabled your defenses…”

TECHNICAL – Omission: The opened door wasn’t mentioned in the panel description for the previous panel even though it was implied to be visible according to the linked photo.

TECHNICAL – Omission: How were the guards killed? Are there any apparent wounds on them? Are there any signs of struggle? Blood splashes? (What do they look like?)

TECHNICAL – Omission: Is the door opened wide enough to see inside? And if so, is it bright enough to see the foyer beyond?

TECHNICAL – Incorrect dialogue header: See panel 1. (Now, you can have word balloons as long as the people talking are in the house. If they aren’t, then again, it’s editorial preference.)

NARRATIVE – Clunky dialogue: Eliminate the repetition of the word “down.”

Panel 3: A wide shot of the foyer of the house from the entrance. It’s extravagant with two staircases (one on each side) leading upstairs: similar to this. We have moon light coming in through the open doorway and we can see three guards dead on the floor. There is a central staircase behind them and we can see two more dead guards on the ground.

CAP (PATRICK): “and dispatched your security detail.”

LINGUISTIC – Spelling error: “Moonlight” instead of “moon light.” (To be honest, I don’t care much about spelling in the panel descriptions. I only care if there’s a problem with clarity, or if the word is misused. I may be a jerk about punctuation, but I consider the unlinking of compound words to be harmless as long as the point gets across. That’s in the panel descriptions, which are unseen by the public. In dialogue, I’d have to take out the tongs…)

TECHNICAL – Confusing panel description: There’s a first mention of two staircases (which are present in the supplied reference photo), but then the panel description refers to a central staircase. Likewise, it’s unclear how many dead guards there are and where they are placed as three are described as “on the floor” and two others are “on the ground.” (Are there a total of five? Because I was wondering the same things.)

TECHNICAL – Incorrect dialogue header: See panel 1.

TECHNICAL – Comic punctuation error: Ellipsis to continue dialogue that ended with an ellipsis in a previous speech balloon.

NARRATIVE – Filler dialogue: The dialogue in the previous panel mentions “defenses.” The art suggests it referred to the guards. However, this line here clearly refers to the guards. This means that the previous line now seems to contain meaningless filler.

Panel 4: A close-up of one of the dead guards on the stairs. He has a bullet hole in his forehead.

CAP (PATRICK): “Effortlessly.”

TECHNICAL – Confusing panel description: The guards were described as “on the floor” and “on the ground” in the previous panel description. There were none on the stairs. (They’re dead and teleporting, folks! Know what I missed from the Tomorrow People remake? The term “jaunting.” I’m going to leave it there before I have a whole aside going on…)

TECHNICAL – Omission: Were the guards in panel 2 killed in a similar fashion?

TECHNICAL – Incorrect dialogue header: See panel 1.

NARRATIVE – Lack of page-turn cliffhanger: Dead people and a hitman flapping his gums. Nothing here to make me turn to page 2. Sure, there’s the minute curiosity of who is talking, but that’s not enough to stick around; the dialogue here is standard fare bordering on cliché. You need to end page 1 on a sort of challenge, as if you were telling the reader: “I dare you to not be curious about where this is going.” Otherwise, back on the rack this goes and another Batman or X-Men comic goes to the register instead.

P1 is on the books!

Aside from the technical issues which are easily remedied, what we really have here is a pacing issue. And, quite possibly, the appearance of Captain Try-Hard.

We open with a house, we get closer to it, and then start to move through it. Big whoop. Anyone can do that. We stop at a dead guard. For what? What does this dead guard have to do with the story or the pacing, or the word that was used in the panel?

There are four panels on this page, and to be honest, I’m bored after the second panel. Why? Because the dialogue isn’t doing its job in making what I’m seeing interesting. What I’m seeing is a pacing issue, in which you don’t know what to show in order to get to the next page, and the reader is the one who’s going to suffer for it. (Well, you’ll suffer too, due to lack of sales, but that’s different.)

Basically, your guy talks too much without saying much of anything. After panel 2, everything said is padding. I’m just wondering if he’s twirling his mustache as he speaks. Panel 3 should have been showing the two speakers in whatever roles they’re in, and panel 4 should have been the intimation of some sort of danger/consequence for actions taken. That could engage the reader. A fifth panel could then drive something home, like an interruption or something to change the mood, which would then puzzle the reader and have them turning the page to see what it was all about. But panels 3 and 4 seem like you’re trying hard to drag things out and be either menacing or superior, or menacingly superior. It’s not a good look.

[Page 2][4 Panels]

Panel 1: A close-up of Sam Murphy, a white male in his mid-70s with white hair. He has tears in his eyes and the barrel of a pistol with a silencer pressed to his forehead.

PATRICK (op): We’re not some street punks. You can just buy us off.

TECHNICAL – Confusing camera angle: You can only have a close-up of part of a person, not of the whole person. Hence, this is a close-up of Sam’s head.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: A silencer looks like nothing else but a cylinder when seen all by itself. Can we see part of the gun or even the hand holding the gun?

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Apart from the tears in his eyes, what is Sam’s expression? Is he afraid? Angry? Resigned? Hopeful? The tears alone are not enough to let the artist know what to draw. (And where’s the camera? In front? Profile? ¾? I’m not seeing this particular panel clearly.)

NARATIVE – Illogical dialogue: “You can’t just buy us off” instead of “You can just buy us off.” (Maybe. Depending on what Jon’s trying to get across. I’d ask for clarification.)

NARRATIVE – Delayed cliffhanger: This panel could work as a page-turn hook, but just barely since there’s not much here different from other crime comics out there. Remember that the comic shop will also stock Brubaker’s CRIMINAL and Azarello’s 100 BULLETS in trade. That’s your competition when you decide to write gritty crime noir, even with a slight humorous slant like you’re doing here. You need to differentiate yourself from what’s getting done out there.

Panel 2: A full shot of Patrick and Oscar, both dressed in all black with black ski-masks over their faces, standing over Sam. Patrick is also wearing night vision goggles and has the gun to Sam’s head. They are in the main bedroom and we can see the bed and the bedroom window in the background.

PATRICK: We’re professionals.

LINGUISTIC – Grammar error: “Ski masks” instead of “ski-masks.” (Meh. Does nothing to affect the clarity.)

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: How is everyone placed in this panel? Is Sam kneeling or on all fours? Is he facing his two killers or is Patrick pointing his gun at the back of his head? (It was already established that the gun was to his forehead.) Or is Sam facing one of the hitmen and turning his back to the other? And what is Oscar doing? (Or is Sam sitting on the bed, on a chair, on the floor…)

Panel 3: A two shot of Oscar and Patrick from the shoulders down looking down at Sam.

PHONE (from Oscar’s pants pocket): Drop it low! Drop it low! Drop that boo-tay!

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Can we see Sam in this panel? And there’s still the issue of knowing how everyone is placed.

TECHNICAL – Incorrect lettering tag: Since the ringtone is made up of actual lyrics, this can pass as dialogue. However, since it’s muffled by the pants, the (SOFT) tag should be used and, since it’s a song, the (MUSIC) tag should also be used.

NARRATIVE – Incorrect focus: Why draw our attention away from the characters to put it on the phone when you’re going to do just that in the next panel anyway?

NARRATIVE – Missing beat: Humor is often found in delays. Here, you’re missing a beat to make the sudden ringing of the phone comical. Leave yourself a silent beat or an additional badass panel à la “Goodbye, Mister Murphy.” *CLICK* You see, by either heightening the solemnity of the situation or by breaking off the action for a short while, you make the event in the next panel funnier by contrast.

NARRATIVE – Delayed cliffhanger: Here’s your cliffhanger right here, the one you should have ended your first page with. Not only does the phone ringing bring up a question in the reader’s mind, it’s also the differentiator you need to make this story stand out from all the others with flawless masked hitmen in them.

Panel 4: Small panel. A close-up of Oscar’s pants pocket.

PHONE (from inside Oscar’s pocket): Drop that boo-tay! Drop that boo-tay!

TECHNICAL – Extraneous information: “Small panel” – The artist will be deciding the size of the panels according to his layout, the camera angles you ask for and the focus required by each beat. (This isn’t extraneous. It’s how he sees the panel. Can it change? Surely. But it isn’t extraneous.)

TECHNICAL – Incorrect lettering tag: See panel 3.

We have P2 down.

 

Here is Jon’s biggest downfall: he doesn’t put enough of the important information in his panel descriptions.

 

I’m always asking where the camera is, what someone is doing, what their facial expression is. At least once a page, I’m asking what’s going on with something simple. And then Jon slaps himself upside the head, puts in the information, and then we continue to roll.

 

I don’t like asking the same question over and over again. I do it because it’s my job, but I don’t enjoy sounding like a parrot.

 

Where people are, what they’re doing, how they’re acting… All of this should be in every panel description. That’s the reason it’s a panel description.

 

Okay, since that horse is dead, let’s beat another one.

 

Yannick is totally right in that this page would be better played as a first page. Take panels 3 and 4 of P1 and cut them, attaching P2 there. A six-to-seven panel page that sets the stage and interests the reader. (Yes! We’re back to pacing!)

 

So, we take part of the dialogue from the old panel 3 and put it somewhere new. We totally cut the dialogue from the old panel 4. Then we add a pause for pacing, to let the funny sink in. The only thing missing is dialogue that would set off the funny very well.

 

Dialogue is always a challenge. Being funny on paper is even more challenging. The writers of comedy books have my deepest respect. I know what my strengths are. While I may “lose my mind” while going over scripts, I’m what I term “situationally funny.” I’m funny based on the situation, playing off of whatever’s said. (And I’m not that smart, so I’m not that funny.) Coming up with my own situation and playing off myself? That’s more challenging.

 

Everything is about pacing, and comedy moreso.

 

Yeah. Pacing. Can’t get away from it.

[Page 3][3 Panels]

Panel 1: Angle on same. Oscar reaching for something in his pocket. Patrick is still looking at Sam.

PATRICK (whispering): Oscar, What the hell?

OSCAR (whispering): My bad, Pat. I thought I set it to vibrate.

PHONE (op): Drop it low! Drop it low!

TECHNICAL – Illogical panel description: “Angle on same” would imply that this is another “small panel” showing Oscar’s pocket.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Is Sam visible in this panel?

TECHNICAL – Incorrect lettering tag: See panel 3. However, use of the (OP) tag depends on how wide a shot this panel is.

NARRATIVE – Missing beat: Same logic as in the previous page. If you want to get more funny out of this, add a silent panel before this one. Steven might call you out for padding, but humor is in timing and this translates into space in comics; additional beats will necessarily take up more panels. (Nope! Not this time. It’s about timing.)

Panel 2: A shot of Oscar lifting his mask. Patrick is looking at him in shock.

PATRICK: What the hell are you doing?

OSCAR: Answering the phone? Duh.

Panel 3: Angle on same. Oscar is shrugging.

PATRICK: You can’t let him see your face!

OSCAR: Who cares? We’re killing him anyway.

PATRICK: But—

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: “Angle on same” means nothing here as the framing of the previous shot wasn’t specified earlier.

TECHNICAL – Comic punctuation error: Double-dash before an interruption instead of an em dash. (I don’t know how you managed that one, Jon. Just sayin’.)

NARRATIVE – Inefficient layout: I see what happened here: you got to the end of a spread and you wanted to end on a cliffhanger. The problem is that you didn’t have enough content to fill that spread. The result? A page with only three panels, of which at least one should be larger than usual, but with nothing that warrants the use of a larger panel. This throws your pacing off and puts the artist in a tight spot as there’s nothing here that he can draw to fill the page out.

P3, and once again, it’s all about pacing.

 

We’ve got some funny here, but it could have been funnier. Have Sam say something, or have Patrick saying something to Sam, apologizing for the interruption. Then, of course, Sam says something like “No, it’s fine. Take your time.” Then have phone guy turn his back maybe walking away, wanting privacy.

 

Funny.

 

This is humorous, and could be heading toward funny, but it isn’t there yet. Why? Say it with me: pacing.

 

With only three panels here, there’s a lot of space left for funny to be had.

 

Pacing. Pacing rules the day, every day. I can’t say it enough. Pacing.

 

Pacing. Pacing. Pacing 90x. P90x. (Yes, I know it’s a workout system. One that I happen to own. I’m doing P90X3, currently. Just started on Monday. I’m sore. However, the 30 minute workouts work well with my lifestyle. More time for all of you.) Anyway, pacing. There should have been at least five panels on this page.

[Page 4][4 Panels]

Panel 1: A full shot of Oscar is shooting Sam, who is off-panel, three times. Patrick is jumping back in fear.

SFX: PFT! PFT! PFT!

LINGUISTIC – Syntax error: Either “A full shot of Oscar shooting Sam” or “A full shot of Oscar as he is shooting Sam” instead of “A full shot of Oscar is shooting Sam.” (This affects clarity somewhat. Basically, Jon, what you said was that a full shot of Oscar…was shooting Sam. I get what you’re saying, but the verbiage affects the clarity somewhat.)

NARATIVE – Incorrect focus: Why can’t we see Sam here? It seems to me that his death is dramatically interesting enough to occur on panel. (Mmmeh. Depends on what happens in the next few panels. I like to give writers enough leeway to either tell their story or show that they have no idea what they’re doing. Here? I’d give it another panel or two to see why Sam isn’t on panel. It could be that his death is superfluous to the funny. Won’t know until we get there.)

Panel 2: A shot of Oscar pulling the phone out of his pocket with his free hand and looking over at Patrick.

SFX: THUD!

OSCAR: Problem solved.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: What is Patrick’s expression? This is important because it should be coherent with his actions in the upcoming panels. And what is Oscar’s expression? This is also important as it informs us on his character.

Panel 3: A shot of Oscar is looking at the body with his ear to the phone. He has a smirk on his face.

OSCAR: Hello? Mandy? Hey girl, I was hoping to hear—

LINGUISTIC – Syntax error: Either “A shot of Oscar looking at the body” or “A shot of Oscar as he is looking at the body” instead of “A shot of Oscar is looking at the body.”

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Is the body in the shot? Is the camera positioned in a way to imply Oscar is looking at the body? It’s like Sam has completely disappeared from the comic once the phone rang.

TECHNICAL – Comic punctuation error: Double-dash before an interruption instead of an em dash.

Panel 4: A shot of Patrick pulling off his mask.

OSCAR (op): What? No, I’m not doing anything.

PATRICK: Goddamn it.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: What is Patrick’s expression?

P4. And it’s still all about pacing.

So far, we haven’t had a page that is more than four panels. That’s the reverse of padding. That’s not having enough on the page, which means you’re not telling enough of the story.

Most of the time, writers have the opposite problem: they have too much story for a page/book, and things have to be taken out so that other portions can breathe properly. Here, there isn’t enough story for the pages.

And that’s the real shame here. We should be laughing a lot by now. Instead, we’ve had a chuckle or two, and that’s about it. Why? Because there isn’t enough story.

[Page 5][5 Panels]

Panel 1: A shot of Patrick snatching the phone from off panel. Oscar is looking over in shock.

OSCAR: Hey!

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Even though it’s been implied up to now that Patrick is located at the left and Oscar at the right, and that this hasn’t changed from the start, it would have been nice to specify from which side of the panel Patrick’s hand is coming.

TECHNICAL – Extraneous term: Every panel is essentially “a shot of” something. You don’t have to say it every time.

NARRATIVE – Incorrect focus: Once again, something is happening and we only see part of it. Why isn’t Patrick in the shot? Because it’s funnier this way? In a cartoon maybe, but it’s harder to pull off in a static medium. Show us the whole picture. (Think the Three Stooges.)

Panel 2: Patrick is holding the phone to his ear. Oscar is standing in the background with his arms outstretched and a look of disbelief on his face.

PATRICK: He’ll call you back.

OSCAR: What the hell, man?! I’ve been trying to call her all week.

Panel 3: A side shot of Patrick glaring at Oscar. Oscar has a confused look on his face as he points to Sam’s body off-panel.

PATRICK: You just made us look like amateurs.

OSCAR: To who? The dead guy?

LINGUISTIC – Grammar error: “To whom?” instead of “To who?” – although we can probably chalk this one up to Oscar’s poor upbringing. (No. There’s correct grammar, and then there’s how people speak. This is how people speak. I’m the only one I know who says “whom” in regular conversation. The purpose of dialogue is to mimic how people speak, not to be grammatically correct. This is no longer the 19th century, nor even the early 20th.)

NARRATIVE – Absence of story: As a reader, this is where I quit, Jon, because this is where I realize that it won’t be going anywhere beyond this: an argument. An argument, no matter how funny you try to make it, isn’t a story. It can be part of a story, but it can’t be the story all by itself because there’s simply nothing at stake here. If Oscar wins, he’ll… answer his phone when he wants? And if Patrick wins, he’ll… I don’t know; let’s say he’ll confiscate the phone. Neither outcome matters in any way because that’s all there is to it: the argument changes nothing in the character’s world. Another thing that tells me there’s no story is that no character in it wants anything apart from winning the argument itself. There’s no driving force behind anything that’s done except the futile desire to be right in a fight that has no impact whatsoever. So I just found out I’ve read four pages for nothing and then I’m still up for three more of that. Guess what I’m going to do as a reader?

Panel 4: A shot of Patrick poking Oscar in the forehead angrily. Oscar is holding up his hands defensively.

PATRICK 1: He wasn’t dead when you answered your phone.

OSCAR: But he was -ow- going to die. Who cares?

PATRICK 2: I do.

Panel 5: A close-up of Patrick looking at the reader sternly.

PATRICK: What is the most important aspect of this job?

OSCAR (op): Uh, the ridiculous amounts of money?

TECHNICAL – Confusing camera angle: You can only have a close-up of part of a person, not of the whole person. Hence, this is a close-up of Patrick’s face.

NARRATIVE – Meaningless camera angle: Why is it important here to have Patrick speaking directly to us as if we were Oscar? Every choice you make in a comic carries meaning, but the meaning implied by the POV here makes no sense, especially since you give Oscar a line. Why not show him? It’s like you realized that you were stuck in a talking heads comic and just started picking camera angles out of a hat to try and make things interesting. It’s not working. (Time to go to Wally Wood.)

Panel 6: A side shot of Patrick shouting at Patrick.

PATRICK: Wrong!

TECHNICAL – Erroneous panel description: “A side shot of Patrick shouting at Oscar” instead of “A side shot of Patrick shouting at Patrick.”

TECHNICAL – Omitted lettering tag: If Patrick is shouting, his dialogue line should be preceded by the (LOUD) tag. (Not necessarily. It depends on the spacing and what the writer intended. I’d call this editorial preference.)

NARRATIVE – Lack of page-turn cliffhanger: Here’s another clue hinting at the absence of story: you’re trying to get us to turn a page with this. Dialectical rhetorics don’t make for thrilling dramatic tension.

So, we’re now at P5.

 

Know what? This is the first page that has more than four panels. Know what else? This page doesn’t do much to push the story forward.

 

Yannick already covered the “lack of story” here, but I disagree. We’ll talk about why later. There just isn’t a lot going on with this page, despite the raised amount of panels. Personally, I think that Jon realized he was coming close to the end of his story, panicked, and then started stuffing more panels in to accommodate the rest of the story is trying to tell. It happens more often than you think, and frankly, I’m shocked to see it. Jon should know better by now.

 

Story time.

 

So, my name is Steven Forbes. Steven D. Forbes, for those who really care. Growing up, there were two clans: the Forbes and the McCormicks. A lot of kids on both sides, and they had a lot of friends. In my town, I can’t go anywhere without running into someone who knows my family. (Growing up was a bit of a hassle, too. I couldn’t get into trouble without it getting back to my parents!)

 

Imagine my surprise one day when I went to a doctor’s office and saw a magazine with my name on it! I’m a kid, not yet into my teens, and there’s this magazine with my name on it. I’m famous! It eventually gets explained to me that the magazine isn’t mine, but that it was a money magazine , and that if I were lucky and worked hard, I’d have my name in there.

 

I pay it no more mind. I’d heard of Malcolm Forbes, the publisher of the magazine, but it always went in one ear and out the other. Big whoop.

 

One day in my early 20’s, I hear my name on the television. “Steve Forbes and his flat tax.” That perked up my ears! So here I am, listening about this guy Steve Forbes in his bid to become the pressy-dent of the you-knighted states. I’m in the Marines by now, and I’m amused at the fact that “I” am running for president.

 

Of course, I got all the jokes. “Forbes, what are you doing here? I thought you were touring the country!” Or, “Forbes, your flat tax ideas are bullshit.” Or “Pardon me, Mr. President, but if you’re not going to run the country, would you please run this up to building one?” Lots and lots of jokes.

 

One day, I’m in my room in the barracks, and my phone rings.

 

Hello?”

 

Hello. May I speak to Steve Forbes, please?”

“Speaking.”

 

Pause.

 

Steve Forbes?”

 

Yes.”

 

You… You’re not the Steve Forbes who’s running for President, are you?”

 

No, that’s not me.”

 

Sorry! That’s who I was looking for. Have a good day.”

 

Amusing, right? Funny “ha-ha” and funny “strange” at the same time. Like Steve Forbes of Forbes magazine would be listed in the phone book!

 

Later in my career, near the end of my career, I meet another Marine, Wally something-or-other. (Blair? I think it was Blair.) He said that as soon as he saw my name, he knew my first name was Steven, because every Marine he’s ever met who’s last name was Forbes had the first name of Steven.

 

Two amusing anecdotes, with the proper buildup and given enough room to breathe. More amusing than the story being told here? I dunno. But they’re definitely better paced.

[Page 6][5 Panels]

Panel 1: A shot of Patrick standing over Sam’s body.

PATRICK: Respect.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: What are the characters doing? What is their stance indicating? What are their expressions? (Remember, these are the questions I always ask Jon.)

Panel 2: A shot of the body from Patrick’s POV.

PATRICK: We kill people who are usually innocent or just speaking out.

TECHNICAL – Confusing camera angle: How is a Patrick POV shot different from an Oscar POV shot? If we don’t see Oscar in this panel, thus lightly implying that this is from Patrick’s POV, calling for a POV shot is useless. It’s a simple shot of the body.

NARRATIVE – Clunky dialogue: This sounds as if you’re trying to cover all the bases of Patrick’s position, making it even more obvious that this is more an exposé than it is dialogue.

Panel 3: A medium shot of Patrick kneeling next to Sam’s body.

PATRICK: We are the last thing they see before they die.

Panel 4: A shot of Patrick closing Sam’s eyes.

PATRICK: So I want each of them to take comfort knowing they were killed by the best hitmen money could buy.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: What is the camera angle? A good artist will understand that the focus is on the action of closing the eyes and will zoom in on the body’s head, but you should still be as clear as possible and specify this.

Panel 5: A side shot of Patrick with a serious look on his face.

PATRICK: But the last thing this man probably thought…

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: What is Patrick doing? Or was this supposed to only show his face?

P6! We’re back to Four-Panel Land! I don’t think we missed it…

Here we have a streak of seriousness. Necessary? Maybe. But I would have continued with the funny a little longer before doing the contrast.

For whatever reason, I’m reminded of a Dean Koontz book. My most favorite of his books by far: The Watchers. It’s about a man, a dog he finds, a woman he falls in love with, a serial killer, a lab-created amalgam animal that loves to kill, and a pair of feds that are tracking them all. Great book. I won’t spoil it for you. It was also made into a series of movies. Terrible, terrible movies. Back when Corey Haim had a career, as short as it was. These movies made a travesty of the book. A perfect example of when adaptations are done wrong.

What is this page doing? Is it helping to lend gravitas to the story? Solemnity? Here’s the thing: these two characters should already know each other.

You do a job with anyone for a length of time, and you’ll come to know what they’re like on the job. If you’re new to the job, they’ll tell you who they like, who they avoid and why, what they like about the job, what they hate, and how they expect the job to be done. I work with a set of 12 people, and have been with them for a few months now. I’m not that smart, but I can accurately predict what they’re going to do in relation to their job, and what they think about themselves and each other.

If these guys know each other well enough for one to hit another upside the head, then they should know each other well enough to know how seriously the other takes their job. One being callous and one caring is a variation on the thin man/fat man paradigm, or the smart/stupid (basically, a study in contrasts), but the soliloquy that’s about to happen is more for the benefit of the readers and not the other character.

And its lazy.

How to make it not lazy? The contrast between the two characters has to be more evident, and that is done with better pacing and more (and better) dialogue. Then you can have this solemn streak without hurting anything. (The reason why the other character doesn’t know these things has to be explained. “How many times have I told you…”)

[Page 7][6 Panels]

NARRATIVE – Odd number of pages: This means you have no last-page reveal and no climactic cliffhanger. But then again, what would your climax be? Your characters have no objective, there is nothing at stake, there’s no mounting tension – you can’t reach a climax if you never moved in the first place.

Panel 1: A medium shot of Patrick glaring at Oscar In frustration.

PATRICK: Was ‘my life was less important than a phone call’.

LINGUISTIC – Punctuation error: Double quotation marks instead of single quotation marks.

LINGUISTIC – Punctuation error: The period goes inside the quotation marks.

TECHNICAL – Comic punctuation error: Ellipsis to continue dialogue that ended with an ellipsis in a previous speech balloon.

NARRATIVE – Clunky dialogue: The word “was” should have been part of the speech balloon in the previous panel. Here, it robs the “quote” of any dramatic weight.

Panel 2: A shot of Oscar looking down in embarrassment.

PATRICK: How depressing is that?

OSCAR: I guess I’d be offended if it were me.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Is Patrick in this panel? His dialogue line says so but the panel description does not.

TECHNICAL – Omitted lettering tag: If Patrick isn’t in the panel, his dialogue line should be preceded by the (OP) tag.

Panel 3: A shot of Patrick putting one hand on Oscar’s shoulder.

PATRICK: So, do you understand what I’m trying to say?

OSCAR: Yes.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: What are the character’s expressions? It seems even more important here as you’re playing with the contrast between changing moods.

Panel 4: A side shot of Patrick looking at Oscar with a smirk while Oscar points at him with a confident look on his face.

OSCAR: Don’t answer my phone until after we kill the guy.

Panel 5: Same angle. Patrick now has a deadpan expression on his face. Oscar is looking at him with a hopeful smile.

NO TEXT

Panel 6: Same angle. Patrick is handing Oscar his phone. Patrick has a defeated look on his face. Oscar has a smirk and is reaching for the phone.

PATRICK: Close enough.

CAP: End

NARRATIVE – Meaningless ending: All seven pages are to set this up: a single joke. There’s no progression, there’s no rising action, there’s no conflict, there’s no surprise apart from the sad one in realizing this is all we’ll get out of this comic.

A few parting recommendations…

Make your characters act. The artist should never be wondering how to draw them. Make sure he knows what they are doing, how they are standing and what expression they are sporting. If it’s not implicit in the situation or the dialogue, make it explicit.

Don’t rely too much on your artist’s skill. There are some panel descriptions where you seem to leave it all to the artist, trusting him to focus on the important stuff and frame the shot accordingly. Targeting what’s important is your job; making that center stage is his. However, make sure that when you do specify the focus that you’re focusing on the right thing: you have a few panels in there that completely miss the mark. For each panel, ask yourself: what conveys the most meaning for the reader?

Finally, most importantly, have a story to tell. A story is characters trying to reach a specific goal against rising odds. There’s nothing of that here. All you have is an argument between two people – and I’m generous calling it an argument because it’s mostly Patrick berating Oscar. Yes, dialogue like you’ve got here can be entertaining; it worked for Tarentino in film and it worked for Bendis in comics. But neither of them made it the whole point of their stories. RESERVOIR DOGS isn’t about why Mr. Brown doesn’t tip, PULP FICTION isn’t about how people eat junk food in France, and POWERS isn’t about how Deena Pilgrim’s squad once caught a perp right in front of the restaurant where they were eating. Tarentino and Bendis used dialogue to reveal character, not to replace plot. Structure your plot first, and then insert all the witty dialogue you want if you think it will enhance characterization. But don’t confuse the dialogue for the story itself.

Let’s just run this down. We’ve got things to do.

Format: Flawless Victory. (And I expected nothing less.)

Panel Descriptions: Jon always has problems here.

Jon writes in a stripped-down style. I understand that. Aside from TPG, I also edit Jon privately. Stripped-down is where he lives. I’ve gotten used to that. However, because he writes in such a way, he also often forgets to put in the important things such as character placement, character emotions, character action. Sometimes, camera angles are needed, sometimes they aren’t. A lot of it depends on how the panel description is written. Sometimes leeway is given to the artist to draw it as they “see” it. Sometimes, a specific camera angle is needed.

Clarity will always be the first job of the writer. This is something Jon struggles with.

Pacing: This story falls down on pacing in a few ways.

First, you need good pacing in order to be funny. This story doesn’t have pacing that allows the funny to flow. It reaches, but never attains.

Second, you need good pacing in order to tell a good story, period. This doesn’t have good pacing that allows the story to be told.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again for those in the back who may not have heard me the first eleventy-billion times.

From largest to smallest, pacing is the number of scenes in a book, the number of pages in a scene, the number of panels on a page, and the number of words in a panel.

When you have a seven-page story and five of those pages have only four panels and the other two have six, you have a pacing problem—especially when the six-panel pages come near the end of the story.

Finally, the number of pages in this story. I only have a slight problem with it. It could be a waste of a page, in that there’s no final page-turn. One last zing could have been gotten in. Properly paced, this should be either a six-page story or an eight-page story. Seven pages, while respectable, is somewhat of a no man’s land. I would suggest cutting it to six, or expanding it to 8. (It’s really six pages already, after some cutting and stitching done between P’s 1 and 2.)

Dialogue: It was okay. It wasn’t as funny as it could have been. Smiles, yes, but it did not come anywhere near its potential.

Did the dialogue make its point? Mostly. It would have been better served if there were more of it. It probably would have been funnier if there were more of it.

It was readable, though. Make no mistake about that. I could see this conversation taking place.

Content: As a reader, I’d be disappointed that there wasn’t anything that was really funny going on. Again, it reached for the funny, but didn’t attain it. It was the lack of dialogue. There is a story here. It’s a story about a guy who’s trying to impress the need for professionalism on his coworker, who doesn’t understand. So there’s a story there. It just isn’t told as effectively as it could be.

Editorially, I’d say to add more dialogue. Play up the contrast between the two. Moe and Larry. (Everyone loves Curly, and with good reason, but there’s no space for him here. I despise Shemp, and he should probably take the place of Sam…) Everything else can be done relatively easily, but adding dialogue should also mean adding some more panels. This is all for better pacing.

Also, understand that my references to the Three Stooges doesn’t mean that I believe that this story should be slapstick. Quite the contrary. I’m not a large Stooge fan. I just meant that they have their moments of being funny. And if I said Laurel and Hardy (which works much more effectively), I don’t know how many of you would have gotten the reference.

And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!

Like what you see? Sam and Yannick are available for your editing needs. You can email Sam hereand Yannick here. My info is below.

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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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