Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we again have Solomon Steen. Liam Hayes couldn’t join us this week, so I’m going to be the lone guy in red, gibbering, but we still have Ryan Kroboth rocking the pencils!
Let’s go see what Solomon has done with
Tentacle Cosmic Entity A Jupiter-sized mass of tentacles that look like a basket star1 plated in insect-like armor. Ideally, has an Anthony Howe look2. (There are references here. I don’t know if they’ll transfer over, but they’re here for the creative team.)
Lin Yanwei A middle-school student in a standard bi-color track suit uniform6. Being short and tubby, she’s appears younger than she is. She wears her hair in a bob, has bright eyes, a broad nose, and her teeth are in need of an orthodontist (medial incisors are bent backwards with her lateral incisors crossing over them).
Gao Feilong As Lin’s classmate, she wears the same uniform. She’s tall for her age and gangly. Her long hair is dyed chestnut brown. She her lips protrude somewhat because of her braces.
Both girls are very melodramatic in their mannerisms.
Panel 1 Wide shot (panorama if possible): Gas giants – some ringed, some orbited by several moons – populate a solar system hosting a battle between two cosmic titans. Tentacle Cosmic Entity and Canine Cosmic Entity are violently entangled in each other. Scales from the tentacle entity are engulfing the canine entity. The canine entity is viciously ripping tentacles off with its mouths. Each of their bodies have crashed into at least one gas giant, turning it into a column of swirling fumes. Ribbons of flesh and tentacles drift off into space.
Caption “How can one woman hold so much hate?” (So, what you’ve set up here is a voice-over caption. One person is talking to another in another location. I know this because of the fact that you have quotation marks around the words in an element labeled caption. What I don’t know is who’s talking. The letterer will want to know who’s talking so they could possibly color the captions differently or at least shade them differently.)
Panel 2 Close up: A canine head is swallowing an overlarge segment of the now-severed tentacle. The severed tentacle has smacked its devourer in the eye. A small head has started to emerge from the forehead of the original canine head: it looks like a fetal head, eyes sealed shut with skin.
Caption “Life is so short.”
Panel 3 Close up: The same canine head has swallowed most of the tentacle. The new small head has fully emerged from the original forehead and its eyes are open and angry.
Caption “Can you really sustain yourself…”
Panel 4 Severed bits of flesh and tentacle are drifting in space. (What is this panel doing to push the story forward?)
Caption “Putting all your energy into make other people suffer?” (You ended with an ellipsis in the previous panel. You should be continuing with the ellipsis here since this is the same thought. It’s also an awkward break. There’s no real reason for it, except for the fact that you wanted to have dialogue in this panel.)
Panel 5 The scraps are drifting towards Earth: now seen as a blue dot in the distance. (Um… If the scraps are near enough to drift toward Earth, then this fight was big enough to be seen with telescopes, methinks. Big enough and close enough. (And yes, there are times when I really hate the junior scientist in me. It pokes holes in things that make sense as long as you don’t think about them.) At least we now understand what the previous panel is for.)
Caption “Isn’t that exhausting?”
Panel 6 Scraps of flaming tentacles – still curled so as to be recognizable despite their damage from penetrating the atmosphere – descend from the Earth sky. (This can be seen in two different views. What thinketh thou, Ryan?)
Panel 7 Overhead view: The scraps fall towards Lin Yanwei (her collar is folded down and her neck is exposed) and Gao Feilong as they walk together through a wooded park in early spring late in the afternoon. (Where are we? European parks are different from American parks are different from Asian parks are different from… So where are we? And how big are these scraps that aren’t completely burning up in the atmosphere that we’re close enough to see both the scraps and the people? And how close are we to the people walking? Lots of questions, right? Here’s another: are they walking from left to right, or are they walking toward the reader (and thus, the bottom of the panel) or are they walking away from the reader (and toward the top of the panel)? I know what’s best for the story, but what are you seeing in your head?)
Gao Feilong Poor, little Lin. You know she’s just bitter because her class doesn’t matter.
P1 is down!
I won’t say that I’m bored. What I will say is that this is, so far, par for the course for Solomon. A decent opening, and while not riveting, it isn’t forcing me to pinch myself (or others) in order to stay awake.
My only problem is the celestial bodies.
Here’s what science tells me: large bodies have mass, and that mass has gravity. The denser the mass, the greater the gravity. If these two celestial bodies are fighting, and the scraps are close enough to drift to earth, then the fight has to be relatively close to Earth. Otherwise, it could possibly get caught up in the gravity well of one of the planets in our system. If the fight takes place outside of our system, then it’s going to take a long, long time for the scraps to make it here—and making it here over those distances without some kind of propulsion system (to avoid objects and break free of gravity wells) is improbable.
If the bodies are within our system…then they’re new, and their own gravity will disrupt the very delicate dance that all of our neighbors do around the sun. They would, in effect, destroy this entire system—or at the very least, destroy life as we know it on Earth.
I’m very easily appeased, though.
Add the element of time.
Looking at stars, we’re really seeing the past. It takes light some time to travel interstellar distances (the term “light year” is really a measure of time over distance—the time it takes light to travel a certain distance), so what we’re seeing in the sky are things that have already happened a long time ago.
If you add the element of time (in the form of an omniscient narrator caption), then I’m more likely to forget the fact that the scraps have to travel a pretty unlikely route in order to land here. Why? Because if you add time, it makes me think you’ve given it some thought, instead of just writing and moving forward.
Right now, it seems like the fight just happened, and these things just landed on earth five minutes later. Is that the case? Of course, you’re going to say no, but would you have said it before the explanation?
(And yes, I know that superhero comics don’t do anything like this at all. However, superhero comics are absurd by their very nature, and at least pay lip service to actual science.)
Page 2 (We have a page break! I love it!)
Panel 1 Close-up: The scraps fall on the back of Lin Yanwei’s exposed neck. [Other characters are off panel] (Other characters? What other characters? There are other characters here?)
Lin Yanwei Just because she’s angry about her own failed life doesn’t mean she gets to take it out on us! (So, you have the action of the falling objects, but what about the acting of the character? Saying they’re melodramatic in their actions is lazy, because you think it gives you license to not have the characters act. I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.)
Panel 3 Lin Yanwei is has stopped and just smacked the back of her neck. Gao Feilong has stopped a few paces ahead and is staring back at her, concerned.
Lin Yanwei Ah!
Panel 4 Lin Yanwei is staring at a generous sized blood-stain on her hand. She and her classmate have resumed walking through the park. (What’s important? Seeing the large stain on her hand, or seeing them walking again? You can’t really have both, right, Ryan? (You don’t need to draw this if you don’t want to, just give it some thought before replying.))
Lin Yanwei That mosquito must’ve been a real fattie.
Gao Feilong It’s your own fault. Lin Yanwei is too delicious to resist. (A bit awkward, but you got the whole name in there. Was it important?)
Panel 5 A man wearing baggy clothes is passing ahead of the pair. His greasy hair falls down past his elbows and completely obscures his face. He seems to be looking down at his feet. Lin Yanwei is ignorant of the man, incredulously glaring at Gao Feilong. (He’s been infected by the Canine Cosmic Entity. His mouth protrudes much farther than it should, as it has grown into snout, and so he’s tucked it into his shirt.) (How did this happen? When did it happen? This doesn’t make much sense. And how is the reader supposed to know he’s “infected”?)
Gao Feilong Just like Xuanzang! The demons are after your pure, pure flesh.
Lin Yanwei Really, Gao Gao?
Panel 6 Wide shot: [Explanatory note: Every skyscraper is ringed with pedestrian walkways. The walkways are connected to rail system that allows small, magnetically suspended railcars to ferry people throughout the city.] The friends have emerged from the park and are walking on an uncovered skywalk. The park is part of a network of rooftop gardens in an overdeveloped metropolis.
Lin Yanwei I had better try to corrupt myself a bit more then. Just to be safe.
Panel 7 Lin Yanwei and her friend have arrived at the next garden. Lin Yanwei is heading to the right while her friend is moving straight ahead (away from the reader, deeper into the panel); she is playfully calling to Gao Feilong over her shoulder. (See how useful that is to the artist?)
Lin Yanwei I’m going to go home and be baaad.
Panel 8 Gao Feilong is dragging Lin Yanwei along by the arm. Gao Feilong is looking warily at towards the path Lin was going to take.
Gao Feilong No! Come study with me. I… need… someone to keep me from passing out while cramming.
Panel 9 The long-haired man who passed them earlier is leaning against a tree down the path Lin was going to take.
Gao Feilong [Off Panel] I… need… someone to keep me from passing out while cramming.
P2 is down.
I’m still not bored, which is great. Again, this isn’t Solomon’s problem. Generally, his problem is sticking the landing.
The conversation isn’t riveting. It doesn’t really hold my attention. It’s difficult to say what would, but this doesn’t.
I’m not saying that the conversation has to be deep or pithy, but it should at least hold a reader’s attention.
While this conversation doesn’t make me want to give grandma a flying elbow to the head, it kinda makes me want to run with platypus. It would be more exciting and invigorating.
Panel 1 Wide shot: The classmates are pushing through people on a crowded walkway platform, trying to get into the waiting railcar.
Panel 2 Lin Yanwei and her friend were seated beside each other in an extremely crowded car. Lin Yanwei has now half risen from her seat. (Paging Mr. Kroboth. Mr. Kroboth, your pencil is needed here. What I’m going to ask for is an explanation for why you chose the depiction—as you always do. Because there’s a problem here.)
Gao Feilong Have you given up on corruption so soon? (This line makes so sense. She was going to go and do whatever corruption she was going to do, but her friend stopped her. How can the friend now turn around and ask this question? Where’s grandma?!)
Panel 3 Lin Yanwei leans against a stanchion in the middle of the car, pressing her forehead against it. Her eyes are tightly shut in pain. A pregnant woman has sat down beside her friend. (Not necessarily a moving panel, but definite teleportation. And that pregnant woman is magically delicious. Is this the Solomon Steen Breakdown Point ™?)
Lin Yanwei I’m not… I feel… really warm.
Panel 4 X-ray (Or is this more MRI? You can see soft tissue.): the tentacle from earlier has grown and is now wrapped around Lin Yanwei’s brainstem and mid-brain. (Is this the only view? Has everyone else just faded out? I feel like I might also need knee pads. Don’t want to hurt myself on grandma.)
Lin Yanwei My head is… pounding.
Gao Feilong [Off Panel] Don’t look up. That creep from the park is here. (I’m feeling the second bout of stupidity coming on.)
Panel 5 The long-haired man from earlier stands at the end of the railcar. His head is down, but his body is squarely facing Lin; it looks like he’s been staring at her. She has taken out her phone camera and has it pointed at him. (Because that’s exactly what I would do if I had a sudden bad headache…)
Gao Feilong [Off panel] We should get off and switch cars.
Lin Yanwei Hopefully, the metro people’ll ban him… stalking little girls…
Panel 6 Close up: The long-haired man has lifted his head to reveal his face: it’s studded with seal teeth. He had tucked this snout into his shirt to avoid detection, so by lifting his face, he has ripped the shirt in half (SFX). He snorts loudly (SFX).
P3 is now on the books, and really, things aren’t looking good for our hero.
Dog-guy comes out of nowhere, and it looks like he wants to start a fight. We don’t even know what the initial fight was about. Now he’s here, and Lin wants to take a picture…
I’m no longer interested. What interest I had was thoroughly killed by dog-boy’s appearance. (That he’s here at all, and not how he looks.)
Time for a story.
While I was at NYCC, I saw some of our DW brethren, as well as a couple of people who have submitted scripts here. I feel very happy not to have been punched in the face.
JP Polewczak stopped by. He reminded me of who he was by telling me I said that Blackenstein was better than his script. I remembered instantly who he was, and I was once again very grateful that I was able to leave the convention without a shiner.
Anyway, the convention experience is always amazing, and I got to meet the entire Tribe for the first time. (Yes, I’ve been working with these people for years, and have never met them in person before now. The power of the internet.) It was humbling, really. I was able to step back and see exactly what Tyler and I have wrought:
The Proving Grounds has its roots at Digital Webbing. I’d mow through scripts in the writer’s showcase, and those who didn’t get pissed got better (as well as those who sometimes got pissed), and then I eventually left for other pastures. I found a site where people were trying to get their stuff seen, and I was once again mowing through scripts. The owners of the site were interested in hiring me as an editor for their comics (they were trying to get into publishing) because they both agreed with the overwhelming amount of things I said about the scripts, but the writers were afraid of editorial interference. (No, that never got off the ground.)
Then I came back to DW, and was invited to go over to Project Fanboy to write a column or two. This is where I began Bolts & Nuts as well as The Proving Grounds. I did both for about a year, but then things got very busy and I had to step away. TPG was turned over to someone else, and when they didn’t get any new scripts for a few weeks, they shut it down.
I was then feeling the itch of getting back into going over scripts. I’d have a few private clients here and there, but nothing too deep. Then Tyler approached me with the idea that eventually became ComixTribe.
The site started out as a place where creators could come to learn. That’s still the main goal of the site. Then we started publishing our own comics. Not only do we publish our own comics, we try to be as transparent as possible with the lessons we’ve learned. We went from basically hand-selling comics to shops to getting a Diamond account; from a single table in Artist Alley to being on the main show floor at one of the largest conventions in America. We have a stable of creators that we can turn to for work, and it seems to be growing.
Tyler (publisher), myself (eic), Joe Mulvey (business partner, artist), Cesar Feliciano (artist), John Lees (writer), Sam Read (writer), Jules Rivera (colorist, artist, writer). During the show, we hung out a lot with Alex Cormack (artist), Joe Eisma (artist), Jeremy Melloul (writer), and Robert Wilson IV (artist). Eisma and Robert are working on their own books, but Jeremy may have something to bring to us at a later date. We also hung out with Rich Douek (writer), and we went to an after party or two as well as hung out on our own. But we have a core of people whom we could turn to and get a damned good book put together.
How many creators can say that? That there’s a stable of creators whom they can help put together a quality book? I wouldn’t say that they work for me, but they definitely work with me (or I with them). We’ve sold hundreds of thousands of comics, and we have our comics in shops across America (and beyond!). That’s not bad coming from a couple of guys who only met in person a couple of weeks ago after working together for years.
Nice story, right? At least it’s a better one than we’re reading.
Panel 1 Car length shot: The long-haired man is bouding towards Lin Yanwei. The other passenger watch, paralyzed with shock. (He’s bounding? I thought the car was full? Panel 2 of the previous page says the car was extremely crowded. Does extremely crowded mean something differently where you come from? And where is the camera?)
Long-Haired Man RRRRrrrrrrAH!
Panel 2 Close up: Lin, terrified, shouts at the top of her lungs. She is shocked by the sound of her own voice (How can this be drawn? Sometimes, it’s like talking to a brick wall.). Tentacles made of light encircle her head like laurels. A commuter beside her has stood up ramrod straight, body squarely facing the attacker (What commuter? Which commuter? If you set this information up as soon as possible for the artist, they wouldn’t have to ask questions for you to answer.).
Lin Yanwei STOP! (Okay, you italicized and underlined the last word you wanted to have stress on it. Why is this one bolded? Consistency.)
Panel 3 The long-haired man has been tackled to the floor by the commuter from the previous panel. This commuter has a large, dark nimbus around her head (Since we still don’t know which commuter, and it’s female, I’m going to go and say it’s the pregnant woman. That’s always fun, anyway. At least it will make for an interesting visual. Know who’s telling an interesting story? James Tynion IV, with Cognetic. Go pick it up. Boom! Studios.). The other commuters surrounding Lin have small, dark nimbuses around their heads to indicate that they are being mind-controlled (the nimbuses will remain until it is noted they have vanished). (No nimbus around her friend’s head? The friend who has seemingly disappeared?)
Lin Yanwei Wait, wait, wait, wait–
Panel 4 Worm’s eye view: The commuters have grabbed the long-haired man by his arms and legs. They have lifted him to their waist level and are holding him there. Their nimbuses have grown larger. (This needs two panels.)
Lin Yanwei Wha– no.
Panel 5 The pregnant woman – with a large, dark nimbus around her head – holds the writhing (motion lines) long-haired man in a headlock. Lin Yanwei is reaching out to stop the woman.
Lin St-op! (Why is this hyphenated?)
P4, and something of interest has happened. Still improbable due to dog-boy, but at least it’s interesting.
There are still things that can’t be drawn, as well as vagueness going on when it comes to who’s doing what, not to mention forgetting things that were previously written.
You’re getting lost in your own story, and I don’t mean in a Neverending Story kinda way, either.
I don’t know why we’re reading this. We’re getting near the end, and this is just some actions that happened. They’re not random, thankfully, but there’s still no explanation as to why we’re here.
What does the reader learn when the story is finished? What does the character learn? Sure, there’s at least a page to go, but it feels like this is just another Solomon Steen Ending ™ on the horizon.
Panel 1 Close-up: Lin has touched the long-haired man. Insect-like armor plates are exploding out of her skin and have begun covering him. (What? Touched him where? The plates are coming out of where? Are they covering him? Why? It… It feels like…)
Panel 2 The passengers have dropped the long-haired man to floor (SFX). He is nearly completely engulfed by scales, but he is writhing furiously (ghost images) (No. Not for this. Motion lines should be enough.). Lin has fallen to the floor in shock.
Panel 3 Worm’s eye view: Lin Yanwei stares up at the commuters, who are all staring blankly forward. (Where’s the camera?)
Lin Yanwei You…
Panel 4 Worm’s eye view: Lin Yanwei, pleading, reaches towards an unresponsive Gao Feilong with the same hand she reached out to the long-haired man with. (So now she turns up. I no longer want to ‘splode, but I really just want to go punt a meerkat colony. Great stress relief.)
Lin Yanwei Gao… Please… Listen…
Panel 5 A pair of commuters push Gao Feilong towards Lin Yanwei. Lin Yanwei recoils: she pulls her outstretched hand away (motion lines).
Lin Yanwei N-No!
Panel 6 Overhead view: The passengers have left a circle of empty space around Lin Yanwei and the long-haired man. She is shouting with as much force as her body will allow.
Lin Yanwei Stay away!
It’s P5. I just want this to stop. Hopefully P6 seals the deal. I don’t think we’ll get an explanation, so I’m just going to set the Line of Demarcation right here and call it crap. Let’s see if I’m wrong.
Page 1 Wide shot: Night: The next walkway platform: the commuters have gotten off and are blocking the doors, preventing anyone else from getting on. The crowd of new commuters (no nimbuses) is agitated.
Crowd The hell are you doing?!
Crowd Are you deaf?!
Page 2 The railcar is pulling away. The nimbuses around the passenger’s heads have shrunk.
Page 3 Wide shot: Lin’s friend is looking around frantically through the crowd (ghost images). The nimbuses are gone.
Gao Feilong Lin?
Gao Feilong Lin?
Page 4 Close up (with forced perspective to include the long-haired man): Lin is alone in the car with the long-haired man (his skin is not visible in this shot, he’s just a silhouette). She staring at him, gently crying, and has curled up at the opposite end of the car.
Lin Yanwei Hff…
Page 5 Close up: The scales that had covered the man are now mostly buried under his skin, though a few are still protruding. Lin is starting to cry more intensely.
Lin Yanwei Snf.
Gao Feilong[Off-Panel] Lin!
The end. And I’m happy to see it.
Yeah. This is everything that was sent to me. Let’s run it down.
Format: Flawless Victory!
Panel Descriptions: Not bad, but they can still use work. No moving panels that I remember, but there’s still teleporting going on, as well as shortcuts for some panels. You need to do a better job visualizing what you’re going after and then using the words you have to get that across. You’re getting better, though.
Pacing: Still shit. Sorry, but it is. Things happen for a reason, and as readers, we like knowing what that is. If these are going to be short stories, then we need to know what the hell is going on. Reasons turn actions into stories. This isn’t a story. It’s just a bunch of actions. No longer crap, but close, since there isn’t any real end to this. What’s the point?
Dialogue: Not great. Not anything I wanted to read, but it wasn’t too terrible. There was nothing said that felt like it was actually necessary to the story. If all the dialogue were stripped from the piece, would it have really made a difference? The answer to that, sadly, is no.
Readers have to have something to read, and what they read should be relevant to what’s going on. You could save meerkats and grandma’s everywhere by figuring out that the story actually happens in dialogue. The actions are great, but the dialogue tells us why the actions happen.
Content: Yeah. It’s crap, but that’s only because there’s no story. You’re getting better, but there has to be an ending. You have to stick the landing. (Hell, there has to be a landing.)
Editorially, this could use a conversation as to what you wanted to do and what you wanted the reader to walk away with before starting the scripting. Each and every story you’ve submitted has basically been a piece of crap in one form or another. You’ve heard people say over and over again that nothing happens in your stories, or they have endings that don’t make sense. You’ve done multiple changes to this particular script before resubmitting it, and you still haven’t learned anything. Not really.
You incorporated changes that others have brought to your attention, but what have you really learned?
I’m going to say “not much.”
I don’t know about you, but that isn’t okay to me. Relying on others to basically do the work for you and still coming up with crap… The ones who have helped you aren’t to blame.
When I edit people over time, they learn what I like and what I don’t. They learn how to create a comic that I won’t object to. They learn to tell a story. I have no idea what happened here, and really, I’m not too sure that I care. Harsh, maybe, but true. Because in six tries, you’ve learned nothing.
Anyway, getting back to this script…
Learn to tell a story that has an actual beginning, middle, and end that a reader can understand. The closest you came was with the little girl and the prosthetics.
Learn to write for your medium. Put in the work.
And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!
Like what you see? Sam, Liam and I are available for your editing needs. You can email Sam here and Liam here. My info is below.