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TPG Week 257: Bad Taste Makes Me Stop

| November 30, 2015

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Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Brave One Jave Galt-Miller with us. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, Ryan Kroboth with pencils, and I’m the guy in red. This week, we’re all going to see what Jave brings us in

LESBIAN ZOMBIES FROM OUTER SPACE

A couple of things before we begin: this is issue 5 of a limited series, so there should be things that have been previously established that probably won’t be readily explained. I can live with that. Also, Jave gaev a legend so that the artist knows what kind of camera angle he’s going for. These should be self-evident. I cut them (and the character descriptions) for the sake of space. With that said, let’s go!

PAGE ONE (THREE PANELS)

PANEL ONE

Afternoon. A gravel pit site that’s been recently transformed into a makeshift military base. Surrounded by wooded hills, several trailers and small buildings line a dirt road, the ground dropping off into a gravel pit in the foreground. Paramilitary Men march in small groups, Guards stationed at key points. Most wear camouflage, but there is no specific uniform, many of them unshaven and wearing baseball caps. (A couple of things. First, Jave typed of the panel descriptions in bold, but left the dialogue in plain text. That’s a stylistic choice, and is neither right nor wrong. As you’ll also see, he put the dialogue in all caps. Another stylistic choice. Some writers say it helps them to see how it will look on the page better. That’s their experience, and I have nothing to say about it. I just wanted to bring it to the attention of the collective. Next, this is missing something. Mostly, it’s missing a mess hall and a command post. If this unit has any kind of military experience, the command post should have some sort of flag or marking on it, and the mess hall should also be marked. Sure it can be makeshift, but still, people should be lined up to eat. Just saying.)

NO COPY

PANEL TWO

A pimply Guard stands outside the door of a trailer, rifle leaning against his shoulder, eyes straight ahead.

1. KEARNES (WITHIN TRAILER): (Where’s this coming from exactly? The door? From a window?)

YOU SHOULD EAT. YOU’LL NEED THE STRENGTH. (No, I didn’t look ahead. But eating. See how important it is? Now if the person knew where the mess hall was, that would be great.)

PANEL THREE

Ace sits at a small metal table, his left wrist handcuffed to the metal leg under the tabletop. Pleading. An MRE is opened in front of him, as Kearnes stands nearby, looking out a small window.

2. ACE:

SHE’S NOT ONE OF THEM, DETECTIVE. YOU CAN SEE FOR YOURSELF: (Colon?)

3. ACE:

SHE’S NOT EVEN HOT.

4. KEARNES:

MY WIFE WASN’T HOT EITHER. (Comma-fail.)

This is like half a page. There’s half a page’s worth of content here. Why only three panels? There’s not much of hook either. I’m not bothered about reading on or putting the book down. It’s a 50/50.

P1 is on the books!

Yeah. This is P1, and the pacing is screwed. This doesn’t bode well for our hero.

The panel descriptions so far are serviceable. The problem comes in the story that they’re telling.

What does panel 2 have to do with anything? Panel 1 sets the location. If it’s a mid-view from a height, you can get the entire base seen, and you can even have dialogue in the panel. The dialogue from panel 2 can move up to panel 1, and then you can cut panel 2 in its entirety. That takes us to panel 3.

However, Liam is right in that this is only half a page. There’s literally no reason to turn the page. There isn’t enough given to the reader to make them want to continue on.

When you get deeper into a series, it becomes even more important for you as the writer to give the reader a reason to continue—especially on the first page. Like Jim Shooter used to tell his Marvel writers, every comic is someone’s first. I’m not saying that you have to recap everything that’s gone before, but you should at least give the reader something to read. Pique their interest.

(Oh, another one of my pet peeves: not knowing the difference between peek, peak, and pique. That frosts my buns. No, I’m not saying it happened here, but it happens enough. Dictionary, people!)

Colons. They’re one of the punctuation marks that are hardly ever needed in comic book dialogue. It isn’t needed here.

Put more on this page. Fix the pacing of the story, and stop trying to make the page count. Because that’s how this feels.

PAGE TWO (FIVE PANELS)

PANEL ONE

Close on Kearnes through the window (from outside) as he remembers. Wistful and sad.

1. KEARNES:

SHE NEVER COULD LOSE THE WEIGHT AFTER THE BABY.

2. KEARNES:

SAMUEL.

3. KEARNES:

SAMMY.

PANEL TWO

On Ace as he listens. This is more than he wanted to hear. (Not really a panel description, but I get it.)

4. KEARNES (OP):

SHE WENT TO PILATES CLASS FIVE TIMES A WEEK FOR THREE YEARS TRYING TO GET HER FIGURE BACK. BUT I DIDN’T CARE, ACE. I LOVED HER. (I’m not happy. Too many stressors. Leave the stress out until you really need them. Generally, let the reader put in their own stressors. For me, I wouldn’t have stressed “five”, but I would have stressed “week”, and I wouldn’t have stressed “three” but I would have stressed “years”. I wouldn’t stress the numbers, but the timeframes. I wouldn’t have stressed either “figure” or “loved”. So as I read this, to me, your stresses are off. This makes my reading experience different. It almost feels like I’m being forced to read it one way—your way—but I’m liking my way of reading it better, so I find your way to be intrusive. If you didn’t have the stresses in there at all, then I wouldn’t complain about it, and could read it the way I wished.)

PANEL THREE

Kearnes turns from the window, toward Ace.

5. KEARNES:

THEN ONE DAY SHE CHANGED.

PANEL FOUR

Kearnes walking toward the table, Ace trying to follow the story. (And the second part of this isn’t a panel description. What does his expression say? Oh, Ryan? You’re at bat.)

6. KEARNES:

IT WAS YESTERDAY, AFTER I GOT HOME FROM THE STATION. I FOUND HER WITH ANOTHER WOMAN. AND SHE WAS HOT, BOY. HOTTER THAN THE DAY I MET HER–

PANEL FIVE

Close on Ace again, clearly confused.

7. KEARNES (OP):

–LIKE SHE HAD ONE OF THOSE GASTRIC BYPASS SURGERIES, ONLY IT ALL HAPPENED IN A MATTER OF HOURS! (Yeah. Not good. Kearnes should be on-screen when he says this, and there’s no reason for Ace to have any dialogue here at all. Drive the point home. Don’t squander it by having unnecessary dialogue. Or if you must have more dialogue, at least have it be funny.)

8. ACE:

I’M SORRY.

He’s giving away a bit too much information here. It’s coming across as an info-dump. Cut it down somewhat, come at it from the side. Infer and suggest.

P2 is down, and really, this feels like the second half of P1. Five panels on this page, and after a bit of rewriting, P1 could be a six-panel page and still keep all the information you want. It would give the reader some reason to turn the page instead of just limping along.

As for Liam’s info-dump? Yes, it’s coming across that way a bit. However, this is also a comedy, and it’s late in the series. Explanations are allowed, and that is what this feels like to me. I don’t mind it.

What I do mind is the timeframe. It doesn’t ring true, even for a comedy. Maybe because it’s on paper.

You’re talking about the past. The past. The past. Then you’re saying “one day.” Then you reveal that “one day” was actually “yesterday.” It doesn’t hold a sense of comedic timing.

I love watching Neil Simon’s Murder By Death. For those of you who’ve never seen it (probably a lot of you), let me sum it up: it’s a spoof on detectives and murder mysteries. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, there were these larger than life movie characters, taken from books. Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade, Miss Marple, Charlie Chan, Hercule Poirot…they have made their mark on us. We still watch murder mysteries today, but they have their roots in these characters.

Anyway, near the start of the film, the Sam Spade character (Sam Diamond, played by Peter Falk, who was basically just doing a funny “Columbo”) is talking to a butler (played by Alec Guiness, right before he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars). Now, Sam is at least in his late 40’s as we watch the movie, and he’s talking to the butler about his kid brother who was killed on a case just like this one.

That kid would have been sixty-seven on Tuesday…

That’s humorous. It’s about comedic timing, which is difficult to do live-action, and is compounded even more on paper. Here, your timing is off a bit, and it isn’t tight because you’re adding more words than you need to.

(Go see Murder By Death. It’s worth the time. Columbo, the Pink Panther, the Bride of Frankenstein, Professor Minerva McGonagall, Obi-Wan Kenobi…they’re all in it and they’re all wonderful. You’ll be glad you did.)

PAGE THREE (SIX PANELS)

PANEL ONE

Furious, Kearnes slams his fist on the table in front of Ace.

1. KEARNES:

NO! (No? Weird response to “sorry”.)

PANEL TWO

Kearnes looks away, trying to calm down. (How? Think visually instead of conceptually.)

2. KEARNES:

NO. IT DOESN’T END THERE. I WISH IT DID, BUT…

PANEL THREE

On Ace. (Lazy. What’s he doing? Ah, I know. He’s masturbating with the MRE, envisioning Kearnes’ wife in bed with another woman. Now your job, Jave, is to prove me wrong.)

3. KEARNES (OP):

I ASKED HER, “WHERE’S SAMMY? HONEY, TELL ME WHERE’S OUR BABY BOY?”

PANEL FOUR

On Kearnes as he laughs, a sad laugh. (An artist can’t draw a sad laugh. What does that even look like?) (Oh, Ryan?)

4. KEARNES:

AND THE CRAZY BITCH — YOU KNOW WHAT SHE SAID? “I WANT TO SUCK YOUR COCK, PETER. WE WILL SUCK YOUR COCK.”

PANEL FIVE

High shot of the room, both men in view. Kearnes is clearly upset. (And Ace is still furiously trying to stroke one off with the MRE. That’s Meal Ready to Eat, for those that don’t know. Anyway, you still haven’t proved me wrong, Jave.)

5. KEARNES:

AND AS SHE AND HER GIRLFRIEND CAME FORWARD I SAW HIM — THERE ON THE COUCH, WHERE THEY WERE MAKING OUT. OUR LITTLE BOY–

6. KEARNES:

–SHE ATE HIS BALLS, ACE! (Well, this took a sharp turn for fucked-up alley.)

PANEL SIX

Close on Kearnes as the tears stream down his cheeks.

6. KEARNES:

MY WIFE ATE HIS LITTLE BABY BALLS!

P3.

Now, there’s funny, and then there’s gross.

This doesn’t get to be funny. This is just gross. There’s a line. Even for me. This crosses it.

I’m stopping here. You all can read on if you wish. I’m going to be at the bottom.

PAGE FOUR (FOUR PANELS)

PANEL ONE

Ace can’t believe what he’s hearing. (And what does that look like? You’re not describing visually.)

1. ACE:

MY GOD.

PANEL TWO

Kearnes leans across the desk, inches from Ace’s face.

2. KEARNES:

I PUT A BULLET IN MY WIFE’S HEAD. SO DON’T TELL ME GWEN’S NOT A LESBIAN BECAUSE SHE ISN’T CONVENTIONALLY ATTRACTIVE.

3. KEARNES:

THEY COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES.

4. ACE:

I’M NOT SAYING SHE ISN’T A LESBIAN

PANEL THREE

Kearnes opens the door to the trailer, leaving Ace behind. (Expressions?)

5. ACE:

SHE’S NOT ONE OF THEM, DETECTIVE — NOT A ZOMBIE!

PANEL FOUR

High angle, close on Ace as he stands, pulling on the handcuffs, desperate to keep Kearnes from leaving.

6. ACE:

KEAAAARNES!!

I’m not totally bored, which is good. However, this is a better page three. See if you can sheer up the previous pages to get this hook onto page three. That can easily be done by filling out page one with some of page two, and cutting a few unnecessary panels. Your pacing will be tighter for it.

PAGE FIVE (EIGHT PANELS)

PANEL ONE (WIDE)

Ace swipes the table clean in frustration. (Huh? He does what?)

NO COPY

PANEL TWO (SMALL)

He looks under the table: sees that the handcuff can slide down the leg unobstructed.

NO COPY

PANEL THREE (SMALL)

Ace squats and puts his shoulders into lifting the table —

NO COPY

PANEL FOUR (SMALL)

Close on the handcuff as it slides out from under the leg.

NO COPY

PANEL FIVE (SMALL)

Outside the trailer. The Guard in the foreground, oblivious, as Ace slides the window open and pokes his head out. (Veering into moving panel territory.)

NO COPY

PANEL SIX (SMALL)

Detail as Ace’s still-cuffed hand picks up a large rock. (Hmm… A bit of a jump that he’s now outside. Have him getting out of the window in the previous panel.)

NO COPY

PANEL SEVEN (SMALL)

On the guard, just as Ace smashes him over the head with a rock. (To what result?)

1. SFX:

THWAAACK!

(MORE)

PANEL EIGHT (WIDE)

Now dressed in the Guard’s Paramilitary clothes, Ace walks on the dirt road. Carrying the Guard’s rifle, he hides his face and his cuffed hand as a squad of Guards marches by.

NO COPY

One or two of these panels could be cut for space.

PAGE SIX (FIVE PANELS)

PANEL ONE

In a small concrete building, Gwen is tied to a chair. Kearnes douses her with a plastic bucket of water, standing over her and shouting.

1. KEARNES:

WHERE ARE YOUR LEADERS?!

PANEL TWO

Gwen choking. She looks up, drenched from head to toe.

2. GWEN:

I DON’T HAVE ANY LEADERS–

PANEL THREE

Kearnes backhands her across the face, her glasses go flying. (You need to put more expressions in. How is she responding to this? Fear? Pain? Taking it in her stride?)

3. KEARNES:

LIAR!

PANEL FOUR

Gwen looks up defiantly, Kearnes standing over her.

4. KEARNES:

WE KNOW HOW YOU OPERATE. YOU TEMPT AND YOU CORRUPT AND YOU BREAK THE SYSTEM DOWN FROM THE INSIDE.

5. KEARNES:

BUT SOMEONE GIVES THE ORDERS. THERE’S ALWAYS A LEADER–

6. ACE (OP):

DETECTIVE KEARNES, THEY’RE HERE! THE LESBIANS ARE ATTACKING, SIR!

PANEL FIVE

Profile medium close up. Kearnes grabs Gwen by the chin and she tries to pull away. (Expression?)

7. KEARNES:

YOU MUST BE ONE IMPORTANT DYKE.

Expressions. You need them. Not for every panel, sure. But for those when we should expect some kind of reaction to grasp at how a character is feeling, and more so for punctuating your dialogue.

I feel like I could go on and edit some more, which is definitely a good thing. With most scripts that come through here, I’m spent by the fifth page. I’m happy to say that this isn’t awful – so far.

PAGE SEVEN (SIX PANELS)

PANEL ONE

Outside the concrete building, as the door opens and Kearnes races outside. Ace hides just behind the door, pressed flat against the wall.

1. KEARNES:

ON ME, MEN! MAN THE DEFENSES!

PANEL TWO

Inside the building, Ace untying Gwen’s hands from the chair. Gwen is still steaming from her encounter with Kearnes.

2. ACE:

ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?

3. GWEN:

NO.

PANEL THREE

Ace bending over to pick up Gwen’s glasses. Gwen rubbing her now-freed wrists, looking up and offscreen with squinting eyes. We just see his hand and arm, but Kearnes points a gun at Ace’s head and cocks it. (No. This is too soon. He just left. This also needs two panels to pace properly. There’s more than one panels worth of action here.)

4. ACE:

WE NEED TO MOVE FAST AND QUIET. KEARNES WILL BE BACK ANY SECOND–

5. SFX:

CLICK

6. KEARNES (OP):

YOU DISAPPOINT ME, ACE.

PANEL FOUR

Ace standing, hands up, facing Kearnes and his gun. The former Detective (Who? Kearnes? Use this name.) has murder in his eyes. Despite his dire situation, Ace comically weighs the older man’s choice of words. (Huh? These character’s actions are bizarre and obtuse. Focus less on what he is doing and how it presents itself visually. We don’t need to know someone is happy, but we need to know they are smiling.)

7. KEARNES:

THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN A LESBIAN IS A LESBIAN LOVER.

(MORE)

PANEL FIVE

Detail of the plastic water bucket as it slices through the air, attached to Gwen’s hand. (That’s a weird way of saying Gwen is tossing the bucket.)

NO COPY

PANEL SIX

Kearnes takes the bucket in the face, his gun going wild and firing into the wall.

8. KEARNES:

NNNGH

7. GWEN:

BASTARD! (She’d have said that line as she threw it. That is much more organic. She is also off-panel I presume.)

8. SFX:

BANG

PAGE EIGHT (FIVE PANELS)

PANEL ONE

Kearnes shrieks in pain as Gwen lands a jump kick in his nut sack. Lets go of the gun.

1. KEARNES:

AAAHHH!

PANEL TWO

Ace reaching for the gun on the ground, looks back over toward Gwen. (What’s Gwen doing? Where is Kearnes? They should all be on-panel for the clarity of this scene.)

2. GWEN (OP):

GET THE GUN!

3. ACE:

TAKE IT EASY. WE DON’T WANT TO ALERT THE WHOLE BASE.

PANEL THREE

With her two hands clasped into one super fist, Gwen winds up for the coup de grace, as Kearnes wobbles near the door, barely standing.

4. GWEN:

THIS’LL JUST TAKE A SECOND.

PANEL FOUR

Gwen lands the super fist in the Detective’s face, and Kearnes goes flying —

5. SFX:

THWACK

PANEL FIVE

— Gwen looking back at Ace with a big grin, as Kearnes crashes through the door to outside. (We don’t want to alert the whole base, so let’s smash him out of the door? What? Where’s the logic there?)

6. SFX:

CRASH!

7. GWEN:

LET’S GO!

I’m going to stop here. Weird, but not bad. Your panel descriptions could do with work. Describe what we see, not what is happening. And use expressions the emphasize your dialogue and engage the reader.

Liam has stopped, so it’s my turn to run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: They need some work. Part of it is being lazy, part of it is not thinking visually. You need to think visually and write what you see in your head. Then you will stop being lazy.

Pacing: From what I could see, the pacing needs some work. It isn’t terrible, but you could definitely use an editor to help you tighten some things up. The beginning two pages really feel like you’re writing to hit the page count. Don’t do that to your readers. Give them something to read. Give them a reason to continue to turn the page.

Dialogue: Too many stresses. From what I’ve read, you have an average of a stressed word in every balloon. That’s a lot, and it’s unnecessary. Let the reader choose for themselves.

Content: As a reader, I don’t mind the sexual talk. It doesn’t bother me in the least. However, when you cross the realm into bad taste…that’s where you’re likely to lose people. It’s where you lost me.

Editorially, this isn’t bad. Some guidance here and there—especially to get you away from bad taste—and this should be a pretty good read. There isn’t a lot of work for an editor to do here, but they should definitely know something about comedic timing and how to keep you from offending the reader.

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.

Click here to make comments in the forum!

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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 [email protected] for rate inquiries.

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