Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have Troy Bowen as our Brave One. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, Ryan Kroboth with the pencils, and I’m the idiot in red, doing this on Christmas Eve.
If you’re reading this on Christmas Day…go do something else. Really. Spend time with your families. Do something special. But if you must, read on as Troy tells us about
The Nine Unknown
Chapter 1: New Beginnings
Page 1 (2 Panels)
Framing shot above a beautiful city which is rectangular in shape with very futuristic buildings and roadways (What does a futuristic roadway look like?). Three rectangular rings divide the city. Two and three story buildings can be seen in the outer rings and a much larger building can be seen in the very center. (This needs more specificity. I get the idea of what you’re going for but I have questions. How big is the middle building, for instance? It also took me a while to realize you wanted the rings to extend out in size, rather than separate chunks of the city into zones, but maybe I am being too literal and/or stupid.)(Vague. Sometimes vague is good, sometimes vague is bad. Here, vague is bad. If this is supposed to be an establishing shot, what are we missing, Schuyler?)
20,000 years ago (I would put a comma here.) the Rama and the Vril Empires possessed knowledge and science far beyond anything available today. (This starts out verra, verra bad. I feel like we’re getting backstory already instead of just letting the story unfold and letting us catch up later. Let’s see if I’m right.)
Rama, Northern India (18,000 B.C.) (Why make the date parenthetical? What purpose does that serve?)
Framing shot at an angle above what appears to be almost a mirror of the above city (That’s an obtuse way of saying “a similar city”.) only with rounded rings set into an island bay. The island surrounding the city is mountainous and tropical looking. (Tir-na Nog’th. Anyone get the reference without looking it up?)
This knowledge was nearly lost in the wars between the two civilizations.
Vril (Atlantis), Indian Ocean (18,000 B.C.)
Speaking of cities, we’re in exposition city. Not a great way of starting your story. I am already put off.
P1 is down.
I’m not a happy camper.
I’ll tell you something for free. For ultra-free, since this column is already free. Ready?
Don’t bore the hell out of your readers on the first page. You can bore the hell out of them sometime after the first scene, you can bore the hell out of them on the very last page if you wish. Don’t do it on P1.
I’m bored as hell.
What happens on this page that is absolutely necessary? Not what’s said…what happens? What action is happening that is indispensable to the page? Not one thing. Unfortunately, there aren’t even any interesting visuals.
The visuals aren’t even made to be interesting with the addition of dialogue. There are barely 40 words on this page. Who knows how many words a page can comfortably hold?
This is just a bad way to start out. It tried to be interesting, but it didn’t quite get there. Instead, I’m bored. Let’s hope P2 does it better.
Page 2 (2 Panels)
What appear to be multiple nuclear explosions rise up out of Rama. Nine small objects that appear to be ships can be seen at angles escaping the destruction. (Are they all going in the same direction? Or are they spread out, somewhat like a flower? And is anyone else getting a Krypton feeling, or is that just me?)
However, before his Empire’s destruction (Comma.) the Rama Emperor gathered nine of his most intelligent scientists and advisors and entrusted them each with a book of knowledge.
Similar explosions in the ocean around Atlantis have created massive waves that loom over the city. Twelve small objects dot the sky, escaping the destruction. (Mr. Kroboth? I feel like this is your cue.)
Unknown to the Rama Emperor, the Vril made a similar effort. However, the Vril were determined to destroy the knowledge of the Rama forever and restore the once proud Atlantean order.
I am finding it hard to care about any of this. It’s just bland exposition so far.
P2, and you know what we have all discovered?
Troy doesn’t know how to write for comics. Either that, or he’s writing for his page count, and if that’s the case, then he doesn’t have enough story to handle the page count.
These two pages could have easily been a single page. They should have been a single page. One of these two pages are padding, and from a dialogue standpoint, nothing of interest has happened except we get Superman-9. That’s how it feels to me, at least.
Yes, I’m still bored. I might have to tell a story soon.
Page 3 (4 Panels)
Dallas skyline from above. Gleaming in the daylight but dingy and in contrast to the cities on the previous pages. (Gleaming but dingy? Can these two things really go together? And how is the reader supposed to know what the Dallas skyline looks like? There are extremely few skylines that are world-famous. I don’t think Dallas is one of them.)
Whoever controls the books of knowledge has the power to do great good or do great harm to mankind. (Kinda feels like I want to go punch a mummy when I read this. That was my first reaction. I know the Wolf Man has nards, but do mummies? I don’t know. I think that finding that out would be much more interesting than reading this. And yes, this is a release of pressure so my head doesn’t ‘splode.)
Over the past 20,000 years the Nine have given knowledge to the great minds of the ages. Before their deaths they pass their books and knowledge to worthy successors. The Vril have caused many of these deaths and yet the Books of the Nine have never been captured. (Oh…the pressure. THE PRESSURE!)
A middle-age Hispanic man (Number Six) appears to be running down a deserted back alley. His face strained and he is sweating. (Attire? Or doesn’t it matter?) (Appears? Is he running or isn’t he? Because appearances can be deceiving.)
No Copy (Why not? Something interesting could have been said here. Or at least attempted to.)
Interior of a semi-dark warehouse and Six can be seen in the doorway. It appears as though he barreled through it. (I hate the word “appears” in this usage. It sounds indecisive. Go for it. Own it! As for getting into a warehouse…Rin, what would you have done before we got here? Just this page, my friend. Just this page.)
No Copy (Another missed opportunity to be interesting.)
Interior of a sparsely decorated office (Where did the office come from? We were in a warehouse a second ago.) where Six has his back against the door as if he is trying to hold it shut. His hand is on a lock set low on the door. There is a bit of relief on his face.
No much to go on, but at least we’re out of the exposition. Why can’t the story start here, instead?
P3, and really, it feels like we’re just running through this.
And I don’t care. I’m still bored. There’s an unnamed guy running from something for an unstated reason. This doesn’t work for me because of the (crappy) exposition that started this piece. If you had actually started this piece on P3, panel 2, I might have cared. You would then have some backstory to season the present that we have. And the present needs that seasoning in order for the reader to be interested.
East of West. Issue 1. Go find it and read it. Or better yet, go pick up the first trade. You want to start out slowly? You have to do it right. You have to give the reader the feeling that you know what you’re doing. That something interesting is coming. That feeling isn’t here yet.
So then you start as late as you can. The first two pages aren’t starting as late as you can. You think you are, but you aren’t. You could start in media res, which is starting really late, and then you could let the reader catch up over time.
It’s all about drama. We tell stories for a reason. That reason is drama. It doesn’t matter what form that drama takes (regular drama, romantic, comedic, horror), we tell the story for drama, and when drama isn’t present, we’re bored. And to my mind, it’s always best to start out with drama whenever possible.
I have a story idea that I’m working the kinks out of. I have a vision of a guy pointing a gun right at us. It’s a splash page. He’s older, with long white hair, wearing a hat, a white collard shirt, and a dark sports jacket. The gun is all-white. He’s got a half smile on his face. The angle is close up, looking up at him. He’s apologizing for doing what he has to do. That’s P1. P2 is a reverse angle, and we see that the man is pointing the gun right into a crib. The baby is an infant, and is unafraid. The man is still talking. We pull out more to see the parents tied up and knocked out in the nursery. The man is still talking. We pull out more to see the house, which is just a regular house that’s in a subdivision. The man is still talking. We pull out once more to see the house on the block. Silent panel. We have one more panel, the same as the last, but we now hear the gunshot.
That’s my beginning. (Yes, I know what the man is going to be talking about. It will hopefully be interesting, but at the same time, it won’t make complete sense until later.) That beginning, at least from a visual standpoint, is interesting. The reader will want to know why he’s apologizing, who he’s apologizing to. They turn the page, and hopefully will be shocked about what they find. Hopefully the dialogue will keep them reading.
Compare the openings. Which one do you think is more interesting? (And yes, I know that Troy has the advantage in that he’s scripted it and has dialogue for his.)
Use your space wisely. There were opportunities to get the reader invested. Those were squandered with the silent panels. Those weren’t very dramatic. You should have had some words there. Or at least having the guy huff and puff.
Page 4 (4 Panels)
Six is now in front of an open safe door and has a book with Sanskrit writing on the cover in his hands. Not too large. (Depending on what your artist drew in the previous panel, this safe may have popped into existence. Describe it when we see the office room.)
His hand can now be seen disappearing into the book. (Huh? More. What does this look like?)
His hand is now out of the book and he is grasping a futuristic small gun that is not quite fully out of the book. The gun looks almost like a modern 9mm but it is a bit wider around the barrel area and has small lights flashing. (Lights can’t flash in comics. I know, sucks for flashy pistols.)
The book is now closed in the safe but looks like it is about to dematerialize with a shimmer or almost like a holographic look. (You will need two panels for this. One to show the book in the safe “normal” and another to show it holographic.)
A waste of a page, to be honest. Why only four panels? And four silent ones at that?
I’m not overly concerned about the waste of a page. I don’t see it as a waste, myself. I see it as a spectacular failure to take the opportunity to tell the story. It’s like all of the energy was spent on (bad) exposition in the beginning, and now there’s nothing left to push the story forward besides visuals.
What happens here appears (see what I did there?) interesting, but dialogue should have sealed the deal. Troy relied on the strangeness of the visuals to tell the story instead of doing his best to get the reader invested. Hence, the silent page.
Editors in comics will always harp about “show, don’t tell.” I’m the same way. I want you to show me something whenever you can. However, there’s also the fact that dialogue is there to illuminate the art. If your dialogue is telling me something that isn’t apparent in the art, then by all means, tell me. As a reader, I need to know…something.
You’re building a world. You don’t have the time to have silent panels. You have too much work to do first.
Page 5 (6 Panels)
Six is now facing the door with the gun held out, ready for an attack. (There hasn’t been a lot of facial expressions going on here.)
Reverse shot looking at Six. The wall behind him is nearly gone as though an explosion sucked the wall out of the building. (This needs more. I am not visualizing it. How does this look? What is Six doing?) (Wait. We aren’t already looking at him? He’s not looking at us? I’m lost! And why are there no sound effects anywhere? Not that they’re necessary, but it will make this somewhat more interesting. Even silent movies have soundtracks.)
Six is lying on the floor with a bloodied face. The gun is now out of his reach. He has a look of resignation on his face. (Why is his face bloodied? Why is this all so silent?)
This is a long panel across the entire page. We see two Atlanteans on what appear to be hover boards. There is one beautiful woman and one ominous male holding weapons pointed at Number Six. The page cuts through the wall showing Number Six defiant and spitting blood from his mouth.
Number Six: Too late. The book is gone. You’re too late again!
(Reverse the SFX and the dialogue. He spits after he speaks, which is what the panel suggests. In comics, the panel should match the last thing said.)
This is a close shot of the male Atlantean. His face twisted in disgust.
Male Atlantean: We’re closer than you think. Take solace in the fact that the others will be joining you very soon. (That last line is overly cumbersome.)
Cut back to both Atlanteans with their guns raised. Both emit what appears to be green plasma bursts.
Number Six (OP): You’ll never succeed!
SFX: Arrgggghhh!!! (This would have more effect if it interrupted the first line. Also, this isn’t technically sound effects.)
Well, this is more interesting than the exposition. Maybe I would have been grabbed if you had started here, but the beginning put me off. I already know what is what and who is who and why is why. That’s dull. The reader doesn’t have to know everything right off the bat. It’s more interesting for them to find out as they go. It’s also dreadfully silent in parts. Get some dialogue up in there. Readers also find that interesting, funnily enough.
Liam has stopped, so I can, too. Let’s run ‘er down!
Format: Flawless Victory! And it can be said with no caveats! I love it!
Panel Descriptions: These need some work. Establishing shots need things, descriptions need to be a bit clearer, and things should be set up as early as possible (such as the safe). Being clear is important for the artists, because they need to “see” what you’re trying to get them to draw.
Remember, describe things from left to right, and don’t forget the important things that Schuyler is going to tell us.
Pacing: Bad. That’s really all I can say. The pacing here is bad and totally uneven.
Going from largest to smallest, pacing is the amount of scenes in a book, amount of pages in a scene, amount of panels in a page, and the amount of words in a panel/page/scene.
What happens in the first two pages that can’t be done in one? What happens on the third page that requires it to be silent? Why is this entire thing silent except for the last page? Because it’s so quiet with such a low panel count, the reader is going to race through this. If you want to slow down the reading pace, you have to add words. You could also raise the panel count a bit, but the real slowdown happens by adding words. (It also happens to be the place where the story comes alive.)
Dialogue: There isn’t enough of it, and what’s there is the opposite of good.
Most of the captions are boring. Why? Because you’re telling us stuff before we’re invested in it. The story I’m going to be working on? The man talking and apologizing? He shoots a baby. And he’s the good guy! However, do you think that I’m going to be giving away the entire backstory while he’s talking? No, I’m not. I’m going to parse it out slowly, so that the reader can become invested in what’s going on. That’s what should have been done here.
There are ways to make this better, but you have to be committed to telling the story. Cut what’s currently unnecessary (backstory), and beef up what is (what’s happening in the now). Find a way to tell what’s going on without coming at it head on.
Also, put in more words. Like I said before, this is a fast read. Slow it down by adding more (good) words. You have too much worldbuilding to do to have so many silent panels. Fix that by actually telling the story.
Content: Meh. As a reader, I’d put this back on the shelf and continue on my browse. If the first few pages don’t grab me, I’m not buying it. I don’t reward bad comics with my money.
Editorially, I’m going to say this needs a complete rewrite. I’d have to read the entire issue first, see what’s going on,and then suggest on how to better restructure it, seeing what has to be taken out and what has to be shored up. But it definitely wouldn’t go to an artist in its current state.
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.