Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds!
This week starts the sixth year of this column here at ComixTribe. Six years. That’s a lot of scripts to go through.
Before we begin, I want to say thank you to all the Brave Ones who submitted this past year: Daniel O’Reilly, Sam Roads (Felix!), Fabian Andres (2), Yonatan Schultz, Alex Hutchins, Rin Kiyoko (2), Alyssa Crow, Paul Brian DeBerry, Schuyler Van Gunten, Stewart Vernon, Steven Forbes (that’s right, that idiot submitted, too!), Greg Thayer (2), Armit Sharma (2), Galen Schultz (2), Robert Sprawls, Jason Duke, Aaron Williamson, Eric Brackett, Shawn Milazzo (2), Brian Sanford, David Rines, Ronnie Massey (2), John Long, CJ Kral, Justin Jakimiak, Osvaldo Padilla, Solomon Steen (7), Raoul Ricca, Ryan Kroboth, Chris Vernon, Edward Davis, Sean Mills (2), Jave Galt-Miller (2), Joshua Crowther, Jay Van Veen, Arjun Ramesh, and Troy Bowen.
Whew! Like I said, a lot of people.
I can’t forget the helpfulness of the editors who have helped me this past year, either: Steve Colle, Samantha LeBas, and Liam Hayes. Of course, thanks also goes to Ryan Kroboth for help with the pencils.
This isn’t my column. I just house it. This column really belongs to all of you. I literally cannot do this without those of you who submit. Thank you.
New year, new script. We’ve still got Liam Hayes in blue, we’ve still got Ryan Kroboth with the pencil assists, and I’m still the guy gibbering in red. We’re all going to see what Jave has learned with his second issue of
(This is a second issue so I am unlikely to be able to comment on the story. As such, I’ll be mostly focusing on the technical aspects.)
Morning. A bird’s eye view of the Athenian harbor as merchants, slaves, and sailors hurry and work. Three triremes row toward the docks, Alcibiades standing on the prow of the lead ship, his purple cape whipping in the breeze. (Again, Jave has gone with the bolding of the panel descriptions. I don’t see the use for it, but it doesn’t hurt anything. As for this opening panel…this could have been done better. It’s a posing shot. The guy is standind there just to pose. The trick is to be pulled out enough to see the harbor and the water, but be pushed in enough to see the people doing their thing and the posing.)
THE PIRAEUS, ATHENS
(BG) As the trireme pulls along the dock, Alcibiades is leaping off the ship, his three olive crowns secured tightly to his head. (FG) A crowd has formed on the dock in greeting. From behind, we see a woman, HIPPARETE (28); an adolescent girl, HELENA (12); and a young boy, ALCIBIADES JR (9). They stand at the front of the crowd. (This crowd wasn’t visible in the previous panel? Hard to believe it formed in the space between the ship arriving and your guy jumping of the ship.) (I know it’s early, Ryan, but I think it’s time. I hope the pencils are sharp…)
2. ALCI JR:
Alcibiades crushes his children in a bear hug (It would be amusing if you’re artist was overly literal.) as his wife Hipparete looks on: happy, yet somehow she would rather be the one embraced (Prosaic, as in, this will only work well in prose. I’m happy, yet somehow, I want to punch myself in the face… How does that get conveyed with a static picture? Either she’s happy or she isn’t. Pick one. The reader can’t pick it for you.). People in the Crowd shout and chant:
3. CROWD (INTERSPERSED):
Close on Alcibiades as he cradles his son in his arms and places one of the crowns on his head. The younger Alcibiades is thrilled by the chanting of the crowd. (Where did the girl go?)
SOAK IT IN, SON. TRUE MEN LEAD THROUGH GREAT DEEDS, AND THIS IS OUR REWARD.
5. CROWD (OP):
ALCIBIADES! ALCIBIADES! ALCIBIADES!
P1 is down.
Generally, this is what happens in comics:
You make a first issue, and let’s say (to use round numbers and a little bit of imagination) that you sell 50k. Nice, right? But it’s the first issue, and lots of people pick up first issues because they’re curious. The first issue satisfies that itch. They’re not invested yet. So that first issue is almost like an impulse buy.
Then issue two comes out, and you manage to sell 25k of that issue. That’s a 50% drop, yes? And it happens to the best of comics. It’s almost a unicorn to hear about a comic whose sales increase from issue to issue.
In order to combat this, the smart creator does what they can in the first issue to end it strong, as well as starting the second issue out as strong as possible.
This isn’t a strong opening. Does anyone really care about what has happened so far in this issue? Of course not. We have the triumphant return of someone. Do we really care about that? Do we know what’s triumphant about his return? Not at all. This is the second issue, and as such, this is possibly the weakest, most incorrect opening you could have.
Where’s the mystery? Sure, I could possibly ask what’s so triumphant about the return…but I might not find out that answer here. The answer to that would be in the previous issue. The only thing I could think to get in this issue would be a summary of the last, which is nowhere as satisfying as going through the adventure with the character.
This is a terrible opening for a second issue. I have the feeling that we should skip this entire opening scene and get right to the next one.
Not every issue needs to have a frenetic start or some kind of big emotional beat, but there should be something that makes the reader want to continue. There’s none of that here. Guy returns home to a sudden crowd of people. How his family knew to be there…well, the internet is a great thing in the Bronze Age. (This feels like the Bronze Age. I could be extremely wrong. I’m not a historian. History was not a strong subject for me.)
Let’s see what page two brings us.
PAGE TWO (SEVEN PANELS)
Late morning. A rectangular sand pit surrounded by Spectators, all eager for a wrestling match to begin. The pit is enclosed by roofed colonnades, but the center is open to the sky. (Reference images for the artist would be good and useful. Otherwise this is vague. Where is this? Inside? Outside? Are the spectators sat?)
(FG) Critias (35) is seated on a stool facing away from us, his massive, naked back glistening with oil and blocking much of our view. His hardened abdomen is scarred down the right side. (He’s facing away from us so we can’t see this, right?) (BG) Across from Critias sits a WRESTLER (20s) staring in his direction with the hint of a cocky grin. (Where is the camera in relation to this scene? Where is Critias sat? In the sand pit? Where is the other guy sat? Also in the sandpit? What is he sat on? These are all questions I have.) (No. Ryan, I don’t want you to draw the previous panel. I want you to draw this one. This one is much, much better. I’m almost jumping for joy over here! Or maybe I have to urinate. I can’t tell anymore… I just know that this is a load of not-good.)
1. CAPTION: (Who is saying this?)
DON’T LET ANYONE FOOL YOU. IN THE SAND PIT THERE IS ONLY ONE OUTCOME:
THE STRONG DOMINATE THE WEAK.
PANEL TWO (SMALL)
Critias has met the other wrestler in the pit, each leaning forward, their foreheads touching, their hands resting on their opponents’ shoulders. Still we don’t see Critias’ face, but the other Wrestler is now serious. Ready.
SOME WILL RELY ON RULES.
PANEL THREE (SMALL)
Critias lunging, but the smaller wrestler is quicker on his feet, twisting away and around him. Still we do not see the larger man’s face. (Schuyler, please rewrite this as a static image.)
SOME WILL RUN FROM THE TRUTH. (Run from the truth? I want to run from this pseudo-philosophical nonsense.)
PANEL FOUR (SMALL)
Behind Critias, the other wrestler sweeping at the larger man’s legs. (With what? How? Huh?)(I can see this, but then again, I took martial arts. There’s a different question to be asked here. What’s that question, Rin?)
SOME WILL BE BLESSED WITH LUCK—
PANEL FIVE (SMALL)
Close on Critias’ hand locking on his opponent’s kicking leg in a vise grip before it makes contact. (No. Ryan, I know I’m asking a lot, but could you just sketch this out. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but just enough to show what’s gone wrong and why I’m saying “no”.)
–FOR A MOMENT.
PANEL SIX (SMALL)
High angle on the Wrestler as Critias lifts him up, upside down, preparing for the pile driver. (Can one go from leg grip to pile-driver in one moment?) The smaller man is terrified, knows what’s coming.
BUT THE DELUSION NEVER LASTS.
PANEL SEVEN (SMALL)
From the front: We finally see Critias’ face – merciless, determined – as he slams the smaller man’s head into the hard-packed sand.
IN THE SAND PIT, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE MAN AT THE TOP.
Who is talking to us? Is it this Critias guy? You need to make that more clear, if so.
P2, and I have to say that, as a page, this is better than P1. There’s more interest here. This is a better way to start the issue.
I don’t understand the captions. I don’t know if they are supposed to be an internal monologue, an omniscient narrator, or a voice-over. They work for a little bit, but then things go strange with what’s being said, and we’re left wondering. I hate wondering.
Here’s my question: have you ever been in a fight, Jave? No, here’s a different, better question: have you ever trained for a fight? Training for fighting means that you study fighting, and studying fighting means you know something of what the human body can and can’t do.
Personally, I love watching martial arts flicks. (Why is it that they’re always “flicks”? Why doesn’t it have the same impact when you call them movies or films? Or is that just me?) I’ve always loved watching them. When my parents finally put me into martial arts, I was pretty happy. I was going to be a ninja! I was going to be able to stick to walls, jump over buildings (not like Superman—these were low buildings, like single-story houses), and have reflexes like a cat.(Hey! I was 9! I’m allowed to dream.)
Well, the reality was much different. The training montages that you see, where the hero learns how to get stronger and how to fight in the space of five minutes (that’s a long montage)? That’s a lie. A lot of pain, a lot of training, a lot of time. And no jumping over low buildings or sticking to walls. That’s a lie, too.
But I did study how to fight. And I still collected my comics, and I studied how my superheroes fought. And while I didn’t learn how to dance, I did understand that the katas I learned where choreographed fights, and that choreography could take a fight a long way.
Jave tried to choreograph this, but failed to take little things like reality and how the human body moves and works into account. That’s why things aren’t working out the way he thinks it will. The body just doesn’t do some of the things he’s asking of it.
Fight choreography can be learned. But “learning” implies “studying”, which means that fight choreography needs to be studied.
Now, there is a trick to this.
All of the onus is on the artist. All of it. Because it has to look good. If it doesn’t look good, it isn’t the fault of the writer, it’s the artist’s fault. With the onus being on the artist, it might be a good idea to let the artist do what they do. Can you give some direction? Of course. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, or what you’re trying to get across, then maybe you, as the writer, should just tell the artist what the outcome should be and let them do their jobs. It doesn’t mean you should never try to choreograph fights, but that more thought should be put into them.
I read a book series once, The Last of the Renshai, where the writer said that everything she wrote about in the books (swordsmen and horseback riding—and the incredible stunts that could be done with both) were true in that highly skilled individuals could perform these feats. She wrote nothing about swordplay and horses that was impossible. That always stuck with me.
Learn how to choreograph fights. Think them through. Practice them, if necessary. Those action figures sitting on your desk? Play with them again. Get a feel for the fights. Pose them. Then you’ll have a better understanding as to what can and can’t be done by the human body in a fight.
PAGE THREE (SEVEN PANELS)
From the front on Critias, scraping the oil and sweat and sand from his arms with a strigil or scraper, the wrestler crumpled on the ground behind him. The Spectators are animated, discussing the match, one man LAUGHING.
1. LAUGHING SPECTATOR:
I CAME TO WATCH A FIGHT, NOT A COMIC FOLLY!
Close over Critias’ shoulder as he spots the source of the offending laughter. The Laughing Spectator’s eyes wide: he knows he’s just made a big mistake. (Hmm… This would work best from over the spectators shoulder with Critias looking at him I think.)(Actually, this needs two panels.)
I WILL MAKE ATHENS MY SAND PIT. (See, that’s a cool metaphor and story hook, it’s just a shame that everything before it read like vapid stream-of-consciousness nonsense.)
We’re behind Critias again, still stark naked (buttocks on view), (Using the angle I suggested in the last panel will also vary up this page as this is pretty much the same shot.) as he confronts the Laughing Spectator. The latter no longer laughing, as others in the Crowd back away and give them room.
WHERE IS THE JOKE?
4. LAUGHING SPECTATOR:
IT’S NOTHING. JUST… THE MATCH ENDED SO QUICKLY.
AND YOU CAN DO BETTER.
6. LAUGHING SPECTATOR:
I THOUGHT HE’D PUT UP MORE OF A FIGHT, THAT’S ALL. (Those last two lines sound like they need to be reversed i.e “I thought he put up more of a fight.” “You can do better?” Seems to make more sense that way, at least to me.)
Critias has the man by the hair and he’s shoving his face toward a marble column. (Huh? This is vague. You need to describe more. What’s the guy doing? Well, that might be obvious, but still. What’s the angle? How far away if he from the column?)(How did he get up in the stands so quickly? Is this nameless hulk a slave or a free man? If he’s a slave, why is he allowed to talk this way to someone who isn’t? Where did the column appear from? I’m reminded of Bane, to tell the truth. Bane, however, is better written.)
IT WAS AN HONORABLE MATCH.
8. LAUGHING SPECTATOR:
Shot of the Laughing Spectator’s face smashing into the column with Critias standing over him, still holding him by the hair. (And this is just written weirdly, as if Critias isn’t doing the smashing at all.)
UNLESS YOU’RE IN THE PIT, YOU DON’T GET TO LAUGH.
10. EXCITED CITIZEN (OP):
Wide shot of the scene, the Spectators gawking and whispering. On the left of frame, an Excited Citizen (30s) is standing under one of the roofed colonnades, shouting. From the right, Critias is looking in the Excited Citizen’s direction: this is important news. The (no longer) Laughing Spectator is now fallen to his knees and holding his bloodied nose. (FG) A SLAVE BOY (15) walking right to left.
11. EXCITED CITIZEN:
ALCIBIADES WILL BE WITHIN THE CITY WALLS AT ANY MOMENT!
Tight shot. The Slave boy turned toward Critias: nervous. Critias pointing at him.
GET MY CLOAK.
Apart from the technicalities, I have no problems with this page’s actual content. This is all set-up to something bigger as far as I am concerned.
This is only P3? This feels longer. However, it’s still more interesting than the first page.
Really, that first page could be cut in its entirety as padding, because it doesn’t do anything at all to add to the story. If you started with P2 and then continued on, there would be more interest, and you could talk about the return in just the way you have, which is just better storytelling all around.
We’re still waiting to see who’s talking, and there is a definite case of the dropsies here. It looks like you ran out of things to say, Jave, and just fell silent a couple of times. No good.
Captions can be tricky. You have to have enough to say that will carry you through the scene, and it has to be good. Otherwise, you’re all dropsies, all the time.
I wrote a story once where there was very little actual spoken dialogue. Everything was done in captions. I found it to be boring as hell when I read it, because nothing was immediate. And when I ran out of things to say on the page, it got even more boring.
Make sure you have enough to carry yourself through. Don’t make your audience wonder what you’re talking about.
PAGE FOUR (TWO PANELS)
PANEL ONE (NO BORDER)
Day. Very high angle of the Panathenaic Way outside the Dipylon Gate – the main entrance gate to the city of Athens. The wide, stone-paved road is lined with cheering citizens, many of them throwing rose petals on the road. The Dipylon Gate ahead, the two slits indented from the main façade are defended by four towers. (Again, you better have some great references for your artist. Don’t expect them to do all the work in that regard.)
Beyond the gate, elevated, we see the ACROPOLIS.
On the path, Alcibiades has his arm around his wife as they approach the city, their two children walking close by. Small. Little detail.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE MARRIED TO THE MOST FAMOUS MAN IN ATHENS– NO, IN ALL GREECE?
I’M JUST HAPPY YOU’RE HOME.
YES. I’VE MISSED THIS CITY.
Within and under the gate. Archers look down from the towers, much of the sunlight blocked by the enormous wall. We’re not quite as high, but the Alcibiades family walks below.
WHILE A SUCCESS, MY VICTORY WAS COSTLIER THAN EITHER OF US PLANNED, HIPPARETE.
I’m not finding much to comment on after the pages, which is a good thing, I think.
P4, and this is padding because of P1.
If P2 were really P1, then this might not be padding. If not for P1, the dialogue on this page may have been more interesting (also provided there was more of it). Basically, the current P1 is the downfall of civilization…or at least this piece.
Cutting P1 and adding good dialogue to this page would really go a long way to making this interesting. Right now, though, this is padding. It’s not good when half of your piece so far can be cut as fluff.
PAGE FIVE (FIVE PANELS)
We’re still at a distance as Alcibiades and his family enter the Potter’s Quarter of the city from the Dipylon Gate. Along both sides of the road, small ceramic factories where pots, vases, and cups are shaped, cooked, and painted. Still a crowd along the path, but not as thick here.
THESE PEOPLE. THEY ALWAYS WANT A SPECTACLE, AND I’VE USED MOST OF MY REMAINING FORTUNE TO WIN–
Medium shot. That stopped them in their tracks. Alcibiades holding his wife’s hands, looking into her eyes. Charming as ever. It’s a lot, but Hipparete bites her tongue. (Her biting her tongue should be taken literally. What say you, Ryan? Would you take this literally, or would you ask a question instead?)
TEN TALENTS WILL GUARANTEE THE VOTES I NEED TO BE ELECTED STRATEGOS. AND THEN WE’LL BOTH RUN THIS CITY.
WHAT’S MINE IS YOURS, HUSBAND.
(FG) Alcibiades kissing her cheek. (BG) Theramenes is jogging in their direction from the city. (More. What is her reaction? How far away is the jogging dude?)
I NEVER DOUBTED IT.
ALCIBIADES! THEY’RE ALREADY GATHERING!
Three shot. Theramenes has reached the family, out of breath. Hipparete showing her irritation. Alcibiades’ full attention on Theramenes.
YOU’VE HAD HIM TO YOURSELF FOR A MONTH. YOU CAN’T LET HIM ALONE WITH HIS FAMILY FOR A DAY?
I’D LIKE NOTHING BETTER, HIPPARETE, BUT THIS CAN’T WAIT.
THE ASSEMBLY MEETS?
NIKIAS CALLED IT. I THINK HE HOPED WE WERE STILL AT SEA.
Alcibiades turned toward his wife, ready to plead. But she releases him, knowing it’s useless to try to keep him. (This veers on prose. Stay in comics. What are their drawable expressions/body language?)
GO. WE’LL CELEBRATE YOUR HOMECOMING LATER.
Again, nothing especially bad. Your pacing is pretty decent. I can’t say I’m interested, but that’s largely due to a combination of not knowing how the story began and not having much of an interest in historical fiction.
Your biggest flaw is being vague. Don’t do that. Especially with something historical; you need to be accurate in your depictions and research. Get some reference images up in there. Hell, allow them to do the heavy lifting if needs be. And place your characters properly. Occasionally I had no idea where people were in relation to one another.
Liam is finished, so I guess my time is up.
Let’s run ‘er down.
Format: Flawless Victory.
Panel Descriptions: These need some work. And they need work in a few ways.
First, there are some vague spots. Those need to be fixed.
Second, choreography. Learn it, or leave it to the artist. Those are the choices. There really isn’t a third.
Next, the level of detail for historical fiction… Know what? I’ll talk about that in Content.
Finally, know where things are and how they interact with each other. There are a couple of impossibilities in there, things that just pop up, and things that just aren’t right. A little more thought will go a long way.
Pacing: Not good in the least. A bad opening, then some interest for a couple of pages, and then more padding that led to what could have been a decent page. This needs to be paced better.
For first issues, you have to work hard to keep a reader’s interest. Generally, you know they’re going to buy the book because it’s a first issue. Second issues, you have to work damned hard to get and keep the reader’s interest. You already know the numbers are going to be lower for the second issue. Why compound that further by making the opening extremely weak?
Fix the pacing. Do everything you can to keep reader interest as soon as you can. It doesn’t have to move fast or slow, but it has to be interesting as it moves.
Dialogue: Not bad. I’ve read a LOT worse. It just needs some clarity, and it needs some interest. Like in Pacing, you have to be interesting, but you have to do it faster. P1 was crap when it came to being interesting. Not the way to be.
Content: As a reader, this isn’t for me. I don’t think this is for most, to be honest.
Historical accuracy is something to be lauded. However, only a handful of people are going to really care that this is historically accurate. Most of the reading population won’t care.
A few things: historical accuracy about the setting is not the story. They are just trappings. Sometimes, it feels like you’re more interested in being accurate than you are in telling an enjoyable story.
If you’re going to strive for historical accuracy, try to get an artist who enjoys that kind of thing. This is much, much, much easier said than done. Barring that, you’re going to have to do your fare share of the lifting by researching photos of what you’re going after. Your artist will love you for that.
Finally, I think this will be a tough sell. Sword and sandals stories come and go, and they’re generally prompted by films. The last one that made any real impact was 300. Others have tried (Clash/Wrath of the Titans, Immortals), but didn’t really succeed. I believe it’s harder to do in comics.
I’m not saying this isn’t worthy of pursuing. I’m just saying that it isn’t my cup of tea, as a reader. Conan and Kull were interesting to me as comics, but not Warlord. You may have a challenge in finding your audience, and in finding someone who cares about a pottery district. See what I’m saying?
Editorially, this needs some direction from a good editor who’s interested in the subject matter. The interest is because they wouldn’t mind fact-checking you as you write (fact-checking is part of the editor’s job), and they would find ways to have the subject matter to be presented in a more appealing manner.
And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!
Like what you see? Liam and I are available for your editing needs. You can email Liam here. My info is below.