Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds. This week, our Brave One is Galen Schulz. Aside from me being all crusty and cranky in red, we also have Ryan Kroboth with the pencil assists. Now, let’s see what Galen has learned as he presents us
Court of the Air
First four panels of this page are a flashback. (Notice that this is P4, not P1. This is because I want to draw your eye to this line right here. Galen is telling us that this is a flashback, which means that the panels can be shaped differently, or it can be colored differently, or both. Something has to happen to tell the reader “when” we are temporally within this scene. I like it.)
Panel 1, Oliver is opening the door into an office (opening it to the right), having just come from outside in Hundred Locks. Ahead of him is Sergeant Cudban shining a cutlass that came from a rack on the left hand wall (Cudban is still right next to it). Cudban should look stern. Behind Cudban is another door in the corner, and a rack of rifles beside that. Make sure this office has exposed ceiling beams, and an overall hand made look to everything would be good as this town is pretty far from the hub of civilization in Jackals.
Aye, Oliver, your wee conjurer’s all ready for you. Always seems like more than weekly, often as that prat’s here.
Hello, Sergeant Cudban.
Well come on in, laddie. Best to register and be done for a spell.
Panel 2, looking straight at Cudban, still shining that cutlass. He’s smiling, turned to look at Oliver who is closing the door and looking back at Cudban. Oliver should be straight-faced. (Panel 2… It’s not a record, but yeah, Ryan, could you please do your thing here? Tanks!)
How was your week?
The usual. Did have the parson in here yesterday. Someone’s been stuffing pamphlets in the book of Circlelaw.
Highlights of Community and the Commons, aye. The thought of Carlists in the pews had him fit to collapse.
Panel 3, a shot from the door Oliver just entered. Cudban is setting the cutlass up on the rack, Oliver is walking to the right where there’s a chair and looking back at Cudban as he makes his way over. (Yeah, this isn’t going to work, either. Mr. Kroboth will explain why that is because of his explanation in the previous panel.)
Just complaints, laddie. Everyone’s got ’em. I’ve three wee constables to keep the law in Hundred Locks while they’ve got ten times that up the dike in Shipman’s Town.
What do you think they do up there, interview cod all day? Arrest gulls? I can tell you they sure don’t make sure their sailors aren’t down here liquored on cheap jinn and breaking — (The double-dash should be butted up against the word. I may understand why you did it (it might have kept turning into an em-dash on you), but you has ta finds a way, me boyo.)
Panel 4, the right side of this panel should bleed between the flashback of this and the current events on the left of the next panel. The door to the back room has opened and one of Cudban’s constables is poking his head out (bumpkin looking fellow, his uniform should be similar to Cudban’s). Cudban is looking at him. Oliver is seated and looking down at his feet, face still blank.
Inspector Pullinger is waiting for you, Oliver.
CONSTABLE (wavering or fading):
Panel 5, late afternoon, on the left is the gangway of a small zeppelin (called an aerostat), at the top of which is a rumpled looking Harry Stave, annoyed. Harry should be carrying a battered travel case about the size of his torso. Oliver is looking down at his feet, seated at a bench in the middle of a huge grassy field. The aerostat is landed on a circle painted in the grass, and there should be other such circles and benches elsewhere on the field, but at least 50 yards from each other. Deep in the distance is the town of Hundred Locks at the foot of the massive natural dike. (Yep. Problems here. Lessee… Lessee… Schuyler! You’ve grown in your prowess. Tell us what the problems here are.)
Oi! You Oliver?
Panel 6, Harry is walking down the gangway, an eyebrow arched. Oliver should be standing now, gesturing towards Hundred Locks. (Where’s the camera?)
Mister Stave? My uncle is waiting back at Seventy Star Hall.
Harry, please. You’re the young Oliver Brooks, eh? (I like this line. Gets in the names extremely organically.)
Panel 7, In the far left of the panel a steamman is pulling a trolley loaded with crates and barrels and boxes towards Hundred Locks. Harry and Oliver have met in the middle ground, Harry has a small smile, Oliver should look surprised.
Pardon me not recognizing you, old stick, there’s not much of the babe I see in the man.
You saw me as a baby? Did you know my parents?
That I did. Our work was… Related. Do you remember either of them?
Panel 8, Harry has one hand on Oliver’s shoulder. Harry should look a little sad, Oliver with his head down again, his brows knit.
No. Uncle Titus won’t speak of them.
I imagine it’s as painful to lose a brother as a father, old stick. (I’m going to say that I like the term “old stick.” Now, you have to be careful here. Old Stick is a nickname now in the way it’s being used here, which means it should be capitalized. More than likely, though, the letterer will use an all-caps font, so it won’t be much of a problem. But on the off-chance that a sentence-case font is used, it may be a good idea to capitalize it. Not a ding, just something to think on.)
Let’s not talk of it ourselves, then. Allow those who’ve moved along the Circle some rest in their new lives. (I have to say, though, I’m liking the dialogue here. Can you tell me why I’m saying that, Greg?)
Panel 9, they’ve begun walking away from us toward the town in the distance. (And then you kill me with a single word. It’s like a baseball to the brain. That word is “begun.”)
He must know I’m on the registry . Only my uncle and Damson Griggs never gave a damn about that, but they’re my family.
So why doesn’t he seem to care? (Clunky. The thought balloons in this panel seem ham-fisted.)
Okay, we have the first page down.
This isn’t a bad page at all. The dialogue was working for me, until we got to the last panel. Then it was like you decided to get a boulder and tried to force it through the eye of a needle.
There are also a couple of visualization problems here that will be elaborated upon by others. (See what I did there?)
I’m seeing growth here. I love growth. It makes me feel like what we’re doing here is working. Let’s see what the next page brings.
Panel 1, an aerial establishing shot of a sprawling two-story manor house up on a bit of hill. The house should be nice, but like it’s just starting to be unkempt; show a little wear. Harry and Oliver are walking up the path to the front door.
Seventy Star Hall, Hundred Locks, County Lightshire (No ending punctuation. I’m going to call that a stylistic choice and not something to rage-quit over. See how I extend the benefit of the doubt when I can?)
DAMSON GRIGGS (from next panel):
What ill wind has blown you to our doorstep, Harold Stave? (No. The pacing is off here, because this doesn’t fit with this panel. What you’ve effectively done is try to cover two panels: one as an off-panel bit of dialogue, and yet, you want the same dialogue to pull double duty for the next panel as well. You’re trying to have it both ways, and while I applaud the ambition, it’s not going to work as well as you think it will. Ryan, don’t do the first one. Please sketch this panel and the next in order to show what’s he’s trying to do and what it is that I’m saying. Thanks.)
Panel 2, a side view of Oliver just stepping into the house, interested in the interaction between Damson Griggs and Harry. Holding the door is a very disapproving looking Damson Griggs, her left hand on her hip as she’s facing us with her body and Harry with her face as he’s passed by her. He’s looking back at her as he passes. Next to Damson Griggs is a metal coat rack. The floors are checkered marble, the walls a rich dark wood, and there’s a lit, oil-burning chandelier contraption hanging above them.
Harry, Damson Griggs. Please.
I best lock up the brandy cabinet if you’re to stay.
Not so much as a tot’s passed these lips in two weeks, Damson.
The Navy wouldn’t keep you and your manners and they’re no better here!
Panel 3, a shot from right in front of the door now (the door is closed, so the light is from the chandelier above them) looking down the entrance hall. Damson Griggs is leaning down close to Oliver in the foreground, concern on her face. Oliver is still watching Harry climbing the stairs, a hand on the banister. On the ground floor, to the right of the stairs which curve to the left, are a couple doors, both of which are closed. (Most of this isn’t needed. Rin, could you simplify this, please?)
Now you listen, Oliver Brooks. The only stat you could climb aboard with that one is the Lady Trouble. You give him a wide berth or you’ll end swinging at Bonegate right beside him.
You said he was in the Navy?
Harold Stave got discharged from the Navy Victualling Board before you were even born. No doubt caught with his hands in the till, the rascal.
Panel 4, side view of a still curious Oliver following Damson Griggs as she walks with her nose in the air down the hall.
He knows your uncle from his contacts on the Board. You just stay away from that one.
Now, you best get down to see that twit Pullinger, Oliver. Early’s on time, and the trouble that jumped up Inspector gives isn’t worth it if you don’t register on time.
Panel 5, Oliver has stopped at the foot of the stairs, his head craning to the right, following Damson Griggs’ path as she turns into the kitchen doorway (this would be the second of those two doors to the right of the stairs we saw earlier).
So what would Uncle Titus want with a criminal like that? (Better. But it would be better if he was also thinking something while she was speaking.)
Panel 6, at the top of the stairs we see a door at the left side of the panel (our view should have the door right next to us, the stairs are in front of us). Oliver is sneaking towards it, his ear tilted towards the door.
HARRY (broken balloon, from the door, OP): (I don’t know what a “broken balloon” is. I’m going to ask for an example of what you’re talking about.)
A dirty game–
TITUS (broken balloon, from the door, OP):
Two of mine– dead–
HARRY (broken balloon, from the door, OP):
Will they– coming–
TITUS (broken balloon, from the door, OP):
–friends from the east?
Panel 7, Oliver has his ear pressed to the door, confusion on his face.
East? Can’t be friends from Quatérshift.
And who died? What foul business is this? (Back to being a bit hamfisted.)
SFX (from the door):
Panel 8, the same view, except Oliver is fleeing down the stairs.
Damson Griggs is right. I better get to Pullinger or he’ll just make this even more miserable.
Panel 9, what looks like a telescoped view of Oliver leaving the front door of Seventy Star Hall. This is a view through the lens of a scope in the Court of the Air’s Monitorarium, so you could make the edges distinctive in some way. Steampunk it up. Also, make sure Oliver is off center on the right.
MONITOR 81 (OP, electric):
Your report please, Surveillant 46.
The second page is done.
I’m going to say something I don’t often say here: I’m intrigued.
Here’s what’s intriguing me: the vocabulary. It’s foreign enough to make me question it some, but it’s familiar enough to let me know what the word means. That’s not an easy thing to do. I like it.
Really, only a couple of problems with this page, but nothing that can’t be overcome with a bit of visualization. A bit too wordy in places, but that should hopefully calm down over time. Remember, simplicity is your friend. Simplicity means you’ve both cut to the heart of what you want while also allowing the artist some freedom in their drawing.
I’m loving the dialogue for the most part. I may use the Forbian Hammer ™ on it, but that’s only because I’m enjoying this. I’m interested in knowing what’s going on. This isn’t reading much like a second scene. This could be an opening.
Panel 1, the entire top tier of the page showing a panoramic of the Monitorarium. On a middle row Surveillant 46 is sitting back in his sling a bit, his finger to his earpiece like a bluetooth user. There are wires trailing back away from his earpiece down to the floor.
My unit is still pulling a bit to the left. I thought it was already brought to a mechomancer.
MONITOR 81 (OP, electric, from the earpiece):
Stop whining, this is a priority observation. Might even be for the old lady herself.
MONITOR 81 (OP, electric, from the earpiece):
You lose the plot on this and the bleeding analysts will be on us like a kicked nest of birdbats. Just report.
Yes, Monitor 81. Target’s aerostat landed at Hundred Locks per schedule.
Panel 2, double-wide panel, Monitor 81 is bending over a voice trumpet near the center of the Monitorarium. The fabric mask that normally stretches across her nose and mouth has been lowered.
SURVEILLANT 46 (OP, electric, from one of the trumpets in front of her):
Target went to contact’s house, as anticipated. Target has remained there since. Any analyst predictions?
They report an 87% chance the target stays in the house for the next sixteen hours. Maintain surveillance and prepare for nocturnal viewing.
Panel 3, from in front of Surveillant 46. He is downing an orange potion from a glass flask.
SURVEILLANT 46 (thought):
Bloody beaurocrats. (Now, when you wrote this, you knew you spelled the word incorrectly. Or were you just used to seeing the squiggly red line because of the vocabulary you’re using?)
Panel 4, the panel split into three, all three panels an extreme closeup of 46’s eyeball. The pupil should expand to encompass his entire eye.
Panel 5, Surveillant 46 is limbering himself somehow, perhaps stretching his neck to one side while cracking his knuckles outward in that stretched arm/interlocked finger way. He should be frowning.
SURVEILLANT 46 (thought):
Let’s see them sit for weeks at a faulty bit of equipment, expected to follow every bleeding movement of Harold bloody Stave.
Panel 6, a view a bit off center (to the left) of Seventy Star Hall through the telescope again.
SURVEILLANT 46 (thought, OP):
SURVEILLANT 46 (thought, OP):
Lets see if anything interesting happens tonight.
It’s the third page, and I’m still intrigued.
There isn’t much going on with this page, so there’s less for me to harp on. Good! It’s pretty straightforward, while maintaining mystery. Really, I like it.
Panel 1, double-wide, view from the side of the street. Oliver is walking through town, looking at the family of Quatérshiftian refugees in their torn and dirty clothes huddled in front of a shop front to his left. There are a few people around him, walking in different directions. The right half of this panel should begin fading to black and rightmost quarter should have faded entirely to a black void.
Note to letterer: I’d like a special bubble for the ‘telepathic’ instructions coming up. The Whisperer should get a unique one, maybe denoted by a color or font assigned only to his telepathy.
Refugees from Quatérshift? Must have circumvented the cursewall by boat. You look lost. (Kinda hammy.)
What did your First Comittee tell you, that you won the Two-Year War? Surprised to see Jackals thriving without a Carlist regime? (Interesting ham. Spiced ham?)
WHISPERER (OP, telepathic, in the darkness on the right):
Oliver, I can see you. Can you see me?
Panel 2, only the left quarter should have any details of the street Oliver was on. He should be bent and holding the sides of his head and grimacing as if in pain. He should now be standing mostly in a black void.
No, not now! I can’t see you, Whisperer. Go away!
WHISPERER (OP, telepathic):
I can connect with you, Oliver. I can connect with all of us.
I’m not one of you!
Panel 3, black void, Oliver is cringing and looking up from his position to see the Whisperer standing before him. Whisperer’s eyes are wide with excitement.
No, Oliver. You’re the best of us. The others think they’re perfect, the ones not locked in here with me, but they haven’t met you.
They look like one of us Hawklam Asylum monstrosities next to you. Their Special Guard uniforms and suicide torcs are as bad as the worldsinger gates they’ve got me locked behind. (See what I mean? Foreign yet familiar at the same time.)
Panel 4, double wide, black void, Oliver is crouched down now, as if giving up. The Whisperer is still standing in front of him, what passes for a mouth twisted up into a creepy smile.
Can’t you get out of my head? Out of my life?
You are my life, Oliver, you and the other fey I speak to. You think my life’s worth living? I sit in my own refuse and break my teeth on rat bones when the warders forget to feed me. Not that I like eating their food. They always put things in it, things to rot my brain and make me softer. (61 words in this balloon alone. Could be pushing it.)
Your time is coming up, my perfect friend. Things are moving along now.
Panel 5, Oliver is halfway in the black void, still crouched down but looking at the street around him. People in the streets are scurrying away from him, looking back at him. The void has faded from the right half of the panel.
WHISPERER (telepathic, OP):
I’ve drawn too much attention to you, Oliver. Go see that jiggered worldsinger.
Panel 6, Oliver is now walking with his head down along the street, a grimace of remorse on his face.
Damn him. Damn him! I’m normal!
Panel 7, Oliver is entering Cudban’s office, much as in the first panel of Page 4. He’s opening the door, this time to Cudban sitting at the desk, but looking up at Oliver, a small frown on his face.
WHISPERER (telepathic, OP, I’d like this fainter, as if Oliver can barely hear it)
How about that Harry fellow, Oliver? Bit of a bastard, eh? But I think he’s okay.
Leave me alone!
That time of the week already, eh lad? Well he’s ready in back for you.
And really, there isn’t that much wrong with this page, either.
I’m going to stop here. Let’s run ‘er down.
Format: Flawless Victory. My only small gripe, which is a personal thing and not anything I’d ding anyone for, is the use of commas as the separator of the panel numbers from the panel descriptions. I’d prefer colons, but this is an editorial preference. It isn’t wrong at all.
Panel Descriptions: These are better, if only a little wordy at times. Simplify whenever you can. When you get that under control, things will go much smoother for your artist.
Pacing: I liked it! This moved well, and that’s always a plus. I was never bored, and there was always something I found intriguing. Crisp. Nicely done.
Dialogue: Except for the places where it got a little clunky, I absolutely loved the dialogue. It’s a different world, set in the past but also a bit futuristic, and things that sound both foreign and familiar at the same time. It’s great. It’s fascinating.
I’m also a fan of the dialect. It speaks to me. (No, that wasn’t supposed to be funny.)
Content: As a reader, the only thing this really needs is an intriguing cover and logo and it’s coming home with me. I wish this were on the shelves right now. All it needs is some light editing.
Editorially, this just needs some light guidance. A nudge here and there. Basically, just to make sure you stay on the path and stick the landing. I’d love to read this.
And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!
Like what you see? I am available for your editing needs. You can email me directly from my info below.