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TPG Week 269: Settings Are Necessary (I Shouldn’t Have To Say That)

| February 19, 2016

TPG Forbes-Kroboth

Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Michael Gonzalez. (I wanted to spell that with an “s”. I sometimes wonder about the spelling of surnames. I’ve seen Gonzalez spelled both ways, and have always wondered why. Are you “less” of a “gonza” if you use an “s”? There’s also a sexual orientation joke in there that I won’t make. You’re welcome.) We also have Ryan Kroboth with the pencil assist, and we’re all going to see how Michael handles

Fatgirl

PAGE ONE (1 panel)

Panel 1: Splash page. KING KLOWN screams at us, baring his large, sharp teeth while bound in high-tech handcuffs used for super-powered criminals. Two police officers – BARNEY and MILLER – wait impatiently behind him. (If we can see him handcuffed and two cops, then we can also see a background. This means I’m in a white void, and I hate white voids. Reminds me of a character I love, though. The Spot. Remember him? Z-list Spider-Man villain. Time to go to the internets and see what happened to him. Be right back. Okay. He’s been seen and even kinda heard from, but nothing major. He died once or twice but got better…)

1. KING KLOWN: YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST OF ME! NO CAGE CAN CONTAIN THE SAVAGE FURY THAT IS KING KLOWN! AND WHEN I AM FREE, I WILL RIP OUT THE BONES OF EVERYONE YOU HOLD DEAR AND POUND THEM INTO TINY, SCREAMING PARTICLES OF DUST! (Somewhat over the top, but not so much as to be annoying. That double-space after the exclamation mark has to go, though. A single space after ending punctuation. I thought everyone but me had learned this, and I learned it about five years ago. (I’m slow on the uptake.))

Okay, P1 is down, and while it isn’t a terrible opening, it doesn’t do much of anything, either. When I open a new book for the first time, I want to be pulled into the story. This means something has to happen in order to do that. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just has to make me want to turn the page.

This makes me want to close the book, but not for the usual reasons you might think. Usually, it’s just the thought of a bad book. This is P1, though, and it’s just a splash, and it isn’t too indecently done, so I’m not going to say it’s a bad book. What I will say, though, is that it’s uninteresting. I have no care at all about this. I’m not turned off, I’m indifferent, and indifference is death when you’re talking about a brand new book.

I might be talking more about The Spot before too long if this keeps up. I have to keep myself interested somehow, right?

PAGE TWO (5 panels)

Panel 1: Close-up of SAVIORMAN. He stares back at King Klown with raised eyebrows. (I have no idea where we’re at. It’s the second panel, and I already want to punch things. People, watch your ferrets and toe hair…)

1. SAVIORMAN: WOW.

Panel 2: Two-shot of Saviorman and SKEETER. They are relaxed and smiling. (Still no background.)

2. SAVIORMAN: THAT… WAS… GOOD. THIS GUY KNOWS HOW TO CUT A PROMO. RIGHT, SKEETER?

3. SKEETER: I’VE GOT GOOSEBUMPS, SAVIORMAN. (Hm. The first name drop was good. The second was better. Much more organic. This last one? Pure shoehorn. I can feel the heel trying to squeeze into my brain. Not a comfortable feeling.)

Panel 3: Wide shot. Barney is now sitting in the driver’s seat of the police car as Miller shoves King Klown into the back seat. Saviorman and Skeeter stand off to the side. (Broken record time. I know. Know where this is taking place? On a keyboard. That’s right. A keyboard. Your job is to refute my location by showing me in the script that I’m wrong up to this point. With only four panels to choose from, I’m going to say it is a very difficult proposition…)

4. KING KLOWN: THANKS. I WORKED ON THAT LAST TIME I WAS IN THE JOINT– HEY!

5. MILLER: GET IN THE CAR, BOZO!

Panel 4: Outside of the police car, looking over Saviorman’s shoulder at King Klown in the back seat. Saviorman nonchalantly leans against the car to talk to King Klown, who grins excitedly, through the open window.

6. SAVIORMAN: HEY, I KNOW A WACKY GORILLA CLOWN WHOSE BIRTHDAY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER. AND IF HE BEHAVES HIMSELF, THERE MIGHT BE A SURPRISE WAITING FOR HIM WHEN HE GETS OUT. A THREE-LAYER CHOCOLATE SUPRISE WITH STRAWBERRIES AND LOTS OF FROSTING. (Anyone else catch that misspelling in this large 41-word word balloon?) (Also, see what I did there?)

7. KING KONG: AW, YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST!

Panel 5: Similar to the above panel, but now focused on Barney and Miller in the front seat of the police car. Barney, at the wheel, looks back over his shoulder in disgust. Miller wears a look of weary resignation.

8. BARNEY: LISTEN TO THEM. THEY THINK THIS IS ALL JUST A FREAKIN’ JOKE!

9. MILLER: RELAX, KID.

P2 is down, and I’m going to do three things.

First, I’m going to pull out some toe hair. No, not mine. Mine stays where it’s at. Someone else’s. That will be my stress relief, and it’s better for me than whiskey.

Second, I’m going to talk about The Spot. He deserves the love this script didn’t get, despite the fact that this is a fourth draft.

Third, I’m going to talk about the script, because that’s why we’re all here.

Well, maybe I’ll pull the toe hairs last. I’ll have to accost a stranger. I’ll keep this script as evidence as to why it was done. I’ll get off. I know that.

The Spot. I love the idea of him. I mean, he’s got a very cool power, and used smartly, he is really hard to beat. As a scientist, though, he doesn’t use his brain overmuch. One of the the things I liked about the Avengers films was that Banner and Stark used their brains. The Spot? Not so much. Much more of a “I have power, and I refuse to learn how to use it!” kind of guy. Lots of untapped potential.

As for this script… It’s supposed to be funny.

It isn’t.

I remember listening to an audiobook a couple of years ago. Story, by Robert McKee. I had a longish commute to work, so audiobooks became my friend, especially since I don’t like listening to the radio. Anyway, he said something that stayed with me. Of course he was talking about a movie script, but the same thing applies to any story. He basically said that the scene was a failure if it was supposed to be funny and nobody laughed.

I’m not laughing. I’m not even smiling. Like last week’s entry, this isn’t even faintly humorous. Maybe it could rely heavily on the visuals, but I doubt it. People may come for the art, but they stay for the story, and right now, that story is supposed to be funny and it isn’t.

I understand that being funny on paper is challenging. However, if you want to do it, you have to study comedy. Go study comedy. There are books on it.

Backgrounds! Where the hell are they? How am I supposed to give Ryan a challenge if he doesn’t have anything to go on? Think of poor Ryan, pencil at the ready, just waiting to be set loose, and all you’ve got are lots of nothing. What about the children?!

PAGE THREE (5 panels)

Panel 1: A group of REPORTERS and CAMERAMEN race up to the scene, with their microphones and cameras at the ready. A female reporter in heavy make-up, AMY APPLEBOTTOM of KTSM Channel 3, is at the front of the group. Her cameraman, FRANKLIN, is right behind her. (Where are we? Where’s the camera? Can we see anything else?)

1. AMY: SKEETER! YOU BEAT KING KLOWN AGAIN. HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THIS VICTORY?

Panel 2: Skeeter has removed his helmet and strikes a prideful pose in front of the array of microphones in front of him. (I won’t call this a moving panel, but I’m going to say that a lot of time has passed in the gutter between the panels. The helmet removal will seem like teleportation. Kinda like the Spot! Skeeter “spotted” his helmet off!)

2. SKEETER: I TELL YA, THAT IS ONE TOUGH PRIMATE. BUT WE WANTED IT MORE. SOMETIMES, IT JUST COMES DOWN TO THE INTANGIBLES. (Sports talk? Anyone else as lost as I am?)

Panel 3: Inside the police car from the back seat. Over-the-shoulder. Looking past Barney and Miller, through the front windshield of the police car, as Saviorman brushes aside Skeeter to take position in front of the group of Reporters. (Why are we in this particular panel? What does it do to push the story forward? Ryan? You’re up. Don’t forget the setting, and explain the assumptions made, as you always do. There are problems here.)

3. SAVIORMAN: I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR ALL MY LITTLE DISCIPLES OUT THERE. (Anyone else get the feeling like he wanted to say “Hulkamaniacs”, or is that just me? I think I just showed my age!)

4. BARNEY: THEY TREAT THIS LIKE IT’S A SPORT. DESTROY THE CITY THEN HIGH-FIVE EACH OTHER AND DO IT ALL AGAIN NEXT WEEK. (I understand that this is supposed to be a comedy. This, and the one before it, isn’t comedic. It isn’t even decent drama.)

5. MILLER: IT’S NOT OUR PLACE, KID.

Panel 4: High angle. Over-the-shoulder. Looking past Saviorman and Skeeter at the group of Reporters. The Reporters all look up at something and this causes Saviorman and Skeeter to look back over their shoulders. (This smacks of a moving panel. Mr. Mills, what say you?)

6. SAVIORMAN: STAY IN SCHOOL, SAY YOUR PRAYERS AND–

7. SFX: THOOM. (There generally doesn’t need to be punctuation at the end of a sound effect. If anything, it should be an exclamation mark. It should NOT be a period. A period makes it sound very run of the mill. An exclamation mark gives verve. Know what I’m saying?!)

8. AMY: WHAT THE HECK IS THAT? (I’ve been saying that since P1… Sometimes, the jokes just set themselves up, folks!)

Panel 5: Full shot. THE CLEAVE looms over the group like a silent, foreboding monolith. (Know what? Line of Demarcation. Because this is crap. I’ve given in. I tried to hide it, but crap will out. Why the hell aren’t there any settings? I can understand not having any character descriptions—those should be in a separate document—but no settings? How is the artist supposed to draw? And yes, I understand that this is supposed to be teleportation, but it doesn’t have to be BAD teleportation, does it? Let’s see, I messed up last week, so let’s try to fix it this week. Someone who isn’t a Usual Suspect (Felix, Schuyler, Rin, Greg), and I’ve already called on Mr. Mills, so I’d like someone new to give a shot at fixing this. It’s a pretty simple fix, too.)

9. SAVIORMAN: HEY, BIG GUY. YOU NEW AROUND HERE? WHICH TEAM ARE YOU ON? (Scotch. Or food. Either drink myself into oblivion, or eat for comfort. My body is going to be a wreck…)

10. BARNEY (O.P.): YOU SEE!

11. SKEETER: GOLLY, I DON’T REMEMBER HIM FROM MY TRADING CARD COLLECTION, SAVIORMAN.

P3 is down.

Time for a story.

Once upon a time, when The Proving Grounds was brand spanking new and being hosted somewhere else, a writer sent me an email. In the mail, this writer asked me if they should either send me the script they had already written, or read all of the entries of Bolts & Nuts first and then submit their script. (Bolts & Nuts, for those who don’t know, is another column I wrote focusing on the how-to’s of comic creation in general, and writing comics in particular.) I told this writer that I couldn’t answer that question, that they should do what they thought best. (Not a cop-out. I just don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s choices like that.)

What did the writer do? They read all of the B&N articles, revamped their script, and then submitted it.

It was, by turns, campy and terrible (but good!), and straightforward and heartbreaking (but good!). It was the first time I had ever read a TPG script from top to bottom. It was only about halfway through (and several scene changes later) that I understood what the writer was doing. (I’m NOT smart, folks. Don’t let anyone tell you different.) In one timeframe, it was supposed to be campy and a little goofy, hearkening back to the golden age of comics; in the other, it was supposed to be more modern and gritty and dark, reflecting today’s comics.

It was a great read.

It was the writer’s first real attempt at comic writing, and they learned their lessons well. So well, in fact, that they won an award for Best Writer.

The writer is John Lees, and the comic is The Standard. I absolutely loved that project.

This? This is just bad. Being on P3, the only thing I can think of is The Spot, and how awesome he should be. And I do mean, just plain awesome. Remember in The Matrix, near the end, when Neo gets all the guns? That could be only a small fraction of what he can do.

I have a new character. Hot damn, I haven’t created a viable new character in a while. Hero or villain? Hm. He’s going to be useful for a new story I want to do, too. Life is good, folks. Life is good.

Anyway, if you’ve noticed, Michael has consecutively numbered all of the dialogue. This is a good guide for the letterer, because they’ll then have an inkling as to how much space they’ll have/need for the word balloons. Necessary? Not at all. But it’s definitely a good habit to be in.

Now, if only something worthwhile was being done with the dialogue…

PAGE FOUR (7 panels)

Panel 1: The Cleave’s POV. Saviorman and Skeeter look up at The Cleave. (Expressions? I’m guessing that at least one of these characters doesn’t have on a full face mask.)

1. SAVIORMAN: I’M GUESSING YOU’RE AN EVIL-DOER BUT, HONESTLY, YOU CAN NEVER TELL THESE DAYS. (This? This was the first worthwhile thing said. Too bad its on P4, and therefore, few will actually see it.)

Panel 2: Saviorman’s POV. The Cleave stares down silently at Saviorman. (Expression?)

2. SAVIORMAN (O.P.): HELLL-LOOO.

Panel 3: Same as panel 1, except now Saviorman is growing impatient. (What does that look like?)

3. SAVIORMAN: YOU GONNA SAY SOMETHING OR AM I JUST GONNA HAVE TO TAKE YOU TO SUNDAY SCHOOL? (This made me roll my eyes and groan a little. That’s good! It’s a reaction! Maybe even the one you were looking for. It’s just late. People have already closed the book and put it back on the shelf to look for something worth their time and money.)

Panel 4: Barney leans out of the police car and shouts at Saviorman and Skeeter. (One of the few times where the word “and” doesn’t lead to a moving panel.)

4. BARNEY: YOU GUYS GOT THIS?

Panel 5: Skeeter turns his head back over his shoulder to talk back to Barney.

5. SKEETER: YOU MIGHT WANT TO CALL IN A CAGE. IT LOOKS LIKE SAVIORMAN IS ABOUT TO GET BIBLICAL.

6. SFX: CHUNK.

Panel 6: Same as above, except now Skeeter has turned around and is shocked to see that The Cleave has embedded one of his cleavers deep into Saviorman’s skull.

7. SKEETER: EEK!

Panel 7: Big, dramatic panel. Low angle. (Maybe Dutch Tilt also.) Skeeter stands in shock at The Cleave’s feet as he raises both his arms in triumph (Kinda sounds like Skeeter’s arms are raised in triumph.). Saviorman’s lifeless body is still attached to The Cleave’s cleaver and flopping around like a ragdoll. (Can human flopping be drawn? What say you? And besides that, how small do the other panels have to be in order to show a big, dramatic panel on a seven-panel page? Ryan, I don’t want you to draw this, I just want you to show the page as boxes. Visuals help to get the point across, as yew know.)

8. THE CLEAVE: I AM THE CLEAVE!

P4, and although the dialogue has finally started to have some impact, this still isn’t worth reading. I mean, my mediocre jokes are more humorous than the jokes here. That’s terrible. I can be bribed, though. Whiskey or delicious baked goods. Not cookies, but cakes and pies are always great. Not regular frosting, but a whipped cream frosting? Or cream cheese? Or whipped cream cheese? And by Scotch, I’m talking about a nicely aged one, too. Fifteen years at the youngest. Twenty or more is better. I don’t drink in quantity, but in quality.

Anyway, I understand that this is P4, and that the comic is named Fatgirl. I just don’t think that we’re going to see her before we reach the limit of things. I mean, this isn’t funny. This isn’t amusing. This isn’t worthwhile. What’s the point of the story? Why are we here? Why have we gone through all of this so far? This doesn’t feel like a ramp up to showcase Fatgirl. It just feels like a run-of-the-mill, boring, unfunny opening to a comic that we’ve all seen before. The only thing new is my setting.

Does everything have to be new? No. But if you want to keep the reader, something interesting has to happen. Has anything interesting happened yet? Not in the least. Well, except I’ve professed my love for The Spot, and have created a new character possibly for a new story, and doing this is keeping me from that.

Let’s see what the next page brings us, if anything. Then it might be time to call it quits.

PAGE FIVE (3 panels)

Panel 1: From the front of the police car, we can see Barney, Miller and King Klown looking up through the windshield in disbelief. (I do get the joke about Barney Miller. (RIP, Abe Vigoda.) However, since neither of the cops have been named yet where a reader can see them…no one cares. Just so you know.)

1. KING KLOWN: WHAT THE FU–? (Mmmmaybe. Rin, why am I saying this?)

Panel 2: Same as above, except now Saviorman’s lifeless body (with his skull split open down the middle) smashes onto the hood of the police car, causing the three men to jump in their seats.

2. SFX: SMASH. (Yawn.)

3. EVERYONE: AAAH!

Panel 3: Full shot. Skeeter, now with his helmet back on, flies away from the scene as Barney and Miller jump out of the police car and scamper away (Moving panel. I knew it had to happen. This is the reason I don’t like the word “and” in panel descriptions. Just because you can use it doesn’t mean you should.). King Klown is still inside the police car as The Cleave lifts one of his massive feet, about to squash the car. (Full shot? I have no idea what this means. As I continued to read, I had no idea where the camera was. Ryan, do you know where the camera is?)

4. SKEETER: SOMEBODY, HELP! (That’s a call for Fatgirl if there ever was one. However, if she doesn’t appear on this page or the next, no one here will see her.)

5. KING KLOWN: HEY! YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME HERE!

I peeked. The titular character doesn’t show up at all in this issue. What we’ve got here is an old-fashioned waste of time! Let’s run this down so we can run away. I’ve got characters to design, a plot to shape, and a story for Ryan to work on (finally).

Format: Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: Rarely have I had the displeasure of seeing an entire script that didn’t have a single setting described. This may actually be the first time. Made me want to go do violence in a retirement home.

Settings are important. They let everyone know where things are happening. I mean, a car isn’t a setting. It may be part of a setting, but it isn’t the complete picture. Where’s the car? What time of day is it? What’s the weather like? These things are important. All of these things have been ignored. This is part of what makes this piece crap.

Some things are magically delicious. That needs to be fixed.

When it comes to panel descriptions, I want to all writers to remove the word “and” from their vocabulary until they can show they can use the word responsibly. “And” will almost always lead you to write a moving panel, and we all know that comics are a static medium. The sooner this is done, the happier comic editors the world over will be.

Pacing: Meh. I have nothing against what happens, except that it’s uninteresting. It isn’t paced badly for a story. For comedy? It’s paced completely wrong. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top, bwa-ha-ha funny, but it at least has to show signs of humor as early as possible. This doesn’t do that.

Dialogue: This is where the comedy is supposed to be, if it isn’t slapstick. The dialogue here isn’t funny, and only approaches being humorous WAY too late to do anything about it. There is little here to push the story forward. If there’s nothing in the dialogue to reveal what’s going on and why we should be reading, why should we continue reading? I guarantee that most people kept reading to see what I would say next instead of being intrigued by the story. Not good.

Content: As a reader, I would find this to be crap, and I’d wonder how it got on the shelves. I’d wonder if I were in a timewarp back to the 90s. Not good.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite.

Now, I want everyone to understand something before I blast Michael. I’d hate for it to seem like I was doing it for no reason.

This script came with an explanation (what if Mel Brooks made a superhero comic)(answer: it’d be much better than this in the extreme) and an explanation of the panel descriptions being sparse because there was already a story bible written.

Know what that is? It’s shit, and I don’t care about it. Why? Because the things an artist would need aren’t in the script. There is no allusion to the setting at all in this thing. I don’t care if it’s The City or even “a street in The City.” The artist needs to know where this is in order to know what to draw. If they don’t know, they get to decide for themselves (or the editor does), and there is extremely little you can do to say otherwise because you don’t have anything to back you up. I don’t care if it’s in your story bible. Where is it in the script? We don’t get anything mentioning a setting until P7. Too late by then. Either the artist has already asked you (which means you didn’t do the single job you have as a writer), they have already made up their mind as to what they’re going to do because they had no direction from you via the script, or they’re going to give it back to you and tell you to learn how to write for your medium.

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.

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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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