Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have our very own Ryan Kroboth putting on his writing hat to see how far he’s come. We have Steve Colle in blue, and while Ryan usually comes in with a pencil assist, I think it would be extremely unfair to call on him for this week’s entry, so we won’t do that. (Maybe I could interest another person with an artistic bent to sub in?) And as always, I’m the curmudgeon in red. Now, let’s see where we’re at with Ryan as he tries his hand at
Page 1 (Six Panels)
Page 1, Panel 1
DERIKZL sits in a profile full body shot on a flat cliff in the Wastelands of Leh, with Derikzl and the cliff taking up the left side of the panel, sadly watching the sunset on the right of the panel, which has already set behind the Demon Palace in the extreme background, casting the panel in twilight. (I imagine “sadly” will be mostly expressed through body language, right? A profile and the camera distance aren’t conducive to just a facial expression.) The Ro-Jinn Dwelling is in the background on the right, underneath the Demon Palace, but closer to the camera. For all background shots in this issue the amount of Negative Energy coming from the ground should be increased. (This is good to mention here, but ensure you have reminders of this point when the occasion warrants it.)
(NOTE TO COLORIST: Each panel after this one gets progressively darker as night sets in. The last panel should still be light enough to make out the character.)
(NOTE TO LETTERER: Please place this speech bubble between the background elements of the Demon Palace and the Ro-Jinn Dwelling.)(I like these notes.)
Derikzl: Damn. (Here’s what I don’t like: the bolding. It’s used for both the element name and the element itself, so it’s difficult to distinguish if this is for the letterer to add stress (italics) to, or if it’s just the way the script is being written. Bolding can get lost in the shuffle of lettering. It’s harder to lose underlining.)
I’m not pulled into the story with the visual and/or corresponding dialogue. I don’t see how one helps convey the other. They actually seem to work against each other, in my opinion, with “Damn” and “sadly watching the sunset” expressing two different emotions, which is my immediate reaction. (Hm. I can get behind a sad “damn.” Damn is pretty versatile. Not as versatile as fuck, but pretty versatile nonetheless. Inflection can have a lot to do with it, but since this is comics, inflection and tone have to come across in body language and punctuation (and balloon shape/size) and what has been said previously. Anyway, I can get behind a sad “damn.”)
Page 1, Panel 2
Bust shot of DERIKZL, over the shoulder from behind, who looks towards the clouds where the Demon Palace vanishes. (When you say “vanishes”, do you mean it has disappeared from sight due to the camera location or that it was there and is now gone? If the latter, why do you have it in the first panel to begin with, as it didn’t appear often enough to leave an impression on your reader for them to notice its disappearance? Or do you intend to have white lines outlining the now transparent structure as it fades away?)
Derikzl: Even when you disappear, Father, you still make my life hell.
I see where you are trying to have both your visual and dialogue somehow mesh or match up for your reader, but it isn’t working for me. And again, I’m not pulled in… yet.
Page 1, Panel 3
Medium shot from three quarters view of the front of DERIKZL, who looks slightly away and down from the camera. His eyes are closed and he is still upset. (I have no idea why he is upset. Nothing has been established to indicate the reason for his mood and the slow moving pace of his self-reflection is dragging things along for me. It’s Panel 3 and I’m already disinterested.)
Derikzl: Why did you tell them I was some kind of chosen one?
Derikzl: Chosen for what?
Having the above dialogue in the same panel doesn’t give enough of a pause to his second question. You also haven’t given us enough expression to his face or body language to help express his feelings when asking these questions. Another point (which applies to every piece of dialogue I’ve read so far): I’m wondering if this is meant to be in caption as a first person narrative? If he’s saying it out loud, then his actions (or lack of such) are definitely lacking in helping to combine verbal and physical communication.
Page 1, Panel 4
Elevated shot, looking down on DERIKZL from the front, with his eyes now open, appearing to be choking back tears. (Can we see his open eyes with the higher camera angle?) His head alone is on the panel, with the flat, empty wastelands surrounding him in the background. (Don’t forget to remind the artist/colourist of the need for more negative energy.)
Derikzl: To be exiled?
Derikzl: To be slain by my Brothers? (Will we find out why “Brothers” has a capital ‘B’? Is it a familial reference or the name of a group?)
Page 1, Panel 5
Full body shot of DERIKZL in the process of standing up, his expression (Facial or body language?) is now blank. (Where is your camera? Can we see his facial expression from this assumed angle? Part of the problem is that you’ve already developed a pattern of telling the artist the camera location, so when you provide vague details, it opens up questions or assumptions, neither of which are favourable.)
Derikzl: What would my life have been like with a different family?
Page 1, Panel 6
Direct overhead shot looking down on DERIKZL. He stands at the ledge of the cliff looking over the edge.
Derikzl: One thing’s for certain…
Derikzl: …I wouldn’t be burdened with this choice.
I’m seeing this as two separate panels, the first being either a worm’s eye view or up shot from his feet looking at his face, then followed up by the down shot above his head and placing more focus on what lies beneath him. This would also divide up your two lines of dialogue and provide both with a better pacing and image-to-dialogue match.
I’ll tell you honestly, it’s mid-afternoon as I’m starting this and I’m yawning. Am I tired? I didn’t think so, but I’m more apt to guess it’s my body’s way of saying “I’m bored”.
This is slow, Ryan! Nothing here is attracting my attention, let alone pulling me in. The visuals are dragging out the non-actions and the dialogue isn’t doing the job of telling us the story or hooking us in. Even that last panel, as I explained above, is poorly presented as I don’t care if he’s looking over the edge and possibly going to jump, fall, dance, or whatever else you have planned for your character on the next page.
This is a terrible first page, my friend.
So, we have P1 on the books!
I’m neither agreeing or disagreeing with Steve. I don’t think this is slow, but it definitely isn’t fast. It doesn’t capture my interest, but I can tell it’s building toward something. (My ears perked up at “chosen one.” Yes, I’m a sucker.) I kinda get the Hamlet “to be or not to be” soliloquy vibe here: forlorn guy talking to himself about death—possibly his own. Is this speech in itself that interesting? No, but I feel it reaching for it.
Would I have started out like this? Possibly not. Talking about death, I probably would have started out with a large panel with the main character at the edge of the cliff in the Jesus pose: arms open wide, head down, maybe a tear running down his face. Turn the spoken dialogue into caption boxes, and you may have something with such a striking image.
I’m all about the striking image. The goal is to draw the reader in as soon as possible. You immediately get a “will he or won’t he?” vibe with the pose and the death talk. It’s an image that people respond to viscerally, good or bad. It will definitely get them to turn the page.
Now, my real question is simple: who’s going to draw this? I always have to ask this question of artists, because if they’re going to draw the book themselves, then my job isn’t to pore over the panel descriptions to make sure they can be drawn—my job is to make sure the story is being told well and that the pacing is right. (This is why I’m talking about imagery instead of the panel descriptions themselves. If Ryan is going to draw it, then the panel descriptions are more as a reminder for him, as well as letting the rest of the team know where his head is. If he’s not going to draw it…there will be some ‘splainin’ to do, Lucy.)
As a first page, this isn’t a page-turner. More has to be done in order to get the reader engaged. That can be done with imagery, while more than likely keeping the dialogue generally intact.
Page 2 (Six Panels)
Page 2, Panel 1
There is just enough light left to make out the environment and character, but it is now night. The camera is at the bottom of the cliff, which is visible at the top of the panel, nearby where DERIKZL has landed from jumping off. (I had to read this description a few times and I still can’t get an accurate picture in my mind of what you’re explaining. Here’s my understanding: The camera’s at the bottom of the cliff, but the bottom of the cliff is visible at the top of the panel. Wait, that doesn’t sound right… or is it? Then there’s the inclusion of “nearby where DERIKZL has landed from jumping off”. So the camera is at the bottom of the cliff? [scratches head]) He has landed in a squatted position on all fours, mirroring how he walked in issue one, with his expression being hidden by darkness. The rock formation of the Ro-Jinn dwelling is behind him on the right of the panel. (Just where exactly is this camera? I think I need a map to see everything you are describing and for it to make sense. And how do we add 2+2 to understand that he had jumped and has now landed? Yes, there’s the page turn that covers pace and expanse of time, but you didn’t show or tell us that he was going to/did jump to get to this visual. “I wouldn’t be burdened with this choice” wasn’t an effective hook to indicate the choice that was to be made.)(And here, folks, is where I would ask a kind-hearted, not-Ryan artist to tackle this particular panel with a sketch. Because there’s confusion in them thar hills!)
Derikzl: I don’t want to go back to my old life. I know where that ends.
Derikzl: But can I trust those Ro-Jinn that killing my Brothers is necessary? (This reads badly. Should it be “Can I trust those Ro-Jinn to kill my Brothers?” or “Can I convince those Ro-Jinn that killing my Brothers is necessary?”)(The main question is “Why is he talking out loud?” Hamlet did it because there was no other way to reveal his thoughts. In plays, people have to talk. In comics? This is why we have captions. I go to work and I see something that makes me talk to myself every day. Well, not “to myself,” really. I’m talking to the people that have contacted me for whatever reason, but I know I’m safe because they can’t hear me through the screen. He’s safe in talking out loud to himself here, but really, this is a one-sided conversation that should have someone to bounce off of. I’m currently listening to the audiobook of Children of Dune, and Leto II is talking to Stilgar about what the imperium needs. He could have talked to himself, but he wouldn’t have gotten the reactions he needed if he did. And the audience (the reader) would wonder why he was talking out loud to himself about such things for so long. Think of the modern reader as you tell your story. They don’t want things that will take them out of the story. This would.)
I’m going to reiterate my question from before: Is this dialogue being expressed as his inner thoughts (thought balloons or captioned first person narrative) or is it being spoken aloud? You never indicate it, but damned if it doesn’t sound stupid for someone to be saying this stuff out loud! (Remember, folks, I don’t read ahead. I make my notes as I read along. Steve and I are of the same mind here, and we don’t converse over the script before we make our notes.)
Page 2, Panel 2
Far shot of DERIKZL climbing the side of the rock formation towards the doorway of the Ro-Jinn dwelling. (Hold on a second: Wasn’t the Ro-Jinn dwelling in the background of Panel 1 of the first page and didn’t he just land after jumping from the edge of the cliff he was standing on, which would be a bit of a distance from said dwelling? Shouldn’t there be a panel between Panels 1 and 2 from this page that acts as a transition point for the reader to see where Derikzl is planning to go, seeing as how that was never established through picture or word?)
Derikzl: I’m not even convinced it’s possible.
Derikzl: Perhaps… I can find a way to spare them. (The ellipsis doesn’t really do anything to strengthen mood or feeling. I don’t read hesitation and I definitely don’t see it in your character’s actions.)
Page 2, Panel 3
Extreme far shot of DERIKZL standing in the doorway to the Ro-Jinn dwelling. The light from the inside casts him in silhouette, and his left hand rests on the doorway. (Is the door closed or open? If closed, then how is his body in silhouette? If open, when did it get opened? Did he open it? Did the person inside?)
Derikzl: Sun Zen?
Okay, so this brings up my previous question that I asked twice already: Is this spoken aloud? Hmmm… it sounds like it would be, but it doesn’t have any indication of being different than your previous text. Am I being facetious or just plain sarcastic? You won’t know just as I don’t know your intention with your dialogue.
Page 2, Panel 4
Camera is close behind DERIKZL in the doorway, with the focus on a strange glyph etched into the rock on the left. He looks at it with intrigue. (This makes no sense: The camera is close behind your character, but somehow we can see that he’s looking at it with intrigue?)(If you’re drawing this, Ryan, it’s just a note. If you’re writing this for another artist…this is crap and you should know better. Not Line of Demarcation bad, but yeah, you should know better.)
Derikzl: That’s strange. (And doesn’t this just sum up my thoughts on what I wrote above? Well, maybe not. Mine was more of a “WTF???”)(Dialogue is not easy, folks. This is a perfect example of that.)
Page 2, Panel 5
We are inside the same room from the end of issue one. (This brings up another question: Was he inside in the last panel or outside looking at the glyph before entering?) The camera is in the center of the room looking toward the doorway. DERIKZL peers in looking toward the camera, his expression indifferent and lit by the fire from the torches in the corners of the room. (Why is he looking toward the camera and not around the room? If the camera isn’t representing what he is looking for, then his focus shouldn’t be on it – or us – as it creates a seeming break of the fourth wall. Also, why is he indifferent and how do you want the artist to draw this?) In the background, the doorway leading downstairs is emitting a faint orange glow, which is highlighting the left side of Derikzl. (Another degree of confusion: is there a second door? You have the door through which he entered and now there’s a second door that leads downstairs. With this being a second issue and not having the reference you refer to in the beginning of this panel’s description, it’s creating more problems than it’s worth.)
Derikzl: Zen? It’s me, Derikzl.
Derikzl (small): Because I’m sure you’ve revived so many others from the dead recently…
Page 2, Panel 6
Medium shot of DERIKZL, who has turned towards the doorway (To his left, then?) with his mouth open in shock. The orange glow is now more prominent, but not overwhelming.
Derikzl: I’m not completely sure I want to– (I suggest taking this out and just leaving the following line, which should be on its own anyway to reflect his physical reaction.)
There’s movement in this page, but it isn’t a smooth flow by any means. Jump-jump-assume-assume: that’s what I’m getting. From your pacing with jumps in action that require something to fill in the A-to-B to a lot of assumption that your collaborators are going to be able to fill in the blanks and decipher what you’ve written. Does one action lead to another effectively? I have to say “No”. Is the dialogue doing its job of moving the story forward? Ditto to the negative.
P2, and I’m bored.
Have I read the first issue? No. So I don’t know what’s going on. We’re long past the days of “write every comic as though it is the reader’s first.” Those days are long buried, and in some ways, I’m very grateful for that. Have you read any Marvel comics from those days recently? I’m talking the 70s and 80s. No? Some of those were hard to get through, because someone always had to recap what had gone before in order to bring a reader up to speed. Sometimes it was shoehorned in and made reading tiresome for those who had been faithfully following the story all along.
Anyway, the only real point that interested me is the fact that the character has been brought back from the dead.
Now, to the real issue:
This is the second issue of a story. Do you know what happens to second issues when it comes to sales? You can expect to see a drop by about half. That’s historical. About half. Could be bigger, could be smaller. Readers and collectors (there’s a difference) love to jump in on the first issue. Readers will stay around for the next issues, maybe even a story arc. Collectors will only stick around if they’re drawn in by the first issue; otherwise, they bail. Why?
This script right here is a prime example of “why.”
It’s boring. It’s P2, and nothing has happened. We’re not even given an overly exciting visual to kick things off with. The only “strange” thing is the Glowing Glyph of Glistening Glowville—and even it isn’t that interesting. Second issue, so there’s no context for it.
Things don’t have to be exciting all the time. Excitement all the time has to hit the same note repeatedly, and then the stakes get raised, and then raised some more, ad infinitum (or until things are just absurd—see Chris Claremont’s X-Men run with the neverending subplots). Things don’t have to be exciting, but they have to be interesting. There’s a difference. (Again, see Chris Claremont’s X-Men run.)
None of this is interesting, and that’s a shame. It means you’re going to shed readers left, right and center.
And then there are just some terribly written panel descriptions, making me hope against hope that you’re writing this for yourself. Otherwise you’re going to torture the artist who has to try to parse this.
Page 3 (Five Panels)
Page 3, Panel 1
DERIKZL is almost to the bottom of the stairwell, his hand running across the wall. (Here’s where you have another jump in action without a previous indication of this action being led into, similar to your Page One to Page Two issue. However, this time it’s on facing pages, which has taken away your opportunity to blame an extended passage of time due to a page turn. What you’ve done here is have him react to the light with a “Huh?” and then assume the reader will know he is going to go down the stairs [which, by the way, we don’t know are there] in this first panel. There are times when the reader can fill in the blanks, but they need basic information to make that obvious transition, which is something that is lacking on both of these previous pages.) Another set of stairs leading down (To where?) is adjacent to the set he is on. (Does this mean there are two sets of stairs that are next to or parallel to each other? Clarify, as this sounds like there are two sets bringing him down to the same location.)(Labyrinth! David Bowie, you are missed…) The room is rectangular, with two pot torches at the far end of the room (off panel). (If the pot torches are off-panel, how do we know they are pot torches?) He looks inquisitively at ZEN, who is floating a few inches off the ground in a lotus position with his eyes closed. His tail is coiled in a circle on the floor, and his markings are the source of the glowing orange light. In front of him is a folded pile of clothing.
Two things I want to mention: 1) you’re jumping around between character and setting descriptions and 2) this feels like a moving panel the way you’ve written it. Is Derikzl looking inquisitively at Zen while his hand is running across the wall as he nears the bottom of the stairs? I can’t tell. As for panel description, set up the setting first and then populate with characters and their actions. (Things you know, Ryan, but aren’t putting into use.)
Derikzl: Zen! What’s going on?! (You said above that he was looking inquisitively at Zen, but this dialogue sounds panicked, especially with the question and exclamation marks closing off his dialogue. Does it match how you’ve described him looking? Not at all.)
Derikzl: Are you okay?
Page 3, Panel 2
DERIKZL is nervously scratching the back of his head while standing behind ZEN. (Do you mean something like this? http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-245275807/stock-photo-nervous-young-woman-scratching-her-head.html) Zen’s eyes have a small slit in them with orange light emitting from them. (What do you mean by a “small slit”? Because he’s a Chinese dragon-like being [as you provided in the character sheet], does this mean the area around the black pupil isn’t orange, but that the pupil itself is? I’m asking for clarification based on samples I saw online of dragon eyes.)
Derikzl: Uhh, listen…I wanted to talk to you.
Derikzl: I was thinking maybe we can do this (What is “this”?) without killing my Broth– (This goes against what you said in Page Two, Panel 2: “But can I trust those Ro-Jinn that killing my Brothers is necessary?”)
This dialogue is bad, and I don’t mean the pop cultural “bad” (That went out in the 80s. You can’t be that far behind up in the Great White North, Steve! But I get it. I’m old, too…). And as an aside, why would you put the intonation on “killing”? First of all, it doesn’t need it and second, it sounds like it’s taking precedence over the broken line of speech.
Page 3, Panel 3 (inset)
Extreme close up of ZEN’s eyes, which are wide open. The panel is covered in orange light.
NO COPY (Why is there no copy? Couldn’t you have had Derikzl mutter something from off panel?)
Page 3, Panel 4
Shot of the Ro-Jinn dwelling from a distance away. The orange light is emitting from the doorway and windows. (How far away is this distance? Is it close enough to see that the door is a door and not a window? And if Zen is in the lower level of the dwelling, how is the orange light getting out from anywhere but the level he is on? Sure, you mentioned earlier that the light was coming from the doorway leading downstairs, but it now sounds like the entire place is lit up on the inside regardless of where the orange light is coming from.) In the foreground are two cat demons. (These aren’t in your character sheet and therefore need more description.) One is perked up looking toward the light with interest. The second lays facing the camera looking at the other demon cat in annoyance. (Why is it looking at the other cat in annoyance?)(They’re magically delicious!)
NO COPY (And again, why is there no copy? Not even a sound effect? Not even a sound coming from the demon cats?) (How can the reader tell it’s annoyance on a cat’s face? Some cats just look annoyed, Grumpy Cat notwithstanding.)
Page 3, Panel 5
Close up of ZEN’s head as he stares solemnly straight ahead (At us?), the edges of his iris’s still have a faint orange tint. (Was it his irides [plural of iris of the eye, not the flower] that were orange and not his pupils? From some of the online examples, it looked like many different dragons had the orange irides, so how is this outside of the norm?) DERIKZL, in midshot, rubs his eyes with his forearm and looks disoriented. In the back ground MINA is silhouetted in an orange glow. (I’m seeing you have three layers to this image: Foreground = Zen, middle ground = Derikzl, and background = Mina. By having three layers with three different characters, which is going to be the visual focus?)
Zen: It was too risky to attempt this any sooner. (What is “this” and why is he mentioning it?)
Derikzl: Ahh! What’s going on?! I can’t see! (Why is this second and not the first thing said in the panel?)
Zen: There is someone you should meet, Child. (Who is he talking to? Derikzl? The unnamed Mina? Someone off panel? Because he is seemingly staring at us, does this mean Zen is speaking to the reader?)
I’m going to stop here. No seven pages for you today, Mr. Kroboth.
I’ve already said my peace and explained what I felt was necessary, so I’ll leave it to Steven. However, I will say this: Ryan, you need to write for other artists. I felt this was written with the idea of you drawing this yourself, which would explain some of the lacking details. This script was collaborator-friendly at times and not at others. Be consistent.
Steve has stopped, so it’s now up to me to run this down and then get some dinner. Rest my back. Make some decisions…
Format: Flawless Victory! (I wasn’t expecting any less.)
Panel Descriptions: I’m of two minds. If you’re drawing this yourself, then what’s here is generally fine since you know how things make sense to you. You know what you meant to say. If you’re writing this for another artist to draw, then there’s lots of ‘splainin’ to do. I couldn’t get a good sense of what was happening and where things were. That’s never good. You can do better.
Pacing: I’m not a fan of the pacing at all. Not only is it too slow to start with (and slow meaning uninteresting, not slow as in there is no action happening), but it also jumps around too much to follow well. An extra panel here and there to smooth things out would have been extremely helpful to the pacing and your reader. They need to follow along, not be jerked along. Not fun.
Dialogue: I’m not a fan. There isn’t much said that is actually interesting, which is a crime. Readers have to want to read the book. It shouldn’t be a chore. Reading this would be a chore. It doesn’t have to be pithy, but it has to capture a reader’s interest.
Content: This is definitely an issue 2, meaning I wouldn’t be picking this up. That’s always a shame. We want comics to succeed. This won’t.
Editorially, I’d have to ask who’d be drawing this. The answer to that question would guide the rest of the conversation. Sure, things like the pacing and dialogue have to be fixed, but do I need to focus on the panel descriptions as items instead of the thing I have to read that provides the pace and tells the story? Again, as an editor, I have to look at things differently when an artist wants to write and draw their own story. Some things are forgiven and not others. I have to know what I can and can’t forgive.
No matter what the outcome of that conversation, there has to be a point of interest that can start the issue that will get the reader turning pages. I want to be able to enjoy the book I’m reading. I wouldn’t enjoy this because there’s nothing of interest or at least intriguing. I sound like a broken record, I know, but these things are important.
And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!
Like what you see? Steve and I are available for your editing needs. Steve can be reached here. You can email me directly from my info below.