Welcome back, one and all, to the last installment of The Proving Grounds.
Yes, the last. I’ve been saying it for a few weeks now, and the day has finally arrived. This is the last one.
All things must come to an end, and this column’s time has come around…again.
The bulk of you don’t know that this is the second time I’ve done this column. It used to be over at Project Fanboy (which turned into the now-defunct Fanboy Buzz), and ran for about a year. I stepped away from it because I picked up a client who was supposed to have a massive job for me, but that fizzled.
Then Tyler James and I started ComixTribe, and the goal was to give creators something they couldn’t get anywhere else: good, free information and help situated under one roof. I’ve written various columns over the years, but the two that creators have found most helpful have been Bolts & Nuts and The Proving Grounds.
Six years. Hell, I’ll call it six and a half. I’ve had to do some recruiting for scripts every so often, but six and a half years of doing this weekly takes its toll. To be honest, I’m shocked it lasted this long. I’m not easy, and yes, some of it is showmanship, but some of it is also an outlet for the truly crappy scripts that have come through.
Yes, a lot of it is usery. Most of the writers who come through here wanted to take advantage of the free editing. The overwhelming bulk of writers, actually. I don’t mind overmuch. I’ve been able to help those who wanted to be helped, and that’s what this entire adventure was all about.
I want to personally thank each and every one of you. I couldn’t have done it without you. I mean that literally. Without you, there would have been no column.
First, I want to thank my co-editors: Yannick Morin, Steve Colle, Sam LeBas, and Liam Hayes. They’ve all helped to make my job easier over the years. Thank you.
I also want to thank Ryan Kroboth for lending his pencil and his talent these past months. His drawings and excellent explanations of how things writers are submitting are wrong from an artistic standpoint really helped to drive lessons home.
And for those that the six of us helped? They seem to be legion. They are, by name:
John Lees (who submitted a number of times and has been nominated and won awards for his comics), Mike King, Matt Johnson, David Grodsky, Martin Brandt, Kyle Raios (who submitted a number of times), Marcus Thompson (who submitted a number of times) James Fairlie (who submitted a number of times), Tyler James (yup, the CT publisher submitted a number of times and learned), David Herbert, Liam Hayes (yes, before he was an editor, he learned like everyone else—submitting several times), Taj Gunnm, Michael Holcombe, Andre Saunders, John Eboigbe, Jon Parrish (who submitted a number of times and now has works published), Connor MacDonald (who has submitted a number of times), Georg Syphers, Carlos Parra, Lance Boone (who submitted a number of times), Adam Burbey, John Vinson (who has submitted a number of times), LJ Wright (who has submitted a number of times), Noel Burns, Evan Windsor (who submitted a number of times), Yannick Morin (that’s right, he started out as a writer before moving into editing, and he submitted several times), Talisha Harrison (who submitted a number of times), Thaddeus Howze, Kirk McCosker, Christian Hinrichsen, Josue Monserrat, Jeremy Melloul (who submitted a number of times), Eli Ivory, Don Urquhart, Justin Martin (who has submitted a number of times), Matt Johnson (who has submitted a number of times), Laura Morley, Don Pankievicz, Lisa Wilson, Lauren Sinclair, Charles Crane, Jeff Bass, Wes Locher (who submitted a number of times), Stephen Greaney, Sam Roads (whom I dubbed Felix, and who has submitted a number of times), Phillip Bluehorn & Brian Harris, Wolf Beaumont, Justin Kane, Andy Arnott, Damian Wampler, Sarah Rebecca, Rich Chedester, Leo Penha, George Myers, Tim Berry, Steve Colle (that’s right, Steve’s a writer, too, and has submitted a number of times), Eric Holt, Luke Noonan (who has submitted a number of times), Ronnie Massey (who has submitted a number of times), Will Robson (who has submitted a number of times), Esther Alperin, Colby Pryor, Joshua Gorfain, JP Redding, Michael Arlain, Matt Cartmell, Dan Walters (who has submitted a number of times), Aaron Richmond, Chris Gerwel, Greg Matiasevich, Schuyler Van Guten (who has submitted a number of times), Chad Kuffert, Danos Philopoulos, Joseph Veronese, Ryan Kroboth (that’s right, folks—he also tries his hand at writing, and has submitted a number of times), Darren Higham (who has submitted a number of times), Jayson Cardwell, Trevor McNeil, Jourdan McLain (who has submitted a number of times), Chad Handley (who has submitted a number of times), Rich Douek (who has gone on to have his series Gutter Magic published by IDW), Frank Martin (who has submitted a number of times), Sarah Kaplan, Sonja Smith, Fred Duran, Austin Feliciano, Steven Applebaum, Doug Wood, Paul LaPorte, Jeremy Jackson, Nyisha Haynes, Christopher Knox, John Heidt, Oliver Insixiengmay, Ezra Dixon, Calvin Gimpelevich, Tommy Sigalov, Michael Hasset, Cody Stewart (who has submitted a number of times), Dan Dayton, Curt Achberger, Michael Mourounas, Michael Mullane, James Sarandis (who has submitted a number of times), Micah Bryant, Alyssa Crow (who has submitted a number of times), Ben Goldsmith, Justin Schepper, Jim Mello, Luke Pierce (who has submitted a number of times), Andrew Brinkley, Morgan Wellborn, Joshua Crowther (who has submitted a number of times), Chelsea Smith (who has submitted a number of times), JP Polewczak, Jason Bonine, Jose Pereira, Andrew Burgess, Toy Spears, Nanda Lauzan, Paul Im, James Palmer, Rin Kiyoko (who has submitted a number of times), Amit Oren, Daniel O’Reilly, Fabian Andresm, Yontan Schultz, Alex Hutchins, Paul Brian DeBerry, Stewart Vernon, Steven Forbes (yes, I’m thanking myself for submitting a script!), Greg Thayer (who has submitted a number of times), Amit Sharma (who has submitted a number of times), Galen Schultz (who has submitted a number of times), Robert Sprawls, Jason Duke (who submitted one of the absolute worst scripts I’ve ever had the misfortune of having to read here), Aaron Williamson, Eric Brackett, Shawn Milazzo (who has submitted a number of times), Brian Sanford, David Rines, John Long, CJ Kral, Justin Jakimiak, Osvaldo Padilla, Solomon Steen (who has submitted a number of times), Raoul Ricca, Chris Vernon, Edward Davis, Sean Mills (who has submitted a number of times), Jave Galt-Miller (who has submitted a number of times), Jay Van Veen (who has submitted a number of times), Arjun Ramesh (who has submitted a number of times), Troy Bowen, Gene Patrick, Riccardo Martino, Anh Diep (who has submitted a number of times), Michael Gonzalez, Jason Menard, Josh Fay, Michael Roslan, and Gavin Falcon.
That’s a lot of names. Again, I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you, one and all.
Steve Colle won’t be with us this week, so it’s going to be Ryan Kroboth with his wonder-pencil, and myself in red doing the thing I do, one last time. We have Frank Martin coming to us as our last Brave One. We’re all going to get to see how he treats
The Lady from the Lake
Page 1 (5 Panels)
A daytime establishing shot of a homeless man’s tent positioned next to a small lake in the middle of a park. The man, standing in front of the tent and looking out at the lake, is dressed in dirty clothes with a beard. Next to the tent, which looks shabby and patched with rags, is the typical homeless person shopping cart filled with clothes and cans/bottles. A spot on the lake is bubbling as if something is emerging from under the surface. (Where’s the camera?)
Do you remember where I found you?
What your home looked like? Your clothes?
A close up of the bubbling surface as we see an old, ugly woman emerging from the water. She is wearing an old, tattered cloak. Her wet hair is long a clumpy, which barely covers her wart-ridden face with its long nose and asymmetrical cheeks. Like a cliché Halloween witch. (This isn’t the best visual. Not the best explanation. Ryan? It looks like you’re up early. I have two different visions of this: Excalibur’s Lady of the Lake where the woman stayed submerged but she was able to stick her hands out of the water to give/retrieve the sword, and someone rising/descending vertically. I don’t want you to draw them both. I want you to draw what you think is best, based on what’s given.)
You had nothing before you met me.
A close up of the homeless man’s repulsed face at the sight of the woman (who is off panel). We finally get a good look at his face, sunburned and oily. We see the dirt and grime on his skin and in his unkempt beard and hair.
And despite your disgust at the sight of me, I offered you everything.
A side shot as the woman approaches the man. His repulsed face isn’t as intense as the previous panel. It’s relaxing. She is dripping water, holding the cloak tight around her body. Her hideous face is emotionless as they stare each other down. (This doesn’t make much sense. I’m not visualizing it. I keep wanting to do a close-up, but it’s quite obviously at least a mid-shot.)
The deal was simple: take me as your wife and you will be rich beyond your dreams.
I only had one rule…
A shot from behind the man and woman as they are holding hands walking away from the tent/lake and towards a city in the distance.
Never speak a word of where I came from. (Reminds me of a movie. Rae Dawn Chong and Gans. (James Remar, but he’s always going to be Gans to me.) Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Gans sees a demon, and the demon extracts a promise from him never to reveal he has seen it in exchange for his life. He then finds true love and has a couple of kids. He reveals to her that he saw a demon, and she changes into that demon (and the kids change, too), and she kills him.)
P1 is down, and what do we have?
An empty park.
A very empty park, on what seems to be a very nice day, with something supernatural occurring. Why do I say empty? Because the only people in the park are the homeless man (I’ve become enlightened—he is no longer a “bum”), and the newcomer from the lake.
Is it interesting? Meh. I’d turn the page. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but it isn’t that compelling. A good artist could make this compelling. So would making this more of an evening setting. That would at least give the excuse of having fewer people in the park.
That’s the thing that’s getting me the most. I would enjoy the setup a lot more if it were more feasible.
Small park. What’s surrounding it? How far out or how pushed in is the camera? Answering these questions would help to properly populate/de-populate the park. The rest goes from there.
Right now, this doesn’t seem all that reasonable. Not in the middle of the day. Population is important within the context of setting.
Page 2 (5 Panels)
In the middle of a busy Wall Street-esque trading floor, the homeless man, still looking the same as he did in the previous page, has his hand up holding a piece of paper and is yelling (trading stock), similarly to the other men around him all dressed in suits.
CAPTION/MAN (the man is drunk, so his speech font should reflect that)
You think I needed you, bitch? (If these people are talking to each other, like really talking, then these captions need quotation marks.)
This panel is identical to the previous one, except now the man is clean-shaven and wearing a button down shirt. His hair has been cut and cleaned but is still un-styled.
Like you’re some kind of witch?
Identical panel to the previous two, except now the man is wearing a pristine suit. His hair is slicked back and a gold watch can be seen on the wrist of the hand he’s holding in the air.
A raggedy, old good luck charm?
In an empty floor of an office building, the man, still in his slick suit, is smiling and shaking hands with a realtor. In their other hands, the two men are exchanging a piece of paper that has the word “DEED” at the top. The realtor is wearing a nice shirt, but is not dressed as nice as the man. The empty office floor behind the two men is expansive, with large windows along the wall in the back looking out at other skyscrapers.
You didn’t give me anything I didn’t earn on my own. (If he’s supposed to be drunk, he sounds very straight. No slurring words, no mumbles, no cutting off of syllables. You’ve done better, Frank.)
The “camera” is in a similar position from the previous panel as it looks out over the office space. Only now the floor is fully built out with cubicles and glass offices around the edges. Staff is working diligently at their desks and busy walking around.
I built this empire.
P2, and I’m bored.
When you have a short story, you have to move fast. However, in moving fast, you also have to be interesting. You have to be interesting while the story moves.
You’re not being interesting.
I understand that there’s things happening within the story, but there has to be a more dynamic way of getting to it. I shouldn’t be bored on P2. Short stories don’t have time for lulls, and this page is definitely a lull.
There are some thoughts about a homeless man trading on the floor of the NYSE. I understand that you’re showing his transformation, but I’m not seeing it happen in “reality.” I’m not able to suspend my disbelief long enough for it to happen. It’s the crux of the page, and it’s not anchoring the page well, not even with the magic of the woman coming out of the lake.
This is the last TPG, and I’m bored.
Let’s see what she has to say on P3.
Page 3 (4 Panels)
The man is driving a bright red convertible on a sunny, tropical street. A beautiful woman sits in the passenger seat, laughing and flirting with the man as he is loving every minute of it. (Moving panel.)
And you’re entitled to think that.
Just as you’re entitled do what you wish with your money and your time.
The man sits behind his desk in his large personal office with glass walls. Behind the glass we can see the rest of the office space we saw earlier, still busy with activity. In front of the man’s desk stands a lowly employee, short-sleeved buttoned down shirt and tie with a name tag. He is afraid of the man (his boss) as the man, in his suit and tie, screams at his employee. (Where is the camera? If we can see the rest of the office space behind the glass wall, and we can see the man screaming at his employee, and if we can see the employee and his expression, where is the camera? How is the office set up? This just isn’t explained well.)
Damn, straight! (Comma-fail. Usually, it’s a missing comma. This time, it’s a misplaced one.)
I own you like I own everyone who works for me! (Boring.)
Inside a hotel suite, the man is falling back on top of the bed with another beautiful woman in a dress falling down on top of him. They are laughing with their faces close together, obviously about to get intimate by the placement of their hands around each other’s bodies.
But that’s where you’re wrong.
I’m not some object you can control.
The man is sitting in a booth at an upscale gentlemen’s club alongside several other rich men in suits. They are all smiling and laughing with scantily dressed girls (either prostitutes, strippers, etc.) on their laps and drinks in their hands. The table in front of them is filled with tons of alcohol bottles and shot glasses.
We had an arrangement. An agreement.
P3, and what’s going on?
Why are we reading this? What’s going on? What’s the story about?
I’m bored, and I find my attention wandering.
I got a package in the mail today. It’s for my office. I want to go put it together, but instead, I’m being bored doing this. I also have some editing work to do, and I’m going to try to get into the DC writing workshop. I haven’t even started. And I’m doing this. And I’m bored.
I’ll treat myself to food when I’m done…or when the doorbell rings with the delivery. Whichever comes first.
Page 4 (5 Panels)
Inside the man’s glass office, the woman, still looking exactly the same as she did when we first met her except now she’s dry, stands in front of the glass door. The man stands in the front of the desk, off balance from being drunk. The two beautiful women from the previous page, looking carefree and uninterested, lean back against the desk on either side of the man. Through the office’s glass walls we can see the office floor still buzzing with activity. (Questions: is the door open or closed? Is she on the inside or the outside? I have visions of her being outside, but that could be me just being contrary. But she’s definitely not placed well.)
And you will not talk to me the same way you do everyone else. (Is this no longer in captions?)
Why? Because you think you’re so special?
A close up of the woman’s grotesque face, emotionless through her disarrayed, frizzy hair.
Special enough to take away everything you have.
Everything I gave you.
A close up of the man’s angry face as he’s yelling. Clean-shaven and slick hair. But he’s drunk. His eyes are glassy and his mouth is contorted.
How dare you! You’re lucky I don’t throw you back in that dirty lake where you came from!
A head on shot of the woman holding up two of her fingers as if she’s ready to snap them. Behind her we can see the office’s swarm of activity. People walking by are reading papers and talking on the phone. The backs of others on computers in their cubicles.
The “camera” is in the same position as the previous panel. The woman is still standing the same way, except now her fingers have finished their snap. The most drastic change in the panel is that all the activity of office workers behind her has now stopped. The people walking have stopped and are no longer reading or talking on the phone. The people at their computers have all turned around. And every one of them has on the same blank expression as they stare straight at the “camera.”
SFX (by her fingers)
I remember watching the various Tales kind of shows: Tales from the Darkside, Tales from the Crypt, The Hitchhiker Presents, Freddy’s Nightmares… Of course, there’s always The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Know what those shows had? Interesting things happening. Yes, even Freddy’s Nightmares, which was a pretty bad show.
I remember watching one show where there was a grandfather who was dead, but didn’t want to recognize he was dead and be buried. He did all the things a grandpa would do: sat on the porch and spent some time with his grandson, creeping the grandson out. Grandpa was actively rotting, but he was still active. Finally, he decided to lay down and be dead after he was tricked into sneezing (pepper in his napkin) and blew his nose off.
That’s more interesting than this.
What is this for? What is the story about?
Here’s a question that doesn’t get asked often: what’s the theme?
Page 5 (6 Panels)
In front of a large fancy office building we see a large human train of the employees walking out onto the city sidewalk. The woman is leading the pack while the man stands (with his back to us) at the edge of the sidewalk watching with his hands on his head confused. Other pedestrians are standing around watching too at the peculiar sight.
What…where are you…
Where are you all going?!
A long shot of the park from the first page. The man’s homeless tent has fallen down and his cart has fallen over, spilling out its contents. The long train of employees (which we don’t see the end of) is being led by the woman towards the lake. The city can be seen in the background (similar distance away to page one; panel five). The man is standing by, once again, except now he is angrily pointing his finger at them.
Stop! All of you!
Stop right now!
The woman has walked into the lake so that the water is now up to her head. Behind her the employees are following her in, with different employees having the water up to different levels of their body depending on how far back in the train they are.
MAN (off panel behind them)
If you walk in there you’re fired!
A close up of the man’s expression. He is lost somewhere between disbelief and sadness. His slick back hair is now disheveled as is his unbuttoned shirt and loose tie.
From behind the man we are looking out at the lake as the end of the employee train enters the water. The last two people in line, behind the last of the employees, are the two beautiful women from the man’s office.
Well, that was a waste of time.
Let’s run it down and talk about it.
Format: Flawless Victory. Yep, boring.
Panel Descriptions: Not terrible, but they could definitely be better. There are times when I don’t know what I’m looking at because something is first described one way, and then things are added that make it seem like it should be another. Or things are described in such a way that I don’t know where to place the camera. Not terrible, but definitely not great.
Pacing: Horrible. Plodding, which is terrible for a five page story. It moved fast, but was slow at the same time. Even though things “happened”, there was little real context as to how things fit. More dialogue could have fixed that. Or more panels. This could have been a nine-panel grid story easily. But the pacing needed to be brought up a couple of notches. Things need to happen. That was the basic problem with this: nothing happened.
Dialogue: The only real problem I had with the dialogue, besides it not doing a great job of pulling me in, was the fact that the man didn’t sound drunk. Angry? Possibly. Drunk? Not at all.
The dialogue could have also done more with the plot. There are unanswered questions that the dialogue could have answered:
Who is the lady from the lake? What does she want? Why did she pick him? What makes him so special? What happened to him that he’s now homeless? Why did he turn into an asshole when he got some money? Why did she have the one rule? What were the consequences of breaking the rule?
All of that should have been in the dialogue. None of it was anywhere to be found.
Content: There are no consequences that were laid out. As a reader, I missed that. I would have come away feeling the way that I did: that it was a waste of time. Nothing happened, no one learned anything. What was the point?
Editorially, this needs a rewrite. Things need to happen. Does the man need to die? Not at all, but he needs to learn a lesson that wasn’t taught with this. She snaps her fingers and causes people to follow her into the lake. I’m going to assume they don’t die. But what happens to him? He keeps the money he’s made, the business, the prestige, and has to start over again? Because that’s the way it seems. Nothing drastic happens to him. That needs to be fixed.
Stories have to be worthwhile. This isn’t. That’s why it needs the rewrite.
And that’s all I have.
That’s all she wrote.
I want to thank everyone for reading, for submitting, for commenting. It’s been a fun ride.
If I don’t see you in the comments, I’ll say goodnight and good luck.