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TPG Week 16: Panel Descriptions Should Be Brief(ish)

| April 15, 2011 | 21 Comments


Welcome back yet again to The Proving Grounds! This week, our Brave One is Liam Hayes. Liam, let’s show them what you’ve got!


Tales of a Spacefaring Kleptomaniac

(*Working Title*)


Written by Liam Hayes


Character Description: NILS SERIN – He’s completely bald and of average height and weight. A pair of bikers goggles obscure his eyes. His face holds an unshaven beard and an wild untrimmed silver goatee. His skin is slightly more pale and than the average human. His eyes are fairly normal but hold purple irides. He wears an old duster coat which is patched up in various places. Round his right forearm is a sophisticated electronic device which extends from his elbow to wrist as if it were surgically attached. A further piece of metal wraps round the palm of his hand like a fingerless glove to keep the device in place. Give it a few random buttons and dials on the forearm section. (I left this in so everyone could get a sense of what I’m talking about later.)

PAGE 1 (Five Panels)

PAGE 1, Panel 1

Big panel. We open to a shot of the inside of a space bar, located in the bowls of some back-alley planet (Remember, folks: the spellcheck is NOT infallible. If you don’t know what the word is you’re looking for, then use a thesaurus.). The shot is taken from the door, as if from the perspective of someone just entering. The bar’s walls are made of a metal alloy, quite old and dirty. The chairs are essentially a long rod with a flat circle serving as a seat. They’re made from transparent plastic. So is the bar, but with a metal surface. Aliens of varying genders and species drink, converse and stand around. Essentially, the species of said aliens isn’t of much concern, although most wear similar attire, namely robes and work outfits (boiler suit’s ect.). A few wear full breather helmets (Oxygen is obviously toxic to them) (Nothing is ever obvious, Liam, no matter what happens. But this is an aside to the artist, and as needless as my comment here.).. Don’t worry about making the alien’s appear to ridiculous, this book’s universe doesn’t really take itself seriously. Make them as bizarre, interesting or dull as you like. These guys are merely there to create an interesting backdrop and to breath a sense of immersion and diversity into this fictional universe.


Nils stands leaning forward at the bar with his back to us. A cup of liquid beside him. A grey robe obscures his head and arms. His legs are visible. He wears combat trousers with thin metal armour protecting his shin and upper leg. The metal armour connects round the back of each legs via a thin metal strip. Two small disc looking gadgets hang from his belt. These are gas grenades. His shoes are dark leather boots which are untied. The panel should focus on him and he should be in the centre. The human barman stands off to the side, pouring a drink for an alien customer. (Everything I just cut is unnecessary. You did the character description up top. If it was that important, you should have put it up there, not down here in the panel description, which is really overlong with info you don’t care about. Ruiz Moreno: how much information in this panel description is really necessary? There are over 200 words here. Rewrite this in 60 or less.)



PAGE 1, Panel 2

Panoramic shot. Reverse angle. From the bar. Nils is in the foreground. Most of his face is obscured by darkness and his robe. Behind him we now see the bar’s door. It’s open and in the doorway we see three bounty hunters. They wear combat suits. Hardened padded leather with various pieces of metal for armour. They belong to a race which have point features, scaly skin and dark unforgiving eyes. Short tentacles sprout down from their heads as hair. One of them stands slightly more forward than the rest. This guy is the leader (BOUNTY LEADER). The other two stand back and look threatening. They all hold futuristic-looking rifles which have wires and small orange sphere’s protruding from the sides. The leader holds his rife down by his side. In the other hand, he has an electronic pad which holds some indiscernible information written in an alien language. It also displays a picture of a human face. This is fairly small and can’t really be seen. The leader looks at it inquisitively. A slight frown across his face. The pad is made from two sections of black plastic with an orange holographic centre, where the information is displayed. It can be seen from both sides, so the info on the pad can be seen by both the reader and the leader. (Overly long and complicated, with information that the artist should already have had if these are going to be recurring or important characters. And besides the fact that you want the pad to be somewhat translucent, what’s the reason behind it? I’m not seeing one. You’ve described everything else, what’s the reasoning behind this?)


PAGE 1, Panel 3

Close on BOUNTY LEADER. Mid Shot. He holds up the data pad out in front of him up to the camera. It’s contents can be seen clearly. He looks past the camera and towards Nils. On the data pad we see a picture of a human face. This is Nils’ face. Just below it we see the words “Nils Serin”. Below that are some alien symbols from an unknown language (A translation of Nils Serin). Even lower are the words “6000 Keptar”. This is a wanted notice. (Pick a language, then roll with it. What you’re asking for here is going to be extremely cramped, unless this is a view basically of the pad.)



PAGE 1, Panel 4

On Nils. He doesn’t even move, nor even consider the Bounty hunter’s question. All we see is his back as he still sits causally at the bar.


PAGE 1, Panel 5

Close on BOUNTY LEADER. His frown more intensified by Nils’ failure to respond. (Kyle Raios: this is the end of the first page. What are your thoughts of this panel as a page turn?)


PAGE 2 (Five Panels)

PAGE 2, Panel 1

On BOUNTY LEADER. He pulls up his rifle. He aims it at Nils (off-panel). A look of anger across his face. The data pad is still in his other hand. (Moving panel. What do you need to do to make it a still panel?)


BOUNTY LEADER: ANSWER ME, YOU FUCK! (Really? Name calling already? When he doesn’t even seem to be that sure? No, I don’t expect him to be nice and polite, but really, profanity so early?)


PAGE 2, Panel 2

BOUNTY LEADER and the other two Bounty hunters behind him open fire on Nils. The bullets are small metal spheres that leave a trail of phosphorous light. BOUNTY LEADER maintains his angered expression. The patrons of the bar turn their heads towards the bounty hunters in shock. A few with their hands over their ears. Nils doesn’t even react to the firing. The bullet pass through him and hit the bar as if he were a ghost. At this point, I should probably note that Nils is actually a hologram that’s being projected. The real Nils sits somewhere in the bar, but isn’t visible. As the bullets pass through the hologram, it could distort. Light ripples or static. (Hm. Keeping things from the artist. Not good. And to just open up fire with no regard to anyone else who might get hurt? Reminds me of bad television.)


PAGE 2, Panel 3

Back to the bounty hunters. Each displaying a look of shock and disbelief.


BOUNTY LEADER: WHAT THE FUCK!? (This is an appropriate response. Just know this: when you’re using profanity, you’re lowering the chance of a store carrying your book. John Lees? You’re up.)


PAGE 2, Panel 4

Close on the actual flesh and blood Nils. He sits off to the left at a table with his back to the Bounty hunters. We see them in the background still staring at the hologram in disbelief. He wears exactly the same clothes as the hologram. He presses a button on the electronic device that’s attached to his wrist with his index finger. His feet are up on another seat and he looks relaxed. (No. It’s been a while since my head ‘sploded, and here it is. Let me see. Jules Rivera? You here? Please, tell me why my head ‘sploded. Thank you.)




PAGE 2, Panel 5

From the perspective of BOUNTY LEADER. The patrons of the bar now look towards the hologram with disbelief. The hologram distorts and begins to fade. Nils is turning it off. (Moving panel, but I know what you’re getting at.)


PAGE 3 (Five Panels)

PAGE 3, Panel 1

Close on BOUNTY LEADER. Face shot. his face widens with shock and confusion.


BOUNTY LEADER: … (A few weeks ago, we talked about Finding Your Voice over in B&N, and some of you were kind enough to respond and say what you do in your scripts. This ellipse right here? This is a Liam thing. And I absolutely hate it. Hate is a powerful word, I know. But I HATE this. I’m editing another script of his, and I constantly tell him to put words in someone’s mouth, because I hate this. The places an ellipse is appropriate as its own balloon are extremely few and far between.)


PAGE 3, Panel 2

Close on our Nils’ hand. He’s throwing a small disc shaped gadget. It looks like a small UFO. This is a smoke grenade. It spins as it leaves his hand. (Tyler, your turn. Why can’t this be drawn?)


PAGE 3, Panel 3

Back to the bounty hunters. Still looking at where the hologram was with confused looking expressions. We see the small disc shapes grenade fly on-panel from which ever direction Nils is sat. It spins just past BOUNT LEADER and we see it in the middle of the bounty hunters in the air. Motion lines.


PAGE 3, Panel 4

Same shot. The grenade explodes, releasing a shit load of smoke. The bounty hunters react in shock. A lot of the panel is obscured by smoke. (No. What is the action here? If the grenade is exploding, there can’t be a lot of smoke yet. So, where do you want to pause the action?)



PAGE 3, Panel 5

We see Nils running towards the bar’s exit. Make him a silhouette, visible through the gas. The bounty hunters stand around coughing and trying to see through the smoke. Everyone is in panic except Nils. (This cannot be drawn well. If the place is full of smoke, or getting there, why can we see the bounty hunters clearly, as well as the people who are in a panic, but we can’t see Nils clearly? It doesn’t fit.)

PAGE 4 (Two Panels)

PAGE 4, Panel 1

Big panel 3/4 of the page. We see Nils come running out of the bar. The camera faces the bar. The door opening is in the middle. Smoke piles out of it.. The inside of the bar is obscured by the smoke. The bar looks dirty, run-down and poorly maintained metal sheets make up it’s hull. A broken neon sign just above the door opening reads “Crankie’s Stop and Chug”. Below that and in smaller text we see “No Xinots or Dogs allowed!” in red. Standing in a huddled group just to the left of the door opening, is four more bounty hunters who look similar to the other bounty hunters. Nils looks to the left as he exits the bar and notices them. The bar is on a metal platform that’s suspended in the air by a giant black metal guider with wires hanging dangerously off of it. Garbage and dirt cover the metal surface. Next to the bounty hunter is a futuristic car. It’s a hover car and as such doesn’t have any wheels. This is the car the bounty hunter’s arrived in. Design it how you see fit, as long as it fits the aesthetic. The metal platform ends as it gets closer to the camera. Beyond this, other hover cars or various colours can be seen flying past at high speed. In the background we see various domes and giant skyscrapers. They also look slightly run down and dirty. The actual surface of the planet isn’t shown as the bar is suspended quite high up. Other streams of hover cars are present in the background. (Long and complicated. I have no idea where the camera is. Most of this can go because it’s not important. This can be rewritten in less than 100 words, which more than cuts this in half.)


Colour Note: It’s night-time, but the planet is flooded with unnatural orange light sources, so give the ambient lighting a slight orange tint.


PAGE 4, Panel 2

Close on the four bounty hunters. They turn round to look at an off-panel Nils. Their eyes widen as they recognise him. One of them speaks. Lets call him BOUNTY HUNTER 1.




PAGE 5 (Five Panels)

PAGE 5, Panel 1

We see Nils being chased by the bounty hunters. He runs towards the stream of hover cars in the foreground at the edge of the metal platform.


PAGE 5, Panel 2

Side shot of the edge of the platform. We see Nils jumping of the edge. Hover cars zoom past the camera and into the background.


PAGE 5, Panel 3

Same shot. Nils lands on top of one of the speeding hover cars and is taken off into the background.


PAGE 5, Panel 4

On the hover car Nils is stood on. He looks back at the bounty hunters on the metal platform. They stop running and face him with annoyed expressions. BOUNT HUNTER 1 speaks. The alien in the hover car Nils is on, looks up through the windscreen at Nils in shock. The alien has pale purple skin. The hover car is in the foreground, quite close to the camera. The bounty hunters in the background. (No. If the car is quite close to the camera AND Nils is standing on it, we shouldn’t be able to see the driver. We should be able to see Nils, and the bounty hunters in the background. That’s what can be drawn. Not this.)


BOUNTY HUNTER 1: GET THE FUCKING CAR! (Why doesn’t their dialogue match their actions?)


PAGE 5, Panel 5

Back to the metal platform. We see all three bounty hunter getting into their hover car. BOUNTY HUNTER 1 gets in the driving seat. One of the other bounty hunters sits next to him at the front. The final bounty hunter gets into the back seat on the right. The doors open upwards and the car’s lights and dashboard light up.


And that’s where we’re going to stop. The rest is just a chase scene.

Let’s run this down.

Format: I’ve got no complaints with it. It’s good to go.

Panel Descriptions: Generally, they’re too long. Besides being too long, they’re boring. Besides being too long and boring, there’s unnecessary information in them.  And that’s only part of what’s wrong with the panel descriptions.

The other thing that’s wrong with them is that there are a number of panels in here that just can’t be drawn. Not good, Liam. You’re the writer, and this is your vision. As such, you HAVE to do a better job of knowing what can and cannot be drawn. And if something CAN be drawn, then it is your responsibility of writing it in such a way so that it can be drawn. It isn’t the artists’ responsibility to try and muddle their way through the script.

If there are any artists reading this, I’d love to see some thumbnails of this, as well as what you had problems with.

Know what can be drawn, Liam.

Pacing: I have no problems with the pacing. I’m not overly fond of the page turn on P1, but I wouldn’t call that a pacing problem. The pacing is fine.

Content: Editorially, this needs to be cut down and focused when it comes to the panel descriptions. I wanted to stop reading a few times, and that’s never a good thing. As a reader, I’m somewhat interested in what’s going on. And I keep wanting to call him Niles. Because I’m seeing nils (rhymes with mills).

And that’s all I have for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up next!

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Category: 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 for rate inquiries.

Comments (21)

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  1. John Lees says:

    BOUNTY LEADER: WHAT THE FUCK!? (This is an appropriate response. Just know this: when you’re using profanity, you’re lowering the chance of a store carrying your book. John Lees? You’re up.)

    I guess this is an opening to share my experience with the use of profanity in comics. When I was first got an early preview run of “The Standard #1” produced at a local print shop, the first place I went to was Forbidden Planet. I’ve known the guy that manages the store since I was a little boy getting taken to Forbidden Planet by my mum every Saturday, so he was happy to take a look at the comic I’d written. I’d just given it to him to take a look at, but he immediately said he’d be happy to stock the comic when the time came where I was ready to start selling it.

    Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I return to the store. I bump into the manager, and ask him what he thought of the comic. He said he really liked it, but the one thing he was unhappy about was the bad language. I used the word “FUCK” three times in the script. He jokingly asked me what my mother would think of me using words like that in my story, then more seriously said that dropping F-bombs immediately limits your audience.

    I didn’t really take the advice onboard at first. I figured that, in a comic with decapitations, a little bad word isn’t going to drastically alter the tone of the book. But on the other hand, I figured that this guy is not only the manager of my Forbidden Planet, but runs a few branches of the store across Scotland. He knows his comics, he knows the market, and it would be foolhardy to simply disregard such invaluable retailer advice.

    I’m no prude when it comes to language. I probably swear a bit too much in everyday conversation. And I’d probably call “Deadwood” and “The Thick of It” two of the best-written TV shows in history, largely because of their inventive use of profanity. In no way am I saying we shouldn’t swear in comic books. I think if the moment calls for it, it is the perfect punctuation, an effective way of heightening emotion and drama. But the key phrase there is “when the moment calls for it.” Is it really necessary to have people dropping F-bombs in a superhero story? I took a long, hard look at the three occurences of “FUCK” in the issue, and realised none of them were really necessary. And so I’ve now removed them. Going forward, I intend to remove any instances of the word in future issues too.

    I’m happily using torrents of filthy language in the Western script I’m writing, and the next script I’ve submitted to The Proving Grounds is called “HARD AS FUCK”, but in those instances I think the swearing works in context. Profanity can be a powerful narrative tool when used correctly. Just make sure not to throw it about too easily.

  2. I’m no artist, but I get the impression that if I was called upon to draw this comic, my first reaction would be: “So where are all the pages you’ve obviously already drawn yourself?”

    There’s a considerable amount of information here that should either be left to the artist’s imagination or discussed with the artist outside the script. I can understand the desire to have the drawn pages conform to the vision you lay down in your script. However, I tend to trust the artist when it comes to details.

    For example, “The bar’s walls are made of a metal alloy, quite old and dirty. The chairs are essentially a long rod with a flat circle serving as a seat. They’re made from transparent plastic. So is the bar, but with a metal surface.” Why not let the artist have his fun a little? Try something like: “The bar is an old and dirty place, all metal and plastic. Despite the squalor, you can stil discern it was originaly designed as a cheap yet utilitarian environment.” Instead of scrutinizing each piece of furniture while leaving out more important elements (how far is the counter from the door? any tables visible between them? is it a big pub or a small booze dive?), you just give the general esthetic feel of the setting and leave the rest to the artist.

    Cosmetic details of the environment are the artist’s domain, the mood and the structure are the writer’s.

    An analogy coming from my theater days: don’t tell the set designer what kind of flowers to put in the vases unless it’s specifically mentioned in an actor’s lines. And don’t tell him where to put the vases unless the leading lady has to pick one up from her Récamier and throw it.

    But apart from this little thing irking me, I like the way this is starting. I’m a big fan of cold opens and this is a classic one. I had to do a second read-through while blocking out most of the descriptions and I came away with the start of a great story. Nils looks like the sort of roguish hero I can’t get enough of. “Spacefaring kleptomaniac”, heh – I like that. 🙂

    SPACE MOBSTER: This is the last time you steal from me, Nils Serin!

    NILS SERIN: I can’t help it: it’s a *condition*!

    Oh and no interior monologue to put distance between the story and the reader. All action and dialogue. Bravo on that!

    (Whew! I didn’t get called out this week!)

    • No, not this week, Yannick, but it’s coming!

      And thanks for your input and thoughts. We all appreciate it.

      Like I’ve said before and will say again, there’s a thin line between what is a good panel description and what is too much panel description. Editors all have their own ways they want to see things done, but the biggest way to turn someone off is to have panel descriptions that are overcooked. Too much information, or information that cannot be drawn, or should not be drawn. The line is very thin, indeed, and only your editor (and artist) will know it.

      And while I’m at it, Yannick… Please rewrite the panel that I asked Ruiz to rewrite. A few different takes on it cannot hurt.

      Thanks! (Ruiz would call this me being evil…)

      • Medium shot of NILS SERIN, leaning against the bar, back to the camera. He’s wearing a hooded grey robe (hood up) that conceals him from the waist up. At his right, behind the bar, a human bartender is pouring a drink to an alien customer who is just off panel.

        * * *

        I left out the drink because most people keep their drinks in front of them; logically, we shouldn’t see it if Nils is standing in front of it. For leaving out the gas grenades, I invoke the Utility Belt Rule: if the hero is about to surprise the villains with a gadget he pulls out, might as well surprise the readers as well.

        50 words. Think you can do it in 40, Steven? 😉

        • Medium shot of NILS SERIN, leaning against the bar, back to the camera. He’s wearing a hooded grey robe, hood up. At his right, a human bartender is pouring a drink to an alien customer who is just off panel.

          See what happens when you challenge me? 😉

          • Hey, no fair: you cut out the bit about the legs!

            Medium shot of Nils, leaning against the bar, back to us, wearing a hooded grey robe, hood up. At his right: the bartender, pouring a drink to an OP customer.

            There, got it down to 30 now, but I admit I’m getting a bit miserly with the details. 😛

          • Heh. It’s all about knowing what is and isn’t important.

            Together, we both cut out what wasn’t important to the panel description. I wouldn’t cut any further into this than what you have right here. Perfect? Probably not. But it gets everything across that’s needed, while letting the artist have their fun.

            Good job!

  3. Liam Hayes says:

    Phew! *Checks ego* Ego intact! Nothing like a bit of public humiliation!

    In all seriousness, thanks for the edit Steven. I usually write way to much and have to cut it down by prying my detail obsessed fingers from the keyboard, with some sort of metaphorical inner crowbar.

    P.S Didn’t get that scotch bribe I sent you then… *Suspicious wink*

    • Nope. Didn’t get it. Unless it’s in the mail, at which point, I’ll wait to get it, and then re-post this with glowing praise of every line. (Will I be drunk? I dunno. But it would be interesting to see!)

      And this isn’t public humiliation. That’s not the goal. Learning is the goal. I can do public humiliation. I’m thinking about it for John’s latest submission… 😉

  4. John Lees says:

    I know I’m often guilty of over-ripe panel descriptions. I once wrote a panel description that was literally a full page of a Word document. But I personally feel it’s better to have too much information than not enough. If there’s something you want included on the page, put it in your panel description. Because if the page doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to because you didn’t specify one way or the other, that’s not the artist’s failing, it’s yours.

    So, when working with artists, I tend to operate under the approach that I’ll be very detailed in my panel descriptions, but with the understanding that the artist is free to try something different if they have a better idea of how to visualise the scene.

    • I wouldn’t say that you’re often guilty of it, John. Not really. The times when I ask you to condense are few and far between.

      However, the flip side to that is this: giving your artists room to breathe is CRUCIAL. Just because you wrote it doesn’t necessarily mean that is has to be exactly that way, UNLESS there’s something important going on. When that happens, let them know. It’s all a part of communication.

    • I see what you mean. Indeed, by putting down as much information as you can, there’s less chance of leaving anything important out. Ultimately, as you quite ably put it, the writer is responsible for what ends up on the finished page, the same way an architect is responsible for how the building looks once construction is over.

      However, I can’t help thinking that you need to give the artist some measure of freedom. I guess it’s the difference between telling the artist WHAT to draw and telling him HOW to draw it.

      You mileage may vary – and you’ve evidently been on the road longer than I’ve been!

  5. Since we’re on the subject of the amount of information panel descriptions should contain (and just for fun): an excerpt from Warren Ellis’ script for Fell #1. It’s the kind of thing that would make Steven cry and it’s an awfully amusing read.

    * * *


    Pic 1
    PHOTO ESTABLISH: EXT. IDIOT’S BAR. It was renamed Idiot’s after the previous owner won it in a bet from the original owner. Which
    you probably didn’t need to know, but if I don’t write it down I’ll forget it. It’s… I dunno. It’s a bar. Make something up.


    * * *

    Get the whole script here:

    • Honestly, I absolutely LOVE reading Ellis’ scripts, and I tell neophytes to run from them like the plauge. They’re not ready for that. I’d rather newbies learn a regiment, so that when they reach a certain level, they already know the rules and how/when to break them.

      I don’t recommend Ellis scripts for study. For amusement, sure, but not for study.

  6. Kyle Raios says:

    PAGE 1, Panel 5

    Close on BOUNTY LEADER. His frown more intensified by Nils’ failure to respond. (Kyle Raios: this is the end of the first page. What are your thoughts of this panel as a page turn?)

    Hm. Well, I see what he’s going for here, but with the next panel being:
    PAGE 2, Panel 1

    On BOUNTY LEADER. He pulls up his rifle. He aims it at Nils (off-panel). A look of anger across his face. The data pad is still in his other hand.

    I wonder if Page 1, Panel 5 isn’t a needless panel. I would think it more effective if the last panel of page 1 is Nils not responding, to then have the page turn immediately after of the bounty hunter holding up his gun. In that, we get the anger, without having to bridge the gap with TWO panels of an angry bounty hunter. With nothing being said, these two panels that are being used to invoke a single emotion become something of a stalling act.
    So, I would think one panel of a passive Nils, Page Turn, angry bounty hunter with gun. To me, more effective.

  7. Ruiz Moreno says:

    You are evil and sorry I’ve been extremely busy, Steven. I see the rewrite has been beaten so I’ll leave it be and hopefully catch it on the next one. I’m still reading everything posted though. 🙂

    • Evil? Moi? (heh)

      No need to apologize for being busy, Ruiz. It means you have other things to do outside of this, which is a good thing!

      I’d still like to see how you’d rewrite that panel, though. I’d like YOUR interpretation of it, despite what we have here. (That is, if you have the time, you slacker!) 😉

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