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TPG Week 18: Panel Descriptions Should Be Thought Out

| April 29, 2011 | 9 Comments

Hello, one and all. This week’s Brave One is Marcus Thompson, back again for another round. This time, we’ll be talking about some Illicit Liberties. Let’s see how he does!

Illicit Liberties

Page 1 (one panel)

From a bird’s eye view, a vast, intricately designed labyrinth is seen from above that seems to stretch for miles across a desert landscape.  At the center of the labyrinth is a large building that would almost resemble a palace or skyscraper in comparison to its surroundings but it’s dull, rectangular shape and lack of windows would suggest that it is nothing more than an a large prison.  A helicopter pad can be seen on the roof of the building.  Much smaller buildings can be seen scattered throughout the labyrinth. (Okay, folks. Here’s the deal. If you’re a writer, then you have to learn the rules of writing within your language. Punctuation is important. It makes reading easier. It makes communication faster, because you don’t have to stop and wonder what is trying to be said. If this were handed to me as a submission at a company, it would immediately have been tossed into the trash, and the writer would be wondering why. Want to get out of the slush pile and stay out of the trash? Want to at least be contacted back? Then get yer stuff straight. With that out of my system, this is not an establishing shot. An establishing shot answers four questions: Who, When, Where, What. Even if it’s abbreviated, you still have to answer Where and When. So, what’s missing here?)

Welcome to the beautiful penal colony of Theseus’ Crown.  Also known as the “Labyrinth City”.  Also known as the The World’s Ultimate Maximum Security Prison”.

Page 2 (5 panels) (Page break.)

Panel 1
A large helicopter is perched on the rooftop of the large building (Yannick, what’s wrong here?).  A five men in bright red jumpsuits and glowing blue shackles and collars are seen being corralled off of the chopper into a line by two armed guards with rifles in hand and batons at their sides (I’m wondering if there’s going to be something wrong with every sentence of this paragraph. Yannick, since we’re still within the same paragraph, what’s wrong with this sentence?).  The prisoners are obviously unhappy but the guards who flank them maintain an air of authority and smugness (This is prose writing, and as such, has no place here.).  The pilot of the helicopter may also be seen and another guard stands in the doorway of the air transport pointing at one of the prisoners and apparently barking out orders to the other guards standing on the roof and guiding them (Yannick? What’s wrong here, too? This sentence, and the entire panel description?).

Prisoners are transported here by air partially because the maze which surrounds the prison is about 40 miles in diameter.  Mostly because it is actually closer to about 200 miles to navigate, and anyone with common sense knows that that’s WAY too much of a trip. (There are 46 words here. The only saving grace about the word count is that this is a caption, and as such, doesn’t have as much negative space to contend with. Now, with that out of the way, what voice do you want the Narrator to have? Is it supposed to be an authoritative voice? Or is this someone speaking to someone else? Depending on the voice, you’ll have to rewrite. Get rid of the vagueness. Words like “about” and “actually” give it a vagueness you don’t want.)

Panel 2
Some other prisoners dressed in the bright red jumpsuits are seen walking along a dark, chrome covered hall with cell doors on either side (I take it that we’re inside now? How about establishing that?).  The doors are swinging outward as the prisoners approach, as if in greeting  (I thought this was a prison. Prisons are meant to keep people in, not out. Doors that open out are easier to open in the event of a breakout. Do you want to make it that easy?).  The new prisoners are staring warily at the doors (John Lees: Are you as lost as I am? Why, or why not?).  Two jet-shaped robotic sentries hover just above the prisoners in the hallway.  Two red lights centered on the front of the machines would indicate eyes or some other form of sensors (Where to begin? Where are we? Where’s the camera? What happened to the ending punctuation? Can you picture this in your head? Is this what you really saw? Where’s the pertinent information needed for the artist to do their job? I can almost see it, but then there’s information that just doesn’t belong.)

There are no actual guards who work within the prison.  No human guards, anyway.  Officers only escort prisoners into the grounds.  Everything is remotely operated from somewhere far away by one man… (The good news is that this is in the same voice. The bad news is that this is in the same voice. The vagueness is still there. And you used the word “actually” in the previous panel. You don’t want to use the same word or word form too close to one another. It will look strange when read.)

Panel 3
A crowded mess hall is shown now with long cafeteria-style tables and benches where large numbers of prisoners are seated and conversing.  Dozens of the robotic sentries are seen floating overhead and darting about through the air and observing the prisoners below.  At the far back wall, a large monitor displays the image of a heavyset, thick jowl, pale man with a pockmarked and scarred face sitting back in a desk and staring maliciously down on the prisoners.  The man has thin black hair, light blue eyes and he wears a dark red suit with a black vest, black tie and white shirt underneath it. Only the upper shoulders to the head of the man on the image can be seen. (No. Here’s what you’re asking for. First, a little math: A dozen is twelve. You said dozens of the sentries can be seen. To be plural, that’s at least two dozen. Let’s say that each sentry can handle five prisoners. That means there are at least 120 prisoners, which satisfies the “large numbers” you asked for. That means there are at least 145 people in this view: 120 prisoners, 24 sentries, and the guy on the screen. With me so far? In order to even begin to get all of this, you’re going to need a wide-angle view, possibly up high, in a corner somewhere, in order to get as much of this as possible. What you just asked for, though, your artist cannot draw. I don’t even think George Perez could fit that many characters into a single panel. Your artist isn’t going to draw this, because you asked for more than your panel can contain. It’s about knowing what can and cannot be drawn, Marcus. This panel right here is a perfect example that shows this is a lesson you haven’t yet learned.)

The only overseer is the Warden, who also just happens to be the owner of Theseus’ Crown.  Not the most handsome or the most gracious fellow you’ll ever meet.

Panel 4
A single man flanked on either side by two of the hovering robotic sentries is standing in a doorway in front of two large double doors that are opening slowly (Is this a prisoner? A visitor? You’ve described everyone else in detail–why doesn’t this guy get the same treatment? Where’s the camera? Are the doors opening in or out? Why are we bouncing around so much?).  The room he stands in is dimly lit (as most rooms in the prison are) but the daylight flooding from the outside through the narrow opening bathes everything in the room, casting long shadows across the floors.  Two monitors on either side of the doors, display the Warden’s smug face with a sinister grin stretched from ear to ear.

Any prisoner who crosses the Warden, or gets sentenced to death, or even tries to escape, is taken outside the prison walls… (Comma.)

Panel 5
Copy Panel 4.  The Warden’s smile has receded slightly to resemble more of a grimace and the doors are now closed.  The sentries and the prisoner are no longer seen. (You have a very big gap of Border Time here.)

And they’re never heard from again.

Page 3 ( six panels) (Page break.)

Panel 1
A man in a red jumpsuit is seen sprinting through the maze, pumping his arms vigorously.  His face shows that he is clearly satisfied and feeling victorious. (Is this the same guy from the previous panel, or someone new? How is the artist supposed to know?)

It’s said that many have tried to escape Theseus’ Crown before… Men have tried running straight through the hundred-mile maze of traps… (Is this a legend? You use language like “It’s said” when talking legend or lore. And I thought that the maze was two hundred miles? Consistency. Your readers are going to call you on it every time.)

Panel 2
A skeleton wearing the same red jumpsuit is shown stretched out on the ground.  The skin may still be clinging to the bone, making the man look more emaciated but obviously dead from dehydration.  Some small flies may be buzzing around the head of the dead man. (No. I’m not seeing that. A skeleton wearing a red jumpsuit, but now it’s an emaciated man? Make up your mind. Clarity.)

…and failed.

Panel 3
Another man in a red jumpsuit is seen in a narrow tunnel moving in an army crawl with a spoon in each hand.  The tunnel appears uncomfortable but the man has the same look of delight and satisfaction as the man in Panel 1. (Where’s the light coming from allowing both him and us to see?)

Some have tried digging under the walls…

Panel 4
Another skeleton is shown wearing a red jumpsuit in the tunnel still clutching the spoons in both hands.  Two mice are seen skittering over the skeleton, possibly picking at the remains.

…and failed.

Panel 5
Three men in red jumpsuits are grappling with three guards on the helicopter, which is still in flight (How is the reader supposed to know that this is a helicopter, and that it is in flight?).  One guard may already be standing with his baton in half-swing.  The others are in a sitting position, either trying to fend off the attackers or attempting to pull out their sidearm or baton from their hip.  All of the prisoners are bound with their energy handcuffs and collars but they are fighting ferociously in the small space.  One may be grabbing at the baton on the guards hip.  Another has his hands clasped together and hammering one of the guards across the face with his fists.  The last prisoner is attempting to wretch the other guard by the neck.

Others even tried hijacking their air transports…

Panel 6
From below we see the three prisoners are falling from the open helicopter door, with their hands still bound and looking pathetic, panicked and regretful.  The guards may be seen in the helicopter door looking down and watching the men in freefall.  A low-flying vulture passes one man in the air, looking half-startled by the heavy falling body.

…and fell to their deaths.

Page 4 (five panels) (Page break)

Panel 1
The whole prison is shown again from the outside. (What time of day is it? Where’s the camera? I’m sorry, Marcus, but this is lazy.)

Escape from Theseus’ Crown is impossible… So they say… (I’m not fond of the ellipses.You’d be better served with a period. A hard stop sounds better than trailing off.)

Panel 2
A medium shot of two men are facing the camera.  One is JESSE J. JOHNS, a Caucasian, about 5-foot-8-inches tall with bronze skin, slicked dirty blonde hair, hazel eyes, an average build, and a well-groomed beard with connecting sideburns (I’m not fond of describing main characters in scripts. Character designs should be done by the artist before they start the real work of page layouts. That means this is generally a waste of space and time.).  Jesse gives a double thumbs-up.  The other man is BUTCH CAUDILL, a statuesque 6-foot-5-inch tall, coffee brown skinned African American with a short frohawk, small dark brown eyes and an athletic build.  Butch stands confidently with good posture and his arms are folded across his chest.  Behind them is an open cell door.

But Jesse J. Johns isn’t a coward!  And my best buddy, Butch Caudill , and I are going to test that theory… because we’re certified geniuses! (This took a turn for the absurd. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just jarring after all the death and seriousness. But more importantly, how is the reader supposed to know which character is which?)

Panel 3
A teenage Jesse, skinnier and sans beard, is shown running out of the front door of a fast food restaurant carrying an armful of what looks like flour tortilla wraps with chocolate nuggets spilling out of them.  A young, pimple-faced boy wearing a dark brown collar shirt and a stupid looking chocolate brown hat shaped like a taco shell is running close at his hills and trying to reach out and catch him.  A teenage Butch, still a head taller than Jesse but slimmer, is standing in front of the restaurant holding two smaller boys up by their collars menacingly.  The two captured boys are obviously scared and their feet dangle a few inches from the ground. (What time of day is it? I generally default to daytime, but that’s me. This is important info for the rest of the creative team.)

Like most guys, we started off as small-time thugs, robbing Choco Bells (man, I love their chocolate tacos!) and hustling on the streets. (This is P4. So far, nothing of real interest has happened. Not only that, no one has said an actual word. Your captions are putting a wall up between you and your audience. Unless something happens very soon, you’re going to lose them, and back on the shelf this goes.)

Panel 4
From a front view, a uniformed army general flanked by two soldiers armed with automatic rifles stand in front of a large building, which appears to be an armory, scanning for something.  At the top of the building the shapes of Jesse and Butch in black leotards are seen with night vision goggles glaring against the dark background of a starry night sky.  The general is the typical army officer with a salt-and-pepper beard and mustache and multiple ribbons and medals decorating his uniform.  The two soldiers are young and wear the usual fatigues.  Red lights are glowing along the edge of the roof, indicating sirens blaring and thick black smoke is billowing from somewhere off screen.

Eventually we moved up to big-time scores, like breaking vaults, conning multibillion dollar business owners, and even breaking into a military base, just for the fun of it. But we never harmed anyone (not PHYSICALLY anyway) and everyone we stole from was a crook themselves in some form or another. (Punctuation is important. You need at least two comma’s in here. Also, there are 50 words here. Unless it’s a large panel, there isn’t enough space to hold 50 words.)

Panel 5
Jesse and Butch are seen in a large warehouse, apparently tending to their “stash”.  A line of fancy sports cars and a Hummer are seen parked along one wall of the warehouse and a large open vault is seen up against the adjacent wall, filled with bars of gold, jewels, cash and weapons.  Butch, wearing a dark t-shirt, sits in the front seat of the Hummer, inspecting a rocket launcher and Jesse, wearing a white t-shirt and dark jeans, peers into the open vault holding a notepad and pen, apparently taking inventory. (What kind of Hummer? There are different versions. Military, non-military, hard topped, what have you. That will dictate whether or not your character can be inspecting a rocket launcher. Generally, I’m going to say that he can’t, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Where is the camera?)
What makes us geniuses, though you may ask?

Page 5 (five panels) (page break)

Panel 1
Jesse and Butch are seen standing in the middle of a highway wearing dark suits, smug grins, and holding their hands up in surrender.  The pair is standing next to a crimson red sports car and they are surrounded by multiple police cars.  Some police have already exited their vehicles and positioned themselves behind their doors with their guns drawn and aimed at the two. (Where’s the camera?)

Just the fact that we were never caught for our crimes until we allowed the authorities to capture us. (Like I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of italics in dialogue. Too easy to get lost. Capitalized and/or underlined is much harder to lose.)

Panel 2
From a bird’s eye view, the red sports car can be seen speeding across a highway in the desert with at least five cop cars a hundred yards away with sirens blaring and kicking up clouds of dust in their wake. (This is a wasted panel.It isn’t doing anything to push the story forward or reveal character. It literally moves the story backwards. This needs to be cut.)

Of course, we gave them a nice run for their money… about 200-miles worth of a run across two states.

Panel 3
A close up of a front-page newspaper clip shows Jesse and Butch’s mug shots grinning into the camera from the page with the headline “Infamous duo finally brought to justice” stretched above the photos.

After all, we are the best and brightest…

Panel 4
Jesse and Butch are seen now walking side-by-side, being escorted down a narrow hallway by four of the flying sentinels, one in the front, one on either side and one at the rear.  Both men wear the bright red jumpsuits as the rest.  Jesse is yelping, grabbing his butt with one hand and raising his other arm in protest, as the sentinel at the rear emits a small red beam from its single eye right into his backside.  Butch is walking casually with a calm expression on his face, ignoring his partner and scrutinizing the sentinel nearest to him. (Where’s the camera that you can get all six characters in? Why aren’t they wearing manacles? That’s the only way one of them can grab their butt and raise a hand at the same time. Or are the manacles only used during transport?)

And we learned everything we know from one man… The very same man who we came into this crapper to bust out… (Periods, not ellipses.)

Panel 5
In a large room, which is meant to suffice as a prison yard but resembles a dungeon with some sunlight streaming through the high windows, we see CASUAL AL, a pale and portly forty-something-year-old man with receding gray and black hair and two long, identical scars running down both cheeks stands with his arms outstretched and a broad smile on his otherwise intimidating face.  He wears the same bright red uniform as the other prisoners.  Some of the prisoners are milling about behind him, working out with weights or standing around talking.  At least a pair of the flying sentinels may be seen hovering nearby.

The original gangster known as Casual Al.


Okay. That’s where I’m going to stop.

Let’s run it down.

Format: Page breaks. Other than that, perfect.

Panel Descriptions: In a word, terrible.

They are almost totally lacking in forethought, and a few of them can’t be drawn. As a writer, your job begins and ends with knowing what can and cannot be drawn. Try to draw some of this out. It doesn’t matter about your artistic level (which will grow if you work at it), because no one’s going to see these, anyway. They’re for you, to see if the panel can be drawn.

A lot of them also lack basic information that the artist is going to need. Not good.

Pacing: It drags. Five pages of setup that should have been done in two. I think you grew to love the sound of your own voice, because most of that was fluff. You could have set up the prison and the breakout attempts in two pages. One page to introduce your protagonists, and then get into the story. That gives you two more pages to pull in your audience. A lot of missed opportunities here, Marcus.

Dialogue: The captions are too much. You’re putting up a wall between the story and the audience. They’re sitting back, and the story is being told to them, instead of them sitting forward and being engaged in the story. The captions are basically saying “the story is over–let me tell you how it happened!” instead of having the story unfold as we go along.

We have to wait until the end of P5 for you to put words in someone’s mouth? Not good. That should have happened by P3.

You’re too wordy at times. Not terribly so, but there are times when you can just cut to the chase.

Content: Editorially, this is not good. Not by a long shot. This is an inferior effort compared to your previous entry. From a reader’s standpoint, I was pretty bored, even when you took the turn for the absurd. It just wasn’t enjoyable to read. You took too long to get anywhere near interesting, and as such, you lost sales.

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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 (9)

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  1. John Lees says:

    The new prisoners are staring warily at the doors (John Lees: Are you as lost as I am? Why, or why not?)

    There’s quite a few things about this that I don’t think quite worked out. I’ll try and go through them:

    – Probably the easiiest fix, but “staring warily” might be difficult to draw. But a good enough artist could probably pull it off.

    – What doors are they staring at? Marcus mentions in his panel description two sets of doors, the ones running along either side of the hallway, and the double doors opening up to greet them. You would assume it’s the opening doors they’re staring at, but you can’t always take for granted an artist will think the same way.

    – I’m trying to get a sense of exactly where the camera is placed. At the beginning of the panel description, you get the sense this is an interior shot, with them in a dark corridor. As such, when I first read the bit about the doors opening to greet them, I imagined the “camera” placed behind the prisoners, with them walking towards the doors and away from us. So then describing their facial expressions threw me off a bit. Then I figured the “camera” must be in front of the prisoners, but if that’s the case, then the “camera” would be slightly outside the doors as they open. And if the doors are still in the process of opening, just how far into the corridor are we going to see to get a good look at the prisoners and their wary stares?

    – This was the biggie that left me totally confused about how to present this panel. At the start of the panel description, these prisoners in the corridor are specifically described as “other prisoners”, as in they are distinct from the new prisoners arriving by helicopter in the previous panel. But then in this sentence, Marcus specifically says it’s the NEW prisoners who are staring warily at the door. So suddenly we have this other set of prisoners walking through a darkened corridor, and the new prisoners we saw in the previous panel staring at the door as it opens. Where are the new prisoners? Still on the roof? I’m suddenly left with no sense of location, or what this panel is supposed to look like. Could just be a case of a simple typo somewhere, but again, an artist reading might be confused.

    That was all I picked up. Hopefully one of those answers was the one you were looking for, Steven.

    • No, it wasn’t one of them. I was looking for ALL of them. (As Ruiz might say, it was me being evil.)

      This is what I’m talking about, folks, when I say that you have to know what can and cannot be drawn. It’s also what I’m talking about when I speak about clarity. This, Marcus, is not clear. The sentence makes sense, but it isn’t clear in the overall scope of things.

      I was lost. John was lost. I’m figuring that others will be lost, as well, because you weren’t clear.

      I had the same problem with camera placement that John experienced. I had it multiple times, to be honest. But because the panel descriptions weren’t thought out well, the clarity problem is bigger than it needs to be. One follows the other.

      Thanks for this, John. I knew you’d come through.

  2. “Page 2 (5 panels) (Page break.)
    Panel 1
    A large helicopter is perched on the rooftop of the large building (Yannick, what’s wrong here?). A five men in bright red jumpsuits and glowing blue shackles and collars are seen being corralled off of the chopper into a line by two armed guards with rifles in hand and batons at their sides (I’m wondering if there’s going to be something wrong with every sentence of this paragraph. Yannick, since we’re still within the same paragraph, what’s wrong with this sentence?). The prisoners are obviously unhappy but the guards who flank them maintain an air of authority and smugness (This is prose writing, and as such, has no place here.). The pilot of the helicopter may also be seen and another guard stands in the doorway of the air transport pointing at one of the prisoners and apparently barking out orders to the other guards standing on the roof and guiding them (Yannick? What’s wrong here, too? This sentence, and the entire panel description?).”

    Wow, nothing in weeks and now three call-outs in the same panel description! You flatter me, Steven! 😉 Okay, technical stuff first…

    “A large helicopter is perched on the rooftop of the large building.” What kind of helicopter? If it’s unloading five prisoners, I imagine it’s gotta be something bigger than a two-seater. But are we talking Chinook big or just Dolphin* big? Heck, we could even go wild and airlift the prisoners in a big metal container under a Skycrane. Or maybe we’re in the near future and it’s a Hovercopter, Rotocopter or Superdupercopter (I’m copyrighting all of those).

    *Dolphins are your typical search and rescue helicopters. They’re big enough to transport a small crew but not cargo.

    The landing pad itself lacks details. Is it just a space set aside for the helicopter to land on with a big H painted on the ground? Is it an elevated platform with signal lights, access stairs and railguards? And since it’s a prison, are there security features? Security cameras? Guard towers? Automated gun turrets? Search lights?

    “A five men in bright red jumpsuits and glowing blue shackles and collars are seen being corralled off of the chopper into a line by two armed guards with rifles in hand and batons at their sides.” Let’s say you’re letting your artist have some fun with the prisoners and guards so you’re not describing any of them. If he gives your likeness to one of the prisoners and draws himself as a guard, I suggest you two have a chat.

    Anyway, any markings on the jumpsuits? Reflective bands? Numbers? Prison garb usually don’t stop at bright colors, they also sport identification marks. I bet a place called “Theseus’ Crown” would have one kick-ass logo. They would stamp that thing all over the place and wrap their staff in it. Let’s see it on the walls, the helicopter, flags, uniforms and so on.

    The guards now. I’ll give you a break for the uniforms (fatigues? riot gear? high-tech armor?) and assume your artist will go over some designs with you. However I’ll be picky about the weapons. Are the rifles hunting rifles, automatic rifles or futuristic guns? Are the batons night sticks, straight clubs or shock batons?

    “The prisoners are obviously unhappy but the guards who flank them maintain an air of authority and smugness.” I’ll give you unhappiness and I’ll let smugness slide, but I’m sorry: there’s no way an artist can draw “authority”. “Straight-faced”, “serious”, “expressionless” all get a pass. They can also “stare straight ahead””, “keep a watchful eye on the prioners” and – depending on how close the camera is to them – they could even “curl their lips in disgust”.

    And is it me or is “unhappiness” a little cartoonish for the tone you seem to be setting at the beginning? Maximum security prisons are made to house hardened criminals. I’d expect dead-set faces rather than upside-down smiles from them, hard blank stares rather than plain sadness.

    But, like Steven said, it’s a little on the prose side, which makes this whole comment of mine moot.

    “The pilot of the helicopter may also be seen and another guard stands in the doorway of the air transport pointing at one of the prisoners and apparently barking out orders to the other guards standing on the roof and guiding them.”

    Depending on the type of helicopter, it might be impossible to show the pilot. Anyway, why should you? What does the pilot bring to the story? I’ve read comics where they don’t even show taxi drivers and they had the room to do it. Scrap the pilot.

    The rest of this sentence is a mix of moving panel, things that are impossible to draw, nonsensical actions and unnecessary detail.

    Why a moving panel? Pointing, shouting orders and guiding people are all complex actions that can’t be shown in a still image.

    Things that can’t be drawn? Unless he’s actually using semaphore, that guard can’t be drawn “guiding” people. If you want this, it’ll have to come out in dialogue.

    Nonsensical actions? Unless the pilot tuned the rotor off, it’s impossible for the shouting guard to be heard by the others.

    What is unnecessary here? Why have a guard giving special orders about a specific prisoner if it’s completely irrelevant to the rest of the story? This is already a VERY busy panel. You need to cut out some of the fluff and I think this particular element is part of the fluff. It’s the same principle as that weapons chest we had last week. In 22 pages of silver-age format, you can’t afford to introduce extraneous flavour details of this sort unless you intend to follow up on them later in the story.

    In fact, this could have been a great opportunity to introduce our two heroes right there on the second page. Then having one of the guards give specific instructions about them might have some weight in the narrative. Since you made them out to be such badasses, it would seem logical for the guards to take special precautions around them.

    Now that I got all the technical details out of my system, let’s look at the layout of the panel (which is actually what Steven wanted me to comment about, I think). Is it a wide shot? Medium? Is the scene you describe seen from above (maybe from a nearby sentry tower) or level with the characters? Where’s the camera?

    Where is the helicopter in the shot? I’d wager it’s in the background but it might very well be on one side if it’s a sideway shot.

    Where are the prisoners? Since none of them are seen ducking or getting whipped by the wind, I’ll have to assume they’ve already walked away from the helicopter. (Again, is the rotor even still turning?) In which direction are they walking? Right or left? Away from us or towards the camera? Can we even see their destination in the panel?

    Where are the guards relatively to the prisoners? One on each side? Both on the same side? Are they gesturing, talking or simply standing there menacingly? “Corralling” is too vague a word to really convey what you mean here. You need to tell the artist what they are actually doing at the very instant you are describing, not just what their intention is.

    But most importantly, this panel description reads more like a sequence of actions than a snapshot. A helicopter has landed, prisoners get off while guards watch over them and another guard yells instructions pertaining to one of the prisoners. Some writers – Mignola comes to mind – would have stretched this out to a whole page: one panel to make the helicopter land, another to open the bay doors, another to have the prisoners file out and a few more for reaction shots. But that’s besides the point I’ve been struggling to make since two pages ago (yes, I’m writing all of this down in a Word document first).

    The point is that panel descriptions are best when their flow describes a scene spatially – left to right – rather than chronologically.

    “Wide shot of the top of the building. The camera is standing level with the action. On the left side, in the background, the helicopter has landed on the elevated helipad. Its bay doors are opened and a guard is standing in the opening, his automatic rifle at the ready. Another guard is standing in the foreground at the left, facing us. He’s got a finger on an earplug and is talking into the mic hooked to his shoulder. Five prisoners, clad in red prison-issue jumpsuits and glowing blue shackles at their neck and wrists, are walking in a file towards the right under the watchful eye of a third guard. This one is standing near the head of the queue at the right, also facing us. He’s holding his rifle with one hand and motioning towards the right with the other.”

    (With my luck, Steven will find twelve bad things to say about this alternate description. I’m sure I could manage to cut some fat out of it still.)

    Of course there’s the matter of weather, time of day and backdrop, but that should have been covered in the first page’s establishing shot so I won’t say anything about those except that they would help out a lot in detailing this scene.

    Last thing – while we’re on the subject of that first page – I don’t see any link between page 1 and page 2. We first have a splash page showing the prison grounds and then the reader turns to page 2 and 3. Prisoners are getting off a helicopter. That helicopter – as Steven would say – is “magically delicious”. Where does it come from? Either you make the helicopter part of the establishing shot or you take some panel space on page 2 to make it fly in. Just off the top of my head, here are three ways to take the “magic” out of that helicopter:

    1. Keep the same view on page one but frame it with the helicopter’s opened bay doors or the cockpit’s windshield.

    2. Keep the same view on page one but insert the helicopter in the foreground as it’s circling the building before landing.

    3. Keep the same view on page one but reproduce the disembarking scene in miniature on top of the building. That way, the scene on page 2 becomes a “zoom-in” of the splash page.

    Speaking of zooming in, you might have a couple of your shots in the opening pages be actual camera feeds from the warden’s office. Add static, time stamps, captions that say things like “ZOOMING IN” or “SWITCHING TO CAMERA 67B – CAFETERIA” – have fun with it!

    You have a very fun and action-packed story that wants to break out of that script, one that I would be ready to pick up at my local comic shop. I hope I get to see it there someday!

    • Ah, I love it when someone else recognizes when things are magically delicioius!

      Very nice, Yannick. Very nice.

      Really, what can I say here? You hit all the spots I wanted you to, you rewrote the panel description into something that, while busy, can actually be drawn, and did it in less words. (You could have cleaned it up a bit more, though–made it less busy. But still, good work.)

      And yes, you got called out because I was still in the same paragraph. If it were a different paragraph, I would have called on John! Or maybe even Tyler.

      And where’s Calvin Camp?

      • “You could have cleaned it up a bit more, though–made it less busy.”

        You know I can never refuse a challenge! 😛

        “Wide shot of the top of the building, level with the action. In the background, the helicopter has landed on the elevated helipad. A guard is standing in the opened bay doors, his automatic rifle at the ready. In the foreground, left side, another guard with a finger to an earplug is talking into a mic on his shoulder. Five prisoners, clad in red prison-issue jumpsuits and glowing blue shackles at their neck and wrists, are walking in a file towards the right. On the right, a third guard is watching over the prisoners, motioning them towards the right.”

        That’s about 50 words less. I’m sure a future rewrite could trim it down even more.

      • John Lees says:

        Sorry, Steven, I hunted Calvin down for not liking my last script. We won’t be seeing him again. 🙁

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