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TPG Week 95: Characters Have To Act

| October 19, 2012

Welcome once again to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have something of a treat: we’ve got a new Brave One in Steve Colle, he of the blue notes! Well, since we don’t let writers edit themselves here, I’ve asked the ever-busy Yannick Morin to resume the blue duties for this special occasion. I’m going to tell everyone right now: it isn’t pretty. As an editor, Steve’s going to be held to a higher standard. Anyway, that’s where we’re at. So, we’ve got Yannick in blue, me in red, and we’ve got Steve telling us how it is

Living On The Edge

PAGE TWELVE (5 panels, 4 tiers – 1/1/1/2) (Unless you’re working with an artist who has specifically asked you for such precise layout instructions, leave these details to him. He wants to tell a story as much as you do so you need to give him a certain measure of creative freedom. The other exception for giving such precise instructions is when you’re aiming for a certain effect with the layout. But even then, I find it’s better to communicate that aim to the artist and let him come up with the layout as it’s his contribution to the comic you’re encroaching on.)

Panel 1. Over-PETER’s-right-shoulder shot as we have a woman in medium close-up (Personally, I’ve always hated the term “medium close-up” since it sounds like an oxymoron: you can’t be both in close-up and in a medium shot at the same time, but the essential thing here is that your artist understands you.) leaning against the bathroom doorframe with her arms crossed, with an open-mouthed grin as she says something. (It’s completely redundant to tell the artist that she’s “saying something” since we can obviously deduce this from the fact she has dialogue. Never describe dialogue as an action; it’s wasted panel description.) This is Peter’s wife, GENNY (short for the French name “Genevieve”). (Another pet peeve of mine but this one actually has a practical use: if it’s GENNY in the panel, say GENNY; no need to introduce her first as ”a woman”. Your artist will benefit from clear succinct instructions, not from prose figures and suspense.)


1 PETER (mouth full of toothpaste): Whatchadinstiyup?? (One interrogation mark is more than enough.)


2 GENNY (somewhat chuckling) (There’s no way the artist can show this. Either it’s dialogue and you make her go “heh”, or it’s art and you have her smiling. What you just described is a subtle acting direction that won’t be passed onto the page. This isn’t a screenplay; it’s a comic script.): You might want to spit out that toothpaste before you go talking to me, Peter!


Panel 2. Full shot as Genny walks back into the bedroom (facing us) and turns on the ceiling light switch on the wall. (So it was dark in the room before. You should have told the artist who just had to draw the room beyond her in the doorframe above. You’ve just made the lighting conditions magically delicious, Steve.) Peter rounds the corner behind her.


3 PETER: I’m sorry, Genny.


4 PETER (connected balloon) (This is another indication I’ve never understood in scripts. This is entirely up to the letterer; there’s no need to tell him how to do his job. In fact, most letterers will connect the balloons from two consecutive lines from the same character. It looks like you’re trying to do everybody’s job, Steve!): I figured you’d be so tired from work, you’d be fast asleep in no time. (And why is this in its own balloon? It’s obviously a continuation of the idea in the previous balloon.)(Pacing is the reason. This is fine.)


5 GENNY: Yeah, well, I’m awake now.


6 GENNY: So how was my knight in not so shining armor tonight?


7 GENNY (connected balloon): Another evening of “nothing worthwhile”? (Again: why use two balloons? It’s obviously the same train of thoughts.)


Panel 3. Medium shot as Peter, on the left, is standing while Genny, right in the panel, sits on the left facing side of the bed with the blankets and sheet pulled down haphazardly. (You don’t want to know how many times I had to read this to understand what you were trying to say. Simply describe things left to right and your panel descriptions will come out a lot clearer: “Medium shot of Peter standing before Genny who is sitting at the edge of the bed.”)


8 PETER: Not this time, unfortunately.


9 PETER: I’d caught two guys after they’d robbed a place in Dover, when all of a sudden, – (OH MY GOD! Okay, if I were a professor and this was a paper that was turned in to me, it would be an automagic F. NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER—gasp—EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, NEVER EVER put a comma before an ending punctuation mark. In this case, the double-dash (it looks like an m-dash now because of the program I’m using, but it is in reality a double-dash.) Why? Because it’s wrong, that’s why. Actually, I’d probably fail you for the entire course for this travesty. You have never seen anything resembling a comma/ending punctuation combination anywhere in comics. Every so often, I would see it after ending punctuation, but never before it, and that was in prose. This is wrong. Way wrong.)


10 PETER: — I’m chasing after a van that’d thrown firebombs at parked cars. (This is really only one speech balloon. You seem to be switching balloons every time a character starts a new sentence; that’s not how it works. You use multiple balloons to separate ideas, not sentences. In this case, it’s all Peter recounting his evening; that’s one idea only, hence one balloon.)(There is also breath-control, which is another viable alternative.)


11 GENNY (prodding) (This is an acting direction, not a letterer’s note.): And –? (The double-dash is used for when a character interrupts another. What you need here is an ellipsis. Also, if you want that “prodding” feel to the line, drag out the vowel like this: “Aaand?”)(Why am I not losing my shit over the double-dash and question mark? Because the question mark is adding an interrogative sound to the line, and the double-dash is drawing it out some. Like Yannick, I’d rather see an ellipsis with the question mark, for the simple reason that the double-dash gives the impression of abruptly stopping, and the ellipsis more of a drawn out stoppage. So, yes, I noticed, and no, it isn’t wrong.)


Panel 4. Medium shot, same angle and distance as the previous panel, of Genny reaching her left hand out and grasping onto Peter’s right hand. Peter’s head is hanging low in shame, no longer making eye contact with his wife. (Reassess how necessary it is to recycle the same shot. What’s more important here: the bed or Peter and Genny’s relationship? My suggestion? A close-up of his hand in hers.)


12 PETER (aside) (This is yet another acting direction, one most frequently found in theatre in fact. However, there’s no such thing as an aside in comics. Either the character turns his head away and it’s in the panel description, either he’s saying things in a softer voice and it’s a letterer’s indication, or it’s inner monologue and the line appears as a caption. Comics are a visual medium. Your script has to say what’s on the page without any audio considerations.): They got away…


13 GENNY: Well, let’s see…


14 GENNY: You’re wide awake…


15 GENNY: I’m wide awake,…


16 GENNY: … so why don’t we see if we can wake something else up?


17 GENNY: IF (Is this supposed to be emphasis? Use underlining instead so it won’t look like a typo to your letterer.)(And, as you know, this will more than likely be put into an all-caps font, anyway, so it could easily get lost in the cut/paste.) you know what I mean. (Speech balloon overload! See, here it would get a pass because we can hear it as Genny seductively pausing between each line. The problem is that you’ve been fractioning your balloons so much beforehand that it doesn’t have any effect now.)(True!)


Panel 5. Small square panel in complete black, as the lights have been turned off. (You’re missing a beat here, maybe a hand reaching for the light switch? The point is there’s no way to make a connection between what we’ve just seen and this panel.)


18 SFX (softly): Prrrrrrr


19 SFX (louder): Ha ha! (OK, I’m having some trouble with these two lines. First, the “softly” indication gets a pass because it’s something that could be conveyed by the lettering, probably with a smaller font. The problem is that apart from the softness bit, I’m not even sure if this is a real sound effect or some dialogue. My hesitation stems from you putting down laughter as a sound effect in the following line. Is this the same case with the purring? Is this dialogue for Genny purring with pleasure? Is this the sound her vibrator makes? It’s important to know because a human and a mechanical sound aren’t going to be represented the same way by the letterer. As for the laughter, who’s laughing? Is it Peter or Genny? Or the hypothetical sex toy? Human laughter needs to have its author identified in a regular dialogue line.)


Okay, so we’re at the end of P1, and things aren’t looking good at all.


I’m not going to harp overmuch on the lack of an establishing shot. There was a piece before this that gets us caught up to where we are so that we know where we are, but it got cut. It doesn’t matter, because the script is going to stand or fall on what’s in front of us. So, for the purposes of this column, I literally don’t care about anything that isn’t script.


Anyway, I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt that there is an establishing shot before all of this, since we’re in the middle of a scene. Hopefully, that establishing shot answers Who, Where, When, and What. And people say that I’m not nice…


So what do we have? We have some forced dialogue, where the characters names are shoehorned in. Peter’s name was forced just a tad, but Genny’s name was definitely shoved in there. Extremely unnatural sounding.


There are a lot of little balloons here, and it’s driving Yannick crazy. As editors, Steve and I come from two different schools of thought. He believes in breath-control, where the balloons are broken by how it sounds. I’m of the school that breaks balloons into thoughts. Yannick, as my protege, shares my belief. He will grow into his own style and belief system. However, Yannick made a very crucial observation: because of the breath-control, the seductiveness of Genny’s dialogue near the end loses its impact, because there’s nothing but a ton of balloons all over the page. 5 panels, and there are 19 bits of dialogue. I’m going to say that is not good. Here’s my reasoning (and another reason why I don’t like the breath-control method):


Negative space.


Every word balloon takes up negative space. Let me be explicit, for those who may not know what I’m talking about.


A word balloon has the words, and the border of the balloon can’t be too close to the words because it will then “feel” cramped when read. It can’t be too far away, because it will then “feel” too breathy. It’s something of an art to get it just right. But that space between the words and the border is negative space, and that negative space needs to be accounted for when you’re scripting.


Remember that words cover art. You have a lot of balloons in a panel, you’re covering a lot of art. That means you’re cramping the panel. These panels are going to be pretty cramped.


Two more bits about this page: dialogue as sound effects.


I’m not a believer in dialogue as sound effects, but there are caveats. If you have a lot of people chanting or responding to a person, then sure, that’ll work. If you have someone singing a song, or music coming from somewhere, then sure. But if it’s supposed to be someone speaking regularly, then no, it doesn’t work. The dialogue in panel 5 doesn’t work.


Working in tandem with the dialogue of the last panel is the pacing. The pacing is terrible, because there are some panels missing. There’s no way to know who’s talking, because before the lights went out, there wasn’t a panel placing anyone anywhere. There’s no point of reference for the reader to know who’s supposed to be purring or laughing, let alone why, considering Peter didn’t look like he was in a laughing mood the last time we saw him.


Add those panels to place the characters before turning out the lights.


Finally, there’s clarity. These panel descriptions aren’t clear at all. Remember that less is more. Going from left to right, and making sure that the descriptions are clear, will make your artist very happy. If you make them work overly hard to parse what you’re saying, then they may not stick around too long. Don’t make them hurt their heads trying to decipher what you’re getting at. Clarity is job one, Steve.

PAGE THIRTEEN (5 panels, 4 tiers – 2/1/1/1)

Panel 1. Small square panel in complete black. (This would have been a better transition if it had straddled a page-turn. As it stands now, the lights go out and then go back on immediately. A page-turn would have provided the reader with a psychological gap large enough to suggest a jump ahead in time.)


1 GENNY (OP): Peter? (How is this coming from OP when everything is black and nothing can be seen, anyway?)


Panel 2. Close-up of Peter’s face lying face down on the pillow aimed right (towards us). (What do you mean with this “pillow aimed right”? First, I’m not totally sure of how you could “aim” a pillow. Second, just by saying that Peter is facing us, it should be quite enough for the artist to determine how to place the pillow by himself.) His eyes are open a crack in this out of focus panel. (Hold on. If it’s Peter’s vision that’s blurry, why is OUR viewpoint of him altered? Is he facing a mirror?)


2 GENNY (OP): Peter, wake up.


Panel 3. Medium shot from atop the nightstand lamp of Genny standing at the end of the bed with her hands on her hips. We can see Peter slightly, his head close to us, near the center of the panel, in line with Genny’s body which is centered in the frame. (You know there’s too much detail in a panel description when you need to sketch it out a few times to know what it’s saying. Steve, on top of making your panel descriptions too complex and convoluted, you’re way, way, WAY too specific. You’re literally holding the artist’s hand when you do this, something a lot of artists resent.)


3 GENNY (shout) (This gets a pass.): PETER!


4 PETER (drowsily) (This does barely, if only because it can be represented with wavering letters.): HrrrI’mawake…


5 GENNY: C’mon, stop playing around!


6 GENNY (connected balloon): There’s a guy downstairs here to see you,…


7 GENNY: … keeps calling you “Jake”. He says his name’s Nick Dey, with an “E”.


Panel 4. Over-Genny’s-right-shoulder shot (left in the panel) as she looks over at Peter in bed trying to bury his face in the pillow, face down.


8 PETER (muffled) (But not this.): Dunnonoickyday…


9 GENNY (annoyed) (Nor this. You’re not writing for an actor, Steve, you’re writing for your creative team. The letterer has no way of representing “muffled” or “annoyed” unless he invent new punctuation marks and gets them accepted by the rest of the world. Stick with what can be visually represented.): Not “icky day”, Stupid. (That’s “stupid”, without the capital letter – unless it’s his middle name.) (Well, in this case, “Stupid” would be his name, hence the capitalization. Replace “Stupid” with “Petey-poo,” and you’ll see why it’s correct. However, more than likely it won’t matter, because the font will more than likely be all caps.) NICK DEY!


10 PETER (muffled): Dunnoim. G’way…


Panel 5. Medium shot as Genny heads for the bedroom door (left), (A good artist will have sketched out a basic floorplan of the room beforehand. He’ll know where the doors are.) looking back one more time to scold her husband.


11 GENNY (growls) (NO.): Hrrm…


12 GENNY: FINE. I’ll tell him you don’t know him and he can be on his merry way, okay?

Page 2, and what do we have?

The basic thing is that this isn’t visualized as well as it could be, and the last panel is just wrong. But let’s talk about the pacing and dialogue before we talk about the wrongness of the last panel.

So, pacing. It’s not good. We’ve got an odd-numbered page, which being on the right-hand side means the sex from last panel makes Petey-poo seem like a minute-man. Like Yannick said, because it isn’t on a page-turn, it looks like the lights go off and then come back on again. Not good. There isn’t enough of a separation there.

Then, there’s the fact that you spent four panels basically trying to wake the guy up. So, after one minute of sex, he falls on his face with exhaustion, and then is in such a deep slumber that it takes a nuclear blast to wake him. Maybe.

That’s at least one panel too much, if not two. You’re trying to squeeze an entire page out of this, and it sucks because she isn’t trying that hard to wake him. No pokes, shoves, tickling, hitting with pillow, nudging, or throwing a bucket of ice-water on his head.

Now, you’ve never said what Genny was wearing. Seeing as how Peter may be a premature ejaculator, then Genny should be naked since everything is just finished. So, she went downstairs and answered the door nekkid. Hey, it happens. Some people are extremely comfortable with their bodies. It would surprise but not bother me if it happened in real life. But since you didn’t say she was clothed, she’s naked.

The dialogue is okay, except for some of the stage directions. Some of them cannot be represented visually. Not good, and you should know better.

And now, that final panel.

Why is it wrong? Because it’s a right-hand page, and if the door is on the left and she’s going out of it, then you’re leading the eye back in toward the spine of the book instead of out toward the edge of the page and the turn. Not good at all.

PAGE FOURTEEN (7 panels, staggered to show more chaotic/rushed actions) (OK so now you have a purpose to your layout requests. Better. Still, I think your artist would appreciate it if you only told him the effect you’re going after and let him determine the means to that effect.)

Panel 1. Same as Panel 2 on Page Thirteen, but with his eyes closed in a panel now in focus.




Panel 2. Same as Panel 1, but with eyes wide opened and his mouth shaped as he says “Nick”. (That goes without saying: there’s some dialogue for him that says exactly that just under this paragraph.)


2 PETER: Nick?


Panel 3. Peter jumps out of bed towards us in a full shot. He’s wearing boxers. (At least he’s clothed.)




Panel 4. Peter races down the stairs from the upper level bedroom in another full shot, looking like he might trip. He’s facing us.




Panel 5. Peter, as he swings open the front door in a close medium shot, yells at his wife from over his shoulder (back at us).




Panel 6. Peter in the background (left in panel) screams out for NICK (foreground in right) as he races towards his friend through the townhouse complex (see photo reference provided).


6 PETER (burst): NICK!!


Panel 7. In a further medium shot than Panel 5, Peter (left) grabs Nick (right) in a massive bear hug that causes Nick to lose his breath. They are in the center of the panel together. (Once more, the essential gist of what happens is getting drowned in a flow of extraneous minutiae. Simplify, my good man, simplify! “Medium shot of Peter grabbing Nick in a bear hug, knocking the breath out of him.” That’s all the artist needs to work his magic.)


7 NICK (in balloon that starts normal and ends with a jagged right bottom side) (And now you’re doing the thinking for the letterer instead of the artist.): Hey, Jake, m’man. Nice to see you remem-AAAACK!


8 PETER (excitedly) (“Loud” or “shouting” would be a valid indication, but not “excitedly”. There’s no way to represent “excitedly” with lettering.): NICK! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’RE HERE! HOW DID YOU FIND ME? HOW’VE YOU BEEN?!


P3, and we have more non-sense. It’s an elderberry forest, on an elderberry island, surrounded by water that is the juice of strained elderberries.


The pacing on this is terrible. You didn’t need seven panels for this. Three panels. Getting dressed, rushing out, crushing hug. Three panels. The rest of this is nothing but padding. It’s a criminal waste of space.

PAGE FIFTEEN (5 panels, 3 tiers – 1/2/2)


Panel 1. Same shot as Panel 6 of Page Fourteen, but now both Peter and Nick are heading back to the house with their backs to us in a long shot. A neighbor (right and further back) is standing outside on his lawn commenting on Peter’s conduct. (Another bit here where you’re basically just saying a character has dialogue. Describe actions, not dialogue.)


1 NEIGHBOR: Hey, Pete! Trying to catch your lover?


2 PETER: You’re just jealous.


3 PETER (connected balloon): Nick, this is my “former” acquaintance, Doug.


4 NICK: Don’t worry, Dude. (No capital letter for “dude”.) (Again, it isn’t going to matter.)You can have what’s left of Jake when I get through with him!


5 NEIGHBOR: HA! I like him already, Pete!


(I don’t know if we’ll be saying more of Doug but it would be nice if his lines were headed “DOUG” instead of just “NEIGHBOR”. And if we won’t see him again, well that was a pointless panel…)


Panel 2. The pair walk back into the house in a full shot where Peter makes the formal introduction to Genny. Nick reaches out with his left hand, to which Genny looks confused. Nick has a tattoo of a rose in his left palm (see design attached). (First, unless Genny was just standing there right inside the door, you can’t have the two men walking into the house and immediately have Peter do introductions without having a moving panel on your hands. I’d skip to them already further into the house for the introductions. Second, you’re missing a couple of beats to show Genny’s reaction to the hand thing. First beat is Nick presenting his hand in a medium shot. Second is Genny reacting to the situation. The final beat is them finally managing to shake hands in an awkward manner. The way you have it right now, it’s going to be very difficult – practically impossible in fact – for the artist to represent all this in the same panel.)


6 PETER: Hey, Babe? (No capital letter for “babe” and I’m not sure about that interrogation mark either.) This is my old friend, N–


7 GENNY: Nick Dey, right? You forget, dear husband, that I saw him first.


8 GENNY (connected balloon): I’m Genny, Nick. Pleased to meet you.


9 NICK: Likewise, Sweet Lady!


Panel 3. Medium shot as Nick and Peter head to the dining table while Genny goes into the kitchen. (So I take it they never actually shake hands then?)


10 PETER: Watch who you’re trying to pick up, Charm. That’s my wife you’re sweet talking! (Missing hyphen for “sweet-talking”.)


11 GENNY: Oh, Peter…


12 NICK: No worries, Dude. (No capital letter for “dude”.)


13 NICK: Besides, y’know I’ve only got eyes for you.


14 PETER (aside) (NO.): Some things never change.


Panel 4. Medium shot over-Peter’s-right-shoulder as he talks to Nick (right) from the end of the table facing the kitchen (This is needlessly complicated for reasons I’ve already explained earlier.), finger pointed at the tattoo on Nick’s left hand.


15 PETER: So, I’ve gotta ask, Man, (No capital letter for “man”.) what’s with the tattoo?


16 NICK (looks down at left palm) (What? No! This spot is for lettering indications, not impromptu panel descriptions! If you want Nick to look down at his wrist, you need to say it in the panel description above.) (My entire head just ‘sploded!): You mean this thing?


17 NICK: Y’know when we were in Scouts together, back in the day?


18 NICK (connected balloon): The whole Baden-Powell “shake with the left hand” thing?


19 PETER: Yeah?


Panel 5. Reverse angle from Panel 4, with Nick holding up his palm to himself in the foreground and Peter in the middle ground, with the back door to the townhouse behind him (see reference photo). (What’s bothering me in these last two panels is that half the conversation is being held by someone whose face we don’t see. It’s especially troubling when the most important lines are coming from the character with his back to us, as is the case here.)


20 NICK: Well, I kinda took it to heart when I got outta prison, y’know? (I DO know. It feels like Nick has been saying this expression every other line. Cut some out and find new ways of saying it.)


21 NICK: The rose means so many different things, like love, friendship, that kinda thing. (Thing thing. Find new words.)


22 NICK (connected balloon): So when I trust someone, I offer my left hand, but when I don’t …


23 PETER: … you shake with your right.


24 PETER: That’s kinda freaky, Nick.

P4, and we have people doing a whole lotta nothing.

Let’s start with the part where I’m taken completely out of the story: the introductions. If they’re such good friends, how is it that Pete never talks about him to Genny? I have friends that I haven’t seen in years, who have helped to shape me into the person I am today, and I’ve told the stories to my wife. (Or 8 year anniversary is on Halloween!) I may not talk about them all the time, but if someone comes up to her an introduces themselves as a friend of mine and gives her my name, she’d probably faintly remember a story or two I told her.

That means, to me, this is fake. Unless they’re newlyweds and have only met within the past six months and haven’t had much “getting to know you” time, I’m not seeing how she doesn’t recognize the name or have at least heard about him being mentioned in passing.

Okay, now not one of these characters is placed well within the panel. Not one. Go on, take a look back on this page. Tell me what you see. I’ll tell you what I see: people heading toward a dining room table, and then they stop. Do they sit down? I don’t know. Are they still standing? More than likely, because they haven’t sat down. What are they doing as they not-sit around this table? I don’t know. They’re standing around as they talk, because they sure aren’t acting. Minute-man Pete points at something, and Nick holds up a hand, but really, that’s about it.

Why are they standing around? Because Steve got so wrapped up in describing a camera angle that he forgot that the characters are supposed to act.

And then, we have that moving panel/piece of dialogue that made me go out and kick thirteen puppies. Hard. Three of them I punted. I’ll tell you exactly what happened there: Steve forgot what medium he was writing for. He either went to prose or to screenplay, but it was definitely for moving action, not for the static images of comics. What happens when you forget things like that? You cause my head to explode, and I go out punting puppies.

The final parts of this page are the first interesting parts of this excerpt. (Roses are also symbolic of secrecy.) But to have pages of what seem to be padding beforehand tells me that Steve is more interested in what he’s having these characters say than having the characters say things that will push the story forward in a credible manner. I’m all for building character, but it also has to serve a purpose. What purpose did four extra panels of Pete getting dressed and running out the door serve that couldn’t have been gotten across in three? What did an entire page of trying to wake him serve when two panels could have sufficed? What have these three characters really said that was important?

Don’t fall in love with your own voice, folks. That will make you over-write, and then reader interest will wane. Believe me, they can tell when the characters are just being mouthpieces.

PAGE SIXTEEN (7 panels, 4 tiers – 2/2/1/2)

Panel 1. Medium shot of Genny, facing us, bringing coffee to the table. (Can we see the two men? How wide is this shot exactly?)


1 GENNY: Oh, I don’t know, Peter. I think it makes a lot of sense.


2 GENNY: I did notice, though, that you don’t have any thorns on the stem going up your arm. Why’s that?


Panel 2. Close-up of Nick’s head in a ¾ left turn in the foreground looking at the ready-to-be-seated Genny in the middle ground, still facing us. She’s reaching for the chair directly across from Nick, on Peter’s left (who’s still sitting at the end of the table). (This is the epitome of extraneous details coupled with a veritable dearth of important information. You see, I don’t really care where Genny sits. That’s not what’s important in this panel. What’s important is the expression on Nick’s face as he says his line because I’m pretty sure this is a big piece of foreshadowing you’re burrowing under character placement. Your team needs to know that stuff a lot more than the exact rotation of a character’s head. They need to know more about WHAT you’d like the comic to accomplish than HOW to do it. Coming up with the HOW is their job; coming up with the WHAT and communicating it to them is yours.)


3 NICK: I’ve got plans for that.


4 GENNY: So, how long has it been since you boys have seen each other?


Panel 3. An above-Genny’s-head shot, showing the top of her hair slightly, of Nick in front of her (left in panel) and Peter on her right, triangulating the three characters. (Again, character placement taking precedence over more important stuff like character expressions and what the scene is supposed to convey.)


5 NICK: Geez, it’s gotta be what, fifteen, sixteen years?


6 GENNY: Seems you guys have some catching up to do.


7 PETER: By the way, where are you living?


Panel 4. Close-up of Nick’s face, ¼ right turn. (Who cares about the angle? Leave that to the artist! Tell us what he’s doing and what’s his expression. At least tell the artist details like if he’s feeling embarrassed, if he’s drinking without looking at them – anything that gives the artist information on something he can’t come up with himself.)


8 NICK: Right now I’m living out of a motel until I can find some work and a place of my own.


9 GENNY (OP since it’s a close-up of Nick’s face, which leads us to the obvious question: how is the reader supposed to know who’s saying this line?): Well, there’s definitely work to be found out here.


Panel 5. From behind Nick in the foreground, with Peter on his left and Genny on his right further back. Peter blurts out an offer before consulting with Genny and she shoots him a dirty look. (More useless character placement and describing dialogue. The only thing worth the artist’s time in there is Genny’s dirty look because that’s actually something important that the artist needs to know and can use.)


10 PETER: Why don’t you stay here with us? We’ve got a spare bedroom upstairs.


Panel 6. Medium facing shot of Nick, looking standoffish as he reacts to Genny’s concerned look (which we don’t see off panel). (Why not show Genny actually? I mean you’re giving her dialogue anyway and her expression is important in the exchange you’re showing.)


11 GENNY (OP) : Peter,… don’t you think the basement would be a little more COMFORTABLE for Nick?


12 NICK: Look, I don’t wanna cause any problems, y’know? (Yeah, I KNOW.)


13 PETER: You won’t, Nick. Besides, we’ve got a lot to talk about.


14 NICK: Well, can we make it tomorrow-like?


15 Nick (connected balloon): I’m goin’ to a club tonight and – (That’s an awful lot of dialogue to fit into a 7-panel grid.)(Not really. It’s an awful lot of balloons to fit in seven panels, though.)


Panel 7. Medium shot of Genny (left), Peter (center with his body turned right to face Nick), and Nick (right). Genny is smiling as she makes her comment, to which Nick looks a little uncomfortable.


16 GENNY: — and you want to get laid.


17 NICK: Well,… (Comma OR ellipsis – not both.) (More head ‘splosions.)yeah.


18 PETER: Sure, Man. (No capital letter for “man”.) Anytime you want, it’s here.


19 PETER (connected balloon): Just don’t mind our – (Double, not single dash.)


(Stopping here. Before the song, “y’know?”)


And here’s where I’m going to stop, too.


Let’s run it down.


Format: Flawless Victory!


Panel Descriptions: I’ve seen a lot better, I’ve seen a lot worse. However, being held to a higher standard, these are terrible. In a good many of these panels, the actors are not acting. You’re describing camera angles and positioning instead of what these people are doing. In the dining room, you don’t even properly seat them. They’re standing, and then magically, they’re seated. A camera angle in every panel is nowhere near as important as saying what the characters are doing in the panel. What they’re doing, and facial expressions. Otherwise, you could have this done with Modelmaker and be good, for as much expression would be shown.


Less camera angle/faux-placement, and more what they’re doing in the panel and where they actually are.


Pacing: Terrible. Let’s start with the obvious, and move forward from there.


Again, I’m not a fan of breath-control for dialogue. I find that it makes for more balloons, and more balloons means less space for art.


Here’s the thing that happens when you break a balloon into breath-control: It sounds very choppy.


People don’t usually speak with a choppy sound to them.


While they may stop, stutter, and repeat themselves, it doesn’t sound choppy.


This “sounds” choppy.


Every new line is like a whole new starting point, even though it’s all in the same thought.


If you put it all together, it flows better. It will sound like this:


Here’s the thing that happens when you break a balloon into breath-control: It sounds very choppy. People don’t usually speak with a choppy sound to them. While they may stop, stutter, and repeat themselves, it doesn’t sound choppy. This “sounds” choppy. Every new line is like a whole new starting point, even though it’s all in the same thought.


See how much better that flows as you read it? And you see how much space is saved by putting it all together like this? Your way, while valid, doesn’t much allow for that. It actively gets in the reader’s way in two ways: it cramps the art, and it makes it sound choppy. That choppiness is a pacing problem.


The next big thing about the pacing here is the padding. You’re taking too long, injecting things that are totally unnecessary, and stretching things out when they don’t need to be. These five pages is probably really only three. You can consolidate by cutting the fluff, and not hurt the integrity of the story at all.


Finally, know where your page-turns are. You lost a good psychological “break” by having that black panel on an even-numbered page. You should now see where that gives a totally different feeling because it didn’t land on a page-turn. Because the reader’s eyes only have to slide up and over, there is no sense of the passage of time. The page-turn gives that psychological break that gives that sense of time passing.


Dialogue: Readable! Very readable. The problem with it? Not much happens, even though a lot gets said. Part of that is the panel count. If that gets consolidated, then I feel you’ll be able to get to the meat more quickly. Like I said, not much happens, is interesting, or anything of importance is said until the next to last page of this. Readers aren’t going to wait around for you to be interesting. Talking heads HAVE to make for good conversation. This isn’t it.


I’ve already talked about the breath-control, so I won’t go over it again here.




In comics, there is not one instance where you will find a comma combined with some form of ending punctuation. Comma period, comma ellipsis, comma double-dash, comma question mark, comma exclamation point. If there is a competent editor attached to the project, you won’t find it. If you think I’m wrong, I challenge you to show me. (This is for all of you.) Again, the caveat is there must be a competent editor onboard. Here is a good list of how the comma can be used.


Content: As a reader, I’m not interested.


Granted, this starts in on P12, so there are 11 other pages before this that has a chance of pulling me in. But just from reading this, there’s absolutely no chance. Too much padding, not enough sense.


Editorially, from one editor to another, this is shameful. All through the process, I kept hearing Alanis Morissette in my head, but I added a word. You Oughta Know (Better). Lots of condensation, lots of getting characters to act, lots of getting things moving.


What I would do here, editorially, is ask what the overall theme is supposed to be, and ask what the reader is supposed to take away from each scene. From there, we can have a discussion about how to make sure each scene meets the goals that was set, keeping your vision while making sure it meets an editorial standard as well as being salable. The story isn’t worth anything if it isn’t salable.


And that’s all for this week. Thank you, Yannick, for helping out! It was much appreciated.


Check the calendar to see who’s up next!


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Category: Columns, The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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