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TPG Week 114: Letting Go

| March 1, 2013


Welcome once again, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week is something of a treat, as we have our own Steve Colle coming back through for another turn. He’s from the Great White North (Canada to him, Canadia to the rest of us, eh?) and he’s bringing us a tale of America’s super-soldier! Since we don’t edit ourselves here, I’ve asked Yannick Morin to step back in for the week. So, Yannick is in blue, I’m in red, and Steve tells a tale of another Steve in


CAPTAIN AMERICA: “Casualties of War”

Written by Steve Colle




PAGE ONE (3 Panels)


Panel 1. Long interior establishing shot of the inside of what looks like a large doctor’s office, with halls branching off from the main desk. The receptionist is fielding telephone calls while a middle-aged man waits impatiently in front of her desk (which is a simple desk without the pony wall in front of it, making her all the more susceptible to in-your-face confrontations). This man is MICHAEL STUART, who will play an important part in the story. In the waiting area are a good number of empty chairs, where we see four people talking or reading. (Important to note that there are ten people total in the offices, so six people are in this room while four others are in offices behind closed doors.) In the middle foreground of the panel, we see Stuart’s forty-something wife, VANESSA, and their 8-year old son, MATTHEW, staring silently in Stuart’s direction, looking ashamed for his behavior. (First panel description and I already had to read this six times to makes heads or tail of it. I see that Steve still has the same tendency he had when we last met (TPG #95): he has trouble with 1. presenting information in an artist-friendly manner and 2. determining what is important. First issue: this is a mess: we got setting description, character placement, name ascribing, and extraneous explanations all jumbled together. Here, I’ll break it down:


CAMERA SHOT INFO: Long interior establishing shot

SETTING DESCRIPTION: of the inside of what looks like a large doctor’s office, with halls branching off from the main desk.

CHARACTER ACTION: The receptionist is fielding telephone calls

CHARACTER ACTION: while a middle-aged man waits impatiently in front of her desk

SETTING DESCRIPTION: (which is a simple desk without the pony wall in front of it, making her all the more susceptible to in-your-face confrontations).


EXTRANEOUS EXPLANATION: who will play an important part in the story.

SETTING DESCRIPTION: In the waiting area are a good number of empty chairs,

CHARACTER ACTION: where we see four people talking or reading.

EXTRANEOUS EXPLANATION: (Important to note that there are ten people total in the offices, so six people are in this room while four others are in offices behind closed doors.)

CHARACTER PLACEMENT: In the middle foreground of the panel, we see Stuart’s forty-something wife, VANESSA, and their 8-year old son, MATTHEW,

CHARACTER ACTION: staring silently in Stuart’s direction,

CHARACTER EXPRESSION: looking ashamed for his behavior.


Go back to basics, Steve: describe from left to right, what are the characters doing and what’s their expression, then describe where they are. Or describe the location first and then the characters, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to group your information in a way that the artist won’t have to actually re-write it in order to understand it. Right now, I can see him taking notes, trying to make sense of this by splitting all of this in different columns. Not good. Your job is to provide the artist with all the information he needs in a clear and concise manner.


Which brings me to the second issue: knowing what’s important. See what I called “extraneous explanations” up there? These don’t belong in a panel description. Saying that a named character will play an important role in the story, or how many people whom we can’t see are in the building doesn’t help the artist in the slightest. The guy needs to know what he has to draw and your job is to tell him.


The same goes for every time you use detours to explain things that could very well be more understandable in fewer words. Here are a couple of examples:


Long interior establishing shot of the inside of what looks like a large doctor’s office, with halls branching off from the main desk […] a simple desk without the pony wall in front of it, making her all the more susceptible to in-your-face confrontations […]In the waiting area are a good number of empty chairs” – This can be said in as little words as: “Wide shot of the reception area of a doctor’s office. There’s a simple desk for welcoming patients, branching corridors leading deeper into the building, and several chairs for waiting.” Notice also how I took information disseminated all over your panel description and concentrated them in two sentences. Thus the decor is set and we can move on.


a middle-aged man waits impatiently in front of her desk […] This man is MICHAEL STUART” – If the “middle-aged man” is Michael Stuart, say so from the start. I seem to recall the same issue in TPG #95 where characters were first introduced by generic names and then being presented for who they really are. This isn’t prose; there’s no need to preserve suspense, to create tension or even to present things in an interesting manner. You give me the impression that you’re somehow trying to make this a good read. Plainly said: we don’t care. The script is just a set of instructions; it’s not meant to be entertaining in the least. In fact, the less entertaining you strive to make it, the better a job you’ll do. See it as a musical partition: it doesn’t matter how pretty it looks as long as the music is good.)


1 CAPTION: GREENWICH VILLAGE, 11:23 AM. (Time/location captions usually don’t require ending punctuation.)




Panel 2. Medium over-Stuart’s-shoulder shot (basically from the waist up) looking down towards the receptionist as she puts a call on hold to talk to him. (How is the artist supposed to draw this? Why not make her put her hand over her mic (if she has a headset) or the receiver (if it’s a regular phone setup)?) He’s leaning into the desk, but she doesn’t seem fazed by his proximity. (The receptionist gets one line of accessory importance while Stuart has two with some emotional weight. Why is he the one we see from behind? I’m thinking you’d want to invert that shot so we can see his face rather than the receptionist’s.)(This is a very good call. You’re losing the emotional bang here with having his back to us.)








Panel 3. Medium bust profile of Stuart (left) and the receptionist (right). We can feel the tension building in their conversation. (No we can’t. Or at least you’re hoping we do. In any case, ask yourself: can the artist convey this with art? Yes? Then tell him how. Ask for frowns, clenched fists, faces getting close, spittle – anything that says tension graphically. Your artist won’t care about the effect the dialogue is supposed to have.)


6 RECEPTIONIST: DR. MAZAR IS IN WITH A PATIENT, “SIR”. (Could be a matter of personal preference, but I’d put the emphasis on “sir” rather than on “patient”. That would make the quotation marks unnecessary.)(Another good call. Personally, I’d leave it inflectionless, unless it just had to be there. Right now, as I read it, there are two stressors here, but only one is necessary. I’m reading it “wrong” because I’m putting the stress where Yannick is, on the sir. As a reader, I hate being wrong. If you leave it uninflected, then you’ll hardly ever go wrong.)




8 SFX: BANG!(Sound effects don’t require punctuation either.)


(If it weren’t for your mentioning that Stuart “will play an important part in this story”, I’d say that this is a wasted page. No, wait. I’ll go ahead and say it: this is a wasted page. There’s nothing here that can’t be established from the second page on. This is all really the equivalent of banter: dialogue that just fills up panels and nothing else.)


So, we’ve got P1 on the books. How does it look?


Muddled. Frustratingly so.


Basics. Somewhere along the line, they got lost. That isn’t good. Storytime.


When I was a kid, my parents put me into martial arts. My sensei, Professor Griff of Public Enemy, gave me a very good foundation. Taught me the basics. It was great.


Well, in order to go from a white belt to a yellow belt, there were certain things I had to go through. Everyone in the class did. We had to run a VERY long way (felt like 8 miles or so, and it probably was…), we had to do some forms, and we had to compete in a tournament.


We take the subway to this tournament in NYC. I did my form, but I don’t place. That was fine. However, Griff does a white belt form, but he adds a sword to it (no weapons for lower belts), and he wins first place. Why? Because his basics were firmly in place. Once you have the basics down, and as long as you don’t forget them, embellishment isn’t difficult.


The basics were lost here. No grouping of terms or locations, no left-to-right descriptions, and bad camera placement. It’s just ungood, all around.


As for the pacing, I’m not feeling it yet. Three panels for this page? Seems wasteful. Is Yannick right in that this page can be cut? Dunno. We’ll see.

PAGE TWO (4 panels)


Panel 1. Close-up (Technically, you can’t have a close-up of two people. That’s what we call a tight shot instead.) of both the receptionist (now left) and Stuart (now right) (Why did you switch them around? You’re not adding anything to the narrative by doing this. In fact, you’re confusing the reader. In addition, by having the shot be this tight, you’re not leaving any room for the reader to deduce a reason for the sudden shift in perspective. There’s a “rule” (in as much as there can be rules in art) in movie-making called the 180-degree rule which states that the camera should never cross the imaginary line between two talking characters for fear of disorienting the audience. This here is a patent example of this rule in action in comics.) looking off panel to the right, but just away from the camera so as to show something is happening in the offices to the left of Stuart. (To the right, off panel, to the left of Stuart – my god, I’m getting dizzy and this is only the second page. Simplify, Steve, simplify! Breath in, breathe out, and let your artist take on the burden of left-right-up-down-across-and-whatever. That’s his job! Here you go: “Tight shot of a terrified receptionist and a determined Stuart looking off panel.” There, here’s your whole panel description in one sentence.) with Her eyes are wide in terror, while his posture (His posture won’t be seen in a “close-up” – but that’s a moot point now.) and expression are battle ready. He orders her to hide under the desk. (This last sentence is completely superfluous; you’re essentially describing dialogue here.)








Panel 2. Full shot of Stuart as he puts his back to the wall to begin a stealthy approach to the back offices where the shots came from. He has a determined look on his face, no fear.




(What? Either you forgot to put the kid in the panel description, either you forgot to mark this line as “OP” or… this is a moving panel – a sneaky one at that. The way I understand it, Stuart was trying to sneak up on the shooter when his kid blew his cover by shouting at him. That would be two beats so this is a moving panel. In any of these cases, there’s something wrong with this panel.)


Panel 3. Extreme close-up of a pistol with the barrel mere inches away from Stuart’s startled eyes, pistol on the left, Stuart on the right. (More placement that should be left to the artist.)




Panel 4. Close-up facing shot of KEVIN KAY (the antagonist), arm outstretched with the pistol aimed at the camera, finger on the trigger. We’re looking down the barrel of the pistol. We can see a backpack draped over the shoulder of the opposing arm of that holding the gun. (If this is a close-up of Kay, we’ll either see the gun or his face, maybe both if your artist can squeeze both into a tight shot. The backpack? Don’t push your luck.) We’ll find out later what is in the bag. (No, either it’s important enough for you to tell us now, or it’s not and you don’t say a word. No teasing the rest of the creative team, you naughty boy, you.)


6 KAY: GET THE COPS ON THE PHONE. TELL THEM I WANT CAPTAIN AMERICA HERE BY THIRTEEN HUNDRED HOURS — (This should be an ellipsis as it’s the same speech continuing in the next balloon. The double-dash should be used only when there’s an interruption, either the speaking character suddenly jumping from one thought to another, or another character jumping in and interrupting him.)




(Now you’re talking! THIS is the page I would have started on! Always start as late as you can. Got some exposition to do? Want to introduce Stuart and his little family? It can wait! Exposition is like Jello: there’s always room for it later. For now, stack that table with some MEAT! Here’s the way I’d set this up: page one starts with an establishing shot of the Hands and Hearts Center with your gun firing and people screaming off-panel; the rest of it is Stuart getting caught by Kay while trying to sneak ahead. Wham bam in the middle of a jam. That’s how you do it. Additionally, this makes a great page-one-tuner of Kay’s threat of shooting a second hostage if Cap doesn’t show up, and that iconic image of the hero you were setting up on page 3 ends up on the other side, on page 2 instead, where it’ll have a greater impact on the reader.)


Yannick isn’t leaving me much meat on the bone, is he?


I’ll tell you what, though, it’s spot on. The first page is padding, not doing much at all. This second page is where the story really starts. I think it does need some rearranging, though. There’s no question of that.


Again, we have confusing panel descriptions. Not only are they confusing, they’re also starting to infringe on the artist’s job.


Here’s the problem with camera angles and panel descriptions that are overly exacting: they take the creativity away from the artists, turning them into an art monkey instead of a collaborator. The other thing that happens with the exacting camera angles? They’re extremely tough to read. They have to be read several times, taken apart, parsed, and then put back together again.


It’s a pain in the ass. It slows down the process. And to be honest, unless you’re an artist yourself, your artist is going to balk at the handcuffs you’re putting on them. Let the artist do their job, and you’ll be able to speed up yours.


If you simplify the process, you’ll be able to speed up the writing aspect. This means that, if you were writing freelance under a page rate, you can make more money because you’re not being bogged down because you’re doing the artist’s job.

PAGE THREE (Splash/title page)


Panel 1. Full bleed exterior establishing shot from low angle tilt (to the left) of Captain America in mid-panel walking onto the scene. (And this is where your prospective artist closes the Word document and writes you an email saying that “something just came up.” Why? Because he’s probably more than fed up with you doing his job for him. Let him worry about page borders. Let him worry about exact camera angles (unless it’s important for the narrative and it isn’t here). Let him worry about the character placement. It’s HIS JOB. Yours is to come up with the story, his is to make the comic. And while I’m hacking at this sentence, there’s no such thing as an establishing shot for a character. Establishing shots are for locations. Of which there are none here. What does this building look like? What is the neighborhood like? And the police’s setup could use a little more detail.) His back is to us, but we can tell how confident his stride is. (No we can’t since this is a static picture of a guy with his back to us. His back hidden by a big circular shield, might I add.) His shield is on his back. A crowd has gathered among the police cruisers and media crews, and the police are trying hard to maintain control. Upon Cap’s arrival, the general attention seems to shift to him. (Aaaaand moving panel. Unless you make this page some kind of snazzy hologram picture like they had on covers in the 90s. Weren’t those cool? Nah, I didn’t think so either.)


1 CAPTION: 12:46 PM. (No period.)






(This is a wasted splash panel. Where’s the impact? Where’s the dazzle? Where’s the dramatic weight? I mean, we already know that Cap is going to show up; it’s not like it’s a big thing warranting its own page. Not only that but, despite the huge space you’re devoting to his entrance, you have Cap turning his back to us on his first apparition, further deflating any clout you could have gained from this. Now, about that mood-shifting thing? There’s one way you could do it that would give that effect, but you need to let go of the splash page for this. Have a few panels where the negotiator and the female cop discuss the situation, mainly stuff that’s said on the next page – hell, you could even cram in some info on Stuart if you want. All around them, in the backgrounds, show screaming people, cops running about, reporters yelling – total chaos. And just as they’re wondering how they’ll get out of this, Cap’s voice intrudes from off panel. Cue a large panel at the bottom of the page from the two cops’ PoV, showing Cap walking towards them, everyone having fallen silent around him and staring. Result: you save another page and your reader has more content for his buck.)


P3, and it’s as ugly as the previous two.


Steve, this is the second time that you’ve effectively buried your lead by having their back to the reader. What is the impact of having Cap’s back to us? Why hide his face? Is it the John Walker Captain America coming in? (Never liked Walker. He was a thug.)


Okay, lets take this from the top.


This splash page is placed wrong, being on the right of the book instead of the left. That’s first. Second, as Yannick says, it has no dramatic impact at all. Yannick gave a perfectly acceptable way to execute this.


But here’s the thing: you’re more interested in telling the artist how to do their job than you are interested in doing your own. Let me explain what I mean.


Your pacing is off, the panel descriptions aren’t effective, you’re burying your leads by turning their backs to the reader, you have what could be considered moving panels, you have some padding, and none of it is overly interesting. Your job is to tell an effective story. Your job is to let the rest of the creative team do their jobs in telling the story.


None of that is done. Instead, you’re trying to give exacting instructions to the artist. You’re more interested in their job than in yours.


What happened to the dialogue on this page? There should be some, and there isn’t. No, I don’t consider the caption to be actual dialogue. Not in this case. Not when you’re only three pages in and having your hero appear for the first time. You still have a lot to do.


This is going to need a rewrite, stem to stern.

PAGE FOUR (4 panels)


Panel 1. Cap, in the middle ground, is walking up to the negotiator (towards us with an over the left shoulder shot from behind the male negotiator). (I didn’t think headaches could come in so many colors. Okay, on my SEVENTH reading, I finally got what you were saying. I’ll let you guess how many tries your artist is going to give you.) Cap offers his hand in greeting. The mood is tense. (There’s no way to draw a “mood”. It’s your job as a writer to ask the artist to show tension with visual clues – strained muscles, clenched teeth, frowns all around – or to let it transpire through dialogue – which you don’t. I mean, these guys sound pretty laid back. I’m expecting the waiter to show up for drink orders in the next panel.)








Panel 2. Long shot from behind Cap and the negotiator as they look towards the (as-of-yet not described) building. They are off to the left of the panel so as to allow us a clear view of the front door to the building, with a police barricade up on the right with people leaning over it to see our hero. A uniformed female officer is moving towards them from the right of the panel. (Hey, only four tries to understand the panel description this time. I think the pills are kicking in. You’re still worrying way too much about how people are placed in the panel. Tell us what they do, tell us how they do it and tell us what they say; the rest is up to the artist.)






6 NEG.: ALL HE WANTS IS YOU. (I KNEW this was a song! Hit it, Connie!)


Panel 3. Full shot right profile of Cap as he walks closer to the door of the center. A police cruiser is to his left a few feet away in the background. The negotiator and the officer are standing together conversing on the left of the panel, with the door to the building on the right. (I now know exactly where everything is but you don’t know how hard I had to work to get there or how much I really don’t care. For instance, how important is that police cruiser? If the artist decides to place it on the right, what does it change? If he instead decides not to put it in the shot at all, what does it change? And the cops? How important are they in this panel? You know what would be important? What is Cap’s expression? I – and the artist – want to know how to draw his face because this will give the reader a clue on how to read his lines.)






9 KAY (SHOUTING): NOT UNTIL YOU COME IN. (I was going to ding you for not marking this as “OP” but then I read the note just below. Might want to move that note above the dialogue lines where it will do more good.))


(NOTE TO LETTERER: The tail from Kay’s balloon should be coming from the door, not from off panel.)


Panel 4. Close-up of Kay’s face as he has the door opened mere inches, just enough to see his left eye and partial face peering out.




(The last page is still more of the same. Sorry, Steve, but I’m stopping here.)


Yeah. Let’s run it down.


Format: Flawless Victory. Who was expecting anything different?


Panel Descriptions: There aren’t many good things I can say here. The panel descriptions aren’t useless, but they’re written in such a way as to be almost so.


The main issue is clarity. There isn’t any here.


Again, you’re so focused on trying to do the artist’s job for them that you forgot to do your own, and in doing so, you wrote panel descriptions that have to be deciphered. That is the opposite of good. You got in your own way, and ended up forgetting all of the basics of storytelling in the process.


Basically, the panel descriptions are crap. Actually, the entire thing that’s posted here is crap, from top to bottom.


Pacing: Crap. The first page is padding and could have easily been combined with the second page, if not cut altogether. The splash page is on the wrong side, lessening the impact it could have had (let alone the camera showing the back instead of the front). It needs a rewrite not only to fix the panel descriptions, but to also fix the pacing. Cutting P1 and then putting P3 actually on P2 would work wonders (as would showing Cap’s face).


Dialogue: This is the only redeeming quality of the entire script. The dialogue isn’t bad. My complaint? There isn’t enough of it. There should be more in order to bring the reader in more. And that splash page? It shouldn’t be silent. Things should be happening. Cap should be saying something. Actually, let’s scoot back up to the Pacing for a bit.


P1 should set the stage, as should P2. This is where the bad guy makes his demands. P3 is where we get the public’s reaction. Then people start to look because of the commotion, and then P4 we have the splash. You have the problem, setting the stage, you expand on it, and then you give the bang. Methinks that works better than what’s presented here.


But the dialogue has to support it. It doesn’t yet.


Content: As a reader, I’m not a fan. This doesn’t make me want to go further into the book. It just doesn’t draw me in.


Editorially, again, it needs a rewrite. Streamline the panel descriptions, fix the pacing, add more dialogue. When you streamline, don’t forget to do your job, and let others do theirs. This is important. If you don’t let go, you’re going to be disappointed with what you get from the artists, and you’ll find that artists probably aren’t going to want to come back for seconds because of the handcuffing and having to re-read the panel descriptions over and over again.


If there were an editor attached, they’d go out of their minds reading this. Basically, it would go something like this: “Stop. I couldn’t follow it. Rewrite it so that it makes sense to someone besides you, make sure it’s good, and send it back. You’ve got three days.” No one wants to get notes like that.


Let go. It’s a good thing.


And that’s all there is for this week. Thanks again, Yannick, for your help this week.


Check the calendar to see who’s 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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