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TPG Week 130: With Comedy, Pacing Is Everything

| June 21, 2013


Welcome back, one and all! We’ve got a new Brave One to The Proving Grounds in Joseph Veronese, hailing from Racklin, Montana (no, he doesn’t). We’ve got Steve Colle in blue, I’m in red, and Joseph is bringing us an untitled short comic.


Page 1

Panel 1


Two men, a human named Delvin (the left) and an elf named Tren (the right), hang chained to a brick wall behind them that is covered with small patches of dirt and moss. The brick itself is chipped, and the mortar holding it together is in poor shape. The floor is made of a similar, broken down brick. It has cracks and patches of dirt. [The Delvin stands roughly 6 feet tall with mid-length blonde hair. His face is square, his nose is flat. He is wearing plate armor, including chest, shoulders, and wrists, while his legs are covered by leather pants and some hanging pieces of the chest guard. He is also wearing thick, leather boots. The Tren stands only 5’4” and has shoulder length black hair, that his ears just poke through. His face is smooth and his eyes are large. Some might even call him beautiful. He is wearing a brown, leather vest and matching leather pants. His boots are thinner than the mans, but still made of leather.] (From the beginning of the square brackets to the end of them, this is all information that should go in a character sheet. See how much space it takes up? Not only that, but look where you’ve placed it, in the middle of a panel description. Get used to separating this kind of information for your artist. They will appreciate you for it.) The two stare angrily at each other arguing.


Delvin: Just go through the door, he you said. I checked for traps, he you said. Nothing to worry about, he you said. (Put a single quotation mark [the apostrophe instead of the double, standard one] around all quoted dialogue like I’ve done for you. Also, you probably noticed how I changed each one of the “he saids” to “you said”. The reason for that is the characters are facing each other, so his sarcastic remarks are being directed towards the person he’s facing. If Delvin were facing away from Tren and quoting his remarks, that would work for the “he said” as it’s like Tren isn’t in the room or is being deliberately ignored.) (Single quotation or double…editorial choice. Neither is more correct in this case.)


Warlock (off panel): –rip the flesh from your bones.


Tren: It isn’t my fault I can’t sense magic!


Panel 2

Medium Close-Up

The warlock, an almost ancient looking man with long, white hair that is balding near the center, stands with his fist raised and clenched. His nose is long and hooked, with a large wart coming out from it, and he has a poorly kept mustache and long white beard. He has an angry expression on his face that wrinkles what little of his face isn’t in aggravation. He has a cobra tattooed on the middle of his forehead. Under the baggy, gray cloak, he is very scrawny. (Again, what portion of this panel description is character design? All you had to write was “The warlock stands with his fist raised and clenched, anger wrinkling his face more than it would usually be” or something to that effect. Character sheets are a great way to take needless filler information out of your panel descriptions.)


Warlock: Are you two even listening to me?


Tren (off panel): Hold on a second. (This is a poorly done Bad Boys moment.)


Panel 3

Medium Close-Up

Tren stares at Delvin angrily, using a chained hand to point in the direction of the warlock.


Tren: Besides, who’s the one who said we would take care of this guy? Sure wasn’t me? (Separate balloon) And we haven’t even seen Gork since we got sucked through that portal, so you can’t blame him.


Panel 4


The warlock spreads his arms out, hands open, and lightning flies from them, causing the rest of the room to grow dark. (Why would the room grow dark? Are there clouds forming in the room? Wouldn’t the room light up even more?) You can barely (Missing some words here) side of the room opposite Delvin and Tren, but it looks similar. Mossy bricks held together by old mortar. There are is an empty set of chains hanging to the warlock’s left. (If the room is growing dark, you’re asking for movement, which makes this a moving panel, and thus, undrawable. It’s undrawable, anyway, since you’re missing words that would—ahem–illuminate the situation.)


Warlock (burst): I demand silence! (This should read as a burst, or outburst, meaning that his voice is raised as he shouts or screams it out.)


Delvin (off panel): Shh. We’re in the middle of something here.


Panel 5

Medium Close-Up

Delvin continues to stare at Tren angrily.


Delvin: You’re the one who dragged us into that fishing village so you could sleep in a bed. If we’d just camped out, we could have avoided this stupid job and be been a day closer to the capital.


So, one thing that you’re pretty good at is selecting your distance ranges for your shots. That said, what’s missing is camera angles, such as points of view and over-the-shoulder shots. Give your artist a fuller picture if you’re going to dictate your shots.


We’ve got P1 on the books, and what do we have?


We’ve got what looks to be a medieval comedy. Skullkickers, but without the funny. The thing that’s missing here is timing, which means the pacing is off.


But we’ll come to that. First things first.


Panel descriptions. I’m a huge fan of keeping the character descriptions separate from the panel descriptions. When it comes to main characters, a separate document is useful. Most artists are going to design the main characters before they start laying out pages, so that they can get a feel for them. Incidental characters will be designed on the page.


What does this mean? This means your two main characters don’t get descriptions here. The warlock? Quite possibly, as long as he is an incidental character. If he’s a supporting character or main villain, then he should be treated the same as the main characters.


Next, the setting isn’t properly set. Where are they? Chained to a brick wall isn’t as descriptive as saying they’re chained to a brick wall in a dungeon or magical torture chamber. See what I just conjured up (heh) by using a couple of different words? See what you just saw? Much more vivid than “brick wall,” isn’t it?


The dialogue is fine, as far as it goes. It’s getting across the humor that you’re injecting, but it isn’t doing it in an efficient fashion. You’re rushing things, and when you’re talking about comedy, timing is everything.


A joke needs time to develop. Doing it in comics means you have to couple the dialogue even more tightly with the shots.


Do yourself a favor: go watch Eddie Murphy: Delirious. It’s a funny stand-up movie. Eddie was 19 when he did it. (19, the first HBO comedy special, and he’s still riding the Saturday Night Live high. This concert set the standard for many of today’s comics.) However, when you watch it, watch how he rushes the jokes. He’s telling the jokes one on top of the other, and the audience barely has a chance to laugh before he’s either continuing on with it, or off on another joke.


Now, after that, watch Bill Cosby, Himself. This is another stand-up movie, but Bill is at the height of his powers here. This is the concert that set up The Cosby Show. This movie shows why Bill is a master: he allows the jokes to develop, he allows the audience to laugh, he allows them to get the entire joy out of the joke before either continuing or moving on to another joke.


What you’ve done here is you’ve rushed the jokes. Not only that, you’ve not selected the correct shots for the full enjoyment of them.


The characters should be arguing longer before the warlock tries to interrupt them. Then, when he does, he needs to try a couple of times before gaining their attention, and then he’s told to hold on. When he’s told to hold on, his eyes should be wide with shock, and then there should be another panel showing his frustration.

This should have been a six- or seven-panel page, instead of the five you have here. So, yes, your pacing is off. And with comedy, pacing is paramount.


Page 2 (You wrote this in Word, a program that allows you to include page breaks. That’s a problem. Quickly get into the habit of having page breaks between written comic pages, as your editor will appreciate you for that one.)(Not just the editor, but the creative team in general.)



Panel 1


The warlock shoots lightning at Delvin and Tren, causing them to cringe in pain and scream. They pull the chains horizontal, their backs arched as they pull forward from the attack. (See what I mean about missing more information from a viewpoint? Where is the camera placed, over the warlock’s shoulder or back and between the characters in the scene, the warlock on the left and the two prisoners on the right? Also, you have the warlock screaming at them, but don’t describe that in your panel description.) (180 degree rule. If you start with them on the left and the warlock on the right, you’re now flipping the camera and breaking the plane. Steve is right in that you’re missing information, but I would leave them in their respective places and have the warlock’s dialogue at the top and toward the left, the sound effect in the middle, and their screams at the bottom.)


SFX: ZZZZZZZZZ (I’m sorry. I had to laugh when I read this sound effect. Is someone sleeping? Shouldn’t this read something like “BZZZZZZZZZZZZZT”?)(I’m partial to KRRAZZOW, myself.)


Warlock: I said Silence! (Okay, now this is even louder than the last outburst, but it’s still being said at normal volume. Amp it up with a burst or, better yet, give the letterer the direction to have the words escape the burst balloon to become more of a sound effect.)(Okay, the dialogue is out of order. It’s about timing. This should be said first, then the sound effect, and then the scream. Why? Because if read in the order you have it, it isn’t going to be as effective as putting the sound effect in the middle. The lightning is to make the point of wanting silence.)


Delvin and Tren: AAAAAGH!


Panel 2


The warlock stares angrily at the two adventurers with his hands balled into fists.


Warlock: Do you not understand the severity of your situation? I will feed your souls to Adkark, the ancient god of serpents. (Exclamation mark) In exchange, he will make me the most powerful warlock in the world. (Exclamation mark) (34 words in this balloon. Not too many, but just barely. And as for timing, I’d break the first sentence into its own balloon, and then the rest in a second.)


Panel 3

Medium Close-Up (Why not just a close-up to put more focus on that eyebrow?)

Delvin stares back at the warlock with his eyebrow arched in an unimpressed manner.


Delvin: Someone’s getting a little over dramatic.


Panel 4


The warlock raises one of his hands and fires green lightning at the two adventurers who again scream in pain. He opens up his other hand and points it at the ground, where more green lightning strikes. (Why the difference in the color of the lightning? And why is he shocking them again if he’s about to do something else? Don’t be repetitious for nothing.)


Warlock: Let’s Let us see hear you make jokes when I drain the life out of you!


Panel 5


The lightning stops as the floor is turned into dozens of cobras by the spell.


Warlock: Yes! Send me your soldier’s (Missing comma) my lord. Let me be your hand in this world! (Not just a missing comma, but an inappropriate apostrophe, too. You want it to be plural, not a possessive.)


Okay, P2 is down, and we still have pacing problems. However, they aren’t as bad this time around, thankfully.


What we have, though, is little reason as to why we’re here. The comedy is a bit amusing, but I’m not getting any reason as to why they’re there, which means I have no idea why I’m reading this. What’s the point?


This is a better page, though, I’m happy to say.


Page 2 3 (Wrong page number and needs a page break.)

Panel 1


Delvin begins to flail about in a panic as he tries to kick snakes away from him.


Delvin: Ahhhh! Snakes! Get it them off of me! Get it off me!


Panel 2

The warlock raises his hand again to perform the spell again.


Warlock: Silence. (Is this the warlock’s favorite word? This is the third time he’s said it. Change it up.) This will be over soon. This will soon be over.


Panel 3


Lightning flies from the warlock’s hand in the direction of Delvin, who is still flailing. (How slow is this lightning moving?)


Panel 4


A snake gets hooked by Delvin’s foot, which kicks and sends the snake hurdling through the air. (Moving panel. There are three things going on here, and at the most, you can have only two.)


Delvin: Ew! Ew! Ew!


Panel 3


The snake lands on the warlock’s face, causing him to stumble back. As he stumbles, the lightning strikes towards the ceiling. This causes large pieces of the ceiling to fall towards the warlock. (Another moving panel. Snake landing on face, warlock stumbling back, lightning striking ceiling, blocks falling. That’s four things, when you can only have three at the most. We’re going to talk about this down below.)


Warlock: AGGGHHH!


Panel 6


The rocks fall onto the wizard, crushing him. His arm is visible poking through the rubble. Tren and Delvin stare at the pile of rocks astounded. The floor is returned to normal. (Moving panel.)


Delvin: Huh… (Separate balloon) Well, that was easy. (Comma-fail.)


Tren: Wait, did he have the keys to these chains?


Delvin: Dammit… (This dialogue doesn’t match the panel description.)


All right, here are the good points in my opinion: First up, I like the dialogue. It sounds natural and appropriate to the characters and story. Good job. Next up, you’ve got an interesting situation going, with back and forth banter to carry things forward. Finally, I like your punch line about the key to the chains. Clever. Unfortunately, the rest needs work.


Your panel descriptions are lacking to say the least. As I mentioned, you give a distance, but nothing more. Work on filling in the blanks. Another thing that bothered me was the use of the lightning and the snakes, both important set pieces to get the job done in the end. That said, it’s lightning, then green lightning, then more lightning, and finally, the lightning is what kills him. Overuse. How was Adkark supposed to receive the souls? Through the lightning or through the snakes which were attacking? It just seems convenient that both of your set pieces had to work during the course of the story in order to work in the end. Yet another thing that I questioned was why the warlock never stepped closer to the prisoners, grabbing one or both by the cheeks when saying “Let us hear you make jokes when I drain the life out of you!”? Instead, he stayed away from them the entire time. You could have definitely done more with this story, even with the limited page count.


I’d actually enjoy seeing this fixed up and resubmitted. It isn’t a bad story by any means, simply needing a bit more thought. Hopefully you’ll do just that.


Okay, let’s talk about those moving panels before running it down.


A moving panel occurs when multiple separate and distinct things happen that cannot possibly be drawn. Let’s look at panel 3 again.


Panel 3


The snake lands on the warlock’s face, causing him to stumble back. As he stumbles, the lightning strikes towards the ceiling. This causes large pieces of the ceiling to fall towards the warlock.


I’ve already broken down how this is a moving panel. Here is how this could have been written:


Panel 3: The snake, landing on the warlock’s face, has caused him to stumble backward. As he stumbles, the lightning is striking the ceiling.


I combined the two actions of the landing and the stumbling, as well as I have given the lightning time to actually hit the ceiling before it comes crashing down on him.


You have to think about what you’re doing, and what movement a panel can actually contain. A panel can only hold so much action. Don’t forget, you add time when you add dialogue.


It’s about pacing, which is sorely lacking here.


Now, let’s run this down.


Format: You could have had a flawless victory. The lack of page breaks will do it every time.


Panel Descriptions: These need work. You need to learn to be more descriptive, while also knowing what sort of images your wording will evoke. As a writer, you’re supposed to have a good vocabulary. Use it.


Now, there’s the moving panels. Stop writing them. Generally, a panel can only hold a single action. This means you, as the writer, have to be more careful when you’re choosing which panels you want to use. A capable artist will also help you with the pacing, but they shouldn’t have to rewrite the script for you.


Pacing: The pacing here is terrible. It is actually the worst thing here. If this piece were paced correctly, there would be extremely little for either Steve or I to say. Pacing, broken down from largest unit to smallest, works like this: the number of scenes in a book, the number of pages in a scene, the number of panels on a page, the number of words in a panel. All of that gets coupled with what is actually happening in a scene. Think of it as an equation: (a+b+c+d+e)*g=P. You have to take all of that into account. If you don’t, your pacing will easily go off the rails.


Now, the good part is that you can learn to improve your pacing through study. Cut out the moving panels, which is hurting your pacing, know which shots help to improve your timing (which is another word for pacing), and you’re on third base, headed home. The dialogue is already there.


Dialogue: I had fun reading it. There’s one glaring problem with it, that we’ll come to in the next section, but on the whole, the dialogue was fun to read. It actually sounded like a conversation, and a funny one at that. Only a bit of guidance here and there was needed. A little nudging. But on the whole, good job on the dialogue.


Content: As a reader, I’d be frustrated. Yeah, you took a beating on the pacing, as well you should have. That’s part of my frustration. There are a couple of other parts.


The second part is that I have no idea why I’m spending time with these characters. I don’t know why they’re there, what their mission was, or anything. It’s just Skullkickers with a Bad Boys twist. And I happen to love Bad Boys.


The biggest, glaring omission, though, is that, as a reader, I have no idea who these characters are. What are their names? No clue. And that’s huge. You want a reader to connect? Then the characters have to have names. Even in Skullkickers, Jim Zub names the characters. Sure, they’re Baldy and Shorty, but still. (He also happens to know his timing, and uses sound effects to their best comedic effect. Go, study him.)


Editorially, this really doesn’t need a lot of help. Pacing is the biggest issue. Once you get that down, it’s just a nudge here and there. This one is actually fun to read. You just need a good shove to make it sing.


And that’s all for this week.


Before heading out, I want to say thank you for those who have submitted. TPG has been around for exactly 2.5 years this week, and it couldn’t have been done without you. Thank you for submitting and for coming back week after week.


We still need your help, though. If we’re going to make it to the end of the year, we still need scripts. We have five weeks’ worth in the queue, but we can always use more. We need you. As I say time and again, we literally cannot do this without you.




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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