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TPG 136: Learning! (But There Are Pacing Issues)

| August 2, 2013


Welcome back once more to The Proving Grounds! This week, we welcome back Darren Higham, who brings us a second installment of his tale from a couple of weeks ago. Darren, after going through the wringer last time, asked if he could swap out the script for an updated version, applying what he learned. Of course, we said yes, and now, we get to see how he’s grown. We have Steve Colle in blue, and I’m in the very slimming red, and we see how Darren handles


Note to artist regarding CHRIS TRENT / AWESOME-LAD. To easily differentiate between his two guises I will refer to him as CHRIS while he is in his human disguise and AWESOME-LAD when when he is in his true, alien, form.



PAGE ONE (Two Panels)

PANEL ONE: Wide shot of a street in Gate City. It is night. This part of the city is an area of large Gothic buildings, something along these lines. Most of the windows are boarded up. The boards, as well as a lot of the stone work, are covered in many years worth of graffiti.


CHRIS TRENT is hovering about thirty feet in the air. Below him is the GANG LEADER, from the the previous issue, holding on for dear life to CHRIS’ foot.


RATBOY, the other two Gang Members and a small group of onlookers are all staring up at CHRIS and the GANG LEADER in sheer amazement. (Where’s the camera? Personally, I’d place it on the ground, no further up than head height.)



The idea was really quite simple.


Take a hostage, force forcing the kid in the costume to back off.





What the –?


The boy had seemed like an easy target.


Funny how things are NEVER that simple.


INSET PANEL TWO: Close on RATBOY. A bemused look on his face



Well, this is new.


RatBoy. Teen superhero. Genius inventor.

(Here’s where I’m a bit confused as to who the narrator is. It seems like the above captions are coming from Chris, but this one sounds like it’s coming from an omniscient narrator. Is that the case? My other question is: Are the captions always going to be from Chris’s POV or do they change during the course of the issue/story? If they change, then you should write the captions as CAPTION [CHRIS] or CAPTION [RATBOY] or whatever to designate exactly who is speaking in that caption.)

P1 is on the books, and it’s very fast, too!

Know what we’ve got? We’ve got an interesting first page. There’s enough here to pique my interest and get me to turn the page. Good work!

My only real question is “where’s the camera?” Not every panel needs a camera angle, but sometimes, they’re more helpful to have than not. This is one of those times. By pulling back and putting the camera on the ground, you’re making for a more dynamic view. You lose that a bit if you go above floating-boy, and look down. He’s already three stories above the street. Go higher, and you’re losing some punch from the people on the ground. If you’re low, you can get them and the floaters all at once.

That’s really it for this page. It does what it needs to do, so good work there.

PAGE TWO (Five Panels)

PANEL ONE: CHRIS has kicked his leg forward. Unfortunately for the GANG LEADER it just happened to be the one that he had been holding on to. CHRIS’ eyes are closed and he is covering his ears with his hands. Tears are dripping down his cheeks. He should look absolutely terrified. (Confusion is setting in again. Who has tears dripping down his cheeks and who is absolutely terrified, Chris or the gang leader? The way you have it written, it sounds like it’s Chris, but I’m not sure that’s accurate. Please clarify.)



Chris Trent. Super-powered alien from Boron.

(This answers my question about the omniscient narrator, so make sure to have a clear distinction between character narrative and third person narrative.)

PANEL TWO: Wide shot. The GANG LEADER is flying backwards through the air. He is travelling fast enough to make the buildings behind him appear to be nothing more than a blur. (Keep this reference to how fast he is travelling in mind for when we reach his upcoming reaction to landing.)





PANEL THREE: The GANG LEADER has hit the front windscreen of an open-top (convertible) car. The exact make of the car is not really important so feel free to draw whatever open-top car takes your fancy. (Normally, I’d call you on just dropping this in, saying it is magically delicious, but this is more than likely the earliest time that you could have put the car in.)





PANEL FOUR: High angle view, looking down at the GANG LEADER. He is sat, dazed, in the back seat of the car. (Dazed? From the speed he was travelling and to crash through the front window and such of the car, wouldn’t he be unconscious? Is he a “super” as well, that he can take this kind of punishment? Also, there is a difference between landing on the roof of the car and going through the windshield and seats, where the roof would at least cave in. Think about this a bit more as it isn’t making sense.) The windscreen of the car is smashed, with particular emphasis in the middle, where it was hit. Perhaps even show some damage to the top of one, or perhaps both, of the front seats. A few people are gathered around the car.






(small text)


(Again, this reaction would be more appropriate to him landing hard on the roof, not landing how you describe.) (Not even then. Physics. I’ll explain in a little while.)


PANEL FIVE: CHRIS is still hovering in the air. His eyes are closed and he is covering his ears with his hands. (This is the second panel where you describe Chris having his hands over his ears and his eyes closed. Why is he reacting this way and should he have had his ears covered and eyes closed in the first panel of Page One?) RATBOY, as well as a small crowd in the background, is still staring up at him while the two remaining gang members run away down the street.



And now, for my next number, I’d like to return to one of the classics. Perhaps one of the most famous classics in all the world of comics… Physics.

We all know that a body will fall at a rate of thirty-two feet per second per second. That’s simple. However, the guy wasn’t just falling, he was basically kicked away. You said that he flew in the air, making the buildings a blur. Since he had to fly back to reach the car, he was obviously going faster than thirty-two feet per second per second. Now, if the guy is just a regular guy, he should have died when he hit the car. Why? Because he fell thirty feet out of the sky, travelling on a diagonal, at a high rate of speed, and he hit a freakin’ car. It wasn’t a cushy green glove or anything like that. It was a freakin’ car.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Superheroics generally calls for the forgetting of physics. I get that. However, there’s only so much that can be done when you forget about physics. This isn’t a Superman movie where camp is part of the charm. You’ve got a boy floating and wigging out. No camp there.

So, the guy doesn’t live, unless he has powers like the others. He dies.

But, really, what is up with the guy covering his ears and closing his eyes? He didn’t want to see the death he just caused? I don’t get it.

Finally, as a page, this is weak. Five panels of nothing much to do with anything. This page could have been so much better if it weren’t padding.

PAGE THREE (Six Panels)

PANEL ONE: Same as Page Two, Panel five, except that RATBOY is now looking towards the gang members as they run away.



Not good.


PANEL TWO: RATBOY is running towards the Rat Plane.



Not good.


Not good.

(The repetitiousness of “Not good” isn’t working in the least. You could simply have him say in the first panel “Uh oh…” and then follow up with “… this isn’t good” in the second panel.)(I disagree. It could work, but the pacing of it is off. The first one in panel 1 is fine, but panel 2, they could be put together like this: notgoodnotgood… That shows a little bit of panic, if that’s where you were going. If he’s running, I think that’s where you want to go. So it could work, you just need to think it through a little bit more and take the pacing into account.)


PANEL THREE: RATBOY is sat inside the cockpit of the Rat Plane. This is the very first time we have actually seen the control panel of the Rat Plane. It should be very high-tech looking, lots of screens, buttons, levers and flashing lights. The only thing that I will insist on is that in the centre is a large screen, other then that I shall leave it all up to you, so have fun.


On the screen we can see the RATBOY logo with the letters R.N.I underneath. (Nope. Pacing is off. If he’s running to it first, we have to show him just getting inside it second. That means you’re missing a panel between the running and this one.)



R.N.I. – The Rat Network Interface


also known as–

(First, you should combine this caption with the one above. There’s no real reason to have them separate. Second, whose caption is this?)


ARNIE (Missing comma) send the rats.


PANEL FOUR: The Rat Plane is now hovering next to CHRIS who still has his eyes shut and his hands over his ears. (More missing panels between this one and the previous one. Where was the plane beforehand? Could it have been seen on P1? Is it relatively near to the action? Once he gets in the plane, he then has to fly it over to Chris. You’re missing that part of it.)


Iwannagohome. Iwannagohome. Iwannagohome.


(from the Rat Plane)

Chris (Missing comma) isn’t it?


Look, Chris, I need your help.

PANEL FIVE: The roof of cockpit of the Rat Plane is folded open and RATBOY is looking towards CHRIS.



Iwannagohome. Iwannagohome.

(This may have worked in the character dialogue from the last panel, but this is too much. Can you think of something else to write here?)


Come on, Chris, I could really use your help here.

(This is repeating what he said in the last panel. Why have it?) (Repetitive persistence. It’s a technique used to calm down hysterical people. I used it at work all the time. While it isn’t used entirely correctly here, it’s close enough for government work. This is fine.)



(The only thing that has any value to this panel is the word “please”. Do you need an entire panel to say it? I don’t believe so. You could forgo it and go straight from Panel Four to Panel Six without skipping a beat.)

PANEL SIX: Close on CHRIS. He is still covering his ears but now his eyes are open and he is looking at RATBOY.



*sniff* Y–you could?




P3, and we have bad pacing in abundance!


Properly paced, this could be a seven-panel page. You’d have to rethink some things beforehand to get there, though. That’s really the only thing wrong with this page. The pacing is off. Not even horribly off, just a little bit.


You’re learning, Darren. You just have to call your shots a little bit better.


As for the dialogue, you’ve given the omniscient narrator two voices: one gives straightforward information, and the second is seeming to give color commentary. A single voice for the narrator. That’s all you need.

PAGE FOUR ( Three Panels)
PANEL ONE: Big wide shot, bleeding behind the others. RATBOY is standing on his seat. His arms are open wide as he implores CHRIS for aid. CHRIS is using the back of his right hand to wipe the tears from his face. (Finally, we get a clear description of who had the tears mentioned a couple of pages back. See how missing information and lack of clarification can cause issues?) Below them the onlookers are looking up and pointing at them, some are smiling while others look terrified. Perhaps even have one or two of the onlookers holding up their cellphones, taking pictures. (Why are the onlookers smiling? Why are some terrified? I don’t understand the reasoning for their reactions.)



Those men that tried to hurt you., (This should be an ellipsis) I need to catch them before they get away.


Can you help?


PANEL TWO: Close on CHRIS. There are still a few tears running down his cheeks but there is also a small hint of a smile on his face.



Yeah, I think so.

PANEL THREE: RATBOY and CHRIS are looking at each other. RATBOY is smiling, as is CHRIS





I just hope you can keep up.

This page is slowing down your story. It could have been combined with the previous page to better effect, with modifications to have the verbal exchange in fewer panels. Now, here’s a point I want you to consider: You have Rat Boy calling in the release of the robotic rats and then have him approaching Chris asking for help. Why did he release the rats and what has happened to them? There isn’t any follow up on this angle and, on top of that, their release becomes redundant if he has the assistance from Chris in capturing the other gang members. You’re going in two different directions regarding the capture of the other men instead of focusing on one or the other. Either have the rats do their job and follow up on that angle or take out the release of the rats and focus on Rat Boy and Chris racing after them.



Here’s the thing: I don’t get the crying. I don’t understand it at all. Sure, I mean, I get it: this guy is supposed to be your version of Superman. You’re also trying to play against type. I understand that. But two pages of crying? I’m not going to call it a lot, or even over the top. I’m just going to say that I don’t get it. I can say this, though: it’s definitely revealing character. Just what about that character is interesting is now the question.


From a technical standpoint, what we have here is a splash page with two insets. Two splash pages within four pages is, in my not-so-humble opinion, overkill. I understand you want the emotional beat of a large panel, but basically using a second splash page to get it is overkill. You can get the same emotional beat with close-ups and silent panels.


What I suggest is to rethink this page, and add a few more panels. You’ll get further along in the story that way.

PAGE FIVE (Six Panels)

PANEL ONE: Establishing shot of ancient ruins deep in middle of a tropical rainforest (like this). It is daytime and the sun is shining brightly. Dotted around the ruins we can see some tents, a trench or two and perhaps a few people, pretty much anything and everything you would expect to see at an archaeological dig.



Meanwhile, somewhere in Southern Asia (I’d add ellipsis marks here.) (GAH! No ending punctuation! Kill it! Kill it with FIYAH!!!)


The Lost Temple of Sisursu.

(You mention this in dialogue further down the page. I’d save this information for when that time comes, sticking with your “Southern Asia” caption to identify the new setting.)

PANEL TWO: Front view of the ruined entrance to one of the temples. It is overgrown with vines and bushes. To the right of the panel is a large tent, easily big enough to walk in without needing to bend over. A teenage boy, 15 years old, Caucasian with spiky brown hair and wearing a red t-shirt and brown trousers, is running away from us towards the entrance. (Of the temple or of the tent?) This is LYLE GORDON



(from Tent)

LYLE GORDON, don’t wander too far now. The area hasn’t been completely secured yet.


Don’t worry (Missing comma) dad. I’m just going to look at some carvings.

PANEL THREE: We are in the tent from the last panel where we can see the world renowned archaeologist, DR HENRY GORDON. He is about 40 years old, muscular build, with brown hair and a mustache, wearing a khaki shirt. He is leaning over a table studying an old looking map. Behind him is a blonde haired woman peering over his shoulders. She is also wearing a khaki colored shirt. This is his wife, MARIA GORDON.



Henry (Missing comma) dear, you know you worry too much about him. He’s spent most of his life growing up in places like this. (Alas, poor exposition. I knew him, Horatio.)


I know I do. (Comma instead of period) but you know what he is like Maria, he’s always rushing off, desperate to find something.


You mean like you?

PANEL FOUR: Similar shot as last panel, but now HENRY has turned his head to look over his shoulder towards MARIA. (What’s the expression on his face?)



What ARE you talking about?


You know what I mean. He’s just trying to be like you, (Period here) Make you proud of him.


Now stop worrying and look at what you’ve accomplished.

PANEL FIVE: LYLE is stood in front of a large wall, his hand reaching out to touch it. On the wall is carved the image of a figure, floating above a small gathering bowing worshippers. The central figure is looking up to the heavens.




You found the Temple of Sisursu. (These are voice-over captions, and as such, need quotation marks.)



The Red God.

(Why are these two lines of Maria’s speech in captions instead of balloons coming from off panel? She’s in the room with Lyle, right?)

PANEL SIX: Same as last panel except LYLE is no longer in sight. A small plume of dust is rising from the bottom of the panel. You can also add small bit of debris or perhaps some disturbed foliage or vines if you like, anything to emphasize that LYLE has fallen through the floor. (This panel, with its “Lord of Illusion” dialogue, isn’t working in my opinion. There’s no build up to the floor giving way, so it comes out of nowhere. It’s too sudden. And the addition of the term “Lord of Illusion” seems like something you’d hear about David Copperfield, David Blaine, or Criss Angel. It makes Sisursu sound like a stage magician instead of “The Red God”. This needs a re-approach.)





Lord of Illusion.



This is the last panel of the scene, making it seem incomplete. There’s no real hook to draw the reader to the next page. If you had built up the scene to have a sequence of events leading up to the floor breaking under Lyle, then have Maria’s reaction to his having fallen through, then it would have created tension. Right now, you don’t have that. I understand you wanted to have the “Lord of Illusion” comment work hand in hand with his disappearance, but it isn’t working. This could have also gone over two pages instead of just one. Give it time to develop.


I’m going to stop here, though. So far, it’s looking better than what you had produced in the first scene from the first issue two weeks ago, but it still needs work. Not a complete reimagining. Better.


P5, and again, we have problems with pacing. Steve is very right in saying there’s no buildup to what happens to Hal…I mean, Lyle. He’s just there one moment and gone the next. The biggest issue is the pacing. The lack of adequate pacing is killing the momentum and the emotional investiture of your story.


Let’s run it down.


Format: Flawless Victory!


Panel Descriptions: These are much better. I could generally see what was going on in each panel, so that was a good thing. However, I want you to give just a little more thought as to when you do and do not need a camera angle. Most of the time you don’t, but sometimes, placing the camera for best effect is key.


Pacing: Here’s where you’re screwed. At least you’re no longer disastrously playing around with time, making my head hurt. Instead, you’re jumping around from place to place, instead of taking the necessary smaller hops to get where you’re going. You’re taking too big a swing at the time between panel borders (also known as gutter time). That is the biggest issue with this piece.


Dialogue: Meh. Nothing to write home about. Some of it is over-writing that Steve fixed, and some of it is exposition, but none of it really draws the reader in. That’s the terrible thing. Nothing is drawing the reader in and letting them get involved with the characters. This is the second major flaw of this piece.


Content: Okay, from a reader standpoint, this is crap. I’m going to tell you why.


These are obvious homages to DC characters. That’s fine, but then, the similarity to them ends. These aren’t satirical representations or stories being told, and they aren’t parodies. It’s transparent fan fiction, and it suffers all the more for it. Because it’s generally fan fiction, you feel you can do whatever you want, but you’re failing to see how the reaer is going to react. Readers are going to expect the characters to behave in a certain way. Batman needs to know how to fight, Superman has to be stalwart, and so on. If you don’t have that, trying to turn it on its ear only in certain parts, readers are not going to make the leap with you. They’re expecting the heroes to act in one way instead of what they are getting. This is what makes it crap. However, it’s easy to fix, editorially.


From an editorial standpoint, this needs work. One of the first things I’d do is change the real names, getting them away from their roots in DC mythology. Let these characters stand on their own, so that readers can make the connection to them without wanting to always go back to their DC counterparts. It’s simple, when you get down to it: you can still have your creativity, you can still show these characters as having DC roots, but they can still be their own characters and act the way you want them to. This way, you aren’t slapping your readers in the face every time they turn the page.


After fixing that, the big thing is to fix the pacing so that the story is even and makes sense. The story itself could be interesting if you weren’t getting in your own way with the pacing. Manageable, bite-sized chunks of time need to be examined. You have to have your scene in your head, see how it works and flows, and then you have to get the correct sequence of panels that will take you into, across, and out of the scene. Then you have to place those accordingly.


Pacing’s the thing wherein you’ll catch the attention of the king. (In this case, the readers. I just needed something to rhyme with “thing.” )


And that’s all there is for this week. Check the calendar to see who’s up next.


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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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