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TPG Week 139: Strong Starts

| August 23, 2013


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in the person of Chad Handley. No jokes about where Chad is from, nor will I make jokes about his last name. This week sees outstanding Samantha Lebas in purple, I’m svelte in red, and we see what Chad does with




“God has provided enough light for those who wish to see, and enough darkness for those who don’t.” – Blaise Pascal

Page one


FULL PAGE SPLASH – Looking down at a dozen heavily-armed, elite soldiers, all wearing jet-black, ceramic body armor. Across their chest plates is the sinister, imposing corporate insignia of the SANCTION COLLECTION AGENCY.

Across the visors on all of their helmets is a visible digital counter, which will be explained shortly. All their visors display exactly the same time: 2:58. (Can we see their faces through the visors? What material are they made of?)

Dominating the frame, towering above the rank and file, straddling two armored TRANSPORT TANKS (one foot on each tank), and wearing the SPECIALIZED ARMOR of a Sanction Battalion Leader, is COMMANDER GRAVES.

He is calmly, matter-of-factly staring up at us through the viewfinder of a large, sinister-looking ROCKET LAUNCHER mounted on his shoulder. (Talking while aiming a rocket launcher? Isn’t he the boss? Wouldn’t he just be standing there giving orders from his perch? I want to see his whole face here. As a reader, I want to know who I am dealing with. Consider getting rid of the weapon, there is enough firepower here already. He never uses the rocket launcher, cut it.)


Attention(comma)delinquent account holders. We are the Sanction Collection Agency(add emphasis, either set the title off visually or put it in a separate balloon).


This is an attempt to collect a debt.(I am picking knits, but it’s not an attempt. They are GOING to collect, one way or another. The language should reflect that.)

(Page Break)

(I am intrigued. You are building an interesting reality, introducing a conflict and using that conflict to tell us about this world. Strong start.)

We’ve got P1 on the books!

This page has something that most scripts that come through here don’t: a strong visual for the opening page. Most of the scripts that come through here treat the first few pages as a warmup, getting to the splash page, if there is one, in their own good time. This story is treating it like a James Brown song: a strong opening note. I like that.

What I’m not sold on is the visual of the guy straddling two tanks. When I think of a tank, like most of you, I think of the Sherman. (Not SherMER, SherMAN. One’s a fictitious high school in a great, great movie, the other is a WWII tank.)I’m not seeing a guy being able to easily straddle two tanks. Not unless he’s a giant. However, I could be wrong.

However, I like the effect of having the rocket launcher seemingly being pointed directly at me. That’s another strong visual.

What’s even better, though, is the dialogue. If you were to pick up this as the first issue, and see that there’s some guy with an army behind him, and he’s pointing a rocket launcher at you, and they’re all part of some sort of collection agency and they’re there to collect a debt… That’s intriguingly absurd! I’d be forced to read on, MacDuff!

Like I said, this is a strong opening page. Gets you right into the action.

PAGE TWO (I like a panel count here, not necessary, just something to consider)

1 – REVERSE looking over Graves’ head up towards an ordinary, suburban, two-story home. We can see a FRIGHTENED FAMILY huddled inside, peeking through the windows.(I think you need a little more detail here, even if you have described the family in another doc, we need to know exactly how many and what kind of people are at THIS window, so things will be consistent)


Sanction is not your creditor. Sanction has been retained by your creditors in an attempt to bring your account current. (Again that pesky attempt word. They are going to bring the account current. They have tanks for christsake.)

2 – Close up of a frightened elderly man inside the house, looking down through a window.(Who is he? How is connected to the group? Which window? Does he have a weapon?)


Sanction does not negotiate.


We offer only one peaceful option:

3 – Close up of a horrified middle-aged woman. (Is she with the group, or alone? Where in the house is she?)


The delinquent debtor surrenders herself to us within three minutes, without condition.

4 – Close up of a terrified young mother, pulling a scared young child close to her. (Need more detail here, how old? 15? 20? 40? How old is the child? Infant? Toddler? School age? Where are they in the house?)


If the debtor refuses, and we are forced to extract her, we will kill everyone else on the premises. (Should the debtor refuse, we will be forced to extract her?)

5 – Close up of Graves, as he looks up at the family inside. The digital countdown display on his visor now reads “1:29.”


Your three minutes began at the commencement of this statement. You have one minute, thirty seconds remaining.

(All right, so you could use a little more detail, but the story is moving along and remains engaging. Still liking this. You should have Graves give his name in this speech, just for the sake of clarity.)

P2, and things are going exactly as they should.

P1 starts with the close-up of the guy aiming a rocket launcher at us. That’s striking. He says something that seems absurd to us. That’s striking. That gets us to turn the page.

We turn the page, and what do we see? We see what he’s aiming at. That keeps the reader engaged.

Then we fall down just a tiny bit. We know there’s a family in the house, but we don’t know how old they are. That’s important for the artist to know. Most of these characters are more than likely going to be one-offs. I’m betting we don’t see most of them ever again, and because of that, the artist needs to know their approximate ages. “Elderly” is not an approximate age. I know some 65 year olds that are still very spry, while others are not. So, it depends on your vision of elderly.

If we knew who was in which window, that would make all the difference. That info should have been in panel 1, or at least giving that info in their respective panels.

My only gripe is that these panel descriptions are a bit light when it comes to actual information that is important to the artist.


1 – A Sanction RECON TROOPER is perched on the roof of a neighboring house, overlooking the scene.


(over radio)

Good morning, Mr. Ford. What are we dealing with?

2 – Ford’s POV through INFRARED GOGGLES. We see HEAT SIGNATURES of the family inside the target home.

Several red-hot humanoid shapes holding blue-green handguns huddle around a large window near the front of the house.(How many? How many rooms can he see here? Electronics and lamps have heat signatures too. Does he see those?)

(Note: in the HUD of Ford’s visor, we can see the timer counting down through the next few panels.)(You’ll need to give the times then)

Ford (O.S.)

(over radio)

Ten civvies. Five armed. All huddled around the main window like they’re in a fucking Western.(I would have him acknowledge that he is speaking to Graves, just so we are sure.)

3 – An adult male heat signature approaches the shapely heat signature of a young woman.(What’s the body language like? We can’t see expressions so this is important. Does he place a hand on her shoulder, is she sitting on the bed with her face in her hands, or standing alert, ready to run?)


(over radio)

Here we go. Runner’s in a bedroom on the southwest corner. Looks like she’s gonna be an earner.(When you introduce words that function differently in the context of your story, like ‘earner’ you may want to emphasize them)

4 – Close up, as the adult male heat signature hands the young woman’s heat signature a handgun.(Again, body language?)

Ford (O.S.) (CONT’D)

(over radio)

Whoops. Daddy just handed her a piece. (Separate balloons) Looks like he’s giving her the old “save one for yourself” speech.

5 – On Graves, on the ground now, prepping his weapons. The timer on his visor now reads 0:02.


Our reputation precedes us. (Separate balloons, consider ellipses instead of period) Hard light weapons only inside. No need to waste ammo. Sonic rounds on my mark.



6 – A line of Sanction soldiers OPEN FIRE. (What does ‘open fire’ mean here? Is that information in a different doc? You need to make sure your artist has a clear understanding of how this looks.)

(Note: their visors display the countdown, and all of their visors read 0:00.)


(The devil is in the details, for sure. Unless you have an artist lined up whom you trust to fill in the gaps, you’ll need to do so.)

P3, and we have something that’s a bit unusual: we have the reliance on color. Most comics use color as a crutch, because it “has” to be that way. That’s what American comic readers are used to seeing. However, if you take the color out of those stories, most of them still work.

Here, though, we have a difference. We have a page where color is necessary to help tell the story. Graytones wouldn’t cut it. It would be like trying to watch Predator in b/w. It can be done, but not to best effect.

The main problem with this page is the pacing of the dialogue. Most of the time, dialogue can be broken up into complete thoughts, with the balloons themselves acting as little pauses either between sentences or thoughts. That’s most of the time. There are other special cases, such as drawing things out for dramatic effect, where you can split a thought over two or more balloons.

The really great part about this dialogue, though, is that it is both crisp and clear. Chad is setting up his world, and I’m having no trouble at all in following along.


1 – Inside the house, dozens of SONIC ROUNDS tear through the windows and the walls. Every projectile is surrounded by large concentric circles of SONIC WAVES.

Several of the family members are clipped by the rounds, but none fatally. (How many? Which ones? What does ‘being clipped’ look like? Why is no one fatally injured? Seems like at least one person would be.)

But all of them are dropping like stones from the incredible sonic assault. Their weapons fall forgotten from their hands as they desperately attempt to cover their ears.(We need to know who had weapons, what they were and how they are positioned. Also, what does the home interior look like? Where is the camera? Aerial shot? Straight on?)


2 – Upside down image of a child fallen flat on his back, his eyes clenched shut. He is clutching at his ears; the sound is so intense, he is bleeding from his ears and nose. (How old is the child?)


3 – Same shot, but now the child is bathed in an eerie neon yellow glow. His eyes have snapped open, he’s looking up at something in terror.


4 – The child’s POV, looking up at an upside down image of Graves, holding a neon yellow HARD LIGHT sword over the child’s head, poised to bring it down in a fatal strike.


5 – New angle on Graves as he brings the sword down into the child, whose body is unseen below frame. Blood splashes up from off panel and dots Graves’ armor. (I assume the hard light sword is down as if the blow has just occurred?)


6 – A wide shot of half a dozen Sanction troopers expressionlessly bringing their own hard light weapons down at men, women, and children just below frame. (How many? How are they positioned? How can we tell who they’ve executed?)

Blood sprays up at them from their cold-blooded, heartless executions.



(That SFX is really effective. The mood is there, the mythos is there, the characters are there, you’ve just got to zero in on building the physical world. You can do it. I know you can.)

P4, and we’re still going strong.

So, on P1, we have the striking image and the army. We know that the guy there means business.

On P2, we have the ground rules laid out, as well as what can be seen as an unfair timeframe being given: We’re here to collect a debt. Surrender or everyone in the house dies. This is your only option. You have three minutes to comply, which started when I started speaking. You now have 90 seconds… Harsh, right?

Then P3 gives us a stylized peek inside, but P4 brings things home. He said three minutes, they didn’t move fast enough, and the slaughter begins.

I like how things are done here. We know people are dying, but instead of being vulgar about it, Chad is leaving their deaths to our imaginations. There is a time and place for everything, and Chad is saying here that, although he’s set up this world and things are screwed up within it, I’m not crossing the line into vulgarity. I’ll take something and blow it up to outrageous proportions, but I won’t be vulgar while doing it.

I love movies. Anyone who reads this column long enough knows that I love movies. Horror movies in particular. B/W horror movies to be extremely particular. I could watch those all day, every day.

I recently bought a four-pack at Walmart. The Final Destination movies, and I bought the 5th as a single. (It was still a decent price, so I figured, why not?) After watching those movies in a single sitting (I had little to do that day), this is what I’ve decided: the Final Destination movies are death porn. Sure, you’ve got your Halloweens and Friday the 13ths and your Nightmare on Elm Streets, but those aren’t death porn. Final Destination movies are death porn. While somewhat enjoyable, they’re vulgar. (That’s part of the enjoyment.)

Chad doesn’t do death porn here. He knew his own particular line, and while he came near it, he didn’t come anywhere truly close to crossing it.

It is also paced well. The deaths happen on P4, which is a right-hand page. All these killings should be done, and we should have a break with the page turn. The story should move on. If it doesn’t, I’m going to be sorely disappointed.


1 – As Graves enters the door behind her, an attractive seventeen-year-old girl, bleeding from her nose and ears, is using every ounce of strength in her to crawl on her hands and knees towards a dropped gun in the foreground. (You need to refer to her by name in this description if you are planning on including her appearance in a character doc, if you are not, you need to give a little more detail here.)


Maria Ramirez. $25,000 was borrowed against six months of your labor.


The balance was not repaid, and you did not report to your creditors for work assignment.

2 – Maria has managed to pick up the gun, and is shakily, desperately, bringing it up towards her open mouth.

Graves’ torso is just behind her.

Graves (O.S.) (CONT’D)

Compounded penalties now come to (consider: ‘total’ instead of ‘come to’) $250,000 againsttwo years of your labor.

3 – Graves hand comes in from off screen and takes the girl’s hand by the wrist, causing her intended suicide shot to go wide and fire up towards the ceiling. (What kind of camera shot is this?)



You will be kept in Sanction custody pending a credit check.


If insufficient funds are found in your name, you will be escorted by Sanction to the labor assignment of your creditor’s choice.

4 – Graves looks on as a pair of Sanction soldiers lift the crying Maria and carry her towards the door. Ford is now next to him, addressing him. (Where did these soldiers come from? I feel like we should have seen them entering in the panel above. You need to explain the shot a bit more, where is the camera, how wide is the shot?)


Not like she can hear you, Graves.


Protocol, Ford. Separates the men from the beasts.


Speaking of, mind if the boys break in the merchandise?



Make sure those idiots are subtle (consider: ‘discreet’ instead of ‘subtle.’) about it. (separate balloon) And by subtle, I mean this one keeps all her teeth.

SOUND EFFECT – BEEP-BEEP! (Where does the beep come from, your letterer needs to know, and is this the best sound for a phone or other communicator?)


5 – Close on Graves. He touches his hand to his helmet as if he’s receiving a call. (Maybe move the SFX here? What’s his expression. If you show him reacting to the last piece of information, you may need to separate this into two panels. One with flat expression and one with a slight smile, or a curious look.)


Commander Graves.


No, sir, we’re clear. Ready for reassignment in 30. What’s our target?


Say again?!



(I actually want to keep reading. Bravo. That doesn’t happen often. Pacing is good. You’ve introduced the world. I am asking questions (the good kind). I have a general sense of Graves character, and I want to see what happens. Fill in some details and this is ripe with potential.

The dialogue is a little thick at times. While it could be streamlined, it doesn’t bog down the read.

One note, the title still doesn’t make sense, five pages in and it remains a just a made up word, just something to consider. You may change my mind as I continue reading, but it seems like a tougher sell than it has to be.)(Sounds like someone needs to use a dictionary, and it isn’t the writer… Granted, I had to look it up, too, but still…)

Let’s just run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory. (There were page breaks missing from this file, but I also saw it in pdf form. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here.)

Panel Descriptions: These need a little bit of work. Just a small touch of clarity, and giving the artist enough information for them to do their jobs. Not much else, though.

Pacing: To paraphrase Darth Vader: the pacing is strong in this one. The actions were fine, and kept the reader going deeper into the story. The dialogue just needs a little bit of spacing out. That’s a minor gripe, and is easily fixed in editorial.

Dialogue: Very readable! I know this is a second issue, but it also feels like a first. I felt like opening that cover and reading that first page was like a first issue, and I’d be caught up on events as I went along. A word change here and there, and while the use of names was organic, I’d try to work it in as early as possible. It could have come a little bit sooner than it did.

The only real issue with the dialogue is the slight pacing issue. And if that’s the only problem with it, I call the dialogue a win!

Content: I liked these pages. Very easy to read, grabbed me, and kept me interested. Really, you can’t ask for more than that for an opening.

Editorially, this is also pretty easy. Just a little shine here, a nudge there.

The title: It’s a setup. After looking up the definition, I don’t know if the title works. Let’s make another movie reference.

From Dusk ‘Til Dawn. Pretty good movie, right? It’s got Salma Hayek doing a sexy dance, and that’s almost worth the price of admission. It’s got Danny Trejo, whom I feel doesn’t get enough work. George Clooney, as an actor, doesn’t impress me, but as an actor who does his best to do the right thing? Very impressive.

For the two of you who have never seen the movie, it’s about a couple of thieves who kidnap a family in an RV as they attempt to escape from the law. They travel down to Mexico, stop at a bar in order to make some sort of deal, and they are then assailed by vampires. Getting to Mexico was the first third (maybe half), and then it kind of takes a weird turn into vampire-ville. It’s enjoyable (Salma Hayek), but you’re kinda left wondering how you got there.

I’m thinking this story may do the same thing. I found the beginning enjoyable, but I’m wondering if there would be a weird turn somewhere in there, leaving the reader to wonder how they got there.

But that’s all there is for 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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