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TPG Week 172: Work On Other Projects First

| April 11, 2014


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Curt Achberger. And while this was supposed to be Steve Colle’s week, he’s taking a sabbatical, and will be back when he can. In the meantime, the beautiful, talented, and ice cold Samantha LeBas has stepped in to help out. So, as always, we have Sam in purple, I’m in red, and we see what Curt has done with


PAGE ONE (one panel)

Panel 1 – Title/Credits page.

A long view looking down at Mumbai in ruins, smoke rising from everywhere, fires visible. Buildings have blast markings (as if from artillery), scorch’s (lasers/flamethrowers) and claw/bite/tear damage (as if from giant beasts). The ground is littered with skulls/bones (not all human)(then we need to know what they are), bullet casings and arrows, discarded rifles and swords/shields(We need a little more detail here, too). (If this is a long view, we’re not going to be able to see all of this, because there’s so much that needs to be seen. If you want to show the city, then this has to be pulled back, just like it is. However, the minute detail you’ve gone into won’t be seen. It can’t. That’s just the nature of the beast.)


On January 29th(delete ‘th’ add comma) 2014, Dr. Asura Raman was attempting to create a breakthrough in transportation technology by opening portals in space-time, thus(suggest deleting, ‘thus’) allowing instantaneous travel across the globe. Instead, his experiments created two “rifts”,(move comma inside quotation marks, consider emphasizing with italics) openings between our universe and other(comma) alternate universes.

One universe, called Seti Prime, is inhabited by a human empire called the(capitalize) Tekreign. Possessing technology far advanced of(suggest ‘to’) our own, the Tekreign empire spans their entire galaxy(comma) and their control on it is maintained by an army of cyborgs and robots known simply as(comma) “the(capitalize) Tek”. Following their belief that “a good offense is the best defense”,(move comma inside quotation marks, or delete quotation marks) the Tek wasted no time in exploiting the newly opened portal.

The other rift opened to a universe called Dra’con. Inhabited by a host of warring races, constantly fighting one another for dominance,(change comma to period) (Doing that makes the sentence a fragment.) Dra’con is a place where the forces of magic are alive and well. Dragons, demons and terrors of the night found themselves presented with an open invitation for (expansion and chaos. this phrase, nee this sentence makes little to no sense.)

After the initial devastation (need verb, caused by?) of two otherworldly(comma) invading forces, humanity regrouped and prepared to fight back. Among the scattered resistance, famed geneticist(comma) Ernst Wagner(comma) found a way to use the powers of our unwelcome guests against them. Together with a stranded special forces commander (why no name), he created humanity’s last, best hope of survival.

He created the Experimental Fighter program:


(This is prose. This is not the way comics begin, for a reason. There are four full paragraphs here, there is nothing dynamic to look at, nothing to connect with, just some words and a burning city. I don’t think this is an effective start.)

We have P1 on the books!

Ready for it? Are you ready? You all know what I’m going to say, right? Someone wanna say it for me? Wait. I’m sorry. It seems like I’m relishing this, and I’m not. This is crap. This is the worst of a Marvel comic, where the first page is nothing but a recap to get the reader up to speed for What Happens Next. This isn’t the way this particular comic should start.

To be honest, for a first issue, no comic should start like this. Know what this does? It makes the reader want to go away. That’s never good. I read this, and I’ll be honest: I laughed. I laughed so that I wouldn’t cry. Because I recognized this for what it was (besides crap). I recognized my own youth here.

This is a teenager’s concept. And by teenager, I mean no older than sixteen. I’m not saying that I’m a great writer. I’m not saying that I’m a mature writer. I’m just saying that this is something I would have come up with when I was in my early-to-middle teens.

Why am I talking about the concept? Because that’s what we were just force-fed. Nothing but pure concept and backstory. It’s terrible. No one wants to read this. This isn’t interesting. Know what’s interesting? Explaining how we got here through action and conflict. Let this information come out through dialogue and dramatic tension. That is much more interesting than this. This is nothing more than a turn-off.

PAGE TWO (one panel)

Panel 1 – Establishing Shot, London at night. Abigale Gonzales (Abby) is perched on a city rooftop observing a dragon fighting a flying attack drone (like a futuristic helicopter or the hunter/killers from terminator). The city below them is in ruins, not all of which was caused by the current battle. (Where the hell is the camera here? Can we see her face?)

CAPTION: London – 2016

ABBY (thought):

Years ago, the sole(suggest changing to even, I don’t think this word makes sense here) thought of seeing either a dragon, or a flying death machine would have been awe-inspiring. (You need some sort of contradiction here.)Seeing both go at each other, with no regards for the world around them, is like (walking into do you need this phrase?) a waking nightmare.

The fear can make you want to give up and hide for the rest of your short life. I chose a different path. I gave myself to a team of experts trying to create the ultimate human weapon. They remade me, like raw iron forged into a sword.

These two are pretty evenly matched, I’ve seen the dragon win as many times as the drone. But no matter what, you know who always loses? Us.

I’m going to change all that. At least that’s what they tell me.

(More long-winded explanations of abstract ideas that we have no emoitonal investment in, how did we get so lucky? At least we have a nameless character on this page, and one less paragraph…)

Oh, goodness. That was almost my lunch…

Okay, P2, and this is just…bad. I’m not going to call this entire piece crap—not yet—but another one-page panel with a wall of text that no one wants to read, and that’s exactly what I’m going to call it.

So, there’s no camera angle. Know what else is missing? A time of day. Know what else is missing? An adequate left-to-right description of this panel. I don’t know where anything is, and I don’t think you do either, Curt. I think you’re just writing.

And then there’s the bad prose. Really, who says this to themselves? I mean, getting through that dialogue was hard, because I’m trying to keep an open mind, but mine keeps wanting to turn away and read a romance novel or something. If I’m going to read bad prose, at least there will be meaning behind it.

Here’s your first mistake with this dialogue: there are 126 words in three thought balloons here. That’s too many words per balloon. I don’t care that this is only one panel: the balloons are still going to be too big.

The second mistake is you’re using thought balloons instead of captions. This isn’t the thoughts a person has immediately. This is more of an internal monologue, and internal monologues need captions.

The third mistake is the pacing. One page for this panel? Come on! Never. This is padding in the worst sense. This is you not having enough story to carry your page count, so you went the easy way instead of actually trying to find story for the pages. This is lazy.

The fourth mistake is thinking this is interesting enough to carry an entire page. It isn’t.

The fifth mistake is trying to cram more backstory in here.

The sixth mistake…do you know who always loses? Us. The readers of tripe.

PAGE THREE (5 panels)

Panel 1 – Open image left side of page top to bottom. Camera sees from street up to roof with Abby in the center. The battle over, Abby is climbing down the building ladder.

Top of Page (panel not page) – ABBY (thought): What came out of those rifts that day shook our planet to it’s core. Virtually every religion claimed it was the end times, governments either collapsed or sealed themselves off completely. (The first sentence is repetitive. What new information can be given instead?)

Bottom of Page (panel not page) – ABBY (thought): Even now, after all the death and destruction, you’re as likely to be offed by a human as you are a Tek or Dra’con. But it’s not over yet, the human spirit still burns in some of us. At least that’s what I tell myself. Otherwise(comma) what the hell’s the point? (I’m asking myself the same question as I wade through this…writing.)

Panel 2 – Upper right. Map of the United States from a military like display (green glowing lines). Radiation symbols on the border of Canada and Mexico.

ABBY (thought): The US “containment protocol” included nuking the entirety of their borders (with Canada and Mexico this phrase is redundant). The entire naval fleet was split between the coastlines. They buttoned up good, now no one gets in or out. (OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!!!!! I…I… ‘SPLODE!!!!)

Panel 3 – Map of Europe (same style).(Are there radiation symbols?)

ABBY (thought): The EU fell apart(comma) as old rivals used the chaos to blame one another (suggest: ‘blamed the chaos on one another’ ) and settle old feuds. As independent nations they were ravaged by the invaders. What’s that saying? “those who ignore history…”. (Delete period)

Panel 4 – Map of Russia, China and Japan (same style)(Symbols here? I assume ‘no’)

ABBY (thought): Russia, Japan and China decided it was time to re-open old wounds, even as they were set upon by otherworldly forces. It didn’t help that the Chinese people(suggest deleting ‘people’) decided they had had enough of their current government.

Panel 5 – Map of Africa (same style)

ABBY (thought): Africa lost a hundred years of progress in 2 months. The old dictators were just waiting for something like this to happen.(This line is pretty terrible) You’d be hard pressed to find a single formal government anywhere on the continent.(A dictatorship is a formal government)

(And now we have maps with all of the text in the entire world. It’s like an Atlas with more words, just what I have always wanted.)


This is crap. Pure and simple.

Answer me this, Curt: who’s she talking to? Who’s she telling this information? This is information she already knows, and she’s thinking it to herself? Why? Know what she’s doing? She’s giving exposition. She’s telling the audience about the world, and it’s disgusting. It’s almost enough to make me angry.

This is nothing more than terrible, terrible writing. I’m still waiting for the story to start, instead of getting a history lesson.

Know what I did? I didn’t read all of that. I skimmed, to see if you were going to do something besides give us a world tour. You didn’t.

This is terrible. I need liquor. Liquid courage, for me to get through this thing.

And what the hell is up with this “top/bottom” of page thought balloons? It’s..

Panels are numbered in order for a reason. Panel description (the action that happens) and then dialogue (words spoken), and sometimes there’s sound effects, to be place either before, between, or after the dialogue, as necessary. What you’re doing here is nothing more than confusing the creative team.

PAGE FOUR (5 panels) (What happened to the page break? I know what happened to my mind…)

Panel 1 – Medium view (ground to a couple feet above her head). Abby standing in an alley turned to the right, left hand has just let go of ladder. (This reminds me of another writer who had a character on fire escapes. I think that character’s name was Abby, too. I could be wrong.)

ABBY (thought): My name is Abigale Gonzales. Before the rift(comma) I was a photojournalist. I thought I had seen the worst places on Earth, the worst humanity had to offer, that my job(comma) and my father(comma) had prepared me for anything. I was wrong… (You were also wrong if you thought this was good writing.)

Panel 2 – Head and shoulders view with space to see the wall. Moving down alley, graffiti on the brick wall “the only good Tek is a dead Tek”

ABBY (thought): After the rift, everything went to hell real quick. I was at ground zero, investigating corruption in Mumbai. Then, thanks to the infamous Dr. Raman, a place not real pleasant to begin with turned into the 7th(spell out) layer(circle?) of hell.

Panel 3 – More alley, graffiti on wall says “Die greenskins”(Is Abby in this panel?)

ABBY (thought): I managed to escape Mumbai. Turns out there wasn’t really anywhere to escape to, but I hooked up with some folks and got to Vienna, which led to my encounter with Gen.(spell out) George Lee and Dr. Wagner.

Panel 4 – More alley, camera has fallen a bit behind Abby so that just the back of her head & body are in frame. There’s an “Atlas Technologies” ad on the wall.

ABBY (thought): They changed me in every way. Turned me into a weapon in the fight for humanity’s survival, offered me a chance at the one thing left in this world to strive for… revenge.

Panel 5 – POV rusted door with “DANGER” sign on it. Abby’s hand is on the door handle.

ABBY (thought): But enough about me, it’s time to get to work.

(None of this makes sense. We don’t have the context for it yet. There is an ungodly amount of text here, and not one thing has happened yet. I am going to stop here.)

Thank the blessed Sam, she stopped!!! I guess this sapped even her prodigious strength.

Let’s run this down, so we can all run away.

Format: This could have been a flawless victory, and that literally would have been the best thing about this piece of crap. Unfortunately, you screwed up the page breaks.

Panel Descriptions: These need work. Panel descriptions generally need to be able to be “seen” by the mind’s eye. I’m in a white void part of the time, because I can’t see what’s going on. I’ve got no reference for the camera angles, because they aren’t given. You just started writing, not giving any indication of the panels actually being able to be drawn, and because of that, there’s no real point of reference for the artist some of the time.

You need to take your time, and write what you “see” in your head. If you can’t write it, the artist can’t draw it. If the artist can’t draw it, then there’s no comic.

Pacing: This is the second biggest offense to my sanity in this entire script. There’s no pacing here. Nothing happens for four pages. The only thing that happens is we’re thought at, and given an uninteresting history lesson. It’s all backstory, and no one cares. No one cares at all.

So, there are four pages that don’t do a damned thing. Even snails move. This thing moves, but in no direction. Heartbeat? That’s about it.

Dialogue: This is the greatest offense to my sanity in a long, long time. I haven’t read anything this plainly wretched in…I try to blank those out, just like I’ll be blanking this out.

Here’s the thing—the dialogue isn’t too bad to read. Definitely clunky in some areas, like a virgin in a whorehouse on prom night, but it isn’t too bad to read. What makes my head ‘splode is when I try to make sense of it in context of what it is. When I do that, I just want to Hulk out and wreck everything I see.

I once edited a book written by a creator who hadn’t read a comic since the 70s. His dialogue was bad, and in some places was just flat-out hilariously terrible. This, though, had no highs. It was all bad, because no one does this. No one.

The internal monologue is a convention of stories told in first person. They have a “lean back” sense to them, as things have a sense of already having happened, and we’re just being told the story. Even when it’s stream of consciousness, it’s still a “lean back” experience. It doesn’t have much immediacy to it.

Thought balloons, though, are immediate. This is what the character is thinking right now, and as such, this causes readers to “lean forward” into the story. They’re invested.

What you did, Curt, is you screwed up all the way around. You mistook the thought balloon for internal monologue, and you mistook what was being said as something of interest, and then you thought the entire thing moved the comic forward, all while being extremely wordy.

While the first four pages may be saved for the panel descriptions (well, the first three—the first page has to go the way of the dodo, too), absolutely none of this dialogue can be saved. Not a noun, not a verb, not an preposition, not an article. None of it. Every single word of this dialogue has to be taken out back, shot, burned, boiled in oil, left to rot, smelted, and then buried in a bog, and those that buried it should all expire, too, so that it can never be found again.

What needs to go in its place? Words that actually move the story forward. Not an internal monologue, either. Changing the balloons to internal monologue defeats the purpose of killing the dialogue.

Actually, remember when I said that the first three pages may be saved? I changed my mind. Maybe a panel here and there, but for the most part, it has to go. You need a better starting place than what you have.

Content: As a reader, I’d probably punch the hell out of my retailer for stocking this. I don’t care if it’s a local book, either. The retailer can save themselves a few assaults by saying no to this, just on the strength of the first two pages.

Editorially, I’d say to put this story to the side for a while, and work on others first. Understand how storytelling works in comics, because it’s quite obvious that you haven’t learned that yet. Once you’ve learned how to tell a story in this format (or, more accurately, once you’ve learned how to tell a story that isn’t backstory), then you can give this concept another shot. Come back to it in a year or two. Seriously. You may think this is harsh now, but if you put in the work, when you come back to it, you’ll see that I was right in saying this is not good in any way.

And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!


Also, we’re getting close to the end of our scripts! Submit now, because the wait isn’t long!


Like what you see? Steve and Sam are available for your editing needs. You can email Steve here, and Sam here. My info is below.


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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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