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TPG Week 180: Don’t Make The Reader Hungry In A Bad Way

| June 7, 2014


Hello, one and all, and welcome back to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Alyssa Crow! Alyssa hails from Australia, land of Vegemite. (I want to try the stuff, but I may want to be drunk first…) This week, we have Yannick Morin in green, I’m scruffy in the red, and we see how Alyssa deals with

Where The Monsters Are

PAGE ONE – 4 Panels

I’ve been told I’m a little too wordy so I’m going to try yet another approach…


It’s late afternoon. A beautiful butterfly is fluttering in a downward spiral, leaving a long trail of spectre-dust (think of a cross between flames and nebula, speckled with tiny flecks of light). It’s a beautiful creature, with feathery, almost decorative wings and colours of turquoise and violet. It glows gently with a bluish light.

The setting is a forest clearing, surrounded by tall, old trees, though focus should be tight on the butterfly and its trail, any background perhaps out of focus.

(Note to Letterer: all captions are PIGEON’S internal monologue.)

They say the world has gone ugly.

That even the people have become like the monsters that threaten our very lives.

TECHNICAL – Perfect establishing shot: Alyssa starts on a high note with an establishing shot that tells us a where, a when, a what and a how. Not only does she describe the setting but she also tells the artist what the focus should be. This is going beyond the minimal requirements of a panel description; she’s not only describing the panel, she’s also stating a purpose for it, thus better getting across to the artist what she wants.


Here we’re looking down on PIGEON, a girl in her pre-teens. She has her hands raised in the air, cupped together, ready to gently catch the butterfly, which is continuing its descent towards her hands. Please keep Pigeon’s BACK off-frame for now. Pigeon has an expression of happy wonderment, gazing up at the butterfly.



TECHNICAL – Clear panel description: Notice how she says “PIGEON,” not “a young girl.” Then there’s that instruction about keeping the character’s back out of frame. Of course, telling the artist exactly why would have been even better, but still…

TECHNICAL – Implied camera angle: Notice how she implies a camera angle with “we’re looking down on PIGEON” instead of going at it explicitly with “elevated view of” or “downward shot of.” I don’t remember the author but there was this article I read recently about how comics needed to develop their own vocabulary instead of relying on screenplay terms. Using the reader’s point of view as a tool seems like a good avenue. (Why? The camera angles are very often the same. Comics already has its own vocabulary. Why come up with another when there’s one already very usable and available. That’s trying to reinvent the wheel.)


Close-up of Pigeon. The butterfly has landed in her cupped hands, and she’s holding it up to her face. Pigeon is elated. The cool glow from the butterfly is reflected on Pigeon’s skin and making her eyes sparkle.

That every day we live is just a chance…

TECHNICAL – Dialogue flow: Just to make it sound better, I suggest changing this line to:
That every day we live is just another chance…


Tight close-up on Pigeon’s face (eyes, nose, part of mouth). We can’t see the butterfly now. Where there was a gentle blue glow cast on Pigeon’s face, there is now just hot red-orange. Pigeon’s face has changed from happiness to fear.

…to feel pain.

NARRATIVE – Great first page: Good establishing shot, there are surprises in store for the reader, the dialogue hints at something interesting and there’s a very nice hook to get a page-turn.

NARRATIVE – Distancing captions: Yes, your captions do their job of foreshadowing the world you’ve created, but they’re also digging a wedge between the reader and the story. Captions push the reader away, but speech balloons draw them in. Consider making Pigeon more vocal in her wonderment instead of making it all come through the facial expressions.

Okay, so we’ve got P1 in the books!

You want to know something? I’ve got only one thing that nagged me on this page. Yannick touched on it, but I’m going to go deeper into it.

Well, there are two things that bothered me. First things first, though.

The first thing that bothered me is the lack of spoken dialogue. There are two different mindsets when you read a comic: lean forward, or lean back. When we lean forward, we’re invested in the story. We lean forward when there is immediacy. There is no immediacy here, because there is no spoken dialogue. That means we’re leaning back, because we’re being told the story. That’s what the captions are doing: they’re telling the story, leaching the immediacy out of it.

The immediacy of spoken dialogue puts us in the here and now of the story. It grounds us within the timeframe of the panel in a way that action doesn’t. Captions don’t lend immediacy, not even as an internal monologue, because the captions could be done at any time.

Ever watch a Philip Marlowe movie? (Me and a movie reference. Who’da thunk it?!) He’s a private detective, and he keeps up a running internal monologue throughout his films. (The movies are adapted from books written by Raymond Chandler, and are more than likely told in the first person. I haven’t read any of the books, so I’m just guessing, but it’s an educated guess due to the genre. It makes the most sense.) Anyway, even though there’s an internal monologue, it doesn’t feel like it’s giving his thoughts right then and there. It feels more like the story is finished, and he’s recounting it. Telling it.

That’s what the captions here are doing. They are telling the story, instead of letting the reader become invested in the here and now that is shown in the panel. Spoken dialogue puts us within the subjective now of the panel.

The second thing that bugged me about this page is that there are only four panels, and not a lot of words. There is more of an opportunity to lay more groundwork for the world because of the low panel count. This page could have easily held six wide-screen type panels, stacked on top of each other, talking about all kinds of things.

Overall, this is a pretty decent opening. Let’s see if that continues.

TECHNICAL – Page break: There was one! Break out the good whisky, Steven! (I would have been supremely disappointed if it were missing.)

PAGE TWO – 2 Panels


PANEL ONE (inset top left of Panel Two)

Close-up of Pigeon’s cupped hands, with the butterfly inside. The butterfly is no longer cool turquoise and violet, it’s red-orange. It has fired (from its mouth area) what looks like a barb, an inch or so long, into Pigeon’s skin. Looks like it’s punctured deep.

SFX (small)

PIGEON (shout)(crosses the border into Panel Two)

TECHNICAL – Intrusive layout instructions: Careful about butting into the artist’s job. If it’s an inset and the first panel of the left-hand page, chances are he’ll know to place it in the top left. Just saying “inset of panel 2” suffices. I’ve also seen writers use “Panel 1a (inset)” as a notation and then the next panel is “Panel 1.” (Not necessarily. The inset could have been on the bottom right of the panel. It really depends on the story flow. I don’t see this as intrusive, I see it as telling the artist where the inset panel is supposed to go. It’s a good, timely instruction.)

TECHNICAL – Confusing dialogue placement: The panel where the dialogue line is placed is the panel in which the balloon tail points. By placing the dialogue here, you’ll have the letterer making Pigeon’s hands talk while there will technically be no sound coming out of her mouth in the next panel. Two possible solutions: 1. move the dialogue line into the next panel, or 2. ask for a sound-effect-like scream that will bridge the gap between the inset panel and Pigeon’s mouth in the main panel. (I didn’t read it as confusing. I read it as she’s yelling in pain, and the inset is there to show why she’s yelling, with the balloon crossing into the panel, and thus doing double-duty.)

PANEL TWO (splash)

Full body shot of Pigeon, with a lot more of the background showing. Pigeon is standing there, grasping her hand, looking at the small barb poking out of her palm (finishing her shout that’s carried from the inset panel). The strange butterfly has just fluttered off her hand, leaving her behind. It’s mostly red-orange, but with some of its original colours starting to return, leaving its tell-tale trail of spectre-dust in its wake.

Here, we see (for the first time) that Pigeon has wings. Not the neat pair of angelic wings, mind you, but an ugly cluster of dirty wings protruding from her back. There are two wings that look big enough that short bursts of flight might be possible, given Pigeon’s slight frame, but they’re positioned crookedly on her back. All the other wings are of varying shades and sizes. Many of the wings look worse for wear. Pigeon wears nothing but a crude handmade halter dress, low enough in the back to give all her wings freedom. Her skin, particularly on the lower part of her legs, is mottled.

In the background, we get a glimpse of Pigeon’s village. How much depends on what reasonably fits within the panel. Situated in the forest grove, the huts are mostly of stone, mud cement (also called “survival cement”), and wood. We might see a couple scraps of metal, but any metal present should be OLD and in poor repair. Between the trees, we see an old palisade.

We might see some villagers in the background that look pretty normal, looking like any natives (albeit of mixed races) we might see in a forest village- skinny, wiry muscles, somewhat unkempt, but proud. Many others are like Pigeon. They have things wrong with them. Mutations. Always ugly mutations. None of them are paying any attention to Pigeon, except one WOMAN sitting on the ground at a pathetic excuse for a cooking pit, lonely, apart from the others. She’s looking up at Pigeon with concern. Even though she’s a little distance away, we can see prominent growths (think “Elephant Man”) protruding from one side of her body- down her face, neck, shoulder, arm, torso. She wears a thread-bare linen shawl loosely draped over her head and shoulders, partially hiding the hideous growths on her face and neck.

Me? I don’t believe it’s as bad as all that.

TECHNICAL – Intrusive character descriptions: These are taking a lot of space in an already lengthy panel description. Move them to a separate document. (Very true. You should know better by now, Alyssa.)

TECHNICAL – Omitted information: If this was taking place inside Pigeon’s village, you should have told the artist in your establishing shot on the previous page. That way, he could plan the angles on page 1 in order to keep the reveal of the full setting for page 2 without anything being “magically delicious.”

So, we have P2 down, and what do we have? We have a nicely placed splash page. This page does more to tell the story than the previous page with the imagery, but it could still use more dialogue.

We finally have some immediacy, though. Did you notice how you were immediately grounded into the subjective now of the panel as soon as you had the spoken dialogue?

So, we have a story about misshapen people, and one who doesn’t seem to think that life is all that bad. The question now, though, is it enough to draw the reader in as being interesting?

I’m going to say “no.” The reason is the lack of dialogue. There’s an ocean of space on this page, and it isn’t being used to tell the story. We’ve gotten the immediacy we needed, now how about the story? Hopefully, the next page will draw us in.




Pigeon is cringing. She’s just pulled the barb out of her hand, flecking blood. Behind her, we see the woman has just stood up, looking to approach. Her body lilts to one side, as though her growths are a heavy burden. Nevertheless, her face is gentle and sympathetic as she looks at Pigeon. She’s reaching for a water-skin hanging from a crude belt.

You shouldn’t be so trusting of those
things, Pigeon. Now look where it’s got you.

PIGEON (murmuring)
It stings…

TECHNICAL – Unclear emphasis notation: Use underlining instead of italics when emphasizing dialogue; it stands out more. That way, you’re sure your letterer won’t skip over it.

TECHNICAL – Very good panel description: I just want to point out how in every panel description so far, characters are acting and emoting, and we always know where they are. Alyssa isn’t just telling us what happens as her outline states it; she’s actually describing the art in each panel. This, folks, is comic writing. (I just don’t know if the woman was close enough to actually speak to Pigeon in this panel. The good news is that we finally have a name for a character, and it’s organic.)


The Woman is holding Pigeon’s hand out, and is tipping water onto Pigeon’s palm. The run-off is lightly tinged with blood. Pigeon is looking into the Woman’s face, ignoring her hand. Despite her appearance, the Woman is a gentle person. The Woman is looking kindly at Pigeon’s hand.

You’ve got to flush it out. See? The stinging will stop.

People don’t have to be monsters. They choose to be.


Repeat of Panel Two, but this time Pigeon is holding her hand, giving a sheepish smile to the woman. Her hand is dripping, but we no longer see any blood. The Woman is smiling back at Pigeon, holding her water-skin against her chest.


Yeah, thanks…
Thank you.

Personally, I think survival is about looking out for one another.


Repeat of Panel Three, but this time both Pigeon and the Woman are startled. They’re looking towards the direction of shouting…

QUINN (off-panel)(shouting)
CHIEF!! Chief, come quick!

TECHNICAL – Repetitive layout: Careful about repeating the same shot too much. Do it twice and you’re creating a sense of passing time. Do it three times and it just feels stale.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Or is it? Any artist worth his salt will know which direction to make them turn their head but it’s till better to specify that the characters will be looking towards the right, thus leading the reader’s eyes outside the spread and into the page-turn.

NARATIVE – Good hook: Page one ended with a cliff-hanger and page three does so too. You’ve managed to keep your reader hooked through the first three pages and onto a fourth. Ideally, all right-hand pages should end with an incentive to keep on reading. Until printed comics are dethroned as the main form of this medium, you’ll do well to make the best out of the particularities that are two-page spreads and page-turns. It’s one of the things that make the specificity of comics.


Know what? I have a personal bias. I’m talking about the (link). I hate it, and I think it’s lazy. This is a personal bias, and I know it. I can’t call it wrong or incorrect, because it isn’t. I will call it what I think it is: lazy. If I were editing this, I’d have the writer put a label on every utterance. That’s just me.

Another downfall is that this is P3, and there is a total of 10 panels here, to include the inset on P2. Know what this means? This is a fast read. Know who likes fast reads? (That’s a real question. I don’t know anyone who likes fast reads, but someone somewhere might…)

Now, the good news is that there’s interest! You pulled it out at the last minute. We want to know who the chief is, and we want to know what the emergency is. That’s great. I like it.

Just slow it down. Add more panels and dialogue.




The camera has pulled back from Pigeon and the Woman, giving us a wide shot. We can see them still standing there in the distance, standing in shock towards the foreground. We can see more of the village and its villagers in the background now. They’re dropping what they were doing. The shouting has got everyone’s attention, and they’re worried. In the far background, we can see the palisade that surrounds their village.

In the middle-ground is the CHIEF, running towards the foreground. He’s muscular and battle-hardened. A number of dark horn-like protuberances push up from between his locks. They’re of varying sizes and randomly placed- more like stalagmites than typical horns. He wears a variety of animal skins, and has a formidable-looking axe hanging from his waist.

In the foreground, we see just part of the boy QUINN- we’re looking past him, from behind.

QUINN (weary)
Please…oh gods…

Quinn? What is it, kid? For ‘seer’s sake, where’s Tobin? And Merek? Where’s my

TECHNICAL – Typo: I’m thinking Pigeon and the woman should be “staring in shock towards the foreground” and not “standing.”

TECHNICAL – Intrusive character description: See above.

TECHNICAL – Good panel description: Notice how Alyssa methodically goes from background to middle-ground and then to foreground. She doesn’t jump around all over the place. (I just wanna know where the person came from? The previous page didn’t really state. Is he coming from the village, or is he coming from somewhere else? And the chief is somewhat magically delicious. Where did he come from? Could he have been seen earlier? I think so.)

TECHNICAL – Punctuation error: Missing space after the first ellipsis in Quinn’s line.


Camera’s flipped, we’re looking past the Chief at Quinn. Quinn is just a boy, maybe 16. He’s dirty, battered, bloody. Despite his pain, he’s looking up at the chief with pity.

Behind him, we see a gap in the palisade that serves as the entry gate into the village. There are a couple of men guarding at the gate, looking towards Quinn with shock and concern. (Wait. Wait. Where’s the village? Where was it before? It seems to have moved. Either that, or I’m totally mixed up, which can happen. But I think the village moved.)

Quinn? Where’s…my son?

TECHNICAL – Character description: I know I’ve dinged you for going too much at length with describing characters, but I need to ask: Quinn doesn’t have any mutations?


We see Quinn looking up at the Chief, pitiful, close to collapse. The Chief is looming over Quinn, acutely stressed.

Stalkers, sir. They aren’t usually at the Falls, Chief, but they were there, they were waiting for us…

What happened to my son?!

There was a whole pack of them, sir, we couldn’t…I tried to help…but…
I came as fast as I could, Chief!

You imbecile child…

TECHNICAL – Dialogue flow: Quinn goes vocative twice in the same speech balloon, first with “sir” and then with “chief.” Stick to one only. Also consider eliminating the “sir” in his second line as well.

TECHNICAL – Punctuation error: Same issue with the ellipsis in Quinn’s second line.


Tight mid-shot of the Chief. His hands are clenched, tears are welled in his eyes, but right now his primary emotion is rage.

CHIEF (shouting)
You lead the beasts right to us!
(The wrong tense was used here. It should have been led, not lead.)

TECHNICAL – Punctuation error: Well, it’s more of a preference really, but I would have started the Chief’s line with an ellipsis to flow better from his last line in the previous panel.

NARRATIVE – Mid-spread hook: There’s always a small eye-jumping gap between the bottom of the left-hand page and the top of the right-hand page. Alyssa fills it well with this small dramatic moment of tension. It’s just enough gas to go up that little slope. The lesson here: never let the reader’s attention slip, not even mid-spread.

It’s P4, and I’ve got the same gripes. It’s moving too fast.

Everything is moving at the same speed. Except for P2, every page has been four panels with little dialogue. That’s a fast read, and readers will feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth.

So, yes, the pacing is off. This should have been three pages instead of four.

The dialogue is very readable—there just isn’t enough of it! I wanna have something to read! There’s a story here, but for all the speed that this story is moving, there’s very little revealed just as yet.

Story time.

I went to private schools for four years. Junior high and the first two years of high school. In my area, a private school meant a Roman Catholic school. My parents aren’t religious. The only time we stepped inside a church as a family was during a wedding. I can remember going to church on Easter once, and that was with my grandmother (my mother’s mother). So religion wasn’t something that was big in my family. However, my parents believed me to be gifted.

In public school, I was bored. There were no real challenges for me. Not tooting my own horn, here. Just telling it like it was.

When I got to junior high, the work was a little harder. I had to actually work sometimes. I got my first (and only) C in a class. I was introduced to religion. It was interesting.

Then I got to high school. A whole new world, that. A Roman Catholic high school, where there were nuns in habits teaching some classes, some priests teaching others, along with the various teachers who were believers but who weren’t clergy. Then it happened!

I attended my first Mass.

Now, let me tell you something about Mass. I had a class on religion, taught by a teacher who was damned pretty (yes, I had a crush on her), and we had to outline books and chapters of the Bible. We went through both the Old and New Testament. I learned about the history of Mass and why it was done.

So, when I went to my first Mass and I saw people getting up for Communion, I thought, what the hell? Why not? So I got my happy ass up, went down, and partook. The only thing they gave the students was the Host. We weren’t allowed to drink from the Cup.

The Host, unleavened bread that was pretty tasteless, only served to whet my appetite for lunch (which was two periods away!). It kinda dissolved in my mouth.

Mass was held about once a month. I only partook a few times—mostly, when I skipped breakfast and was hungry. I tortured myself with the Host, wishing they’d give me a roll of ’em for a snack. Just enough to take the edge off.

And that’s what we have so far with this story. I’m hungry, but I’m only getting enough to whet my appetite (in a bad way), and I still have to wait for lunch. How patient are hungry people? My point exactly.

Feed me, Seymore!




The Chief has whipped around to face the majority of the onlooking villagers. We’re looking up at him, an imposing man. He has his arm stretched out in front of him, addressing his people with a broad gesture. His eyes still glisten with tears, his face is contorted as he bellows his order.

Behind the Chief, we can see the boy Quinn sagging, nearly on the ground. His energy is gone, and he’s anguished.

At this angle, we might see some of the sky through the tree canopy- it’s the fiery orange of sunset.

CHIEF (shouting)
Everyone, grab your children and run! Get out of here now!

TECHNICAL – Unclear emphasis notation: See above. Even though bold and all-caps is better than italics alone, stick with underlining.

TECHNICAL – Colouring information: Notice how Alyssa specifies that it’s now dusk. This will turn out pretty handy for the colorer.


We’ve pulled back to behind Pigeon and the Woman, who are in the foreground, crouched slightly (as though reacting to a distant explosion) and holding onto each other with fear.

In the background we see the Chief in a slight crouch also, staring towards the gate, grabbing the axe at his waist. Quinn is at his feet, slumped on the ground, craning his neck towards the gate. The men guarding the gate have their weapons at the ready, staring out into the forest.

SFX (Stalker hunting calls) (winds from the forest, through the gate, into the foreground)

The monsters…they’ve never come to our home.

TECHNICAL – Lettering information: Notice how the sound effect is accompanied by precise information. Alyssa isn’t doing the letterer’s job here; she’s being as specific as she can pertaining to an effect she wants to convey.


Panic. We see a villager- a middle-aged mutated man- with terror on his face. He’s grabbed his wife hard by the shoulder, pulling her with him as he begins to flee. We see other villagers in the background and extreme foreground, breaking into a run, like ants fleeing a disturbed nest.

Run! They’re here!

Not our home.

NARRATIVE – Obtrusive captions: Your captions, after a short pause, are back again and now they feel forced, as if you’re trying your best to write up some boxes when just letting live dialogue tell the story would do. There are three orders of tools you can use to convey information in a comic: first the art, then live dialogue and then, when all else fails, captions. Captions are last because they’re the most intrusive in the reader’s experience. Of the three, it’s what requires the most suspension of disbelief. And here, your captions are starting to stretch out and meander. If you have nothing meaningful to say in captions, take them out. You’re just blocking out the potentially gorgeous art in this comic at this point.


Pigeon has grabbed the Woman by her arm and is pulling her along, just two more panicked villagers in the crowd.

SFX (Stalker hunting call)

Come on! We’ll go out the back!

My momma always used to say…

TECHNICAL – Vague panel description: Careful now… you’re starting to let go. Are they running towards us or away from us?

NARRATIVE – Weak cliff-hanger: Next page is a full splash of the stalkers, yet you’ve not given us anything to make it a worthy payoff. People running and that’s it. Splash pages have to be paid for in tension. Throw a looming shadow on someone, splash some blood across a panel – make the reader go: “My God, I can’t wait to see what these things look like!”

P5, and look! Another four-panel page.

Condense. That’s what you have to do. Either condense, or stretch it out by adding more panels. Five pages of four-panel pages is too much while paradoxically being not enough.

Now, panel 1? You’re taking some liberties. The first liberty is with the villagers. Can we see them? The chief has turned around to address them—but can we see them? How large is the village, and how many people have gathered around to see the show? The chief was called for, but how many people were nosy enough to want to know why he was being called, so they ambled over with him?

Having that audience near enough at hand to hear the decree of the chief is awfully convenient.

Then there’s the paction. Pacing and action. (Yes, I just made up another word.) He tells them to flee, and they start running around like chickens. He doesn’t even tell them why they’re running. Sure, there’s the hunting cry, but how many of them know what it means? Have they been menaced by it before?

The paction is rushed.

PAGE SIX – splash

Whether this is shot from behind Pigeon and the Woman, from above, or from a worm eye view, our focus is on what’s barrelling through the village, coming towards them.

A pack of STALKERS have rushed through the gate into the village. They’re the size of fully-grown male tigers, but with the slighter, more athletic build of a panther or leopard. They’re “ripped”; muscles showing clearly through their short fur. Their faces are horrible, a cross between a dog’s face and a baboon’s powerful jaws and teeth. Wiry hair runs down the back of their necks, over their powerful shoulders, and down their spines. They have short spines jutting out along the top of their head and bodies, just like the Chief’s own stalagmitical growths. Some of the Stalkers already have blood splashed across the mouth, throat, and front paws. Dripping from their legs is spectre-dust, like we saw with the butterfly, but darker, more menacing, like it might have some life of its own. In the distance, one of the Stalkers has pounced on a villager, tearing into his neck and shoulder. Other villagers are scrambling to get out of the way.

…she’d say even the worst days…

PIGEON (quiet)
Oh gods…

…they could be made right.

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: It’s one thing to leave the artist some elbow room, but it’s another to just shovel the problem into his yard. Do your part thinking this through: what needs to be the focus here? The stalkers? Then what’s the best way to show them dramatically? Logically, by having them face the reader at least. Go from here and you’ll meet your artist halfway; that’s what’s asked of you.

NARRATIVE – Unearned splash page: Like I said, there’s not enough tension before this splash page to justify it. You’re good for half a page, tops.

P6, and I’m agreeing with Yannick. You haven’t earned this splash page. Neither you, nor the reader.

Yannick took care of the drawability of this page, so guess what I’m going to discuss. If you said pacing, you’d be 1000 per-cent cor-rect!

Six pages, and of those six, there are two splashes. That means, fully one-third of your story so far are splash pages. These two come extremely too close to one another.

When it comes to pacing, a single splash page is outstanding, two splash pages are okay, but as soon as you go over two, you’re padding out the story. You have to think judiciously about when you want to use them and what you want to use them for. This was a bad choice.

Also, the creature description should be in a separate document.




Pigeon is hauling the Woman along, grasping her under the arm for support. Pigeon is only small of frame- this is a big effort for her.

Uuunngghh! Come on!

If we just stay together…

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: You’re letting go, Alyssa! Are they coming toward us or running away? (I’ll assume coming toward us if we can see the effort in Pigeon’s face.) What’s happening around them? What is the woman’s expression?


We see the carnage from above. Stalkers have spilled in through the village gate, and have quickly fanned out, leaving the bloody mess of villagers in their wake.

Pigeon and the Woman can be seen running towards the back of the village, though there’s no gate in the palisade there. They stand out as the only two people within the village that haven’t been attacked.

There are villagers who’ve made it outside the palisade, running into the forest, though I doubt we can see them in this shot?

can survive.

NARRATIVE – Obtrusive captions: Your interwoven captions are now liabilities. At this point, I’m expending efforts trying to understand how to read them as a single flow from panel to panel. If it’s taking me out of the story, it’s gotta get out of the story.


We’re behind Pigeon and the Woman. We see a gap in the palisade, a place where one of the stakes has been pushed askew, leaving a gap big enough for someone small to squeeze through. Pigeon and the Woman are running towards it, Pigeon has an arm thrust out in front of her, pointing to the gap.

SFX (Stalker hunting call coming from behind them, off panel)


TECHNICAL – Empathic camera: As much as your captions are taking us out of the story, this choice of POV pulls us back in, placing us in the action, running after the two characters. Good call.


Pigeon is half-way through the gap in the palisade, climbing through sideways. She’s only small, it isn’t difficult. The Woman is standing at the ready for her turn, but she’s hazarding a look over her shoulder. Her face is horror-struck as she looks out at what’s coming towards them.

Pigeon, hurry!

TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: You’ve done this a few times already. Your panel description is like a riddle: it’s finely worded, but I have to think about it to understand it. Here, it’s unclear at first that the camera is inside the village still and that the woman is looking our way. I only get it once I realize that to see the woman’s face as she’s looking over her shoulder, I have to be where the thing that’s terrorizing her is, hence inside the village. You have a way with wording great panel descriptions that naturally imply the camera angle, but don’t overdo it in the subtlety department. This isn’t supposed to be a puzzle; make it clear.


In the distance, we see the Woman pushing through the gap in the palisade as Pigeon did, but she’s bigger than Pigeon, it’s much more awkward for her. Her large growths aren’t making things any easier.

In the middle-ground and foreground, we see two Stalkers hurtling towards her, kicking up dirt and spectre-dust.


TECHNICAL – Unclear panel description: Again, the meaning of the panel becomes clear only at the end. You’re halfway between clever and obnoxious.

NARRATIVE – Good hook: Once more, we have a cliff-hanger panel that propels us out of this ending spread. Pay attention, folks: it’s little things like this that tell me this script is the start of a bona fide comic project. This is the difference between writing comics and just cramming your story into little boxes until you think you’ve got enough panels in your page. Alyssa understands the visual specificity of comics. Now she just needs to stop playing games with her artist…

P7, and we finally have a page that has more than four panels! How did that feel? The stretching didn’t hurt, did it?

The dropsies are killing me. Since that’s a term I haven’t used in a while, let me explain:

You start out with captions in every panel, and then you drop them, only to pick them up later. Then, you drop them again.

Now, since these actions have obviously already happened and the captions are the story being told to someone else (the reader), there shouldn’t be any reason to have the dropsies. You should have so much to say in the captions that Yannick and I should be telling you to shut up, instead of telling you to speak more.

It’s P7. What’s the story about? Why are these things attacking the village? Nothing is explained, and it feels like nothing is going to be explained.

Friday the 13th. (You know I had to make a movie reference.) “I’ve got a great story! Remember at the end of Friday the 13th, we see that the mother was the killer, but the boy comes out of the lake and attacks the lone survivor? Well, for the sequel, the boy’s an adult, and he’s going around killing everyone who’s invaded his camp!”

He’s grown? He was dead. How did he grow?”

That doesn’t matter! What matters is that he’s scary! He’s deformed, and he’s killing because people won’t stop coming to his place!”

But… He died… He was a boy. We saw that at the end of the first move.”


Hopefully, we’ll get some information as to why this story is being told.




The Woman has pushed out through the other side of the palisade (we’re looking at her from the outside). She’s just pulling her leg through the gap. Pigeon is waiting anxiously, supporting the Woman’s arm as she climbs through.


NARRATIVE – Lack of build-up: If you’re going to not have your pay-off right at the start of the page, at least keep the tension higher by actually showing the stalker getting even closer in this panel instead of just having him appear out of thin air in the next panel.


Repeat of Panel One, but now a Stalker has pushed through the gap in the palisade. Its bulk and momentum has fractured the stakes on either side of the gap, it’s simply forcing its way through. Its head, neck, one shoulder and arm has pushed through. It’s reached out, clawed paw swiping at the Woman. We see that it’s snagged her shawl, but the shawl is loose and threadbare- it has simply pulled away from her face and torn. Pigeon is off-panel.

SFX (Stalker)

SFX (tearing shawl)


TECHNICAL – Grammar error: “Its head, neck, one shoulder and arm HAVE pushed through.”

TECHNICAL – Character dropsy: If it’s the same shot, why has Pigeon disappeared?


Pigeon and the Woman are running into the forest, terrified. Pigeon has a firm hold of the Woman’s hand, leading the way. The Woman has a stumbling, loping gait (This cannot be drawn.). Her torn shawl flaps from her shoulders, revealing the full extent of her monstrous features. In the background, we see the Stalker breaking its way through the palisade gap. There’s another Stalker climbing up on top of the first Stalker, eager for prey. We can see hints of other villagers escaping through the trees.

Today is not a day of pain.

TECHNICAL – Implied camera angle: Why am I not calling this an unclear panel description? Because this time I can actually picture the panel very clearly in my head. I don’t have to puzzle it out.


Close up of Pigeon’s hand holding the Woman’s hand. Pigeon’s hand looks so much smoother and younger than the Woman’s deformed hand, with its swollen joints, tough skin, and bubbly growths.

We’re free.

TECHNICAL – Obtrusive captions: They’re back.

I’m going to stop here as the remaining four pages are pretty much a repeating cycle of the same good and bad stuff. I’m now going to do my usual rundown, except this time, since there was so much good in this script, I’ll have recommendations for the reader as well.

Alyssa, two things…

  • You’re very competent when it comes to writing panel descriptions that inform the artist on everything he needs to know. I would however advise you to be wary of too much cleverness. Panel descriptions should lead to instant understanding, not to a deduction process. Keep it simple. Apart from that, stellar work.
  • Your captions killed a big part of the momentum you managed to build up. I mean, your pacing is near pitch-perfect (I strenuously disagree), but it gets bogged down by this confusing monologue broken up across multiple panels. Without the captions, you have a swift narrative that flies ever faster into action; it’s Pigeon on the run. With the captions though, it limps along like your mutated old lady.

For the rest of our readers, a few things to learn from Alyssa…

  • Make you characters act, in the sense of bringing them to life in the panels. In her panel descriptions, Alyssa’s characters react to events and display emotion. They’re not standing around like cardboard cut-outs, waiting for their turn to have speech balloons.
  • Describe, don’t tell! That’s the comic writer’s equivalent of “show, don’t tell.” Alyssa doesn’t tell a story as much as she’s describing a series of images. In doing so, she’s actually doing a better job of telling a story than other writers who just paste in their outline.
  • Use the constraints of comics as tools to enhance the reader’s experience. You can only put in so many panels in a page. You can only put two pages side by side. The reader can and will see whole two-page spreads at a time. These are the limitations we’re given when creating comics. Instead of decrying these bonds, celebrate them. Use them to control pacing, use them to create sequences of mounting tensions that lead to satisfying reveals, use them to keep the reader hungry for more at every bottom panel. Comic scripting is akin to sonnet writing or clock-making: it’s the rules we have to follow that allow us to build such intricate beauty.

Would you look at that! Just over 2,000 words. Am I cured of my wordiness or was this script just this good?

Find out in two weeks!

I’m just going to run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory. Like I said earlier, I would have been sorely disappointed if it wasn’t.

Panel Descriptions: I have nothing really bad to say about them. These are pretty good. A bit wordy for my taste, but there’s nothing wrong with that when the panel descriptions are doing their jobs. There were a couple of times when I wondered where the camera was, or could be, but only a couple.

That being said, you have to take things into account. The village placement seems to have moved. Either that, or you didn’t describe its location very well. The chief comes out of nowhere, and the villagers pop up like mushrooms after a good rain. Improbable at best. You have to think about their placement more carefully, so that the paction flows nicely.

Pacing: Horrible. The pacing here is the worst part of an otherwise nicely done script. I peeked ahead, because I was curious. This thing has three splash pages. Only one other page has five panels, and then there is another four, one has two, and then the splash. With the dearth of words to boot, and you’ve got a super-fast read on your hands.

First, you have to condense. This is padded out so that you can meet a page count. Condense. And as you’re condensing, add more panels. Out of these eight pages, you really only have about four or five. Condense. Add more panels.

Secondly, you have to add more words. Like I said, this is a fast read. Want the reader to stay a spell? Add more words. Give them something to read. They’ll reward you by sticking around.

With that being said, you can’t add just any words. They have to be apropos to the story. They have to be engaging. They have to tell what’s going on. The dialogue here doesn’t do that. Eight pages in, and I’m still wondering what the hell is going on. Not good.

Part of adding more words is stopping the dropsies. Find more relevant story and put it in the captions, since you can’t put it in the spoken dialogue.

Content: As a reader, I’m not a fan. I don’t like having to wade through a story to find out what it’s about. Give me a reason for reading as soon as you can. That will help keep me interested.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. Condense, tell more story, and do it faster. There are good parts here, but the goal is to tell a story. If I can’t tell in 8 pages, then you’ve got more work to do.

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

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

Click here to make comments in the forum!


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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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