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TPG Week 205: Don’t Submit Before You’re Ready

| November 28, 2014



Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! We here at ComixTribe wishes that you all had a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving. (I know that I ate enough for most of you. Especially the pie…) This week, we have a new Brave One in Paul Im. We have Samantha LeBas in purple, and I’m the guy overstuffed in the corner in red, and we see how Paul handles

The Best-Laid Plans

Before we begin, I once again saved all of your eyes by putting this up to a font size of 12. It was 11. You’re welcome.



Sara, in full Witchblade armor, is jumping out towards the reader. (There is a lot of information missing from this description. Where is she? What is her expression like? Jumping can mean a lot of things, is she looking at us? Is she leading with her head? Diving with her arms extended? You have not told us what you want here.) (Wow! I’m seeing a clip from Clue in my head. “This is terrible! This is absolutely terrible!” I don’t need an establishing shot for the very first panel. That can be worked in. However, there’s absolutely no information here. What time of day is it? Where are we? Right now, this is a white void. This is not a good start.)

SARA (Thought)

The dark artifacts cause so much trouble.


Sara stops a car with the Witchblade, right before it slams into a mother and her 3-year-old daughter.(White void, no expressions on anyone’s face, no details on the car. Not enough information, again. Were the mother and daughter in a car or walking?) (How does she stop said vehicle? There are many ways to do it.)

SARA (Thought)

I wish there was some way to contain them.


Sara checks on the mother and her daughter. The mother is smiling gratefully. (This is a moving panel.)


Are you okay?

SARA (Thought)

Or at least weaken them somehow.

Okay, here’s something we don’t often see—a thought balloon in the same panel as a word balloon.

This is not a rule, but it should be: thought balloons come before spoken dialogue, especially if it’s the same person that’s thinking and speaking.

The reason why is simple: placement. Thought balloons emanate from the top of the head, and word balloons have pointers that point to the mouth. In almost all cases, the thought balloon will be placed above the word balloon.

Remember that we read from top to bottom and right to left. Whatever’s at the top will be the beginning, especially if it’s at the top-left of the panel. Whatever’s on the bottom will be read last, especially if it’s at the bottom-right. Here, Paul is going to cause the letterer to change up the reading order, putting the thought balloon at the top-left of the panel (or to the character), and then the word balloon below it. Otherwise, the letterer is going to have a hard time making the thought balloon appear natural. And that’s really all we’re going for—a natural look. (Unnatural would be the word balloon being on top of the thought balloon, and the tail of the thought balloon having to travel further to actually emanate from the top of the head. It may even cause a crossing of the streams, if the letterer was a rookie.

Something to watch out for. Thought balloons should be above spoken dialogue.


A closeup of the daughter. (Doing what?)

SARA (Thought)

Maybe if the bearer was a child. (Were, not was.)


Sara and the daughter are hugging. (Really? I guess, at 3, the child could be okay with the armored person hugging them. But they didn’t really understand the danger they were in. What’s the mother doing?)

SARA (Thought)

No, that would be too cruel.

(There is not an adeqaute description on this entire page. The dialogue is predictable. There is no reason to turn the page, where’s the hook?)

P1, and we’re literally nowhere.

No, literally. Go back and look. We aren’t anywhere. There’s no setting here at all. Look to see if you can find one. I’m patient. I’ll wait.

Back already? Did you find one? No, I didn’t, either. There’s an inference that we’re on a street somewhere, but that’s just an inference. There’s nothing described here to accurately tell us where we are. We’re just hanging out in a white void.

Know what this looks like, at first glance? A Warren Ellis script. Ellis’ scripts are notoriously sparse, but that’s because he’s working with pros and he’s letting them flex their muscles. He’s letting them do their part to tell the story.

I never tell new writers to study a script from Warren Ellis. It’s the ultimate shortcut to creating a lazy writer. Ellis spins damned good yarns, and has learned how to spin those yarns within the confines of his own ability and the medium. If you were to read an Ellis script, it would look a lot like this: very bald on the face of it.

That’s just on the face of it. Comic scripting is about the economy of words. Ellis is economical, but he never fails to tell us where we’re at. He never fails to establish the setting. He never fails to tell the story.

This page? Failure from the first panel. Nothing is adequately described. Just people doing things in some sort of featureless void. No fun. This is not good.

The turkey may be mellowing me out. Imagine I’d be saying if I were hungry!




Montana. 2030.

Evan is a 14-year-old Caucasian boy with black hair. It’s just before dusk and he’s in a barn. The panel shows a closeup of Evan’s hand tightly clutching a dead white rabbit by the neck.

Whoa, buddy! Talk about a reversal! This is just wrong, and has cost you a Flawless Victory. Now, with that being said…what’s telling the reader that we’re in a barn? What’s telling the reader that this is dusk? Understand what is and isn’t important.

The good news is that we finally have a setting, even if it isn’t established well. The bad news is that some of this information is useless where it’s at. I’m happy it’s here, but it could be placed better to be of maximum use.


A closeup shows Evan’s sinister smile. (So, we’ve changed locations, we’re two panels into a different scene, and we still don’t see an entire face. If this were told better, I’d be willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Since it isn’t…)


(Okay. I’m intrigued. I don’t know what this has to do with page 1, but psychopathic kid killing animals in Montana seems interersting. I don’t know about a 2 panel silent page, I think you could find more to show here, generate some more visual interest, let readers stew in the mystery a little bit more?)

Wait, that’s it? P2 only has 2 panels on it?

First, let’s call P1 what it is: padding. If you cut that from this story so far, will it hurt the integrity of the story? No. Not one iota. To me, it feels like Paul is trying to say “Look, this is a Witchblade book! She’s right on the first page!”, but is severely dropping the ball after that. P1 has nothing to do with what’s happening here. Cut it, save yourself some real estate, and tell the story. Or, better yet, actually have a story to tell. So far, I’m not seeing it. And we’re about to head into P3.

And no, I’m not happy with a silent second page, either. The reason for that is simple: you have too much story to tell to allow a silent page with only two panels. Padding. I’m going to say it: you don’t have enough story to carry your tale.



Tara is 46, Caucasian, with short red hair. She is a soldier charged with raising and guiding Evan. Tara has just run into the room(the barn). She looks shocked. She is holding a laser gun. (The first two sentences don’t do anything to tell the story. It doesn’t inform the team in any way.)


Evan! What are you doing?


Nothing, Tara, I swear! (Evan isn’t in the panel description.)


We’ll talk about this later. We have to go. Now. (This dialogue doesn’t match the panel description.)


Tara grabs Evan by the arm, and they run out of the barn. (Moving panel.)



The dead rabbit lies on the floor with a twisted neck.


(Why are you putting so few panels on a page? Also, you are mixing tones. This is about to speed up to action adventure pace, isn’t it? The idea that he’s killing animals, hinting that he is a little bit of a psychopath, that is a slow burn creepy. I am wondering how you are going to juggle those two ideas.)

Page 3, and the best thing I can say about it is that we’re at least still in the same scene as P2, meaning I can’t just cut into it anymore. That’s a good thing.

The bad news is that there isn’t anything worth reading yet. We’re three pages in, and we’ve got a grand total of ten panels. That’s too low for literally nothing to have happened.

So, yes, the pacing is off. I’m all for a decent start, but with P1 being cut, there are only five panels over two pages—and in those five panels, nothing really happens. Not two pages worth of action. A page? Sure. But not two.

With the pacing being off, it also means that Paul hasn’t yet learned how to tell a story in the medium. Again, “This is just terrible. This is absolutely terrible.”



Two sleek, metallic foxes with nine thin metal tails are waiting for Tara and Evan outside the barn. One fox is standing on the roof of a sedan, and the other is standing in front of the car. The tails are curved so they are pointed at Tara and Evan.(You cannot have Evan kill a rabbit as a symbol of his sinister nature, and then have foxes pose a real threat on the next page. How is the car posititioned in relationship to the barn? What kind of car is it? New? Old? Luxury car? Beat up?) (Sam makes an excellent point. You lose almost all of the impact of the rabbit with this panel.)



The fox on the roof fires all nine tails at Tara and Evan. (Fires his tails? I don’t think I know what this means.) (They’re metallic/robotic. I can see this. I understand what’s meant. Nine tails, though, is a lot—because unless there are nine tails between the two foxes, there’s really eighteen tails in total being fired. That’s a lot. Too many, really. I’d have gone with no more than eight, personally, because even that is a lot. Six is a better number.)



The tails turn into a net.(Hmm, I don’t how that is supposed to look, we need more information.) (True dat.)


Another page with a low panel count.

This has all kinds of problems.

First, where’s the camera in panel 1? Why do I ask this question, Schuyler?

Next, what are these extremely low panel counts doing for your story? Nothing except inflating the page count for no reason whatsoever. :insert Wadsworth “terrible” loop here: Do you know what you’re actively doing? Annoying the hell out of the reader, because they’re flying the through story at a breakneck pace and aren’t getting their money’s worth. How do you slow them down? You add panels and dialogue. This keeps them on the page longer.

That being said, the panels and dialogue that you add have to actually tell a story. If they don’t, then you’re only making yourself look bad. Here’s the honest truth: we all know that readers come for the art and stay for the story. That’s a given. But the artist doesn’t get blamed for stories that are badly told. Neither does the editor (although they should share some of it). The only person the reader really blames for bad stories are the writers.


This is P4. What’s the story about? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? With the low panel count and the fact that we have no idea what the story’s about, this is going back on the shelf.



Tara is down on the ground, firing her gun at the foxes. Evan is lying next to her. The net flies past them. (This is another panel with action that is badly told. If your name sounds like Melissa, you should fix this so it reads better, so we all can see.)



Both foxes are decapitated, and a piece of the car where the driver’s seat meets the roof is destroyed.(So, what are you showing in this panel? Both foxes heads come off at the same moment?)



Tara has opened the driver’s seat a crack and is yelling at Evan.(Would she be able to open the door if there was that kind of damage? Would she need to?) (This panel shows you haven’t yet mastered spatial mechanics. This goes back up to P4 panel 1.)


Get in the car!

(You are not writing enough. There is simply not enough information to determine what is happening or what it should look like, and certainly not why it is happening.)

Another page, another three panels…

Time for me to make this interesting, I guess.

I grew up as an only child. My sister didn’t come along until I was almost 12, so we have a pretty big span between us. We didn’t grow up together.

Being an only child, even though I had loads of cousins around town, since they weren’t living with me, I had to find ways to amuse myself.

I lived in two places as a child: the first was a mother/daughter house, and we were the upstairs tenants, and the other was the house directly next door to us. We moved when I was about 10 or 11.

Bear with me now. The mother/daughter, which we just called the apartment, had the following layout: open the door, and you can either go up the stairs that are in front of you on the left, or go toward the right where the downstairs apartment was. (Our landlord was my uncle Jimmy, who was an uncle by marriage. My mother’s sister’s husband’s brother.) You go up the stairs and open another door. You’re in a hallway that runs right and left. If you turn to the left, the only thing at the end of the hall is the bathroom. That door is literally the end of the hall, not in a wall that’s to the left or right.

Turning to the right and walking down the hall, there’s a dining room door on your left, and if you go through that door and to the left again, you’ll go into the kitchen. There’s also a closet door at the rear and to the right of the dining room. Back in the hall and across from the dining room is the living room. Down the hall a couple of paces, there’s a door to the attic on the left. Down the hall another couple of paces is the master bedroom. Down the hall another pace is another bedroom (this was my room). My room had a closet, of course, but that closet could also connect to the dining room.

The dining room table was some sort of particle board and had a plastic kind of wood-looking covering. I loved this table, because in the wood, among the whirls and whorls of the “rings” was a shape that looked like a spaceship. So, I’d very often go into the dining room in order to play, because I wanted to take a ride on the spaceship.

I was also making up my own stories. I was 8 when Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out, and the Thriller became a villain. He’d dance you into madness! And what I’d do is record my adventures. My mother had a tape recorder and mic, and I’d play with my action figures and record my adventures, and had all kinds of solitary, juvenile fun.

Did the adventures make sense? I have no idea. I no longer have the recordings. I remember having fun, though, and having to fight off the “danceness” (dance madness) that would put me under the Thriller’s thrall. Most of these were in the dining room, where my mother could more easily keep an eye on me as she watched her soap operas or cooked.

See what I did there? I told a story, giving a sketch of a layout so people could see a bit of what I saw, and at least know where I was in the house. I gave an anecdote, and it made as much sense as anecdotes do, and at no point was I boring. (Who can be boring when you’re talking about fighting off the danceness? There’s a secret to it, but no, I won’t tell it. I may need it one day when Michael comes back as the Thriller. I could save the world!!!)

My story? Even with the asides and the sketching of the layout, it was much more interesting than anything we’ve read in this story so far.



Another fox is in the front seat. It snarls at Tara.(You mean the front seat that was just laser blasted?) (That fox ‘o nine-tails? Magically delicious.)



Tara is holding the fox with both hands. It snaps at her and its tails are trying to stab her. (This panel is too big of a jump in time. First it’s snarling at her, and then it’s in her hands. Ever watch an old (horror) film, and see the skip in the action? That’s what happened here. The gap in time is like a skip in the film.)



Tara throws the fox over her head.



Tara shoots the fox through its chest.


(I am runnig out of care.) (See? She’s a mother, and she’s running out of care! Me? I ran out of it around P3.)

This page? Padding.

That is all.



The car speeds away from the barn. (What, no more foxes?! Or, is the fox a euphemism for Sam? Are you calling Sam a fox? Are you flirting with my editor? If so, keep that to yourself. No murder/death/kills of my editors. You’re no Simon Phoenix.)



Tara and Evan are in the car. (What are their expressions like?)


Dammit! How do they keep finding us?


Who knows?


I haven’t forgotten about the rabbit.(seriously?)




The sideview mirror shows two more foxes closing in.(like running as fast as a car? Is Evan off panel?)


More foxes!


A bird’s-eye view shows eight more foxes bearing down on the car. The car is approaching a convenience store on the right. (Eight foxes in total? That’s just a whole bunch of tail right there… Sorry. But it was right there! C’mon!)


(What kind of road are they on? Busy highway? Dirt road in the country? We need to see where they are coming from and know when they get on a road. They get in the car and teleport via white viod at the moment.) (The only part that wasn’t white void was the barn. It was white void as soon as they stepped out of it. Reminds me of a Roger Zelazny book, The Courts of Chaos (part of the Amber Chronicles, and definitely worth your time in reading since Zelazny is the reason I wanted to become a writer), where the world is trying to be fixed but had to be washed away first. The hero, Corwin, is literally in a white/grey void, and has to find his way out. I don’t think Paul has found his way out, though.)

Okay, pacing is bad, blah blah, I need to say something new….

If there was anything like a redeemable quality to this story, it’s that there’s something masquerading as a hook right here. We’ve got more foxes coming out of nowhere (literally!), and we’re at the end of the page, propelling the reader to actually turn the page in order to get deeper into the story.

No, they won’t get this far in reading, but it was a nice try.



In the convenience store parking lot, the foxes catch up to the car. Tara swerves suddenly and crashes the car into four of them.(Moving panel.) (Hey! A setting! Well, a semi-setting. But it’s the second one in eight pages… :insert Wadsworth “terrible” loop:



Tara opens the driver’s door and slams it into another fox.



Tara throws something that looks like an ice pick.(Where does she get it? Where is she aiming?) (Magically delicious.)



A fox has the pick buried in its head. The handle on it has a timer that reads “00:03.”


(This is not interesting. It is repeititive and we know nothing about the characters. Readers need more in order to keep giong.)

Who’s bored?


What do we want?


Who’s supposed to tell it?


Is he doing it?

Not in the least!

How do we fix it?

Start from scratch!

Another four-panel page. Is it better than a three-panel page? Not in the least. Not when nothing has changed. The threat is the same, the reaction to the threat is the same, and if we’re nearly halfway through the story, we have no reason why we’re reading this.

:insert Wadsworth “terrible” loop:



A closeup of the handle shows that it’s at “00:00.”



Tara and Evan are spilling out of the passenger-side door.(Shouldn’t she say ‘get out’? Or warn him some how? This seems very random as it is written.) (Nope. It’s too late for that. It was too late at 00:00. There was time at 00:03. However, where she got it and when she set it? No idea.)



A sphere of lasers emanates from the pick handle, piercing everything in its path, including two other foxes.

NO COPY — (Should there be SFX here?) (Nope. If that were the case, there would have been sound effects throughout the story. There’s nary a one. And that’s okay. Not every book needs them. They wouldn’t have helped this story, anyway.)


Tara and Evan are standing beside the car. The driver’s side of the car is covered with evenly spaced holes. (What are they doing? Where are they? If they came out of the passenger side of the car, did they go around to the driver’s side? Did the lasers pass through the entire car? Why do they have time to stop and quip? What happened to the other foxes?)


We might need a new ride.


Help me!

(You are not creating connective threads. There is nothing to indicate that the story is moving forward, or that these events will matter when it does. This is just a chase scene with foxes.)

I have nothing new to say.

Know what? Yes I do. I just lied to all of you, and I apologize.

This is what happened: I tried to give Paul the benefit of the doubt. I did. But there’s no more hiding it, and there’s no way I can escape it.

This is crap.

There. Now it’s official. Now we can all move on, can’t we?

Sam? Sam? Seems like she’s done another page.

Le sigh…



The woman is leaning against her car with pieces from a metal tail stuck in her arm and leg. (Is the tail connected to a fox? Where is the car in relationship to the station? To Evan and Tara’s car?)


Oh, god…it hurts!


(You’re not even going to pretend to write a panel description? Not even a little?) (I think that used up the last of Sam’s care…)


I can help her.


Evan pulls the tail fragment from the woman’s arm. (Teleportatation! We all love it when characters teleport!)




The woman is passed out, and Evan is pulling the fragment from her leg. He has a slight smile on his face. (Really? This caused her to pass out? Women give birth! Hopefully, there’s something in the shrapnel to cause her to pass out. Neurotoxin? Barbs? And if she’s passed out, is she slumped down? Is she laid out? When you said she was leaning previously, I took that to mean she was at least standing. What’s her position now? :insert Wadsworth “terrible” loop: )



Tara removes the woman’s car keys from her purse.(Which appeared from nowhere.) (Magically delicious!)


I found her keys. You can bandage her in the car.(With what?) (He can reach into his change pocket and pull out a helicarrier! Come on! I thought you knew that! Planets can be pulled from his regular pockets, and entire galaxies from his cargo pockets…)


The car is driving away from the convenience store. (All the foxes weren’t destroyed…)


(Man, I am not impressed. There is nothing here. I don’t think everyone needs a 30,000 word script, but the idea that you wrote a 22 page script with 2000 words seems equally ridiculous. You do not have enough information, or dialouge. Plain and simple: you need more of everything.)

So, Sam has stopped, which means all of our torture can stop, too.

Let’s run this down.

Format: No Flawless Victory. We’ve got a caption before a panel description, as well as a missing panel description. I think there’s one more, but I’m scared to go back up and look for it. These two are more than enough, anyway.

Panel Descriptions: Woefully, woefully, woefully inadequate. Most of this is a white void, which means you did almost nothing to describe anything close to a setting. We have a barn, but nothing to say where it’s at; we have a convenience store, but again, nothing to say where it’s at; and Sara saves some people with no idea whatsoever to denote where this happened.

Then you have moving panels. Remember, a single action in each panel.

Pacing: For all of the “action” here, this pace was excruciatingly slow. The reason for that is because you basically had a six page chase scene. That’s too long. Readers lose interest. Nothing happened to push it along. You have to condense. Actually, this entire thing is screwed up.

There are no stakes. They’re running, but why? The foxes chase ’em, but why? You take too long to get to the point. I would have rather seen a higher panel count and a lower page count with a story that’s actually moving than what we have here.

Condense. Move the action along. That chase should have been no more than four pages, and there should have been a reason given for it. More things should have been done, meaning the pages should have around five or six panels. This would also serve to allow you to tell the reader who these people are and why they’re being chased. As it is, it’s drawn out (no pun intended) and boring.

Dialogue: Honestly, there’s next to none. There’s ten pages here, and most of it is silent. Readers are going to race through this. I won’t even call them readers. They’re skimmers, because there isn’t enough happening on the page to make them actually stop and read.

The good news about the dialogue is that you got out Evan and Tara’s name in an organic fashion. That’s really about the only good thing I can say about the entire piece.

Content: Okay, a little background. This is for the Top Cow Talent Hunt, so there are some rules that need to be followed. The first page has to include the Witchblade, and the rest of the story had to be about an original past or future wielder of another Artifact. That’s why P1 feels extremely disconnected—because it is.

Following the rules doesn’t mean you can’t tell a good story within those bounds.

As a reader, this is not a good story. Boredom rules the day here, because there’s nothing going on to make me care. There’s no connection to any of the characters. Things are just happening and objects just appear, and there’s no explanation given or even attempted. And it’s for nearly half the book. Way too long.

Editorially speaking, this is terrible.

So, let me see—this is for a contest. There are shit-ton of hopefuls out there, all trying to do the same thing. This means the editorial staff has to read a few hundred entries, right?

They aren’t going to get off the first page before passing on it and going to the next in the pile. Your lack of settings, your lack of bridgework to connect the two, your lack of dialogue, the fact that you strung out the chase for no reason, and more…these will get you passed over. I wouldn’t submit this, and if you’ve already submitted, I wouldn’t expect more than a form letter back (and I’d be extremely surprised if you got that much).

This needs a complete rewrite. However, I’d work on other, shorter stories before attempting to tackle a widely-known character. Learn how to write in the medium, and then try your hand at longer pieces. You have most of the pieces, but you haven’t yet learned how to actually tell a story using what you know. That takes time and effort. There are few who can write a good story in this medium without knowing much about the mechanics of the it. The mechanics of storytelling are all the same, but there are special applications for all media. Learn how storytelling applies to comics, and then work on it.

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

Like what you see? Sam, Liam and I are available for your editing needs. You can email Sam here and Liam 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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