TPG 102: Don’t Be Insulting

| December 7, 2012

 Welcome once again to The Proving Grounds! We’re coming up fast to the end of the year, and there’s only 1 script in the queue for 2013. We need your help!

Anyway, this week brings us a new Brave One in Will Robson. I’m going to forewarn everyone right now: it isn’t pretty in any way, shape, form, or fashion. Don’t say that I didn’t tell you, because I did. Now, as always, we have Steve Colle in blue, me in red, and Will bringing us a tale of


To begin, let’s tackle the fact that the script format is totally wrong for the comic medium. It’s basically a re-formatted film script with page cuts. Don’t try this at home, kids, ‘cause you’ll get a scolding from your editors.

This is very, extremely true.


Page 1

EXT. Atlantic ocean – NIGHT (PANEL 1, right?)


Atlantic Ocean

Rain clatters upon a large Cargo ship drifting along the sea. The ships insignia reads “Chambers Incorporated”. (So we know it’s raining, but what is the condition of the sea? Are they violent waters with waves rocking the boat or calm waters save for the raindrops on the metal hull? Raging seas will better foreshadow the coming terror than a calm one. Also, what is your camera distance like and how large do you foresee this image being on the page?)


MALCOLM, an African American man in his early thirties, runs frantically down a dark and gloomy hallway along with two other dock workers. (Towards or away from the camera?)

Behind them, the shadows of terrifying creatures. (Though a cool hook, is it really necessary to build up a suspenseful page turn? You have two shots on this page, one outside, the other inside. There isn’t much build up leading to this cool hook. If you had a close-up or extreme close-up of Malcolm’s terrified face sweating [or just his eyes with sweat down his brow], for example, to mimic the fact that he either came in from the deck or is just plain scared spitless, that would lead the reader to wonder what could be so scary that this guy is petrified. End with this image so you go from an extreme long shot from the exterior and an extreme close-up from the interior. If he’s sweating, don’t make it so much that it looks like he’s been drenched from being outside. Finally, this page needs dialogue of some sort to not only enhance the emotional situation, but also to visually balance out the page. With only two panels, you need something to maintain interest and attention.)

I really don’t know what to say. Really and truthfully. I’ve been giving it some thought all day, and if this wasn’t a kid-friendly site, then a good portion of the seven words you can never say on television would be spewed all over this. (Well, it’s more like 6 words now. Times change.)

Right now, the biggest downfall of this script is format, so that’s what I’m going to talk about for a while.

I’m not a stickler for format. I know it may seem like it, but I’m not. I’m a stickler for consistency. I’m a stickler for clarity. If you are both consistent and clear, as well as consistently clear, then I won’t ding you on format. All I really care about is that it is easily understood by the rest of the creative team.

What I don’t like are screenplay formats in comic scripts. Screenplay formatting gives rise to moving panels, and moving panels have almost no place at all in a comic script.

Then, there’s the special cases. There are those who don’t give a damn about learning the ropes of comic scripting, and think they can just semi-adapt a screenplay into something close to a comic script, and that it’ll fly.

It doesnt.

This is trash, and really, I should stop right here.

Here is my philosophy, folks. It’s pretty simple: care about what you’re doing. If you care, then you’re going to do the research in order to make the script the best it can be. Pretty damned simple.

All of you have absolutely no idea how easy you have it nowadays. (I almost feel like a crotchety old man talking about the damn kids on my lawn, and about to tell a story about going to school in the snow with no shoes…) When I first started, the internet was just getting big. (The internet was basically AOL.) You didn’t have all the resources you have now, either online or in books.

Now, things are vastly different. You can do a very fast search and find a plethora of comic scripts that can be copied for format, and there are books that can be bought that can teach you something of it. I’ve written articles on writing a script. The information is all over, and you don’t have to look hard for it.

This, Will, is an insult, and I take it very personally. I have put too much time and energy into learning and honing my craft to let this slide without saying something.

This is lazy. Laziness is something I cannot abide.

So, that’s format. Let’s see what else we have.

We have two panels on the page. The first panel needs some work, because it is incomplete. Steve goes into what it needs in order to be more complete, and I totally agree with him.

The second panel doesn’t work. First, we have the screenplay-mode of describing the character (generic in order to fit almost any actor) that doesn’t belong, and then there’s the terminology. If you’re on a ship and you’re in a hallway, it’s called a passageway. You use the more correct terminology in order to put the rest of the team in the correct frame of mind. A passageway is on a boat, a hallway is in a building. Big difference.

Also, depending on the ship, a passageway may not be able to fit three people abreast. It might be tight with two.

Now, here’s where this panel cannot be drawn: where’s the light source? Steve already asked where the camera is, which is important. Also important is the light source. Because here’s the thing: if they’re running toward the camera, then that means there’s no way to see any shadows behind them. A shadow needs three things: a light source, something to cause the shadow, and something for the shadow to fall upon. Without those three things, you don’t have a shadow. If they’re coming down the passageway, where is the shadow of the monsters being thrown? The bulkhead? (That’s a marine term for wall.) The deck? If it’s the bulkhead, then we can’t see it, because the angle is extremely wrong. If it’s the deck, then we should be able to see the monsters unless they themselves are in shadow. Camera placement and light source. These are important in comic scripting. Even for a screenplay, this is unfilmable.

Finally, we have an almost-silent opening page. I haven’t seen one of these in a while. I hate silent opening pages. The reason for it is because there is too much story that needs to be told, too much worldbuilding that needs to be done, to allow for a silent opening page.

This needs another couple of panels at the very least, in order to give this a better pace.


Page 2 SPLASH PAGE (Page break.)

As the men run towards the reader, the monsters are revealed as rotting, zombified velociraptors. (Revealed how, and how many?)


Tidal Comics Presents… Will Robson’s DINO-ZOMBIES ISSUE 1: DAWN OF THE DINOSAUR (I’ll tell you honestly, I’m of the mind that you don’t need to repeat the name of the publishing house or the name of the book, for that matter, in the interior credits. It’s on the cover, for crying out loud. Go straight for this issue’s story title.)(This is an editorial decision. However, I agree with Steve.)


(This entire image could have been used as your second, largest panel on the first page, including your credits. You definitely didn’t need two panels on page one to lead to this splash. Go straight from the exterior to this shot and you’re golden.)

Splash page. At least it’s in the correct place.

Would I keep it here? Yes. I’d keep it here, as long as P1 was appropriately paced. It isn’t. You could have made P1 about five panels, with dialogue, and heightened the sense of danger. Built up the dread and the suspense. Then, you could have the reveal here.

What this page needs, though, is a better description. Right now, it isn’t working. It isn’t working because you haven’t given a light source on P1, so there’s no way to really tell what these things are.

I personally would have put lights overhead at strategic locations, giving zones of light and dark. That would have been for P1. This would have set up P2 nicely, because I would havegone for some sort of close-up of the threat, playing with the zones of light and dark.

You leave out crucial information such as how many are in the shot. Put them in, pose them, or give the artist some sort of idea of what you’re seeing in your head. If you had studied your medium and written an actual comic script instead of this abortion, you probably would have thought of it.

Page 3 (Page break.)

(Panel 1) From an adjacent hallway, a raptor pounces onto one of the men, bringing him down to the floor and ripping his neck open. (You’ve got numerous actions going on here, all in the same panel, making this a moving panel. First off, you’ve just introduced the dinosaurs running after the men and now you’ve suddenly got the men surrounded without building it up. Here’s where you could have a panel where you have a front shot of the victim by himself [the others have already raced ahead] as he’s being followed closely when suddenly, a dino head comes out from the right side of the image to knock him down. Then, in your next panel, go for the neck tear.)



DOCK WORKER 1 turns and stretches out his hand. (This is a panel. Also melodramatic and unnecessary.)

Malcolm grabs his shirt whilst running. (This is a panel.)

(I can’t tell if this is two separate panels or one, where Dockworker 1 turns with the outstretched hand AND Malcolm grabs his shirt. That’s where clarity is lacking due to format.)


MACLOLM (malcolm)

Just keep running!

The monsters all stop to feast upon the fallen dock worker. (Is this a panel by itself?)

Another raptor rounds the corner of the hallway, and pursues the fleeing men. (Is THIS a panel by itself?)(Moving panel.)

They approach a door with a small glass window above the handle. (Who is/are they ? The men or the beasts? It’s a good thing I don’t have any hair. What’s on my chin, though, is graying and falling out…)

The door exits to the main deck. (Do these two sentences belong in the same panel description??)(What does this sentence have to do with anything right now?)

(I am completely lost as to how many panels I’m supposed to interpret here. Stop skipping lines after single sentences if more than one applies to a single image description. Yikes! Not only that, but your descriptions are very, VERY basic. Get into the meat with more elaborate information.)


The men slam the door shut.

Dock worker 1

We gotta get the hell outta’ (No apostrophe needed) here! (This is redundant speech and long winded. You’ve already established that they need to get outta there in the previous dialogue. It’s obvious and repetitious, and therefore unnecessary.)

Suddenly, a raptor smashes through the glass, gums wide, clamping its jaws towards Dock Worker 1. Along the wall, Malcolm see’s a fire safety axe.


Move it! (Stop the page here with this panel. It creates a good hook for what Malcolm will do with the axe as a first panel on the next page, which would be a facing page with the new organization of pacing.)

Malcolm rams the axe into the top of the raptors skull.

Blood spurts over the men. (Again, keep these descriptions as one paragraph.)


It’s the format. Really. That’s all it is. It’s the format. If you had cared enough to actually put effort into studying what a comic script could look like, you wouldn’t be torturing us with this. The bulk of your problems are due to format.

I can’t even call this monstrosity a riff on the plot-first method, because you seem to be breaking the page down into panels. The problem is that you aren’t bothering to use anything close to a format, and because you’re adapting from a screenplay, the panels are moving.

The dialogue? Generic, really. It’s what you expect people to say. But I have a problem:

The first piece of dialogue on this page. The worker screams a name. However, that worker is never properly placed in the panel, so we don’t know what they’re seeing, if anything. Because you are unclear, you’re forcing the artist to make choices that aren’t going to make sense from a storytelling perspective.

Let’s take a look at it.

First, we have to place the worker.

Since we have an adjacent passageway, we’re going to say Poor Ricky is in front. The raptor pounces, crossing the intersecting passageways and killing Poor Ricky on the other side of the passageway. This is the only way the dialogue and the actions that happen afterward can work. (This also adds a bit to the danger because they now have to pass the raptor in order to get down the passageway.)

If done the other way, where Poor Ricky is last, then the worker doesn’t see the raptor come out and kill anyone. That means the dialogue makes no sense.

All of this, because you failed place the characters in the panel. (Still don’t know how Poor Ricky got in front of Generic Black Man, but that’s the least of anyone’s concerns right now.)

Page 4 (Where is your first panel’s description?? You jumped straight into dialogue!)(Page break.)


There’s a life boat hanging just on the other side of this deck, if we- (Double dash instead of single.)


Wait. You hear that?


Hear what?

Malcolm looks over towards the main deck, where tons of cargo crates sit.


Each one is stamped with the destination of New York City, along with a bar code (such as a12 b36). (Do these three sentences belong as one panel?)

Over head a large helicopter hovers.

Soldiers Slide down ropes, whilst others scatter on the ships deck. (Is this part of the above panel’s description as well or is it separate, because they could possibly work together. You need to make that clear.)

Closest to the dock workers are two soldiers dressed in futuristic tactical gear.

Masks cover their faces, the eye holes glow yellow. (Again, is this a separate panel or a continuation of the initial description of Malcolm looking at the cargo crates, with the two soldiers sliding down the rope and coming closer to the dockworkers’ vicinity? Do you see how things can get messed up in interpretation based on your formatting?)


Thank god! We’re saved!


The dock worker runs towards the military men.


Hey! Over here!

Suddenly, one of the soldiers shoots the dock worker in the head.

Malcolm and Dock Worker 1 look in shock. (Just how many dockworkers are we working with here? You said that Malcolm and two others were running through the hall and that one was killed. Now you’re saying that the dockworker was shot in the head and that Malcolm and Dockworker 1 are still alive. When did you introduce a fourth man?)

They quickly hide behind crates.

This is a disaster, from start to finish.

No format, moving panels, and overall confusion due to lack of format.

Know what else a lack of format does? It gives you a page break, and then starts with dialogue. Could you do this with a screenplay? Sure. And here’s the reason why: screenplays aren’t broken up by pages. They aren’t broken up by scenes. (Grouped, yes, but broken, no.) Whenever you write Page X at the top of a comic script, you’re saying you’re on a new page of a comic. If you’re telling a 22 page story, you may end up with 36 pages of script, but only 22 of them will have a Page header on them.

This isn’t true with a screenplay. With a screenplay, the only reason to number the pages is to keep track of them, like a novel. There’s no other reason for it.

If you had bothered to do any studying about comic formatting, or attempted to put this into a format, you would have known this.

As it is, this is crap.

Page 5 (Again, where’s your first panel’s description?? Argh!!) (Page break.)


Are all crates unlatched? (When did this happen?? They all just got on the ship!!)


Yes (Comma-fail) sir.




Just opened (Comma-fail) sir.


Good. Ship(apostrophe)s rigged to sink in five minutes, (Period instead of comma here.) Make sure no one leaves alive.


Rodger. (The correct version is Roger . Look it up.)(Face-palm. Just a little bit of research…)

Soldier 2 walks towards the dock workers, who hide behind a container.

Both of them look frightened, Malcolm holds up his axe.


What do we do?

Dock worker 1 runs out In front of the soldier and grabs his attention.


I’m stopping here. This is just a convoluted mess with the formatting issues in particular, but the story isn’t going anywhere fast. It’s hard to determine pacing when you can’t decide what’s supposed to be what’s description, so you could have anywhere from two panels to seven or more based on your single sentence paragraphs. Not good, Will. Also, you’ve got information that isn’t making sense, such as the fourth man and how they got the containers unlatched so fast. The first thing you need to concentrate on is getting used to writing a comic script. This is completely unacceptable. Once you’ve got that down, figure out what description goes where and reinforce it with more information. Then from there, get your story figured out, with hooks and payoffs clearly established to end and begin your pages. I’d suggest a general brainstorming outline or storyboarding of the actions to get the whole thing out in front of you, then read it through looking for those hooks and payoffs. I’m not going to say it needs a complete rewrite as a story per se, but you definitely need to know your medium and write for it.


This is crap.


Let’s run it down.


Format: Total abject failure.


Again, this is an insult, and if it weren’t for the fact that Steve did the work on it, I’d have stopped at the first page. It would have been the shortest TPG ever.


Harsh? I don’t think so. This was actually very gentle and kind. It could have been much worse.


Think about how much time and effort you put into learning your craft. Now go back and read this, without the notes. Now ask yourself: can you make heads or tails of this? And it boils down to format, which is why I call it a total, abject failure.


Comic book formatting is the easiest part of scripting to learn. It can be almost anything, as long as it is clear. This is the opposite of clear. Any decent artist is going to do one of two things: they are either going to have a lot of questions to ask, or they’re going to hand this back and tell the writer to learn to write.


Panel Descriptions: Total abject failure. It goes back to the lack of format. Because there’s no format, there’s no telling where one panel ends and another begins. Because this is little more than a screenplay, there are moving panels. Total abject failure.


Pacing: Not good. The first page could use more suspense, which would have set the second page up nicely. You add suspense by adding panels, but with only 2 panels on P1, the suspense quotient is extremely low.


Because there is no format, it is difficult to tell where one panel ends and another begins, so the pace of the comic is also difficult to tell. One thing builds off the other, Will. Pretty basic stuff.


Dialogue: Generic, until we get to the soldiers. Then it got not good. Why? Because they start talking about actions that they either couldn’t do or couldn’t have checked out themselves because they just got on the boat. This goes back to Pacing. Does the dialogue make sense? Not in the context presented.


Content: Problems aside, this read a bit like Jurassic Park on a boat. The fact that these dinosaurs are also supposed to be zombies doesn’t even matter. Here’s the thing: zombies are supposed to be human, because human zombies are scary. Generally, humans don’t kill other humans. While we may beat each other up, we’re generally not a mortal threat to one another. Zombification (today’s zombies, at least) makes mortal enemies of humans.


In order to have a story with conflict involving dinosaurs, the dinos have to be meat-eaters. They have to be dangerous. They have to be the mortal enemies of humans. So, if the dinos are already mortal enemies to the humans, what does adding a layer of zombie do to it?


Absolutely nothing. I don’t even think it adds to the visual coolness that dinosaurs have. It might even detract from it.


There is action, though. It cannot be said that it doesn’t start out with a bang. Is it enough to keep a reader’s attention? Not with that dialogue.


Editorially, this is crap. Go, learn how to write for the medium you’ve chosen to tell the story in, and then come back to be guided on how to make the story better. As it is, this is a waste of time.


Whew! I’m just glad that wasn’t how we ended the year! Like I said at the top, this we still need scripts! Send ’em in! This column is literally for you.


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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