TPG Week 162: Effort Put Forth

| February 1, 2014


Here we are, face to face, a couple of Silver Spoons…

I think I just aged myself (again)! Nevermind.

First, I want to apologize about this being late. There was a family emergency that I had to take care of. Everything turned out well, thank you, but it affected the timeliness of the column. I just wanted to give something of an explanation as to why.

So, with that said, welcome to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a man who needs no introduction. His last name is so memorable that it stands out all on its own. We have a new Brave One in Oliver Insixiengmay! (Told you!) We also have Steve Colle in the soothing blue, I’m in the hyper red, and let’s see what Oliver does when he’s

Painting From Life


PANEL 1 – Daytime in a calm and clear afternoon with blue skies. Low angle shot. Wide establishing exterior shot of an urban city. In the foreground, two children are happily scribbling in a coloring book beside an adult in a park. A man is seen reading a newspaper near a food stand along with a shaggy drawn out homeless man laid down on his side smoking against a wall of a building. In the middle ground, cars pass through busy streets. In the background are tall buildings, one of them being ADAM’s apartment building. (This panel cannot be drawn. You’re asking for a low angle shot, but then everything that’s seen will be from close-up and then moving back. Being low, the things in the foreground will obscure the things in the background. The only way to get this detail is to raise the camera.)

PANEL 2 – Close up of the homeless man smoking his cigarette lifelessly as his body lays propped against the wall behind him. A plastic cup filled with a few coins sits in front of him as he wears a tired and hopeless expression of a man with not many days left on his face. (I like the idea, but this is more prosaic than a good panel description. Emotions are difficult to draw, and the more subtle they are, the more difficult it becomes. Something like this would need some context as to what came before in order to really sell this to the reader. Right now, it’s just a guy sitting down smoking, and he may look a bit sad and/or tired.)

ADAM (OP): Painting is my drug, and like all drugs, overindulging in it can destroy you. (First off, why is this an off-panel dialogue instead of a caption? Second, you have a shot of the homeless man, who isn’t painting, with a line like Painting is my drug. Two plus two is not coming out to four here.)

PANEL 3 – Zoom in shot of ADAM’s apartment building where the silhouette of ADAM’s tall slender figure can be seen in mid stroke painting through a window situated on the fourth floor.

The first thing I’m noticing is the lack of text on this page. You introduce it in the second panel, but don’t follow through with more in the final image. If you had started the page with dialogue and had it continue throughout, maybe even dividing up what you currently have, it would have created more pace and flow.

Another point is the introduction of the homeless man. Is he going to play a role in the story moving forward or are you simply using him as a visual cue to your addiction implication? In my opinion, his appearance in close-up isn’t warranted on the page and is actually redirecting the story away from the actual subject. Something to consider.

I’m not sold on this as a first page as it it seems like you’re pussyfooting around before getting to the real story.

P1 is in the books, and it came fast!

What do we have? A panel that cannot be drawn, and a panel that may be drawn but not come out as powerful as we may like it, and a final panel that doesn’t encourage us at all to turn the page.

This page fails right there, because you say something semi-provocative, and then you just leave it lying there, like a sponge in mud. Makes me want to close the book.

Steve is right about the off-panel dialogue vs caption, because even though what you said was that this was OP, it felt like a caption. This isn’t something that someone would normally say to another in the course of conversation.

And then, there’s the fact that it’s a dropsy. A dropsy is when you have dialogue that drops in and out of the story. Most of the time, its captions that the writer puts in, and then runs out of things to say, so they say nothing. It isn’t a good look. (And yes, dropsy is my own term.)

This is basically a silent page. That bit of dialogue should have been in the first panel, and then there should have been a lot more dialogue to follow. Enough to draw the reader into the story so they would turn the page. Instead, they’re putting the book back.

This is not an auspicious start.







Hitting ENTER numerous times over does not a page break make, Oliver. Learn how to create that separation.


PANEL 1 – Extreme close up shot. A medium brush is dipped deep inside the top of a solitary rusted can of paint with paint drips staining the edges.

PANEL 2 – Extremely messy interior establishing long shot from inside ADAM’s fourth floor apartment studio room. From left to right, on the left side of the wall is a disorganized bookshelf littered with books and art scraps. In the background and back wall is a window and table covered in newspaper where the art materials sit along with the can of paint. Outside is a bird perched on a windowsill. The room is lit from natural lighting from the window with darkness in areas where the light does not touch. Adjacent and to the right of the table is ADAM, seated in a chair painting with his back to the viewer. His painting canvas stand sits in front of him with ADAM obstructing its view. On the right wall is a collage of newspaper and magazine articles tacked on the wall. In the foreground on the floor are open art books, torn newspaper pages, fast food wrappers, a pillow, and blanket.

PANEL 3 – Close up shot. ADAM holds up the can of paint and dips his brush into the back of the almost empty can of paint while residue from the earlier dips has started to hit and cover the table.

PANEL 4 – Three quarter profile shot of ADAM (A slender, man in his mid thirties. His is hair unkempt, his clothing disheveled with paint stains, and two small cuts parallel to each other run diagonally across his right cheek [scabbed over scratches from a fight he was in]) painting. He is seated in a chair facing left carrying a look of intense concentration in his eyes. (It would have been good to know what he looks like in the previous panel where his back is to the viewer.)

PANEL 5 – Overhead down shot of Adam’s hand dipping the brush back into the can of paint on the table. The table sits beside the canvas stand and is covered with newspaper to catch the paint. One front page headlines reads, Missing Art Critic Discovered Dead with a portrait of an eccentric looking woman in her fifties below it, with drops of paint across her face and body. (Good sense of foreshadowing.) Atop the table are crumpled up sketches and sharp red stained sculpting tools.

PANEL 6 – Behind the canvas shot from above the easel with the top of the canvas frame cutting off his head at the nose so only ADAM’s eyes are visible. Adam stands and stares in astonishment, marveling at the painting he created with his left hand softly covering his mouth. (Here’s where your description is a little muddled, where the canvas is cutting off his face at the nose, and yet his hand is covering his mouth. Decide which you want to actually be drawn. I’d personally suggest the latter as it’s more expressive.)

ADAM: Oh my

I’d actually prefer seeing this as a first page because it cuts straight to the chase. It shows the interior of the studio, what he’s doing, and his reaction to what he’s doing. It also ends on a good hook, one that would be lost with a facing page beside it. Finally, I wouldn’t add more dialogue to this page as his short speech in the last panel sets things up well. Silence equals concentration, then realization. Good stuff.

In other words, get rid of the previous page altogether and leave your thought provoking line of Painting is my drug, and like all drugs, overindulging in it can destroy you back there as well.

P2 is boring as well.

However, it works better than P1 does. I do agree with cutting that page and starting here. I also disagree with cutting the first line of P1. I’d add it to this last panel. It gives the story some contest.

PAGE 3 (4 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – Close up POV shot of ADAM’s completed painting. The painting is a portrait of the murdered art critic on the ground, lifeless, bleeding from multiple stab wounds.

ADAM (OP): Finally, this is it.

PANEL 2 – Reverse medium shot of ADAM inquisitively assessing his own work.

ADAM (OP): I hope the critics don’t chew this up for being too controversial. (Why is this off panel? We’re looking right at him.)

PANEL 3 – Close up shot of the portrait of the art critic on the newspaper with drops of paint on her face and body. (Is this basically a revisiting of the shot from Panel 5 of the previous page, but closer? Repeating the image in a closer shot would actually put more emphasis on what was presented before, so go for it.)

ADAM: Even if they don’t, is it good enough? Are those unlit minds going to be able to appreciate this? (We’re no longer looking at him, so why isn’t this off panel?)

PANEL 4 – ADAM seen visibly dissatisfied while his cell phone on the table begins ringing. His attention is turned toward the sound of the ringing. (That cell phone? Magically delicious.)

ADAM (OP): No, it’s never good enough.


I’m having trouble accepting the dialogue on this page as being said aloud instead of being in captions as his thoughts, with the silence broken by the ringing of the phone. Other than that, I’m pretty satisfied with where you’re going with this page.

Right now, the only thing throwing me off balance is the dialogue. Some of it seems to be in captions, and others are said aloud but should be off panel…basically, it looks like you haven’t done enough studying of scripting terms. Study is boring, I know, but it gives you the foundation for what you want to do.

By cutting the first page, this is a better second page. However, it needs more dialogue. You need to add more story here. Right now, it’s kinda limping along.



PAGE 4 (5 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – Medium long shot. ADAM holds the phone between his ear and shoulder while holding the can of paint with one hand and wiping the inside of the can with a finger with the other. (Something you forgot to do before this stage of having the phone between his ear and shoulder? You forgot to have him answering and placing it in that position. This would have also allowed you a shot of Adam’s frustration over being interrupted.)(This isn’t that large a jump, and showing him hitting the answer button could be something of a wasted panel. Now, with that being said, you do have a point about it being a missed opportunity. There’s enough space left for a 6th panel.)

ADAM: Hello?

ADAM’S FATHER (CELLPHONE): Hi, Adam, how are–

ADAM: Dad, this isn’t a good time. I’m in the middle of something right now.

PANEL 2 – POV shot. ADAM sits in his chair looking down into the empty can of paint he is holding and licks the paint from his finger.

ADAM’S FATHER (CELLPHONE): Adam, please, justlisten.

ADAM’S FATHER (CELLPHONE): You know I’ve been struggling lately, especially since my accident. Truth is, these setbacks cost a heck of a lot more than I expected and getting back to work hasn’t been so easy.

PANEL 3 – Shot of ADAM on his chair staring at his portrait looking disconnected from the conversation.

ADAM’S FATHER (CELLPHONE): What I’m trying to say, Adam, is I can’t do it anymore. I don’t have the means to keep supporting you.

PANEL 4 – Close up of ADAM looking full of contempt.

ADAM’S FATHER (CELLPHONE): I gave you a chance, son, but I’m at the end of my rope. You can try asking your mom for support, but I think it’s time you find a real job. This hobby, this obsession of yours, it isn’t profitable. (This could be a little wordy, but not overly so. I’ll let it slide at 41 words, especially since it’s the only dialogue in the panel.)

PANEL 5 – ADAM throws his cell phone violently against the ground where it shatters.

ADAM’S FATHER (CELLPHONE): Adam? Are you lis–


The end of P4, and we finally have a story!

We’re shown character in Adam being crazy. Forget the subject matter of his painting. I’m thinking the paint in the can is actually blood, and I like the shot of him sticking his finger in it and licking. I like the implications of that. I like the subject matter of the call, and his reaction to it. This is good stuff.

However, if the other bits of dialogue are supposed to be captions, then you have another case of dropsies going on here.

PAGE 5 (6 PANEL) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – Borderless panel. ADAM launches the canvas of his portrait across the room in a fit of rage with anger streaking across his face. (Prosaic, but it gets the point across.)


PANEL 2 – Borderless panel. Extreme close up of ADAM’s face cut off under his eyes as he violently digs his nails into both his cheeks.

PANEL 3 – Borderless panel. ADAM violently kicks over his chair as his face grows more maddeningenraged.



PANEL 4 – Borderless panel. ADAM is positioned on his knees on ground furiously stabbing his painting with a sculpting blade. (When did he reach for the blade?)

PANEL 5 – Borderless panel. Close up of ADAM’s painting punctured and smeared. In the painting, the murdered art critic has been littered with holes.

PANEL 6 – Borderless panel. ADAM stands in the middle his destruction huffing and puffing. He is surrounded by his downed easel, destroyed canvas, and knocked over chair.

This is a very strong page with great emotional impact in my opinion. He’s having a major temper tantrum, showing not only his rage, but his immaturity as well, taking something like a talk from daddy to set him off. I don’t know if I’d go borderless with the framing, but that’s personal choice and not a clear-cut rule. Nice work.

P5, and the only real problem I have is the fact that this is a collage. I don’t even have that much of a problem with it. I suggest adding a border to the last panel, though.

Except for not showing him grabbing the blade, this page generally works.


PAGE 6 (6 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – ADAM picks up the easel with one hand and reaches for another canvas with the other.

ADAM: FUCK THEM!! They all think I’m wasting my time! I’M CREATING ART, DAMMIT! (Here’s the thing that most newbies don’t know/don’t seem to remember: most of the time, the letterer is going to pick an all-caps font to use. Very rarely will they use a sentence case font. So your caps here to show him yelling are kinda going to waste. If you put underline it, it would be that much better.)

PANEL 2 – POV shot from ADAM staring down at his open left palm as he reaches over to grab the sculpting blade from the ground with his right hand.

ADAM: Now this THIS will be my greatest piece! I just need more paint– (Okay, consistency. You capitalized and bolded one word here, you capitalized entire sentences before, and you bolded one word earlier. Which is it to be? You can’t have it all ways. Remember that comics is a visual language, and you’re creating that language somewhat as you go along, but you also have to adhere to your own rules. You’ve given three types of stressors. How is the reader supposed to understand one from the other? What is it that you’d like the letterer to do here?)

PANEL 3 – ADAM carves open his left palm with the blade with a manic expression on his face.

PANEL 4 – Close up shot of ADAM’s left palm. ADAM pushes down on it with his right thumb to force more blood to excrete from his cut.

ADAM: There we go

PANEL 5 – ADAM holds open his left hand like a painter’s palette and readies his right hand to dip into the dripping blood.

ADAM: Now I can just let my mind do the rest.

PANEL 6 – ADAM dips his brush into his blood soaked hand while carrying a strangely calm look on his face. (I think you need to actually show him trying to regain his composure instead of going from 60 to 0 in the blink of an eye, especially on a page that shows mostly manic behavior.)

ADAM: They won’t soon forget THIS work


Except for the dialogue stressors, P6 is another good page.





PAGE 7 (9 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – Close up of ADAM’s brush being dipped and soaked in blood from his open wound.

PANEL 2 – Close up of ADAM’s brush stroking across the canvas. The painting is in the same shade and tone as the paint he painted with earlier.

PANEL 3 – Close up of ADAM’s face as he appears to be calculating his next strokes.

PANEL 4 – Close up of ADAM’s bloody palm as he squeezes more blood out by pressing his thumb alongside the deep cut.

PANEL 5 – Close up of blood soaking ADAM’s sleeves (Are his sleeves down on his shirt? This is information that should have been included in his character description.) and running down from his palm onto his wrist and forearms.

PANEL 6 – Close up of ADAM’s eyes filled with intense concentration.

PANEL 7 – Close up of ADAM’s brush being dipped into his cut.

PANEL 8 – Brush marks smear across the canvas and splatter in between. In the background, the window is visible. (What time of day is the window showing?)

PANEL 9 – Shot of a look outside ADAM’s window to the street below, where a few police cars and a plain car with the cherry on top are parked haphazardly to create a barricade outside of the apartment building.

To have or not to have, that is the question: Should there be the sound of police sirens coming from the distance outside? Possibly, but again, I think this is writer’s preference.

My main problem is the last panel, with the sudden switching from Adam’s actions to an exterior shot of the street below his window. If you’re going to introduce the exterior shot, do so either gradually (such as having every third panel of the nine having the camera moving closer to the window and then out) or starting your next page with this shot. Otherwise it’s jarring and interrupts the flow of actions on this page.

Methinks Steve and I are in a good groove today. His suggestion is very close to what I would have suggested, and having the nine-panel grid would work very well with it. The only thing I would have suggested differently is to have that internal monologue going.

Here’s the thing when it comes to an internal monologue: once you start it, it should be very difficult to stop it. The character should always have something to say about the situation. Here, he doesn’t say enough. It’s a silent page, and it shouldn’t be. Not with what you’ve started. He should be thinking something, and it should be a mile a minute. Itshouldprobablyreadlikethis, sothatyougettheimpressionofhispain. That’s on this page, and this page alone. Too much of that and you’ll lose the reader.


PAGE 8 (4 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – Exterior shot of police outside the streets of ADAM’s apartment building. DETECTIVE MATTHEWS (A middle aged man in his 40s), a plainclothes detective, is guiding other plainclothes and uniformed officers into the entrance to ADAM’s apartment building. He directs two uniformed officers to a different location.

DETECTIVE MATTHEWS: Stay on your guard. This is a dangerous suspect we’re dealing with. I don’t want any of you getting hurt, so keep your senses about you.

DETECTIVE MATTHEWS: You two (Missing comma) watch the fire escape, (Period instead of comma here.) Make sure he doesn’t make a run for it.

POLICE OFFICER #1: Yes, sir!

PANEL 2 – DETECTIVE MATTHEWS enters the building in silence with officers in line behind him.

PANEL 3 – DETECTIVE MATTHEWS and his squad climb the stairs to the 4th floor. (Is there a sign on that floor stating it’s the fourth floor? Might be a good idea to add one.)

PANEL 4 – DETECTIVE MATTHEWS stands outside ADAM’s apartment ready to knock on the door with fellow officers and detectives on positioned nearby.

Another lost opportunity for the internal monologue. Other than that, I’ve got no complaints.


PAGE 9 (3 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – ADAM continues painting with blood still continuously flowing from his cut down throughout his arm and to the floor.

PANEL 2 – Over the shoulder shot with ADAM turning his head around to face the door behind him in surprise.

SFX (OP): KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK (You don’t need to write OP for this sound effect. It isn’t in a word balloon, so no tail will be trailing off. Besides, I’d assume the sound would resonate throughout the studio.)

DETECTIVE MATTHEWS (OP): Police! Open the door!

PANEL 3 – Over the canvas stand shot. ADAM ignores the knocks and stares at his complete painting looking somber.


DETECTIVE MATTHEWS (OP): ADAM! We know you’re in there! OPEN UP! (So, again, we have the different stressors on the page, and two different ones in the same balloon. That isn’t going to go over well. And the police would use his first and last name or just kick it in, depending on the situation.)

I’m not seeing the need for limiting this page to only three panels. There’s the knocking on the door that could warrant a limited panel count to put emphasis on the SFX, but generally speaking, I’d add another panel at least to this page. Let’s look at what your next page has to offer.

Another decent page.

PAGE 10 (4 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – ADAM turns toward the sound of the knocking at the door in a medium shot, his right hand having put down the paint brush on the table, instead reaching for the sculpting blade. (You could put this panel at the end of the previous page, so that he’s reaching for the blade, but allows for the reader to wonder what he’s going to do with it. By leaving it here on this page, you aren’t creating that same type of hook, instead spelling it out.)

ADAM: It’s a masterpiece. (This dialogue would have been better served in your current last panel of the previous page, where he’s staring at the painting. Place it between the knocking SFX and the detective’s dialogue.)

PANEL 2 – In the hallway outside the apartment, DETECTIVE MATTHEWS gives the order to break in the door.

DETECTIVE MATTHEWS: Get ready to break it.

PANEL 3 – Close up of ADAM’s neck and mouth with his hand holding the blade prepared to make a cut.

PANEL 4 – Shot of DETECTIVE MATTHEWS along with several police officers outside the door. DETECTIVE MATTHEWS is listening intently at the noise inside the apartment as an officer readies himself to break down the door.


DETECTIVE MATTHEWS: Did you hear that?

Another pretty decent page. The pacing is off a bit, but Steve’s suggestion fixes that.




PAGE 11 (3 PANELS) (Add a page break)

PANEL 1 – Low angle shot from just behind Adam’s dead body looking up at DETECTIVE MATTHEWS and the police who have just busted through the door.


POLICE OFFICER 2: Shit (Nope. If they’ve just smashed the door in, no one has had time to come in and see what’s going on. You can’t have the sound effect and this line of dialogue that’s reacting to the sight before them in the same panel. This throws off your timing. This line belongs in a separate panel.)

PANEL 2 – Over the shoulder shot angled up of one of the police officers examining ADAM’s collage of newspaper articles with headlines of murder and death. One article shows the same art critic as seen on ADAM’s table, but from a different newspaper.



PANEL 3 – Overhead shot of a lifeless ADAM on the ground underneath his painting stand with his head being cut off by the portrait of himself in the foreground. His neck is cut deeply open and a pool of blood has formed. The portrait is of him with the art critic/his mother behind him with her arms wrapped around him in an endearing pose. Both are smiling. Beside his body is DETECTIVE MATTHEWS gazing with his arms by his sides. (There is no way for the reader to tell the dead art critic is also his mother.)

DETECTIVE MATTHEWS: Jesus had nothing to do with this.

Really enjoyed the story, Oliver. It’s odd to have an 11-page story, but with my suggestion of taking away the first page, your pacing, hooks and page turns would be in the right places. Let’s see what Steven has to say.

Let’s run it down.

Format: The only thing missing are page breaks. That’s the only thing that cost you a flawless victory.

Panel Descriptions: These weren’t bad at all. A couple of rough spots here and there, but nothing that was insurmountable. I could see what was going on for the most part. Just remember that when you’re at a low angle, your sight is going to be limited. Try taking some low-angle photos and you’ll see what I mean. When you write, your have to see what the camera is seeing in your mind’s eye, and you have to describe that, because that’s what the artist is going to draw. The artist will always have to work within the bounds of physics. Imagination doesn’t have to. Don’t make your artist look bad by trying to get them something that is impossible to draw.

Pacing: It’s off here and there, but again, nothing that can’t be overcome. That first page is you clearing your throat, and as such, should be discarded. Steve makes a lot of good suggestions when it comes to the pacing of the panels. I’m going to add one more piece to the pacing puzzle: dialogue. I honestly feel there isn’t enough of it. This is a fast read. Adding more dialogue slows the pace down, keeps the reader on the page longer.

Dialogue: There wasn’t anything I would consider even remotely wretched about the dialogue! I could see this as actual conversation. Good work there. The only thing is that there wasn’t enough of it. Adam needs a stronger voice. Sure, there are his actions, and there is a glimpse as to what’s going on, but it isn’t clear as to what’s happened by the time we reach the end. Going to talk about that in a moment. If you add a true internal monologue, the reader will get to understand what’s going on that much better.

Content: I’m not the biggest fan of stories that don’t seem to have any redeeming value. Guy kills himself for his art, and the police come just as he’s doing it. Big whoop.

Here’s what the reader doesn’t know: the reader doesn’t know he killed the critic. She never shows up. They may be able to infer, but I don’t know if there’s enough information to make the inference. Without the body, there isn’t much to go on.

The second thing the reader doesn’t know is that the art critic killed was his mother. There’s absolutely no information given where the reader would be able to puzzle that out. So, as a reader, I’d leave this story puzzled, and I don’t like to be puzzled. I haven’t brought this story up in a while, but Grant Morrison’s book The Filth is a story I just don’t get. Either Grant is a genius, or it’s utter trash. I’m leaning toward the latter, myself. I think the story was only published because he’s Grant Morrison.

Editorially, there isn’t much I’d do to this. I’d have you cut the first page, and I’d have you make more about the critic, and show her to be his mother. I’d have you add more dialogue, and study your scripting terms. That’s about it. Not a lot of work to be done here, which means you’ve done a lot of work that you can be proud of. Good show.

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

Also, we’re still close to running out of scripts. If you want to have your script critiqued and don’t want to wait, now is the perfect time to do so!

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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