TPG Week 170: Comedy Needs To Be Paced (And Funny)

| March 29, 2014


Hello, and welcome once again to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in the personage of Dan Dayton. We have Steve Colle in the cooling blue, I’m in the slap ’em around some more red, and let’s see how Dan answers the question



Page One (7 panels)


Panel 1: A busy Author Q&A. (I’m not sure what you mean here. Where is this taking place? An auditorium? A stage in a television studio? Let us know.) The turnout is good. In the foreground sit dozens of exited excited fans, their backs to us. A flurry of hands reaches up in the air, each person aching to be selected. Writer BARRY BENDALAC sits facing his audience on a raised stage in the mid-ground, the INTERVIEWER sits across from him. Both men grin profusely. Between them stands a chalkboard that reads “Author Q’n’A. Today’s Guest… Barry Bendalac!” (This isn’t going to work well. First, there isn’t enough information here, as Steve has already pointed out, and secondly, this isn’t deep enough. In order to put them in the mid-ground, you’re going to have to push the people into the foreground. In order to get real scope of the audience, you’re going to have to push this back more. The crowd is in the fore- and mid-ground, and the stage is in the background. This is what the artist is going to do. Help them out.)

1 INTERVIEWER: Okay, so who has a question for our Star Author?


Panel 2: Over-the-shoulder shot (Whose shoulder?) of the Interviewer. (Perhaps it’s the way that it’s phrased, but I thought the shot was looking at the interviewer, not at the fan. Might just be the way I interpreted it, though.) (Nope. It’s not just you.)He points to the FAN, a rather bizarre, fanatic-looking young man. Bags around his eyes, a vacant stare, everything about him screams stalker. (I honestly don’t get stalker from this description. Someone who’s exhausted or maybe even stoned, perhaps, but not stalker . What are some other physical traits that could give the artist more direction?)(Oh! Okay. This panel description is just screwed up. It started out as looking at the interviewer, but then switched to the fan. Pick your point of view and stick to it. Either that, or understand that words have meaning, and you’re screwing it up.)

1 INTERVIEWER: You (Missing comma) the – uh – (I’d suggest using ellipsis marks instead of single dashes around uh so that it shows a pause in his speech.) intense looking young man…

2 FAN: Mr (Missing period after Mr ) Bendalac, where do you get your ideas? (I had to do some research on this for a client. The period after personal titles that begin and end the same word is generally a usage of the US. If you grew up here, Dan, then you’re wrong. If you didn’t, I can let it slide. Flexibility, thy name is Forbes. However, my willingness to give the benefit of the doubt only goes so far.)


Panel 3: Similar to panel 1, but closer in on Bendalac and the Interviewer. The Interviewer rolls his eyes at the banality of the question. Bendalac just laughs it off, however.

1 INTERVIEWER (Quietly): Hardly Original… ( Original should obviously not start with a capital here.) (While it’s a good point, it’s also more than likely going to be lettered in all caps. It’s a good thing to watch out for, though.)

2 BENDALAC: HaHaHa. (The laughter should have an exclamation mark after it. Otherwise, it’s a statement.) (Also, there isn’t a need for the staggered caps.) I don’t wanna reveal my secret to everybody.

3 BENDALAC: Why don’t you ask me later, in private? (This sounds like he’s inviting the fan to his room for a rendezvous. How about Why don’t you approach me after the session? )


Panel 4: (Scene change) Long-shot as Bendalac stands at a urinal in the gents toilets, relieving himself. We are at the door, watching him from behind. He whistles while he works. (I’m feeling like this should have been on a page turn instead of being on the same page as the previous scene. It seems you’re trying to economize on space, but you’re not pacing the story properly because of it.)

1 CAP: Later, in private. (Sticking with just the word Later gives us enough information without being redundant.)

2 BENDALAC: *whistles* (What does the whistling sound like? What kind of onomatopoeia could you use? It’s your responsibility as the writer to give the letterer a direct way of writing the sound instead of forcing them to imagine it themselves.)

Here’s what I like about this: the placement of the copy in time. The caption is read first, letting the reader know that it is, indeed, later, and then there’s the whistle. That’s how it should go. Others may have reversed this, but they would have been wrong. They would have caused a mental hiccup as the reader reads the whistle first, and then reads the timeframe second. It would have been slight, but it would have been there. This placement alleviates that. Nice.

Panel 5: Two-shot. Bendalac is facing us – still at the urinal – in the foreground, the fan lurks in the background over the author’s shoulder, looking as creepy as ever. The idea is that he is the threat here and not Bendelac, who has stopped whistling and looks more than a little alarmed at this sudden interruption.

1 FAN: So, where do you get your ideas?


Panel 6: Over the Fan’s shoulder looking at Bendalac, who has just finished off his business. He has his back to us and we are unable to see his face. (And this is why I say the previous panel was expertly botched. This panel description was done correctly.)

1 BENDALAC: You really want to know?

2 SFX: Zzipp (This should read as ZZZZIP . The P shouldn’t be doubled up.)(That’s an opinion. One that I don’t know that I share, but the question isn’t about whether this should have two p’s or not—the question is whether this bit of sfx is appropriate. I’ll have to read more to see, but I’m leaning against it.)


Panel 7: Two-shot. Bendalac faces the Fan, a giant, curly straw in his hand. (I’m not getting the relevance of the curly straw, where it came from, or how it applied to his pissing in the urinal. This needs clarity.) His face is twisted into a menacing grin. It is the Fan who is scared now. (Okay. On the one hand, this has suddenly dipped into the absurd. That’s the only thing that can account for the straw. And if that’s the case, then the sfx is appropriate. On the other, I just lost interest.)

1 BENDALAC: I use this.

2 FAN: Wuh – Wh-What are you gonna do with that? (Exclamation mark added to the question mark.)

Like I mentioned before, I see this as two pages, not one. I think you could have expanded upon the first scene instead of going straight into the fan asking the first question and running with it from there. Build up the fact that it’s an open forum for audience members to ask questions instead of switching scenes before the first question has been answered.

The other thing to comment on is your numbering of dialogue. When numbering dialogue in a script, the idea is to have a running tally, basically, of the dialogue on the page as a whole, not in each individual panel. In other words, you actually have 13 pieces of text, whether dialogue, captions, or sound effects, on this page. You have a choice: Either number them properly or avoid numbering them altogether, but don’t do it the way you currently have it.

P1! How did it do?

Well, I’m with Steve. From a pacing perspective, it’s moving a bit too fast. I understand that there are seven panels here, but they move a bit too fast. I would have had another question asked and answered first, and then have the see me later comment at the end of the page.

Pacing, though, is the least of the problems here.

The biggest problem are the panel descriptions. They aren’t doing the job they should be, and that’s a lack of forethought on your part, or a lack of re-reading to make sure you’re saying what you think you are. Reading things aloud helps.

There is no reason for panel 2 to be screwed up. None. Not when panel 6 is done correctly. So, yeah, you have to work on that.

Overall as a page, like Steve said, this is actually 2. While I’m a fan of loading up somewhat on the panel count, I’m not a fan of rushing. A raised panel count should help the story. This isn’t. This feels like there are pieces missing.

A good example of a low panel count that tells a good story without feeling like there is too much missing is Amazing Fantasy 15, the origin of Spider-Man. That’s got a low page count and a low panel count, but it tells a full story.

This page? It’s all about the pacing, and it’s off.

Page Two (5 panels)


Panel 1: Medium close-up on the Fan. He looks up, trying impossibly to see the straw now embedded in the top of his head. (How did it get there? When did the action of insertion occur?) He doesn’t seem in pain, but rather instead appears confused. This should play for comedy, not gore. (Okay, this happened in the cut. We’ll talk about it more at the end of the page.)

1 SFX: TAP (What is this for? This shouldn’t be here.)


Panel 2: Medium shot of Bendalac, slurping brains through his ridiculous straw. He looks to be enjoying himself. (Yeah. This isn’t thought through at all. All kinds of missing information here.)

1 SFX: SSLLLURRRPP (This should read as SSSSSLURP . Put the emphasis on the letter or letters that sustain the sound. Make the sound out loud and then try to say it as you have it written right now. This gets divided up into SS-LLL-URRR-P-P . Doesn’t sound right, right? Listen to the sound. Don’t assume.)


Panel 3: Close-up. Bendalac wipes his mouth, satisfied. (I didn’t get the impression from the previous panel that he was finished ingesting, but rather that he was in the process. What could have changed that is an exclamation mark at the end of SLURP.)

1 BENDALAC: Mmmmm. Tastes like… (I’ve added the sound of Mmmmm to show satisfaction. You need that to not only show that it was satisfying, but also to lead into the comment of Tastes like You could also use Ahhhhh to gain the same effect.)

2 BENDALAC: Fantasy epic.

(Timing is off. What is he wiping his mouth with? A hanky? The back of his hand? No matter what, he’s wiping his mouth, and that’s an action that precedes the dialogue. So this dialogue cannot be here. Steve’s suggested sound of satisfaction can be here, but not the rest of the dialogue.)

Panel 4: Bendalac continues to suck on the noggin of the dead fan, (You just said in the first panel that he wasn’t in pain, but rather appeared confused. At what point did he die? How are you going to show that he’s dead? Did he fall to the ground, slide down the washroom wall, etc.? This needs to be clarified.) though he is interrupted mid-slurp. (Fantasy epic? The lack of real panel descriptions are turning this into something that is epically bad.)

1 SFX: SSLLLURR- (Same thing as previously mentioned, but also, this begs the question of whether or not an interrupted sound effect would warrant a double dash to show it’s interrupted or trailing off, such as how an ellipsis would be applied. To me, a sound is a sound, not a word, so there wouldn’t be a breaking off point, just a simple cessation of the sound.)


3 DISEMBODIED VOICE(ELEC, O.P, LOUD): YOU HAVE BEEN SUMMONED (Missing ending punctuation.) (Yeah. This is a failure. I can’t extend the benefit of the doubt for missing ending punctuation.)


panel 5: Bendalac looks up, screaming. He is bathed in white light, almost washing out the panel completely.

1 BENDALAC: NoooOOAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! (This sound effect doesn’t work as written. Besides the fact that you again used multiples of different letters, NOOOO wouldn’t suddenly change to ARGH . It’s two different sounds without a proper way to transition. Either have them separate or stick with one or the other.)

This should actually be Page Three. With that said, it needs clarity in the details and proper transitions in actions.

P2, and we’re getting more of a breakdown of the panel descriptions. Not good.

Here’s what happened firs, though: Panel 1 has an action that happened in the page turn. This shouldn’t have happened. This action should have happened on camera or in panel, depending on how you want to describe it. The reader should have seen the action of the straw slamming into the skull. Then there was a sound effect that was present that shouldn’t have been, because the action had already been completed off panel.

It’s about pacing, and the pacing here is terrible.

Next, the panel descriptions themselves. Not one of the panel descriptions on this page work. They are all lacking in information, and that lack is killing you.

Panel 2: where’s the camera? What’s the fan doing? When last we saw the fan, he was standing. Now, unless the author is exceedingly tall, there’s no way he can be slurping the brains out through the straw. All of the panel descriptions on this page suffer from a lack of description in some way or another. That’s never good.

So, the lack of panel descriptions that work along with bad pacing is equaling a story badly told.

Page Three (7 panels)


Panel 1: Establishing shot. A giant Spaceship hovers above the Earth. This can look as pulpy, old-school Sci-Fi as you like. It is surrounded by a dozen, smaller ships of similair design. (Anyone else’s head just ‘splode, or is it just me?)

1 CAP: Mothership of the Galactic Empire.


Panel 2: Full-shot aboard the Mothership, inside the chamber of the Council of the Galactic Empire, an intergalactic court. Bendalac now stands on deck, still glowing from his teleportation. He is surrounded From behind by reptile-like Centurions. Think Bowzer from Super Mario Bros. In front of him sits THE COUNCIL OF THE GALACTIC EMPIRE (Kind of a lame and cliché name for the council), a dozen Slimmer, Reptilian Elders. (I didn’t get the impression that he was being teleported in the previous scene. It sounded like he was in pain, sure, and you had the bright light, but you needed to have a better representation of teleportation. Another thing is the lack of a proper transition. For example, if you had repeated the angle, distance, and positioning of his body from the last panel of the previous page to this panel where he materializes, then it would have shown a sudden change of locale a lot better, transplanting the character in a quick and sudden motion. Right now, it looks like a jump in time, one in which he could have been shot and paralyzed on Earth, then travelled up to the mothership to be placed in the chamber before the elders.)(I couldn’t have said it better myself. Snarkier, yes, but not better.)

1 ELDER: Bah’Ri Ben-Dalak, you stand before the Council of the Galactic Empire on charges of negligence… (Period instead of ellipsis.)

2 ELDER:(Take out the ellipsis.) How do you plead?


Panel 3: A full-shot of the Elders, looking unimpressed. The main speaker leans forward in his chair, shouting.

1 ELDER: SPEAK! (Let the guy open his mouth before being screamed at.)

2 ELDER: And remove that hideous disguise.


Panel 4: Full-shot of BAH’RI BEN-DALAK – Bendalac’s true, reptilian form – as he stands before the Elders, shamed. Behind him lurks a handful of Centurions. Arms crossed, scowling faces, They’re your typical brutish Alien Police Force. (What would be cool here is to have a holographic effect going on as it starts to warp the human appearance. Take advantage of the obvious technology they have.)(What would be cool here is for the story to actually make sense…)

1 DISEMBODIED ROBOTIC VOICE (ELEC): Human disguise. Disabled. (This sounds like something a young boy would say when playing with his action figures. It could definitely be phrased in a stronger fashion.)

2 BEN-DALAK: Uh, I, uh… That is…


Panel 5: Back to the Elder, Close-up, looking even more incised incensed than before.

1 ELDER: Enough prattling. You failed your mission to align the planet Earth with the Galactic Empire and abused the rights of your thought-sucker. (First of all, this sounds weak. Aligning the Earth with the Galactic Empire? That isn’t the main issue, though, as he abused the rights of his thought-sucker. Excuse me? It’s a straw that pokes into a person’s head, for crying out loud. Isn’t that abuse all its own?)(There is a difference between thoughts and brains. Which were being sucked?)

2 ELDER: Do you deny it? (This is the last thing said, but it doesn’t sound even more incensed than before. )

3 BEN’DALAK (O.P): Well… I…


PANEL 6: Full-shot of the council, looking grim and solemn. The main speaker holds his hand up to silence Ben-Dalak.

1 ELDER: We’ve heard enough. We find you guilty of all charges.

2 ELDER: Banish him to Ersrex, and take that damn straw off from him.


Panel 7: Medium-shot of Ben-Dalak As he looks up at the council in disbelief, even as the Centurions surround him. Two seize him by the shoulders as one takes his straw.

1 BEN-DALAK: Ersrex? That nation of idiots? (So, here Ersrex is a nation )

2 ELDER (O.P): Take him away.

3 BEN-DALAK: But… What does a writer do without ideas? (What does this comment have to do with what’s happening? It’s like you’re trying to fit your theme statement into the story. It’s not working.)(None of this is working.)

It’s P3, and really, the story should stop here. Since there’s only 4 pages, though, we’ll finish it up. However, understand that this is a strain.

What is this story supposed to do? Is it supposed to be a comedy? It’s failing because it isn’t funny. Is it supposed to be dramatic? It’s failing, because drama takes time. (Comedy takes time, too, but a different sort of time than drama.)

Everyone knows that I watch a lot of bad movies. I watch them and I love them for what they are. But I love bad movies that have some sort of production value to them. The movies of Ed Wood are terrible, but they have some production value. They have reached a realm of being so bad they’re good. It’s a fine line to walk.

I don’t think you know the line. I don’t even know what the line is, let alone where it is. It seems like it’s supposed to be a horror comedy, but what happened is that you put on your cape, gloves, and mask, turned into Captain Try-Hard, and utterly failed.

When I was a kid, I watched a 19 year old Eddie Murphy have a stand-up special on HBO. It was ground-breaking. Nothing like it had been done before, especially not for a kid. And not just a kid, but one from my home town, whom my parents knew! This was Eddie Murphy: Delirious, and as a child, it was hilarious.

The jokes hold up today, but there are problems. The biggest problem? The jokes are rushed. Eddie goes from one joke, doesn’t really allow the audience to get a full laugh before he rushes into the next joke. As a child, I didn’t know any better. If I were an adult in the 80s, I probably wouldn’t have known any better. However, as a contemporary adult, having seen comedy evolve, I see the problems.

I see the problems here. The first is that it isn’t funny. The second is that the pacing is terrible. Comedy is more pacing intensive than any other genre. The jokes have to be timed well, and if they aren’t, then things fall apart—especially on paper. (You can have bad timing when live, and that can be funny, too, but it’s much harder to be funny on paper. Live, you can have cheap laughs. On paper, you have to work harder for it.)

Then the panel descriptions aren’t helping you. I can’t see, and if I can’t see, then the artist can’t, either. They’re going to have a lot of questions to ask, and the purpose of the script is to have the fewest amount of questions possible. This? You’d have to rewrite the entire thing to explain what you meant. If you were clearly describing things to begin with, you’d save yourself a lot of time and your artist a lot of frustration.

Page four (4 panels)


Panel 1: The Planet Ersrex. ( and here, Ersrex is a planet. See a problem?) Ersrex is – if you haven’t guessed – an intergalactic version of Essex. (Is Essex a place exclusively of idiots?)(Is this second sentence something that can be drawn or is germane to the story?) This is an establishing shot of a typical, suburban English neighbourhood. (I’m assuming your artist knows what an English neighbourhood looks like, because I don’t.) Typical, that is, except for its population of Reptilian creatures. (It would be better to pull out first, showing the planet, before pushing in to show the town, or whatever this is.)

1 CAP: Ersrex.

2 TV ANNOUNCER (V.O): “Tune in tomorrow for anova totes amaze episode of “That Show Wiv All Them Boxes”.” (This is really bad, incomprehensible dialogue. Is this actual slang or dialect in Essex? And why is the dialogue in quotes when it sounds more like it’s spoken in an electric balloon? The same thing applies below.)


Panel 2: Closer in, so now we focus on a particular, semi-detached house.

1 TV ANNOUNCER (V.O): “Up next (Missing comma) Bah’Ri Ben-Dalak” (Missing ellipsis)

2 TV ANNOUNCER (V.O): “- (Ellipsis instead of double [not single] dash) Fresh from ‘is tour of pilfering ideas from Primitive Planets -” (Ellipsis instead of double [not single] dash. Also, is Primitive Planets the name of a place like Disneyworld? Their capitalization makes no sense, even though Steven will probably comment that the lettering will probably be in all caps anyway.)(Ha! No I—well, that’s a lie. I would. I SO would. I would, and I would…HARD! I’d hardly would! I…think I’m going crazy from a lack of anything captivating going on here.)

3 TV ANNOUNCER (V.O):(Missing ellipsis) Introduces ‘is latest show.”


Panel 3: Closer on the house still, we can now see through the living room window. A reptilian family sits watching TV, their vacant eyes glued to the screen.



Panel 4: Extreme Close-up of the TV screen. We see the title card for Ben-Dalak’s latest creation:

“The Only Way Is Ersrex”

Which looks identical to the title card to “The Only Way Is Essex” except That the Leopard-print “Essex” has been replaced with the Reptile-scale “Ersrex”. (WHAT?! This gets a non-built up to…that? It’s a good thing this is the end, because I no longer have the strength. Here’s a question, though: what does this panel do to tell ANY part of the story ? That’s a real question, and I want a real answer.)

Four pages, four scenes. You never really got into developing the story, in my opinion, trying to compress it into a minimal number of pages. There is so much more that could have been done. You could have expanded upon the first scene and given us a page turn. The same thing applied to your Pages 2 to 3, where you have the teleportation from the bathroom to the mothership, where another page turn would have bridged the transition much better. Spend time in your scenes to develop the characters and the story. This was much too quick a read.

The other thing is I think you were going for comedy, but it fell flat (failed flatly is more like it.). There wasn’t really anything funny about any aspect of the story.

Finally, this seemed like a personal joke that you were hoping others would laugh at as well. I realize your target audience was probably for readers of something like 2000 AD, but what about all of the others readers they cater to? How widely recognized is The Only Way is Essex for readers to put 2 plus 2 together to get the punchline?

I believe this needs work, to better flesh out the story. Don’t be stingy by holding information back for the sake of maintaining a page count. If you only had four pages to work with, then this story wasn’t the one to be told. Let’s see what Steven has to say.

Let’s just run this puppy over! (Um, I mean, let’s just run it do– Wait! That’s not good, either. Let’s just review it. [See? That’s funny. Someone smiled, even if they didn’t laugh.])

Format: Flawless Victory.

Panel Descriptions: Failure. Luckily there were no moving panels, but after the first page, it became a challenge to see what you were going after. The panel descriptions don’t work because you just started writing instead of visualizing an action and writing what you visualized. It led to actions not being described, and things just happening without any sort of explanation as to positioning or how characters got to where they were. Not good.

Pacing: If there is any one thing that you utterly failed at, besides the comedy aspect of this, it was the pacing.

Four pages, four scenes, and none of them did anything to inform the punchline. There was no punchline. There was only the punch to the brain, and it wasn’t my idea of a good time.

Comedy has to attack something. It has to be angry. What are you angry at here? I don’t know. Authors and the publishing circuit? Not funny. Fans seemingly stalking writers? That could have been funny. Aliens? Although they stated what they wanted, there was no overture in the story itself of that coming anywhere near happening, so it wasn’t funny. People watching television? That could have been funny, if it were contrasted against something. As it stands, it wasn’t funny.

There is no arc here. I know you think there is because you wrote it, but believe me when I tell you there isn’t. Each panel has to built on the next, and each scene has to build on the next, so that there is an overall arc.

There is no overall arc, because the panels don’t build on each other properly in order to tell about a scene. As Steve said, this was not the story to tell. Each scene could have been a four-page story unto itself.

Remember that a story needs a beginning, middle, and end. While this has an end, it isn’t satisfying, mainly because it isn’t understandable. That’s part of the problem with pacing.

Again, when going for comedy, pacing is even more important. None of this was funny. There were some overtures, but none of this came remotely close to making me smile. I could say something truly unkind and totally screwed up here, and while people would be shocked at what I said, they’d say it with a smile, possibly with a chuckle. Why? Because it’d be funny. Why would it be funny? Because they’d get to see the anger.

The pacing here isn’t good. Each scene needs more breathing room.

Dialogue: All dialogue needs work. Some needs more work than others. The dialogue here needs to be removed wholesale and polished up. Very little of it needs to be shot, but it all needs to come out. It needs to be better. It needs to be funny, dramatic, or something besides what it’s doing right now. Right now, it’s just marking time on the page. Totally unremarkable.

Content: This is crap, pure and unmitigated. As a reader, I’d wonder what the editor was smoking to let this go through. Either that, or you know where the bodies are buried. That would be the only way this would have gotten through. From the audience’s perspective, this is not a good read.

Editorially, I’d print it out, write large red X’s through each page, and then hand it back to you, and then tell you to tell me the story you’re trying to tell. Then we’d talk about how to make that fit into four pages. This doesn’t fit in four pages. You have too much going on. You have four different locations for a single character, and none of it hearkens back to the title of the story. You tried to, but it was extremely inelegantly shoehorned into the story, and then never mentioned again.

After coming to the conclusion that this story could not be told in four pages, we’d concentrate on a scene that could, and then we’d look at it to see what you were angry about, and try to find the humor in it.

Now, if you come back and tell me that you weren’t trying to be humorous at all, then I’d politely tell you to stop writing until you knew what you were doing, because all signs point to humor. You reached, and it was admirable because you tried, but like Luke using The Force consciously for the first time, you failed.

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

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

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


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Category: Columns, The Proving Grounds

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at for rate inquiries.

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