TPG Week 211: Minor Tweaks Needed

| January 9, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, our Brave One is no stranger to us: Sam Roads! (I call him Felix because I keep mixing him up with another Sam R. Remember, folks: I’m not smart.) We’ve got Sam-antha (another Sam!) LeBas in purple, I’m the guy in red, and let’s see what happens when Sam


(Bad joke attempt. Remember, I’m not smart. Go with it.)


1.) A fraction of the curve of a vast gas giant planet is on the edge of the panel, top left. Canted (gas giant) rings dominate the panel. A space station hangs below the rings, dwarfed by the surroundings.

Letterer: The following is a prayer, so the line breaks need to be where they are. (This? I like this. Sam is telling the letterer exactly what’s needed, so things don’t go strange with how Sam wants it to look. I like it.)

Crow (comes from the station, iTalics)

Source of creation,

Illuminate the system,

Unshadow man’s sin.

Crow (comes from the station, italics)

We, inner servants, (The inner servants? Your inner servants? setting it off this way makes it seem like you are addressing the inner servants instead of referring to them.)

bring only balance,

unTil our day of rest.

2.) The space station fills the panel. It is vast, made of several sections in different architectural styles. The station is mostly derelict, excepting a few areas which are lit, including a central spherical section. Detritus floats around the station, though too far from our vantage to see specifics.

Crow (comes from the station, italics)

Almighty eye,

Whose gaze is destruction,

Still your anger.

Crow (comes from the station, italics)

Give warmth unto us,

And give us light,

For ever and ever.

3.) The central spherical section fills the panel. Right at the centre is a dimly lit window. Foreground is floating detritus: a broken off sensor array, broken fragments of metal, a drinks can marked ‘MILLSVERSE BEER’. Closest to us is a dead astronaut in a space-suit. Face rimed with tiny ice crystals, mouth open in horror. The astronaut was white and male and had cyberware implants above his eyes. The space-suit is 26th century, smooth and sleek, with gyromount manipulation tools and fusion jet controls.

Crow (comes from the window, italics)

blah di blah blah.

tawny Owl (comes from the window, Shouting)


4.) The dimly lit window from panel 3 fills the panel. Within is The Reactory – command and control room for the engineers who tend the Fusion Reactor. In profile, Crow and Raven sit facing Tawny Owl. They are in robes, hood thrown back, cross legged. Crow is grinning, mock belligerent, while Raven looks at Crow, annoyed. Tawny Owl’s body is facing us, pacing before them, arms folded, head turned to look at Crow. On the right is the wall sized screen which displays the Reactor’s workings, explained in Reactor.doc. The room is dimly lit other than this wall light source. The exit door is opposite us, with a window into a corridor.

Tawny Owl

i’m so sorry, mistra raven, but it appears the angry eye is insufficiently interesting for apprentice crow.

5.) Medium. Tawny Owl’s POV looking at Crow and Raven. Crow has her hands clasped, begging. She is full of humour, with a cheeky grin. Raven looks at her out of the corner of her eye, resentful, and speaks from the side of her mouth.


but keeper, you know we can recite every single ritual six sigma.


can’t we go and help in hydro?


The only seed she wants to gather is Goodluck’s.

(I appreciate what you are doing here. You have combined the work of establishing setting with character development. You also gave us an unexpected, ironic moment. The somber prayer is interrupted by Crow’s surly mocking. That makes it more interested in what is going on. That’s good. You’ve also started with a contradiction, futuristic space station opposite an ancient-sounding prayer. That’s another way you have created interest, good. I don‘t know if your page turn is as strong as it could be. Let’s look at back at this.)

P1 is down. Doesn’t it feel good to have that under our belts?

I’m going to take this page in order as to the things that struck me.

First, starting out as we did, I’m not so sure we should have word balloons on this page. There’s no way for anyone to hear what’s going on inside the space station because space is a vacuum. Sound needs a medium to travel through.

Even without that being the case, because of the fact that we’re so far out in panel 1, I’d probably start out with a voice-over caption.

Actually, there’s no probably about it. I’d start out with a voice-over caption, and here’s the reason why:

Felix wants the prayer to show up a certain way. That’s fine. I can get behind that. However, it can be a bit problematic to do that in a word balloon, because most word balloons are formed as an oval, with the words inside being set up as a diamond: thin top, wide middle, thin bottom. Doing it a different way can throw the reader out of the story somewhat, because it’s different from what they’re used to.

With a caption, voice-over or not, you can do different things because it won’t be seen as overly different. A caption, methinks, would work better for most of the prayer. It isn’t until we get near the end that the word balloons should be used. The reason why is simple: we want to tie the voice-over captions to the person speaking, so I’d either add another verse or move one of the verses to panel three, put/keep that in a word balloon, and then have the blah blah blah. I think that would be effective.

Other than that…this reminds me of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It might just be me, though.

I’ve got nothing else for this page, except that I’m with Sam in that I don’t think this is a strong enough hook. I’m definitely interested and will turn the page, but I think it could be stronger.


1.) Looking up, over Raven’s shoulder at Tawny Owl, looming over her, hands on hips, feigning annoyance as a teacher might. (I had to read this about four times for it to make sense. The camera is placed over Raven’s shoulder, looking up at Tawny Owl, who’s looming over Raven, so on and so forth. This could be a tad more clear.)

Tawny owl

Young mistra, we’ll have no talk of men in the Reactory!


But ma, it’s true!

2.) ¾ angle. Wide. The two apprentices are getting to their feet (slightly gawky adolescents), facing Tawny Owl, who wags a finger in disapproval at Raven. Crow wears a good natured grin, Raven is doing adolescent complaining face. (Moving panel.)

Tawny owl

raven, In this room you are apprentice and I am Keeper. The Angry Eye before family.

Tawny owl

Do you understand?

3.) Looking past Raven at the other two. Raven’s head is foreground, left. She looks at Tawny Owl, middle, who has turned her back and thrown a hand up in the air in disgust, and Crow, right, moving towards the door, scratching her head, grinning.


So now I’m in trouble when it was Crow who first — (No spaces between the last letter of the word and the first dash. It’s ending punctuation.)

tawny owl

— oh be off with the both of you. (Same thing here—no space between the double-dash and the first letter of the word, because it’s beginning punctuation. Think ’twas.)

4.) ¾ angle, close on Tawny Owl, who is reaching up touching the huge Reactor screen (which is behind our POV). She smiles as she calls out, concentrating on the screen before her. She’s lit by the light of the screen. Behind, the two apprentices are leaving through the door into the corridor beyond.

Tawny owl

be back before five bells and we’ll perform the Ritual of Rest together.

5.) Medium. Raven and Crow walk towards us, along a plain internal corridor. Lighting is from suffuse strip lights along the roof and floor edges. The floor has long term grime. Raven pointing vaguely with a finger looks annoyed. Crow, shrugging, looks defensive.


you’re not back on the Rim, Crow. you have to work now.


I worked! We just had better clothes is all.

(This is like a long shot with no cuts. It is quite ‘filmy’ to borrow a word you use later, I wish there were more mystery or suspense built into your opening, but I think it;s fairly effective. Something to consider as you continue working on this in the future, can you pose a question or create a dynamic moment with the first page turn?

I also want to remark on something you are doing well. You are keeping track of your characters and doing a lot of work in each panel. For example in panel 4 you are focusing on Tawny Owl, but you make sure the girls move to the door so that it makes sense for them through it in panel 5. That’s good, that’s easy to forget. You are paying attention, and moving your characters through their environment in a way that makes sense.)

P2, and I’m going to tell you two things.

First, Felix has created a world here. It feels rich and old and lush. It feels lived in. I like that.

I’m probably one of the last people in America who’s just seeing Avatar. I’ve kept hearing wonderful things about the movie, and while it didn’t live up to its hype for me, it is a visually stunning piece of cinema. And that world feels lived in, even as we were exploring it.

For me, a lived in world shouldn’t have any contradictions. (That’s the beauty of fiction: you can create a world where there aren’t contradictions, unlike the real world.) It should have its own language and terms. That language and terms shouldn’t just be familiar so a reader can glean their meaning, but sometimes it could be a well-known word used in a different context, thus giving new meaning. Think of it as slang that has been formalized.

When I was younger and much more into rap, the word whip meant car. A known word, used in a totally new way.

A few years ago, I was hired to write a graphic novel. (I was young, and took the option of backend sales rather than money up front, because the prospect of sales was greater. Lesson learned: in the indies, always take the money.) I created a word, and the creator didn’t like it. They said that the word didn’t mean anything, and they’d rather have an old word used in a different way, because language evolves.

I gave it some thought, and I believe them to be correct. Language does evolve.

This is going to sound terrible, but I live it, so you’re going to have to just lump it.

Black people mangle the language. Not only do we mangle the language, it’s the fault of white people that we do it.

Institutionalized, unconscious racism is the cause. Black people in general receive inferior education. Because we receive inferior education, we’re closed off to opportunities. Because we’re closed off to opportunities because we don’t have the education, we don’t rise to the heights that white people do. Again, this is institutionalized, unconscious racism, and it has been going on for generations. Screw hundreds of years (which is true)–your parents and grandparents remember segregation. Remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968. Generations, folks.

Now, because of the unconscious, institutionalized racism in America, the lack of true education of black people in America is easily reflected myriad of ways. Look at the prison population and crime rates. Look at the language. Look at the food. Look in film, television, and music. It’s all around, if you have the eyes to look. Doing a simple comparison will show the deep contrast.

Because black people are generally uneducated (and by uneducated , I mean not WELL educated ), our vocabulary is limited. And by vocabulary, I mean the entire thing: word knowledge, usage, and pronunciation. This is where a lot of slang has come from: limited vocabulary.

The evolution of language is natural, but with more education, it would be a much slower thing. I love Felix’s term mistra. It not only fits, but it’s also natural. This is something I could see being used on the street, much like frak from Battlestar Galactica.

Whew! That was a longer aside than I intended. Bet you didn’t know I was somewhat militant…

The next thing I want to say is that I’m bored. It’s P2, and while I’m feeling the world out, I want something interesting to happen already. Does it have to be great? Not at all. It just needs to keep my interest. Being bored on P2 doesn’t bode well. Or maybe I’m just hungry. It’s around time for me to eat. Maybe in another page or two…


1.) Crow and Raven are at a crossroads of corridors. Raven is walking away from us. Crow has stopped and is looking up in wonder at a sign in a dull font, an arrow marked HYDRO. , pointing the way Raven is going. A sign pointing the way they came says REAC. CONT. .


ma’s always picking —


— They’re so beautiful.

2.) Long shot from far along the corridor Raven was walking down. Raven has turned back to face Crow, who continues to look up at the sign.


What? It’s like she —


— The words. I bet they’re directions.

3.) Over Crow’s shoulder at Raven, who makes a two handed shushing gesture, palms down, as she looks out of the corner of her eye, conspiritorially(conspiratorially).

Raven (hissing)

Keep it to yourself!

Raven (Hissing)

fussing about writing like a stupid old man. You want another Fall? (This just got my attention. Let’s try to keep it.)

4.) Low angle looking up at Raven. Crow has just leaped onto her back (like a piggy back), mouth wide, laughing. Raven looks surprised.


I’ll give you a Fall. (Exclamation point, not a full stop/period.)

5.) Our POV is that of Hawk, who has just turned the corner to find these two scrapping, in the piggy-back come brawl pose. They both look round at us, frozen in mid tussle, embarrassed.

Hawk (OP)


You continue that integrated development of environment and character here. You are writing thoughtfully.

P3, and I’ve got nuthin’.

Felix, as I said, has created a world, and he’s parsing out information slowly. It isn’t a slow burn by any means, but it’s barely enough to keep my interest. Here’s the world, he seems to be saying, but I’m going to do what I want with it.

Reminds me of Neal Stephenson in that way.

Neal Stephenson is the writer of Cryptonomicon. It’s a great book, but very thick. It also has shown me what it means to be a genius. The book is interesting, and there are very few past-tense words in it. Almost everything is happening in the present tense. The story is told in two timeframes: the present (which was the early 90s at the time it was written) and during WWII—and it was all still the present. Everything was happening now. It was great and hilarious, but it was slow, slow reading. I wanted to rush Neal, have him get to the really good parts faster… Imagine being 300 pages into an 1100 page book, and still not have gotten to the really good parts yet! Nothing was uninteresting, it was just going at a plodding pace, and it was killing me. I started that book 3 times, only finishing it on the third try, and was very gratified when I did, because it was a great book.

Then, he wrote a prequel to that book. It was The Baroque Cycle, and it’s basically a trilogy, but each book of the trilogy was actually two or three books themselves, and those books were set in the 18th century. Again, a lush world, very dense, and not easy to get through. But still a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Will this be a thoroughly enjoyable read? I don’t know. But I want something to happen. I may be close to getting it.

Just watch your punctuation. Make sure it’s doing what you want it to do. Most of it is what an editor should catch, though.


1.) Worm’s eye view, looking up at Hawk, Goodluck, Puffin and Skua. Hawk radiates imperious authority. Goodluck’s shoulders are hunched with shyness, head down. Puffin’s eyes are wide, grinning from one side of her mouth (like Bruce Willis). Skua looks around, alert for trouble from along the corridor.


i’m glad to see our future keepers maintaining the decorum of their position.

2.) Profile (but maybe not quite 90 degrees). Raven and Crow are standing at some kind of respectful attention, facing right. Raven is brushing her hair flat. Crow is adjusting her robe. Hawk, at the front of the group of four faces them, mouth turned down in disapproval. (The others in her group are off panel.)(I can see this as a still panel, but this could also be considered a moving panel.)


Oh. prime Hawk. Sorry.


prime Hawk.

3.) Crow and Raven have their backs to the wall to let Hawk and Goodluck pass. Crow is shyly smiling, looking at Goodluck. Raven crosses her eyes, mocking. Hawk is walking past in the foreground, facing left, ignoring them. Goodluck follows her, eyes downcast shyly.

Crow (musical notes)

Hello, Goodluck!

Raven (italics, musical notes)

Hello, Goodluck!

4.) ¾ angle behind Raven and Crow facing Puffin and Skua. Puffin is facing Crow, smiling warmly, left balled fist on her hip, right hand out wide, spear planted firmly.(Here’s where things are start to make me worry.) Skua has her back to Puffin and peers around, alert for potential trouble from down the corridor.


well, hello, baby keepers.




Mistra tawny owl’s rituals not yet managed to tire your tongues?

(You have just widened the scope, by introducing new characters in new roles. You were doing well keeping a couple of flaming torches in the air [you’re juggling, this is a metaphor] but now you’ve thrown in a few chainsaws and while you are doing all right [no audience member has lost a limb yet] it is beginning to look like it’s a possibility. Example: The spear in panel 4. Where does it come from? It’s not mentioned when you first introduce Puffin, and I think it would be visible in that shot. Also you account for the position of both of her hands without mentioning the spear. I guess it could be in her left fist, but the order seems off. Careful.)


I just yawned.

We had an intriguing peek into the world and how it came to be how it is, but then it’s snatched away both by characters and the writer. Intentional on the writer’s part, but was it intentional on the part of the characters?

We started with three characters, and we’ve now just doubled that in the space of four pages. That would be easier to keep track of if they were more memorable. Right now, I’m just not feeling it, which is a shame, because there’s a lot to offer.


1.) Medium on Crow leaning back, grinning. She’s clowning, one pinky finger to her chin.


well, i’m quite certain prime hawk hasn’t managed to tire your huge brain with all this ceremonial guarding…

2.) Puffin, her back to us, has grabbed Crow in a bear hug, lifting her off the ground. Crow’s eyes bulge, her mouth wide with laughter (This won’t come off well without the laughter.). Beside them, Raven looks slightly sour, head down, not joining in, looking elsewhere. In the background, Hawk and Goodluck are walking off, Skua following them, alert.


ooof (Do you want this as an sfx, or as dialogue? I’m guessing crow says it, but it could also be puffin.)


one little squeeze. we’d all have some peace again. (You do realize that not only is this an assault, it’s also a death threat, right?)


don’t think death would silence mistra crow.

3.) Profile. Puffin faces Crow, Puffins hands on Crow’s upper arms, friendly. Crow beams impishly.


come by the thanes’ quarters at four bells? Lose at dice?


will I just be fleecing you, or are skua and tern going to be there as well?

4.) Looking past Crow and Raven at the departing Puffin. Puffin is in the background, walking backwards to catch up with the other three. Crow is waving a hand in vague goodbye. Raven is half turned away, sullen.


oh, raven, you’ll come too, right?


glad to be remembered.

5.) Profile. They walk along a corridor past a doorway. Inside the doorway, the room is clean, lit by the same kind of lights as the corridor. The floor is a bit dirtier. A man sits cross legged amidst a pile of rushes, hand weaving some kind of macrame. Raven is ahead of Crow, arms folded, head down. Crow is hurrying after her, pleading.



(Okay, so, here’s something you can do to elevate your writing. Look for and eliminate repetition. Look at panel 2. You tell us that Raven’s head is down, then you tell us she is not joining in, then just for good measure you tell us that she is looking elsewhere. That’s fine. But would something like, ‘Raven looks away, not joining in.’ work just as well? Right now it’s like you are throwing lots of darts at a target, getting close to the bullseye, but not hitting it exactly. Accurate, but not precise. Throw one dart, challenge yourself to do it with precision and accuracy. I recognize this tendency because it’s something I am always working on in my own writing. It’s not necessarily wrong, just somewhere you have room to grow.)

P5, and with apologies to Bruce Springsteen…I’m Bored in the USA…

I’d sing, but I don’t want rotten fruit thrown at me.

But yeah, I’m bored. I want something to happen.

If this were the beginning to a graphic novel, then I’ll promptly shut up, sit back, and enjoy the ride. If this is the beginning to a regular-sized piece, like a 22p story, then this goes back on the shelf due to lack of keeping my attention.

Something has to happen, and nothing is.

PAGE 6&7

1.) Spread across the top half of both pages. Camera is behind them, as they walk into a scene of tribal life. On the left, through a long glass pane is a hyrdoponics(hydroponics) farm, with row upon row of reedy plants in waist-high trough-pots. Bright lights overhead. Capilliary(capillary) tubes lead to each pot from a system of overhead acqueducts(aqueducts). The farm room looks to be high and big, and further along there are a second, third and fourth room, stretching into the far distance. In front of them is what used to be a mess hall, with plan (plain) white plastic tables that flush to the floor. Now many men of the tribe sit and stand around the tables performing dark-ages crafts in what looks like a fair. The floor is scattered with reeds. There’s more weaving going on. One man has a big length of pipe he is using to pulp material in a stainless steel bowl. No women amongst the workers. On the right, ranks of horizontal sleeping pods, (as found in Japanese hotels These are decorated and individualised with all manner of adornment, either old world framed photos of (random) people, dark-age woven reed dollies and dyed cloth. A few have the glass doorway sealed closed and darkness within, whilst all the open ones have a light from within.


2.) Profile on the apprentices moving ‘through the fair’. Raven, head down, arms folded, grins a little despite herself. Crow grins a lot, rubbing her belly with both hands. Men go about their business (as describe in panel 1) in foreground and background. I’m thinking of the foreground man being very close, and almost entirely off panel, walking past our POV. Maybe out of focus? (assuming this isn’t too ‘filmy’)


come on, let’s see if they need any help blackberry picking.


how long until —

3.) Low, canted angle looking up at Crow and Raven. Both are startled, eyes wide, looking round.



4.) Wide. Over the apprentices’ shoulders as they run back the way they came, heading for the door to the corridor which led into this area. The men of the fair clutch each other for comfort, in fear and confusion.



5.) Looking between the apprentices’ heads (perhaps in silhouette) at Puffin, who has appeared at the door. She has her improvised spear in hand, bloodied. She is drenched in blood, one eye swollen shut, other grazes and marks of violence about her. He mouth is wide in a roar.



Puffin (shouting)


Puffin (shouting)


Puffin (shouting)

to me.

Puffin (really shouting)


(It’s obvious that you have a good notion of how to construct an effective story. Good job. I see a lot of potential in your work. You take great care to cover your bases and clearly define your vision. I would read more. I want to know what happens next. I think that means that you are doing your job as a writer. This is a well-thought-out, well executed script. You get to the action in 7 pages, that’s not bad. I think the pacing is pretty solid. I might try to condense things so that this hits on 4-5 instead, but I know how challenging cutting 2 comic pages can be. I would need to read more to know if that is necessary. You should be proud of this work. Of course there are things to improve on, there always are, but it’s a solid piece.)

Let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory! (And I wasn’t expecting any less from Felix.)

Panel Descriptions: Pretty darn good! He just has to watch out for what could be construed as moving panels, as well as the odd magically delicious item, like the spear. But, really, I have no problems with it.

Pacing: Slow! Again, I’d rather a snappier pace if this is a shorter piece, but if this is a graphic novel, then this pace is fine. It’s all a matter of what you can get away with, and that comes with knowing your format. If this is a 22p story, it goes back on the shelf for not moving fast enough. If this is a graphic novel, then it’ll be fine because there’s some action to jump-start us near the beginning.

Felix comes from a screenwriting background, and with that being said, I can definitely see the screenwriting influence here. The slowish opening in order to establish the world, and then the interesting stuff starts to happen.

When it comes to screenplays, especially the more commercial ones, pacing is everything. Watch an action movie. One you’ve never seen before. Some sort of action has to happen just about every 10 minutes, like clockwork.

Comics can do just about anything when it comes to pacing, though, because the writer is master of time. A panel can span seconds to centuries. Generally in film, you have to show that progression.

Notting Hill (I love this movie for some reason) shows a nice progression in time. A year is encapsulated in about 30 seconds, maybe 45, as Hugh Grant walks from his flat to work. (I might watch this movie soon. I love it, and I have no real clue as to why.) But again, that progression has to be shown in order to bring viewers along with the story. If it’s too abrupt, you’ll lose them. Comics doesn’t have that problem.

Dialogue: I have absolutely no problems with the dialogue at all. I liked it, to be honest. It felt very real to me. Now, how often do I say that?

Content: I’d be interested in reading more. It’s got an interesting name, and there are some intriguing things going on here. As a reader, I’d just be concerned with the pace. It won’t hold my attention if it’s a regular-sized comic. It will definitely hold my attention as a graphic novel. Just have to know which it is.

Editorially, I’d ask what this was supposed to be, and then guide Felix accordingly. If it’s supposed to be a graphic novel, then I’d leave the pacing alone and just make minor tweaks as necessary. If this were supposed to be a regular comic, then we’d talk about pacing and how to pare down some things that could be considered rambling in order to get to the action sooner. The first question to ask would be is this the latest you can start? Is there a later starting place that’s more effective in getting the story across? But, really, even talking about the pacing in this piece is relatively minor. It should be an easy fix, one way or the other. Overall, this is solid work.

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.

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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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