TPG Week 212: Pause To Think

| January 16, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of the Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Fabian Andres. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, I’m the guy in red, and let’s see what Fabian  does in an


Before we begin, I have to say that I’m disappointed that I had to pick up the font size from 10 to 12. You’re welcome.

  • ONE

Panel 1: ALL-WIDE PANEL. We see a dark (What’s the light source? Moonlight?) and lonely temperate forest from above. Maybe NIXXIE’s silhouette is barely visible. She’s running away from THE HUNTERS. (We’re not going to be able to see any characters with this establishing shot. They’ll be lost in a sea of detail. We don’t need to see them, though. A good way to pull us in would be to have dialogue coming from the tree tops; perhaps from the hunters.)

1. CAPTION: Several years ago.

Panel 2: ALL-WIDE PANEL. NIXXIE runs through the forest. She’s desperate to escape but she knows she’s being followed. (This is prose. How is this visually represented? Do we see silhouettes of her pursuers in the background? Is she expressing fear? Think visually.) She’s wearing plain and slightly ragged clothing. (Modern clothing? Fantasy clothing? Elaborate.) Her face and ears remain unseen. (What’s the shot for this panel. I know what I’d go with: the character running towards us with her pursuers in the background. That way we get the danger of the hunters and Nixxie’s expression.)(Can’t show an expression if you want to hide a face. Especially ears. The ears will give it away every time.)

2. VESS (NARRATION): Run (The ellipsis acts as a trail-off here, and makes this sound vague. However, the narration seems like it should be naturally forceful. I’d swap the ellipsis for a stop.) (Liam means a full stop/period, folks. He’s from the UK.)

Panel 3: ALL-WIDE PANEL. KA’THALL’s face is centered in the panel. He’s prowling in silence among bushes and trees (Prose.). His ominous expression is half-lit by moonlight. (Just a close up of this dude’s face isn’t going to look very good. We’re not going to be able to see what he’s actually doing. Go for a full shot, mid shot at least.) (Formatting broke down here. This was formatted as dialogue, but it’s labeled as a panel description. When you’re using a format that’s pre-set, or that you set yourself, make sure you use it correctly. No, he doesn’t lose the Flawless Victory for this, although he should. It’s labeled correctly. A couple more like this, though, and I’ll have no choice, because that would mean he didn’t pay attention.)

3. VESS (NARRATION): come on little bunny (Again with the ellipses. I’m not feeling it. Could be personal choice, but if I were telling somebody to run for their life, it would be with some assertion.)

Panel 4: BORDERLESS PANEL. (I’d leave that up to the artist. Don’t take away their creative input.) (I disagree, but to a point. If you, as the writer, have a specific view in mind when it comes to the panel border, framing, camera placement, what have you—then say so. If you don’t care all that much, then make sure you let the artist know that, too.) KA’THALL’s laser chakram (What does this laser chakram look like?) flies through the scene, (From which direction?) cutting through a series of trees and missing NIXXIE on purpose. (The on purpose is needless and can’t be inferred through art.) The laser chakram leaves a luminescent trail behind it. Maybe it invades the upper panel. (What’s Nixxie doing in this panel? She’s mentioned but not acted.)

4. SFX: VVMMM!! (To my mind, punctuation on SFX looks stupid.)

  1. VESS (NARRATION): Run!!

The narration should be formatted as ‘CAPTION (VESS):’ and the text should be in quotation marks since the character is speaking from another location. As for actual content, you’ve dropped us in media res, which is good. We shall have to see where this goes before I can comment.

P1 is down.

I don’t have much, really. Liam really said it all. Just have to wait for the next page to see how it turns out. The second page will really inform the first in this case.

Is it interesting enough to turn the page? Almost. It’s pretty close. What’s turning me off is the little bit of dialogue. I don’t think it’s doing enough. I’d probably rip it out and put something more engrossing in.

  • 5. TWO

Panel 1: ALL-WIDE PANEL. NIXXIE runs away from the slashed trees. She’s in fear. Maybe her face is visible now. If so, it’s poorly lit. Her ears remain unseen. (Huh? When were her ears not supposed to be seen?) The dark forest seems to encase her. (Holy purpley prose. Unless you want the artist to literally draw this, that is.)

Panel 2: BORDERLESS PANEL. VESS jumps (‘Has jumped’ or ‘jumping’.) from the tree she was stationed at. Her flexed legs and arms make it seem as if she’s going to hunt her prey. (How does flexed arms and legs equal hunting? Beats me.) (Just like Michael Jackson, You Are Not Alone. ) Her hair swirls in the air. Maybe we see her perilous grin. (You can leave some things up to the artist, but expressions aren’t one of those things. We’re going to see it unless her face is obscured.) (Expressions are kept in the ears. Can we see her ears here? That’s what’s going to tell us if the grin is perilous, merry, or maniacal.) Below her we see the dark forest. (If we can see the forest below her, we must be looking down at her, in which case her expression will be off-panel and all the impact for this shot will be lost. No. Consider another angle. Jumping at us is the most visually striking, in my opinion.) (Looking down at her should also hide her ears.) Maybe her figure invades other panels.

1. VESS: Sheesh. What kind of prey are you?

2. VESS: This is too easy. (She’s saying all of this mid-jump?) (It’s comics. You can recite the entire To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy in mid-jump if you really needed to. )

Panel 3: INSERT (INSET.) PANEL w/ BORDER. Detail of one of VESS’s venom-spitting weapons. The device spews dark green venom towards a tree or branch. The hunk of wood starts melting, cracking and falling. (This is a terrible panel. It’s both moving and vague. You’ll need a few panels to do this.) (True! This panel makes absolutely no sense in conjunction with everything around it. And what panel is this supposed to be inset to/of?)


Panel 4: ALL-WIDE PANEL. The massive hunk of wood collapses into the ground violently, falling in front of NIXXIE. She falls to the ground in surprise. (Another moving panel. Think about what the single stationary image is.)

  1. SFX: KRACKLE!! (Strange sound effect. I’d relate it to burning or fire crackers or cereal.)

Page two down and it’s become evident, from unworkable angles and moving panels, that you’re not visualizing your panels. Capture the single image in your head, and describe it. It takes time to learn how to do this effectively, but you’ll need to do it in order to write comics. Story-wise, this is just more of the same. You’ve got to get to a hook soon, or you’ll lose us.

Okay, so we’ve got P2 on the books, and things are starting to break down.

That didn’t take long, did it?

Moving panels: You’ve got to think harder about what the still image is that you want to convey.

Here’s the trick about writing comics that most of us don’t think about, because we do it naturally. It only becomes evident when something goes wrong.

Right now, I’m talking about Pacing, and understanding that, on a page, each panel is a moment in time, and it is related to every other panel on the page.

Since each panel is a bit of captured Time, the next panel is also a bit of captured Time, and if both are in the same setting, then you cannot have too much of a gap in time between the borders.

The borders of the panels act as bridges in time. If this were film, each panel is a different camera angle. It’s a cut in the film, and we jump to a new subject within the same setting, or we’re filming the same subject in a different way. If you jump forward in time too much between two panels, then you have a gap that will make the reader feel as though they missed something, and that’s never fun. It takes them out of the story, which is not something you want to happen as a writer.

So, you have to have the still image, because an artist cannot draw movement. The illusion of movement comes with dialogue and with the next panel in the sequence.

The last thing said in the dialogue should match the action of the panel. Said in a different way, the action of the panel should match the last thing said. If the person in the panel has their head back, laughing, the last thing they say cannot be a sniff as though they’re crying.

Liam is not wrong when he says that this as-yet unnamed character is saying too much in mid-jump. Remember, the action has to match the last thing said. Do you think this person would have enough time to say all of that during the jump? This is not a rhetorical question.

This page really only has 3 panels. Is that enough to tell the story of this page? I don’t think so. I think you need more panels on this page.


Panel 1: FULL-PAGE ART. (Splash page.) We see NIXXIE from behind. We see THE HUNTERS standing tall in front of NIXXIE. She looks up towards their empowered figures. VESS stands at the far left. A wicked smile decorates her face as she mocks NIXXIE. (Cut ‘as she mocks Nixxie’.) She keeps her head high as she looks down towards her prey. Maybe (Again. This is something you dictate, as the writer. Body language goes a long way to suggest character and intent. Use it.) her arms are crossed or in a flashy and expressive position. VOLUN-SURR stands in the middle. He looks down at NIXXIE in an overpowering fashion. His body language is much more serious and business-like, much less expressive. KA’THALL stands at the far right. His body language is very similar to VOLUN-SURR’s. He holds his laser chakram. KA’THALL stares ahead as if he were scanning the area for other threats.

1. VESS: Bad bunny! You weren’t a decent sport!

2. VESS: I wonder why you have such a generous bounty on you.

3. VOLUN-SURR: It’s over. We’re taking you back.

Yikes! A splash on an odd-numbered page. That’s a worse offense then me using ‘yikes’ unironically. You’ll lose a lot of power since the reader has already seen the splash without the psychological impact of turning the page to reveal it. That’s not even to mention the jump in time from the last panel to this, where the hunters just appear in front of Nixxe. Added is the fact that the splash doesn’t feel earned; there’s no build up.

I’d like to have seen some hint of story on this page. Something to hook interest. As you have it, it’s just someone being caught and then, presumably, taken back to a place they’ve escaped. You need to suggest more. I’d start with some dialogue from Nixxie. She says nothing throughout this whole scene. Not even a whimper. That’s wasted opportunity to set up conflict.

Liam’s hitting it this week, folks!

Guess it’s time for a story.

I came to the conclusion I wanted to write comics in a roundabout way. I already knew I wanted to write, and I wanted to write science fiction. I’d written a few short stories and had started working on some novels, but the novels were derivative at best. (Drivel, really.) I’d joined the Marines, went to Japan, came back, and about sixth months before I went to Miramar, my cousin said that we should write comics. He had a lot of ideas, but had trouble putting them into words. I had ideas, but had no trouble putting them into words. So we started. And then he flaked on me.

That was fine. I went through and replaced his ideas with my own, and continued on my way. My ego, though, was out of control, because everywhere I went online, I saw nothing but crap. Imagine this: the worst of the scripts that have come through here, but without any oversight at all, and the creators thinking they weren’t just good to go, but that they were million dollar ideas. I mean, I knew that I couldn’t take my Thriller idea and turn it into gold, because it just wouldn’t work, but here were the equivalents of that idea, all around. Terrible.

Eventually, I hooked up with a few people, and decided we were going to make a comic company called Kingfinger Comics. The art for the premier books would be reminiscent of Jack King Kirby, much like early Landronn art. There were four of us, and the person who was going to be EIC was also putting himself out there to try to find someone to bankroll us. Angel investors.

He didn’t find any.

He had attracted some others. Some writers, some artists. But after a while, they drifted away. There was no plan for what to publish, there was no plan on how to get published, because we were waiting on the angel to show up and shower money on us, which would allow us to get books made and on the shelves.

I had some stories of my own, and this guy gave me some help with them. I say it like that, because warning bells started to go off in my head.

The guy didn’t have good ideas of his own. Not ideas that would sell. I did. I had a whole universe of characters, and every time he helped me with a character or a story, he wanted a piece of the pie. He actually laughed a few times, saying that’s another character I co-own!

Eventually, it was just three of us, and it was getting time for me to leave that particular group. I wanted to take my stories and go somewhere else, where things were actually moving. Where things were actually being created. So, I gave the guy an ultimatum: have a mechanism in place for me to be published in three months, or I’m gone. He said fine, and I waited, doing my job: editing stories that we were doing. I bided my time. I didn’t say anything else about it.

Like I said, there were just three of us, and we were all writers. There were no artists. No more artists came. And the three months were just about up. There was a week left.

So I told the guy that I was leaving, since there was no artist and no mechanism in place to be published. He tried to get me to stay, trying to appeal for more time, trying to convince me that things were just around the corner. I said no, because I can do bad by myself. He said fine, and then put the script that I had written and that he was editing up on his website, and then told me that it was published.

I might have gone crazy for about two seconds. I didn’t know if I was pissed off as all hell (which I was), or to laugh at the hilariously pathetic attempt to keep me around (which it was). I know that I wanted to do both, but I didn’t know which to do first.

I told him it was pathetic and that it wasn’t going to work, because that’s not artwork. That’s not a comic. That’s not published.

He tried to reason that it was, and I eventually just stopped listening. I stopped replying to his emails and stopped calling him back. I was gone. I reverted all of his help back to my original stories, and I kept it moving.

Where are they now? No idea. I know one of them is no longer in comics. They actually had a story published in Digital Webbing Presents, and had some ink work published as well. The other was an artist, and actually was doing some work for Disney, and they had to leave, because Disney wanted to own everything they did, even in their off time. And the guy who tried to keep me? He may still be collecting, but I don’t think he’s trying to create any more. Which just leaves me.

And there you go.

  • FOUR

Panel 1: FULL-PAGE ART. The panel consists of an eagle-eye view of NOAH-RED. A sleek and massive building stands tall among the other structures within the city’s dome. The latter stretches across the sky, protecting NOAH-RED. Its inside fashions an iridescent color, as if it were the inside of the shell of a Blackfoot Paua sea snail. The building empowers the contrast between the more advanced buildings within the city and the lesser advanced structures that home the poor and less fortunate. (Huh? This is just confusing. Reread and rewrite. You need more description, as well. What do the buildings look like? How big is the city? Where is the city?)(I just got lost.)

1. CAPTION: Noah-Red.

2. CAPTION: Now.

3. PATRICK (NARRATION): When I was a kid, I used to look at pictures of cities like this one and imagine titles, dating years ahead of our time, decorating the corners. (Titles decorating the corners? I don’t know what you’re trying to say here. Also, pictures of future cities? How does that work? Huh?)

4. PATRICK (NARRATION): I always looked forward to the future. I wanted to take one of those pictures and say: Hey, I made it to 3001!

5. SECRETARY (BUILDING): (Which building?) You’re here for the job interview?

6. PATRICK (NARRATION): Who would have thought we’d stop counting the years? (Odd emphasis.)

7. PATRICK (NARRATION): Who would have thought humanity was going to suffer so much. They pretty much decided to forget time (Again. Odd emphasis. It just seems so unnatural.)

8. PATRICK (NARRATION): Because it became a constant reminder of how long it’s been since we lost everything we built. (Once more for luck.)

Line of Demarcation.

Another splash that isn’t needed or earned. The pacing in this story is completely off. Why do you need a splash for an establishing shot?

Story-wise, it seems that we’ve jumped into another time and character. I see others writers do this a lot and I don’t get it. Why get us invested (in this case, barely invested) into one scenario and character and then jump, jarringly, to another? Why waste your time and effort? It’s almost as bad as the it was all just a dream trope. As investment in your story goes, you’re putting a lot of readers off by drawing them in and then pulling the rug out from under their feet. Add that to the fact that this page is all exposition from a character we haven’t yet seen, and I’d call my interest in your story dead.


And with the Line of Demarcation, we can classify this as crap. We all feel better now, don’t we?

So, the first three pages do a piss-poor job of setting anything up. It could literally be removed from this piece, P1 could start right here, and no one would be any the wiser. They literally wouldn’t feel as though they’ve missed anything.

Could you have started the story with this? Definitely! It’s much more interesting than the first three pages. Something interesting was said. Humanity, as a collective, has stopped counting time for some reason.

This is a lie, and everything you’ve written on this page supports the fact that this is a lie.

If you have a job, you have to have a time for work and a time to stop work. Unless you’re responsible for your own food and housing, there may also be time for recreation. If there’s time for work and time for play, that means there’s a time to be back to work. That means there are days. If there are days, then humanity is doing some sort of counting.

Humanity has to do some counting, anyway, in order to have the correct time to plant and to harvest. Cities mean there has to be some sort of agriculture somewhere.

Humanity counts time. We have to. We’re bound to it. While the thought that humanity no longer counts time is intriguing, it’s impossible to actually put into practice.

Two splash pages back to back isn’t the best of ideas going around. Terrible? Mostly. I don’t see the percentage in having them go back to back. This should have been in the beginning. Barring that, this should be the first panel of at least three.

Bad storytelling and lies about humanity.

No, not lies. While the story lies, that’s not the Fabian’s failure. Fabian’s failure is to understand part of the nature of humanity and then accurately reflect that in the story.

Basically, it’s just bad storytelling. It reached for interesting, but as soon as you thought about it for even an instant, it doesn’t ring true.

Let’s see what the next page brings us.

  • FIVE

Panel 1: FULL-PAGE ART. We see the SECRETARY’s back. She’s behind her desk, startled by PATRICK’s appearance. (How can we see that she is startled if we only see her back?) The SECRETARY fashions elegant business clothes (Modern? Futuristic?) in a neutral color, maybe gray or bone-white. Maybe she fashions (‘Fashions’? Do you mean ‘wears’?) a knot-bun hairstyle. She’s got a small one-piece wireless headset on her ear. PATRICK stands at the other side of the desk. He’s serious and direct. It seems as if he’s ignoring the SECRETARY’s surprise. He fashions a formal vest with a dark strong color, maybe black, blue or wine-red. Beneath the vest lays a formal shirt yet it’s being used quite informally: sleeves rolled up and no tie. Maybe the shirt isn’t tucked in or even unbuttoned up top. Maybe he fashions a couple of bracelets to make it more casual. LOON-1 & LOON-2 rise from his right wrist. (What? This needs more. What’s a ‘LOON’? I don’t know what anything in this story is anymore.) (Hopefully, some of this info is in another document.) They float around him. Behind PATRICK we see a crowded lobby. Everyone dresses much more formal. At the very end we see the fully windowed end of the lobby which allows visitors to see NOAH-RED from up-high in the air.

1. LOON-1: Yes. My name is Loon—

2. PATRICK (INTERRUPT): (No need for the ‘INTERRUPT’. The em-dash does it for you.) (It should be a doulbe-dash, instead.) Patrick.

3. PATRICK: My name is Patrick (Patrick what?). I have an appointment with Mr. Crain.

4. SECRETARY: Oh of course. I’ll let him know you’re here!

5. PATRICK (NARRATION): Well perhaps not everything. (Learn how to use an ellipsis. It has two uses. Learn them both.)

Another splash? Now you’re just taking the piss. The pacing has died completely and along with it any chance of redemption.

This needs a rewrite. What did the first three opening page even have to do with the subsequent two? There’s no suggested relation. They could well have been separate stories in different books for all we know. Now, as you rewrite it, focus on visualizing your panels, thus minimizing moving panels and unworkable angles.

Three splash pages in a row? Terrible, terrible storytelling. Padding, really.

Let’s run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory!

Panel Descriptions: Okay, these are nowhere near as messy as some, but nowhere near as good as others.

First things first. Understand what the panel descriptions are really for. They’re there to help you tell the story. They’re time capsules, in the most literal sense. Not only are they time capsules, they are also linear in nature when strung together on a page—even if you go into a flashback. It’s all there for a linear storytelling reason.

Understand that your story takes place in Time, and the panel description is the measure of that Time. It has to be used wisely.

That being said, you cannot have movement in a panel description. Moving panels are the biggest mistake new writers make, and undrawable panels due to incorrect angles are the immediate second. Learn to write in the past tense, and then learn to keep out information that can contradict itself.

If a character is showing surprise, it doesn’t matter if they’re surprised or not if their back is to the camera. It’s extra words that just clutters up the description because it can’t be drawn.

Finally, this is a personal peeve of mine, so take it as you wish: kill the word maybe in the panel descriptions. It sounds like you don’t know what you want. Rofmalo is killing Jerkmire with a knife, plunging it into his chest. Maybe he’s using his right hand. Or, maybe they’re using their left hand, or maybe their gripping hand (who gets the reference without looking it up?), or maybe they’re using their feet. Either say what they’re doing/wearing, or don’t. Maybe doesn’t really give options. It gives the illusion of options. Say what’s on your mind. You’re the writer, so this is what you see.

Pacing: Three splash pages in a row only makes me want to hit myself in the face with a Sherman tank. Or maybe a whole battleship. Maybe both. At the same time.

You started out okay, but then it went pear-shaped. The first splash needed some work. The second came hard upon the first, and started a different part of the story. It really should have started the story to begin with. Then that third one was just terrible. Totally useless as a full page.

Dialogue: really, it’s the best thing about the entire piece. Very readable. The only problems with the dialogue are the fact that nothing of real interest was said on P1, only 2 names are given—none of them on the first couple of pages, and the character lied because Fabian doesn’t know much about human nature.

All of these things are fixable. Like I said, very readable. If it would be better if it actually said something meaningful.

Content: Crap, really, but barely. It’s the dialogue. If that were better, this piece would be better off. As a reader, I wouldn’t be that intrigued, because the writer doesn’t understand humanity. It would make me vaguely wonder what else the writer doesn’t understand.

Editorially, this needs a rethink. The concept needs to be rethought before you can really give it a rewrite. Once things are understood by both the writer and the editor, then this could be rewritten to make better sense. Enough sense so that the reader won’t come out of the story as soon as they pause to think for a moment.

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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