TPG Week 216: Writing Challenge Entry 1

| February 13, 2015



Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week’s Brave One is no stranger to what goes on here: Rin Kiyoko!

I’m going to be alone this week. Liam had some unexpected things come up, so it’s just me and my unseemly red rage!

We do have some things going on for the next few weeks, though. I ran a writng challenge a few weeks ago over at Digital Webbing. The rules were simple:

The story cannot be longer than 5 pages

The story cannot be a tragedy

There must be an artificial intelligence involved

There must be at least 50 words of spoken dialogue

The word enlightenment must be in the dialogue

String cheese must be an object, not just mentioned

They don’t call it a challenge for nothing, right?

As an added bonus, I stipulated that if I had at least four entries from four different people, then I would write one myself.

I then further stipulated that if five people submitted theirs here, then I would submit mine, as well.

So, for the next seven weeks or so, it’s going to be all about this writing challenge, with my own also thrown in the mix.

Expect to see the rules of the challenge at the start of each of those entries.

I think I’m all done. Let’s see how Rin does with


Page 1 (6 panels)

Panel 1.

Close up of a newspaper photo: onstage at an awards ceremony, a nerdy Indian in a suit and turban grins as he points to a slab-like super computer with a light bulb head. A cap-and-gowned university professor grins as he points to the computer from the other side. A finger – Dean’s – is encroaching from the right to point at the photo.


Look at this, Willoughby. An M.I.T. student named Nanou has made the world’s first completely autonomous, self aware artificial intelligence. It has an IQ of 3000. They call it The Awesome Orsen. (Okay! Artificial intelligence in there! And for those of us of a certain age, you should see some jokes coming from a mile away.)

TEXT (engraved on Orsen’s front):


TEXT (photo caption):

Nano Nanou! Come in, Orsen! (If you don’t get it…you need more pop culture in your diet.)

Panel 2.

Mid shot of Dean, scowling eyes and comb-over visible over the print out of an email held before his face but turned so us readers can see the photo he’s pointing at. The photo’s of a diamond shaped computer with a Knight Ryder / Cylon type scanner around its middle. (Cool fact: Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider were both created by Glen Larsen, thus, the Cylon-like scanner on KITT. You’re welcome.)


The Germans are at it, too. At Slim Bild University, their AI is scheduled to go online later tonight. It’s estimated their unit’s IQ will register at 2000! They call it Von KlinkenthinK.

TEXT (body of the email – too small to read)

Panel 3.

Wide shot of Dean’s furnished, qualifications-lined office at daytime. Dean (late 40s, short, fat) has just slammed the magazine onto the newspaper on the tabletop. His mouth is open, tongue furled and he’s furious. Spit is flying from his mouth. Willoughby (a tall thin man immaculate in a three piece suit, his nose perpetually in the air) waits unmoved with hands spread innocently wide at panel right.


Meanwhile this university has nothing to show to the public! We’re so far behind we’re getting lapped! How can you explain that?! (Missing a couple of commas.)


This is Luton, Dean. The calibre of students we can attract is, well, put it this way

Panel 4.

Close up from Willoughby’s front. He looks disdainfully along the side of his raised nose. Behind him is a glass-fronted door, though Willoughby covers too many of the letters to be able to read them properly.


if they have an A Level between them it’s because they stole it from some high flyer when robbing his dinner money and administering a wedgie. Most of them only attend for the student loan they’ll never earn enough to repay. (41 words here. I can live with that. Again, the comma-fail. I’d also remove the beginning ellipsis. It really isn’t necessary. And A-Level, for those who don’t know, is generally a high school education.)

Panel 5.

Mid shot of Dean barking a command. A motion line starts at panel left and ends at his outstretched left arm with its outstretched index finger at panel right.


No excuses! My campaign to become Dean was based on the promise we’d be the number-one world leader who’d make a big splash in something! Get out there! Bring me our brightest student! We’ll push him or her to eminence!

Panel 6.

View from the corridor. Willoughby is partially seen through the door he’s opened a sliver. Dean’s silhouette shows on the glass.


Yes, Dean.

TEXT (Lettering on door):



– The Dean.

Okay! We’ve got P1 down!

Know what we have on our hands? A comedy. I’m not going to explain the jokes—I’ll leave that for others, or Rin himself.

I’m liking the setup. It’s fun. A lot of words in some balloons? Maybe. Remember, while there’s a guideline, it’s only just that—a guideline. Not a hard and fast rule. The panels seem to be able to hold the text pretty easily.

Really, I’ve got nothing at all against the page.

Let’s see what else we’ve got!

Page 2 (7 panels)

Panel 1.

Wide shot inside Dean’s office. Still daytime. Dean, at his computer is looking towards the doorway. The MIT news article photo is visible on his desk. Willoughby’s uptilted nose juts through the barely open door. (Might have a bit of a problem showing all of this, because of the camera placement. The real problem is trying to show the picture on the desk. This works best, methinks, with an over-the-shoulder view.)


Come in. (Too fast. What’s he saying this to? What’s the cause? Where’s the knock or the interruption? Now, this could be my Ameri-centric point of view showing. This could be seen through a Eurocentric lens. I don’t know, never having been to Europe. However, I think changing this to a simple Yes? would fix the problem.)


It’s me, Dean. I’ve brought our finest mind

Panel 2.

Low angle full frontal of Doug (late teens, bristly skinhead, uni-brow over deep-set eyes, bulbous nose and a slack mouth. Dressed in torn T-shirt, jeans, Dr Marten’s.) who has entered the office. (Why a low angle? What’s he doing?)


Doug Thug. He’s studying writing.

Panel 3.

An eager Dean, either rubbing his hands (use motion lines) or holding them clasped before his chest (your choice) stands before the taller, fatter, disinterested Doug.


A writer, eh? I would have preferred someone from the Sciences or Engineering, but nevermind.


So – writing! What type? Creative? Screen? Play? Code?

Panel 4.

Close up. Doug has one finger halfway up his nose.


Joined up. (I have no idea what this means.)

Panel 5.

Dean looks shocked at panel left. At panel right, Dean’s whole hand has disappeared up his bulging nostril. (Nope. Reverse these two figures. Why is that, Ryan Kroboth?)


Panel 6.

At panel left, Dean looks aghast. At panel right, Dean’s hand clutches a coin. (I’m not getting this. Are you sure you still want this to be Dean?)


I found a pound.*

(*Yes. I stole this joke from Shannon Wheeler.) (And I still don’t get it.)

Panel 7.

Looking along Doug’s arm as it points to the newspaper article on Dean’s desk. Dean’s face, at panel right is alight with hope.


Uncle Stan!


What? You have a connection to greatness?!

P2 doesn’t work as much for me as P1 does, because while the actions are funny, I don’t understand the jokes of the dialogue. I sense that there’s something that could be amusing, but I’m not getting it.

And I’m fully aware that it could be me. So I’m not going to say that it isn’t funny. I’m just not getting it.

Anyway, methinks Rin broke something, but we’ll have to wait for Ryan to chip in before I say more about it.

Page 3 (6 panels)

Panel 1.

Doug’s face is in two stages, one raised, the other lowered, with motion lines connecting them to suggest enthusiastic nodding. At panel right, Dean – his face eager – is extending a mobile phone towards Doug.


Uncle Stan knows ‘um. Uncle Stan says they’re hacks. Uncle Stan says their research ain’t nuttin’ compared to what Uncle Stan is plannin’. Uncle Stan’s from Wisconsin!


Please, get Uncle Stan on the phone! Let’s hear all about what Uncle Stan’s researching!

Panel 2.

Close up of Dean’s curious face as he talks into the phone.


Hello, Stan Thug? I’m Dean Dean Deen, I work at your nephew, Doug’s, university. He tells me you’re researching something wondrous ? (Because of the dialogue, methinks this entire panel jumps forward in time just a bit too much. What’s missing, Felix?)

Panel 3.

Dean holds the phone before his mouth like a Walkie Talkie. He’s shouting into it with manic energy and enthusiasm.

DEAN (burst):

string particles and creating a billion unidentified sentient life forms! You gotta come to Luton! Hop on a plane! We’ll fund your work to fruition!

Panel 4.

Nighttime view of Luton Airport. A plane, landing lights on, has nearly touched down on the lit runway.


Panel 5.

Inside the terminal, Willoughby has his nose in the air, Dean bows forwards towards Uncle Stan (who looks suspiciously like Albert Einstein with a lazy eye) who stands beneath the Arrivals sign, holding the handle of a LARGE baggage trolley that has a sheet draped over the top. Uncle Stan holds a finger aloft in denial.


Doctor Stan Thug, may I extend my greatest thanks that–


I need nothing from you, except a short nap, a three-course meal from a five star hotel, and a non-refundable four million pounds in research grants.



Done! (Again, too fast. This doesn’t reflect the panel description. He’s saying this while still bowing.)

Panel 6.

Inside a research laboratory. Daytime. Stan, facing us, stands behind a waist-high tripod that has a birthday-cake-sized bulge atop it, covered beneath a large cloth. Stan’s expression should convey drama and intensity; his hands are ready to yank the cloth aside. Silhouetted In the foreground: the back of Willoughby’s raised head and nose, Dean’s raised clenched fists and the back of his head, Doug’s arm at panel right.




Millions of years ago, sea-borne organisms fused with alien mitochondria to create a brand new life form. Today, gentlemen, I am advancing science even further

Panel 6 – INSET

Stan is yanking the cloth. We can’t really see what’s been uncovered.

STAN (burst):

with this!

P3, and the pacing is off a bit. I know that there’s a space crunch here, but the dialogue is pushing things along a bit too fast in a couple of places.

The good news is that I can understand what’s going on again.

Page 4 (Splash page)

Panel 1.

Stan leans back, triumphant head crowing to the ceiling. On the tripod, uncovered, a large block of cheese, with cheese string bundles jutting from the top like candles.

STAN (burst):

Behold my miracle! A block of cheese!

STAN (burst):

One metric ton of dairy goodness! A billion unknown cultured bacteria! Who knows what’s on its fromagey surface – the cure for cancer? A cancer in itself? Mwu ha ha! (This is funny! Fromagey surface?! That’s comedy! The only thing is that there’s going to be a double-dash where the single one is. And he gets in the string cheese as an object.)


Dean is open-mouthed in shock.

DEAN (weak):

But you said greatness ? You promised string theory particles ?


Stan holds a cheese string bundle in his extended arm. A taut line of cheese stretches from the bundle to between his clenched teeth.


Cheese skring parkikIes! <Nom nom nom!>


Use whatever angle makes Dean look small and bereft and beaten down. He holds a cheese string bundle in his hand.

DEAN (weak):

But sentient life forms ?


Seen from ¾ profile, Stan is leaning towards the cheese block, cupping his ear as if listening. His expression is surprised.


What’s that you say, Mrs E-coli? You want


With an awed expression, Stan is facing towards the reader but, because both eyes point in opposite directions, he looks madder than ever.


a cracker!

Hm. P4 as a splash with insets, which I totally understand.

What I don’t get is the uneven number of insets. It’s going to be set up wrong.

Ryan, I’m going to need your help with this again.

The revelation of the block of cheese and the dialogue for it will have to be up high, because we read comics from left-to-right and then down, in a Z motion. So we start high, and then we start hunting for the next thing.

Then, for the next four panels, I can see them stacked at the bottom of the panel, two to a side. The dialogue could even help the reader to see where to go next, by breaking the panel borders low. So, inset 1 can be on top of inset 2 on the left of the page, and inset 3 can sit on top of inset 4 on the right.

That leaves inset 5 as the lone duck. Where does it go?

This is basically a six panel page, and I think you’re trying to do too much with it.

Ryan, as an artist, what would you do with this page? If you could thumb it out, I’d be grateful. If you’re too busy, don’t worry about it. (And you don’t have to go overboard, either, doing it twice—my way, and then your way. I don’t expect it. Just your way would suffice, if you have the time and the inclination.)

Other than that, this brings on the funny.

As far as the challenge goes, it meets most of the criteria. Just missing one element. Let’s see if it shows up on the next page.

PAGE 5 (6 panels)

Panel 1.

Close up of a bitter Dean biting into the cheese string. We can tell by the lump in his throat that he’s swallowing.

DEAN (thought):

Four million pounds! My reputation! My career! (I don’t like this as a thought balloon. It comes out of nowhere. There’s an earlier place where it could have been used—like P1. Here, it feels very out of place, because we haven’t seen it before now.)

Panel 2.

Close up of Dean. The hand that held the cheese in the last panel now covers his mouth. His cheeks bulge to either side and his expression and colour are nauseous.

DEAN (thought):

My god, this is foul cheese!

SFX (from his throat):

HRRK (I wouldn’t have this as SFX. This is really dialogue.)

Panel 3.

Rear view of Dean as he sprints away, one hand over his mouth, another over his bottom.

DEAN (thought):

Please let me make it in time!

Panel 4.

View from behind Willoughby as his left arm is pushing the toilet door open and his right hand pinches his upturned nostrils shut. We might see enough of the closed stall through the doorway for Dean’s bubble to emanate from there.


Dean? Are you in here?


I wanted this university to make waves, Willoughby. I wanted us to be number one. But the only splash I’m making

Panel 5.

We directly face a closed toilet stall. Dean’s shoes and socks, can be seen under the door, his trousers pooled around them. At panel right, waiting outside the stall, a pained Willoughby averts his head.


comes from my number twos!




Doug Thug has a novel solution that may help us out, Dean

Panel 6.

Audience-eye view of an award stage. Sitting at the front of the stage, bruised and bloodied Knuckles holding a newspaper with the front page facing us, is Doug. The photo shows Nanou with black eyes, missing teeth, turban awry, looking distraught. Along the stage, underneath bunting, a grinning Stan and Dean, dressed formally, shake hands over Orsen. Orsen has had a flimsy disguise put on it but should still be recognisable.


Two days, and many crimes, later

TEXT (newspaper headline):

Yankee’s pants yanked! MIT student wedgied!

TEXT (newspaper by-line): (Nope. The byline is where the writer attribution is. This is not a byline.)

Pants pulled up, Orsen vanishes down crack!

TEXT (bunting): (I don’t know what bunting is, either, in this context.)

Congratulations! Luton University Welcomes New Life Form!


We name our new AI Enlightenment! (He gets in all the rules, just under the wire! My only complaint is that the new AI’s name is Enlightenment! , instead of Enlightenment . Is it Boom! Studios, or Boom Studios? Trust me, it’s Boom!. No, I didn’t just double the ending punctuation. Because the exclamation mark is inside the quotes, it’s part of the name. Someone, prove me wrong.)

TEXT (engraved on Orsen’s chest):





So, let’s run it down.

Format: Flawless Victory. And I expected nothing less.

Panel Descriptions: I only had the odd problem here and there. Nothing to be overly concerned with. Just make sure you have the characters act, and you have a panel description that works.

Pacing: Only a couple of missteps. Nothing a decent editor won’t catch. Make sure you don’t have gaps that are too big, or that your dialogue doesn’t jump forward too much. It’s something of a tightrope walk, I know, but it isn’t terrible at all. No worries.

Dialogue: Funny! Now, with that being said, I’ll be the first to say that I didn’t really get the dialogue of P2. I’m also perfectly willing to admit that it might just be me. That’s the only real blemish on this piece, for me. Others might not have that same reaction. (Remember, folks, I’m not that smart.)

Content: I was very happy to read this! I had no problem following anything that was going on from an action point of view. Reading it, though, the dialogue of P2, I was underwhelmed. Like I said, this was the only real blemish for me.

Editorially, this works for me. Very little work to do, and all the rules were followed. Very nice work here.

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.

Click here to make comments in the forum!

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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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