TPG Week 225: When Even The Flawless Victory Is Flawed

| April 18, 2015



Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Robert Sprawls. I’m alone this week, so it’s going to be all red, all the time this week. Let’s see what Robert is able to do with



The scene takes place aboard the Atlas (not yet named this) as it orbits Earth. (This is something the team doesn’t necessarily need, but it doesn’t hurt to have.)

DANTE has undergone surgery to install as implant that’s given him the memories and experiences of those who also carried the implant. However, as a common side-effect, these manifest as personas of past Ro’shaan. BES is trying to speed the process along and bring Dante back. (This is unnecessary, because this information should be coming through the panel descriptions and dialogue.)

Room: This is a double room, divided by a floor to ceiling wall to wall one way mirror. DANTE ERICSSON and BES (projected) interact in the plain, rectangular and ordinary looking inquisition room, where Dante is seated and BES walks circles around him trying to find out what he remembers and moving the personality to their death events. ESPERANZA STEWART (and Ambassador/Decugosan) watches from behind the one way mirror, as the conversation is piped in. Both rooms have a pneumatic door opening into a hallway on the same side (if looking straight at Dante, it is on the panel right for both rooms). BES is able to project herself as a good looking red head to Dante, through the implant, but Stewart cannot see her. BES’ voice comes over the ship’s advanced sound system. (Most of this is unnecessary.)

The chair is an ordinary arm chair with a back rest that goes to Dante’s neck. (This is almost useless, because this can describe just about any kind of chair.)

NOTE TO PENCILER: don’t accentuate either female’s figure. No busting out of her top or 3″ waist, please. (Another useless statement if these are recurring characters.)


A large panel, angled from the front and down to show the Atlas passing over the sun lit Americas in a East to West equatorial orbit. The Earth takes up the left half. NOTE: BES and Dante, the new Ro’shaan, speak in the Consortium’s interchange language, so all dialog between the two is in <>. (The letterer’s note shouldn’t be in the panel description. It should be it’s own element. However, it’s also useless, since the letterer is going to put in everything that’s there.)


<What do you remember?>


<What am I supposed to remember?>


<Do you remember your name?>


Straight on shot, medium panel, medium distance.

DANTE rests his hands on the arms of the chair, leaning slightly forward and looking tense as if ready to jump to his feet and begin railing against the moment. His head and face are shaved clean and he’s barefoot wearing silk lounge clothes with a tied wrap around tunic of a soothing, perhaps bland color, beige or off-white. BES walks a circle around him, wearing similar clothes, her long red hair hangs to the middle of her back. (Now, this last sentence is almost literally a repeat of what’s above. So it’s a waste up there if you’re going to repeat it here. That’s first. Second, this is a moving panel. Someone tell me why. Third, why does he get a facial expression but she doesn’t?)

He looks to his left where she was, but she has since started to pass behind him going to his right. (This is going to look very, very bad. It is not going to come off the way you want it to. Eyes are able to track things very well. Unless she’s teleporting from place to place, then this is going to make your artist look bad. Don’t make your artist look bad.)


<I am Ro’shaan Kahl.>


<No. That was a previous life. You are Ro’shaan Dante now.>

(new bubble) (Useless and lazy. Label all your balloons. This lets the letterer know this is a new balloon.)

<Do you remember the name of your world?>


Room: Observation room

Medium panel, shot from the left of Stewart.

Stewart stands in front of the window looking in. She wears a business suit and her hair is tied up in a rear bun. (That’s nice. We’re in a new room. What can we see? What are they observing?)


What are you two saying? I don’t understand the language.


He believes he is a past Ro’shaan.


Is this normal?

So, we have P1 down!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m just about ready to punch myself in the face already. I have several reasons for this reaction.

I’m not a my way or the highway kind of person or editor. I like trying to find a middle ground. However, I’ve written extensively about creating comics, as have others, and there are myriad examples all over the web when it comes to formatting and useful information to put in a script.

This is why I want to punch myself in the face. There is precious little in this script for the artist to get their creative hooks into. There’s useless information all over, but not much to direct the artist what to actually draw. Panel 3 is a perfect example of this. It’s nearly bare of anything useful.

It’s also going to be a very fast read. Three panels, and there’s barely any dialogue in them at all. What’s the point?

Things have to be more interesting. You add interest by adding dialogue. You can add more panels to this first page in order to gain reader interest, and that will keep the reader turning pages. Right now, they’re ready to roll their eyes. I’m already doing it for them.

At least the dialogue is readable.


All panels take place in the inquisition room. We’re going to zoom in on Dante’s face, we’re focused on Dante’s eyes in the last panel. (More uselessness.)


Room: Inquisition room.

Medium panel, Straight shot. Start with a far shot, Dante seated and BES rounding on his left.

Dante watches BES as she comes around on his right. (Moving panel.)


Quite normal. All Ro’shaan have gone through this. (If this is a voice-over caption, where are the quotation marks?)




Medium panel. Straight shot. Zoom in a bit. BES has rounded the turn and continues the circling in front while Dante maintain his focus on her.


<Earth. Do you remember your people?>


Medium panel. Straight shot. Zoom in closer in on torso. Dante slumps forward in frustration and despair. BES is out of the picture until further notice. (Padding.)


Medium panel. More zoom. (More lazy. Are we zooming in or zooming out? I don’t care what was said up top. That’s nothing more than an excuse to be lazy here.)


<Dante. Human male, 39 years old from the planet Earth.>


<Why don’t I remember any of this?>


<The experiences stored in the MiM are manifesting as personalities before your time. It’ll pass.>


<What’s the last thing you remember?>


Large/wide panel, close in on Dante’s eyes looking full of despair. (Is his head still down? Was his head down in the previous panel? See what being lazy gets you? Questions that need to be answered, when you should be answering them already. That’s the purpose of the script.)



Goodness gracious. Two pages down, and what do we have? A savagely ineffectual information dump, attempting to masquerade as being interesting. How can you be interesting in science fiction when there are so few words? How is the reader supposed to get inside your world, if there aren’t enough words to satisfy them?

And what’s so interesting about this opening? I’ll tell you: nothing. Not one thing.

I watched a bad movie the other night, on Netflix. App. I even downloaded the stupid app that went along with it, so I could have the second screen experience. Basically, this app downloads itself to this young woman’s phone, and starts to get into her life. It also downloads itself to other phones and other electronic devices, causing people to die and other stupidity like that. The second screen on my phone didn’t enhance the movie experience at all. Useless gimmick. It was also subtitled.

That film was more interesting than this. Then again, so is having a pedicure via meat grinder.

The pacing is off. These two pages, and possibly the third, could be condensed into one page. Most of this is padding.

And laziness abounds.


The Sagan is a ring shaped off-world vessel with a long tube hub extending behind it (a donut with a stick through the hole) and two canopy shields against particle radiation. Six large rectangular box containers attach to the hub tube radially by detachable grid works of steel tubing (See reference picture 1A).

It rotates at 3rpm to maintain an artificial gravity within its 200m diameter hull. Its mission, to drop the initial material for a base on Calisto, the most viable of Jupiter’s moons. It’s an expensive feel good mission, a US show of tech achievement to the world and its Middle East antagonist. (This entire paragraph is useless information.)


Room: Space for all panels on this page.

Panel/shot: Wide panel, looking back at the sun. The camera is fixed in position, following the ship as it approaches Calisto.

Stars dot the black background with the sun on the right, radiating brighter than all the others. (see reference picture 1B and 1C for position and size references.) NOTE TO PENCILER: I’d like to see the sun in the place of Dante’s eye, but I’ll leave it to your discretion. (Trying to do a kind of match-cut with the sun and his eye? Not going to go over well.)


December 10th, 2093, three days earlier.


<“I’ll recount the recent past. It should help you to remember.”>


Small panel.

A shadow appears in the light of the bright star. (What kind of shadow? Should I even ask what’s casting it? What kind of shape?)


<“I was hibernating. Had been for seven years prior.”>


Small panel.

The object is closer, obscuring the sun, but bathed in its light. (Object? You know you’re keeping information from the artist, and they have to draw this. It’s like being told to go to the store and buy something, but you aren’t told what you’re to buy until you’re in line to pay for it—you then have to go back and get what was really wanted instead of what you got. Don’t do that to your artist. They won’t like it.)


<“I expected your world to be dead or dying when I awoke.”>


Large panel.

The Sagan passes before us and we see the US flag and “NASA” printed on it and several corporate logos: TacDyn, Inc (most prominent), BOEING, GRUMMAN, etc. Jupiter is in the background. The half facing away from the sun in darkness. (Moving panel.)


<“At the very least, I expected you to be a hundred years dead…”>


Large panel. The ship has passed and a brown and gray Calisto hangs in the near background amid a star dotted void.


<“…and a change in world order having a different nation find me.”>

P3, and it’s more of that slow trickle of information.

Here’s a not-so-secret: no one cares. There hasn’t been one word spoken yet that anyone cares about. We don’t want a history lesson. Not yet. What we want is some story that we can get behind. Instead, we have 3 pages of inconsequentials.

I’m just going to call the Line of Demarcation right here. This is crap.

I’ve recently begun to re-read some of the trade paperbacks I have. I’ve gone through Watchmen and have just finished the Squadron Supreme. The Dark Knight Returns is on my list, as is Cerebus.

The Squadron Supreme was published in 1985. It was the first comic to deal with real moral ambiguity among superheroes. It’s a great story, told by the late, great Mark Gruenwald, and it is marred by terrible, terrible writing.

Most of the dialogue is blunt and clumsy. The usage of colloquialisms doesn’t help to make characterization, it makes it harder to read. It is not a story that stands the test of time. Not compared to Watchmen.

Unfair? Possibly. But what’s also unfair is the fact that we’ve got to slog through at least five pages worth of this crap. Bad writing is bad writing.

We’re three pages in, and what is it that we really know about the story? It’s set in the future. That’s about it. P3? It’s really nothing more than a flashback. Why? Why are we here already, when we don’t have enough information to even begin to warrant it?

Screw that question. Don’t answer it. Answer this one instead: why are there so few words per panel?

You can jack up the words per panel to astounding rates, as long as you give ample space. Here, you’re going extremely minimalist, and in doing so, you aren’t giving the reader anything worth reading.


Inside the Sagan: The vessel is brightly lit wherever there is people working but darkened all others to save power. Deck arrangement is along the longitude to the main axis providing some gravity from the ship’s rotation. Supply storage takes up most of the ship so working and living space is at a premium. Ceiling heights are but a foot over the head and working areas are small. The main sections of the vessel are the control center, payload prep room and dormitory/entertain. It is crewed by five: a mission commander, pilot, a navigator, mission specialist and payload specialist. There are few windows to the outside as the rotation of the vessel would/could cause dizziness.

MISSION COMMANDER MCDONALD is Caucasian, mid 40s his hair is about an inch long.

PILOT RUBIO is of Italian descent, late 30s to early 40s, dark hair about 1/2″ long.

NAVIGATOR THOMAS is Caucasian, early 40s, dirty blond hair about 1/2″ long.

MISSION SPECIALIST SAUREZ is a Hispanic male, in his 30s with dark hair buzz cut.

PAYLOAD SPECIALIST WILEY is an African-American, also 30s, hair buzz cut.

All the astronauts are lean from the two years of living on a strict diet and wear blue jumpers with white converse like sneakers. (I didn’t read any of this crap, because I don’t find it germane to the story being told in the panel descriptions. You can read it if you want.)


Room: Cargo Prep. Little more than an 8×6 cell when all equipment is taken into account. There are two workstations, each with two touchscreen panels: one vertical at head height and another angled at about 30 degrees waist height. Piping for fluid transfer and cable collectors run along the walls. All panels on this page take place in this room. (So, you still insist on giving a setting, but don’t describe much. She’s a girl. She’s got two arms, two legs. That’s all you need to know, artist… That’s basically what these settings are doing. If you created a proper establishing shot for whenever you changed locations, your bumhole probably wouldn’t be stinging as much as it is now, because I’d have little cause to crawl up in it the way I am. Then again, if you bothered to tell an interesting story, we’d all feel a whole lot better about this script.)

Shot/Panel: Medium panel. Shot from behind and slightly above, through the lens of a camera. (It’s all through the lens of a camera. Really, breaking out the camera view into its own element isn’t helping you much. It’s just another hot poker in my eye, which I’m turning around and giving back to you. You are the new Cornholio, with a hot poker for your bunghole. Yes, I’m old. Old enough to hate Beavis and Butthead, seeing them as the beginning of the downfall of MTV.)

MISSION SPECIALIST SUAREZ and PAYLOAD SPECIALIST WILEY work nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with Suarez on the left and Wiley right (What are they doing? They’re working, but what the hell are they doing? I don’t know what working means, and I refuse to go back up to the top of this page to look for that information, because it is supposed to be in the panel description. That’s what it’s here for. That keening, high pitched wailing sound you hear that kinda trails off in the distance before stopping? That’s the sound of a few neurons related to my sanity, dying a fiery death as I wade deeper into this morass of a story. And of course one is on the left and the other on the right. The first person you describe is supposed to be on the left, with the second on the right. That’s how we read comics. Again, you’ve not given any real information for the artist to work with.)


<“Such a bold move to send a mission outward at this time. So unorthodox.”>


Medium panel. Back shot. Slightly elevated as before, but no longer seen from the ship’s camera.

Suarez’s head turned partially to Wiley.


<“Most nations pourtheir excess resources into defense this close to their haseroch.”> (Ooh! A nonsense word, in place of a word we can actually know the meaning of. Frank Herbert you are not…)


What’s the news from home?


Not good. They’re starting to square off.


Small panel.

Shot: Left side shot, slightly forward of the two, putting Suarez in the background while Wiley is forward.

The two of them keep their attention locked on their respective panels as they speak. (I honestly don’t know what this means. Are they not looking at each other as they work? Is that what this means? Or are they speaking from two distinct panels, which the dialogue doesn’t support. I don’t know. Again, if the answer is supposed to be at the top of the page, that information is in the wrong place.)


Why are we even out here?


To dump shit on a moon just to say we were here.


Small panel.

Shot: Left side shot.

Suarez has turned toward Wiley with a look of utter concern mixed with fear. (Of course. Why not go prosaic? You’re not telling a story, anyway, so compounding it with cloudy emotional values that cannot be drawn isn’t going to hurt one bit. Hang on, folks. We’re nearly done with this page… We’ll get to see the daylight at the end of the next one. Promise.)


I’ve got family in Chicago.


Mine’s in Philly. Still lower on the list than DC, but not by much.


What if it happens before we get back? How are we going to get back?


What’s this page about? I have no idea. We’ve gone from one place in this piece to somewhere else, and I have no idea what’s going on here. At the top of the previous page, it seemed like we were going into a flashback. Now, though, I have no idea. I’m lost, and I shouldn’t be. Why are we here? What does this page have to do with anything that’s come before it?

I understand that storytelling is a challenging thing to undertake. Crafting a story isn’t easy. It needs to make sense, though. That’s the biggest thing about storytelling: it needs to make sense.

This doesn’t. And because it doesn’t, no one cares about anything.

What’s this page about, and how does it relate to what we’ve just been reading? Why are there still so few words per panel? You don’t have to ration them, y’know. There isn’t a word diet. Could you binge on words in a panel? Sure. Then you’d have to rein it in. Right now, though, we’re starving for words that make sense. Honestly, I think readers have stopped caring about the story you’re trying to tell, and are more interested in the next thing I’m going to say. My giving you a good once-over is much more interesting than this piece. Hell, the manufacturing of concrete is more interesting than this piece.

It’s a sad, sad day when the best thing about a piece is the format—and even that is partially useless.

Hang on, folks. One more page, and then we’ve reached escape velocity.


PANEL 1 (Oh my goodness gracious! We don’t have another set of information that I’m not going to read. We must be in the same location. )

Small panel.

Side angle of Wiley’s strained face from Suarez’s POV. (Yep. Same location.)


No man. No. It took us two years to get here and it’ll take two years to get back. We can’t think like that or we won’t make it and I’m not dying out here. You’re not dying out here. Okay? (41 words in this balloon. This is the most anyone has said yet. Let me go back and read it to see if it actually has anything to say. Be right back.) (Okay, it said something, and because it doesn’t have much context, it sounds mysterious without being sinister. That’s good. Too bad no one cares. They stopped caring somewhere on P2, if not the end of P1. Oh, and there’s a comma-fail in the first sentence.)


Medium panel.

Back shot. We are leaving as we came in.

Suarez fully turned to Wiley who stays focused. (What’s he doing? He’s not working. I say that he’s now jacking Wiley off. How can you contradict me? You didn’t say what he was doing.)


Run diagnostics on positioning systems.


Medium panel.

Shot: Back shot, slightly elevated.

Suarez has turned back to his station and the two are shoulder-to-shoulder once again. (Are his hands cold?)


Getting it done. (I bet he is…)

Okay, let’s run this crap down.

Format: Flawless Victory, but that doesn’t mean much here. Your format is consistent without any glaring mistakes, which is really all it takes to get a FV. However, the information you put at the top of the page is virtually useless, and leads to complete laziness in the panel descriptions. You don’t need a camera angle for every panel, because if you describe the panel well enough, the camera angle should be obvious in many cases. The size of the panel generally won’t be up to you, either. Few writers are very spatial thinkers. By spatial, I mean using the space on the page adequately. Leave that to the artists. So, even though you got a FV here, your format is NOT fine. Nowhere near it. It’s just consistent. Personally, I’d call it consistently bad.

Panel Descriptions: Anemic isn’t the word I’d use to describe them. Like I said previously, they’re nearly useless. Your format is somewhat to blame for this.

You’re putting necessary information in a couple of different places, and that’s of no use at all to the artist. They shouldn’t have to look all over the page in order to find information they need.

Even after they’ve found all the information, the very next thing they’re going to discover is that you’re either very stingy with the info they need to draw, or you’re not a very visual thinker. They’re going to ask questions that the panel descriptions should be answering. If they’re asking you for things that should be in the script to begin with, then what’s the use of the script?

You have a few moving panels in there. You shouldn’t have them at all.

Pacing: I have to create a new word. Hare-toise. It’s both fast and slow. Having a low panel count along with a low word count means that the reader is going to speed through the story. At the same time, however, it feels slow, possibly because you didn’t give much real story at all over these five pages.

It gets even worse when the first few pages aren’t much more than padding. The amount of information given in the first two pages could be given in a single panel, maybe two. The next page could be cut down to a few panels, and then whatever these last two pages are could more than likely be cut. What does that leave you with, story-wise? Not much. And that’s exactly what you’ve given the reader. Not much. I’ve probably written as much in my breaking down of this piece as you have. That’s not good.

Dialogue: Anemic. (See? I can use anemic here and feel good about it.) There isn’t much said here, and what has been said isn’t worth much.

Out of everything that’s been said in these five pages, only one person has been named in a place where the reader can see it. Isn’t that fun? No, that’s the opposite of fun. No! It’s the opposite of fun, if fun means good. There we go. Sure, it’s your main character that’s been named, and that’s fun (see?), but the rest of the characters not being named is not fun.

And then there’s the made-up word. I’m going to go out on a short limb that feels very sturdy to me. What does the word mean? I have the feeling it means home, but that’s taken in context. Why did I bring up Frank Herbert? Because Dune is a seminal work, with a vocabulary all its own, and that vocabulary works. It isn’t working here. That’s more than likely due to the fact that there isn’t enough dialogue here to go ’round. Especially when none of it is interesting.

Content: That’s the crux of it. It’s crap, which is why the Line came so relatively early. As a reader, I want to know why I’m giving something my time, attention, and money. It had better be worthy. This isn’t. It doesn’t even come close to explaining why we’re here. That’s bad storytelling.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite. I suggest going and reading more comic scripts and emulating their format. Don’t read anything by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Warren Ellis. Hell, nothing by Grant Morrison, either. They know how to write a comic script, and know which rules to break and when. You have to learn the rules first, and then you have to learn how to tell a story using the rules. A complete rewrite is in the cards for you. Because when even the flawless victory is flawed…yeah. There’s just a whole lot of not-good 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.

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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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