TPG Week 228: Not Bad For A First Timer

| May 8, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Eric Brackett. We have Liam Hayes in blue, I’m the lazy one in red, and we’re all going to see how Eric handles the


ONE (three panels)

Panel 1: Several men are standing in the center of a large warehouse. Aside from the relatively clear center area the rest of the room is lined with crates and moving equipment such as forklifts. Vortex is crouched behind a row of crates watching the scene unfold before him. He is a young man of slender build and average height wearing a costume made of silvery white material complete with a hooded cloak. The center of his costume depicts a swirling black and purple vortex. (Put character description on another page. It’ll help declutter the actual panel description.) There are six armed men standing guard around two men in the center of the room. The two men in the center are wearing business suits. (This panel description goes back to front. From the men, to Vortex and back again. It’s confusing.) (There’s also no placement of your main character. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but it also shows you’re not thinking very visually.)

Panel 2: A similar shot to the one above, but the focus should be on the two men in the center of the room. (So not at all similar? I don’t see the need for that specification.) One of them is carrying suitcase and the other is holding an open wooden box that contains a red gemstone. (We should’ve seen this a panel earlier. Already your artist is going to have to backtrack in your script. Don’t irritate your artist like that.)

VORTEX (thought): The Sunstone. According to Japanese myth it once served as the crown jewel in the Sun Goddess’s regalia and possesses supernatural powers. (This is blunt exposition. Can you get this is in without being on-the-nose?)

Panel 3: Vortex is out from behind the crates and everyone is staring at him. The guards have their pistols pointed at him. (Huh? He’s just teleported from behind the crate. We didn’t see him jump over. No, this is too sharp a transition.)

VORTEX: Oops. This clearly isn’t Comic-Con. (I like this line. A little tongue in cheek but just the right amount for me.)

VORTEX (thought): I really need to work on my intros. (I don’t like this line. It’s too tongue in cheek. It also seems unnecessary.)

Pretty standard superhero opening. Not sure why you only have three panels on this page, though. You have more space than that, and hopefully something interesting to fit in there.

We’ve got P1 on the books!

Like Liam said, this is standard superhero stuff. Nothing new or interesting about it. Hero watches from the shadows, comes out from hiding, and makes a quip.

The problems with this page aren’t deal breakers, but there are several.

The first are the panel descriptions. They need just a little tightening up. First, is this day or night? That will inform the artist and the colorist on how to handle things. Second, where’s the hero? That’s important information the artist will need to know.

The character description needs to be excised. I’ve only ever met one artist who wanted to design main characters during the penciling stage. That project didn’t move forward, and I’ve never recommended them for a job afterward. The character will (generally) be designed before your artist starts working on the page, so their description is out of place in the panel.

Character actions need to be done as soon as possible. That briefcase and wooden box in panel 2? They’re both magically delicious, because we should have been able to see the items in panel 1.

Don’t be afraid to go back and fix things when you’re writing, folks. I do it all the time: I’m writing, and I decide I want a character to have something in their hand or something in the room—I go back to the first feasible place the item could have been seen and add it. Sometimes it means I go back a few panels, sometimes I have to go back a couple of scenes. It happens. Just recognize it for what it is, and go back and add the item in the first feasible place it could be seen.

The dialogue is very blunt. Things need to be approached from the side. Marvel comics from the 80s were very bad at this. I just finished reading Squadron Supreme, and I constantly needed to remind myself that self-immolation is a bad idea, because the writing won’t change. You can change the writing here. It’s not too late.

The pacing is off. Three panels, when you could definitely do with five. Just make sure that it isn’t cluttered with dialogue that will punch readers in the face.

(Actual page breaks! Give the man a gold star and a complementary fruit basket. Do you see what The Proving Grounds has done to me?)

TWO (five panels)

Panel 1: The guards have opened fire on Vortex. (This is a thin description. What’s the shot? Depending on how much of the scene we can see, what are the other characters doing in response? With this panel fleshed out, it’d make a decent page turner for page one.)

SFX: BANG (Bang is a bit blunt don’t you think? What sound do the guns actually make? Spell that out phonetically.)(There’s only one bang? Only one shot fired? I don’t mind the sound effect itself, but I do mind the number of them.)

Panel 2: A mid-close up shot of the bullets coming towards Vortex. Vortex has his hand outstretched toward the bullets which are surrounded by a dark purple energy. (What’s his expression? Fearful? Focused? Angered?) (Expressions generally won’t matter with masked heroes.)

Panel 3: The guards stare in shock as their bullets have fallen to the ground a few feet from Vortex. (No. This isn’t going to come across clearly. In order to see the guards and their shock, we’re going to be fairly zoomed out, enough that something so small as a bullet hitting the ground will be easily overlooked by the reader. This will take two panels; one of the bullets hitting the ground, and another of the guards’ reaction.)

VORTEX: Oh (Comma.) is it my turn now? (Break.) Okay!

Panel 4: Vortex has his hand clenched into a fist. Both he and the guards are surrounded by a purple glow. (Expressions? I’m going to go with aroused. The guards are excited by the tingling purple energy that surrounds them.)

Panel 5: The guards are now pinned to the ground still surrounded by that same purple energy. Vortex is standing a few feet from him and the glow around him has faded. (Hmm… I’d like to see a close up of the guards hitting the ground. This, as you have it, doesn’t have much impact. It’s just like they were standing one minute and on the floor the next. It just isn’t very dynamic. We’re removed from the action, rather than being all up in its guts. Also, what are the suited guys doing through-out all of this?)

VORTEX: Sorry about that, but I don’t think you all quite grasp the gravity of the situation here. (See, this line would work with the ground slam, if you split it up and put the gravity bit over the panel in which the guards are being slammed to the ground.)

VORTEX (thought): God that was bad. I am so glad Kyle didn’t hear that on– (Again, I’m finding this unnecessary. It’s just telling us what we should think about the dialogue, rather than letting us make up our own minds.)

SFX: RAWR (Not really a sound effect, technically. You need to state it’s coming from off-panel, too.)

More standard superhero stuff. That isn’t necessarily bad. Hopefully something cool will happen soon to get me hooked.

P2, and more of the same: bad pacing and blunt-ish dialogue, with actions that are uninspired. Right now, this reads as Generic Superhero #5,200,422,402,723.

There are reasons why Marvel superheroes have such a lasting quality: they are constructed very well. Most are constructed around a weakness or a tragedy. That weakness or tragedy informs their outlook on life and why they do what they do. They usually have to find some way to cope with whatever it is that’s wrong with them.

Sometimes that weakness is physical, sometimes it’s a character flaw, sometimes its both. We often get to see that growth, or how the character copes with their situation. Feet of clay, so they always have to struggle with something.

Spider-Man is always trying to atone for letting Uncle Ben die. Iron Man always has something physically wrong with him, as does Dr. Strange. Captain America was a scrawny kid. Professor X is stuck in a wheelchair. Cyclops cannot control his optic blasts. All of this super-science and magic, and characters still have physical ailments.

I understand that we’re only on P2 of this story, but it still reads as very generic. Right now, this could be anyone. You have ample space for dialogue. Spruce this up.

THREE (five panels)

Panel 1: Vortex has turned to see a large wolf-like creature facing him. The creature towers above Vortex easily standing over 6.5 feet tall and looks to be 300 pounds of pure muscle covered in dark black fur. I’m going for more of the classic bi-pedal werewolf here instead of an actual wolf. Vortex is visible, but the focus should be on the monster. (Where did this monster come from? It feels magically delicious.)

VORTEX: Sometimes (Comma.) I really hate this job!

Panel 2: A close-up of Vortex. His apprehension is clear from his facial features. (An expression! That’s two fruit baskets. Steven, are you keeping track?)(Nope. I’m not a fan of masked men showing expressions through the masks. Take Spider-Man and the changing of the whites of his eyes to show surprise, suspicion, thinking, level of consciousness and more. I understand the reasons why, but I’m not a fan of it.)

VORTEX (thought): This is bad! That’s Moonlight. Supposedly he underwent some crazy experiments that bonded his DNA with that of extinct dire wolves. (Exposition!) (And that, folks, was a right hook to the jaw! How did it feel? Like Iron Mike Tyson hit you? Yeah. I feel like a few of my teeth are loose…)

Panel 3: Moonlight has leapt towards Vortex and is mid-air.

VORTEX (OP): (It’d be a good idea to state that he’s off-panel in the panel description.) Here boy! Who’s a good boy? You’re a good bo– (This is going to take longer than the few seconds the leap takes. You’ll need another panel if you want to get this line in.)

Panel 4: Moonlight has landed a kick on Vortex. (Thin. What’s happens? Is Vortex knocked back?) (A leap changes into a kick? I’m not feeling it.)

Panel 5: Vortex has crashed into some crates and is lying amidst the broken boxes. There is a narrow gash along his stomach. (How did he get that gash? You didn’t specify that he was kicked in the stomach.)

VORTEX (thought): Oww! When will I learn to keep my mouth shut and not taunt the homicidal freakshows? (I’m disliking all of these thought balloons. They’re kind of nauseating.)(That’s only because what’s being said are like body blows to our collective sense of decent dialogue.)

You do know the suited guys are still here, right? Anyway, this isn’t really my thing. I dislike traditional superhero stories. Unless you reveal some hidden twist, this really ain’t my kinda show.

P3, and it’s still more of the same: bad pacing and dialogue. Fix those two things, and this wouldn’t be bad.

Actually, the worse thing on this page is the dialogue. The pacing can be fixed by a competent artist. The dialogue can’t be fixed by a competent letterer. Their job isn’t to write for you.

The fix isn’t to change the thought balloons into captions. The fix is to actually write better dialogue. Is it important we know how Moonlight got that way? (I like the name Moonlight, to be honest. Very fitting.) No, it’s not. I don’t know what’s important yet, but I know that adults don’t like to be spoon-fed, and that’s what you’re doing here. Instead of giving us character histories, why not wonder what the character is doing there or where they came from? That would go down much better than slapping us around with dialogue from the 80s.

FOUR (five panels)

Panel 1: Moonlight has charged towards the fallen Vortex. Moonlight has just passed a steel support pillar which is surrounded by a purple glow. (What’s Vortex doing?) (See that mention of the pillar? That should have been mentioned in P1, panel 1.)

Panel 2: Moonlight has slammed into the pillar. (Huh? Hadn’t he passed it? I think you’re trying to imply that the beam pulled Moonlight towards it? If so, this isn’t very clear. Another panel is needed, me thinks.)

VORTEX (thought): That was too close! I can’t keep this up much longer. I’m still not used to these powers. (Where is he? He’s not on-panel here.)

SFX: RAWR (Huh? This is dialogue.)

Panel 3: Vortex has put some distance between himself and Moonlight who is just now back on his feet. (That’s going to look like Moonlight hit the steel beam and then just appeared on his feet.)

VORTEX: You know (Comma.) if this (Missing something?) about the whole good boy comment then I’m really sorry. I take it back! You’re not a good boy! You’re a very bad boy!

Panel 3: Moonlight has thrown a forklift towards Vortex. (Again, very thin.)


VORTEX: Oh (Comma.) this could hurt.

Panel 4: Vortex has his hand outstretched and the forklift and Moonlight have slammed into each other. Both Moonlight and the forklift are surrounded by a purple glow.

Panel 5: Vortex is at the door and is leaving the warehouse. The pinned guards (Are the guards still glowing? If not, what’s holding them down?) and the unconscious Moonlight should be visible in the panel.

VORTEX (thought): So (Comma.) the gemstone is gone, I possibly have broken ribs and could be bleeding to death, but I beat the wolf-man so that’s gotta count for something (Comma.) right?

Eh. This really isn’t my kind of thing. Ask yourself, why should readers want to read this when others are doing superhero comics better? What is it about your story that make it unique and interesting?

As for the script itself, your biggest issue is pacing on a panel to panel basis. I don’t believe you’re thinking visually enough. That or you’re thinking in terms of movies instead of still images. Imagine what the reader will see and imply between panels. Sketch your scripts out if it helps.

Let’s run this down!

Format: Flawless Victory! I’ve got no problems with the format at all. Good job.

Panel Descriptions: I’m going to let you folks in on a little secret: this is Eric’s first attempt at a comic script. I see a lot of scripts from first-time scripters, and most of them are tons worse than this. This is a very decent first attempt.

The problem with the panel descriptions are twofold. The first is that things are magically delicious. All kinds of things are popping in and out without explanation. The only thing that wasn’t magically delicious was the forklift.

The second is that things aren’t explained very well in some cases. This will get better over time as long as you keep writing. Don’t forget the characters and their whereabouts. You lost track of some characters at times, including your main character. Not good.

Pacing: This is the second-worst thing about this piece. People are teleporting around. The pacing can be smoothed out by showing intermediate actions. Basically, it looks like you’re showing the response to a punch without showing the punch being thrown. You’re taking big cuts at what happens. Take smaller cuts. This will smooth your pacing out. This might add another page to the action, but that’s okay as long as people aren’t jumping around all over the place.

Dialogue: This is the worst thing about the piece. It isn’t mind-rending, which is great, but it’s very, very blunt. I like the sense of it, but what actually gets said needs an overhaul. Only be blunt when you need to be—come at most things from an angle. Most of this could be said differently.

Also, know the difference between dialogue and sound effects. Basically, if it’s coming from a live being, then it’s dialogue. Inanimate objects generally are sound effects. As long as you keep that in mind, you’ll rarely go wrong.

Content: As a reader, I found this to be generic. This could almost literally be any character. Wisecracking isn’t characterization. It needs to have a basis. There’s no basis here. Not yet. Maybe we get to it later, but not here. Right now, almost any character can say this dialogue.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. Not a complete rewrite, but a rewrite nonetheless. Partly to smooth out the action, partly to make the dialogue better. Fix those two things, and you’d be doing much better.

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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