TPG Week 230: What Happens When You Don’t Study

| May 22, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Brian Sanford. We also have Liam Hayes losing his mind in blue, I’m the guy gibbering in the corner in red, and all get to see what I’m talking about as Brian takes us to


Midnight, Issue 1 – Brian Sanford – Pg. 1 [Four Panels] (I don’t mind the giving of too much information here. Title, issue number and name in the page header? Not the worst idea. Necessary? No. Unusual? Yes. Something to chide him about? Not at all. I save that for later.)

Panel 1:


Saturday 6.43 P.M.

A man (Want to specify his appearance, age, race etc.?) frantically paces the living room of a small apartment. (Moving action. This cannot be shown in a static image. Have him checking his watch or something similar.) The room is messy and cluttered furnished by only a single lawn chair set up in the center of the room before a small analog television sitting on the floor, nothing but the flickering light (Again, that’s a moving action. You can’t show flickering light in one panel.) of rolling static churns across the screen. Dozens of crumpled energy drink cans are tossed about the living room, alongside towers of crudely stacked papers spilling onto the hard wood floor throughout the space comprised of past due bills, newspapers, miscellaneous junk mail, and fractured hand written trains of thought none of which make sense on their own. (We’re not going to be able to see any text, so don’t worry about what’s on them.) (And later is now! The Flawless Victory is lost. I’m not overly dogmatic, but come on! The caption before the panel description? That isn’t how it works. That’s the cart before the horse. Hopefully, this is a simple mistake and I won’t have to be subjected to this again during the script. I don’t think that’ll be the case, but hope springs eternal.)

Panel 2: The man presses his face up against the peep hole in his front door, leering out into the hallway anxiously awaiting something. (This’ll work best as a side shot. It’ll work better if you have some dialogue to contextualize it. As this is, it’s just a guy looking through a peephole.)

Panel 3: Then backing away he checks his cell phone for missed calls, no incoming calls in the past few days. (How are we supposed to fathom that information? This is two panels. One of him checking his phone, and another of the phone telling the reader there’s been no calls.) (And here we’re going to take a moment to talk about time. The caption tells us the current day is Saturday. The only way we’re going to know there haven’t been any calls on that phone is to show the last call was received on a day that isn’t Saturday. Think through what you’re asking. This is going to be on the letterer. You could help them out.)


Damn, come on where are you? (This line works better on the peephole panel. Also, why is it in quotes? Generally they’re reserved for voice-over captions or direct quotes.)(Given panel 1, I have the sneaking suspicion that this dialogue belongs to panel 4. However, seeing as panel 1’s label came before the dialogue, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt. One way or another, though, the FV is a memory.)

Panel 4: He continues pacing. (How is that shown in one panel? Somebody please edify me.) He’s dressed slovenly wearing a pair of polyester gym shorts, white crew socks with black sandals, and a black hooded sweatshirt over a white tank top. The attire looks as though he’d been wearing it for days, not the dress you’d expect of someone awaiting guests. (I disagree. He was naked up until this point. Otherwise you’ve made a mistake in failing to describe his attire in the first panel we saw him. And you haven’t done that, have you?)(I just want to know how the artist is going to show the tank top through the hoodie.)

You clearly aren’t thinking visually. That or you’re unsure which medium you’re writing for. Regardless of the technical issues, this is a boring opener. You’ve got a guy, bored and waiting. What about that screams interesting opening ? We, much like your protagonist, are waiting for the story to begin.

Why only four panels? You could get more in and hopefully set up a decent hook.

Well, we’ve got P1 down!

There are technical issues that have to be dealt with, the biggest being the moving panels, and right after that, not describing things as fully as necessary as soon as possible.

The description of the guy? That should have come in panel 1, not panel 4. Why is it so far down? I don’t understand that. I can’t even give the benefit of the doubt on it. It just clearly shows you aren’t thinking things through.

I love to write. I’m writing all the time. However, I’m also very aware of where I am and what I’m saying when I’m writing. If I say something late that could have been said sooner , or if I describe something late that should have been visible sooner , then I go back and put that information in as soon as it is feasibly needed.

There needs to be more dialogue here. If he’s anxious enough to wonder out loud where someone is, he’s anxious enough to do it throughout the page.

Finally, let’s talk about Time.

There are a few ways to depict Time in comics. The first way is the most obvious: a timestamp. You did that in panel 1. If you want to show the passage of time, then more timestamps could be used.

Another way to show the passage of time is to show the time of day through light or its absence. Does this work all the time? No, but we aren’t often underground or in a room without windows (I’m only talking about natural light sources right now).

Another way is to show something in a state of change: growing, decaying, moving. This generally means the background is static, and the object of our attention is changing in some way.

All of these methods of showing the passage of time need multiple panels. The number of panels can indicate the rate of change.

This is just something to keep in mind. What I would do here to show the passage of time is to show more timestamps, and I would either shorten or increase the rate of the passage of time depending on what I want to do (comedy or drama).

(No page breaks.) (Three! Three different ways the Flawless Victory has been lost, and all on the first page. That’s gotta be a record or something.)

Midnight, Issue 1 – Brian Sanford – Pg. 2 [Five Panels]

Panel 1:


Knock knock

Then the knock he’d been so impatiently awaiting finally arrives, without a moment’s hesitation the man runs hurriedly to the door toppling a few paper towers but not slowing a step. (This is prose at best. At worst it’s a mega-super moving panel. I’d say this is at least three panels.)(And again with the sound coming before the panel descriptions. I feel the need to drink. Who’s got the whiskey?)

Panel 2: Arriving at the door before the disrupted leaves of parchment reach the floor (What?) the man jerks open the front door leaving the security chain engaged allowing for an opening of only several inches. (Where did this chain come from?)(It’s magically delicious!)

Panel 3:

The man presses the left side of his face into the gap extending a single hand full of sweaty crumpled hundred dollar bills into the hallway. (We’re going to have to be in the hallway to see this, so we should see who knocked on the door.) (Where did the money come from? That’s magically delicious, too.)

Panel 4: The man (Again, any specifics? This is your story.) in the hallway dressed in a fancy and obviously very expensive gray pin striped suit takes the moist crinkled pile of money from the other man’s outstretched hand. (Expressions?)(Expressions depend on where the camera is. I’d love to see an expression, but I can also see the camera being low enough not to see faces.)



He mutters in response to the grotesque state of the currency. (This IS prose.)(‘SPLODE!!!) (Oh! And the Line of Demarcation, too. Just to make it official.)

Panel 5: As he silently begins to count the money, unwrapping each wrinkled wad one by one the entire time keeping his eyes concealed behind a pair of white framed sunglasses. (More prose. Also, those glasses have just popped in. We should’ve seen them a panel ago.)(Is this offal, or awful? Or is this one and the same in this case?)


It’s all there (Comma.) bro.

The occupant of the apartment states beckoning with his fingers eagerly signally for his guest to give him whatever it was he has been waiting for. (Prose hat-trick!)

It’s becoming clear now. You’re a novelist of some sort. You probably began your writing career in prose, at the very least. The problem here is that you’re still in that mindset. This isn’t writing for comics.

Additionally, your dialogue seem to be occurring in the middle of panel descriptions. That’s just confusing.

So, with the Line of Demarcation set and we all know this is crap, we can sit back and relax, right?

It’s really simple. Brian didn’t do his homework. I honestly don’t know if he even picked up a script from anywhere before he decided to write a comic script. I’m not seeing a fundamental understanding of what a comic script needs to succeed, outside of the flawed format. Understanding that a format is needed is one thing. Not understanding how that format is used is another.

I’ve dabbled in some screenwriting. Nothing to write home about. I have an idea that I think would make a decent movie. Not a blockbuster, but it could probably go direct to video. I could live with that.

In that dabbling, I went and studied some screenplays. I wanted to make sure I was doing it right (or as right as could be) before I went and showed it to people. I even bought a couple of books on the subject, read them, and applied what I learned.

That level of study isn’t evident here. I’d call that a Level 3. This would be a Level 1, only because there’s something of a format. I’d go lower, but I try being fair.

The pacing here is horrible. We’re 2 pages in, and really, nothing has happened. This could be condensed into a single page: pacing, checking the time/calls, and then the knock, opening the door, and seeing who it is. All of that can be shown, and possibly add some mystery. Who is this guy? What does he want? Is he the person the other one was waiting for? It would work even better if he said something cryptic.

Lastly, the magically delicious stuff. Like I said before, things have to be described as soon as possible. The chain on the door, the money, the shades…these things just appear out of nowhere, and they should have been described before they were.

Let’s see where Liam stops, shall we?

(Page break.)

Midnight, Issue 1 – Brian Sanford – Pg. 3 [Five Panels]

Panel 1: As the man in the suit unwraps the last crumpled bill, the man inside again interjects. (Interjects against what? He wasn’t saying or doing anything.)


See like I said (Comma.) it’s all there. (Comma-fail. There should be another one after see . Or, a comma after see , and a period or an ellipsis after said .)

Panel 2: The man in the suit folds the pile of bills neatly in half and slips them into an interior pocket on the inside left of his jacket. (I can see this, but it’s still technically a moving panel.)(Remember, folks: as soon as you’re writing an action and use the word and , you’ve more than likely written a moving panel. Just like this one.)

Panel 3: He removes his hand from his pocket now holding a small plastic zip locked bag, containing a single black capsule. (Again, this can be drawn. It’s just written like a moving panel.)


Aw yeah, there it is (Stop.) hand it over.

The man inside the apartment instructs trembling with anticipation. (No. Prose this be.)

Panel 4:


Here ya go.

The man in the hall speaks his tone is cold and unsympathetic to the other man’s pronounced sense of urgency as he places the small bag in the shaky outstretched hand of his client. (Grargh! How can any of this be drawn? Actually, the last bit can, to be fair. But still. Grargh!)

Panel 5:


Thanks (Stop.) bye.

The man snaps slamming the door shut and ending the hurried exchange. (Huh?)


Ugh, so rude.

He responds shaking his head. (How do we see both of them when the door is shut? This hurts me in the mind.)

We seem to be descending into some kind of Lovecraftian nightmare, because this is getting worse and worse. It did resemble something of a comic script at the start, but now it’s just some horrific union of prose and script.

Have you ever felt hate coming off the page and just directed at you? I don’t mean menace. I don’t mean threat. I mean hate. Like criminals hate child molesters. Like vampires hate the sun. Like fat kids hate healthy foods.

That’s what I’m feeling right now. I’m feeling the hate, and it’s directed squarely at me.

It’s in the form of misused punctuation. It’s in the form of run-on sentences. And it’s aimed directly at my brain.

I don’t understand. You want to be a writer, right? How hard is it to learn punctuation? It boggles my mind. It’s like beautiful women who are bitches. Why can’t you be as beautiful inside as you are outside? Or television food. My Big Mac doesn’t look as good in real life as it does on tv. Truth in advertising! Free James Brown! Free James Brown! Free James–


This is bad. I’m allowed tangents and flights of fancy when things are bad.

Like the rest of you, I’m just waiting for Liam to stop, because it’s obvious there isn’t much story here. This is padded out. I’m surprised there’s no splash page.

(Page break.)

Midnight, Issue 1 – Brian Sanford – Pg. 4 [Four Panels]

Panel 1: Inside the dingy apartment the man fumbles with the tiny bag trying to extract the capsule, the trembling in his hands increases with the growing anxiety. (This will not look good in a static panel. Trembling, shaking or other small movements rarely do.)

Panel 2: He grabs an already open energy drink from atop the TV. (Pop-in energy drink we should’ve seen earlier.)

Panel 3: Then sitting in the lawn chair he places the capsule in his mouth and swigs the stale beverage. (This is two panels. We need to see him put the pill in his gob.)

Panel 4:



The man exhales deeply finally letting go of his frantic state as he sinks back into the plastic straps of the chair.

I’ve got nothing to say. Well, nothing new to say. I’m still waiting for the reason we’re still reading this.

(Page break.)

Midnight, Issue 1 – Brian Sanford – Pg. 5 [Three panels]

Panel 1:



The man gasps gripping the tiny arm rests and thrusting his body against the back of the lawn chair. (Is he in pain? I’m getting that from this panel, but you haven’t explicitly stated it.)

Panel 2: His teeth clenched tightly as his pupils dilate swelling the size of pennies.


My name is Kaden Cross and I’m a drug addict. (Where did this come from? You can’t just abruptly start an internal monologue. We should’ve been included on this much earlier.)

Panel 3: Then everything goes black.

Finally, we have some small inkling of story. It’s a shame that this is still uninteresting. Being a drug addict isn’t really all that interesting. It’s the impact it has on somebody’s life and those around them that’s interesting; the conflict it creates, internally and externally. Show us that.

So far, this is just a waste of five pages, and your panel descriptions are so prosaic as to be near useless to an artist.

Who here has ever had a headache?

Now, who’s ever taken a pill for that headache?

How fast did that pill work?

‘Nuff said.

(Page break.)

Midnight, Issue 1 – Brian Sanford – Pg. 6 [One Panel](Splash page. Did I call it or what? And no, I didn’t look ahead.)

Panel 1: Kaden comes to but (Be?) somewhere else, now dressed in a ridiculously expensive high end black dress shirt with epaulettes on the shoulders and an intentionally faded white skull on each breast, the top three or four buttons are undone exposing the white tank top beneath. He wears a cryptic and ancient looking amulet dangling from a thick chain around his neck his eyes are hidden behind huge gaudy aviator sunglasses, as he sits atop a massive throne lined with hand carved skulls twisting around the frame of the gorgeous deep cherry wood. (Where is this?)


As I was saying I am a drug addict but we’re not talking pain pills or needles here, oh no this is something else. (Punctuation here is atrocious.)

This is Destiny.

The best thing about this splash page is that it’s on the correct side of the book.

This is trash. Pure and simple. I’m actually quite annoyed. That or The Proving Grounds has finally broken me. A lot of the scripts have the same issues in common. Most of these could be avoided with time and effort on the writers part (there’s a difference between inability and lack of effort). You don’t even have to leave the site. Comixtribe holds a wealth of knowledge. I hope you don’t think I’m picking on you in particular. This script just exemplifies my issues with some of the work that comes through here. I keep retreading the same technical errors over and over, when I could be actually critiquing the story, or playing The Witcher III, or reading a good book, or contemplating my meaningless existence. Anyway, rant over.

You put in the intro to your script that the artist should take this as a guide and overrule if they can do better. Reading it back now, it seems like a disclaimer of sorts. This isn’t comic script writing. This is prose. You need to do more research. Go and learn how to write for comics and resubmit.

Liam has stopped! That means I can, too! Let’s run this crap down so it can be flushed!

Format: There’s no Flawless Victory here. The lack of page breaks and not knowing which way the elements of a script are supposed to go, along with breaking up panel descriptions with dialogue…all un-good. Format is easy, folks. Format is the easiest part of comic scripting.

Panel Descriptions: Woefully inadequate in multiple ways.

First, most of these are moving panels. Learn to write in static images.

Don’t break the panel description up with dialogue. Doing that means you’re actually writing two panels. Why? Because you’re more than likely writing at least two actions, and a comic panel can generally only hold one action at a time.

They don’t hold enough information at the correct times. The items that just suddenly appear? That’s what I call magically delicious. It isn’t a good thing. Things should be described as fully as necessary as early as possible. The adage about the gun on the mantle shown in act one has to be fired by act three? Well, you can’t show the gun in act three and fire it and have it have the same impact. It has to be shown in act one. That same logic has to be applied to scripting.

Pacing: We got through six pages, but really, there’s about three pages of story here. Most of this is padded out, and can be condensed. If this were condensed, this could be more interesting.

Dialogue: Okay, first things first.

Dialogue in comic scripts generally don’t need quotation marks. Those are for when you are quoting someone, which happens very rarely, or when you have a voice-over caption. This isn’t prose. Putting them in makes more work for the letterer, who has to take them out.

Second, punctuation.

Very simply, learn to use it. I’m not an English teacher. Go learn.

Content: As a reader, I’d wonder why you took so long to get to the point. I also would wonder where you learned to write, because this is bad.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite…after you learned to write for comics. Right now, you don’t, and it shows.

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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