TPG Week 241: More Study, Blah Blah Blah

| August 7, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a new Brave One in Raoul Ricca. It’s going to be all me this week—Liam had some other things to attend to, so you’re going to see me cry, vent, rage, and rock silently in the corner, all at once! (Maybe not.) Anyway, we’re all going to see what Raoul has to say for himself with

23rd Century bar fight

Page 1

Panel 1 (The panel numbers are centered, as are the page numbers. I don’t mind it overmuch. It isn’t wrong. It just has to be consistent. I’m good with this, as long as it’s consistent.)

Establishing shot of a white dome in a snowy field, with a red sky on the background. On the top of the building is written, in blue holographic letters, Jack Lonesome’s Dinner (First, I should quit right here. P1, panel 1, and there’s no ending punctuation. I should pull out an uzi and shoot myself repeatedly in the ear with it. A period. I’m trying to breathe through it, but COME ON!!!!!! GRRRAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! FORBES SMASH!!!!!!

(Ahem. Sorry. Okay. No ending punctuation. Let’s get a little further and see if there’s any more before I—I SHOULD QUIT RIGHT NOW!!!!!—before I lose all composure.

(The next thing is the spelling. Dinner is what you sit down to eat. You sit down to eat your dinner. Diner is a place you go to sit and eat. You can eat your dinner in a diner. Simple spelling mistake that the grammar check found, but the writer ignored. Third (maybe 2.5), there could be a letterer’s note for the signage.)

Caption: Somewhere, in the Frozen wastes of the Broken Earth. (I have no idea why frozen is capitalized here. It doesn’t matter anyway since the letterer will more than likely use an all-caps font, but still Also, I don’t know why the dialogue headings aren’t centered like the panel description headings. But again, as long as it’s consistent, I’m good.)

Panel 2

Inside the building, close up down shot of an old man (Cuckoo), bald, with a red scarf around the neck and a brown shirt, sleeping on the rocky ground. He has a long beard and a broken chain tattooed on his forehead. (This is very vague. What does the interior look like? I could say that it’s full of stars (Captain Kirk, Captain Caveman, Birdman, Blue Falcon, the Smurfs ) and no one can say that I’m wrong. Because I’m not. And I could all say they’re doing the Batusi. Naked. With totem poles. Because this is vague. If you do a proper description of what the surroundings are, then the artist won’t have to ask what they’re supposed to draw.)

Panel 3

Medium shot of a skinny man in his thirties (Lockjaw) at a round table, opening a dead lizard with a knife. He is shirtless, hairless, with a big metal prosthetic Jaw, blue sunglasses lens instead of eyes and black heavy gloves. he doesn’t give any kind of expression or emotion. (I have no idea where this individual is placed in relation to anything or anyone else.)

Panel 4

Medium shot, from their right profile (Who’s right profile?), of a young, angry and sneering, woman (Moira) on the counter, turning a black bottle upside down, splashing the brown liquid on it, while the Barman looks tired, ignoring her (I just read down. This is a lie.). The woman has a thin face, long blonde hair, a long red parka, knives, hooks and cleavers hanging from her belt to her military trousers. The barman is a huge and tall man, almost seven feet, dressed with a long leather jacket, with short black hair, without his right arm and with a black patch on his left eye. (If these are recurring characters, why are we getting their descriptions here? They should be in a separate document for the artist, because they’re going to draw the designs before they ever start the sequentials. Anyway, what is this guy doing? )

Moira: is this what I paid for? Are you serious? I drank piss tastier than this! Where’s the good stuff!? (Why is there no capitalization after the colon?)

Barman: this is what you get. You still owe me at least one hundred bucks, one eye and one arm. (If he’s ignoring her, why is he talking to her? This is why the panel description is a lie.)

Moira: are you acting smart now, Mr. smarty pants? Remember that I can still take something lower and shorter than an arm.

Barman: you know what? Try me, I really want to see if I will be the one to lose something at the end of the day

Moira: the hell do you mean? (Five. There are five instances of back-and-forth in this panel, and the panel description doesn’t support this much dialogue. The panel description should reflect the last thing said. This reflects the first thing said. I’m tempted to set the Line of Demarcation right here, but I won’t. Let’s see what else is wrong first. I’d like to get off the first page if I can.)

Panel 5

Big close up of Cuckoo face, talking, even if his mouth isn’t moving. (I have no idea what this means. This is a static medium.)

Cuckoo: still arguing? (Capitalization!!!!!!)

Panel 6

Medium shot of Lockjaw, putting the lizard inside his enormous jaw.

Lockjaw: shtill ahuin.

P1 is down, and what do we have?

Panel descriptions that are really anything but. They aren’t doing much to set the scene, or to give the artist a decent idea of what the interior of the location looks like.

We’ve also got a case of uninteresting pacing. There’s nothing going on here that is engaging, let alone makes the reader want to turn the page. This is just bad storytelling.

Let’s talk about Time for just a bit, because as writers, we are the masters of it.

A panel is nothing more than a moment of Time, encapsulated. It is determined by the size of the panel border first and foremost. The larger the panel, the more Time is inside it, and the smaller the panel, the less Time. Simple, right?

Now, if you want to add Time to a panel, you have to add sound . You add sound by adding dialogue. (For my purpose here, anything that is not signage is dialogue: captions, sound effects, thought balloons, and regular dialogue.) When you add words to a panel, you are adding Time to the panel—without adding more space to the panel.

All of that is pretty simple once you really think about it.

Now, there’s one last trick having to deal with an aspect of Time, and that’s timing. Timing means something cannot happen before something else, or an action would have greater impact if something else happened before it—whether it be a silent beat of waiting or something else. (If you really want to learn more about timing and its effects, watch comedy: either stand up or films.)

When it comes to comics, though, you have to remember you’re dealing with a static medium: the images don’t move. Since the images don’t move, you have to incorporate Time with timing along with the still image. This means that in order for things to make sense, the action of the panel has to match the last thing said.

Here’s what happens: the mind will fill in the blanks of what’s being said by the character and their actions, and will catch up to the action in the panel and the last thing said, and that will end that panel.

If your panel description has someone pouring a drink over someone’s head, the dialogue in that panel has to lead up to that action, and the last thing said could be something like Have a drink on me. That’s fine. The 20 seconds or so before when the person was talking culminates in that action and that verbiage.

Now if you take the same panel, but you start the dialogue off with Have a drink on me, and the panel shows the drink being poured on the head, to have the character then talk about something for the next 20 seconds (like it does here) is bad because you’re not building toward an ending. The reader sees the action, but doesn’t know where the action stops.

Learn this, because it is vitally important. You can’t tell a viable story without understanding this. Go read some comics, and pay special attention to the timing: characters saying multiple things in a single panel, and what the final thing said is, as well as the action of the panel. Any book from any of the Big 5 publishers. (If you go someplace like Comixology Submit, the books there are of dubious quality at best.)

Page 2 (There’s no page breaks, and I have no idea why. I do know that there’s no Flawless Victory here, though. So at least I know something.)

Panel 1

Low angle big close up of a little dreamcatcher, with six bells on it, ringing while the wind from the doorway moves its strings. (How can we tell what’s going on here? Why are we here? Have we changed locations? Are we still in the dinner ? If we are, this is why an establishing shot would have been nice: I would know exactly where we’re at now instead of having to guess.)

SFX: RING! (light yellow color, for each bell).

Panel 2

The second panel it’s just an ensemble of extreme close ups of the eyes from the people in the bar. Cuckoo’eyes are closed, Lockjaw’s eyes are just the lens, Moira’s green eyes are wide open and with dilated pupils, while the bartender blue eye maintains its numbness.

Panel 3

Medium shot of the Bar doorway, from the counter. Moira, the nearest to the camera (A character is placed! Too bad no one else is.), is grabbing her Cleaver on her left side, Lockjaw is standing armed with his knife, while Cuckoo stand up, bending completely backwards his back (I have no idea what the last part of this sentence means.). From the Doorway, the outline of a man with a long jacket can be seen, with two red luminescent eyes and three red dots in his chest. (Are these dots glowing? Can we really see all of these people here? Ryan Kroboth: can you give us a thumbnail sketch of this panel? I’m having the distinct feeling this cannot be drawn without some major assumptions from the artist.)

Panel 4

Big close up of a metal and mechanical blue right boot, stepping heavily inside the bar.

SFX, from the foot: THUD! (Blue colored with an orange tint).

Panel 5

Medium upshot of a humanoid robot (Giger), dressed with only a long jacket. He has a heavy light blue armor, where some artificial muscles and tendons can be seen. He has no lips nor nose, only a mouth and two red glowing eyes. On his neck he has two rubber pipes connected to his chest, with a red glowing liquid in them. (More descriptions that don’t belong here. How is he standing? Is he menacing at all? Why are we looking at him? Why is everything so quiet? Why do I feel like I’m talking in a whisper? Wouldn’t conversational tones do just as well?)

Panel 6

Close up of Cuckoo, with his mouth still, while a piece of Giger’s jacket can be seen, moved by the wind. (I don’t think this is possible. You’re asking for a closeup of a character, but you’ve already stated that the unnamed female character is closest to this newcomer. Is this jacket like Spawn’s cape?)

Cuckoo: Fascist war machine

P2, and this gets worse as we continue on.

A robot walks into a bar That’s it. That’s what happens on this page. ‘Bot walks in, people stop and look. It could almost be an E.F. Hutton commercial. (I’ve just dated myself, and I don’t care.)

Again, there’s nothing interesting to have the reader turn the page. It’s pretty terrible.

Why is this page virtually silent? Missed opportunities. Know what? I’m just going to set the Line of Demarcation right here. This is crap. See? Now it’s official. We can all rest better now.

Why are things not placed here? The characters are literally in a white void, and they have no spatial relationship with one another. The artist cannot function this way. If you can’t think visually enough to give even the crudest information and setup to your creative team, how do you expect them to do their jobs?

Page 3

Panel 1

Medium frontal shot of Giger, at the counter, putting, violently, a little brown bag (I have no idea what this sentence means.). Next to him , Moira has grabbed a long chain with blades on its rings, while Lockjaw is in the background, armed with his knife in the right hand. (Some of these things sound magically delicious.)

Giger: what for thirty grams of Dolls?

Barman: grams? Where the hell do you come from? (Where did he come from? He’s not in the panel description.)

Giger: it’s not important. What can I have for this quantity of money?

Panel 2

Upshot of the Barman grabbing the little bag, looking in its insides with his eye.

Barman: depends.

Giger: could you try to speak clearer?

Offscreen, Lockjaw: ish thish tshin can jhokin?

Giger: what if I need some food. Are those Dolls enough for you? (What if I needed a question mark at the end of a sentence?)

Barman: it still depends..

Giger: on what ? (Still too much back and forth in this panel. Remember, word balloons take up space. They take up more space than a caption, that’s for sure.)

Panel 3

Big close up of Giger struggling, with Moira’s bladed chain around his neck, grabbed by his left hand. Behind him, Moira has a big grin and wide open eyes.

Moira: depends if he wants to become a Gov dog!

Giger: I am not a governmental machine, neither some mercenary war puppet!

Moira: Lockjaw!

Panel 4

Wide shot of the three, Moira, Giger and Lockjaw. The first tightening the chain around Giger’s throat, dragging it to her. Lockjaw is twisting off some screws from his mechanical Jaw, letting it slightly loose from his mouth.

Moira: do you see that? That is what happens to the Gov dogs coming to the wastes and preaching about their fallen gods!

Giger: I am not one of their puppets!

Moira: Lockjaw: Hurry up!

Lockjaw: hish! hish! hish! (his balloon needs to be distorted and wobbly, like a child drawing)

Panel 5

Big frontal close up of Lockjaw, with his metal mandible hanging around, showing a series of screwdrivers with little sparks of electricity, while the upper teeth are just a single metal plate. On his eyes, the reflection of Giger’s head can be seen.

Lockjaw: Oeen wiiiiieed!

Panel 6

Extreme close up of Giger’s head crushed by Lockjaw’s mandible, while a red luminescent fluid squirts out from his neck.

This is crap. Let’s just run it down.

Format: No page breaks, no Flawless Victory for you. Format is easy, folks. A decent format will help your creative team. And all you have to do is be consistent. I give as much leeway as I can, but page breaks are essential.

Panel Descriptions: These are so vague as to be virtually useless. Not good when you’re an artist and you have to draw something that someone else has written. Draw me a dog could get you a miniature poodle, where if you said draw me a snarling Rhodesian ridgeback would get you a much different animal. Work on writing panel descriptions that both describe something and make sense. People, places, things, and actions. Characters have to perform actions in a location. They have to be placed within that location. And you have to remember that the panel description has to match the last thing said. If it doesn’t, then you either have to change the panel description or the last thing said.

Pacing: Terrible. Glacial. Nothing of consequence happens, then some jerk gets attacked by a mob and gets his head bitten off for his trouble. No real explanation given. Why did we read this? What’s the reasoning behind the actions? No clue.

Dialogue: There’s an attempt at a dialect here that I’m okay with. Other than that, the dialogue need a lot of work. None of these characters are named where the reader can see it. That’s why I’m calling them unnamed. There were opportunities in the dialogue to give names, but they were mostly unused. Only one character was named. It’s just not a good look.

Content: As a reader, I’d be upset in reading this. Sure, it’s only 3 pages so far, but still, they were three badly written pages. It’s crap.

Editorially, this needs to be completely rewritten, but first, attention has to be paid to how to actually write comics. It’s mostly there, but that’s mostly format. When panel descriptions are vague, dialogue doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, as well as just being badly paced and uninteresting putting more effort into learning how to write for comics would be a great use of time.

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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