TPG Week 249: Disconnected

| October 2, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another instalment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have another entry from Solomon Steen. We also have Liam Hayes on the mic in blue, we have Ryan Kroboth on the turntables, and I’m the guy behind the curtain, pulling strings and yelling at everyone who comes too close (which is everyone).

Anyway, let’s see what Solomon has with


Yes, this came in at a font size of 10. I’m really starting to feel unloved…

Asmahan A dimunitive 13-year-old Bantu bard, she has twelve fingers and a round baby face. She wears a short white sarong and carries a long ney (link.)

Malik A 15-year-old Somali blood mage, he is lean and wiry, of average height, with scars up and down his arms. He wears a red kilt and carries a kris (link.)

Da Ge A strapping 16-year-old Hui marksman, clad in light leather and metal armor (link) (link) (link), he carries both a musket and a long bow & quiver.

Sayyid An giant, four-armed, Somali warrior with a mighty beard, he wears a white lungi (link) and wields a pair of swords.

Just like to point out your link references in the character descriptions. Good stuff. You’ve saved your artist time by doing some of the legwork.


1.1 Out in the wild (link): (That link isn’t working for me, so I’m just going to presume the scene is set well. I’m nice like that.) Asmahan, Malik, and Da Ge sit exhausted around a fresh kill: an amalgam rhino-smilodon (link.) The animal has armor hide covering pound upon pound of agile muscle; the body is covered in puncture wounds. Malik is sitting next to the beast, penseive, (Pensive) the last of its blood arcing onto him. Asmahan is bandaging Da Ge’s forearm.

Sayyid [Off Panel] We’ve finally found our little miss’s talent.

1.2 Sayyid is holding the beast by its horn with his upper left hand; the sun is setting behind him, making him appear even larger. He’s smiling at Asmahan, who is off panel. (Having this guy appear from off-panel in the first two panels is just confusing. We’re barely into the scene for you be having people enter it. No, establish him as being on-panel in page one.)

Sayyid Bait.

1.3 Asmahan has furrowed her brow, tightened her lips and the bandage. Da Ge is smirking. Sayyid towers over them.

Sayyid Next test: who can tell me how far back to Luma?

1.4 Da Ge gestures in the direction of the unseen city with his free hand, eager to help.

Da Ge Back on the road – two days. Cutting through the White Forest – not even half that.

1.5 Sayyid has ripped the horn off of the beast by tossing it over his shoulder. The beast is still in the air, beginning the descent arc; the horn is still in his hand.

Sayyid Mr. One-Shot-in-Ten feels bored? Crawl before you run.

Title Nocturne

I am kinda lost already. I feel like this story has started too late. Also, none of the dialogue seems to flow. I have no idea who Sayyid is talking about, or why.

P1 is down!

I’m almost interested. I don’t know if the story started too late, but I do know that the end of the page doesn’t give any real reason for the reader to continue on to the next except as habit. Like Liam said, the last panel is confusing. Even worse: because nothing is really established, we don’t care.

Links: I’m a fan of them (when they work). I did a story once where the artist asked me to do some research on items he needed to make the story look good. It was nice, doing that. It was fun, too, because the things I gave would have a direct impact on the story.

The links here, if they work for the artist, would have a direct impact on the story. It’s fun. It’s good. I’m a fan, as I said.

This page isn’t bad. Like I said, I’m almost interested. It would be better if something of interest actually happened, but (and I hate to say this), this is Solomon. I’m expecting to have to set the Line of Demarcation before this is over.

So it’s more than likely coming. Just don’t know exactly when.

(Page breaks. By the editing gods, I’m so bored of typing that.)(Now, imagine saying it for years…)


2.1 Night in the wild: the group is gathered around the campfire. The group has a 4-humped 6-legged camel, carrying their collected cargo. (Which is?) Everyone is asleep, (On what? The ground? Makeshift beds? I’d just go with ground since you didn’t specify.) save Sayyid, who is sitting with his back to the fire, facing out into the darkness.


2.2 Sayyid is staring directly through the camouflaged (link) head of giant serpent. (What? Is this a panel description or just a random statement?) (How can we tell he’s staring through anything? I don’t even know what this looks like. Paging Mr. Kroboth. Mr. Ryan Kroboth. Please pick up the white courtesy phone.)


2.3 The monster appears in front of him, its mouth open, spitting a viscous substance directly into his face. (Lazy. The monster just turns up and Sayyid isn’t even described.)


2.4 The students all rise from where they had been sleeping: Asmahan is already on her feet, though still hunched over; Da Ge is pushing himself up with his good arm; Malik’s scrambling to get up.

Sayyid [Off panel] Oohrah!

2.5 The four are facing off against the animal: Asmahan playing her flute, Malik stabbing it in the side, Da Ge with bow drawn, and Sayyid on top of its head striking down. (Needs more. Like expressions, camera angle and character placement. So nearly everything.)

Asmahan ?? ?? (I’m not a fan of this. This isn’t dialogue. This reads more like manga, and if you ask anyone who knows me, I’m not a fan of manga. It just doesn’t do anything for me.)

And now there’s a snake monster. This isn’t me being sarcastic. That’s what the plot is so far. There was a dead rhino and now there is a snake monster. That’s all the reader has so far.

P2 is down, and we have a teleporting snake.

Let me say that again: teleporting snake.

The snake just appears. It doesn’t have any context to it, except that there it is. And then the improbable happens…

The person who’s supposed to be taking first watch (I assume it’s first watch) doesn’t do anything except allow himself to get venom in his eyes.

I’m guessing the sound of the snake spitting its venom woke everyone up. Fine. But someone getting up to play a flute? (And why is it the girl?)

Meh. This page isn’t bad. It isn’t good, but it isn’t bad. It just needs to have a frame of reference.

Speaking of which, here’s what happens: people are around the fire, tending to stuff with some conversation, and then they’re all in bed the very next page. There’s no winding down, there’s no talking as they lie there; they’re just in bed, and then they’re attacked.

Can anyone else feel the LoD coming closer?


3.1 Night in the wild: The three men are riding the camel, tied to it so that they don’t fall. Asmahan is holding the animal’s lead with one hand, and a torch with the other. (Wait. What? When did this happen? Know what? Line of Demarcation.)


3.2 The three men are feverish, shivering, and slick with the serpent’s spit.


3.3 Asmahan is looking back and up at them, appropriately anxious about their condition.


3.4 She leads the camel into the White Forest. It is as though a primeval Amazon erupted from the dry earth; giant fungi (link) grow (link) on (link) and around (link) the trees, some tall (link) enough to reach to the canopy.


Is any of this related? Or is this just random events happening with no cause and effect. Either way, zero story has happened yet. Dead rhino, random snake, camel ride. That’s what we have.

P3, and this is crap.

It’s been said, and we all feel better now, so we can sit back and relax and just get the rest of this out of our systems so we can go about our day.

I don’t know what happened. Someone got shot with snake venom, and then then we have no idea what happens to the snake, how any of them escape, how they get on a camel, or where they’re going.

So, yeah. I have no idea what’s going on here. There’s at least a page missing. Maybe two, if you want to see them in action. I could even see five pages if the snake was a special enough threat, but to go from one thing to another without even so much as a by your leave ? No. This isn’t good. This is crap.

Worse, this reeks of not understanding basic fundamentals of storytelling.

Have you ever watched an old movie, and you can see the cut/jump in the action where you know something was supposed to be but is no longer there? That’s exactly what seems to have happened here. But you can’t do that in comics. (Well, you can, to deleterious effect, unless it’s on purpose, which this isn’t.)

This page isn’t padding, it’s just not really connected to the story. It has no context.

It doesn’t really seem like any of this has context. They’re just loosely connected happenings. I can’t even really call them actions. And that’s terrible.

I don’t have anything good to say here. Spelling and punctuation? That’s supposed to be correct. I don’t give kudos just for showing up.

(I got excited then, because I thought there was a page break. But it was the one I put in earlier. Damn. This is what I’ve been reduced to. Are you happy with yourselves?)


4.1 Deep in the White Forest: Asmahan sits at the edge of a small pond. She is clutching her flute, staring at a rustling in the bushes. Her torch is stabbed into the ground. Her compatriots lay on the ground behind her. The camel lays beside, dead. (More. What are her compatriots doing? Why is the camel dead?)

SFX shksh

4.2 The rustling was a wild donkey. (Really? How about turning that information into an actual drawable panel description instead of this lazy fuck it approach you’re taking.) It now drinks from the pool. Asmahan has relaxed. (if there’s a rustling in the underbrush, and then there’s a donkey drinking from the pool, that means there’s teleportation going on.)


4.3 Asmahan has almost fallen flat on her back, and stares at the animal (off-panel) wide-eyed. She holds herself up with one arm.

Donkey [Off panel] Lost little one.

4.4 The animal is sitting like a human: one leg folded underneath it, the other bent at the knee; (I’m struggling to picture this. Probably for the better.) one ‘hand’ gesturing at the forest, the other supporting its chin. (I got it. The donkey is taking a knee. At least, that’s how I’m seeing it.)

Donkey Their end is written.

Will you join them here? (I hate this. This, I’m guessing, is supposed to be a second balloon. This, to me, is lazy. Labeling the elements isn’t difficult.)

4.5 Reflected in the eye of the Donkey: Asmahan is awestruck.

Donkey The forest nights are cold. Make for me a coat of their skins.

4.6The torchlight dances in the creature’s eye.

Donkey And I will deliver you.

Well, it’s still awful, but it just got a hell of a lot more interesting. Something is happening at least, even if it is the acid-induced fever-dream of donkey sanctuary worker. I can work with that.

P4, and really, it hasn’t gotten better.

Why did they stop? Why is the camel dead? Why aren’t they dead yet alongside the camel? Why haven’t any of these characters been named in a place where the reader can see it? How did they get down from the camel? How are they arranged? Why is the donkey talking? Why is the donkey asking for skins? Why is this story so hard to follow?

I wonder if Chewbacca sheds. I mean, he’s got a LOT of fur. Does he shed? When? Does he get a thicker undercoat at certain times of the year, that then falls out at other times of the year? Does he get groomed regularly? What about when he gets wet? And how did he get so good with mechanical things.

Reminds me of the book The Mote in God’s Eye, as well as its sequel, The Gripping Hand. The Mote is about earthlings finding an alien planet with beings that basically go through cycles of technical evolution that always ends up with them creating nuclear weapons and then bombing themselves back to the stone age. The planet also had these squirrel-like things that were very, very good with mechanics.

What does this have to do with anything?

Not a damned thing. Just like this story.


5.1 Sunrise in the White Forest: dew drips from leaves and sun beams pierce the canopy.


5.2 The edge of the forest yields to the typical dry brush, and finally, the stone wall of the city.


5.3 Asmahan has emerged from the forest playing her music.

Asmahan ? ? ?

5.4 She looks back into the forest as the Donkey exits. The Donkey is carrying Sayyid and the boys on her back.

Asmahan ? ? ?

5.5 The animal’s face is blank, but the notes from the song are clear in its eyes.


Ah, so the talking donkey had no effect on anything either.

Oh, and now it’s over. Well, Steven has probably called it by now (And how, buddy!). I believe we have breached the Forbes Faecal Thresholdâ„¢. There is nothing here but random, unconnected, barely-described actions. At best guess I’d say this was a first draft, and you just pantsed this onto the page without thought to where you are going and/or why. That’s fine. That’s a valid way of writing. Sometimes you have to write the story to know the story. And then that shitty first draft (also know as the zero draft) becomes an outline of sorts for the next hundred drafts or so. Just never show it anybody (and whatever you do, don’t have it publicly critiqued). Hell, my public first drafts are actually my private fourth or fifth drafts. Just don’t tell anybody I said that.


Liam’s done, I’m done, we’re all done, so let’s run this down.

Format: No page breaks? Can’t give the Flawless Victory. Which is really a shame, too. I liked giving it last week. Felt like an old friend that’s been gone too long. Le sigh…

Panel Descriptions: These need only a little bit of work. These can mostly be drawn. That isn’t the problem with this piece at all.

Pacing: Just like last time around, there is no pacing here. This is actually worse because not only does nothing happen, the story has absolutely no point at all.

If this were an exercise, I don’t see the point of it. (Unless, of course, it’s to see how far we can push Liam and myself toward insanity.) There are too many unexplained things here to say that there’s anything resembling pacing. These pages connect only tenuously. There’s more connection between the platypus and an ostrich than there is between these pages, and that’s saying something.

Again, learn how to tell a story within the medium.

Dialogue: There isn’t a lot of it here. What’s here is easy to read…until you try to make sense of it. Then it kinda goes out the window.

Ever try to converse with a zealot? They sound rational on the surface…until you start to think about their words. Then things start coming apart. Same thing here.

Finally, what’s with the question marks? Again, it seems very manga-esque, and I’m not a manga fan. (Don’t judge me!) If this was supposed to be manga, that may be why I just don’t get it. (This is me, trying to give you a way out.) Otherwise, I don’t recommend just question marks for dialogue.

Content: Indubitably, this is crap. As a reader, it makes me want to do violence upon my fellow man. This is never a good thing. Neither is this piece.

Editorially, this needs a re-think before a rewrite. The first thing to figure out is what the story is about, then you need to figure out how you want the audience to feel after reading it. Once you have a game plan, then it’s about execution. Right now, this is just disconnected crap. Eggs in a carton: they’re all in the same container, but they’re all in their own world. The only way these pages could be more disconnected is if there were someone new on each page. Rethink before rewrite.

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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