TPG Week 251: More of the Non-Sense

| October 16, 2015



Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we once again have Solomon Steen joining us! We also have Liam Hayes in blue, Ryan Kroboth with pencils, and I’m the guy gibbering and slobbering in the corner in red. Together, we’re all going to see just what Solomon has done as we take a look at


Just as an aside, this came in at a font size of 14! I’m feeling loved! Thank you, Solomon!

Staff 12 children ranging in age from 6-13: they are all dark-skinned amputees with gaily painted prostheses. They wear neo-Victorian uniforms1234 which include aprons, polished dress shoes, and ribbons for the long-haired children. (This already reeks of way too many characters.)

Ashley One of the staff, she is a blue black six-year-old with a keyhole-shaped coloboma5. She wears a standard uniform. She has no prostheses.

Ms. Boldt A 100-year-old Nicki Minaj, with a fashion sense strongly influenced by Yubaba6.

Page 1

Panel 1
Early-morning light pours in through the high windows of a busy neo-Victorian kitchen78. Everything – including the great stone oven, cast iron stoves, long wooden prep tables, and various implements9 – is scaled down to child size wherever possible; wherever not, there are stepladders and other conveniences to make the work manageable. The staff are hard at work at various preps stations. (Doing what exactly? You needn’t be specific, just give the artist something to go on. There’s a big difference, visually, from making cookies to prepping a roast turkey. If it doesn’t really matter what they’re doing, say so, but don’t expect to be able to call out specifics later on in the script.)(Liam, I love you right now. Just saying.)

Title Ashley
SFX Chk Chk Chk Chk (What’s that? Sounds like someone chopping. Nobody is chopping in that panel description.)(See? This is why I love you.)

Panel 2
An older girl is pulling ponderous (That word threw me for a second.) slabs of white butter from a dumbwaiter in the (western) wall. (The cardinal points don’t matter one whit. Rin, why is that?)

SFX Chk Chk Chk Chk
Older Girl The phyllo dough is ready? (Okay. I’m not a fan of the bolded element labels. I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m saying I’m not a fan of them. I’d much rather prefer a colon to separate the label from what follows it. Again, this isn’t wrong, and I’m not dinging him on it. This is my personal/editorial preference. If this were coming to me as a commissioned script, then I’d have the script come in the way I prefer it. Since it isn’t, I’m going to roll with it.)

Panel 3
Ashley, smiling playfully, is using a long peel to draw a pastry out from the (north) imposing stone oven. An anxious, small boy (Marcus) beside her is sliding a pastry in.

SFX Chk Chk Chk Chk
SFX Schf
SFX Schk
Ashley Keep up, keep up, kee– – (What’s with the dashes here? You only need two. Or one emdash.) (No em-dashes in dialogue. Double-dashes only. Let’s try to love the letterer whenever possible.)
Marcus Shut up!

Panel 4
An irritated older boy at a table across the room from Ashely (You’ve spelt your protagonist’s name wrong here.) is holding strange produce (like a Buddha’s Hand10, but fleshier) with his prosthetic hand. He is cutting it to a fine brunoise11 with his opposite (flesh) hand. He is focusing on his work in front of him. A dark presence (Boldt) lingers behind him.

SFX Chk Chk Chk Chk
Older Boy Ashley! Marcus! Quit mucking ar – –
Boldt (Off Panel) Good Moooooooorning! (Hm… I was seeing her as being on-panel. How else are we going to see the dark presence . I thought you were aiming for a silhouetted figure, but being needlessly poetic about it. Anyway, this isn’t a good beat. You want one panel of the figure, and then the good morning in another reveal panel. Else this has no rhythm.) (I was seeing the dark presence more like a shadow, personally. However, I also thought you were being needlessly wordy about it. Oh! I see now. The camera is in front of the nameless boy, not behind him. Yeah, silhouette…in a lit room. Not the best move. And I only saw it correctly after reading the next panel.)

Panel 5
The older boy, startled, has slid his knife through two of the knuckles on his prosthetic hand. Boldt is looking over the boy’s shoulder with a bemused expression.


(This is the panel you want that good morning line on. It’ll help with the silence on this panel, too.)

Panel 6
The fingers reattach themselves to the hand (ghost images). (No. You need more here. How do they reattach? Me thinks you need to detail the prostheses in greater detail before the script.) Boldt’s hand rests on the boy’s prosthetic wrist. He is intimidated: he is hanging his head and has hunched his shoulders. She is looking down at him with a disappointed expression.

SFX zszszs (What is this? You need to start labeling your SFX.)
Boldt Tsk, tsk. We must be careful with what we borrow.
Older Boy Yes, Ms. Boldt. (Break.) Apologies, Ms. Boldt. (Space out your dialogue a bit. It’s all clustered together and befuddles the eye.)

There are a few things wrong with this page. Mostly, your lack of a clear establishing shot. I realize you won’t be able to get everything into a panel one reveal–since you’re inside a room–but we should have seen Ashley at least. Likewise, the first two panels of action could be incorporated into panel one, since there is really nothing happening in it–and no dialogue. As you have panel one, it makes for a lackluster beginning.

P1 is down!

What we have here is relatively boring.

Do we absolutely need an establishing shot? No. I felt we got most of what we needed in panel 1. It did almost everything it needed to do. A bit vague before going into specifics, but it was okay. It would have been better to have gone back to panel 1 and given the specifics of what was happening in the other panels, then the other panels would basically have been a zoomed in description of the action. It would have saved some time and imagination.

So far, the only one named is Ms. Boldt. Is that what you were going for? Ashley isn’t named yet, but she’s the titular character. I hope she gets named before we reach the end. (I’m also hoping that the end is something worth reading. I don’t think anyone has forgotten the earlier submissions.)

Again, this page is boring. The pacing is off. Re-paneled, this is a seven-panel page. Easily.

What it needs, though, is a reason to turn the page. There isn’t one, except habit, and that’s a poor excuse for someone reading your book.

(A page break! There is hope.)

Page 2

Panel 1
In the kitchen: Ashley and the rest of the days waitstaff (6 children total) are lined up for inspection. Boldt wears a patrician (It’s an unusual lexicon you have. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes simplicity is the most effective means of communication.) expression as she appraises a stoic older girl. (I don’t know where any of these characters are. Boldt especially, isn’t placed.) (Ryan, could you do us a favor? Could you thumb out this panel…without using a dictionary or thesaurus? And then again after using one. Thanks.)

Boldt Have we prepared our team well this morning?
Older Girl Yes ma’am, Ms. Boldt! Everyone was exceptionally diligent.

Panel 2
Boldt rests her hand on Ashley’s head. Boldt‘s expression is unchanged. Ashley beams with enthusiasm.

Boldt The day’s specials are
Ashley The salmon tart and the pecan pie!
Boldt Good girl. Let us everyone follow Ashley’s example.

Panel 3
The front of the house: a modestly-sized neo-Victorian restaurant is filled with hardwood furniture; the round tables are covered with lacy tablecloths. Well-to-do families sit awaiting their servers. Some are already receiving their orders. At one table haphazardly covered with schoolbooks, an exuberant schoolchild in uniform discusses his order with his reserved mother.

Schoolchild I’m gonna get one with s’pistachios!
Mother Oh? That is how we make requests, is it? (What? I don’t get this line.) (I do. And unless there’s something special about these people, there isn’t anything here that’s pushing the story forward in a meaningful manner. Also, how old is this child?)

Panel 4
Ashley sets carefully plated pastries down at this table and receives appreciative responses. (We need to see her in the previous panel. Also, according to the dialogue they are off-panel, so how we can tell they are appreciative?)(I have no idea what appreciative looks like.)

Mother (Off Panel) Lovely.
Schoolchild (Off Panel) Finally! (Does this sound appreciative to anyone, or is it just me?)

Panel 5
Previous panel: (Huh? Do you mean same shot?) the pastries have been savagely decimated. Streaks of whipped cream and sauces mar the pages of an open schoolbook.

Schoolchild (Off Panel) Ugh, I could explode!
Mother (Off Panel) Well, you would not make any more of a mess than you already have.

Panel 6
Ashley busses the table as the mother and schoolchild relax. She fails to be discrete as she stretches her neck to peer at an open schoolbook as she works.


Like with your other scripts, there seems to be no sign of story. You have a world, a setting, a character, but they have yet to coalesce into a story.

P2 is on the books.

I’m still bored. I’m still waiting for something to happen. I’m still waiting for things to come together.

Technically, there isn’t that much wrong with this page, excepting for the fact that I’m bored. What I’m wanting is a reason to turn the page. Wiping the table and looking at the books isn’t reason enough, methinks. There are several reasons for this.

How old is Ashley? How much education has she gained? Why is she at this location at this point in time? Is she older or younger than the Augustus Gloop sitting at the table? That would give an indication as to why she’d be interested in the books on the table.

There really isn’t a point of reference for much here yet. I’m not feeling a Line of Demarcation, but I’m still not getting a direction as to where this story is going.

Yeah, let’s see what P3 does.

Page 3

Panel 1
Ashley sets a glass pot of tea down on a coaster on the table from the previous page. (Huh? Where did this pot of tea come from?)(It’s magically delicious!)

SFX tk

Panel 2
A customer (Boldt transformed into a young schoolgirl) (Huh? This is something you need to explain to the artist in greater detail. Don’t keep important information from them.) carrying a large plate walks towards Ashley purposefully. Ashley has drawn herself into the table, out of the customer’s way.

Customer Excuse me.
Ashley Sorry ma’am, lemme just–

Panel 3
Ashley smiles broadly. The customer waves (motion lines) at her plate, overburdened with pastries.

Customer Oh, you’re fine. This just that is too much for me. (Huh? I understand the gist, but the syntax is killing me a bit.)
Ashley Oh, no trouble, ma’am. If you just ask your server —

Panel 4
The customer proffers a piece of turkish delight12. Ashley attempts to placate the customer with a polite smile.

Customer Oh, but I would not want it to go to waste. Care for a bite? (What kind of customer does that? They’ve just crossed several social borders in fell swoop. I’d be suspicious right off the bat. In fact, it’s the customer who is in the wrong here.) (It’s like there’s a pathology here, Solomon. There’s always a point where your stories go off the rails. This is it, right here.)

Ashley Thank you, so very much, ma’am, but I can’t.

Panel 5
Ashley holds up her dirty hand to illustrate her point. Her smile has faded. The customer is irate.

Customer Can you not clean yourself?

Panel 6
The scene has attracted the attention of a pair of Ashley’s coworkers. They watch apprehensively. The customer is leaning aggressively towards Ashley, her free hand folded against her hip.

Ashley Ma’am, I did’n mean t–
Customer How can you not let someone do something nice for you? (What? Is this human dialogue anymore?)

Panel 7
Ashley is desperately rubbing her hand on her apron.

Customer You don’t have make up an excuse, if you want to be rude
Ashley Ma’am, I…

Panel 8
Ashley takes the piece. (I hate eight-panel pages. Just so that everyone unequivocally knows it: I hate eight-panel pages. Go seven, or go nine. Don’t do eight when you can avoid it.)

Ashley I’m sorry, ma’am. Don’t be sad. Please.

What the hell is going on? The dialogue is stilted beyond belief and so are the behaviors of the characters. And I’m still waiting for a story to begin. There’s no point in carrying on really. This only gets worse. Nothing makes sense, there’s no context for any of it. Once again, you’re not considering the reader.

Okay. Liam stopped, but I had to continue. I had to see what happens. Not because I was curious from a storytelling perspective, but from an editorial one. I wanted to see if this actually turns into crap, and if Solomon had really learned anything.

He hasn’t.

The story ends like this: Ashley takes a bite of the pastry, and tries not to puke. At the same time, a PCP-like experience happens where the customer turns into Boldt, and Ashely’s tongue turns into a gargantuan tentacle (for all intents and purposes). The tentacle gets cut off at the direction of Boldt, who says they’re there to work and nothing else. Ashley is then thrown into the basement, and a cybernetic tongue is put into place.

The end.

Now, let’s run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory! Solomon pulled it out! I love it!

Panel Descriptions: Not bad. Not terrible, but not bad. No moving panels, but there was some vagueness going on. Also some cardinal points were used for no real reason. There was only one instance of things instantly appearing that weren’t previously established.

As Liam said, if you don’t care about an action being taken, then tell the artist you don’t care. However, you then went back and gave some specific actions, but you didn’t go back and update the previous panel description when you could have. Just because the PD has been written doesn’t mean you can’t go back and fix it later. I do it all the time. When I’m writing and I add an element or something I think is cool, I make sure I go back to the earliest possible instance where the object/element can be seen and I add it. That could have been easily done here, but it wasn’t.

Also, I love a writer with a vocabulary. Love it. However, when having a vocabulary gets in the way of clear descriptions, it becomes a hindrance. I’m not disparaging artists at all. But when they have to stop what they’re doing (possibly researching fashion, architecture, food, facial expressions, camera angles…) in order to look up a word they could be unfamiliar with…it just slows down the entire process.

Basically, don’t get in the way of your own communication.

Pacing: I’d say that the pacing as in panels-per-page was fine (except for the eight-panel page), however, what happens per panel isn’t. There’s little sense of story. It takes too long for something interesting to happen.

And the problem is that you started almost as late as you could. I can see it. Starting late is great, but you have to follow through with it by having something interesting happen that rates the late start. You wasted a first page that could have been used to establish the story better. Stop that. Think. You want the reader to be invested as early as possible, which means you can’t start the story with padding, which is what you did.

Dialogue: Meh. There wasn’t enough of it. The dialogue could have really done something to tell the reader more about the world. Instead, you did weird things with it, like show us Augustus Gloop. (I truly want someone to get this reference.) If there were more real dialogue, dialogue that actually pushed the story forward (instead of showing some bits of character and only bits of character), then this wouldn’t have been so bad. If you had dialogue that moved the story or shown actual character on P1, then that would have gotten the reader to pay attention to the story better. Instead, you really only showed character and didn’t move the story all that much.

Yes, it’s better to show rather than tell, but comics are also books, and books are made for reading. The purpose of dialogue is to illuminate the pictures. Your words don’t do much of that here. We don’t get much more information from the dialogue than we could have gotten from the pictures, and while that works in a silent book, it doesn’t work well when there are words.

Also, the sound effects… These need a bit more in the labels in order for the letterer (and the poor, frustrated editor) to know where the sound effects belong. The script is there so that no one has to guess about anything. When it comes to the sound effects here, that’s all that’s happening. Let’s not do that.

While we’re on the sound effects, lots of panels have them in this piece. This isn’t good or bad, but it can easily be overdone. I’m of a mind that sound effects should be used sparingly and with a purpose. I’m not seeing much of a purpose to their use here. It feels overdone. I’d probably cut 75-90% of the sound effects here, because they get in the way of the script. This is bad when the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere. And it causes you to slow down because you then have to write the sfx and the sound it’s supposed to represent instead of just cutting it. If it doesn’t have a use, cut it. This will speed you up, and that speed could help you down the road if you’re ever in the position to write multiple scripts per month.

Content: As a reader, this is crap. It doesn’t really do anything once you get to the end. I’d be upset at yet another Solomon Steen Waste O’ Time â„¢ . That’s not good. However, as a reader, it’s what’s expected. I expect a hyper-violent story from Mark Millar. I expect an emotional experience from John Lees. I expect a waste of my time from Solomon Steen.

Editorially, this needs a complete rewrite, only because the ending (which everyone else hasn’t seen) doesn’t really make sense. You have to stick the landing, and that starts with the beginning of the script. Actually, it starts before that—it starts with what you want the reader to take away from what they’ve read. If you want a mind-bending WTF trip, then you have succeeded in doing that with every submission so far. If you’re actually trying to tell a story, then you still need to work on sticking the landing.

Here’s what I want you do to: I want you to think of an ending for your story first. And then I want you to think of a sequence of panels that will tell the story. Each page should be a complete thing unto itself, so that the reader will get a full sense of what’s going on. Each panel should build the page, and each page should build the story, and each panel and page need to build toward the end—and the end should make sense.

Once you’re able to do that, the rest is a piece of cake. So far, this isn’t what you’ve done.

Give it a shot.

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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