TPG Week 255: Once More Unto The Breach!

| November 15, 2015



Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week brings us Brave One Solomon Steen once again. We also have Liam Hayes in blue, and Ryan Kroboth with a pencil assist. I’m the one in raging in red. Let’s all see what we have in


A couple of notes: this came in at a font size of 9.5(?). You’re all welcome.

Secondly, this was for a writing challenge of my own devising, despite what Solomon says here. Basically, it had to be a completely silent script of no more than 5 pages. By silent, I mean no dialogue, no captions, no internal monologues, nothing. Sound effect were okay, but that was it. Solomon gives us the rest…

Silent Script Contest:

Additional Requirements:

  • Must Have A Ball
  • Must Have A 12-Panel Page

Robin A quiet first-grade student, she has a gap toothed smile, long braids, and a large forehead. She has a vaguely-crescent shaped port-wine stain1 on her face under her left eye. Her arms are covered in swirls of freckles. She is casually dressed in a longsleeved striped shirt, khakis, and flats.

Heath & Forest Robin’s current brothers. Twin pre-schoolers, both of their heads shaved: they wear matching coverall shorts and polo shirts. Heath has a juice stain on his shirt from the car ride over. Forest has a scar on his knee that extends partway past the end of his shorts.

Rosa Robin’s current mother. A large-framed, fat woman in her mid-thirties, she has no chin and a thick neck. She wears several gold bracelets, chunky earrings, and a turquoise necklace.

Robin’s doppelgängers There are four, ages: 16; 32 (also seen at 24); 56 (also seen at 48); 96 (also seen at 88). They all have Robin’s facial mark and freckles, and look like her at later stages of her life.

(Again, a lot of characters here. Do you need them all?)

Page 1

Panel 1 Wide, slightly overhead view: The children’s section of a Macy’s-type (mid-range) department store: (I don’t know what a Macy’s is. Couldn’t you describe it in more accessible terms?) (This just needs a little bit of research on the editor’s part. If I didn’t know what a department store looked like, or came across an unfamiliar term, I’d research it in order to understand it. This isn’t the fault of the writer. This may be fatigue on the editor’s part for this particular writer.) Robin sits in a pastel-upholstered chair, engagedly (I don’t know if that’s a word.) (It isn’t, but I can let it slide. Communication was accomplished because it was obvious what was meant without confusion being had.) reading a book on a small tablet computer. Heath sits on a couch behind her to the left, playing a game on a system similar to a 3DS; he is sandwiched between a pile of clothes – still on their hangers – and his mother’s purse – almost as tall as him, taller with the straps. Forest is indignantly allowing Rosa to pose him in a church outfit in front of a triptych mirror.



Title Cowbird

Panel 2 Low shot in front of Forest: Forest has swung both his arms in front of him and has also leaned his upper body forward to exaggerate the effort it takes to drag himself back to the dressing room. Behind him, Rosa is gently admonishing him to be careful with those shoes. (How does that come across silently?) (And you’ve already lost me. Where did this magic dressing room come from? We’d have seen it in panel one. Set up your scenes properly.) (This makes no sense. Pre-schoolers give attitude, that I get. But this kind of adult attitude? No. This is teenage attitude.)

NO COPY (I see zero use for NO COPY is scripts with dialogue, it’s even more useless in a silent comic.) (The reason for this is simple: the artist doesn’t have to make sure to account for any space for dialogue when they see no copy. It means, for them, that they can just draw. Silent script or not, it makes for good practice. What should be upsetting you, if anything, is that it doesn’t say no copy in panel 1.)

Panel 3 Side view: Robin is setting her tablet into her mother’s purse with one hand as she holds a dress from the pile beside Heath with the other. (What? Reread that. Does it give you a clear picture of what’s happening. It doesn’t for me.)


Panel 4 Slightly low side-view: Robin, having already changed into the dress, is skipping towards the triptych mirror. Forest sits atop the clothing beside Heath, back in his old outfit, and thoroughly enjoying a game on the tablet; he is moving his whole body to turn the tablet, as if shifting his weight will help him move faster in the game. (Apparently this is now an episode of Quantum Leap, because your characters are jumping in time and space.) (And again, there’s a lack of understanding what does and doesn’t come across in a drawing. Ryan, you’re up. Don’t forget to make it look like turning his whole body will help him move faster in the game. That has to come across in the drawing. If it doesn’t, either you’ve failed, or the writer has.)


Panel 5 Close view: Robin, standing before the mirrors, is rubbing her ear (motion lines) (She is starting to lose her hearing. This is visualized on the page with a bubble full of TV static that sits in a prominent position on the panel that does not obstruct the view of either of the characters. The bubble is small and irregularly shaped, like a cigarette burn. The bubble, though in the field of the mirrors, does not appear in any of the three reflections.) Rosa is adjusting the hem of the dress Robin is trying on. (Yeah, I dunno if that’s going to come across well. Also, this is lettering direction surely?)(If there’s a word balloon on this—or any—page, then you’ve failed the challenge. Pure and simple. That isn’t a sound effect, that’s dialogue. And getting across that she’s losing her hearing isn’t going to come across because she’s rubbing her ear. Basically, you have no idea how to tell a story in this medium. Hell, we already knew this.)


It’s like you’re not putting down everything you’re seeing in your head. We’re only getting half the picture. Make sure you reread you descriptions with an objective mindset. As a first page, this is a ‘meh’ from me.


P1 is down!


To be honest, I’m about ready to set the Line of Demarcation and just call it crap. This way we can all just relax and settle into it. But I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.


What do we have here? Children that are no older than seven acting as though they’re seventeen. Wait. Let me rephrase. The unnamed female child is no older than seven, and the unnamed other children are no older than five. They’re uncharacteristically mature for their ages. It doesn’t track. The suspension of disbelief is going right out the window.


I see no reason for the children to be looking at themselves in the mirror. They aren’t making any decisions for themselves, and they certainly aren’t paying for the clothes. I remember having clothes bought for me and having to try them on in the store. At that age, my wishes were very minimal in the final decision as to whether or not the clothes were bought. Also, there wasn’t any mirror-looking. My mother looked at the clothes. I understand that you’re going after a point here, but I think it’s going to be forced. I don’t think it’s going to come off very well.


And finally, again, it doesn’t seem like you know how to tell a story in this medium. Some things work, some things don’t. You’re writing things that don’t.


Some things can come across in the panel description with the help of dialogue, but without it, you have to be even clearer in your storytelling in order for the audience to follow what you’re getting at. You aren’t clear here. The moments in time you’re telling don’t connect as well as they should in order to give a sense of what’s happening. You have too much time being passed in the gutters.


Guess it’s time for me to talk about Time again.


There are two kinds of Time in comics: border time, and gutter time.


Border time is what happens within the confines of the panel borders. These are your actions. These are what you’re writing the panel descriptions about.


Gutter time is the time that takes place between the borders. If you have Spider-Man going from Midtown High to the Empire State Building, you don’t want to show all the swinging in between. All you need it two panels: one showing him leaving Midtown High, and one showing him arriving at or near the Empire State Building. The traveling really happened between the borders in the gutter. Gutter time.


Gutter time is very important to a writer, because this is where they truly manipulate Time, and thus, the reading experience. Too much Time in the gutter, and the reader can be thrown out of the story. Too little, and the story/scene can drag.


The absolute hell of it is that there isn’t any formula. You have to go by the feel of the story you’re telling. For silent stories, I’d suggest closer moments in time, in order for the reader to string the story along in their minds since there aren’t any words to read.


Time. You have to learn to be its master.

Page 2

Panel 1 Slightly overhead shot: The family is leaving the clothing store, and entering the rest of the mall. They are on the second floor. Forest is carrying a full bag, drawn up to his chin, while Heath is accepting a bag from Rosa. Rosa is fishing in her purse with her free hand. She still has bags hanging on both of her elbows. Robin is following behind all three of them: she’s carrying bags in both of her hands and rubbing her ear with her shoulder. A bubble of static remains on the panel, though it has shrunk from its previous size. [From this point on, the individual bubbles of static may expand and contract, but they will consistently increase in number and together cover a progressively greater area of every panel (up to 30%.)] (So it’s a progressive failure. I’m setting the Line of Demarcation right here for the simple fact that there’s no way for this not to fail the challenge. Congratulations. You’re the second person to fail a writing challenge. At least the first one was an honest try. I can’t call this an honest try.)


Panel 2 Low, front view: Forest has tripped forward. The bag he was carrying has swung forward with his momentum, hitting Heath in the back. Heath has braced himself against the leg of an elderly woman using a walker who was trying to pass them by. (Magical old lady.) (Really, would you give a five year old a bag to carry? Let alone multiple bags?)


Panel 3 Front view: The elderly woman has reached out to brace herself against the railing that prevents her from tumbling to the first floor. Rosa is facing forward, away from the boys and the elderly woman, with a concerned and slightly surprised expression on her face as she holds her cell to her ear. (Character placement here is wrong. Where is Rosa? In front of them? Off to the side?)


Panel 4 Close view: Robin has closed her eyes and is shaking her head. She is lagging behind the rest of her family and obstructing the path of other shoppers.


Panel 5 Low (Child-level) view: Rosa has turned to glare at the boys as Forest receives a retaliatory bag to the face from his (off panel) (Why off-panel? So we only see the bag on panel? That’ll look weird.) brother. Rosa is pressing her cell to her ear with her shoulder.


Panel 6 Close, overhead view: Robin is wincing; she has taken both her ears with her hands to fold them closed and is looking towards the ceiling, as if she is searching for the source of an irritating noise.


Panel 7 Rosa’s POV: Heath is indignantly pointing at his brother, who is taking advantage of the distraction to lean back and prepare to hit Heath again. Robin is leaning forward and complaining about her ear. (How do we know this? This is a silent comic.) The elderly woman is staring back at the scene disapprovingly. (This is really just bad storytelling.)


Panel 8 Side view: Rosa has raised her hand to her eyebrows in a very forceful had-it-up-to-here gesture, as shown by the momentum in her bracelets and earrings (Yeah, because nothing shows force like the momentum of bracelets and earrings…).The children have cringed back in surprise. (Including Robin?) The family has attracted the attention of a handful of disapproving shoppers.


Panel 9 Slightly narrowed, side view: Rosa, still sandwiching her phone between her shoulder and ear, is covering her eyes with one hand and has raised the other to gesture loosely towards a location and off screen. The children have relaxed somewhat. The shoppers are no longer paying attention.


Half of these panels are useless. Hell, most of this page is useless. Why are we reading this story? Who cares about this family and their shopping adventure? You’re burying the lead.


There’s a debate of lede vs lead, as in burying… Both are correct, only because Americans are lazy. (I used to make the same mistake. Lede is primarily used in journalism now, and I believe the phrase should use this spelling since this phrase is mainly used because of journalism and has escaped into other, non-journalistic uses, such as this.) But that has nothing to do with this script.


Since the Line of Demarcation has been set, we can call this crap and just settle down into it.


Like Liam, I don’t know why we’re reading this. I don’t understand what’s going on. I can visualize it, but I’m not understanding why we’re here.


You have word balloons here, but you’re also saying no copy. This, Solomon, is a lie. You’re saying in the script that there are word balloons that the artist has to contend with. This particular story shouldn’t have a letterer unless there were an honest to goodness sound effect. So you’re not telling the letterer that the balloons are empty, because that would be a different notation altogether. What you’re doing is lying to the artist by telling them one thing while then clearly telling them another.


Maybe you should go into politics?

Page 3

Panel 1 Low, front view: The boys, chastened, are following Rosa with their tails between their legs. Rosa is still on the call. Robin, her nose crinkled, sniffling, is following behind, careful not to create too much of a gap. The family is entering a large, bustling food court. The static has engulfed the majority of the background and has begun swallowing up the family.


Panel 2 Close, low view: The boys are eating junk food sedately at the table, while Rosa has one finger in her opposite ear, looking down at the table, trying to concentrate on this phone call. Robin has some fries in her hand, but she has tilted her head toward something away from the rest of her family. (The static has receded somewhat. More of the background is visible, but is much more dimly lit than in the first page.)


Panel 3 Close view: The static has completely disappeared. There is a white nimbus (A white nimbus? Do you mean a cloud? Fancy words doesn’t a good story make.) around Robin’s head. A black EEG line2 stretches from her ear to an object off panel. The background is not as dim as it was in the previous panel. (What is she doing? What’s her expression?)


Panel 4 Side view: The line stretches to a 16-year-old version of Robin, eating at a table by herself, dressed in a very fashionable skirt and military jacket, with the same white nimbus around her head. Aside from the older version of her having gained weight, she just looks like an aged up version of Robin. The background is not as dim as it was in the previous panel. (Where is younger Robin?)


Panel 5 Close, slightly overhead view: Robin’s elder doppelgänger has risen to leave. The background is not as dim as it was previously. It is nearly as bright as the first page.


Panel 6 Close, view: Robin is leaving the table (going towards the camera) to follow her doppelgänger while her mother, still on the phone, is distracted cleaning a new stain on Heath’s shirt.


At last. Something vaguely interesting has happened. I still have no idea what or why, however.


P3, and obviously, this mother is a failure. She can’t keep track of three kids because one of them literally gets up from the table and leaves.


Aside from the wine stain on the face, how are we supposed to know this is an older version of the unnamed character?


I’m just unhappy. Let’s go to the next page.

Page 4

Panel 1 Overhead view: Mid-afternoon: Robin has left through the mall exit; there is just a strip of sidewalks separating her from a Crown Vic 3 that sits at the curb. Her still-linked 16-year-old doppelgänger is holding the rear passenger door open.


Panel 2 Close, low view: A 32-year-old version of herself is in the rear seat behind the driver. (All doppelgängers are linked and have nimbuses.) (This triggers a flood of memories that will overwhelm her psyche and synchronise Robin with the rest of the hive mind.) (What?)


Panel 3 Flashback: (all flashbacks are POV and slightly fuzzy at the edges: they blur together at the border) the 16-year-old version of herself is looking at herself in her bedroom mirror, dancing rapturously.


Panel 4 Flashback: as her 48-yr-old self, she is standing with a petri dish in one hand and a long syringe the other. She is looking down at her then-24-year-old self, who is in a hospital gown, lying on a gynecological exam table4 in a disused exam room.


Panel 5 Flashback: as a child, she is sitting on a Mexico City street in the 20s, playing with a ball and cup.


Panel 6 Low, close view: In the car: A 56-year-old version of herself is in the driver’s seat, nervous as she turns the keys in the ignition.


Panel 7 Flashback: as the 48-year-old, she is sitting at a poorly lit lab desk; before her is an open box of condoms and the petri dish from earlier. She is carefully using a small syringe to deposit self-fertilizing cells (not visible) on the outside of the condom.


Panel 8 Flashback: she, as a child, is holding a balloon and holding hands with an 88 year old version of herself. A 48-year-old version of herself is beside the elderly woman, casting a nervous glance at something off panel.


Panel 9 Flashback: she is attending a 1980s dinner party at a ostentatiously decorated home where all the other guests are exceedingly well dressed.


Panel 10 Flashback: in the 1930s, she is walking around the edge of a city park with a lover dressed in the style of the time.


Panel 11 Flashback: a bubbly Rosa (8-years-younger) hangs on the arm of her tall, dark, and handsome boyfriend (current husband) as the 24-year-old version of Robin hands them a box of condoms at a low-end convenience store.


Panel 12 Low, close view: In the car: A 96-year-old version of herself is in the front passenger seat calmly looking over a map spread on the dashboard.


Twelve panels of utter nonsense. Yeah, I’m done here. This would be confusing for a comic with dialogue, let alone a silent one. Silent comics usually focus on simple clear storytelling for a reason, and this is clearly not your forte. In fact, you do the opposite and needlessly overcomplicate. I’ve pretty much said everything that needs to be said here on your other entries. Go and study them and resubmit when you’ve actually learned something, instead of wasting my time with the same mistakes.


Yeah, what Liam said. Time to run ‘er down.


Format: Flawless Victory! That’s about the only good thing here.


Panel Descriptions: These still need work. Aside from the lying, you have characters and objects that just appear because they’re magically delicious, a few panels that can’t be drawn, and some panels that are just unclear with character placement. None of these are good things.


Pacing: Terrible. There isn’t any other way to put it. You haven’t yet mastered Time, and you definitely haven’t mastered the art of telling a story in the medium. What is P4? How is the reader going to learn anything about what’s going on from that? What is any of that supposed to mean from a storytelling perspective?

Dialogue: Ha! There isn’t any! But there are word balloons, despite the fact that there’s no dialogue, and since this was supposed to be a silent script… Failure.


Content: As a reader, I’m lost. As a reader, I don’t get the notes that the girl is losing her hearing. That doesn’t come across at all. What comes across are word balloons that start to act as objects in the panels, and then something strange happens. It isn’t a story that I can follow.


Editorially, this fails because there are word balloons in what is supposed to be a silent script. It said so in the rules. I understand that you tried to circumvent the rules, but here’s the thing: word balloons are supposed to contain sounds. If the rules say the script is supposed to be silent other than sound effects, and word balloons are supposed to contain sounds (usually dialogue), then what you’ve tried to do here is to out-think me. Clumsily. Editors don’t like clumsy; they like clever.


I can’t even get upset at the attempt. I mean, I could, but I just had a good weekend (part of the reason why this is late), and I’m feeling mellow because of it.


Follow the advice Liam has given. There’s a shit-ton of work here—almost 5 complete years’ worth. (Can you folks believe this? Been doing this weekly for five years, going into 6! Hard to believe!) Feel free to submit anything at any time, but you’ve been advised that you should have learned something. These were submitted in a batch and then barely updated as we went along. Your next submitted script will have no quarter given.


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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