TPG Week 259: Not Bad For A 1st Timer

| December 15, 2015


Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week, we have a brand new Brave One in Arjun Ramesh. We also have Liam Hayes in sacre blue (roll with the jokes, folks!), and we have Ryan Kroboth with the pencil assist. I’m the guy in red, crying in the corner with sore calves. (And feet. And ass. That’s because I hiked the mother-stinkin’ Grand Canyon this weekend. And I’ll do it again, too!)

Anyway, let’s see what happens with Arjun and the


Argh, your format is all bunched up. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and blame the software you were using. I am nice like that. You owe me a cookie for spacing it out properly. Also, you had said in your email this was one of your first scripts and you were fully expecting to get trashed, but wanted to learn from that. Bonus points for the attitude. Consider us square on the cookie debt.

Liam is much, much kinder than I am. This isn’t even about the sore calves. And feet. And ass. Remember, folks: elevation changes going down? Easy. Elevation changes going up? You’re going to pay for it with your entire body Anyway, I don’t care that this is one of the first scripts. There are almost five complete years worth of edited scripts in the archive here. I’m just going to call it five years worth. Anyway, that’s five years worth of learning opportunities. I’d set the Line of Demarcation right here, except we haven’t started yet. (Okay, that last sentence might be the calves talking…)


6 panels (I like the panel numbers under the page heading. Let’s the artist know something of what they’re getting into. The bad part is that you could count wrong, or forget to update if you add/remove panels.)


Establishing shot. Present day. Exterior of a Gothic house. (What time period is this set?) (Um it says present day. Unless you’re asking for the time of day, which is a different question.)

We have grey clouds in the night sky, garden filled with weeds, terrible shoddy place all around. Heavy rain. (Ah! Night!)

There is a creepy looking tree standing on the left near a wooden fence, nearly naked and without any leaves.

Gravel path runs toward the main building. There is a door, two windows on either side and three windows on the first floor. Yellow light on all the windows, except the middle one on the first floor.

A silhouette of a man stands in the porch. (What’s he doing? I imagine just stood there, facing us and away from the house. Let’s see if my assumption is correct.)

No dialogue

(Not a fan of your format spaced out, even. Why is everything separated into paragraphs? You’re not writing prose. You owe me a cookie again.) (Personal preference, folks. I’m with Liam in that I’m not a fan of everything spaced out into paragraphs—it can lead to moving panels because you can forget what medium you’re working in—but I can also recognize my personal preference and when something is just wrong. This isn’t wrong. It’s just different. And for the record, I like being paid in Scotch that’s been aged at least 18 years, preferably 20 or more.)


The man has reached the door and is about to knock. (Nope. I was wrong because you made me assume. Don’t make your artist wrong either.) We get to see his face- old, around 65 years. Slim build, (This slim build would have come across in the silhouette.) has a elongated, clean shaven face, crow’s feet around the eyes.

His name is Moser, and he does not look happy. Looks like he is about to kill a puppy.

He is wearing the traditional gangster garb. Expensive suit, tie, black leather gloves, fedora on top of his head. His left hand is curled up into a ball and his right hand is on the knocker. (Know what I dislike about this panel description? No, I’m not going to say. Ryan, I don’t want you to draw this. What I want you to do is explain where you have to put the camera in order to draw this, and why that camera placement is a relatively bad idear. Tanks, buddy!)

No dialogue


The door opens and we get a view of Moser from inside the house. The point of view is behind the person opening the door, and as such we only get to see the back of his head. Dark hair with bits of grey.

We see Moser look at the guy, letting out a sigh. His hands are in his pocket, eyes looking down, unable to maintain eye contact with the guy opening the door. (More bad storytelling that does things that the artist will get blamed for.)


It’s time, Venn.

(He goes from angry to regretful quite quickly. I have a feeling this would be more effective with two shots, one of him angry, and another of his sinking into regret. That’s just my opinion, however.)


Moser enters the house and is face to face with Venn. We are looking at their faces. Venn (slightly taller) on the left and Moser on the right.

Venn is in his mid 40’s, thick moustache and week old stubble. There are dark circles around his eyes, with a bit of redness- he looks as if he hasn’t had a proper sleep in a while. He’s wearing a T shirt and sweatpants, even though you can’t see much of it in this scene. The hairline is receding, long nose, eyebrows furrowed as he looks at his mentor. (Most of this should be in a separate document for character designs.)

Moser has an impassive face; he’s looking straight into Venn’s eyes. He has taken off his fedora, his slick hair is pulled back. (Greg, in a single word, what aren’t these characters doing? Then, please expand on your answer.)


Not sure how I should feel about all this.


Moser is halfway towards taking off his coat. His head is slightly bent, eyes upwards looking straight at Venn. (Schuyler: if you were doing a self-edit, would you put in this panel? Why or why not?)


The whole thing, or just my presence?


Last panel in this page. Here we are going for a close-up on Venn’s face. Venn’s lips are pursed, maybe a slight hint of a smile around the edges. His eyes are narrow, looking straight at the reader.


Well, your involvement doesn’t help, obviously.


Muddies the water, leaves me without a clear villain.

Hmm… I am fairly interested. Nice set up. There a minor mystery, and some conflict. Good job. Careful with veering into prose territory, though. Some of those expressions and character descriptions are on the border.

P1 is on the books!

Know what? It wasn’t bad. It could use a little more punch, and the characters should be doing something that Greg will be talking about, but it wasn’t bad.

There are a couple of things I would have liked to have seen. First, I would like to have seen the character descriptions go in a different document. The artist is going to design the characters way before they ever put pencil to page. (I’ve only met one artist who wanted to create the characters on the page, which I found to be very lazy because they then had to go back and do corrections. It would have been faster and they would have understood the characters better if they had designed them prior to drawing the pages.)

The second thing would be grouping the elements of the panel descriptions a bit better. Panel 1 gives us a setting, and while it seems to go from front to back, which is okay, the guy standing on the porch should be last. He’s a different element. Does that make sense?

Overall, this isn’t a bad way to start the story. I know I’d be turning the page.

And this is what we want, folks. There wasn’t a big lead-up here. No action sequence. What’s going on is very quiet. However, while the dialogue isn’t compelling, it’s definitely interesting. That’s all a reader wants: to be interested. If you can get the reader interested, you’ve done most of the hard part. I’m turning the page willingly, not begrudgingly. I’d call that a victory.


8 panels (I’ve never been one for 8 panel pages. I’m always thinking they should either be 7 or 9. Let’s see how this is handled.)

This page is essentially Venn and Moser standing around and talking. It’s a dialogue intensive page, kind of an inelegant exposition dump. (Cut it then. Or work it in elsewhere. Don’t excuse yourself from doing the work.) Open to any suggestions as to make this visually interesting. (What I like about this is that you’re talking to the artist. You know what you have, and you’re looking for a way to make it visually interesting. I like that. I’m just hoping that the inelegant exposition dump is you being modest. I’m hoping there’s some nuance here. We’ll see.)


For this panel, we are focusing on Moser. He has entered the living room/dining area where there is a coat rack. (Coat rack in the dining room? Unconventional.) We get a look inside the house- there are modest furnishings in the background, a table perhaps, maybe a vase or something. Whatever rich career assassins would have lying around in their home, it’s up to you. (Probably nothing more than any other rich person. Assassins don’t tend to advertise their career choices.) (P.S- The story is set during modern times.) (This should have been addressed at the start of the script. Preferably in a quick synopsis.) (It says present day right in P1, panel 1. Right up front, after establishing shot. However, that being said, I’d also make sure that the artist knew the timeframe before they started working on the script.)

The most important thing in the room is a photo hanging on the wall somewhere in background- a picture of a grinning Venn with his arms around an invisible figure and a cap floating around his chest. (The invisible figures chest or Venn’s?)

Moser has taken his suit off; it’s draped over his arm. (Do you mean, just the coat?) He’s wearing a white shirt underneath. He is looking at Venn with a slightly amused expression.


Well, that was kind of the idea. You’re less likely to come after me.


Imagine what you’d do if the boss sent someone like Hershel instead.


Moser has moved towards Venn. They are in the kitchen part. (In the room, or is this another room?) Venn has an intense, slightly sadistic look in his eyes. (Rin, what word don’t I like here? Why is that?)


Well, Don Cardano would wake up on Monday to find Hershel’s spine under his sheet. (A Godfather reference. Mmkay.)


This panel is just the both of them bent down, laughing. Moser has one hand on Venn’s shoulder.

I want a shot of a fruit basket filled with oranges in there somewhere. It’s a common trope in Godfather and other gangster movies that oranges foreshadow death (it’s a bit lame but there’s already a Godfather reference in the last panel, so it feels right). (See? Godfather. I love those movies. Haven’t watched them in a while. After I move next year. Anyway, is this the earliest place where we could have seen the oranges?)

No dialogue (But they are laughing. Is this a silent comedy? I just exchanged that cookie you owe me for a terrible joke. Take it.) (It’s panel 3, going on to panel 4, and I’m expecting a lot of talking heads. That hasn’t happened yet.)


Both of them have finished laughing. Here, Moser has both his hands on Venn’s shoulder. There’s a look of tenderness and concern on Moser’s face.

Note: This is one of the parts where I need you to be the incredible artist that you are. The gist of what’s happening is they laughed at a joke, finished and is realizing something terrible is still has to happen. This transition is essential for how the rest of the story unfolds and I don’t want it to be jarring, going from macho posturing to laughter to sadness in an instant. So if you know the best way to make it feel organic, (maybe an extra panel?) let me know. (It’s good that you’re talking to your artist, but you’re basically asking them to do the leg work for you. Do the work, but leave it open for them to help.) (I like the extra panel idea. An extra silent panel of them just looking at each other.)


You holding up okay?


In this panel, we are seeing Venn being vulnerable for the first time. They are standing near the table with oranges. He has been trying to keep a gruff exterior till this point, now the defences are breaking down. No crying though (he’s a professional assassin, after all) but he’s close.


Said my goodbyes to Cox. He was…praying.


We are looking at Moser. He looks slightly surprised and his hand on his chin.


He’s allowed to do that? Won’t he burst into flames or something? (We don’t know who this is. There’s no inference explaining why this would happen, either.) (Hm. You know, it’s only in comics where something like this can be said in dialogue, and we’d have to wonder if it were a literal thing or not. I’m thinking not and that this is just sarcasm/a joke, but I’ve been wrong before.)


Not that I’m complaining, it’d make things easier. (I’d change that comma to a period.)


It’s a P.O.V shot from Moser’s eyes, he’s looking at Venn. We see him with an orange in his hand, slowly peeling. Venn is looking at the orange, and he’s slightly ticked off. (We can’t see his eyes, but maybe do something with his lips or body language?)


He always liked you, you know.


Looked up to you, saw you as a part of the family.




We are going for a profile shot of Venn. His body is tightly wound up, face contorted, ready to explode.


Screw you, old man. Think I’m going to make it easy for you to kill my kid?


No (Comma.) Moser, You’re gonna look him in the eye when you drive that stake into his heart. (Stake? Maybe I’m wrong about being wrong! Then again, this is called Shadowworks…)


You’re not walking out of this without any scars.

There’s a lot of fat on this page. But it works for me, in general. I don’t see what’s visually boring about it, but then I am a writer. I like the emotional hook at the end, just sheer off what isn’t needed. Tighten it up.


I wouldn’t call this inelegant. I wouldn’t even call this a lot of exposition. I wouldn’t even say there’s fat here. There’s enough space for the emotional beat that was built. I’d probably reconfigure this a bit, add a little bit more dialogue, but I wouldn’t call anything here fat. There isn’t any padding here, for me. Just needs a little more words.

This is P2, and I’m interested. This is one of the better submissions this half of the year. (I had to go back and remind myself of some of the better entries this year. There aren’t a lot of them. So far, this is one of them.)

I have to admit that I’m liking this so far. The panel descriptions aren’t killing me, the dialogue seems very genuine and readable, and the pacing is good.

I just want more to read. (It isn’t often that I have to say that.) I’m drawn in, but I’m betting there were some edits made that cut some words down. They could be added back in and then reworked in order to tell the story from the oblique, like what’s being done here.

Gimme more! (How often do I say that?)


4 panels


Moser turns away Venn, head bowed, shoulders low. He can’t face Venn, and the body language should suggest that. He’s walking towards the stairs. We get another glimpse of the photo somewhere. (So the photo is his kid? That isn’t particularly clear.)

No dialogue


We are on the first floor of the house, a hallway with red carpet. High ceiling, a large light hanging from the middle- one of those old timey designs. Only a single light source, so the place immediately under the light is bright, with the far corners getting progressively darker. (Most artists know how light works.) (I could have sworn it was me who hiked the Grand Canyon and thus, should be cranky…)

There are three doors to one side, the one farthest from our view is open. The other two are closed, with no light coming from under the middle one. The nearest door is plain, but the middle door has one of those “Keep out” no entry signs teenagers have (or anything silly you can come up with). (Do these other doors matter? Or are you needlessly complicating this description?)

We see Moser walk towards the door, going straight for the middle room. (Hm. Mr. Kroboth? Methinks you’re up. His visualization and explanation should shed light on my problem here.)

No dialogue


This view is from inside Cox’s room. We see the door opened, a single beam of light coming in from the doorway. The rest of the room is dark. A silhouette of Moser is visible, casting his shadow on the floor. (More problems that should be explained by the previous panel being drawn.)

There is a window to one side, and the rain’s getting heavy. (Isn’t there a room on each side? How does that work with the window? Oversight?) Opposite to the window, there’s one of those giant slide in wardrobes with a large mirror (although we can’t see it). (Why can’t we see it? Where’s the camera?)


No dialogue


Same shot reversed from just behind Moser. We are looking into the darkened room. The light from the window is not enough to illuminate the rest of the room. So a lot of dark, vague shapes. The bright light from the corridor ends at Cox’s feet.

We can see the lower bits of a blue pyjama. And we get to see two tiny fangs. (Where is he? What’s he doing?)


Hey (Comma.) uncle Moser.

This page needs more. Your last page had too much, this has too little. Address the pacing balance.

P3, and I’m still here.

I’m with Liam on this one: this page seems a bit thin, but I also understand the reason why: there isn’t any talking. And there shouldn’t be.

Why does it seem thin? I’ll tell you why.

So far, there aren’t a lot of words in the entire piece. Because there aren’t a lot of words, it feels like a fast read. You want to slow the reader down by adding either words or panels. I don’t suggest adding more panels to this page, and I don’t suggest adding more words to this page, so more words should be added to the previous pages.

The words, of course, have to be good words. They have to add to the story and to the atmosphere. You’re doing okay now, but you could be doing better.


6 panels


Extreme close up of Cox’s red eyes looking downward at about 30% angle. (We can’t see his face at all? Even with the hall light leaking in?)


So, what is it then? Silver stake to the heart?


P.O.V shot from Moser’s eyes. He’s looking at the room, which slightly brighter, you can almost make out the furniture and toys now. An outline of Cox can be found sitting on the bed. Moser’s hands are visible, he’s holding out the silver stake in his hand. A shadow of Moser is on the floor.


Yeah. It’s dark out there now. (What’s that got to do with anything?) (Vampire! If it were during the day, he would be asleep, depending on the type of vampire being used.) And Venn’s told me how you react to the crucifix.


Hopefully this won’t be as painful.


A shot from inside the room, focusing on Cox. The light’s getting better now, kind of how your eyes adapt to the dark after a while. (What you’re doing here is suggesting that we, the reader, are actually viewing these events. No, just show us the characters in dim light.)(Or, have someone turn on a light. It doesn’t have to be a bright one. That would be better.) We can’t still make out his face completely, but we can see that he has a Beetle’s haircut, wearing a pale blue shirt. Plus the teeth and red eyes.


Are you sure? Silver is actually incredibly painful.


I mean, you’re not exactly an expert in killing the undead, are you?


This is another establishing shot. A fair bit is going on in this panel, the huge mirror is involved, so it’s a bit tricky to describe.

a. A bolt of lightning illuminates the whole room. We are seeing a reflection of this in the mirror. (No. I’m going to call bullshit right here. You were doing well. There’s no need to resort to bad tropes.)

b. We are at an angle where we can see both Moser and Cox, along with their reflections on the mirror.

c. Cox is a vampire, so no reflections. There is a curve on the bed in the mirror where Cox is supposed to be sitting. (That’s not going to come off well.)

d. We also get a glimpse of a plastic sheet on the floor, next to the mirror large enough for a man to lie on.

e. Behind Moser’s reflection in the mirror, there is a dull red glow. (What’s this?)

(There was no need for the list. This was no less confusing then your other panel descriptions.) (We’re missing something. The same thing that’s going to be talked about by Greg.)

No dialogue


Moser is about a couple of feet away from Cox. He is clutching the stake firmly in his hand.


As long as it’s quick death, Cox, you won’t suffer.


As long as it’s quick death, the mark won’t suffer, right. (And here is where you start to fall down on the dialogue.)


Cox has a small smile on his face. The room is bright enough for us to have a clear view of his face now. He’s around 15, round face. We get to see his fangs.


Venn said that’s the first thing you taught him.


A quick death to the victim, you owe them that.

You’re trying to be atmospheric, but it isn’t working. Got for straight clear strong storytelling. The atmospherics come afterwards. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

P4, and while I’m still here, I’m starting to get bored. It feels like you’re starting to draw things out. Don’t do that.

What does this page do? Why is this page here? What is it that you’re trying to get across to the reader? Answer that question, and then see if the answer is reflected here on the page. If it is, you probably didn’t answer the correct question. If it isn’t, then you have to rework the page to fit the answer.


5 Panels


We see Cox sitting on the bed. Moser is about to sit down next to him. (About to? He is. This is comics, remember.) He has his arms around the boy’s shoulder.


Venn told me you were praying.


Cox smiles, looking down. His hands are resting on his knees.


Yeah, well last throw of the dice, I suppose.

(Combine those panels. No need for two.)


For this panel, picture a camera being placed just over Cox’s shoulder, focused on Moser. Cox’s face is blurred being close to the camera, while Moser’s has a crisp definition. The lines in his face, around the eyes are clearly visible. (What? So you just want the shot to be from over Cox’s shoulder. Why the convoluted explanation?)

Note: There is a hint of red light for this panel. It shouldn’t be explicit; try to keep it as light as you can. We are going to keep this lighting for the rest of the page. (Why? What’s this red light about. Explain it to the artist, at least.)


Hey, don’t worry. Maybe you got lucky. (With what?)


Okay, we have reached the 2 panels with the monologues. Cox is going to be talking for both of these, so feel free to set it up how you feel it would work best. All I care about in these panels is that we see Cox’s feelings of helplessness across. (Again, needless. Do the work. The artist will do what they will do anyway, but that’s no reason for you to skimp on the basics.)(I don’t mind this. Saying I don’t care, as long as… is never wrong.)


Not exactly fair, is it? Eternal damnation for what someone else did to you.


There should be an age of consent for these things in heaven, you know.


Cox is in a sad emotional state. Again, set the scene at whichever angle you think best.


Like if you sell your soul to the devil before the age of eighteen, maybe you get a reduced sentence?


I mean six is a ridiculously young age to be making life changing decisions like that.

Right, I am stopping here. Not bad for a first attempt. Not bad at all. It needs work, however. As does your writing. You’re sometimes confusing with your descriptions, and include needless information. Your page to page pacing isn’t too bad, it’s just the panels within those pages that really slows things down. You dialogue could do with some work also, it’s sometime obtuse.

Liam stopped, so I did, too.

But not before I did a little more reading first, though.

It takes a very weird turn to the left. Interesting and weird. Definitely a mashing together of genres. Like Cowboys and Aliens, but different.

Anyway, let’s run this down.

Format: Flawless Victory. (Be happy Liam didn’t go to P9. You wouldn’t have had it, then. Just saying.)

Panel Descriptions: These need some work. Greg is going to talk about what’s missing in some of them, but really, if you follow a simple thought, you should get by nicely. The thought is this: setting, then population. Write your setting, going from left to right, and then populate, again going from left to right. You do that, and you’ll fix some of your problems. The other problems were already addressed either by Liam, or will be by Greg.

Pacing: I had no real problem with the pacing, that last page notwithstanding. I think you’re missing opportunities by having so many silent panels, but that can be fixed. It isn’t always easy to find the right words, but I know they’re in there, wanting to come out. Again, adding words will slow the pace down. It isn’t very fast, but it’s faster than it needs to be at the moment.

Dialogue: I liked what I read. This part sounded very real. Like I said previously, I love the Godfather films. This felt like it was in that vein. Good work.

Content: As a reader, this first scene is very interesting. I’d be very interested in seeing where it’s going, seeing whose story it was (the man’s or the vampire’s).

Editorially, this scene doesn’t need a lot of direction. A nudge here and there. Really, I found it interesting.

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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