TPG Week 272: Treading Water Is Not Good

| March 11, 2016

TPG Forbes-Kroboth

Welcome back, one and all, to another installment of The Proving Grounds! This week we have Arjun Ramesh returning as our Brave One! We also have Steve Colle in green, Ryan Kroboth with the pencils, and I’m the guy in red. Let’s see what kind of surprise Arjun has for us all with

Fireworks In Vacuum

Page 1

Panel 1 (inset): An extreme close up of Jonathan’s closed eyes.

1. Caption: He dreamed he was flying.

Panel 2: Splash page. We have a wide, trippy looking ocean sprawling across the page. The water is multicoloured- Blue, Green, Red, Yellow, Purple all swirling and mixing together. There is a bright orange sun, about an hour from setting. We also see a crescent moon, hovering somewhere near the sun. Jonathan is flying above the ocean in the middle of the page. To the right, there is a jagged cliff made of black crystals, the blue and yellow waves crashing into it. On top of the cliff, stands a 20 foot high Mona Lisa wearing combat boots and dressed as Elvis. She is flashing Jonathan, her left breast is the planet Jupiter and the right breast is Earth and is slightly bigger. Jonathan is pointing at them. (Yup. It starts out being a bit confusing. Which way is the as-yet unnamed man flying? Left to right, back to forward, or forward to back? I already know he’s not flying right to left. Well, he could be, but doing that would be plain silly. Second, how is the reader supposed to know this is the Mona Lisa? Will the artist sprite in the face, but dress the rest as you described it? I get that this is a dream, but yeah…I’m not in the mood to read much more already.)

2. Caption 1: Now your regular dreams are almost always reactive in nature. There is simply no time for self (hyphen)reflection. You do not, for example, question the logic of a lioness wearing a dress suit quizzing you on eighth grade trigonometry problems.

3. Caption 2: No, instead you hyperventilate profusely instead, mumbling something about e being equal to mc2 and pray she trips over her high heels.

4. Caption 3: But this is (?) dream is different. Jonathan Anders here is experiencing heightened self(hyphen)awareness in his dream state. He can see through the cracks. His brain sees that this world is a lie (Add comma) for it knows…

5. Thought balloon (Jonathan): Jupiter should be bigger. ///pick a funnier line. (I actually like this line.) (That red right there isn’t me, folks. That was the writer. As always, my notes are contained in parenthesis.)

I’m confused on so many levels. Let’s begin with my question relating to how you have your script set up: I see you’re numbering your captions and balloons, which is great, but I have to ask what the numbers after each Caption represent? Are there three different narrators? I have no idea what else they could be for. (Hm. Could it be that the captions are double-numbered? The first number is for the number of captions on the page, and the second number is for the number of captions within the panel? That would make sense to me, but if that’s the case, it is wholly, completely, and immensely unnecessary.)

Visually, I can somewhat see what you’re describing, but I’ll be honest, it feels like you were trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink into this splash. Do the components you chose have any particular significance or were they just thrown in for a trippy effect?

I really feel that the inset panel should have been on the previous page (if there was one) to create a better separation between reality and dream state. As a matter of fact, you could have avoided the closed eyes altogether and just went straight in with He dreamed he was flying. That defines the third-person narrator well enough and describes the situation for the reader. What I don’t get is the need for all of that captioned text as it pertains to the visual. It seems like too much banter and not enough substance.

Next, you start off with a caption saying He dreamed he was flying , which is past tense, but follow it up with captions in the present tense. What happened and which tense is correct for what you wanted to convey?

Finally, your narrator breaks the fourth wall by seemingly talking to us, the readers, and then refers back to Jonathan Anders, the character experiencing the dream. Will this be a conversation between psychiatrists? We’ll see soon enough, I guess.

P1 is down, and there really isn’t much to go on.

Steve is completely correct in saying that the first panel here is unnecessary. As soon as we read the first caption, we know everything we need to about the situation. It explains the visual: the strange landscape, the strange action, the fact that there’s a man flying. The fact that he’s dreaming tells us that we’re not in a place where we’re dealing with alien landscapes and people with powers.

The problem, as I see it, is that this feels like it wants to be funny, especially since there’s a note from the writer, reminding himself to pick a funnier line. Was the line humorous? It reached. I wouldn’t say that I’m a difficult person to make laugh, but I have my moments. The jokes I make are funny to me, and that’s really all I care about. I know my sensibilities are somewhat outside the norm, and I have a lot of pop-culture in my head, so it’s pretty easy for me to make connections to different things and find them funny. This, though, didn’t feel funny to me.

This splash page feels cheap. It wasn’t earned. What’s it doing here? What’s the purpose? Does this need to start with a splash? What does it get you from a storytelling perspective? Nothing. There are better ways to get here without the use of a splash. There are funnier things to do.

Page 2

Panel 1: Jonathan is floating away from the above setting. We see his foot on the top right part of the panel and Mona Lisa is in the background, lewdly juggling her planet breasts.

No copy. (Why not? Copy, that is.)

Panel 2: A shot of Jonathan floating, his back turned to us, looking down at a village with brightly coloured (blue, green, yellow and orange) houses. It has a fairytale illustrations vibe to it. Jonathan has his arms outstretched, as if he’s balancing on a tightrope.

No copy. (Again, why not?)

Panel 3,4,5,6,7: Long, thin panels placed next to each other. 7543

There are two things we have to accomplish with these panels. Firstly, we are showing a side view of his descent, with his feet touching the ground by panel 7. So maybe we can have something static in the background (distinctive clouds, the moon from the page 1) to demonstrate that he is going down.

The second thing is we are having him transform into the body of the mime. So the facial hair grows a bit on each panel, hair grows longer, t-shirt turns from light grey to black, he becomes more buff and the prism of Pink Floyd turns into the anarchy symbol.

No copy. (And again, why not?)

I have no idea what you’re trying to accomplish with the story thus far. I will tell you, however, that you have just wasted an entire page by not having any text to walk the reader through what’s happening. Where is the follow-up to what you gave us by way of caption on the first page?

I’m lost, which is unfortunate given it’s only Page Two. Something had better happen on the next page to hook me in.

P2, and I’m about to set the Line of Demarcation.

Why is this a silent page? You have too much work to do in telling the story to give in to the temptation of a silent page—especially one that doesn’t do anything.

Then, there are things that get short shrift, talked about as though they’re already there, but they aren’t.

The mime. What mime? Where is the mime? He’s turning into the mime, right? Where’s the mime he’s turning into? If he’s turning into a mime, that’s totally different. But that’s not what was said. So I want to see the mime. And why the mime has longer hair and a beard, I don’t know. I’m actually afraid to ask, so I won’t.

The Pink Floyd prism. I take it you mean the prism from the Dark Side of the Moon album? (I listened to a LOT of classic rock when I was in the Marine Corps.) It’s distinctive. In the panel description, it’s also not mentioned.

What else isn’t mentioned? The anarchy symbol. (It’s hilarious to me that the symbol for anarchy has settled into an order that has been symbolized. I’m an anarchist! Here’s my symbol! Why isn’t it chaotic? Why is it a single symbol? Yep, it’s ironic.)

Why are these things talked about as though they’ve been there all the time? They haven’t been. They’re magically delicious is what they are. And that’s terrible, especially considering there are precious few words in the panel description to begin with.

Then with there being no words, that just makes this a waste of time.

Like Steve, I’m genuinely curious: why isn’t there any copy on this page? Again, what does that gain you from a storytelling perspective?

Page 3

Panel 1: Jonathan is stretching his limbs. In front of him lies a street of red sandstone with many houses on either side. The road ends at the fence of a purple house. Make sure the house looks distinctive. (Oh, yeah. Paging Mr. Kroboth. Mr. Kroboth, please report to P3, panel 1. Mr. Kroboth, P3, panel 1.)

1. Caption: Predestination. It’s an odd little phenomenon, something Jonathan is going to have serious beef over the course of the next few days. (There’s a missing word or words in here, but knowing exactly what they are is tricky. Was it supposed to read something Jonathan is going to have a serious beef with over the course of the next few days ? This is an assumption on my part, but I shouldn’t need to assume, right?)

Panel 2: Jonathan is walking towards the house, looking bored and scratching his butt. (I’m bored and scratching my balls. I’m not a mime, though, so I’m not pantomiming it. (See what I did there?))

2. Caption: That house at the end of the street belongs to his great grandfather. In a couple of minutes, Jonathan will enter the house, have tea and a confusing conversation with the old man before setting off on a grand adventure. (And we couldn’t leave out future tense, now could we? It seems we have a trifecta!) (Tell him what he’s won! The Line of Demarcation! :Price is Right music plays: This is crap. We all know it, so we can settle and move on.)

Panel 3: Jonathan keeps walking. He‘s looks puzzled as he reads the caption. (Any more than I am right now??) (How does the reader know he’s reading the caption? Ryan, what assumptions have to be made here in order for you to draw this? What else would you have to do?)

3. Caption: But what if he doesn’t want to?

Panel 4: We have a large caption box, almost half the size of the panel on the left. Jonathan has nearly reached the fence, we are looking at him from behind. He is flipping off the caption box.

4. Caption: What if one’s mind gets so overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the quest that it simply breaks down? What then? Would you be able to just turn your back on your destiny? Would the powers that be let you? Or would they simply replace you with someone els…?. (What were you trying to do here at the end with els ?. Was this intentional? Was it misspelled? Is it supposed to trail off? Why is there a period after the question mark?? So much confusion, so little time )

Panel 5: Inside shot of the house. There is a lot of spindly furniture in there that looks very fragile. In the middle of the room there is a small circular table with intricate designs, a holder with 3 candles sits on it. Jonathan is at the doorway, having just opened the door. (In the last panel, he was at the fence and yet, he’s now opened the door. How did he get there [and don’t tell me it’s a dream so it automatically makes sense]?)(Dream logic is a powerful thing.)

5. Grandfather (O.P): Back in ze kitchen, lad. Will you please bring the candles? Uness you want salted tea, that is. (This is a really bad attempt at an accent.) (Terrible and inconsistent, all within three short sentences.)

Panel 6: Jonathan is in the kitchen entrance holding the candles. It’s a dark room, we can’t see much except odd shapes.

6. Jonathan: Hello?

Panel 7: The great grandfather turns around to face him. He’s an 8 foot Stegosaurus, standing on his hind limbs. He’s wearing boxers and a Guy Fawkes t-shirt. There’s 2 cup of tea in his hand.

7. Grandfather: Ah, merci, dear boy. Made it jus’ the way you like it.

HELP!!! I’ve come at this script at different times of day, when I’ve been fully awake and when I’ve been ready to pass out from exhaustion. I don’t do drugs and alcohol is out of the question as well, but even if I did either of these, I still don’t think I would understand ANYTHING about what is happening in this script!! ARGH!! I just want to pull my eyes out of my head!

I have to stop. For the sake of my sanity, I can’t go on. I just can’t figure out how to edit this anymore. Steven? Are you there? Please pull me out of this quagmire. My wife and kids need me!

Lets just run this down so we can all run away.

Format: Flawless Victory. Well, at least there’s that.

Panel Descriptions: These need a ton of work.

First, we read English left to right, top to bottom. This is also how we generally read a comic book panel and page. This is generally how the action should flow: left to right. However, due to the quirk of pictures, we read those bottom to top: the bottom is the foreground and the top is the background. This is when we have the opportunity. Most of the time, we stop in the middle of the panel. There usually isn’t much action in the background. But I digress

Your panel descriptions are crap. Even for a dream sequence, they’re nonsensical. They’re written that way. Things just appear, things aren’t described well, things are happening but there’s no sense of how they’re happening. This is your failure as a writer. The artist who draws this will have a lot of questions. Either that, or you’re going to get back something that wasn’t really what you envisioned. Why? Because you didn’t do the job you gave yourself.

Slow down. Be as clear as possible while being as concise as possible. After you’ve written it, put it away for a few days to a week. Then come back to it with fresh eyes. Rewrite. Ask yourself if the artist would ask what you’re trying to get at in any particular panel. If you feel they would ask, rewrite. But be concise. Brevity will get you a lot of places.

Pacing: Well, in three pages, nothing of any real worth happens.

Why are we here? In three pages, we aren’t given any shred of a story. We’re just reading along, turning pages because that’s what’s expected, but we aren’t being entertained. We’re not swept along, and we’re certainly not asking any question besides Why are we here? And not in an existential manner, either.

So I’m going to say that the pacing is terrible because nothing happens. Things could have, but they didn’t. Terrible.

Dialogue: There isn’t a lot here, and what little there is doesn’t give us much of anything. It’s really not worth reading, which is a terrible thing to say, I know. I’d be more engrossed reading about the seven principles of kumquats or reading the secret history of evaporation and watch that go up in smoke. (See what I did there?)

Faintly humorous, but not enlightening. Dialogue has to do one of two things: reveal character or push the plot along. This has been listening to Three Feet High And Rising too much, because it took the advice to Tread Water. While you can do that in life, you can’t do that in writing. It’s boring.

P2 is a total waste of space in that you could have used it to actually push the story along. Instead you wasted it with silence. Terrible.

Content: As a reader, this is crap. It would be going back on the shelf with a shake of the head. I’d wonder why the retailer ordered it, knowing it wouldn’t sell.

Editorially, this needs a rewrite. Well, like most rewrites, there would be a conversation first, to determine just what the story was supposed to be, and how we could come together to make it more of that. Then we’d come up with a plan to do just that. Without that rewrite, though, this is dead in the water.

And that’s it for this week! Check the calendar to see who’s next!

Like what you see? Steve and I are available for your editing needs. Steve can be reached here. You can email me directly from my info 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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