Man, Forby, you're really gonna give this up?
The cathartic value alone must make it worth finding time for!
Hello, one and all. Welcome back to another edition of The Proving Grounds. This week's Brave One is Joe Webb. Let's see what he's got.
“KIDS IN THE WALL”
A COMIC SCRIPT BY JOE WEBB
Note: I have included sketches of my suggested page layouts along with caption placement as a rough guide, but I am open to any changes you want to suggest. Enjoy.
Page 1 (4 Panels)
A history classroom. A mixed gender class of teenagers aged between 14 and 15 sit at single desks dressed in the school’s maroon blazers and striped maroon and orange ties. The teacher, Mr. Bennet, is a round, owl-like man with a mostache.(Moustache has a “u” in it.)
1 - Mr Bennet, standing at the front of class, one finger in the air, eyebrows raised, owl-like.
And would anyone care to refresh our memory as to what the name of that new branch of Christianity was called? (Good underlining. Let the letterer know that this word is supposed to be stressed. Nice.)
2 – Thin slither of a panel showing Billy’s hand as he scribbles a brickwork pattern onto the lined paper in his exercise book.
3 - One of the students putting their hand up, eager to answer the question.
EAGER STUDENT (linked):
Wasn’t it p- -
4 – We move toward the front of the class, to show Billy taking up the left of the foreground, shouting, but with a wide-eyed, oblivious look on his face. Behind him, we can see a few of the other students in the class, trying to stifle laughter with their hands. The boy who just tried to answer sits amongst them, annoyed. On the table in front of Billy we can see the brickwork doodle from the earlier panel. Title/credits go here if needed.
Pissflaps! (Okay. I see what you’re going for here, but I think it would work better if this were rearranged a little. This means rearranging your panels a bit. If you really want to drive home the fact that Billy cut off the student, then both bits of dialogue need to be in the same panel. So, on the panel where he’s doodling, put the student’s beginning dialogue in there, OP. Then, in the next panel, show the raised hand, asking to be called upon, which the teacher does. Then, in the third panel, have the student start to give the answer, to be interrupted by little Billy. See how that works better, and does what you need it to? Think visually. You can literally show someone being cut off, as opposed to prose.)
Although the severity of the syndrome often decreases during adolescence, we have found the opposite true for Billy, whose tics have worsened considerably over the past eighteen months... (I understand, but I’m not that comfortable with the slow introduction of the caption. You don’t want to give it away too soon, but at the same time, it seems abrupt to me. You can do a lead in caption that won’t give away what you’re trying to do, but sets it up nicely without seeming abrupt. Give it some thought.)
Page 2 (9 Panels)
Cut to the school cafeteria at lunchtime. Here we have several sepia flashback panels, depicting a group of Convent School girls, presumably in Victorian times, in traditional dress, sailor suit type uniforms with hats. There are a lot of panels here, but check the attached sketches for ideas, there isn’t that much to fit into each one.
1 - Billy staring down at his food in the canteen. In the background, a girl is smiling shyly, about to sit down next to him, holding her lunch tray. (Watch it. Some of this is in bold, and some isn’t.)
...It is not uncommon for Coprolalia sufferers to feel disassociated from, and disempowered by, their own outbursts - as if the words were not their own. Billy, however, is a different matter entirely. (Again, this is bolded. Watch it, because the letter will bold it as well, or at least ask. And if you really want to punch this up, put the second sentence in a separate cap. And, define Coprolalia.)
2 - SEPIA: Saint. Augustine’s Convent school sign (So, it’s just a close-up of the sign? Yep. That’s interesting.)
3 - Close up Billy’s fork stabbing his food. (Yep. This is interesting, too. I’m riveted.)
4 - Billy, extreme close-up, eyes wide
Case in point – the school counsellor now refuses to see him after he shouted out intimate details of a love affair she was having with a married man - -
No, don’t leave me here!
5 - SEPIA: An envelope, presumably holding a love letter, addressed “Charlotte xxx” in the scrawled handwriting of a pubescent Victorian schoolboy.
6 - The girl in the canteen looking at Billy, reeling.
7 - SEPIA: One of the Convent girls, Charlotte, wearing a warm smile under her hat, she’s looking down, presumably reading the letter. We’re looking from above slightly, so we can make out dark hair but no eyes.
8 - SEPIA: One of the other convent girls, whispering in a laughing friend’s ear.
9 - High angle shot of Billy sitting on his own at the table, head hung sadly, as we look down on him from the cafeteria ceiling. The girl is getting up to leave and move elsewhere.
- - details she swears he could not have known.
(I’m bored. Where’s the interesting part? It’s P2, and you have 9 panels that don’t do much of anything at all. If you’re intimating that he’s psychic, that’s fine. Do a better job of it, faster. You spent 9 panels and said almost nothing of interest. You’re going on to P3, and you’re practically begging your sale to put this back on the shelf. You’re getting better, but you have to be more interesting, faster. With 22p and no name, you don’t have time for a slow burn.)
Page 3 (8 Panels)
1 – The school bell ringing
While the boy’s scatological outbursts are of little concern to us, this new development deserves our upmost attention. (What’s with the bolding? How could you not have noticed that? And there’s no such thing as “upmost.” The word you’re looking for is “utmost.” Now, why is this panel of the bell ringing interesting? It’s like you don’t WANT people to be interested in the story you’re telling.)
2 – SEPIA: the love Letter being snatched from charlotte’s hand, ripping slightly to show the aggression in the action. (What kind of hand is it? Male or female? The artist is going to need to know in order to construct the hand properly.)
3 – SEPIA: Two or three of the other convent girls, pulling Charlotte’s hair.
4 - Billy descending a dark staircase into the bowels of the school, holding a torch in one hand. (Heh. Okay, folks. He’s not from around these parts. “Torch” means “flashlight.” Yes, I paused for a moment, too, until I remembered. Now, this descent needs to be described a LOT better. I don’t have a real sense of the school. I don’t have a real sense of anything. Is it a really old school? Are we talking about a spiral staircase or a straight one? And what does the door look like? How far has he descended? Why not set up him going down the stairs in a previous panel? Do you have any idea where you want to take this story? Because I’m not seeing it.)
5 - Low angle view from behind Billy as he stands in front of the doorframe which used to be a boiler room in the old school. He’s reaching out to it, away from us.
Ti – ti – ti...
6 - The original boiler room door, open a jar. The girls have just gone through it. This should be from the same angle as the last panel to illustrate that it’s the same door. (Okay. Open & ajar mean the same thing.)
7 - Charlotte’s face, contorted with fear, a tie wrapped round her mouth like a gag.
8 - Billy’s hand, sliding a loose brick out of the wall... (No. You’re jumping around just a little too much. There’s a disconnect, even as you’re trying to connect the two. The good thing is that this is a decent page turn.)
Ti – ti – ti...
Page 4 (8 Panels)
1 - One of the school’s senior management team; Mr. Rossiter, writing on a piece of paper, sat in a dimly lit office somewhere in the school. He is a slippery, ratlike character, with a face like an older Derren Brown. He wears a dark suit, and shit, with no tie. We shouldn’t be able to see his eyes here, but should know he is the one writing the captions.(Why is this past tense? Is he no longer sitting in the office? And there’s a way to make sure that we know he’s the one writing the captions. Care to tell me what it is, Were-Lock?)
It would be in everybody’s best interest for Billy to be fast tracked onto the higher tier of the new Academy curriculum...
2 - Close-up on Rossiter’s face (below eye level) as he talks on the phone. (It would be better if you were to say that the focus is on his mouth and chin, and that we should never see him above the nose. This forces the artist to always come in close on the character, or to show him from low angles.)
Good afternoon, Mrs Johnson? Yes, it’s mister Rossiter over at Crow Hill Tech. (Switch the first sentence around, and break it in two. Mrs. Johnson is a question, and good afternoon is the greeting.)
3 - Side view of Billy in the basement, looking into the hole in the wall, eyebrow raised.
“I’m calling about your son. Oh no, don’t fret - -”
4 - Charlotte looking up in the darkness, smiling sheepishly. (No. Calvin, please explain why I’m going crazy right here.)
“- - it’s nothing bad.”
5 - Now we’re looking as if from the POV of Charlotte’s ghost. We can see the black of the wall, and Billy’s eye looking through the hole, his head not quite stopping the light from coming in. Charlotte’s hair takes up the bottom of the panel. (Adam, you’re up. Tell me what’s wrong with this panel description.)
As an added bonus, he also sent attachments with the script! Check them out at the bottom.
Okay, that’s all I was sent, so that’s where I’m going to stop. Let’s run it down.
Overall, I’m not impressed. Taking it from the top, let’s talk a moment about format. It’s not consistent. As everyone can see, more than half this script was bolded for no reason. Now, there was a point in time when you would do different things to words for the letterer to put effects on. Bolding would be italics, underlining would be bolded, and so on. It was strange, and it’s not really used now. Now, we basically use the underlining to show that you want something special to happen to that particular word. As long as you do that, you can rarely go wrong. Fix the bolding, and watch for it in your other scripts. Nuff said.
The storytelling still needs work. In four pages, not only do I not know what’s going on, I really don’t care to find out. This is a failure on your part to engage the reader. How so? Because you have more captions than you have people talking. And your captions are horrible because they’re intermittent, not because of the content of them.
There are a couple of things with captions that I want everyone to remember. The first thing is that captions put up a psychological barrier between you and the reader. Isn’t that right, Adam? You’re putting up a wall when you use a lot of captions, and unless you want that wall, that distance, you’re not actively engaging the reader. Remember, this is not prose. In prose, you’re just telling the story. In comics, when you use a narrator like that, you’re telling TO, not just telling. That difference is what builds the wall. Remember that, and use it to your advantage whenever possible.
The second thing I want you all to remember is that the use of captions sets you up for a trap. You’re either using the captions instead of true dialogue, OR, you’re using the captions intermittently, like here. Caption use is a fine line to walk, and easy to abuse. Watch your use.
Now, we’ll get into the waste of time that are the pages that were attached to this in a little while.
Like I said, this is better than the last couple of attempts. More interesting as a premise, but you’re still having trouble getting to something interesting within the first few pages. You HAVE to do something to hit a reader right between the eyes as soon as you can. You have to get them engaged and interested within three pages, or your cause is lost. I know I sound like a broken record, but that’s because some of you aren’t taking it to heart. You want a reader to put down money for it? Then you have to give them a reason to. They may pick it up for the art, but they stay for the story. If you want them to stay for the story, you have to engage them. This does the opposite of that. It’s like you were actively trying to turn readers off from your story. Congratulations on that, because you succeeded.
Here’s an exercise I want you to try. It works for me when I get in a jam. I want you to come up with a single, powerful image to end on. Or, something close to the ending for the issue. A powerful image that evokes emotion, but that also leaves the door open for the second issue. Now, with that scene in mind, how are you going to START the story? Your beginning should be nearly as strong as your ending. Come up with three, and discard the two that aren’t as powerful. The trick is that you have to be interesting within three pages. Three pages are all you get to engage a reader. If you can’t do it in three pages, then you have more studying to do.
Your panel descriptions need some work. Too sparse by far in some instances. This doesn’t help you. Your goal as the writer is to evoke what you’re trying to get across in as few words as possible. However, if you don’t use ENOUGH words, then you’re creating a white void, and the artist is either going to create what they want, or they’re going to ask for more direction. There is a way to give them what they need, yet still leave enough space for them to flex their creative muscles, as well.
You have to think visually, and those visuals have to be interesting. What’s interesting about a schoolbell ringing? You already know the answer to that.
When you’re telling a story, you have to pick the most interesting snapshots from the movie that’s rolling in your head and get them across on paper.
I want everyone to go to www.abebooks.com and pick up David Mamet’s On Directing Film, and read the hell out of that small book. Read it once to see what it’s about, read it the second time to absorb it, and read it a third time to begin to understand it. Do it now. It’s cheap. You’ll pay more for the shipping than you will for the book itself. You’ll thank me later.
Now, know what can and cannot be drawn. Not only know it, I want you to understand why you’re choosing the particular shots you do. If you understand it, you should be able to construct better panel descriptions and scenes that pop. You have a few panels in here that can’t be drawn from your descriptions, and more than a few that would be vastly improved if you described what you saw in your head. Think visually.
While you’re doing that, I also want you to think dramatically. There’s precious little drama. The dichotomy you’re setting up with the timeframes isn’t working well because you didn’t connect them well. The drama you’re trying to build with them is bleeding out all over the floor, instead of being kept in the script. Connect them better, tell the story better, and you’ll get a nice, visceral response from your readers.
Finally, let’s talk about that waste of time you sent over. I'm talking about the attachments at the bottom of the page.
You tried to lay out the panels for the artist. Great. Do you know what you did? You told both the editor and the artist that you don’t trust them enough to do their jobs, so here’s the guide you want them to use for telling your story.
Here’s what would have happened if I were an editor at Marvel and you handed that to me: I’d say thanks, and fire you on the spot. You don’t tell me how to do my job. I’d then have to find someone to fill the hole I just created, but I’d take the hit, as well as the late book.
Here’s what would have happened if I were an editor at Dark Horse: I’d say thanks, and then pass, unless the story was already bought. If it were already bought, the artist wouldn’t see the layout—at least, not from me.
Here’s what would have happened if you hired me as a freelancer: I would have said thanks, and given you back your script and your money.
Your layout doesn’t help anyone, and is insulting, even if you didn’t mean it that way. Your script is going to undergo changes—as you can see with my suggestions here—and your layout would then turn out to be a waste of time, because it’s no longer accurate.
So, here’s what you’ve done: you’ve pissed off the editor, you’ve pissed off the artist, and you’ve wasted your time. Sounds like you’re batting a thousand to me.
Do yourself a favor: if you want the practice for lettering, go ask artists for unlettered pages, and do those up. If you want practice coloring, you can get pages from just about anywhere. But don’t layout the pages and letter them up as a vision for what you see in your head, and then give them to someone on your creative team. You’ll end up wondering why you have problems keeping them around. It's a sign of distrust, and if the artist s worth their salt, they'll feel it to be constricting.
That’s it for this week. See the list for who’s next, and let’s discuss this.
Man, Forby, you're really gonna give this up?
The cathartic value alone must make it worth finding time for!
"Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"
yeah Forby, this is a vital service, and it would suck when you quit.
I wonder if the layouts were really meant as concrete or if it was simply a case of a writer, highly stoked about his script, to see something visual despite a lack of artistic ability.
I sometimes draw out little roughs to help me visualize the pages. Granted, I DON'T send them to the artist unless they ask me what angle I was gunning for or something, and even then It's more of a "This is what I was picturing, but do whatever works best to capture the shot," kind of deal.
"Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"
I can sympathise with what Joe was probably thinking when he sent those page layouts. In my first attempts at comic scripting, there were at points quite detailed descriptions of how a page could be laid out, and how I'd arrange the panels for the best dramatic effect. That was one of the glaring flaws I picked up on when first reading through Bolts & Nuts and The Proving Grounds, and have since tried to rein that habit in as much as I can. But even now, there are points where I find myself unable to resist a remark like "I imagine this being the dominant image of the page" or "I think these would be a series of smaller panels" from time to time.
But yeah, actually drawing out the panel layouts like Joe did here is something that would be severely limiting to an artist. If you're sending the artist the layouts and telling them the size every panel should be, it's removing the freedom of constructing a page, of doing anything exciting or individual with the art. After all, isn't part of the fun of a script turning into a fully-fledged comic book having the artist surprise you by approaching your panels in ways you didn't think of?
There's the ongoing problem of thin description, so I can only piece together from bits of context that she's walled up behind the brick Billy was pulling out. You may want to keep the reader guessing, but you don't want the artist guessing.
There's no viewpoint called out. I'd go with a shot from above with her looking up at the camera, myself. But, with that description, you could get back a sideview just as easily.
If Charlotte is in darkness, how can we see her? I can assume that you want her surroundings hidden in shadow with just her face lit from above, but you need to be clear. Don't make your artist assume. Do you want light enough to see a hint of her surroundings? Do you want deep shadows that hide everything but her face? Do you want even her face all but hidden except for a few highlights? Is Charlotte (being a ghost) giving off her own light? What do you want?
And lastly, the "smiling sheepishly" could be a tough sell - the smile is easy enough, but you'll need a good artist to pull off sheepish (and why would she be sheepish in the first place?).
I'll probably be back with some additional thoughts on the script, when I have more time. But it's a hectic weekend, so it may be a few days before I get to it.
I agree with all of Calvin's points on this, but but would also like to point out that she's wearing a gag.4 - Charlotte looking up in the darkness, smiling sheepishly. (No. Calvin, please explain why I’m going crazy right here.)
But I suspect that wasn't your intention, was it, Joe? This falls on the lack of description again. There is no clear-cut transition from Charlotte the little girl being attacked in the flashback, to Charlotte the ghost being found by Billy in the present. This caused me to assume that the Charlotte in that panel was a ghost, and therefore wouldn't likely be gagged, while James assumed that she would be gagged as she was depicted in the earlier flashback panel. This is what happens when you don't describe things well enough - people are forced to read into it, to get anything out of it, and different people will read different things into it. Providing a well thought out and clear description avoids that.
What confused me is that the flashback panel (and I'm assuming it is a flashback) with Charlotte gagged isn't described as a flash back, or as being sepia like the other flashbacks. This would be ok if the flashback (though not ideal) was a continuous scene, but since you're jumping between past and present it ends up being rather confusing. Also, the first time we see Charlotte in the present she's not described as being a ghost. If you want ghosts to look different from live people you should tell the artist that they're drawing a ghost up front.There is no clear-cut transition from Charlotte the little girl being attacked in the flashback, to Charlotte the ghost being found by Billy in the present
This is a bit harsh. I read through what was here, and would have kept going if there was more. Having said that I agree with Steven about the boring panels, such as the school bell, the sign etc. Comics are a visual medium, try and take advantage of that.The storytelling still needs work. In four pages, not only do I not know what’s going on, I really don’t care to find out
Hi guys, thanks for your time again. Much learnt as per usual.
I'll definately redo the 1st page like you said, and maybe completely rework pages 2 and 3 to be a bit more interesting... maybe give Charlotte's flashback a whole page and replace the cafeteria scene with something else which juxtaposes Billy and her in the same places of the school in different time periods.
It's interesting that you questioned my intentions in sending the "sketches" but not the actual content of them. If you look at page 2, it's clear that 9 panels work (and the images you cited as dullest are quite small and contain very little info) whereas if I'd just presented you a script where one page had 9 panels, you'd have dismissed it straight off the bat. I made it clear I'm not a layout nazi, and that they're open to be changed. The sketches were more a tool for myself, so that I could write and see how much information will fit in etc. (very hard judging that when you've never actually been illustrated). Although it's interesting to note I sent them to an artist who said they were easier to read than script and he would rather work from them. He may not be "worth his salt" in your book, but people pay him to design stuff and then draw it on their bodies permenantly, so who knows.
Anyway, point noted about drama. It's just hard not to be cheesy, I'd rather leave certain things to the imagination than beat people over the head with them. I'll try to think more visually. I think it's part laziness (can't be bothered to describe everything) and partly because I've heard you cut down people's descriptions in the past, as well as reading accounts of how stupid Alan Moore's lengthy prose was... it's like trying to please a schizophrenic single parent in here!
I also get that I need to describe the stuff about Charlotte better... as a ghost, she wouldn't be gagged anymore, because she's supposed to look sort of relieved when he finds her, innocent and lost. Plus I'm thinking of keeping her in sepia the whole time, rather than her looking like a traditional ghost. A love story develops between her and Billy, as he's the only person who can see her, and she's kind of a device to question and critique the educational system (because she's a rich Victorian girl and the school's gone downhill) and how society has gone as a whole.
Upmost/utmost - yeah, got that wrong.
"Sat" - we say "he is sat over there", present tense. It's wrong, but hey.
As for "smiling sheepishly" I'd visualise a shy smile, like chin down covering neck, head down at an angle, feet pointing together, holding her own hand over her belly type thing, looking off to one side in an embaressed "oh I do declare" kinda way. How the hell are you supposed to describe that? I may not have described it in the panel but it can definately be done with the right combo of body language.
The bell ringing was needless. I realize that now. I just felt like I needed a device to show time passing or something. Wrong again, I guess.
I'm glad you didn't tear the captions to bits, they're the most solid bit in my mind, as Rossiter would be a recurring character through a lot of these short stories set in the same universe... I get what you say about how they come and go. Maybe breaking the longer ones in half and scattering them about a bit more would help. I know some people are very anti-caption and see it as writer egoism, but I find I get more for my money when reading that kind of comic... and there's more openings for putting some interesting word and picture combos together, which I now realize I didn't do enough, either. Although the whole thing about Billy "knowing" about a member of staff's affair was supposed to somehow transfer into the flashback (maybe the other girls victimized Charlotte because she stole someone's boyfriend?) without it being too explicit and leaving a bit of mystery.
I didn't define Coprolalia because I didn't think Rossiter would in his report. Did you mean to define it for the artist or for the reader? It's the scatological form of Tourette's, which is how Tourette's is usually depicted in the media even though only a tenth of TS sufferers have the cussing. I figured the whole outburst on page one, coupled with Rossiter's reference to Billy's "scatalogical outbursts" would make it clear enough to the reader...
I might stretch this out to another page or two to see if I can improve the drama... just thought it'd be interesting to try and constrain myself to 4 pages.
I aqree with pretty much everything, except the stuff about the sketches, but I'll bare in mind what you said Steve and not send them over to artists unless they ask about them. It just occured to me that 9 panels seemed like it automatically went against comics beginners dogma but when you see it in a layout sketch it's not actually that much, especially if you want a "oh my god what a bizarre rush of psychic information" kinda vibe. Anyway, thanks again for all the help, folks. Still, I still can't help but feel like we're being taught to make something saleable rather than something effective and meaningful here (and no, they're not automatically the same thing). I don't try to be deliberately obtuse when I write, I think about how much information I want to impart, and I'd like to credit the audience with a certain amount of intelligence. This is something I do in my spare time because I enjoy writing stories; I love comics, but I don't think of them as product when I'm trying to write. I certainly don't think that way when I'm making music, either, I just make the type of thing I'd like to hear (or read?) more of. So all the technical advice is welcome but I think interestingness is a moot point... arguing about whether a certain story is interesting or not is like arguing about whether or not a pornographic film is arousing.