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Thread: TPG: Week 38- Joe Webb

  1. JohnLees Guest

    I appreciate most of this is directed at Steve, but I thought I'd try offering a response to this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Dungbeetle View Post
    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.
    You're correct: as far as I can tell, these columns aren't geared towards crafting something deep and meaningful - they're about what it takes to make it in comics. Not so much "how to write comic books" as "how to be a comic book writer". And yes, that involves writing material that hopefully a lot of people will want to buy and read, IE writing something sellable.

    Steve's said once in one of his columns, "Grant Morrison can afford the slow-boil, you can't." I think what he means is that if you want to try writing something challenging and intellectual, go for it by all means, but if comics is where you want to make your living, go for the more difficult stuff once you've laid the groundwork, and you have a name with enough clout to put behind riskier projects.

    And since you qualified your statement by saying something that sells isn't necessarily the same as something that's good, I think the flipside of that - while you do have a point - if your comic is good that more often than not goes a long way towards making it sellable. People like to read good stories.

    EDIT: Sorry, in all the rambling I forgot to actually get to my point. The Proving Grounds isn't about submitting your script for critical review. I believe the "pitch" behind the column is having your script edited by an editor. And as such, Steve isn't approaching it as a critic, talking about the merits of story or the themes you're going for, rather he's approaching it as an editor: IE, looking at it technically, and judging in the content in terms of whether or not he thinks it will sell. You could write the Great American (Graphic) Novel and submit it to a publisher: if the editor doesn't think the story would hook an audience, odds are they're not going to publish it.

  2. StevenForbes Guest

    Okay. I'm generally caught up, and have a little time before going to bed.

    First, I haven't met any tattoo artists who are also comic book artists. And, just because you're a tattoo artist doesn't mean that you're good. There are a lot of people that Marvel/DC pays for art that many would not find good. Rob Liefeld. 'Nuff said.

    I didn't look at the layouts. I had no reason to, because the script was going to change. Not only was the script going to change, but so was the layout because of the artist. Go give that to a strong artist who knows what they're doing, and they'll say thanks, and probably look at it curiously before doing what the script and their instincts tell them to. Like I said, it's a waste of time to give to someone.

    The captions didn't need to be torn down. They just needed to be continuous. They're not. Stopping and starting doesn't help you one bit. If you're going to tell the story, tell it. Don't do it in fits and starts. It ends up being choppy and unenjoyable (and choppy isn't what you're going for).

    I will never call 9 panels too much, depending on what's going on. As you can see, I never called you on padding the panel count on the page, although I could have. If you're doing nine panels on a page, that's fine as long as each panel says something. You could have 30 panels on a page, and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow if each panel was necessary. So feeling like you needed to put them down visually for me as an editor again tells me that you think I don't know how to do my job.

    It may not be what you intend, but that's what you're saying. If they're for you, that's fine. Keep it to yourself.

    As for making something salable versus effective and meaningful...two things.

    First, if you're going to go through the trouble of making a comic, you're making it to be read. Unless you're going to go through the hassle and expense just to give it away, you're going to sell it, hoping to at least break even. So, even if you want something to be effective and meaningful, you also want to be able to sell it. Having someone buy your work is the biggest vindication a creator has.

    Second, you just agreed with everything I and others wrote, which tells me you agree that there was little here that was effective, let alone meaningful.

    If you want to be effective and meaningful, then I suggest more writing on your part. Learn the constraints of the medium. Work with different artists and learn to write to their strengths. If you treat it as a hobby, as something you're only semi-interested in, you're going to write like you're only semi-interested in it, and lackluster will beat effective and meaningful every time.

    If you want to be effective and meaningful, then you have to write a story that is. This isn't.

    And finally, being interesting is never a moot point when you're writing. If you're telling a story, you want someone to stay to finish it. If you're trying to get someone to pick up the tab with the creation, you have no choice but to be interesting to the editor, whose job is to not only tell if the story is salable, but if it is commercial enough to warrant the expense. If you're self-publishing, you're trying to interest someone into buying it. If you go back and read Lee Nordling's articles on pitching, he says to know which part of the sandbox you're trying to play in. That's not only for pitching, that's for self-publishing, as well.

    Yes, you create, but you also want to be seen and heard. Just because you made it doesn't automatically mean it's worthwhile. Just because you built it does not automatically mean they will come. Yes, interesting means different things to different people. However, you can still be interesting and be technically proficient. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    Know what you're doing first, and then the other things will start to sort themselves.


  3. StevenForbes Guest

    And I now have a man-crush on John Lees.

    Imagine a Welshman (I think he's Welsh) talking about the Great American (Graphic) Novel!

  4. JohnLees Guest

    Close. I'm Scottish.

  5. Dungbeetle Guest

    Thanks again guys, very informative session, was just frustrated with the amount of industry talk, kna'mean. If you're a musician and you get together with some guys to make some tunes you're not necessarily thinking about Sony, and I know this is an editorial forum, and that's the whole point, but all I've ever been looking here for is "how do I make this better" (technical proficiency) rather than "so and so will be offended by this" (industry politics) because I know whoever I collaborate with will be someone I know face to face and have already touched base with, and I'll work out what their rules are then. Nearly everything I've read has said it can be helpful to draw sketches for your artist.

    I have faith in my stories in their wholeness, I just know I need to learn how to tell them better. And it's bewildering because I feel like a 17-year old film student who has The Godfather to shoot. I understand that you think from a business point of view, and encourage us to do the same, but this whole "interesting in 3 pages" thing grates on me. It's like telling someone who wants to make prog rock or dub reggae to start off on pop. You get told the same thing in the music industry; make your demo short and sweet, put the good shit at the start, don't try to do a build-up, but at the same time, these aren't demos, they're even earlier than that, and our submissions might not necessarily represent the opening pages of a comic. I certainly wouldn't start a Crow Hill anthology with this story, it's not an enthralling opening, I know that.

  6. Dungbeetle Guest

    Watch him - he'll be referring to Constantine as a cockney next...

  7. StevenForbes Guest

    If people are basically telling you the same thing in different mediums, there's a reason for it.

    And here's how I approached what you sent me:

    While I'm here, the entire point of TPG is what you would send an editor to get a job. So, I took it as you sending me over your package trying to get a job. It's not "industry politics" to think an editor will get offended if you send over layouts as well as the script. If you go for a job interview, do you hand the interviewer the questions you want to answer and the way they have to be asked? No. Same thing here.

    So, the entire package got looked at as "how do I make this better." That's not politics. That's just going over your package.

    Anyway, I'm lenient when I say "be interesting in 3 pages." There are a LOT of editors who want you to be interesting within the FIRST page.

    Until you make your name, you've got a road of conformity ahead of you in both mediums. Get used to that.

  8. jamesfairlie Guest

    Quote Originally Posted by Dungbeetle View Post
    I'm thinking of keeping her in sepia the whole time, rather than her looking like a traditional ghost.
    I like that idea a lot, though if you try and analyse it you get in a crazy post-modern twist

    Quote Originally Posted by Dungbeetle View Post
    It's like telling someone who wants to make prog rock or dub reggae to start off on pop.
    As it happens I am a prog musician, and the only paying work I can get is with pop groups :-p. I wasn't sure about taking it at first, but then I ended up really enjoying it, so stick with it - just because something is has mass appeal doesn't mean that it'll be bad, and can be a fun challenge in its own right.
    Last edited by jamesfairlie; Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 11:23 PM.

  9. CalvinCamp Guest


    Some additional thoughts:
    I won’t cover the same things Steven did, just consider my comments as being in addition to his comments, not as an alternate view. I’m also not going to quote/repeat the whole script, just the parts I want to address.

    Page 1 (4 Panels)
    Before we even get into what you wrote, I think you need to add a panel here, bringing your panel count up to 5 for the page.

    You need an exterior establishing shot showing the school, as it looks now, with a sign in the foreground showing the current name. Ordinarily I wouldn’t say you need this, because you could have used your existing first panel as an interior establishing shot, but in this particular case you need it. You’re going to be playing games with different time periods in the same setting, so you need to clearly establish the status quo right now.

    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.
    The way you’re formatting things, this is outside of your panels, so it’s going to be viewed as general information for the whole page. That’s fine, up to a point, but it’s causing you problems. You’re putting stuff here, instead of in the panels where it belongs (and in some cases even contradicting your panel descriptions). I personally think it’s better to just leave the descriptions in the panels. But, if you prefer to use the overview descriptions, just be careful.

    1 - Mr Bennet, standing at the front of class, one finger in the air, eyebrows raised, owl-like.
    See? It got you in trouble already. This should be your interior establishing shot of the classroom (containing the stuff that was in the overview description). But, as written, you’re going to get a medium shot of the teacher. If you’re lucky you might get a chalkboard in the background. Why? Because you didn’t describe what you wanted. No description of the surroundings. No viewpoint. So you won’t get what you wanted.

    2 – Thin slither of a panel showing Billy’s hand as he scribbles a brickwork pattern onto the lined paper in his exercise book.
    What is a thin slither? Do you mean sliver? Proof-read your work.

    I just wanted to quote that.

    Actually, no, I do have a point. Which is… if you have an establishing shot, do the rearranging Steven talked about, break the narration up so it’s not just in a lump at the end, and provide some decent description for your panels, you’ll have a good page here. It catches my attention, amuses me, and makes me want to turn the page. So your intentions are good, it’s just your execution that needs work.

    Page 2 (9 Panels)

    [B]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.
    Another one of these overview descriptions, and it’s causing you problems again. This time you’re overview is claiming that this entire page takes place in the school cafeteria. But it actually doesn’t. If you must do the overviews, then make sure you do them right. Don’t contradict yourself, and don’t use it as an excuse to avoid adequate description in the panels themselves.

    2 - SEPIA: Saint. Augustine’s Convent school sign[/COLOR]
    Here is where that establishing shot I want you to use on page one will help you out. You’re going to use it again here – except that the name will be different, and you can tweak the description a bit to show an earlier time (smaller trees, maybe the building is missing a wing that hasn’t been added onto the school yet). This will help the reader grasp, instantly and without doubt, that we’re looking at a flashback, and a flashback featuring this same location. It’s also more interesting than a close-up shot of a sign.

    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 - -
    Even assuming she wasn’t fired for moral turpitude (I could see a lot of parental outrage if the story got out), how does she get away with refusing to do her job? It’s not a huge deal, but it’s a logical disconnect that stalls the story a little for me.

    5 - SEPIA: An envelope, presumably holding a love letter, addressed “Charlotte xxx” in the scrawled handwriting of a pubescent Victorian schoolboy.
    Just an envelope, floating in emptiness. If this really what you want to see?

    6 - The girl in the canteen looking at Billy, reeling.
    Is Billy reeling? Or is the girl reeling away from Billy? If not, what is her reaction (other than the grunt)? Is she still starting to sit? Is she already sitting, a fork of food partway to her mouth? Is she scrambling away from the nutcase? Is she sympathetic and concerned (since she chose to sit by Billy, we might assume she knows him and has seen this sort of thing before)? You’re just thinking about moving the story along, not thinking visually. Think about what you want to see, and tell the artist.

    Also, by alternating the flashbacks, you’re slowing down the pacing, and the apparent elapsed time as the current events unfold. When the girl is about to sit, then we jump to something else, the expectation is that time has passed. So the girl should be sitting by the time we get back to Billy. Also, when you have Billy shout and then jump to the letter, then jump back to the girl’s reaction – the reaction seems off because the jumping back & forth is screwing up your pacing. To avoid that sort of thing, you need to get any sudden actions/reactions in the same panel, and you need to make sure that the positions and actions of the characters are in keeping with the apparently elapsed time.

    It might be easier to just stop jumping time every other panel and break your flashbacks into manageable chunks inserted at more natural breaks. Either way, you need to work on it.

    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.
    Why on earth would you want the reader to presume she’s reading the letter? Just quit playing around and show her reading the letter.

    8 - SEPIA: One of the other convent girls, whispering in a laughing friend’s ear.
    Where are they? What’s the viewpoint? If we could see they were watching Charlotte, this might make sense.

    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.
    Took her long enough. This is what I mean about the pacing being slowed down by the flashbacks. The girl should have gotten up to leave right after Billy yelled (if she was going to at all), but, because of the flashbacks, it feels like everything is moving slower than it should be.

    The narration is working against your pacing too. It’s a little dry, there’s more of it than there needs to be, and it’s in large chunks. So that’s slamming the brakes on the pacing at odd moments too. Cut it down a little, break up what’s left, spread it out more evenly, and that should help.

    2 – SEPIA: the love Letter being snatched from charlotte’s hand, ripping slightly to show the aggression in the action.
    No. You’re playing games again. Quit trying to be cute, and just tell the story. Don’t show the letter. Show the other girls snatching the letter away from Charlotte. Then you can use body language to show the aggression, and it will carry it much better than a bit of torn paper.

    3 – SEPIA: Two or three of the other convent girls, pulling Charlotte’s hair.
    Where are we? How many girls are supposed to be around (there were two before)? And three different girls are pulling Charlotte’s hair? Not one is doing something else? What is Charlotte doing? Where’s the letter?

    4 - Billy descending a dark staircase into the bowels of the school, holding a torch in one hand.
    Why? Don’t they have electricity in this part of the school? Another of those, “not a huge deal, just seems off,” things.

    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.
    Just strolling on through like they’re walking in the park? The other girls leading Charlotte on, teasing her as she tries to grab back the letter? The other girls dragging Charlotte into the boiler room kicking and screaming? What do you want to see?

    7 - Charlotte’s face, contorted with fear, a tie wrapped round her mouth like a gag.
    Where was the gag last panel? Where was the fear? What’s actually happening? I don’t know what you want, because you’re not describing anything.

    8 - Billy’s hand, sliding a loose brick out of the wall...
    This is the first time you’ve bothered to mention that the walls are made of brick. Are all the bricks crumbly and loose? Is this one just not mortared in like the rest, as if it’s an access way of some sort? Does this area of the wall look different than the rest of the wall (a filled in doorway or alcove perhaps)? Think. Describe.

    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,
    raises an eyebrow
    with no tie. We shouldn’t be able to see his eyes here, but should know he is the one writing the captions. 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?)
    Until/unless Were-Lock comes along with something better, I’ll suggest using a caption box with a style that suggests paper and a handwriting font, to help tie the narration into the guy writing. Ending the narration on a close over-the-shoulder shot showing him writing out the final lines would be a nice touch.

    4 - Charlotte looking up in the darkness, smiling sheepishly.
    See all the stuff that was covered before.

    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.
    How are we supposed to see Charlotte’s hair, if we’re looking out the hole at Billy from Charlotte’s viewpoint? Unless our viewpoint is from the wall behind the ghost, and we’re looking through the ghost’s head (and I don’t know how the heck you’d show something like that), all we’re going to see is a rectangular hole in the darkness with an eye looking in.

    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.
    Yep. When it comes to panel description, it’s not about keeping things short. It’s about keeping it no longer than it needs to be. What has to be in there, has to be in there. The trick is in figuring out what has to be in there and what doesn’t.

    I like the idea of Charlotte always appearing in sepia. That could be pretty cool.

    "Sat" - we say "he is sat over there", present tense. It's wrong, but hey.
    Ah ha! I suspected as much. I was trying to help Barri out awhile back, looking over a script, and kept giving him hell over that. I finally started wondering if it was a cultural thing. Now that I have confirmation, I suppose I’ll have to lighten up on him.

    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?
    How? Why not the way you just did? But, keep in mind… originally you wanted her “looking up out of darkness” which is probably going to lead the artist to a close-up with only her face visible (or not much more than her face). By answering the question, you’ve thought out what you want to see and described a different panel than you did the first time. The process you went through to do that, visualizing, “How can this be shown?” is what you need to do for every panel you write.

    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 can’t say what Steven meant, but I think just a small caption in the corner of the panel, with a definition, would clear everything up without being too intrusive. The context is plenty to lead the reader to the conclusion of, “Billy has Tourette’s,” but most probably won’t know there are different forms and will still be left wondering what Coprolalia is.

    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.
    You could probably even mention you did them, to help yourself in sorting out your panel count and such, and ask if they’d be interested in seeing them. The problem would arise in sending them off, along with the script, as a guideline – that has the potential to make you come off like a control freak. Saying, “By the way, I’ve got these layout sketches I did, if you think they’d help any,” might be less likely to make that impression.

    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.
    You’re right, up to a point. A lot of this is about being saleable. But being saleable doesn’t preclude being meaningful.

    If you’re only doing this for yourself, for the joy of going through the motions, that’s fine. But, honestly, if you claim that’s entirely the case, I think you’re full of it. You’re here because you want other people to look at the meaningful stuff that you love, and hopefully love it too – and that means you want it to be saleable. You want people to be interested in it. So interest is hardly a moot point.

    You’re also mistaken if you think you can accept the technical advice and blow off the question of whether the story is interesting or not, because it’s the technical flaws in the storytelling that are making the story less interesting than it should be. The story you’re trying to tell is fine. The story you’re telling needs work. I think that’s what Steven was trying to get across.

    Holy burst of posting, Batman!
    A lot happened while I was typing. Some of what I said was already addressed directly. Ah well. But this...
    Anyway, I'm lenient when I say "be interesting in 3 pages." There are a LOT of editors who want you to be interesting within the FIRST page.
    I like this goal. Ideally, I'd like to be interesting within every page.

    Edit 2:
    put the good shit at the start, don't try to do a build-up
    Nothing wrong with a build-up, as long as the build-up is good shit too. Almost anything can done in a way that's interesting. It's all in the execution. (Easier said than done, of course)
    Last edited by CalvinCamp; Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 12:38 AM.

  10. Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Post Thanks / Like

    Oh, yeah. Calvin's gonna be perfect when he takes the reins!

    Joe, always have an edge on the salable/deep-meanignful debate.

    You're from the UK. When it comes to comics, we yanks assume ALL writers from the UK are deep, meaningful, AND salable. Plus, we assume anything we didn't "get" in the story is beacuse we aren't deep and meaningful enough to understand.

    "Living Robert Venditti's Plan B!"

    CAT. 5

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