Hey, folks! I'm working on this script with Jamie, which is why I say "we" throughout the editing process. Now, neither of us have really done any in-depth editing like this before, so forgive us if we've made a bit of a mess of it. But I hope Calvin can glean some useful feedback from it. Let's get to work!
Shadowdancer – Jake (excerpt)
Character description – Shadowdancer (Interesting piece of opening trivia. Shadowdancer is in fact the name of a Mega Drive game. You play a descendant of Shinobi in the apocalyptic future of 1997, who has a dog for a sidekick that follows you around. Have you thought about giving your protagonist an Alaskan husky for a best bud?)
Shadowdancer is not terribly tall (maybe 5' 8" or so), and he's a little scrawny but still muscular in a wiry way. He appears to be in his mid to late 20s . He looks like kind of a freak, with a crack-addled, goth, Morris dancer vibe going. He runs around in a ragged Victorian frock coat, with a poet shirt, torn jeans and engineer boots. He also has white ribbons tied in places around his arms and legs and wears a long, white scarf at his neck. His hair is a wild, black mess. He has a perpetually crazed look and he smiles waaaay too much.
Character description - Jake
Jake is a skid row bum, weathered and bent with age. He's in his mid 70s and looks every hour of it, and then some. He's homeless & dirty. His clothes are mismatched, ill-fitting, and in poor condition. He wears a patched and threadbare overcoat, a battered & floppy old fedora, and gloves with the tips worn out, his fingers poking through. He has a scraggly gray beard. He's a wrinkled, rumpled, but kindly-looking old gent, who has long ago fallen on hard times.
This story needs a timeless look, nothing modern allowed (until the very end). Architecture, clothing, furniture, everything visible, must as easily fit in the 1950s as the 2000s. Avoid showing cars (except where specifically noted), as it would date things way too easily. Keep the viewpoints looking away from the streets toward the buildings whenever possible. Don't put in anything that too strongly suggests a time period other than our own, but don't put in anything that screams modern. Yes, I know this will be a challenge, but it's essential to the story.
Page 1 (5 panels)
(large, full width panel with title & credits)
Long shot of a boardwalk beside the ocean. There are cast iron benches in front of the protective wood railing, facing out to sea. Throw a couple decorative streetlights in somewhere, for light later. (Thinking of your light source - good!) The sun is low in the sky, nearing sunset. The clouds are just beginning to pick up some color. Shadowdancer is sitting on a bench, looking across the water, his feet propped up on the guard railing and hands folded in his lap. Nearby, Jake is shuffling along the boardwalk toward Shadowdancer, hands in the pockets of his overcoat.
Mostly good, but how are you going to show shuffling Not necessarily calling it a moving panel just yet, but “hands in the pockets” creates the idea of shuffling enough, without needing to say the word “shuffling” itself, which implies the motion of shuffling.
Jake is lowering himself onto the bench as Shadowdancer looks over at him, grinning. Jake is smiling also, his eyes crinkling almost shut in his wrinkled face.
I think this line is okay, but Jamie thinks it's borderline moving panel.
Good evening, Jake, my welcome friend. You're just in time for this fine day's end.
I get that having Shadowdancer speak in rhyme is a stylistic choice, but I think it still feels kinda clunky. It seems like you're forcing in words to try and get a sense of meter.
Jake is pulling a whiskey bottle out of his coat pocket, as Shadowdancer gazes out at the sea.
Gonna be a cold night. Care for a snort?
You should keep it for your own pleasure, sir. My blood, liquor is unable to stir.
This one feels even clunkier. The meter is a bit wonky, and swapping around the order of the last sentence to get the rhyme makes it feel a bit contrived and unnatural. But there's no point highlighting the same flaw every time it pops up. We'll talk more about it at the end.
The old man looks over at Shadowdancer, whiskey bottle half-raised to his lips. Shadowdancer is back to gazing expectantly outward, waiting for the sunset.
Eh, that's right. Still a pure shame.
Whiskey may be a small comfort. But what good is life without small comforts?
Close-up on Jake, as he looks at the contents at his half-raised whiskey bottle, a rueful smile on his face.
'Course the docs told me, years ago, it would kill me.
But, if you gotta die of somethin', might as well be somethin' you enjoyed.
Okay, my problem right away with this page is that not much happens. If we are to view page 1 as the attention-grabber, the one that is supposed to grab readers by the balls and make them keep reading, then this doesn't really work. Over 5 panels, all you manage to do is have a man walk to a bench, sit down, pull out a bottle of booze, think about drinking it, then decide to look at it ponderously instead. In one whole page the poor old dude doesn't even get as far as drinking the stuff! It's a very quiet, uneventful opening to your story, with very stationary visuals (except the two moving panels – Jamie) and so any interest gleaned from it would depend entirely on some truly excellent, immersive dialogue. And while the dialogue is perfectly serviceable (Jake's, at least) it is just filler conversation rather than anything blow-your-socks-off. I don't feel immediately compelled to turn the page. What cliffhanger am I waiting for, seeing if Jake drinks his booze?
Page 2 (5 panels)
Medium shot on the two, as Jake tosses back a swallow of his whiskey. Shadowdancer is sitting next to him, head tilted to the side slightly, looking thoughtful.
Oh, he does!
It is a fortunate man who can choose his own fate. I've chosen many, myself... but found none, to date.
Jake tucks his bottle back in his coat, as he gives Shadowdancer a concerned look, eyes narrowed as he tries to decide if that meant what it sounded like. Shadowdancer is still staring at the ocean, smiling wistfully.
The hereafter comes to everyone, son. Ain't no need to try and rush it.
Close-up on Shadowdancer. His smile has faltered a bit.
Heaven, or Hell, may be a strong lure. But for everyone, Jake?
I'm not so sure.
Pull back to show both. Jake stares at Shadowdancer with confusion.
We're confused too.
Maybe I just ain't the poet you are, but I could swear you ain't makin no kind of sense.
Close-up on Shadowdancer's face. His gaze is distant. Though he's still holding onto a faded smile, sorrow is now clear in his expression.
After all the sunsets you've spent by my side, it seems strange I've not told you...
I've already died.
This is a more interesting way to end the page. Shame it was another largely static page. Now it seems like the story's going to go somewhere, but it took two uneventful pages to get to that point. Perhaps you could find a way to streamline this conversation into a single page (which would cut out a bit of the waffle, where it seems like you were putting in lines just to take up space). And 5 panels a page isn't that many for slow moving stuff, so you probably wouldn't have to cut too much stuff out to get it down to 1 page – just squeeze more panels into the 1 remaining page. This way, the “I've already died” line becomes the first-page page-turner.
Page 3 (6 panels)
Begin Flashback – use alternate visual style (to be determined)
Yeah, with the approach we suggested you'd be turning the page onto a flashback and a change of scene, which would be nice.
A night scene outside a theater. A crowd of patrons are leaving the show. Prominent among them is Shadowdancer (looking the same age as he does now). Instead of his usual oddball look, he's in a suit and tie with his hair fairly short and neatly combed. He appears happy, but remarkably un-crazed. There's a lovely young woman on his arm, as happy as he is. She is wearing a white dress with a long, white scarf that looks suspiciously like the one Shadowdancer usually wears.
Not really a problem, but is there any particular demographic you want the crowd of patrons to cover? Is it an old crowd, a young crowd, a wealthy crowd, a trendy crowd? Other than that, good panel description.
"It was not such a long time ago, by the years. But long enough that I've lost all count of the tears."
Shadowdancer and the woman are stealing a kiss in the recessed doorway of a closed shop, as the crowd passes them by.
Perhaps you should describe a bit what kind of angle you're wanting this? You might end up with the passing revellers in the foreground, obscuring what I imagine you want to be the focus of the panel.
Farther along the street, Shadowdancer and the woman laughingly perform a dance twirl on the sidewalk, while passersby give them strange looks. The crowd has thinned out some.
It's not impossible to draw a still image of a “dance twirl”, but you need to describe it better than that, or we're going to call it moving. They're dancing, and they're laughing at their dancing, and people are looking at them while they're dancing and laughing?
A rough-looking man backs out of the door to a liquor store with a revolver in his hand, stuffing a wad of money into his pocket with the other.
Shadowdancer and the woman, still doing their dance, have bumped into the robber - startling all of them.
Zoom in on the robber. Panicked, he's firing the revolver.
We're not sure what you really want with this description. Are you zooming right in on the robber's face, with his firing gun off-panel? Or are we more focusing into the gun in his hand as it fires? A better description of the “camera angle” might help here. We were about to say this is a REALLY strong page turn, only then we remembered we suggested you cut the previous scene from 2 pages to 1, meaning we kinda screwed that up for you. Sowwee. I didn't notice it at first, but Jamie pointed out that what's really great about this page is that other than sound effects, it's totally silent – no dialogue. That really adds to the power of the scene, nice job!
Page 4 (6 panels)
Shadowdancer sprawls lifeless on the sidewalk, in the woman's arms, blood staining his shirt. The woman stares up at the robber (now killer), her face a mask of anguish and rage.
Good panel description. I could really visualise this one.
As Shadowdancer lies on the sidewalk in a pool of blood, the woman has risen and is advancing on the robber. Her teeth are bared in a snarl, her eyes slits of rage, her hands clenched in fists. The robber looks scared. He's pointing his revolver at her, his other hand held out as if to keep her away, his mouth open as if he's yelling something.
Close-up on the robber, freaked out. He's firing again.
BLAM BLAM BLAM
A repeat of the previous problem – is the close-up on the robber's face or his gun?
We'd actually have the page end here. So we take back our apology, we didn't screw up your structure, nyah! With an amended structure, you condense the boring opening into a single page, making it move faster and therefore making it less of a drag. You then turn the page, and page 2 and 3 is this lovely little self-contained, silent piece (done in a different art style, as you stipulated), with the page-turning cliffhanger being Shadowdancer's lady friend apparently getting shot. And there's no problem with this page just being 3 panels, as the first panel of this page would merit being a large panel that dominates like half the page.
Shadowdancer sits beside Jake on the boardwalk bench. He's leaning forward, his elbows on his knees and his hair obscuring his face. Jake has a hand on Shadowdancer's shoulder. He looks toward his friend with a sympathetic but puzzled expression.
Well, now... that's sure a sad tale. But... I'm a little confused.
This line reads just a little bit patronising. Shadowdancer: “I WAS SHOT AND THEN THE LOVE OF MY LIFE WAS MURDERED!” Jake: “Well now, that's sure a sad tale.” Just a little nitpick.
You said, before, that you died. Are you saying your heart died, like? Or are you saying you literally, throw the dirt over you, died?
Zoom in closer, as Jake looks at his friend and Shadowdancer hangs his head.
'Cause, well... you're sitting right here beside me.
And you look pretty lively.
Close-up on Shadowdancer as he raises his head. His eyes look off into the distance as he answers.
Oh, I was well and truly dead.
At least, that's what the coroner said.
Jamie is threatening to go get his big book of how to write poetry down to correct your dodgy meter. It's written by Stephen Fry.
Page 5 (4 panels)
We're in a morgue. The viewpoint is from inside looking toward the open entrance door to the room. Make sure we can see some of the body drawers off to one side. Inside the room, two bodies, one male and one female, lay on metal gurneys with sheets concealing them and toe tags dangling. Outside the morgue room, visible through the open door, a man in a white smock is standing at a coffee counter (back to us). Put a telephone on the wall in the morgue, beside the door.
Move the viewpoint outside the morgue room. Viewpoint from in front of the man at the coffee counter, looking back through the open door, into the morgue. The man is pouring himself a cup of coffee. Inside the morgue, the male body (Shadowdancer) is sitting up on the gurney, looking confused. There are no signs of his gunshot wound.
Same viewpoint as above. The man at the counter is spilling his cup of coffee all over himself as he looks over his shoulder, in horror, at Shadowdancer. Shadowdancer is standing, wrapped in a sheet, in the doorway of the morgue. He still looks confused.
Hey, guy --
Man with coffee stains:
Large panel. Viewpoint from the wall by the morgue phone. The man with coffee all over his smock is talking on the phone, calmer than he has any right to be, but still looking a little wild-eyed. In the background, Shadowdancer is sitting on the floor with the woman's body held in his lap, his face buried in her hair. The sheets are tangled around them both.
Man with coffee stains:
Yeah, boss, you'd better come down here. We've got a...
This whole sequence in the morgue works great. You get a nice little visual gag or two in there, but you also get a nice character beat with the resurrected Shadowdancer cradling his lost love in his arms. To again refer to my recommended restructure, if you did make the end of the first flashback a page-turn, that would leave you with two options. Either you extend the second dull present day talky scene into a whole page, or you squeeze those panels onto the start of this page, making a 7-panel page. Neither of those are ideal options, so my recommendation would be to use the first 2 panels of the Jake/Shadowdancer conversation, and have Shadowdancer's dialogue in the third panel become a narrative caption on the first panel of the morgue flashback.
Okay, so that's us done with the script provided. So what general comments do we have? First, the elephant in the room – Shadowdancer's clunky dialogue. Now there's nothing wrong with a character talking in verse, but to pull it off, you have to do it EXTREMELY well. And with most of these lines, it just ends up feeling awkward. Imagine for a moment this is a movie, and Vin Diesel is reading these lines. To paraphrase Harrison Ford: “you can write that shit, Calvin, but you sure as hell can't say it.” If you're wanting to go for a poetic aspect to the character, perhaps try something a little more subtle, like writing his lines in iambic pentameter?
Hate to be harsh, but the present day scenes are dull. It seemed like very little of note happened in those opening couple of pages, and very near scuppered the script totally. If I was a curious customer in a comic book store picking this up off the shelves, skim-reading the first couple of pages would not convince me to give the book a try.
But on the plus side, the flashback sequences were a lot stronger here. One possible danger could be that the lack of dialogue would make people breeze through these scenes too quickly, but a strong artist should amend this problem, and the stylistic choice of no dialogue in that first flashback was one of the strongest aspects of the scene, so the benefits outweigh any possible risks. Not only did these two flashback scenes tell an engaging story I want to learn more about, but it was in these sequences that you really hit your stride as a visual storyteller, framing some images I could instantly picture in my head.
To wrap up, there are a few structural problems here, sure. We suggested possible ways of fixing them. But if you sort out those bumps, I think you have the foundation of a really good story here. Good job!