Comics Creators

MW Annual 2017 - peer feedback


Or maybe we’re massive Watchman fans but we don’t think you’ll be paired with Dave Gibbons as your artist?

I think there’s an issue of practicality when you’re submitting “blind”. You can assume that the artist will be good, because we’ve seen some incredible examples in the art submission thread, but how many of those examples told a story in a nine-panel grid? Even most of the “hot” pros working today don’t ever do that, I suspect.

Yes of course eight panels is a perfectly acceptable way of laying out a comic, and many great comics have done it. But I think it would be unfair (and unwise) to expect a random amateur artist to be comfortable doing it.

When you’ve picked the artist yourself and have a good rapport and know what he can and can’t do, knock yourself out. Pick George Perez and write 16-panel pages with 200 characters on each one :wink: . But when you can’t do that, you need assume you’re writing for someone who’s comfortable drawing in a more mainstream way.

That’s just my uninformed guess as to why simpler layouts might be preferred in this case. I could be completely wrong.


I hate giving plot critiques because, as you say, plot is entirely subjective. Unless it’s to point out an actual hole in the plot logic, all you’re really saying is “I don’t like this kind of story”, which doesn’t help anyone. If you listen to me, 80% of the drama on TV wouldn’t get made :wink:


As mentioned before, if that comes across it is purely coincidental. If we have a story that stirs the heart and makes people cry then it’ll likely win. You may not believe it but it’s true and the judges are all very different people scattered all over the world that are not given any tonal guidance from Mark.

There are a couple of more important elements to look at here.

Firstly the original material - we want to remain true to the source and with titles like Supercrooks and Chrononauts they are ‘fun caper’ concepts. Nemesis is dark and Kick Ass and Hit-Girl move between the two.

Secondly is that the 4 or 5 pages need to stand up as a product on its own merits. It needs to be a satisfying story without the context of the main books for anyone that picks it up. We had one exceptionally well written story come in, one of the strongest scripts from a writing perspective, but it didn’t have a story. It was a moody character piece that just ended abruptly. So it was shortlisted but not selected in the end because the winner had a very satisfying (and yes lighter) tale that had a couple of very clever twists. So it wasn’t rejected on the basis of tone but on the rather more basic storytelling.

Thirdly we always have some scripts that are just too nasty or lewd, Mark touches on those areas but none of his books are Avatar fare (okay maybe Nemesis pushes that a little). We’ve had some flat out torture porn and slashfic stuff a few times. That’s not going in.

If there is a bias there it’s that I think it is harder in the short story format to provide a satisfying ‘dark’ storyline. If you look at something like Tharg’s Future Shocks in 2000ad most end with a joke or clever twist as that is very satisfying in the format. People can and have had success with darker more serious fare but the fact that they are in a minority suggests it may be harder to do.

In the end the main criterion is a good story. We never had any discussion on tone outside the third point where people just went way over the top to the extent we’d have to pack it in a plastic bag with a parental advisory.


Just in case it isn’t clear, text sometimes causing a lack of intonation/ etc. I’m neither on the attack nor defending anything. I keep engaging solely because I find this kind of discussion intriguing. I sincerely hope no one I responded to thought I was attacking, or attempting to tear anyone down here. This has all been in the spirit of hopefully being of some help to folks as they move forward. Honestly I’d get a kick out of seeing everybody in this thread continuing on, and getting their own stuff out their in the world.

I in no way am intending to come off as some sort of authority on any of the crit I’ve left. It’s all highly subjective, and one size certainly doesn’t fit all. I’m sure there’s plenty of perfectly valid work out there you respond to strongly that I wouldn’t or vice versa. To me that’s great, I genuinely hope everyone finds their audience.

Actually you’re exactly right here. I was conflating yours with another of the scripts I read.

I think what caught me on your 10 panel page had more to do with geometry than anything. Since I made a mistake previously by talking in generalities, I’ll go into a little detail. Again as always, just my perspective, and certainly no attack or sleight meant by this, but this was the basic math going through my head reading your page 3:

A finished and printed standard comics page is 10.25" tall. Roughly an 1/8" or so top and bottom is trim area (usually a little more bottom, and a little less top), if you want complete rectangular borders you’re better off thinking of the page as 10" tall.

Now with 10" to work with you still need to likely take away for gutter space. Maybe the artist can get away with 1/16", but an 1/8" is a whole lot easier to make look tidy after considering the width of the pen/stroke of the line that needs to box it out. To get 6 tiers, you’ll need at least 5 horizontal run gutters. That’s over another 1/2" of space taken up at the more likely measurement, and close to half an inch at the tighter measurement. For sake of easy math, we’ll call it an even 1/2". This leave 9 1/2 inches of total vertical live drawing space on the page.

Your call is for tiers 1 and 6 to be smaller so that adds some space to the other 4. But even to pull off this kind of variation you’re now looking at panels 1 & 10 on this page being about an inch high, or approximately the height of a postage stamp. In shrinking these two tiers each of the other 4 equally sized tiers manages to be about 1.8" tall.

I wouldn’t say there are no artists out there that can pull off a detailed shot of a soldier that needs to be recognizable, looking bored,in uniform firing his rifle, having his face dramatically lit by muzzle blast, as his spent cartridges fly around him with a second soldiers head visible in the foreground and a field lit by an evening sky all at an inch high. (1.5" tall drawing if he/she is working traditionally at 150%)

But I would daresay that kind of artist is likely pretty thin on the ground.

The other stuff about formatting is intriguing, and continuing that line of discussion might bear fruit, it also might be best left to messaging or a thread unto itself as to not kidnap this one. I’ve been busy this week so hadn’t had the time needed to sit down and look at any more, but hopefully someone can get the feedback train re-jumpstarted. I learn a ton from this kind of process personally.


Just because I picked Gibbons as an example doesn’t mean he’s the only one – nine-panel grids are extremely common. Perhaps you normally read 6-panel comics and that’s your right, but your particular tastes aren’t the arbiter of what is ‘mainstream’ or what is ‘wise.’ Why would a competent ‘random amateur’ be able to put 6 pictures on a page but not 9? Artwork for comics is normally shrunk anyway – draw it whatever size you want and shrink it to the right size. You might think that for storytelling purposes that’s too many, but that’s nothing whatever to do with an artist’s capability. They don’t have to map out the layout or figure what will go into each box: I’ve done that. Now perhaps I’ve done that badly but that’s an entirely separate thing to an artist’s ability.

As for plot, I wouldn’t say it’s of no use to anyone – perhaps I wrote something that I thought was a certain tone and it actually came across a different tone. It’s subjective and can potentially be of no value, but if someone has a comment on my plot I’m incredibly happy and grateful to receive it. Again, you don’t have to be that way – I’m just talking about me.


Fair enough, in my experience nine-panel pages are rare, but I only read a tiny, tiny fraction of the comics being produced today so my experience doesn’t count for much there. I’ll take your word for it that they’re common. But I look at the artist submission thread and I don’t see many artists offering more than six panels per page. That doesn’t mean they’re not capable of it, of course, but surely it says something that when trying to show off their best skills not one of them has picked a nine-panel grid?

(Ok, there may be one or two. I scrolled down it fairly quickly.)


You guys are amazing and I really don’t mean ‘lighter fare’ to be an insult – I know you guys are honest and diligent and polite and all the good things that words can express. But at the end of the day there will always be that subjective element, and for me – and I can’t stress enough that this is just a personal thing – there was that other script last year that was not better than the winner (the winner was great) but was just more to my taste. Now obviously it wasn’t quite as matched to the taste of some process in the judging (almost certainly the last round; i.e., Mark), so while tone wasn’t explicitly discussed it has to at some point, by the sheer nature of the task, enter the process. Depending on what’s in the upcoming annual, I’ll have a couple of data points that I can draw a line through, so if I was in any way inclined to write something that might win next year (and I am) I have to at least look at those data points. More importantly for Warren, those data points should probably be the grain of salt with which he takes my comments on the tone of his particular entry.

But again you guys are awesome – you’re always answering any question any of us may have, and you do it politely no matter how ludicrous the question is. What’s more you do it for free, and out of the goodness of your heart. The whole competition comes under this category. I hope any observations I may make in regards to how one might try and win the competition does not negate any of that.


A nine-panel grid was the default of comics for a long while. Not that the default should in any way be a guiding force for anyone, but it’s hardly the realm of only the masters.

The artists in the art thread are doing their own layouts. There are various reasons one might choose six panels for their layouts, but I can’t see any of those reason being incapacity. What is the skillset required for putting 36 images on four pages rather than on 6-and-a-bit pages? Sizing? Most comics artwork is shrunk. Pacing or storytelling? Some writers will leave that to the artist and then your point would make sense; but I laid it all out in my script. If it doesn’t work that’s on me, but I’m not asking someone to pull a Gibbons and lay it out for me (not that Gibbons even did that – Moore did the pacing/layout, or at least suggested it while giving Gibbons free reign to override if he felt like he had a better visual idea).


Sidestepping the arguments about what an artist should be able to manage and what is the right way to tell a comics story, I think it’s always a good idea to be as familiar as possible with the brief of a job before you apply for it.

Here’s a list of tips posted by Mark Millar in 2015, when the first Annual competition was announced.

It includes these pointers:

[quote]I would advise working around 5 panel pages, especially for a short story. This is just enough room for an artist to clearly tell the story visually and, in a short story, give you enough room for a satisfying beginning, middle and end. Six panels should be your absolute max as anything else essentially becomes a series of close-ups for your artist and neither of you will be happy. Yeah, Frank Miller did a sixteen panel grid for Dark Knight Returns, but he was drawing it too, which makes a complex page much easier to write and anything too fancy at this stage and you’re going to trip yourself up. Focus on the story as opposed to potentially interesting panel arrangements. The story itself is hard enough.

Your first page should have a panel big enough to take the logo and the credits for you and the artists. I’d recommend opening with a four panel page for this reason as it will give your opening room to breath and immediately separate it from the previous strip in the anthology. This isn’t an issue with a regular-sized issue, but for a short story in an anthology it’s an easy rookie mistake to make.[/quote]


Yes but just ask the next question, was it as good a standalone story? If you walk into that annual off the street as your first MW book?

Maybe, everything in art is subjective but I want to give the right indication of why things are selected. Because they are ‘light’ is categorically the wrong one, in my case my favourite film is Naked by Mike Leigh which is as grim and dark as they get.

It’s important not to take the wrong message because what we’ll end up with is dozens of bad whimsical strips next year because that’s what ‘the judges want’ and we miss a special profound story someone has poured their heart into. It’s an incorrect data point really. You may also see patterns in initials or nationality or number of lines per balloon but none of these are items we chase after and ‘taste’ is a vague idea as you have at least 6 individuals selecting across the book.


Thanks Dave on the reminder.

On the number of panels we have never set a rule. Mark likes to use 4-6 a page, you can see it in all his books, but that is not a set golden rule if a story is great, he himself pointed to Chronocops by Moore and Gibbons as the perfect short comics story and it has 8 panel pages. I know he loves Watchmen as we all do which uses 9 panel pages but in a very different structure of a 12 issue series.

In the end though every script is selected by him, we filter a shortlist and he decides, maybe for this job application it may help to fit the profile of the employer and in fact that’s the way it should always be approached. Not as a competition but a job application, I have the same skills but amend my CV to emphasise the ones each employer I think wants the most.


Would it be possible to release the stories for each category that made the shortlist? It might put to bed the whimsical is better argument.
Also it would be great to be able to learn from the stories that almost made it.


It has been mentioned before and I fully understand the desire but we will not do that as a minority of people start picking arguments with the decision. Sorry.

I can put to bed whether whimsical is preferred, it is not, I have written in long detail in the previous posts why. If that is not convincing to some then that is how it has to be. They can enter next year with the wrong assumptions.


That’s a really important point. To a certain extent we on this side are just fumbling in the dark a bit and trying to just put forward the strongest entry we can, and two data points is very little to go on. So I’m not drawing any definitive conclusions, but really just saying this:

Realistically, Mark probably made the decision regarding Mike McCann’s script (that is, the mods probably passed it onto the short-list), and so I probably need to realise that Mark’s preference for this comp are potentially just a slight tad bit off from my own (as I did think that Mike’s script was great as a standalone story as well, and ticked off any other box I could think of). It’s the same with panel counts: while I may not have much of a preference for 6 panels, it’s probably just worth my while to try and take note of what it is Mark is saying ‘yes’ to.

Or perhaps, as you suggest, I should try a lighter story purely because they’re easier to really nail? Worst-case scenario, I have it all wrong and I lose – but that’s the likely outcome no matter what anyway (that’s just the statistical reality), so I figure I might as well try something different rather than do all the same things and expect a different result. That is, after all, the definition of madness, is it not? (Actually I don’t think it is, but it’s a popular one and it sounds quite nice :slight_smile: )


I wonder whether trying to tailor your entry to the ‘data points’ you perceive is the right way to go about it at all, really. I think that the mods have gone out of their way to point out that there is no checklist of criteria that a story has to meet to be selected for the Annual.

I think “fumbling in the dark a bit and trying to put forward the strongest entry you can” is probably the best way to go about it, to be honest! Tell a story that you feel enthusiastic and passionate about, and which fits the few requirements that are set out in the competition rules.

I imagine that you will come up with a better story that way than if you try to construct a story based on whatever criteria or trends you perceive from past entries.


I did read that advice but I also saw Mark’s statement that a perfect short story was Moore/Gibbon’s Chronocops, so taking that together I did read the advice as ‘advice’ – there was no 'you must do this ’ or ‘you must do that,’ and perhaps that was a failing of mine. But I considered my moves before making them and took a calculated risk: I know my story could fit comfortably on a page (as I doodled it out myself), and I’ll be considering my moves again this year, by whittling down the panel count to six-or-less per page.


There is no set checklist of criteria. But that doesn’t mean there’s no criteria.

Mark’s still choosing the stories based on his preferences, and those preferences might not always necessarily in every instance align exactly with mine. So, if I write a script that I’m enthusiastic and passionate about, like Mike McCann’s script, it might yet fail. And yet I want to win. So I shouldn’t write a script like Mike’s; I should write one that is more suited to what Mark is looking for. (One of those things would be to reduce my panel count.)


No, I’d never think that of you – when I talked about not wanting to defend my work, I really was just talking about my own. I really appreciate the time and thought you put into my feedback, and so I wouldn’t want to come off as ungrateful by arguing with you about it. Moreover, I wouldn’t get a chance to defend my work when I sent it off to an editor, publisher or agent, so there’s really very little point in the exercise.

In regards to the broader issue of panel-sizing in general, one thing to remember (and I mention it above) is that artists often reduce the size of their artwork for publication. Also, if you’re interested in how someone might pull off postage-stamp-sized panels (and I’m in no way suggesting that I can do it), you may want to check out Kirkman’s Outcast. There’s some really interesting use of the comics medium in there, and it’s got a great story, too :slight_smile:


I don’t doubt your sincerity and appreciate your detailed responses; I just know my own tastes didn’t get selected, and I make no claim more broader than that. And maybe that’s wrong to even notice. Who knows? It’s just this little observation and I don’t mean anything by it.

Thanks again for all your help.


Another thing: you put me onto the possibility of a Future Shocks submission, which I’m really excited about, which you had no reason to do except to be helpful. So I really hope you don’t think I stepped on your toes or doubted your honesty or integrity in any way. These things happen, I guess; but I didn’t intend it and didn’t mean to imply anything negative whatsoever about anyone.