Thursday, 5 March 2015

Writing Comics: Tamsin and the Deep

Tamsin and the Deep (c) 2015 Neill Cameron and Kate Brown, OBVS

I'm giving a couple of talks on Writing Comics here and there these days, and I thought I'd put some of my resources up here for reference, so: for anyone interested in the process of How To Write Comics - or How I Write Comics, anyway, which is not necessarily the same thing - here you go. As an example we'll be taking the first episode of Tamsin and The Deep, a strip I write for the magnificently talented artist Kate Brown, which is published in The Phoenix.

First off, the story is outlined in broad strokes in a Series Outline which we'll discuss and get feedback from our editors on. The way it works on the Phoenix you'll generally have a story commissioned for a given number of episodes, and number of pages per episode, so writing an outline like this is a very useful way of getting the whole story straight and figuring out the overall shape of the thing before you fire into making it. Here's the first page of my outline for Tamsin, covering the first episode:



By Neill Cameron(4 ‘chapters’ / seasons, of 5 episodes each. 20 episodes total.)

A cold November morning on a windy beach in Cornwall. It is largely deserted - all the holidaymakers are long gone for the year. The only people around are three local boys, surfing - impervious or steeled to the cold in their drysuits - and a young girl, who sits on the beach, grumpily watching them.

The girl, Tamsin, argues with one of the boys - her older brother, Morgan.

"You were supposed to be teaching me. You promised Mum!"

"Alright, alright! In a minute…"

Morgan is too busy having fun with his Idiot Friends, and Tamsin is abandoned on the beach. Grumpily, she picks up her bodyboard and sets off to have a go herself, some way off, muttering as she goes about Stupid Morgan and his Stupid Idiot Friends.
Morgan and his friends return to shore, notice that she's gone. They see her getting up onto her board, some distance off. She's outside the flags, off a dangerous stretch of coastline. As they yell and wave their hands to get her attention, Tamsin catches a big wave...

...and wipes out. She is rolled around under the surf, managing to almost get back to the surface before being pulled down by a powerful undertow. The cord connecting her to her board snaps. She is dragged downwards, away from the sun and down, down into the dark.

Morgan and his friends see her board bobbing around uselessly on the surface, and Morgan starts to scream helplessly.

"Tamsin! TAMSIN!"

As Tamsin struggles desperately beneath the waves, she manages to turn, and sees...

Arms gripping her legs, pulling her down. And just visible through the darkness, a terrible, beautiful, utterly alien face.


That was pretty much one side of A4 for one episode. With something like Mega Robo Bros, where I'm writing for myself as an artist and I've been doing it for a while, the outline might be a lot shorter, but as this was an all-new strip and characters it goes into quite a lot of detail.

Once the outline have been discussed, amended, edited and approved, we proceed to scripting. On Tamsin I'm writing full scripts for Kate, whereas on Mega Robo Bros I'll pretty much jump straight from the outline into thumbnailing. Anyway, here's the full first episode of Tamsin, in script form:


By Neill Cameron


Page One

1.1: Small shot showing waves.

VOICE (o/p): Morgan!



By Neill Cameron & Kate Brown

Episode 1

1.2: Big shot of Porthtowan beach. It is late November, the skies are slate grey and the sea dark, but that has not put off a small group of three teenagers: the dark-haired MORGAN and his idiot friends TRAVIS and KYLE, who are paddling their surfboards out into the waves. On the sands sits a ten-year-old girl, TAMSIN. Beside her are some bags and surfing-gear, left on the sands, and a couple of bodyboards. A large golden retriever, PENGERSEK, runs happily around on the sands behind her, chasing a ball. She is calling out to the group of boys on their surfboards.

 TAMSIN: Morgaaan!

 MORGAN: What IS it, Tamsin?

1.3: full-figure shot of Tamsin, so we get a proper look at her. She wears wetsuit and flippers; she is all kitted up with nowhere to do. She sits on her bodyboard, lain flat on the sand. Behind her, Pengersek runs around happily, chasing a ball.

TAMSIN: You’re supposed to be teaching me!

TAMSIN: You promised MUM!

1.4: Shot from out in the sea; Morgan and one of his idiot friends (Kyle, the loudmouth)

MORGAN: I will! In a bit, okay?

KYLE: Dude, your sister is annoying. Do you really have to babysit her?

1.5: Close in on Tamsin, pulling a sulky face.

MORGAN (small, distant): Ugh, tell me about it…


Page Two

2.1: Medium shot. Her face set in determination, Tamsin picks up her bodyboard and strides off to panel right.

TAMSIN: Who needs him!

2.2: Arial shot, Tamsin strides along the beach, a trail of footprints behind her. Pengersek runs after her, yapping.


TAMSIN: Don’t worry, Pengersek. Of course I’ll be careful.

2.3: Long shot of Tamsin striding out into the surf. In the distance we can see Morgan and his friends bobbing around on the surf, waiting for a big wave.

TAMSIN: After all, if those morons can do it…

2.4: Tamsin paddles out, lying flat on her board now.

TAMSIN: …how hard can it be, right?

2.5: Tamsin is now out in the sea, facing back towards the beach. She looks over her shoulder, out to sea.

TAMSIN: Okay. So now I just wait for a big wave, right?

2.6: Shot from Tamsin’s POV of a wave approaching, in the distance.


2.7: Small shot of Tamsin, looking slightly worried.

TAMSIN:  ...that is a big wave.

2.8: similar shot to 2.6; the wave is much closer now, white foam breaking on the top of it.


2.9: Tamsin grips her board and looks up at the wave as it curls over her.

TAMSIN: Whooooaaaa!

Page Three

3.1: Large panel: Tamsin is doing it; riding the wave, speeding across the front of it on her boadyboard. She looks delighted. Sun glints on the waves.

TAMSIN: Ha ha ha ha ha! I’m doing it!


3.2: Small panel of Morgan, some distance off; looking round. Possibly we can see Travis in shot, also looking off to the same point.


TRAVIS: What’s she doing? She’s too far out!

3.2: Close in on Tamsin; she looks worried now; struggling to hold onto the board as the wave bears down on top of her.


TAMSIN: Ummmm…..

TAMSIN: Hold on…

3.3: Another large-ish panel; Tamsin WIPES OUT, the wave crashing down over her – just a limb or a tip of board being visible beneath the foam.

TAMSIN: waa---


3.4: Wide shot of the beach; Off to the left we see Morgan surfing along, looking over to where Tamsin has disappeared beneath the water. Pengersek is splashing into the surf at the edge of the beach, barking furiously towards that same point.

MORGAN: Tamsin -?


3.6-3.9: Kate, I’d like to leave the precise panelling of this up to you, but the last third of this page should essentially be a sequence of Tamsin rolling around under the water in the undertow. The sequence of ‘events’, such as there is one, is –
Tamsin is pulled down by the undertow. She flails wildly, uselessly.
The cord tying Tamsin to her board snaps free, the board shoots pu and away to the surface…
…Tamsin manages to recover her bearings enough to at least see which way the surface is, and reaches for it…
…only to feel something pulling her down. She looks around…
…setting up the big page-turn reveal for p4. But the precise sequence of events is less important here than the overall sensation – of panic, or chaotic turbulence, or rolling waves and darkness and impending drowning.

Page Four

4.1: BIG panel. Still underwater, we see  Tamsin being pulled down into the darkness by a HAND that grips her ankle. Between the darkness and the rolling waves and perhaps some seaweed it is hard to make out WHAT, exactly, it is. But we see a hand; a dark, greeny-blue hand. It grips Tamsin tightly by the ankle as she twists her body round in panic, looking down at it.

4.2: Close in on Tamsin’s face, looking down in panicked horror amongst the swirl of air bubbles.

4.3: Reverse-angle shot; Close in on an EERIE INHUMAN FACE looking up at her; female but fishlike; large black merciless eyes. Again, shrouded in darkness and seaweed and churning surf, but it is definitely a face.

4.4: Morgan and friends running along the beach, dog barking…
Back on the surface, a wide-angled shot of Morgan, running through the surf in panic, Pengersek at his side. Travis and Kyle are bringing up the rear, ineffectually. Morgan’s face is absolutely wild with terror.


4.5: Shot from Morgan’s POV of Tamsin’s bodyboard washing up in surf; its cord trailing uselessly behind it, attached to nothing.



Couple of points:

  • You'll note a couple of lines in red there: I think they were added in based on editorial feedback on the first draft; if memory serves, we just wanted to add a bit of clarity as to where Tamsin was relative to the boys, and hint that she was somewhere she shouldn't be.
  • On the third page there's a section where instead of giving precise panel-by-panel script description, I've just described the general effect we're going for and left it up to Kate to make those decisions. When you are working with an artist and storyteller as talented as Kate, this is often a good idea.

You can currently read the whole of Tamsin and the Deep chapter one over on Movella's Project Remix site - and maybe then have a go at creating your own comics, too. Do go have a look, and see for yourself the amazingly beautiful comic that Kate created out of all these boring old words.

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