Monday, January 23, 2017

A Brief Announcement

Welcome to Thought Balloons!  Our Tenured Writers are currently busy behind the scenes preparing for our upcoming seventh anniversary in May.  Until then, updates will be less scheduled than usual.  We will try to ensure at least a weekly prompt gets posted.  Thank you for your patience.

- P

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Page Turn - Alley - P. A. Nolte

1/ Overhead, a shadowy figure moves from rooftop to rooftop. In the alley below, a terrified hoodlum watches in, uh, terror.

2/ The hoodlum has ducked around the corner and flattened himself against the wall.  There's a bronze plaque above his head that reads "Park Row.  1823.  Historic Preservation Society of Gotham" and has seen better days, much like the alley it marks.

3/ In the background, the hoodlum peers around the corner.  In the foreground, Batman is placing two roses on the cold, grimy cement.

4/ The hoodlum has flattened himself against the wall again. This time with a more confused look on his face.

Hood: What's with the...?

5/ Then it dawns on him.  Maybe a little glint of light off the plaque for everyone reading who's only just now catching on.

Hood: Oh.

Hood: Oh!

6/ A devious grin spreads across the hoodlum's face.

Hood: Bruce Wayne is--

Friday, January 20, 2017

Page Turn-"Terminal"-David Press

A wide shot of a man sitting at the airport. Take it from behind his head looking out at the tarmac and various commercial air line buses waiting for passengers. His head is bowed, looking at a phone.
He's looking down at his iPhone screen. It's an Instagram feed. Show a photo of a plate of food or something. 
THE MAN stares up at the television screen just over his shoulder. It's red and blue with intense graphics displaying News Alert. A salivating ANCHOR stares out at the MAN and the empty terminal. 
We bring you urgent news today to say that the President-Elect has been shot
A SECRET SERVICE AGENT is standing over the shoulder of the MAN who is now being identified as MITCHELL WARREN, ESQ.--he's an entertainment lawyer. 
Mr. Mitchell Warren? 
Please come with me. 


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Page Turns – RVNP: Adventures on Crichton Island – MK Stangeland Jr.

(Another piece featuring my ‘ROBOT VIKING NINJA PIRATES’ concept. This takes place after they’ve discovered they’ve acquired ‘robot scurvy’ – that is, they’ve started rusting. A trip has been taken to an island to try to acquire citrus fruit in order to make a cleaning solution to fix the problem. The trip has not exactly gone smoothly.)

(3 Panels)

Panel 1: The landing team is rushing along a path, with E-DRONES carrying baskets of CITRUS FRUIT. CAPTAIN ODIN is signaling for the robots to keep moving.

ODIN (1): Let’s MOVE, people!

ODIN (2): That thing is close, and I don’t expect it to take it’s sweet time…

Panel 2: Large panel as a female ARACHNOSAURUS REX bursts through the treeline with a roar.



Panel 3: Close up on ODIN as he looks towards the A-REX and begins to draw the swords on his back.

ODIN (1): (Downplayed) …getting here.

ODIN (2): Ah, (‘Censored’ symbols.)


Monday, January 16, 2017

Page Turn - Every Journey - Grant McLaughlin

I may be on something of a theme at the moment.

1 - Interior of a shed that's been converted into a sculptor studio space. However, we're focused on one of its windows, looking out - the day is overcast and rainy, drops hitting the window. We can also see some of the windowsill and interior wall. Little work has gone into making this place habitable - it's all exposed and worn wood, rusted nails, and the like.


2 - Close-up on a well used and worn work table. There are various sculpting tools - hammers, chisels, calipers, etc - spread across it, but we're at a distance where we can't see the whole table surface.


3 - Closer still, looking at one of the hammers. Its handle was painted, but the colour has mostly worn away from the middle due to prolonged use. It's partially covered by a shadow - Serena's (the sculptor) hand above it.


4 - Focused on a block of marble sitting atop a pedestal. It's untouched, rife with possibility. Like previous panels, frame at a distance so that we can't see the entire block.


5 - Close-up of Serena's hand holding a chisel up to the marble block (we can't see the block, or really the end of the chisel, just the handle and part of the metal portion). Have part of the mallet hovering above the chisel, ready to impact down.

SERENA (off-panel): Here we go.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Page Turn - A Villainous Plot Begins - Perry Kent

For this one I decided to do the page that would precede my page from last week. This is a Batman Beyond story.

Panel 1
Exterior, night, futuristic Gotham city museum. The museum doors are hanging wide open and a red siren is blaring over the doorway.  

1. SFX (siren):    RRRRRRRRrrrrrriiiiinnnnnngggg!

Panel 2
Batman (Terry McGinnis), lands in front of the museum doors. The doors are hanging wide open and red siren is still going off over the doors.

2. SFX (siren):    RRRRRRRRrrrrrriiiiinnnnnngggg!

Panel 3
Batman’s leg crosses a green beam as he steps into the museum.

3. SFX (digital): beep

Panel 4
Electric darts fly out from the sides of the doors toward Batman from hidden places.


Panel 5
Batman arches back in pain as electricity shocks him through his suit.

4. SFX: ssssshhhhzzzzzz!

5. BATMAN: AAAaaahhhh!

Panel 6
Batman lays on the ground unconscious. A tactical boot stands close to his head, but you can't see the rest of the owner of the boot.

6. BOOT-OWNER: That was shockingly easy.

- END -

Why Page Turn?

This is kind of a weird prompt, but one that is vital to comic writers everywhere. It’s the art of the Page Turn. Or rather, which panels we end our pages with to try and compel the reader to flip to the next page. The essences of the technique is to end a page with some minor cliffhanger: a question seeking an answer, a reaction needing a reveal, or a missing piece to a puzzle. It functions as a little suggestion to the reader that if they want to know more they’ll have to keep going on. Every page is an opportunity to push a reader away or pull them in deeper. The page turn is a physical manifestation of that opportunity. 

Why is this week’s prompt weird? Well, because we only write one page. Meaning you’ll be able to setup the page turn, but you won’t get the reveal. Still, take this opportunity to practice your setups and leave your reader wanting more.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Batman Beyond - "Driver"-David Press

Imagine we're a bird way above the future GOTHAM CITY and the shadows of light that shine up into the night sky there's a black hole in the shape of a the flying BATMOBILE. 
This used to be the time of my life. Now it's just the same thing every day. 
A better shot of the Batmobile as it edges between skyscrapers. Let's try to mask Darwyn Cooke's design sensibilities here with the sharp lens flares all around the buildings, bouncing off the edges of the Batmobile. 
I've been Batman for five years now, and I feel like I should have graduated by now. That's what Bruce used to say: 

We're in the cockpit. Red and black, with TERRY MCGINNIS driving, draped in the colors. He's older here, let's say this is about five or so years after the original animated series ended, and I know there's no way to show this here but imagine him with some stubble--like he hasn't shaved in weeks. He's no longer a teenager--he's now in his mid-twenties. 
"Do you know why school is structured to four years?"
"Because that's how life goes-we graduate every four years and end up a freshman all over again."
From behind Terry's head: we see the skyscrapers and the other flying cars looping around the futuristic Gotham City. 
But a year after he's been gone, there's just this. Driving endlessly.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Batman Beyond - Past Crimes, Present Punishments - Perry Kent

Panel 1
Interior, dim, warehouse. A single lamp illuminates Terry in full bat-suit, sitting in a chair with his head slumped forward and his arms secured behind the chair. Terry groans as he wakens. 

1. BATMAN:    Uhhh… What the hell just happened. I think I got knocked--
Panel 2
Terry strains to pull his wrists apart, but they are fastened together with some futuristic looking cuffs at the wrist. They are secured together behind the chair.

2. BATMAN: What the hell? 

3. BATMAN: My wrists.

Panel 3
Terry tries to stand awkwardly with the chair being lifted with him as he looks around.

4. BATMAN: And my gizmos aren't responding...

5. BATMAN (hushed): Big B, you there?

Panel 4
A baseball bat slams into Terry’s gut, knocking him back down into the chair. The villain is not yet revealed, but she is wearing tactical gloves.

6. IRON-WOMAN (OP): Sit down!

Panel 5
Reveal of our villain. A shorter woman, in tactical gear with a mask that looks like it is made of iron. She steps into the light, baseball bat in hand. 

7. IRON-WOMAN: You’re not leaving yet. Not before I tell you the tale of a lowly henchman, whose life you destroyed 20 years ago. 

8. IRON-WOMAN: And his poor daughter who was left to rot.

- END -

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Batman Beyond – Bat in the Machine – MK Stangeland Jr.

(BRUCE WAYNE has finally died – but it turns out he left a program based on his brain inside the BAT COMPUTER. Turns out this has not gone without problems.)

(6 Panels)

Panel 1: TERRY MCGINNIS is in the BATCAVE. His mask is off as he faces the BAT COMPUTER. Text is displayed on the BAT COMPUTER that matches its dialogue.



TERRY (1): No.

TERRY (2): Batman…Bruce Wayne, he’s gone.

Panel 2: The BAT COMPUTER.



Panel 3: TERRY.

TERRY (1): You’re right. Batman must protect Gotham.

TERRY (2): But you’re not Batman.

TERRY (3): And you’re not trying to protect Gotham, you’re trying to control it.



Panel 5: TERRY attempts to close in on the BAT COMPUTER.

TERRY (1): I’m sorry, but no, you’re not.

TERRY (2): You’re a program gone wrong.

TERRY (3): And it’s time to let go.

Panel 6: TERRY gets hit by a large electrical shock and flung backwards.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Batman Beyond - Machine Learning - Grant McLaughlin

1 - Close on an in-progress marble bust. It's suppose to be Alfred, but that is not an easy thing to decipher.

BRUCE (off-panel): Terry, I said to do this without assistance.

2 - On Bruce and Terry. Both are sculpting marble busts based on the completed bust of Alfred between them. Bruce is using classic sculpting tools, including a hammer, chisel, pointing machine and calipers. Terry has the hammer and chisel, but he's wearing some big goggles with red lenses that look very tech-y. Let us say that Bruce's bust is the rough one from panel 1, while Terry's actually is looking pretty similar to the model at the moment.

TERRY: That you're asking me to do this at all is ridiculous.

3 - From Terry's point of view, looking at his Alfred bust. There's a computer readout giving various numbers and measurements, as well as a point on the bust itself that has a tag reading "SUBSEQUENT IMPACT POINT, 37.5° ANGLE".

TERRY: Technology exists specifically so we don't need to know this kind of stuff.

4 - On Terry as he hammers the back of his chisel into the point marked by the glasses. Perhaps have a small crack fracturing out from the point of impact.

SFX: whap!

5 - Terry is surprised as his bust crumbles apart, completely and utterly ruined.


6 - On Bruce, wearing a serious expression (does old Bruce have any others?).

BRUCE (1): Technology fails.

BRUCE (2): The only thing you can rely on is what you know.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Batman Beyond - Red_Hood.EXE - P. A. Nolte

1/ Batman clutches at his head in pain.

Batman: AAAAaarrrghhh--

Bruce (VO): Terry!  Get your hands off your head so the sonics in your suit can readjust correctly!


2/ Having removed his hands, he stands up straight and a little confused.  Everyone around him with new sTech headphones in is screaming.  The rest are watching in teror.  They are in a rooftop courtyard.  The Batmobile has a large hole torn in the front driver's side.

Batman: --hh?

Batman: Looks like you were right.  Those new sTech vidphones are definitely un-schway.

Batman: And whoever that was took out one of my tandem flight computers.  Who would even think to do that?

3/ The sTech vidphone buds wrap around behind the head and go into both ears.  The screen is supposed to be projected in front of your face and controlled via eye movement.  Everyone with a pair right now is experiencing a debilitating sonic pulse as their new devices' screens draw power from their hosts to put up localized fields that look like domed hoods.

Batman: Wait a minute...  I've seen this.

4/ The sTech vidphone helmets turn from freshly rendered blue-white to an angry computerized red.

Batman: Didn't I already take out The Joker?

5/ Bruce sits at a control panel.  On the monitors behind him is a wall of images of people who have disguised themselves as the Red Hood over the years (and even a Red X if possible).

Bruce: That doesn't rule him out.  Still.  Better to hope for something else...

Why Batman Beyond?

If not for The Zeta Project, Batman Beyond might be the redheaded stepchild of the DCAU that ran through Batman: The Animated Series to Justice League Unlimited.  It's a weird mish-mash of Spider-Man and Iron Man in a Batman shell.  Bruce Wayne's an old man and some punk kid gets to be Batman instead of Dick Grayson or Tim Drake?  And then The Return of the Joker.  And Epilogue.  It's a lot to take in.

But when Terry McGinnis faces off against the Jokerz, there's a comforting parallelism there.  Someone who has suddenly inherited a mantle he doesn't necessarily want going to war with a gang of idiots hellbent on emulating ideals they don't fully comprehend.  Themes that haphazardly deepen until Terry eventually faces The Joker himself.  Kind of.  There's also Shriek, Inque, a new incarnation of The Royal Flush Gang, and a handful of other villains that nicely fill some gaps in The Dark Knight's extended rogues gallery.

And that's what we're going to try and tap into this week. Because for every episode about Spellbinder, there's Terry's Friend Dates a Robot, or Heroes, or half a dozen others.  Stories that explore, however briefly, just how freaking weird it must be to live in Gotham, a city that was by all accounts a terrible place to live even before sixty plus years of elevated, bat-themed vigilantism.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Invader Zim-"Zim's Day Off"-David Press

We're looking at the work bench of ZIM. His back is to us, all kinds of cork screws and other things are flying in every direction while electricity erupts around the room. Zim is talking to himself, laughing maniacally. 
Oh come on! Connect, you blapperzorg disguised as dog poop!
Yes. YES!
Similar to previous but this time, Zim raises the device over his head. The device is a FITBIT--and it's crackling with Kirby molecules and a purple energy field. 
My TeleBit is complete! 
1.3 INSET:
On ZIM'S EYE, his eyebrow is cocked and he has that crazy look in his eye.
Now I will rule ze art world! 
A bubble of PURPLE ENERGY and Kirby Krackle materializes in the JACKSON POLLACK wing of the Museum. 
He pulls the Pollack off the wall while his TeleBit is still crackling with energy. 
1.6 CUT TO:
ART HISTORY CLASS where Zim--as his alter ego--is putting the finishing touches on the piece he just stole. His TEACHER is a kind of an aging hippy with a white beard and a long pony-tail, sporting some bifocals, perhaps you can tease the fact that he's wearing a tye-dye t-shirt.
That is remarkable!
Why thank you! 


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Invader Zim - An Elderly Bookie - Perry Kent

Panel 1
Interior, day, library. Zim, in his human suit, drops a book onto the counter of a library checkout station. An ancient librarian looks down at him from across her desk.

1. ZIM: I wish to obtain this horribly obsolete information storage device.

Panel 2
Librarian stares at him with an overly sweet demeanor.

2. LIBRARIAN: And do you have your library card?

3. ZIM: What? A "card"? No, I don't have a "card".

Panel 3
The librarian starts ranting with a raged expression and anger in her eyes.

4. LIBRARIAN: Oh, you're one of those punks that thinks they can just take a precious book. No! Not on my watch. I'm the watcher, the keeper, the protector of books and until you've proven yourself worthy to be entrusted with this tomb of knowledge I say: Nay!

Panel 4
Zim looks taken aback like he was not expecting such a firey response from such an elderly lady.

5. ZIM: Uh...right. How do I get one of these cards? Do I have to pass a series of tests or prove myself in battle?

Panel 5
The librarian drops a thick stack of paper onto the counter, next to the book Zim wants to borrow. It is bigger than the book itself. Zim's eyes are wide and surprised.

6. LIBRARIAN: Simply fill out this paper. In triplicate.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Invader Zim - Taking Care of Itself - Grant McLaughlin

1 - Zim stands at his control station, hard at work at something - perhaps have all manner of equations, chalk boards, papers, and the like littering the area around him.  Nearby, GIR sleeps off to the side, clearly bored by whatever Zim is doing.

ZIM (quietly): Yes...

2 - Zim has a eureka! moment, shouting for joy. GIR is woken up with a start, perhaps falling over completely.

ZIM (1): I've finally done it!

ZIM (2): It required all of my focus and intellect, but I have the perfect plan to finally ensure Earth's doom!

3 - Zim looks super pleased with himself, while GIR regains his footing.

ZIM: The Tallest will be so impressed with my actions that they will have no choice but to call me up to praise my genius and guile!

SFX (communications screen turning on): bzzt

TALLEST (off-panel): Zim!

4 - Zim looks towards the communications screen, where both of the Almighty Tallest sit in the bridge of their starship.

TALLEST: We are so impressed with your actions that we had no choice but to call you up to praise your genius and guile!

5 - On Zim, who is trying to look proud, but mostly looks confused.

ZIM (1): Thank you--

ZIM (2): Wait, what?

6 - Back on the screen and the Almighty Tallest.

TALLEST 1: The events of the past year could not have left the Earth more destabilized.

TALLEST 2: The armada is already en route. We will strike while the time is ripe!

7 - Back on Zim, who now looks straight up confused. He looks to GIR for guidance, but GIR only shrugs, unsure.

SFX (communication screen turning off): bzzt

ZIM: What are they talking about?

CAPTION: January 1st, 2017

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Invader Zim – Game of DOOM – MK Stangeland Jr.

(6 Panels)

Panel 1: A Television screen, displaying an E3-like event. On stage is DAN HACKMAN, a modern-age game developer type, complete with a casual-Friday style business suit. His face stands out in particular, as it sports a very robotic, artificial looking forced smile.

HACKMAN: And now, to officially reveal our latest Next-Gen system, I present the brains of the design team, Zimmy Eyes!

Panel 2: HACKMAN has stepped aside to reveal ZIM, disguised as ‘ZIMMY EYES’. The base is his go-to human outfit, but he’s wearing a casual business suit and nerd glasses, plus an obvious fake soul patch on his chin. His face is just short of revealing itself to be an evil grin as he looks out upon the crowd and waves.

ZIM (1): Hello!

ZIM (2): Yes, it is I, Zimmy Eyes, brilliant game god game designer extraordinaire.

Panel 3: The couch and living room of the MEMBRANE residence. GAZ sits on the couch with her usual ‘monotone frustration’ look.

DIB stands in front of the couch, pointing at the TV with determination using his best accusatory point.

DIB (1): *gasp!*

DIB (2): ZIM!

Panel 4: Back to the TV, where ZIM stands on the stage.

ZIM (1): Yes, I am here to reveal to you slaves of your precious ‘video gaming’ this amazing new game system to which you shall all be enslaved!

ZIM (2): Yes, enslaved to amazing games!

ZIM (3): Presenting…

Panel 5: TV image shows a video display of the ‘GAME ENSLAVER U’, which looks like a white box that is about as aesthetically pleasing as a plain white box can look, alongside a techie looking helmet with green visor and gloves.




ZIM (4): I laugh because of how entertained you will all be!

Panel 6: ZIM stands on the stage, looking down at the cheering crowds in front of him. His hands are clasped behind his back as he glares malevolently.


DIB (1): (Off-Panel) Alright Zim, I know how this works.

DIB (2): (Off-Panel) Time to tell me what your evil plan is.

GAZ: (Off-Panel) DIB!


Why Invader Zim?

Invader Zim may well be one of the great examples of Black Humor at it’s finest.

The protagonist is a villain – not a sympathetic villain, not a villain with a heartbreaking backstory, not a redeemable villain, not even a villain who’s motives you can understand. Zim is a straight-up evil alien intent on taking over the world because that’s his job (Well, technically it’s not, but that’s another story…) – and it’s a job he loves.

It’s setting is a universe that takes a super pessimistic view of life, where Earth is largely populated by idiots and misery is the status quo, held in check by what are realistically meaningless superficial distractions.

It’s a series where the narrative really only works because the average intelligence is below average. Even Zim himself is such a doofus of a screwup that he’s caused more damage to his own species than he has to Earth. And even the one guy who’s even aware of what Zim’s up to (in spite of the fact that Zim is realistically not that well hidden) gets frustrated enough that he questions why he even bothers sometimes.

And it works. Because while triumph makes for great inspiration and drama, failure makes for terrific comedy, and there’s nothing like laughing at the failings and shortcomings of others, especially when those failures are a good thing. It helps that the whole thing is served up with well-prepared writing that includes no shortage of ridiculous and bizarre humor that spares no effort in going over the top without shame.

Comedy. It’s a funny thing.