Nominated for a S.P.A.C.E. Prize 2011

Columbus’ own Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (S.P.A.C.E.), founded and run by Bob Corby, has just announced the finalists for the 2011 SPACE Prize. I’m proud to be a part of the PANEL Collective, which is well represented amongst this year’s nominees:

First up, in the General Catagory:

PANEL: Pulp – volume 17 of our twice yearly anthology series, edited by yours truly (along with Sean McGurr and Tony Goins) and featuring the talents of the writers and artists of the PANEL Collective. I also have a short story in it with my pal Andy Bennett on art, called “Malika, Jungle Queen,” my more modern take on the classic “jungle girl” pulp adventure. Copies of the book are available for purchase here.

The Ineffables: All of Creation, is by PANELista Craig Bogart, who is also a past nominee and winner.

Next, in the Mini-comic / Short Story Category, is fellow PANELista Brent Bowman for his story from PANEL: Pulp, “Noor Jama, Somali Pirate”

Brent also happens to be my artistic partner on the Persia Blues series of graphic novels we’re doing for NBM Publishing.

You can check out the full list of finalists here.

Congrats to all!

Freelance life and finances

This essay by indie cartoonist Faith Erin Hicks has been making the rounds, but it’s well worth reposting for anyone curious about the realities of the freelance life. Faith goes into the details of her finances, lifestyle, and decision making process as it relates to her goal to make a living through her comic book art. Obviously this is all subjective to her particular circumstances (for example, she lives in Canada and at least doesn’t have to worry about health care coverage) but the message is quite universal: if you truly want to follow your passion, there’s always a way, but you have to make some very tough decisions and real sacrifices:

“How do I survive?

First of all, let me say that I feel I am poor, but not deprived. I’m not going to yammer on about how I have it rough and scrape out a living, because I made a choice to work in comics, and I feel I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to make it work financially for this long. I’m very grateful. There are things I wish I had (like a house), but I don’t feel like I’m staring into the financial abyss. I live in a decent apartment in a decent part of a small city (Halifax). I like buying things like comics and sushi. I have a car. But there are choices I make that allow me to live cheaply. I do not buy new clothes. I rarely go to the movies. As much as I like buying comics, I voraciously use the library to read everything I might want to only read once. I do not have a cellphone (shock, horror!). I know, so behind the times. But I work at home, and a home phone is cheaper. I split my rent and expenses with my boyfriend, and before we moved in together, I lived with a roommate. It is sooooooo much easier to make your dollar last when you aren’t spending $800-900 on rent. I cook at home a lot, which is much cheaper than dining out. We do not have cable. My car is 10 years old, and I bought it outright used, so I didn’t pay interest on car payments. Spending over $20 is a big deal.”

Friends with Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks

I found her account to be honest and refreshing. One of my pet peeves is the endless array of books and essays that proclaim “follow your bliss” and extol the near-magical process by which the Universe will make your dream come true, without ever getting into the nitty gritty of, you know, reality. Sure, in order to truly pursue your dream, you need to let go of your fears and the lessons you’ve been taught your whole life about “this is how things are done.” But almost all “inspirational” accounts end there.

They don’t talk about the harsh reality of working a freelance job without any safety nets. They don’t discuss financial planning. They don’t present the importance of business and legal acumen. They don’t talk about the emotional toll of some of the sacrifices that you need to make (less free time for family and friends, more anxiety, etc.) on your path towards your goal. And I think that does a huge disservice to the creative audience. It breeds the sort of unprepared, clueless dreamer destined to fail.

A little reality goes a long way.

Anyway, there’s a lot more at the link, so do check it out if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

Flash Fiction – “Dazzle”

I’ve been having a difficult time with my Persia Blues script, so instead of beating my head against the wall I decided to take a break and try something else. So here’s some flash fiction I completed in the last hour, clocking in at 349 words, just under the 350 limit.

Dazzle – by Dara Naraghi

“How much longer?” she asked.

“Not much,” I answered, as I concentrated on painting a swirling design at the intersection of her nose, eyes, and forehead. The reflective paint mirrored the light in the room, making it hard to concentrate on the design.

She tried touching her lips again, but I gently batted her hand away. “Stop it, you’ll smear the pigment,” I said.

“Sorry, sorry. It’s just that it’s caked on pretty thick. And did you have to extend it so far out on the sides? I look like a clown. Or the Joker.”

“From the old playing cards?” I ventured.

“No, from the old Batman vids. You know, ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’?” She seemed rather disappointed when I replied with a blank stare. “Seriously? And you call yourself an anarchist cloaking artist,” she chuckled.

I ignored her jab, instead finishing the highlights on her cheekbones. “There, asymmetrical by an inch.”

She examined her face in the mirror and laughed. “Ugh, like the love child of David Bowie and a Kabuki dancer.”

I took some measure of consolation in catching the latter reference, but the former eluded me.

“What did you call this again? Dazzler?” she asked, as she tossed me her credit chip.

“Dazzle,” I corrected her. “It’s an old concept, but the term’s from World War I, when they’d paint battleships with odd geometric patterns, sort of a cross between camouflage and optical illusion. The idea was to make it hard for the enemy to discern size, speed, and direction of travel.”

“And you’re sure this’ll fool the facial recognition programs?”

“No guarantees, but it should,” I said, adding “confusion, not concealment.”

“Ten million people in this city, and twenty million security cameras,” she said, shaking her head as she slipped on her jacket.

“You’re not planning on robbing a bank or anything, are you?” I asked, not really interested in her answer.

“Nah,” she offered, pulling down her knit cap. As she headed out the door, she turned and flashed me an impish smile.

“Sometimes a girl just needs her privacy, you know?”

Creating comic books – the process

I’m a big process junkie. I love the behind-the-scenes looks at how different creators work, the process they follow to produce their script or art or whatever. So here are a few links worth perusing, if you’re equally interested in what it takes to put together a comic:

Making of a Cover – Avatar: The Last Airbender – Dark Horse Comics editor Dave Marshall discusses the steps involved in creating the cover for their new Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel. The process kicks off with the book’s writer, Gene Luen Yang, providing the artist, Gurihiru, with a few rough sketches as a starting point. Several cover roughs are then created and the show’s creators pick their favorite. Then it’s off to be penciled, inked, and colored, with more notes from the creators:

You’ll notice the extremely detailed (one might even say nitpicky) notes. That’s because the license holders of multi-million dollar franchises like Avatar are very concerned about their products always being “on model.” Having worked on several licensed comics myself (Terminator, Ghostbusters, etc.) I’m familiar with the dreaded “final approval” step, although I must admit that in my case things always went very smoothly. I chalk it up to luck, because I know other creators who have had to go through revision after revision on their licensed projects.

Coloring the Wonder Woman comic – on his blog, colorist Matthew Wilson discusses his thought process when faced with a challenging sequence in the new Wonder Woman comic. The sequence is set in a bar/club, and features several characters separated along different areas of the club. His approach was to keep the color palette fairly simple, and to light each location with its own distinguishing color. From Matthew’s post:

“One reason to choose this approach is that it’s a bit of a literal interpretation of a club’s lighting, as there are usually quite a few different lights/light sources in bars/clubs in real life. The second reason was, this helps the reader quickly identify where each character is located within the club, and how those spaces relate to each other in terms of how the club is laid out.”

Sometimes, simple color theory is all you need, as illustrated (no pun intended) by this comment:

“Cliff [Chiang, the artist] noted that the music should feel angry, so I picked red for the stage area. It seemed like a good idea to carry over that red to the background of the last panel where Wonder Woman is angrily stabbing Strife’s hand with the broken glass…”

When the inker really made a difference – and finally, here’s a look at what an inker brings to the table, from veteran inker Bob McLeod’s Facebook gallery. Lots of pages from lots of different artists, from tight pencils to looser, more “sketchy” renditions, all finished by McLeod. Here’s an example where you can see him adding in the finer details, such as in Supergirl’s hair, or the subtle shadows on her costume and below her skirt:

“1991 Action Comics #674 cover. Breakdown pencils by Dan Jurgens. BWS means “black with stars”, not Barry Windsor-Smith. 🙂 Even something seemingly simplistic, such as adding stars, can look vastly different depending on the inker. Some inkers make uniformly big stars, and scatter them pretty evenly, like wallpaper. Some inkers go to the trouble to mask off the foreground objects and use a toothbrush to spray them on, creating tiny stars clustered with larger stars. Today, inkers or colorists can digitally add a photo of real stars. I’ve used the toothbrush method and the photo method before, but I usually just try to make them different sizes and scatter them in clusters by hand, using an old brush and white paint. It’s tedious, but effective.”

And here’s a more extreme example of the breakdown/finisher method of creating a page, as opposed to the more traditional penciler/inker. This is from 1981’s The Savage Sword of Conan #63, page 46, with John Buscema providing the loose breakdown pencils:

Well, that’ll do it for now. If you have your own favorite process links, feel free to share them in the comments.

A real archenemy for Wonder Woman: a modest proposal

When it comes to fiction, great heroes are defined by their villains. Especially in superhero comic books, where the stories are serial in nature and the best heroes have had ongoing adventures and conflicts for decades, some for over three quarters of a century. These superheroes need villains just as powerful, crafty, and enduring as them to give them a run for their money each time.

And most of the well-known heroes have a singular archenemy, the one villain who above all others is associated with them.

Batman has The Joker.

Superman has Lex Luthor.

The Fantastic Four have Doctor Doom.

But poor Wonder Woman. She has…who exactly? The Cheetah? The various pain-in-the-ass gods from the Greek pantheon? Egg Fu, for crying out loud?

Seriously, WTF?

Yep, it’s pretty well accepted in comic book circles that Wonder Woman does not have a strong “rogue’s gallery” on par with the major villains that constantly plague Batman, Superman, The Flash, and other heroes of her caliber. And despite the best efforts of some very talented writers that have worked on her book, the new villains introduced to her continuity have never really caught on.

So here’s what I’m going to do for you, DC Comics, free of charge: give you the perfect supervillain to vex Wonder Woman. An archenemy worthy of her time. One with the polar opposite of her values and belief system, and with the resources to really carry out his dastardly deeds.

And I say “he” because I think for Wonder Woman, an independent, empowered woman tasked with bringing a message of peace and tolerance to “man’s world,” the perfect archenemy would be a chauvinistic, misogynist male. A smarmy guy who embodies everything Wonder Woman stands against, and impedes her work at every turn. One with the media resources to spread his sexist message around the globe, while simultaneously convincing a large swath of the population that he’s a man we should look up to, aspire to be like.

So who is this venomous villain? This eviscerating evil genius? This monstrous man-whore?
(wait for it)
.(wait for it)
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the perfect arch nemesis for Wonder Woman:

"Wonder Woman is an ugly bully. A real loser. I look forward to taking lots of money from my nice fat little Wonder Woman." -- The Donald

OK, so let’s review the comic book supervillain checklist:

  • Supervillain name – “The Donald” – check
  • Unbelievable ego – check
  • Unflinching belief in the validity of their worldview – check
  • Unique/flamboyant physical feature – have you seen that radioactive hair helmet? check
  • Evil catch phrase – “Wonder Woman, you’re fired!” – check
  • Wealth/power to perpetuate dastardly deeds – check
  • Secret lairs around the world – check
  • Access to expensive modes of transportation – check
  • Army of lackeys and henchmen – check
  • History of misogyny and chauvinism – check

You’re welcome, DC Comics.

The vacation will continue…

…until morale improves.

Sorry for the lack of regular updates this past week, but I’ve been on vacation. Things I’ve done so far: paddleboarded on the Atlantic ocean, hand-fed large Tarpon, been bitten by a pelican, stood on the southern most point of the continental United States, ate breakfast with free roaming chickens and roosters, and took several naps. All good for the body and soul, but not good for a productive writing schedule.

Anyway, back in a few days with new content. See you soon.