Brian Clevenger on inclusiveness

Brian Clevinger, writer and co-creator of the Atomic Robo comics, has a very succinct post up on his blog about how he strives for accessibility and inclusiveness in his comics.

“I think there’s a perception that making an effort to be inclusive means artlessly shoehorning a bunch of unnatural “politically correct” material from a master checklist handed down from the Office of the Liberal Elite.

First of all, the OLE doesn’t hand those out, you have to request them. Second, you don’t need the list anyway. Just stop going out of your way to do things like this: (spoiler alert: it is actually super easy not to do that)”

Go read the post here to see what he’s talking about.

Also worth considering, their promise.

Indie Cover Spotlight: Badger #17

This week I’ll spotlight some titles from First Publishing, which was one of the bigger indie companies back in the 80s. First up, Badger #17:

Cover art by Jeff Butler, 1986.

Back in the early 90s, I had a roommate who was from Madison, Wisconsin. He had been a casual comic book reader, but once he discovered the book Badger, which was Wisconsin-based, he got hooked on collecting all the back issues. That’s how I came to read the adventures of Norbert Sykes, a Vietnam war veteran with multiple personality disorder, Created by Mike Baron, the series went on for 70 issues, until First went bankrupt. Baron continued the series at both dark Horse and Image, but Badger has been out of action for a while now.

IDW pitch: Ghostbusters

Unlike my DC pitch for Blue Devil that never went anywhere, this one had a fairly quick development process from pitch to final comic. Back in the summer of 2008, IDW’s Editor in Chief, Criss Ryall, asked me to pitch them a Ghostbusters mini series. I put together something that was probably a bit too esoteric, and sure enough, Sony (the license holders) didn’t much care for it, so they passed. So it goes.

Fast forward about a year later and I noticed IDW had solicited a one-shot Ghostbusters Christmas Special. That got me thinking, and I fired off this short email to Chris in September, 2009:

“Hi Chris,

I noticed that there’s a Ghostbusters Christmas special one-shot being offered. It made me wonder if you guys have plans for any more such issues? If so, I’ve got an idea for a Valentine’s Day one-shot I’d like to pitch to you.

Dara “

The good news? Chris liked the idea and planned on doing a few more holiday-themed one-shots to eventually collect into a TPB. The bad news? I had no story idea! I was pretty much bluffing, just testing the waters. But no worries, nothing like a real deadline to get the creative juices flowing. I came up with an idea in a few days, and sent in the following pitch:

*Spoiler Warning* – If you haven’t read the comic yet, you may not want to read the summary below.


Proposal for a Valentine’s Day one-shot by Dara Naraghi

At a Glance

At Winston’s request, the Ghostbusters attempt to capture an obsessed, love-struck ghost haunting the home of Tiyah, an attractive woman he befriended on a recent case. However, when the ghost proves to be more trouble than the team expected, it’s Winston’s courage and common sense that save the day, leading to a romantic date with Tiyah.

Plot Summary

At a fancy hotel ballroom being decorated for an upcoming Valentine’s Day gala, the Ghostbusters fight a prohibition-era ghost attempting to enact its own “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”. While taking a break after the ghost’s capture, Winston befriends Tiyah, one of the banquet hall’s employees. She describes her own troubles with a ghost, but confesses she doesn’t have the funds to hire the team.

Peter agrees to accompany Winston to Tiyah’s apartment for a pro bono investigation, though Venkman’s motives have more to do with hitting on the attractive woman than performing ghostbusting services. They are both surprised by the sheer malevolence of the ghost, but afterwards Peter comments that although hostile to them, the ghost seemed protective of Tiyah.

Back at the firehouse, Ray begins investigating the history of the apartment, while Egon creates modified proton packs designed to create less property damage (though it also leaves them less effective). Working together, the team surmises that the ghost belongs to a prominent man who was dumped quite publically by his girlfriend in that apartment generations ago. It has since become romantically obsessed with the female residents, lashing out jealously towards any male visitors.

The team’s attempt to capture the ghost at Tiyah’s apartment proves to be too challenging, however, owing to the weakened proton packs and the ghost’s sheer obsessed will power. And while Peter, Ray, and Egon’s scientific strategies prove fruitless, it’s Winston’s everyman common sense that saves the day. He confronts the ghost unarmed, and has a no-nonsense man-to-man talk to it about accepting and “getting over” his romantic loss. At Winston’s proclamation that there are plenty of other fish in the sea “on the other side”, the ghost accepts his fate and dissolves away.

The epilogue of the story focuses on some character moments:

  • Peter finally manages a date for Valentine’s Day…by duping an attractive young reporter into interviewing him over dinner.
  • Ray and Egon have a “date with science” as they analyze the curiosities of this most recent case.
  • Winston is invited to a home-cooked meal at Tiyah’s apartment as a gesture of her gratitude, and shares a romantic kiss with her in the closing panel.

Chris really liked the script, and even commented “You write a good Peter,” which sounds vaguely dirty. The folks at Sony were also cool with it, and only sent one note back on it:

“The part where Winston is able to talk the ghost into giving up seems a little too convenient–his common sense notwithstanding! Will it be something like the malevolent ghost is really a big bully who just wants a friend, type of thing–and only Winston picks up on that? Or will it be more like Winston just decides to walk into the lion’s den and tames the lion?”

I wrote a short email, clarifying my intentions about the scene, and we got the green light from Sony. Chris asked me to propose several possible subtitles for the one-shot, and this is the short list I came up with:

  • St. Valentine’s Day Massive Scare
  • Green With Envy
  • Thugs and Kisses
  • Tainted Love
  • Ghost of a Romance
  • Love is Dead

Chris liked “Tainted Love,” and the project was in full swing. Final script was due in a month from that point, and IDW picked Canadian indie artist Salgood Sam to draw the book, with a variant cover down by Nick Runge. Another famous Canuck indie artist, Bernie Mirault, provided the colors

Regular cover art by Salgood Sam

Variant cover art by Nick Runge

The book was published February, 2010. Here’s the official solicitation copy, as well as a preview:

Ghostbusters Holiday Special: Tainted Love
FC • one-shot • 32 pages • $3.99
Dara Naraghi (w) • Salgood Sam (a) • Salgood Sam, Nick Runge (c)
Love is in the air—literally!—as Winston befriends an attractive woman with a ghostly problem in her apartment. But trapping the love-struck apparition proves to be more complicated than the Ghostbusters originally thought. Can Winston step up and save the day? Just how far will Peter go to find a date? And do Ray and Egon ever stop to think about girls, or is it always about trans-dimensional ectoplasmic anomolies with those two?

The comic itself is sold out, but you can find it collected with several other one-shots (including one written by Peter David) in the Ghostbusters: Haunted Holidays TPB.

Indie Cover Spotlight: Spudd 64 #1

I’m going to end this week’s look at mini-comics with one of my favorites, Spudd 64 by my friend and fellow PANEL Collective member, Matt Kish.

The thing about Matt’s books is that he only prints them in very small batches, probably only 50 or 60, and puts a lot of effort into making them true art objects. This cover, for example, features a spray painted stencil, as well as an original piece of art in the center (with a different one for each cover).

I can’t possibly begin to describe what Spudd 64 is about and do it justice, so I’ll just say that it’s a metaphysical cosmic journey of rebirth and evolution, and leave it at that. Check out Matt’s website and blog (linked above) and you’ll be treated to some of the most detailed, organic, and unique artwork you’ve ever seen.

Oh, and check out his absolutely amazing art book, Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page.

Greg Rucka on writing strong female characters

This essay by novelist and comic book writer Greg Rucka is worth a read by anyone interested in writing “the other,” i.e. any character not of the same gender, faith, sexual orientation, or race as you.

Why I write “Strong Female Characters”

“Gender isn’t simply a biological trait; it’s a societal one. The female experience is different from that of the male, and if, as a male writer, you cannot accept that basic premise, then you will never, ever, be able to write women well. A man walking alone through Midtown Manhattan at three in the morning may have concerns for his safety, but I promise you, it’s a very different experience for a woman taking the same walk, and it’s different again for a man wearing a dress. Think about it. That’s a societal factor, and it’s a gendered one, and this is not and can not be subject to debate. If you’re looking to argue that sexism is a thing of the past, that the world is gender-blind, you’re not only wrong, you’re lying to yourself.”

In Rucka’s case, he’s specifically talking about how he writes his female characters, but the same advice can be applied to a whole host of diverse characters. The first step as a writer is to stop being lazy, which is to say, not writing what comes to mind easily and reflexively, because those surface thoughts tend to be homogenous and cliche.

I once did a “how to make comic books” workshops at my daughter’s elementary school. As part of a hands-on demonstration of how a writer and artist collaborate on making comics, I had slips of paper printed with descriptions of a boy and a girl character. I kept them intentionally vague, eschewing specific references to skin color, hair color, or other physical characteristics in favor of general descriptors like “funny” or “athletic.” I then handed the slips to several different kids, and asked them to draw the (same) character. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate how different artists will interpret the written description differently, and if you as a writer have a very specific image in mind, you have to ensure that it comes across succinctly in your words.

But looking back on that same exercise now, I can see a different facet of it. The pictures drawn by the kids tended to reflect their own race and physicality.

It’s so easy for us as writers (or artists, or musicians…) to default to our own experiences and world view each time we’re staring at a blank screen or sheet of paper. The first step is to push that first lazy instinct away, and instead ask “who else can this person be?”

The next step, and the real challenge, is to do the necessary research to ensure the characters come across as real, and not just stereotypes.

Indie Cover Spotlight: The Amazing Cynicalman #27

Mini-comic/small press week continues with the master of mini-comics, the sultan of stick figures, Matt Feazell. Here’s the cover to The Amazing Cynicalman #27:

Matt’s been producing these 8-page, half-digest sized mini-comics for close to two decades now, published through his Not Available Comics imprint. I can’t remember when I picked up my first comic from him, but it was probably at Mid-Ohio-Con or Motor City Con in the 90s.

If you’re ever at a convention that features Mr. Feazell as a guest, be sure to seek him out. He’ll usually give you a free mini-comic just for trying your hand at drawing Cynicalman (or any of his other characters, like Antisocialman, CuteGirl, or Nerdy Girl). Plus, he’s a cool, genial dude.

Indie Cover Spotlight: Askari Hodari #3

This week I’m going to shine the spotlight on mini-comics and small press books, i.e. as indie as they come.

Leading off is fellow Columbusite, one-time fellow PANEL collective member, and fantastic artist Glenn Brewer. Here’s the cover to his self-published urban crime comic, Askari Hodari #3:

This issue was published in 2002, and was the 2003 winner of the Howard E. Day Memorial prize at S.P.A.C.E., as selected by Dave Sim and Gerhard.

Glenn set out to produce a full-length indie movie based on his comic, but I don’t think it was ever completed. Here are a couple of short clips, thought.

By the way, that’s Mr. Brewer himself as the cover model.

Indie Cover Spotlight: Punk Rock and Trailer Parks

This week’s spotlight on Derf comes to a close with the cover to his graphic novel Punk Rock and Trailer Parks:

Published in 2008 by Slave Labor Graphics, this is a fictional tale of misspent youth, small rural Ohio towns, and…well, punk rock and trailer parks. Equal parts humorous, poignant, and biting, you can tell that Derf drew a lot from his own experiences growing up on the outskirts of Akron, Ohio.

You can read a preview of the book here.

Comics. T-Shirts. Combine.

So here’s a cool idea: invite comic book artists to provide a comic strip on a daily basis, and then feature the entire strip (or one of its images) on a t-shirt, available for sale.

Behold Comic Strip Tees.

Some of the bigger-name featured artists so far have included Roger Langridge, Mike Allred, and Evan Dorkin, who contributed this funny piece:

I also dig this weird illustration by Farley Katz:

Indie Cover Spotlight: Trashed

Derf week continues, with a look at one of the funniest comics I’ve read: Trashed.

This one-shot/graphic novel was written and illustrated by Derf, and published by Slave Labor Graphics in 2002. It’s a funny, poignnt autobiography, recounting Derf’s time spent as a garbage man in his rural Ohio small town. I highly recommend this title.

You can read several chapters for free on his website here.

Comic Book Pro Quote of the Day

“It kind of goes in cycles. To that end, I only get paid a couple of times a year, and some years I make a decent amount and others I make almost nothing. Being a full-time graphic novelist means being extremely conscious and disciplined in your spending habits!”

Cartoonist Raina Telgemeier, from her interview over at