Persia Blues: Verisimilitude

So one of the themes of my Persia Blues graphic novel is the struggles of the protagonist, a female grad student in Iran, against the institutionalized sexism and social oppression of the country’s Islamic regime. I’m currently writing a scene that takes place at Shiraz University, where she is studying architecture. And at this moment, this particular story is making the rounds on the Internet:

Anger as Iran bans women from universities

Now, despite the shocking headline, the truth of the matter is a bit less draconian. The relevant part of the news is this:

“36 universities have announced that 77 BA and BSc courses in the coming academic year will be “single gender” and effectively exclusive to men.”

So it’s not an official governmental decree, nor is it all universities. Still, no matter how you spin it, it’s a pretty shitty move, especially when you take into accounts that the 77 fields of study include all the major ones, like chemistry, computer science, nuclear physics, engineering, business management, education, and more.

And for those folks more aware of the nuances of Iranian culture and politics, it’s an especially troubling move given that compared to all its Islamic neighbors in the region, Iran is probably the most liberal when it comes to the rights of women. Now, I know that’s not saying much, but it’s a big deal when you realize in some of those other countries women can’t work without their husband’s permission, or hold public office, etc. Meanwhile, in Iran, women are politicians and judges and professors and business owners, and close to 70% of all university graduates in the various science fields are women. Plus, Iranian women have always been good at subverting authority.

But you know, there’s only so much the theocrats in charge will tolerate.

So art imitates life, and life imitates art. And so it goes…

Like this post? Share it!

    On writing: Joshua Dysart (and yours truly)

    Writer Joshua Dysart has a nice bit of writing process posted on his blog, titled How I start writing (and eventually finish) a story. I particularly liked this bit:

    “Let’s talk about the Editor’s Mind vs. the Writer’s Mind. You have two modes when you write. The Writer’s Mind: where everything you write is awesome! You can do no wrong. You’re a genius! And the Editor’s Mind: where everything you write is open to scrutiny and can, nay… must, be improved. These are the two hemispheres of your process. And you have to be careful with them. When the Editor’s Mind is employed too soon or in concert with the Writer’s Mind, creative blockage can occur. But if the Editor’s Mind is disregarded altogether, bad writing will most certainly occur. The two modes are equally important, and you must struggle to keep them separate.”

    Here’s what I wrote in the comments section, which I feel is worth re-posting here:

    “On my part, the most difficult time I have is shutting off my “Editor’s Mind” in the beginning stages of writing a story. I constantly want to edit and perfect, worried that I may forget to do so later, leaving some of the crap in.

    At some point, I had to just embrace the fact that this is how my mind is wired, and trying to fight it is a losing battle. So instead I tried to work with (and around) it.

    I start with a pencil and a notebook. Old school. Somehow, knowing I’ll eventually have to type this all up, makes me feel that at this stage it’s ok to just go with the flow and put all my ideas down on paper. Also, psychologically, I somehow feel less intimidated staring at a blank piece of paper, rather than a blank screen. So I info dump and write choppy sentences and (in the case of a comic book script) doodle pages and panel breakdowns. Then I refine and edit a bit, erasing or crossing stuff out, until my Editor’s Mind feels better about the whole mess.

    Only then do I sit down at the computer and start typing. Of course, the story still needs a lot of rewrites and edits at this point, but at least I’ve tricked myself enough to not be paralyzed by the over-analysis.”

    Like this post? Share it!

      Indie Cover Spotlight: The Lake Erie Monster #1

      I’m going to wrap up the week with a plug for a friend of mine, John G., who is Mr. Indie when it comes to the Cleveland comics scene. Heck, any scene for that matter. In fact, this book is probably the most “mainstream” comic he’s created in a long time. Really, you should drop by his blog and check out his kick ass work on everything from comics to rock potsers to newspaper illustrations.

      Anyway, here’s the cover to The Lake Erie Monster #1, self-published by John G. and his collaborator Jake Kelly, under the Shiner Comics Group imprint:

      This is an old-school horror anthology with plenty of modern sensibilities and retro cool factor. Now, head on over to the Lake Erie Monster official website and grab yourself a copy of issue #1, and the newly released #2. You can thank me later.

      Like this post? Share it!

        Help earthquake survivors in Iran

        The White House has issued a temporary general license authorizing charitable organizations to provide direct humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to the victims of the 2 earthquakes that hit Iran last week. From the Foreign Policy blog:

        The Treasury Department issued a 45-day general license to allow officially registered NGOs to send up to $300,000 to Iran for humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities related to two Aug. 11 earthquakes that struck northern Iran and killed more than 250 people. Food and medicine aid is already exempted from sanctions against Iran. The George W. Bush administration took a similar action in 2003.

        At least 250 people have been reported killed, with many tens of thousands more homeless. Iran’s government being what it is, it should come as no surprise that not only has it been extremely slow to respond to the needs of its citizens, but it also initially refused assistance from other countries. So it seems that these nonprofits and NGOs are the best bet for getting aid to the people who desperately need it.

        There are links to many of the organizations on this page at Iranian.com

        I’ve been a supporter of Relief International for many years, and would especially recommend them if you would like to help.

        Like this post? Share it!

          Indie Cover Spotlight: The Massive #2

          Lest you think this feature is all about the nostalgia, here’s a cover from a new series that I’m greatly enjoying, The Massive:

          John Paul Leon draws the beautiful cover, while creators Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson kick all sorts of ass on a series about an environmentalist crew trying to find meaning – and their missing sister ship – in a world ravaged by environmental upheaval. If you’re not reading this book, you really owe it to yourself to pick it up. It’s really, really good.

          Like this post? Share it!

            The freelance life – Val Staples on being a colorist

            I think the take-away is that it’s not an easy life, kids. Here’s colorist Val Staples, talking about the realities of life as a freelance comic book colorist:

            ” I have not had a REAL vacation since 1994. Even when I “take a week off”, I am still working. I have to either corrections, or field correspondence, or do paperwork on which I’m behind.

            And a “week off” is all I can afford – yet it’s not enough. But the more time you take, the more time you aren’t working. If you’re not working, you don’t get paid. You don’t get paid, bills don’t get paid. It’s pretty stressful.

            People simply do not understand how when I have a couple days off I don’t want to do ANYTHING. I think almost every colorist can attest to what I’m saying. All we want to do is just lay around and do nothing. Watch TV. Be on a beach listening to the waves. In a hammock next to a mountain cabin.

            I had a dream about sleeping not too long ago! That’s how bad it is at times. I’d love to have four weeks paid vacation where I do nothing but rest and relax and recharge my creative batteries.”

            More at the link above, including some good thoughts on the role of a colorist, his particular approach to color theory, and being requested for projects by artists.

            Like this post? Share it!

              Indie Cover Spotlight: Zero Tolerance #4

              No theme this week, just random comics…starting off with the cover to Zero Tolerance #4:

              Honestly, I don’t remember anything from this 4-issue mini series from First. It came out in 1990, and I think it was a sci-fi story. The only reason I picked it up was because indie artist Tim Vigil was supplying the art, and I kinda dug his stuff back then. I’d only seen his work in black and white, so I was curious to see what color would look like over his linework. In case you’re wondering: not so good.

              Like this post? Share it!

                Dark Horse pitch: The Protest

                While I’ve certainly had my share of unsuccessful pitches, it’s fun every once in a while to spotlight one that actually got picked up. Who knows, maybe an aspiring creator can pick up some pointers from reading through these things. So anyway, here’s another of my successful pitches, this time for a short story that appeared in Dark Horse Presents #4 (vol. 2), which was published in September of 2011.

                I think I first saw the news about the return of Dark Horse Presents to print in late 2010/early 2011. The original black-and-white DHP anthology that started in 1986 was amongst one of the first indie comics I ever bought. During its historic 162 issue run, the book featured pretty much anyone who’s anyone in comics, and introduced me to so many fantastic creators and characters, most notably Paul Chadwick’s Concrete. Needless to say, I loved the original series, and was excited about the possibility of being involved with the newest incarnation of the series.

                There were no submission guidelines for DHP on the Dark Horse website, but I remember reading an article where publisher Mike Richardson mentioned he was personally editing the book. So I drafted a brief inquiry email, introducing myself to him and asking if he would be open to a story pitch. This was in February, 2011. Mike responded promptly – honestly, much to my surprise – and indicated he was willing to entertain a pitch for a creator-owned story.

                At this point, I had been collaborating with artist Victor Santos on a couple of successful Witch & Wizard series at IDW, and really enjoyed working with him. So I dropped him a line with an idea for a short autobiographical story, and he was game. He drew and colored the first 2 pages on spec, I lettered it, created a PDF file containing the story summary and sample pages, and sent it to Mike.

                Here is the pitch:

                “The Protest”

                A DHP proposal by Dara Naraghi
                Art by Victor Santos

                An 8-page autobiographical story set shortly after the tumultuous Islamic revolution in Iran, “The Protest” is a remembrance of my childhood during uncertain times, a school bully, and the unspoken bond between us in the face of a vile school principal.

                Synopsis:

                After a brief overview of the Iranian revolution of 1979, the narrative shifts to a first hand account of my trials at middle school, navigating a new world of religious studies, unqualified educators, and our class bully, Hassan.

                Then one day, our entire school is unexpectedly called into the yard. The principal informs us that we are to be shipped downtown to Azadi Square to take part in a large anti-West protest. As with all things dictated by the system, we have no choice in the matter. As we are lead to the main street where buses await us, my best friend and I talk in panicked whispers. How long will we be at this rally? What if we get lost? What will our parents think when we’re not home as expected?

                Into our crisis comes an unexpected savior: Hassan, the bully. “Find a place to hide,” he mutters, before running out of line and directly into the middle of traffic. Cars screech to a halt, horns blare, and the principal and teachers run into the street to retrieve him. In the ensuing chaos, my friend and I make our move. He dives under a parked car, while I duck into a nearby storefront. My heart pounding, I stay hidden in a corner until I hear the sound of the buses departing. Emerging from our hiding spots, we both run home. All the while, I wonder what drove Hassan to help us like that.

                The next day at recess, I press Hassan for an answer. He merely shrugs, calling the principal an idiot, and mentioning how he hates it when teachers push us kids around. The incident was never spoken of again. And while he still bullied us around, it seemed to me that it was almost half-hearted. Looking back on it now, I’d like to think helping us out on his own terms, and having earned our gratitude, he liked the feeling. And we, in turn, had gotten a glimpse into the reality of his life, constantly berated by parents and teachers who considered him a failure.

                But in the end, we were all just kids, trying to make sense of a world that had turned upside down on us. A victory was a victory, even one where the bully saved the day.

                As you can see, I tried to keep the summary brief, since it was only for an 8-page story. Still, I think I could have probably pared it down some more, but so it goes. I’ve never been good at knowing how much is too much and how little is too little. Luckily, it seemed to have worked for Mike. Also, I included a brief “list of credits” along with the summary, to help sell ourselves better. Here it is:

                Creative Team Selected Bibliography:

                Dara Naraghi (writer)

                • Lifelike OGN (creator-owned, IDW)
                • Fractured Fables (Image)
                • James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard (IDW)
                • Terminator Salvation movie prequel (IDW)
                • DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 (DC)

                Victor Santos (artist)

                • Filthy Rich OGN (Vertigo)
                • James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard (IDW)
                • Mice Templar (Image)
                • Roshomon (pitch to Chris Warner at Dark Horse)

                And finally, here’s the first of two pages that I included with the pitch:

                After about 3 weeks, I sent a brief and friendly follow up email, and then another several weeks after that. I finally heard back from Mike after about 2 months, and he indicated he liked the idea and would like to use the story in DHP. The next step was to sign the contracts and for Victor and I to finish the remaining pages. Once I got the pages uploaded to their FTP, I figured it would be months before we were slotted for an issue. But as luck would have it, another creative team missed a deadline, and since our story was ready to go, we got scheduled on short notice for issue #4.

                Aside from being really proud of how this story turned out, I have to say that it was quite a thrill to be published in a series that was hugely influential in my early comic book reading days.

                Like this post? Share it!