“Caspian” Story in Dark Horse Presents #18

I was quite happy with my first autobiographical short story for Dark Horse Presents, which was published in issue #4 (September, 2011). It received some good reviews, and it’s always fun for me to work with frequent collaborator Victor Santos. So earlier this year, I email Victor to see if he had the time and was interested in doing another similar story. The answer was yes, so I sent him a page of script, and then put together a simple 1-page proposal to send to Dark Horse publisher and DHP editor, Mike Richardson.

The pitch went out at the beginning of March, 2012, along with this sample page:

51 minutes after emailing the pitch, I received a simple reply from Mike: “I am up for this.” Hands down, my fastest approval, ever.

So Victor and I went to work. Besides finishing the script, I also had to find many photo references for him. For this, I used a combination of scans of photos I had taken myself during my trip back to Iran in 2009, plus a few I found online. Victor did his usual magic penciling the pages, and we then worked together to tweak each page through the various stages to completion.

I thought it would be fun to share the process from start to finish on one of the pages for you. So here it is, page 5, starting with my script:

Page 5

Suggested Page Layout: 5 widescreen

Panel 1: Wide. Bird’s eye view of a narrow 2-lane mountain road zigzagging across the dry, rocky landscape. (see Ref_photos5.jpg, or lots of good general reference photos for the road to the Caspian here)

Caption: I have equally vivid memories of making the 4-5 hour trip from Tehran to the Caspian, on the long, winding road that cut across the Alborz Mountains.

Panel 2: View of the scenery as it would be seen from the car: majestic mountain ranges in the background, beautiful rock formations in the foreground. Also, if you can manage it, place the funny “car going over the edge of a cliff” sign on the road (see Ref_photos4.jpg).

Caption: The non-Caspian side the mountains is dry and arid, but no less spectacular.

Panel 3: Shot of Young Dara and cousins sitting outside by a roadside café (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2), enjoying a sandwich and Coca Cola from a bottle.

Caption: We would usually stop halfway at a nice little roadside café for lunch or a snack.

Panel 4: View of the “avalanche protector” structure over a section of the road, as seen in the reference picture in Ref_photos4.jpg.

Caption: I loved seeing the protective structures at key spots along the route, designed to protect the cars in case of a rock slide or avalanche.

Panel 5: Show a line of cars waiting about 20 feet from the entrance to the one-way Kandovan Tunnel (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2). Note: these pictures are newer, from when the tunnel was widened to 2 lanes. Use them as general reference for the shape of the opening, but draw it smaller, because during my time it was only one-lane wide and cars would have to wait on each side and take turns going through.

Caption: But the biggest attraction of the trip was always the trip through the Kandovan Tunnel.

(The places in the script where it mentions phrases like PhotoRef1 were hyperlinks to pictures or websites with the appropriate photo references for the scene.)

And here is Victor’s rough pencils for the same page:

I didn’t have any changes to suggest, as it all looked good to me. So the next step was to ink the page, and then throw on some colors. Per our last story, I asked that he use a very limited color palette, almost monochromatic. Given the subject matter of this story, we decided to go with blues and greens. Here is the original colored page:

At this stage, I suggested toning down the green, and adding in some blue highlights, as I felt the original art was being overwhelmed by the colors. Victor agreed, and turned in this second version:

Perfect. It was now in my court to do the lettering, which I did using Adobe Illustrator, and the font “Silver Age” from the Blambot site, designed by Nate Piekos:

When lettering my own stories, I tend to do a lot of editing and rewrites at this stage. In the page above, you can notice some changes made to the caption text from the original script, most notably in panel 4.

And just for fun, here are a couple of my photos that I had sent Victor to use as reference:

And finally, here’s the cover for DHP #18, in which our story was published (November 26, 2012):

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    Indie Cover Spotlight: Fish Police #1

    This week I’m spotlighting one from the “little indie comic that could” pile: Steve Moncuse’s Fish Police, starting with the cover of the self-published first issue:

    FishPolice1

    Published in black and white in 1985 under his own Fishwrap Productions label, this crime noir book featured Inspector Gill and his fellow anthropomorphic underwater characters. the book was a relative hit, and after 12 issues, was picked up by Comico and continued as a color series for another 13 issues. Following that company’s bankruptcy, Fish Police moved to Apple Comics for another 10 issues, and even had a reprint of its early issues done by Marvel.

    Not bad for a book about fish detectives, right?

    But that’s not all. The comics was even turned into a prime-time animated series on CBS in 1992, produced by Hanna-Barbera and featuring an impresive voice cast, including John Ritter, Hector Elizondo, Ed Asner, and Tim Curry. Sadly, the series never caught on and was dropped after only 3 episodes had aired.

    Come back on Wednesday and Friday for more covers from this series.

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      Of pitches and publishing seasons

      A couple of links related to the business side of comics…

      Publishing Seasons – First Second editor Gina Gagliano explains why publishing houses offer their catalogs in intervals broken into “seasons.”

      Winter: January through April

      Spring: May through August

      Fall: September through December

      If you publish your book with a major publisher, your book will one day be assigned a season of its own.

      Why is this?

      Near Misses From My DC Era – Writer Brian Wood shows how even successful, popular creators can pitch projects in vain, and even when you think you have a greenlight and your editor loves the book, it can still be scrapped for capricious reasons.

      Rima The Jungle Girl – I was asked by Azzarello to write a miniseries for his First Wave thing, and I wrote the outline and met with the editor and got that approved and all seemed cool, but the green light to start scripting never came, and to this day I have no idea why. I like the story, and since I wasn’t paid anything by DC for the outline the story’s mine, so maybe I’ll find a use for it.

      That last sentence is what interests me. Good ideas are good ideas, regardless of their initial failure in finding a willing publisher. As long as there’s no contract or NDA involved, I think creators should definitely keep all options open and revise their company pitches into creator-owned books. There are many examples of this in the field, with one that comes to mind is writer J.M. DeMatteis retooling his rejected “death of Captain America” story from the 80s into the mini-series The Life and Times of Savior 28 decades later.

      And on a more personal footnote, back during my own failed attempts to pitch new series treatments to DC last year, one of the characters I was interested in was Rima The Jungle Girl. I was told at the time that another writer had plans for her, so that particular character was off the table. Now, this was after the whole “First Wave” series of pulp books, so I don’t think it was Azzarello or Wood, but I do find it amusing.

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        How to sell a crappy Wonder Woman show

        Use phrases like “a product of its time” and “certainly worth a look.” That’s the inspired sales pitch on the DC Comics blog for the 1974 TV pilot for Wonder Woman, starring Cathy Lee Crosby.

        As developed by writer John D.F. Black (Star Trek, Shaft), this take on Wonder Woman featured a hero with little in the way of super powers hunting down a villain (portrayed by Ricardo Montalban) who had stolen classified information about American agents. Also drastically different was Diana’s mod-inspired costume, though elements such as her iconic bracelets, lasso and her Amazonian home of Paradise Island make appearances. While a product of its time, this take on the revered character is certainly worth a look for DC comics fans, if for the nostalgia factor alone.

        That sure sounds like a great take on an iconic comic book character. I’m sure fans of Wonder Woman can’t wait to fork over their hard earned money for this “classic” now available on DVD.

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          Indie Cover Spotlight: The Time Jump War #2

          Back in the day, I was a huge Chuck Dixon fan, and especially liked his various indie comics. Here’s one that’s probably remembered by very few fans:

          Published in 1989 by Apple Comics (no, it had nothing to do with Steve Jobs), The Time Jump War was a 3-issue limited series of pulpy science fiction adventure from Dixon and Enrique Villagran, with a cover by Ricardo Villagran.

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            If I ran a large comic book publisher…

            Just some random thoughts on changes I’d make if I was in charge of a large comic book publisher like Marvel or DC. Not saying I have all the answers; these are just some personal preferences that I think would most likely serve the industry better.

            1. Every monthly comic should have a “Story Thus Far” recap page – there are editors and writers who feel that a synopsis paragraph is inelegant, and using one to convey information is somehow “cheating.” That the information on who the characters are and what has transpired should be conveyed seamlessly withing the issue’s story itself. I don’t buy that for a second. Maybe that was true in the days of mass consumption of comics off the newsstand, where even the lowest selling titles were moving hundreds of thousands of units, and every issue was “someone’s first.”

              But those days are long gone.

              Yes, back in the days before comic book shops with huge back issue collections, where a kid could randomly pick up a comic at the grocery store or the barber shop, it was important to give them the relevant lowdown in the issue, so they wouldn’t be lost. And more importantly, so they’d be able to enjoy the story and get hooked and come back the next month. But these days, there’s little to no sampling, everyone has the Internet at their mobile fingertips, and the TPB rules. Reading a story arc in one sitting in a collected edition, with the details of who’s who and what happened before repeated over and over every 20 pages makes for a terrible reading experience.

              Put it all in a synopsis paragraph, once, then get out of the way of the story. You’ll give readers all the basic information they need before delving into the serialized story, and if they need more, they can bring up Wikipedia or a hundred other websites to fill in the details. Heck, these days even the most sophisticated of TV shows these days have “Previously…” recap intros. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It serves a clear purpose, and let’s your story unfold on its own.

            2. Don’t end story arcs on anniversary issues, start them there – this would seem like a no-brainer, but from what I can tell, most writers and editors treat “big” issues (i.e. issue #50, #100, #250, etc.) as the perfect place for a long-running story arc’s culmination. Why? Typically, these issues have a major sales increase over the book’s regular monthly sales figures. Sure, lots of those are from people just wanting to collect a “milestone” issue, probably for dubious “investment” practices.

              But you’re still dealing with a lot of new readers, not to mention increased media coverage. Why on earth would you waste the opportunity by presenting everyone the final chapter of some long, convoluted story that they probably know nothing about? Why not use the opportunity instead to hook them on to your title by starting out a “new reader friendly” storyline?

            3. Stop it with the rape and sexual violence – Just because an asshat like Mark Millar made a successful career out of it, doesn’t mean it’s cool. Just stop it.
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              Comic Creator Quote of the Day – Andy Diggle

              As part of his continuing “Conversing on Comics” feature on the Robot 6 blog, Chris Arrant talks to British comics writer Andy Diggle. I’ve liked Diggle’s work on a variety of project, especially when he teams up with his frequent collaborator, artist Jock.

              So anyway, at one point Arrant asks him about his previous exclusive contracts with Marvel and DC, and if he feels the pressure to try and go back to that model now that he’s been a freelancer for a while. Dig his answer:

              “Being based in the U.K., where we have universal healthcare, there’s less incentive to go exclusive with an American publisher.”

              Damn socialism! Allowing creative types to base their decisions on factors other than healthcare costs.

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