“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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    2 thoughts on ““Caspian” Story in Dark Horse Presents #18

    1. Dara, I just got my copy of DHP in the mail this week and your story was an unexpected surprise. Great stuff and thanks for the behind the scenes on it.

    2. Thanks Sean, glad you liked it. It seems with all my stories for DHP, since we complete them and turn them in on time, they hold on to them and use them whenever another scheduled story is running behind. So I only got a month’s notice myself that it was going to be in issue #18.

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