Writing tips from Charles Soule and Jim Zub

Are you an aspiring comic book writer? Check out this post over at Bleeding Cool, So You Wanna Write Comics? Tips and Tricks from Charles Soule and Jim Zub At NYCC:

6. Self-Publish and be active: “Nowadays there are no barriers, use the internet to your advantage.” In today’s day, comics are more accessible than they’ve ever been. The industry is growing like never before and self-publishing is on the rise. Whether its digital or print, you need to have a completed work ready to go.

Most of these tips may seem like common sense, but you’ll be amazed how many people lack common sense out there.

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    IDW Pitch: Back to the Future

    Back in the spring of 2015, IDW reached out to me (and other writers) to pitch a 4-issue limited-series based on the Back to the Future movies. They were in the process of obtaining the BttF license, and Universal Studios wanted multiple writers to pitch them ideas.

    I initially had a hard time coming up with a story, but decided not to stress it too much. If I couldn’t think up an interesting pitch, so be it. But then, as these things often do, the pieces fell into place on their own. I remember laying in bed one morning, in that lucid state halfway between sleep and being awake, when the core concept of my pitch just came to me. I spent a few days fleshing it out, and then sent in my proposal.

    Unfortunately, this particular pitch didn’t go anywhere, as the studio and IDW eventually went with Bob Gale, the co-creator and screenwriter of the film trilogy. But I always look on these things as learning experiences. Plus, I don’t feel too bad losing out to the guy who wrote the films themselves!

    Anyway, here’s my pitch, for those of you curious about the process behind creating comics:

    Back to the Future: “Joyride”

    Treatment by Dara Naraghi


    When Doc’s children Jules and Verne seemingly take his time travelling locomotive on a joyride, zigzagging through time, he enlists the aid of Marty and Jennifer to find them before they create a temporal paradox. But is it really Biff who is both the instigator of, and the solution to, this fiasco?


    Fun, Fast-paced, Humorous, Brain-twister, Suspenseful

    At a Glance

    Mere moments after Doc, Clara, Jules, and Verne fly off in Doc’s time travelling locomotive (as seen in the closing scene of BttF 3), Doc and Clara reappear in a another time machine, in the form of a family minivan from the mid-80s. As Marty and Jennifer pile in, the panicked parents explain that their children have stolen the locomotive and are travelling around in time, unsupervised.

    Marty: “Doc, the DeLorean and locomotive I get, but are you telling me that you built a back-up time machine… out of a minivan?”

    As Doc fiddles with an instrument that will help him track the whereabouts of the first time machine, he rationalizes that every growing family needs sensible transportation. Our intrepid gang then sets off on a series of misadventures, visiting various timelines, but always a step behind the children. Doc blames himself for the entire mess, explaining that an argument he had with his sons drove them to run away. However, Clara believes that the boys are not that irresponsible, and suspects foul play.

    Sure enough, we soon discover that the two boys were merely playing in the locomotive when it was hijacked by what looks like 1955 Biff, who now has them imprisoned in the back. He is seen visiting different time periods, tracking down various ancestors of his Tannen family. After each visit, the Tanners are left changed, but not necessarily in a positive manner. Jules and Verne, meanwhile, manage to free themselves, and using their own scientific acumen, fashion a sort of “early warning beacon” that will transmit their next intended time jump to their parents, hoping to be rescued.

    With the helpful signal from the boys, Marty and Doc are finally able to intercept the locomotive in 1955. They spot Biff getting off the train, carrying a handgun, and heading to the high school’s Enchantment Under the Sea dance. After being reunited with the boys and taking in their account of Biff’s travels, Doc hypothesizes that this isn’t really Biff after all, but an alternate time paradox version of him.

    Marty: “But where did he come from?”
    Doc: “Don’t you see? By manipulating his own past, he made it possible for him to exists in the first place. He’s his own creator!”

    The gang catches up to Anomaly Biff, and realizes his plan is to kill the “real” 1955 Biff, who he sees as a born loser, unable to ever create a positive future for himself, despite even the temporal manipulation from BttF 2. As he holds the gang at gunpoint, he explains that he’ll then insert himself into original Biff’s place in history, prior to the seminal events of BttF 1 (George punching Biff) and BttF 2 (Marty taking the sports almanac away), avoiding both of those events, and then forging a successful future for himself on his own terms. It’s at this point that he notices Jules and Verne have slipped away, and prepares to kill the remaining interlopers.

    Just then, Anomaly Biff is startled when a voice from behind him proclaims “Hey, Butthead!” Turning around, he is sucker punched by Real Biff, and is knocked out. Real Biff then looks on in amazement as Anomaly Biff fades out of existence. He looks at the can of beer in his other hand, shrugs, and leaves. Meanwhile, the gang flees back to the two time machines, careful to avoid their previous visits to that point in time. Jules and Verne explain on the way that they had sought out Real Biff outside the dance and told him that a rival for Lorraine’s affections planned to kill him, and led him to Anomaly Biff.

    Jules: “After all, who better to fight a bully–“
    Verne: “Than another bully?”

    Doc surmises that by foiling the final step of Anomaly Biff’s plan, Real Biff disrupted the very complex time paradox that allowed Anomaly Biff to exist in the first place, causing him to be erased from existence.

    Boarding the time machines, the gang go back to the future of 1985, dropping off Marty and Jennifer back at the wreckage of the DeLorean from the end of BttF 3. As Clara and the boys board the locomotive, and Doc gets behind the wheel of the minivan, Marty suddenly remembers a remark Doc made earlier in their adventure. (Marty: “Hey Doc, what did you mean by ‘every growing family needs sensible transportation’?”) Doc simply smiles and looks at Clara, who in turn gives Marty and Jennifer a wink while resting a hand on her belly, before both machines rise in the air and disappear in time.


    So there you have it. In this industry, most pitches get rejected. It’s part of the process. But I’m still pretty pleased with my take on the BttF concept.

    By the way, the BttF comic is now actually an ongoing series. There’s also a limited-series adaption of the BttF video game, called Citizen Brown.


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      Short article about my YSU talk in The Jambar

      Ahead of my talk tomorrow at Youngstown State University, the school newspaper, The Jambar, ran this short article/interview: Graphic Novel Author to Visit YSU.

      “If creating comics is something they want to do professionally, hopefully I can also leave them with some advice on how to navigate the treacherous waters of the business,” Naraghi said.

      [English professor Rebecca] Barnhouse encourages anyone who is interested in graphic novels or Naraghi’s work to come and speak with him on Wednesday.

      CB Speaker

      (By the way, can anyone tell me what the meaning or significance of the name “Jambar” is?)

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        Upcoming talk at Youngstown State University

        Professor Rebecca Barnhouse at the English department of Youngstown State University invited me to give a talk on comics and graphic novels, which I’m excited to do. The event is free and open to the public, and will take place on Wednesday, October 28, at 4 PM in DeBartolo Hall.

        CB Speaker

        I plan to talk a bit about my background and interest in comics and graphic novels, then discuss how I “broke in” to the field. I’ll also present some of the concepts and techniques behind creating graphic novels, and of course have an open Q&A session.

        Additional info about the event is available on the YSU website here.

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          IDW pitch: IT! The Terror From Beyond Space

          Back in early 2010, IDW and MGM Studios had worked out the deal to re-imagine some of the cult classic MGM movies in comics form. They called them Midnight Movies. I’d had a good working relationship with IDW for a few years by then, so I was asked by Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall to send in a proposal for one or more of the properties.

          The science fiction setting of IT! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) appealed to me, so I worked up the pitch, as seen below. I even included some “visual aids” in my document, to better explain my vision for the book’s look and feel.


          Chris’s response was short and sweet:

          “Yeah, we’re totally doing this. This rocks.”

          So, here’s the pitch that got me the gig:


          IT! The Terror From Beyond Space

          A reimagining by Dara Naraghi

          The Challenge

          When The Thing From Another World was reimagined by John Carpenter as The Thing, it was done through a darker setting, more realistic special effects, and amped-up levels of horror and gore. But I feel that if we were to take a similar approach with It!, we’d end up with Ridley Scott’s Alien. That may be unfair, but the reality is that Alien is so ingrained in our pop culture psyche that a modern update of its precursor (and inspiration) would ironically be viewed as a rip-off. Also, a similar updating was done when Millennium Comics published an It! Comic in 1992, so there’s no sense in treading those grounds again.

          The Solution

          My recommendation is to forego the deconstruction/post-modern approach. Instead, I propose we embrace the B-movie sensibilities of the source material, but with a twist: the retro outer shell will be juxtaposed against modern storytelling underpinnings.

          • The look-and-feel will be that of an “idealized” retro 1950s science fiction movie, but the plot will be multi-layered, with the addition of twists, ulterior motives, and modern science.
          • A more gender/ethnically diverse cast will provide the refinement to appeal to modern audiences.

          Design Aesthetics

          Again, to distance ourselves from unfair comparisons to Alien, we will forego the dark tone, grungy set pieces, and horror vibe. Instead, the focus will be on action, adventure, and above all, suspense. This is the world of sleek, stainless steel rocket ships and spirited explorers, not corporate oligarchies and blue-collar space miners.

          • Spaceship/Technology – sleek and sexy retro multi-finned rocket ships and ray guns abound.
          • Costumes – again, retro-sexy. Women’s 2-piece uniforms will feature mini-skirts and go-go boots. Guys will sport jack boots and holsters, ready for action. Classic “fishbowl” helmets will be used.
          • Creature – since we have an unlimited special effects budge, we will design a truly unique, non-humanoid monster (without resorting to either rubber-suit camp or H.R. Giger psychosis).
          • Covers – done in the style of 50s science fiction movie posters, but with amped-up sex appeal.
          • Text – each issue will open with a narrative caption incorporating the hyperbole of period movie trailer announcements. But the character dialogue will be modern and conversational.

          Plot Summary

          First, we will simplify and diversify by reducing the cast from 10 characters to 7 (discarding Maj. John Purdue and the Finelli brothers). Col. Edward Carruthers and Lt. James Calder will be African American, while Dr. Mary Royce will be of Japanese descent (Eric Royce is her husband).

          The plot will follow that of the movie fairly closely, but with the addition of several layers of complexity. Instead of sneaking onto the rocket ship through an open hatch, the creature (in a much smaller, dormant form) is smuggled in by Lt. James Calder. He is carrying out orders from a secret branch of the Pentagon to retrieve any evidence of extraterrestrial life from Mars. (A similar “sleeper” agent with the same mission was on Carruthers’ Challenge 141 ship.) In turn, Ann Anderson is a special agent for the US Space Command, Division of Interplanetary Exploration, and tasked with observing Calder. Her role will be expanded greatly, taking over as our main protagonist after Van Heusen is injured early on.

          Using a key element from the original movie – that the creature extracted every ounce of liquid from the bodies of those it killed – we’ll establish that this is the source of its power. Adapted to the dry atmosphere of Mars, it begins to grow unnaturally once exposed to the humidity in the ship’s air. It continues this exponential growth after killing Keinholz, Eric Royce, and eventually Van Heusen and Calder. Attempts to kill it with weapons and radiation fail, until Ann and Dr. Mary Royce deduce the source of its unnatural resilience. They then devise a plan to use this trait against the creature, by trapping and exposing it to large amounts of water and humidity. Similar to how humans can die by drinking too much water (“hyperhydration”, AKA water intoxication), the creature essentially overdoses on water, ironically “drowning in outer space”. Ann, the doctor, and Carruthers will be the only survivors.

          We will explore more fully the romantic triangle hinted at in the movie, involving Ann, Van Heusen, and Carruthers. Another subplot will be an affair between Dr. Mary Royce and Keinholz. Key sequences retained from the movie will be the daring spacewalk, and a trapped Calder holding off the monster with a blowtorch in a cargo bay.

          Visual Aids

          Below are some comic book covers, both vintage and modern reinterpretations, which visually summarize the look and feel I’m aiming for:


          So there you have it. Writing the series was fun, and I always love the collaboration aspect of creating comics. Sadly, the MGM projects weren’t very successful, and halfway through writing the script for the 3rd issue (of a 4-issue mini-series) I was informed that the book was being “condensed” down to a 3-issue series. So yeah, I had to fit two issues worth of plot and story into just one. Sometimes those are the breaks. On the plus side, I got to work with legendary comic book editor Bob Schreck on this project, which was a blast.

          Here’s some artwork from the finished project…

          The covers for the series, which were provided by Steve Mannion, totally captured the look I was going for. Mannion has a great retro “good girl” style:

          MGM_IT01_coverMGM_IT2_cover MGM_IT3_cover

          Interior art was by Mark Dos Santos. (Aside: at one point, Paul Gulacy was going to draw it, but that didn’t come to fruition.) Here are some of Mark’s character and set designs:



          And some interior pages:


          IT_FINAL_ISSUE 2_PAGE001




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            Anecdotes from Mid-Ohio-Con 2009

            I was digging through some old emails and came across this nugget, which I had shared with Chris Ryall at IDW Publishing after my experience at the 2009 Mid-Ohio-Con.


            My big project at the time was the official Terminator Salvation movie prequel, which I had for sale at my table. Both of these anecdotes are related to it.

            On Sunday a couple of younger guys were looking through the books on my table, and one of them picked up the Terminator graphic novel. Here’s the conversation that ensued, essentially verbatim:

            Guy: Dude, you wrote this?
            Me: Yeah, I was given the movie script and asked to–
            Guy: Wicked! Did you meet Arnold?
            Me: Uh, no, I just wrote the comics and–
            Guy: So did you go on the set?
            Me: No, I did everything from–
            Guy: Dude, is your name in the credits of the movie?
            Me: No, see, I just wrote the–
            Guy: (nods his head, puts the book down, and wanders off)

            Another couple came by with their teenage boy. He told me that he loved the Terminator graphic novel, and that it was only the 2nd or 3rd graphic novel he’d ever read. I thanked him for the compliment, and this is the conversation that ensued between him and his mom:

            Mom: Oh yeah, I remember buying this book for you.
            Son: You didn’t buy it for me.
            Mom: Yes I did.
            Son: No you didn’t. I read it at Borders over the course of 3 days.
            Mom: Oh. Well, I meant to buy it for you.

            At which point they all wandered off.

            Oh, the glamorous life of a comic book writer….

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              Marvel artists on choreographing fight scenes

              I love behind-the-scenes process glimpses, and this Onion A.V. Club article shows 3 different artists, and their process for staging a fight sequence.

              My favorite is this Moon Knight page, by Declan Shalvey:


              AVC: I love that last panel of the gutter bleeding into Moon Knight’s cape, an effect that you use a few times on the series. What is the reasoning for that visual choice?

              DS: Well, I made the choice to try and use white as a graphic device. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to play with that device, considering one iconic thing about Moon Knight is the white of his costume. I realized that I had a rare opportunity to do something a little different and kept it in mind.

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                Spoof Comics: 90s dreck at its best (worst)

                Recently, while looking for comic covers to post as part of the Indie Cover Spotlight feature, I ran across several books from a publisher called Spoof Comics. You may remember them from their oh-so-clever Wolverbroad vs. Hobo book, or Spider-femme vs. Denim.



                I’m just kidding. Nobody remembers Spoof Comics.

                Well, I’m here to tell you that judging by the covers of their other books, it’s a testament to the strength (and insanity) of the 90s era speculative market that they lasted as long as they did. Again, I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read a single one of these comics, but honestly, I can’t imagine any of them actually being funny. For example, we’ve got O-X: Cow O’ War:


                Because nothing’s funnier than recasting Valiant’s successful X-O: Man O’ War as a cow. Cow’s have udders, which are funny, right? Ugh.

                Or how about The Punish-her Score Journal:


                First of all, the character’s name doesn’t even make sense, other than it’s the best they could come up with that would somewhat rhyme with Punisher. I don’t even want to know how they wove in the theme of dating and sex and “punishment,” because I have a feeling it’s a bunch of frat house juvenile humor. But hey, check out the early Dave Johnson cover. At least he went on to bigger and better things.

                And speaking of great cover artists, the folks at Spoof Comics were at least smart enough to know they’d have a better chance of selling their books if they put some recognizable talent on the covers. My guess is the interiors of these comics were drawn by hungry, naive young artists with way more enthusiasm to “break in” than actual talent. You know, the Bluewater model. So if you can get some nice looking covers, you may at least trick some unsuspecting souls into buying your crap comics.

                Case in point, Swamp Thang:


                Oh, Kelley Jones, you must have had a car payment to cover that month. But at least it’s a really good cover.

                And then there’s Spider-femme:


                That’s right, despite the normal looking (and sized) breasts, that’s pinup artist extraordinaire, Adam Hughes. Incidentally, the above cover is from their anthology series Spoof Comics Presents, which, get this, lasted 19 issues! And in that year and a half of publication, they gave us such gems as Daredame:


                …Vertigo parodies like Dame Patrol:


                …and the super-innuendo of Green Lanterns:


                (by the way, I’m pretty sure that’s a Cully Hamner cover on GL)

                …and so many other comedy classics, from Justice Broads to Wet Shirts. I’m telling you, Spoof Comics was a veritable (un)funny factory, churning out not just comic book spoofs, but also those of celebrity rock bands. Behold, Kisses:


                But even in the early stages of their careers, guys like Adam Hughes and Kelley Jones probably charged too much for a cover (and by too much, I mean “not free,” which seems to have been Spoof Comics’ payment standard), so their other books looked more like this:


                That’s right, Youngspud. What’s funnier than a parody of Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood book, than a bunch of potato superheroes? God, I can just imagine all the funny lines in that book: the heroes drink a lot to get “mashed,” or maybe they fight a French supervillain team called Les Frites?

                Well, I’m afraid that’s about as much as I can stand to write on this topic. But before I go, I’ll leave you with the best of the bunch. Behold teh funny of Soul Trek:


                I don’t even want to know.

                (A version of this post originally appeared on my Ferret Press blog, April, 2011)

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                  Daredevil film treatment by J.M. DeMatteis

                  On his blog, writer J.M. DeMatteis has the entirety of his mid-90s film treatment for a Daredevil movie, for producer/screenwriter Chris Columbus and his 1492 Pictures company.

                  THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR
                  Final Draft Treatment
                  J. M. DeMatteis

                  ACT ONE

                  FADE IN—

                  —on the Manhattan neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen, fifteen years ago, where we find a gang of teenagers strutting their stuff down the hot summer streets. The clear leader of the group is sixteen year old MATT MURDOCK…a cocky young Cagney, with energy, anger, and an attitude. He’s the focus of the group’s attention: their unquestioned leader.

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                    So Hollywood wants to make a movie from your comic book property

                    I love behind-the-scenes type posts from pros. On his blog, British writer Pat Mills (co-creator of Marshal Law, amongst many others) talks about some of his misadventures in Hollywood. Here’s a snippet:

                    “Then there was the boss of a media company that’s a household name who ‘definitely’ wanted to do a whole range of projects featuring my characters, including Marshal Law. They were ‘very, very serious’. This time there was ‘definitely no bullshit’. Lots of time-consuming meetings and presentations ensued. This was followed by sending me some really expensive and impressive state of the art gear. It would be relevant for the projects they had in mind for me. So that made me think, wow, they must be serious! Six months went by with no news and no response to my emails and I finally realised it was dead. But I think I won on that one. I got a good price for all that gear at Cash Converters.”


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                      Want to be an editor for Vertigo?

                      If you’ve ever wondered what the qualifications are for an editor at DC/Vertigo, here you go:

                      DC Entertainment – Burbank, CA
                      SUMMARY OF POSITION
                      DC Comics seeks an Editor for the Editorial-Vertigo department. Manages a line of editorial product within the Vertigo imprint.

                      JOB RESPONSIBILITIES
                      Performs full editorial function for a minimum of 4 monthly titles.
                      Manages the creative process from conception through publication. Ensures that schedules and budgets are met and product quality is at or above Vertigo’s standards. Seeks ways to keep ongoing series fresh and exciting.
                      Identifies and develops new editorial products for Vertigo.
                      Identifies potential new talent and maintains relationships with current talent.
                      Ensures that other DCE staff members have the materials required to maximize service to the product.
                      Writes solicitation copy for monthly publications
                      Supervise and develop a junior staff member.
                      Performs other related duties as assigned.

                      JOB REQUIREMENTS
                      BA/BS degree in English, Journalism or Communications preferred.
                      3-5 years editorial experience, comic books/graphic novels preferred.
                      Ability to manage a creative team.
                      Knowledge of comic book industry strongly preferred.
                      Knowledge of art (ability to discuss composition, design, etc…) required.
                      Copyediting and proofreading skills preferred.
                      Ability to meet deadlines required.
                      Ability to communicate effectively both verbally and in writing required.
                      Ability for some light travel strongly preferred.
                      Must have the ability to communicate effectively and tactfully with managers and other levels of personnel.
                      Must have the ability to pay close attention to details.
                      Must have the ability to organize.
                      Must have the ability to work well under time constraints.
                      Must have the ability to handle multiple tasks.
                      Must have the ability to meet deadlines, manage multiple project elements simultaneously.
                      MAC /PC proficiency required.
                      Domestic travel up to 5%.

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                        Review: The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE and the Changing Face of Comics

                        The_CartoonistAnother library rental, and a very enjoyable one at that, The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, BONE and the Changing Face of Comics is a 2009 documentary about local boy made good, Bone creator and fellow Columbusite, Jeff Smith.

                        As you would expect with any documentary, this one charts Smith’s career, from his childhood doodles to his college days, animation career, and self-publishing Bone. Along the way, we’re treated to interviews with Smith himself, as well as a friends and fellow cartoonists like Paul Pope, Coleen Doran, Scott McCloud, Harvey Pekar, and Terry Moore. Oh, and of course Lucy Caswell, of the Ohio State University Cartoon Library & Museum, who was one of Smith’s early supporters and mentors.

                        There was a fair amount of time spent on Smith’s seven years with Character Builders, the animation house he co-founded with two friends after graduating college. It was fun seeing snippets of commercial animation from the trio, including an opening sequence for a planned Jack Hanna animal show called Super Safari, as well as ads for Warner Cable (featuring the superhero Warner Man) and White Castle (in claymation, no less!). Smith credits the discipline learned from years of doing animation, both in terms of craft (learning to draw every character consistently and with varying emotions) and business (heeding deadlines, interacting with customers and vendors professionally) as one of the reasons for his success as self-publishing.


                        Smith himself talks about his early influences (Carl Bark’s Uncle scrooge, Walk Kelly’s Pogo), as well as the seminal comics from 1986 that opened his eyes to the potential of the medium: Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns. (Quick digression: I was lucky enough to catch a talk by Smith at CCAD about 10 years ago, where he spoke passionately about his love of comics, and incorporated dozens of images from the aforementioned books in his presentation to explain the intricacies of the craft.) Parts of the interview are also set in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio, specifically Old Man’s Cave, wherein Smith talks about the influence of that specific geographic region on his art and the settings of Bone.


                        Smith’s wife, and business partner Vijaya Iyer is also featured. In a humorous clip, he explains how he talked her into quitting her promising Silicon Valley job to help him make comics. In another interesting anecdote, talking about the genesis of his new series RASL, Smith mentions coming up with the basic premise back in 2001, and running it by his friends Paul Pope and Frank Miller. At one point, they were going to work together on a science fiction anthology called Big Big, with RASL being Smith’s contribution. Alas, scheduling conflicts kept the project from ever materializing, but that would have been a trip, no?


                        Oh, and on a personal note, it was cool to see my local comic shop of choice, The Laughing Ogre, featured in several of the shots in the documentary. Ogre employee Lloyd even makes an appearance in a segment set at the Smith/McCloud talk at OSU’s Mershon Auditorium. Speaking of which, most of that talk (which I had the pleasure of attending) is included on the DVD as a bonus feature. There’s also a mini-feature where Smith discusses his new series, RASL, talking about his research into both the real science and fringe science that makes up the backbone of the story.

                        For fans of comics, Bone and/or Jeff Smith, I’d definitely recommend this documentary. It’s professionally produced, well written, and contains good interviews, with some clever bits as well (like incorporating black & white film footage as humorous interstitials).

                        (A version of this review originally appeared on my Ferret Press blog, February 2011.)

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