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.

it-1958-movie

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:

COLORGUIDE-ANN COLORGUIDE-CARUTHERS IT-CREATURE 2.0

IT-CREATURE COMMON ROOM

And some interior pages:

IT_2_1

IT_FINAL_ISSUE 2_PAGE001

IT_ISSUE1_FINAL_007

IT_ISSUE1_FINAL_006

mgm32

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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.

    1_covera_webpreview

    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:

      621

      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.

        swolverbroad_vs_hobo

        sspider-femme_vs_denim1

        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:

        sox

        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:

        Punish-her

        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:

        SwampThang

        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:

        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:

        Daredame

        …Vertigo parodies like Dame Patrol:

        Dame_Patrol

        …and the super-innuendo of Green Lanterns:

        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:

        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:

        Youngspud

        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:

        Soultrek

        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.

          DAREDEVIL,
          THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR
          Final Draft Treatment
          by
          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.”

            ml-005

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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:

              Editor
              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.

                Jeff-inking

                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.

                JandV-at-puter

                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?

                PPope-interview-pic

                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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                  Indie Cover Spotlight: Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of The Here and Now #5

                  While originally slated to adapt just one of Cory’s short stories for this IDW mini-series, I ended up getting a third issue due to IDW Editor in Chief Chris Ryall’s busy schedule (he had planned on adapting this story himself). So issue #5 became mine, adapting “I,Robot” (Cory’s version, not Asimov’s)

                  CoryDoctorow5

                  As per the previous issue, this one featured another top talent doing the cover: Ashley Wood. Interior art was by Erich Owen, and it shipped in February, 2008.

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                    Indie Cover Spotlight: Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of The Here and Now #3

                    After turning in the script for issue #1 (Anda’s Game), IDW liked my work enough to offered me another one of Cory’s short stories: Craphound.

                    CoryDoctorow3

                    This time, one of my all-time favorite creators was on cover duty: Paul Pope.

                    Paul Friggin’ Pope, covering my second ever paying gig. The book shipped in December, 2007, which made it a great Christmas present for me.

                    And the interior art was by British artist Paul McCaffrey, which was a joy to behold:

                    Craphound-p2-lo-res-749454

                    Next: I,Robot.

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                      Indie Cover Spotlight: Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of The Here and Now #1

                      In honor of my own birthday, I’m going to be completely self-serving by spotlighting my own comics all week on ICS, specifically my first professional paying gig: the IDW adaptation of Cory Doctorow’s short stories in comic book form.

                      After the publication of my Lifelike graphic novel, Chris Ryall at IDW called me up and asked if I would be interested in adapting Doctorow’s short story “Anda’s Game” for their new limited series. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity! Imagine my delight when I found out that the cover to the first issue was by none other than the great Sam Kieth:

                      CoryDoctorow1

                      The book came out in 2007, and featured interior art by Esteve Polls. I had a chance to communicate with Cory via email and ask him a few questions about what he considered the emotional beats of the story, since there’s always some amount of cutting that needs to happen when adapting prose into comics. He was very gracious with his time, and even more accommodating by telling me that he wanted me to put my mark on the adaptation, and not follow any instructions from him. When the book came out, he was equally pleasant in his positive review of it.

                      Next: Craphound.

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                        Mark Waid on being a freelancer

                        This blog post by writer (and editor, and publisher) Mark Waid has been making the rounds, but I wanted to link to it as well because it’s essential reading for anyone thinking of a career as a freelancer in the comics biz. or, really, any creative medium.

                        Don’t let anyone scare you. Don’t let anyone bully you, ever. Some will if they think they can, but you teach people how to treat you. You can be confident and show integrity without being argumentative. And for God’s sake, don’t be so afraid to explore your options that you keep turning in work that makes you wince; no good decision was ever made primarily out of fear. You can always walk away from any monkey house if you have drive and talent. There are still plenty of places in comics to do work-for-hire without being poorly treated, and there are huge opportunities to self-publish and build a faithful paying audience through the web. It’s hard work, but it’ll be better work, and it’ll be the work you’re remembered by.

                        There’s really not much to add to this. Right now is one of the lowest points in creative/editorial relationships at the Big Two, especially DC Comics. And while there are a lot more opportunities available at indie publishers and as self-publishers, the money is obviously scarce. It take serious cajones to make it as a freelancer, and my hats off to those folks. It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and luck. But obviously you can increase your odds of success by going into it with your eyes open to all the pitfalls and challenges.

                        By the way, Bleeding Cool has a roundup of various comics industry professionals’ reaction to Waid’s editorial here and more here. Here are a couple of examples:

                        “I’ve had the special joy of opening a comic to find the editor made changes to suit random whims. Whee.” — Sean McKeever

                        “If I hadn’t already quit Marvel and DC years ago, I’d quit again. There are so many other, better opportunities for creative people out here today.” — Kyle baker

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