Pat Mills: Judge Dredd, break dancing, and Iran

Pat Mills, creator and editor of the seminal British comic book anthology magazine 2000 AD has a new blog, and in this post he recounts the creation of the mag’s most popular and famous character, Judge Dredd. It’s an interesting read, especially if you like comics history and behind the scenes looks.

However, this particular bit caught my attention, since it was so out of left field:

“Coming back to that death penalty for dropping litter – if the idea seems unconvincing or ridiculous now, then consider the situation in modern Iran. I spent three months in that country a few years ago and once watched breakdancing teenagers halfway up a mountain outside Tehran. They believed they would be safe from the law, but the secret police were also watching, and moved in to arrest them. Dancing is against the law in Iran.”

By the way, the death penalty for littering that he’s referring to is in regards to the infamous zero tolerance that Judge Dredd has for any form of law breaking, not anything that actually happens in Iran. Not that the Islamic Republic doesn’t have its share of ludicrous laws and punishments, mind you.

But more importantly, I wonder what the heck he was doing in Iran for 3 months…

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…

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.

Iranian cartoonist sentenced to lashing

According to a news report, Iranian cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraiyeh has been sentenced to 25 lashes for drawing a cartoon that showed a member of parliament in an unkind light, namely wearing a football jersey.

“The harsh ruling handed down to Shokraiyeh is not an isolated case in Iran. In the past, other cartoonists such as Mana Neyestani have also been imprisoned for their work.”

Yeah, a caricature is going to lead to him getting whipped.

No, you’re not mistaken. It is the 21st century.

This is what happens when you have an oppressive theocracy.

Making comic books in Iran

Spotted this NYT article today:

Iranian Comic-Book Artists Seek a Unique, Local Identity

“Many young Iranian artists admit to a passion for comic books from the United States and Europe. They can be purchased in Tehran, though they are expensive and often covered with the censors’ black ink. But local artists say they are trying to stamp their work with an Iranian identity.

Life for them, though, is not easy because their creative aspirations are kept firmly in check by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, responsible for approving all publications in the country.”

I don’t really know what the comics scene is like in Iran these days. I’d imagine most of the fans are younger and tech savvy, so they probably get their hands on pirated scans. When I was a kid growing up there, comics meants Herge’s Tin Tin, and to a lesser extent, Asterix and Obelix. There were some Farsi translations of the more well-known American superhero comics as well – Superman, Batman, Spider-Man – but they weren’t nearly as popular.

On the last couple of trips that my parents took back to Iran, I asked them to look for locally produced comic books and graphic novels, but they didn’t have any luck finding them.

Aquaman and Iranian superheroes: an open letter to Geoff Johns

First, a bit of background for those of you who don’t follow superhero comics: a couple of weeks ago, DC Comic published Aquaman #7, written by Geoff Johns, one of the most prominent and popular writers in the superhero genre, and Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics. In it, he introduced a brand new superheroine to the DC universe by the name of Kahina the Seer.

Kahina the Seer, art by Joe Prado

On page 1 of the comic, we see her running for her life from Aquaman’s mortal enemy, Black Manta. She puts up a good fight, but by page 7, she is defeated.

Page 7, art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

On page 8, we find out that she’s Iranian.

Page 8, art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

And yes, she’s also killed off.

What follows is an open letter to Geoff Johns, adapted and slightly reworked from a similar note I sent to the book’s editor, Pat McCallum.

Dear Mr. Johns,

After reading Aquaman #7, I felt the need to share my thoughts on a topic close to my heart. To that end, allow me to very briefly share my background with you: I’m an Iranian-American writer, a lifelong fan of the medium of comics, and a big fan of the DC characters. I have over 10 years of published works to my credit, from self-published stories to comics and graphic novels from Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and DC Comics. My DC Comics contribution was a Spectre story set in Tehran, Iran, for the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1, edited by Mike Carlin.

Needless to say, when I saw that a new superheroine introduced in Aquaman #7 was an Iranian woman, I was very excited. As far as I know, the only other Iranian character in the (pre-52) DCU was the villain Rustam (who, ironically, was named after the most famous and popular HERO from Iranian literature). So you can imagine my frustration and extreme disappointment when this new hero, Kahina, was summarily killed a mere 8 pages after being introduced!

Please understand, this is not one of those “DC Comics is racist/xenophobic” essays that you’ve undoubtedly encountered countless times in the recent past. I’ve been happy with, and supportive of, DC’s attempt at diversifying their universe with a sizable number of comics starring minority and female characters in the “New 52” relaunch of books. But I just don’t understand the logic behind creating a new minority hero – one from a country and culture that’s often misrepresented in today’s media as “evil” – only to have her killed upon her first appearance. What purpose did her death serve, other than being a mere plot point?

In doing so, you deprived your readership of a character utterly unique by virtue of her ethnic background, a character different than the thousands of others in the DC universe. Imagine the new storytelling venues opened up to you and other DC writers, had this character been allowed to continue her adventures in your fictional universe. With Iran in the news cycle as of late, here was a chance to add an element of verisimilitude to DC Comics, and start something bold and unconventional.

I’m not asking that DC Comics create a plethora of Iranian characters, or that they should only be portrayed as heroes, or even that once created, they should never be killed. I understand narrative needs, primary characters and supporting ones, emotional beats and motivation. But when there are absolutely NO characters of a certain ethnic or cultural background in your stories, to casually kill off the ONLY example of one, after a mere 8 pages, seems very counterproductive to me. It’s a disservice to your audience, a step back in your strides towards diversity, and just reinforces the negative stereotypes about the stunted development of superhero comics.

I know that because of my background, I’m much closer to this situation than the majority of your readers, but I don’t feel that invalidates my thoughts on the matter. Embracing multiculturalism not only offers a wealth of new storytelling possibilities, but it also distinguishes them from the hundreds of other alternatives in the marketplace, and opens them up to a wider marketplace.

I hope that you will consider my thought on this topic in the spirit that they were written: not to condemn, but hopefully to illuminate.

Sincerely,
Dara Naraghi

Happy No-Rooz

Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. And that makes it the first day of the new year on the Persian calendar. So…

Happy No-Rooz (Persian New Year)!

You can read about the history and traditions of No-Rooz here.

My short stories used in college discussion

I received a very pleasant email about a month ago, out of the blue:

I’m currently a teacher of English at Waynesburg University and a fan of comics. Right now the classes I’m in charge of are looking at the concept of “the outsider” in comics; we’re looking at differing viewpoints in books like “Holy Terror” and “Persepolis”. I recently picked up DHP #4 and absolutely loved your short story…and I was hoping to share it with my class for a discussion.

The gentleman went on to describe how he would like to use my story, and whether I would be OK with sending him low resolution files to use in his PowerPoint presentation.

Needless to say, I was thrilled. Positive feedback on my stories are always appreciated, but to have one re-purposed to facilitate a discussion about multiculturalism is awesome. I gladly provided a digital copy, as well as a copy of the shorter piece I did in the CBLDF benefit book on freedom of religion.

The reply I got was equally welcomed:

I appreciate it greatly – and more importantly, they’ll go a long way in my classes this semester. I needed something to counterbalance the astounding arrogance of Holy Terror. I think this does the job nicely.

Sometimes it’s the little things that really lift your spirits.

Fastest. Approval. Ever.

After our successful collaboration on the short story “The Protest” in Dark Horse Presents #4, I asked artist Victor Santos if he’d like to work with me on another one. He was game, so I put together a short proposal, he did a sample page of art, and I sent the packet off to Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson via email last night.

51 minutes later he emailed me back to say he liked it and wanted to run it.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to beat that record for shortest approval time.

“Memories of the Caspian” will be an 8-page autobiographical vignette about vacationing as a child by the Caspian Sea in northern Iran, and revisiting the region decades later. Here’s a sample page from the story:

I’m off to finish the script now, so Victor can get started on the rest of the artwork. As soon as I know what issue of DHP it’s going to be scheduled for, I’ll post the info here on the blog.

Announcing my newest project: PERSIA BLUES

I’m very excited to finally be able to take this news public: on the last day of the month that I turned 40 (i.e. this past November) I signed a contract with NBM Publishing to bring my creator-owned series Persia Blues to the market. Based in New York and founded by Terry Nantier in 1976, NBM is one of the oldest independent graphic novel publishers in the US, with a slew of critically acclaimed original and European reprint albums.

Yep, it's official

I’m extremely excited to be working with Terry and the fine folks at NBM on what will be a trilogy of original graphic novels, telling an epic tale centered around Minoo Shirazi, a young Iranian grad student living in the US. Here’s the tagline I used in the pitch:

“Persia Blues chronicles a young Iranian woman’s life in two different worlds, both of which are a lie.”

Without giving too much away just yet, Persia Blues will explore Minoo’s life, love, struggles, and triumphs in two separate worlds. The series will draw heavily from modern Iranian culture, ancient Persian history and mythology, as well as elements from the Zoroastrian religion.

Character designs for Minoo and Tyler

Joining me on this project is super talented artist, fellow Columbusite, and fellow PANEL Collective member Brent Bowman. Brent’s been doing an amazing job designing the look and feel of the series, which with its half a dozen different settings and over a dozen main characters is no small task.

Character design for Ahura Mazda

The first volume in the series, tentatively titled “Columbus to Persepolis” is slated for release in early 2013. I know that seems like a long time away, but we’ve got you covered. I’ll be using my blog here to post regular updates, art previews, and a ton of cool behind-the-scenes material for your enjoyment. So please bookmark this site (or better yet, subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed by clicking the orange icon at the bottom of this page) and check in on our progress.

Character design for...well, it's a secret for now

My goal is to make this graphic novel series a very unique reading experience, both in terms of subject matter and presentation. Brent and I can’t wait to share more with you.

My Spectre story in DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1

December 8, 2010 saw the release of my first work as a writer for DC Comics, in the form of an 8-page Spectre story in the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1. (Aside to FOX “News”: yes, that’s right. Holiday Special. Not Christmas Special. Because all your fears were correct, there really is a War on Christmas (TM) and guess who contributed to it? Me. An Iranian! Gasp! And my story deals with Norouz, the Persian New Year. So yes, feel free to invite me to one of your fine programs and browbeat and berate me in the name of saving America and its children. Any of them will do, The Hannity Factor, or Glenn O’Reilly, or any of the half dozen shows hosted by Fox Interchangeable Attractive Blonde Female Reporter Standard Model #B-726.)

Er, sorry. Where was I? Oh right, the DC Holiday Special. It’s a one-shot, costs $5, and in it you’ll find six 8-page stories featuring various DC Universe characters from different timelines dealing with an aspect of the season. And it’s all wrapped up under a nice Matt Haley cover:

DC UNIVERSE HOLIDAY SPECIAL 2010 #1

Written by DAN ABNETT & ANDY LANNING, SETH ALBANO, TONY BEDARD, JOEY CAVALIERI, KEVIN GREVIOUX and DARA NARAGHI
Art by RENATO ARLEM, ROBERTO CASTRO, RICHARD & TANYA HORIE, CARLO SORIANO and more
Cover by MATT HALEY

From the dawn of time (Anthro) to the far-flung future (Legion of Super-Heroes), sentient life has honored the winter holidays with celebrations and rituals as diverse as the universe itself! Join DC Comics – and a stellar team of writers and artists – to honor the vast and diverse holidays of the DC Universe in 6 tales of holiday cheer! Starring the aforementioned characters along with Superman, The Spectre, Jonah Hex, and Green Lantern John Stewart for a HOLIDAY SPECIAL like no other!

So I thought it would be fun to show a tiny bit of the process behind creating my story. We’ll just look at the first page. First up, my script for page 1:

Suggested Page Layout: 1 x 1

PANEL 1: Wide/Large, about 3/4 page. We open with a dramatic shot of The Spectre flying high over Tehran, Iran. It’s a sunny spring day, with the clear blue sky and the snow-capped mountain range in the background nicely juxtaposed against the densely populated urban sprawl below. (References: with mountains here and here, without mountains here)

1. Masthead/Logo: The Spectre

2. Caption (credits): “The Gift”
Dara Naraghi – Writer, etc.

3. Caption: Tehran, Iran. On the eve of the vernal equinox.

4. Caption (Crispus): Being what you’d call a non-believer, the holidays, to me, were always more about spending time with family than anything else.

5. Caption (Crispus): But after my death, they lost even that meaning.

6. Caption (Crispus): So this year, I ditched the painful memories at home for the far corners of the world. I’ve been at it for a few months.

PANEL 2: Wide. The Spectre is now “landing” on a busy street in a rich part of town, lined with high-end stores and boutiques. Show several young, attractive, trendy Iranian women carrying shopping bags. (References: here and here) Also show a beggar sitting on the sidewalk, panhandling.

7. Caption (Crispus): Guess there are a few perks to being The Spectre’s human host. No borders. No jet lag.

8. Caption (Crispus): And apparently no need for a Farsi translator. I understand what everyone around me is talking about.

9. Caption (Crispus): From the rich…

10. Caption (Crispus): …to the poor.

You’ll notice a lot of “here” and “here” talk in the descriptions. That’s where I linked to URLs of photo references for the artist in my Word document; I just didn’t reproduce them in the sample above.

Anyway, next step is the pencils, which were provided by Tom Derenick:

The pencils were then inked by Norm Rapmund, and a proof of the initial lettering was done, in this case featuring the lettering of Travis Lanham:

And finally, here’s the finished page, including colors by Chris Beckett. You’ll notice some of the lettering on the story title was tweaked from the previous stage:

And of course, editor Mike Carlin guided the whole book through from start to finish, assisted by Rachel Gluckstern. So there you have it, the magic of comic book creation, demystified.

The only small downer is that a couple of lettering mistakes that were caught during the production phase somehow didn’t get corrected before printing, and ended up in the final product. Oh well, nothing can be done about it now. I’m still quite happy with the story, and hope you’ll enjoy it as well.

So if you picked up the book, drop me an email or leave a comment below and share your thoughts. What worked and what didn’t? I’d love to hear from you.

Short story in Dark Horse Presents #4

My autobiographical story “The Protest” will see print in Dark Horse Presents #4, shipping to comic shops everywhere September 21, 2011.

Here’s a look at the official solicitation, and the two different covers for the book, by the talented Ms. Fiona Staples:

…and Mr. Geof Darrow:

Dark Horse Presents #4 – 80 color pages – no ads – $7.99

The hallmark anthology continues with another spectacular eighty-page issue! In this installment, stories by creators Howard Chaykin (The Chronicles of Solomon Kane), Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and Sanford Greene continue. Joined by exciting new shorts from Ricardo Delgado and Jim Campbell, Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, and Filipé Melo, this issue is certain to have something for everyone! Plus, the first chapters of brand-new Beasts of Burden and Criminal Macabre stories! If that wasn’t enough, we’ve included another demented strip by Patrick Alexander and an exclusive interview with Geof Darrow!

And here’s a look at a page from my story, illustrated by my frequent artistic partner in crime, Victor Santos:

Set in Iran, post-Islamic revolution, “The Protest” is a story of growing up during turbulent times, class bullies, and unexpected outcomes.