Persia Blues – Anatomy of a cover, part 3 (of 3)

(go here for part 1, and part 2)

Sorry, I know this last part was a long time in the making. What can I say, busy, busy, busy. But let’s get to it…

When we sent in our last set of cover concepts, I thought we were pretty close to finalizing the design. However, our publisher had some misgivings about the emphasis on the architectural elements of the story, and our protagonist only appearing in headshots. He astutely pointed out that:

We need to have something more personal and focused on the heroine…don’t get tangled in story elements…

This made sense, especially given that with the book’s print dimensions of 6×9, we really did need a larger image of Minoo to catch the reader’s eye. But he did like the “tri-head” concept, so Brent and I discussed some more ideas and submitted another set of designs, this time featuring our protagonist front and center:

Terry liked this new design, so the finish line was finally in sight. Brent pencilled the final cover illustration, and before the painting stage we had a few more discussions with Terry about the final details. At this point, he wanted Brent to pay special attention to Minoo’s expressions:

A sense of urgency and the expressions on the faces are important…Danger/fear/resolve especially in her ancient incarnation, defiance in her present day incarnation…

Brent and I discussed some simple color schemes, and my better half (Wendy) provided us with a Pinterest board full of fashion looks for Minoo, and after months of hard work, we had an approved painted cover for Persia Blues:

I must admit, at times the process was frustrating and slow, but in the end I’m quite happy with the final design. And I can certainly understand the importance of getting the cover right, from our publisher’s point of view. Unlike a monthly comic book, Persia Blues will be primarily distributed through the book store market, and even with my limited knowledge of that trade, I know how much importance is placed on a cover image. This is a venue in which the corporate buyers for chains like Barnes & Noble have so much clout over the publishers, they can actually dictate cover designs right down to the colors used. As prestigious as NBM Publishing may be, they’re still a smaller publisher competing against the juggernauts for shelf space and recognition in book stores, which made this process all the more important.

Epilogue: so now that we had our cover, we needed a masthead/logo for the book. NBM’s art director, Martin, solicited some ideas from me before starting the task of designing the logo. I forwarded the working logos Brent and I had been using on the cover sketches, adding that ideally I wanted something modern looking, but with a Middle eastern vibe to the typography. An English font that borrowed stylistic elements from Farsi, if you will. Here’s Martin’s logo, which I totally dig:

So there you have it, an abridged account of how we came about with our book’s cover illustration. Believe it or not, the entire process took about 8 months, with the first batch of cover sketching going out on December 11, 2011, and the approved cover uploaded to NBM’s FTP site on August 28, 2012.

Next, I’ll share a few more pages of interior art…

Scott Allie on storytelling

Dark Horse editor Scott Allie has a great post on his blog about storytelling (and the lack thereof) in comics. Here he gives an example of a simple conversation scene that is rendered less subtle and less interesting by the artist’s poor choices:

“In another story, negative space and closeups have become so much a part of the composition that specific actions—simple things, like a character picking up a drink (which he later hurls to the ground), or the fact that the characters are sitting together at a table, are lost because we’re so close on the characters that the table only shows up as a thick line across the bottom panel border, if at all, and the drink disappears for an entire page at a time because we’re too close to see anyone’s hands—even though the very succinct panel descriptions say things like, He gestures with his glass, or He leans across the table. The scene is not about the table—but the table provides important context that makes the scene make visual sense. If the panel description is that short, and the table was important enough to mention, it’s probably worth putting the table in the panel.”

There’s also a good Alan Moore anecdote from his days at Wildstorm.

On writing: Joshua Dysart (and yours truly)

Writer Joshua Dysart has a nice bit of writing process posted on his blog, titled How I start writing (and eventually finish) a story. I particularly liked this bit:

“Let’s talk about the Editor’s Mind vs. the Writer’s Mind. You have two modes when you write. The Writer’s Mind: where everything you write is awesome! You can do no wrong. You’re a genius! And the Editor’s Mind: where everything you write is open to scrutiny and can, nay… must, be improved. These are the two hemispheres of your process. And you have to be careful with them. When the Editor’s Mind is employed too soon or in concert with the Writer’s Mind, creative blockage can occur. But if the Editor’s Mind is disregarded altogether, bad writing will most certainly occur. The two modes are equally important, and you must struggle to keep them separate.”

Here’s what I wrote in the comments section, which I feel is worth re-posting here:

“On my part, the most difficult time I have is shutting off my “Editor’s Mind” in the beginning stages of writing a story. I constantly want to edit and perfect, worried that I may forget to do so later, leaving some of the crap in.

At some point, I had to just embrace the fact that this is how my mind is wired, and trying to fight it is a losing battle. So instead I tried to work with (and around) it.

I start with a pencil and a notebook. Old school. Somehow, knowing I’ll eventually have to type this all up, makes me feel that at this stage it’s ok to just go with the flow and put all my ideas down on paper. Also, psychologically, I somehow feel less intimidated staring at a blank piece of paper, rather than a blank screen. So I info dump and write choppy sentences and (in the case of a comic book script) doodle pages and panel breakdowns. Then I refine and edit a bit, erasing or crossing stuff out, until my Editor’s Mind feels better about the whole mess.

Only then do I sit down at the computer and start typing. Of course, the story still needs a lot of rewrites and edits at this point, but at least I’ve tricked myself enough to not be paralyzed by the over-analysis.”

Dark Horse pitch: The Protest

While I’ve certainly had my share of unsuccessful pitches, it’s fun every once in a while to spotlight one that actually got picked up. Who knows, maybe an aspiring creator can pick up some pointers from reading through these things. So anyway, here’s another of my successful pitches, this time for a short story that appeared in Dark Horse Presents #4 (vol. 2), which was published in September of 2011.

I think I first saw the news about the return of Dark Horse Presents to print in late 2010/early 2011. The original black-and-white DHP anthology that started in 1986 was amongst one of the first indie comics I ever bought. During its historic 162 issue run, the book featured pretty much anyone who’s anyone in comics, and introduced me to so many fantastic creators and characters, most notably Paul Chadwick’s Concrete. Needless to say, I loved the original series, and was excited about the possibility of being involved with the newest incarnation of the series.

There were no submission guidelines for DHP on the Dark Horse website, but I remember reading an article where publisher Mike Richardson mentioned he was personally editing the book. So I drafted a brief inquiry email, introducing myself to him and asking if he would be open to a story pitch. This was in February, 2011. Mike responded promptly – honestly, much to my surprise – and indicated he was willing to entertain a pitch for a creator-owned story.

At this point, I had been collaborating with artist Victor Santos on a couple of successful Witch & Wizard series at IDW, and really enjoyed working with him. So I dropped him a line with an idea for a short autobiographical story, and he was game. He drew and colored the first 2 pages on spec, I lettered it, created a PDF file containing the story summary and sample pages, and sent it to Mike.

Here is the pitch:

“The Protest”

A DHP proposal by Dara Naraghi
Art by Victor Santos

An 8-page autobiographical story set shortly after the tumultuous Islamic revolution in Iran, “The Protest” is a remembrance of my childhood during uncertain times, a school bully, and the unspoken bond between us in the face of a vile school principal.

Synopsis:

After a brief overview of the Iranian revolution of 1979, the narrative shifts to a first hand account of my trials at middle school, navigating a new world of religious studies, unqualified educators, and our class bully, Hassan.

Then one day, our entire school is unexpectedly called into the yard. The principal informs us that we are to be shipped downtown to Azadi Square to take part in a large anti-West protest. As with all things dictated by the system, we have no choice in the matter. As we are lead to the main street where buses await us, my best friend and I talk in panicked whispers. How long will we be at this rally? What if we get lost? What will our parents think when we’re not home as expected?

Into our crisis comes an unexpected savior: Hassan, the bully. “Find a place to hide,” he mutters, before running out of line and directly into the middle of traffic. Cars screech to a halt, horns blare, and the principal and teachers run into the street to retrieve him. In the ensuing chaos, my friend and I make our move. He dives under a parked car, while I duck into a nearby storefront. My heart pounding, I stay hidden in a corner until I hear the sound of the buses departing. Emerging from our hiding spots, we both run home. All the while, I wonder what drove Hassan to help us like that.

The next day at recess, I press Hassan for an answer. He merely shrugs, calling the principal an idiot, and mentioning how he hates it when teachers push us kids around. The incident was never spoken of again. And while he still bullied us around, it seemed to me that it was almost half-hearted. Looking back on it now, I’d like to think helping us out on his own terms, and having earned our gratitude, he liked the feeling. And we, in turn, had gotten a glimpse into the reality of his life, constantly berated by parents and teachers who considered him a failure.

But in the end, we were all just kids, trying to make sense of a world that had turned upside down on us. A victory was a victory, even one where the bully saved the day.

As you can see, I tried to keep the summary brief, since it was only for an 8-page story. Still, I think I could have probably pared it down some more, but so it goes. I’ve never been good at knowing how much is too much and how little is too little. Luckily, it seemed to have worked for Mike. Also, I included a brief “list of credits” along with the summary, to help sell ourselves better. Here it is:

Creative Team Selected Bibliography:

Dara Naraghi (writer)

• Lifelike OGN (creator-owned, IDW)
• Fractured Fables (Image)
• James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard (IDW)
• Terminator Salvation movie prequel (IDW)
• DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 (DC)

Victor Santos (artist)

• Filthy Rich OGN (Vertigo)
• James Patterson’s Witch & Wizard (IDW)
• Mice Templar (Image)
• Roshomon (pitch to Chris Warner at Dark Horse)

And finally, here’s the first of two pages that I included with the pitch:

After about 3 weeks, I sent a brief and friendly follow up email, and then another several weeks after that. I finally heard back from Mike after about 2 months, and he indicated he liked the idea and would like to use the story in DHP. The next step was to sign the contracts and for Victor and I to finish the remaining pages. Once I got the pages uploaded to their FTP, I figured it would be months before we were slotted for an issue. But as luck would have it, another creative team missed a deadline, and since our story was ready to go, we got scheduled on short notice for issue #4.

Aside from being really proud of how this story turned out, I have to say that it was quite a thrill to be published in a series that was hugely influential in my early comic book reading days.

Writing Advice from Clarion Workshop

Writer Sam Miller attended the famous Clarion Writer’s Workshop, geared towards science fiction and fantasy writing, and had this to say about it:

“Last week, I graduated from the 2012 Clarion Writer’s Workshop. And everything people tell you about it is true—it’s incredible, it’s transformative, it will make you into the writer you were meant to be, it builds unbreakable bonds with a ton of other brilliant writers. AND you’ll be devastated when it’s over.”

But more importantly, he jotted down a ton of advice from instructors and fellow students alike, and has shared it on his blog here. It’s a copious amount of pithy statements, and your mileage will vary, but it’s worth perusing. A few favorites:

“TV/film’s lean mean 5-page scene doesn’t work in fiction—you need depth, fiction is what’s below the surface. As fiction writers we can’t use Hollywood shorthand.

In-cluing, AKA Heinleining, is when you don’t infodump, you just show the tech or whatever working.

In a short story, you get ONE of the following three things to be complex: structure, character, world. Unless you’re [FAMOUS AUTHOR]. [FAMOUS AUTHOR] gets two.

A complete shit would be someone you can at some point ALMOST identify with, who’d then surprise you with some heinous shit.”

That last one is a particularly good description of great villains.

Process: John Rozum

OK, I’ve been linking to a lot of process posts from artists, so here’s one from a writer. In this blog entry, Rozum discusses working “Marvel Style” vs. full script.

I’m going to excerpt this whole paragraph, because it perfectly mirrors my own preference, and reasons, for writing in full script:

I do prefer writing full script so that the artist has all of the information necessary to inform them of what’s needed in the story. Providing them with dialogue in advance allows them to get a feel for how to lay out the panels so that the conversations flow smoothly and maintain a rhythm. It also gives them a sense of the relationship between the characters doing the speaking which not only allows them to depict the characters with the correct facial expressions and body language to emphasize their attitude to what they are saying, but their attitude to the person they are talking to to, whether they are feeling at ease, or tense, or transition from one state to the other. Providing setting and prop information adds to the artist getting abetter sense of the mood of the story, and a better feel for the characters based on their environments. Even describing the action provides a sense of how quick to pace the action, or whether one character is physically pushed while another is handling it with ease.

And a bit later one, he makes this statement, which again, is exactly how I approach my collaborations:

Something I always emphasize with any artist I work with is that even though my scripts are detailed and broken down panel by panel, they should feel free to reconfigure that if they think they can do it better in fewer panels, more, etc.

The way I see it, it’s always best to provide more information than may be needed, and then the artist can decide how much of the details they want to include. If there’s a particular plot point or visual I definitely want to insure makes it in the final art, I point it out as such in the script. Otherwise, I feel the artist knows best how much is needed to set the mood and setting, carry the action, etc.

I have only worked Marvel style with 2 artists, mpMann and fellow PANEL Collective member Andy Bennett. In both cases, it was because the artists preferred to work from a plot and determine the page and panel breakdowns themselves, and I happily obliged. I would usually provide a few snippets of dialogue as well, to more clearly describe the characters’ facial expressions and moods, as Rozum mentions in the quote above. Then once the art was done, I would go back and adjust some of the existing dialogue, and write new bits, based on the page and panel composition. I feel that this method is more of a true collaboration, and if you’re in sync with your artist, will produce a very strong story. However, it is definitely more time consuming, and in cases where you don’t know who your artist will be, it can be a risky proposition.

Process: Stan Sakai

Comic Book Resources reprints an 8-page comic by Usagi Yojimbo cartoonist Stan Sakai, showing his process for creating his long-running comic series. It was originally published as part of an interview with Sakai in Amazing Heroes #187 (1991).

I love the presentation of it, the humor, and the concrete examples of such things as the difference between inking with a nib pen versus a technical pen versus a brush. And the fact that this is old school comic book creation, without all the digital work of today’s process.

DC Comics pitch: The Spectre

This is the second (and last) pitch I made to DC Comics, after their “New 52” relaunch. The first was for a more ethnically diverse take on Blue Devil, which you can see here. Several factors led me to abandon any further attempts at pitching other ideas, including a lack of response on their behalf, my time being spent on my various creator owned projects (chief amongst them being Persia Blues), and frankly, the fact that the publishers isn’t exactly open to new writers right now.

Ironically, this pitch was for a character I wrote in my one and only gig at DC to date, The Spectre. That was back in 2010 for the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010.

Now, I won’t claim to be the world’s biggest Spectre fan, and I haven’t read all of his various comics series, but I do like the concept a lot and see enormous storytelling potential in it. Also, the various Spectre series have had some fantastic covers, as you may have noticed if you follow my “7 Covers” feature on my other blog.

The character was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily way back in 1940…

…and like most other venerable comic book characters, has undergone numerous changes to its status quo. There have been 4 ongoing Spectre series over the decades, plus a handful of minis. In 2001, recently “deceased” Green Lantern Hal Jordan joined with The Spectre and became its host, transforming the former “spirit of vengeance” into a “spirit of redemption.”

And most recently, prior to the reboot, murdered Gotham City homicide detective Crispus Allen is forced to become the new human host for The Spectre.

I liked this latter iteration of the character. Writer Will Pfeifer wrote a fantastic and highly underrated 3-issue mini-series (with the unwieldy title of Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre) which explored the moral ambiguity of The Spectre’s motivations in a story that was at once metaphysical and grounded in reality. It was this Crispus Allen version of the character that I wrote in the Holiday Special, and it was this same one that I used as the foundation of my pitch:

The Spectre

A “DC New 52” Treatment by Dara Naraghi

(The Spectre © DC Comics)

Logline

A supernatural police thriller on the gritty streets of Gotham City, featuring homicide detective Crispus Allen, who after a near death experience finds himself bonded to a delusional spirit of vengeance.

Tags

Crime, Horror, Mystery, Occult, Religion, Psychological, Mystical

At a Glance

GCPD homicide detective Crispus Allen is many things – a loving family man, a stoic citizen, an atheist – but above all he is an honest cop in a dirty city. One night, while investigating police corruption and its ties to a street gang dealing in venom, he is gunned down from behind by dirty cop Antoine Frey.

Critically wounded but still alive, Allen undergoes a surreal out of body experience wherein he is confronted by mystical entities beyond comprehension, and an angry spirit known as The Spectre. The spirit offers the detective a bargain: his life will be spared if he agrees to bond with it and carry on its mission as “The Wrath of God.” Desperate to be reunited with his wife and sons, Allen agrees.

Waking up in an intensive care unit, Allen finds his wife praying by his bedside. Elated at his recovery, she relates how his wounded body was found by a homeless man, Jim Corrigan, who called for help. Allen undergoes many months of physical therapy, determined to return to the force and continue his investigation of Frey.

But what Allen believed to be hallucinations during his near death experience become all too real when The Spectre materializes during one of his investigations. Now, torn between his oath to serve and protect, and The Spectre’s gruesome form of justice, Allen struggles to make sense of his new situation while trying to protect his family, career, and above all, his sanity. Meanwhile, Antoine Frey bids his time, with order to take out Allen for good.

And to what lengths will Jim Corrigan, Allen’s savior and new street informant, go to protect his own secret? The former human host of The Spectre, his mind succumbed to insanity after decades of witnessing the spirit’s extreme brand of justice. Upon discovering Allen’s wounded body, he saw his chance to rid himself of his personal demon by offering a more suitable host, a deal The Spectre could not refuse. When Allen eventually discovers the truth, will he still see Corrigan as the man who saved his life, or instead condemned it to a new kind of hell?

Tone/Themes

At its heart, the series will be about the study of opposites: Allen’s methodical, logical mind and science-based forensics vs. The Spectre’s unpredictable nature and inexplicable magic. The “lone wolf” Jim Corrigan’s inability to retain his sanity as former host for The Spectre vs. Allen’s success due to his grounded personality and family support structure. And finally, free will vs. predetermination.

Crispus Allen is a heroic, complex, strong African American character, and I feel it would be a disservice to relegate him to the role of a disembodied spirit, unable to interact with others around him. There is a wealth of story possibilities to explore with him front-and-center: as a police detective in a morally grey environment, a husband grappling with issues of faith and spirituality, and a father trying to raise his sons well. I want to portray a strong family unit as a positive light in Allen’s life. Other topics explored will be religion, duty, obligation, sanity, and the vagaries of the criminal justice system.

Finally, a dark conspiracy of money and greed will provide the backbone of the street level crimes investigated by Allen, one which will lead him to Gotham’s elite politicians and captains of industry.

Powers

The Spectre is incorporeal and unseen by everyone (including Allen) until he wishes otherwise. Able to instantaneously travel to any spot in the world, he will often take Allen with him to mete out “god’s wrath.” And much to Allen’s frustration, he is able to render Allen intangible at will, taking his human host “out of the equation” when it comes to delivering justice.

The Spectre is able to prey upon the fear and guilt of criminals in such a manner that they believe he is physically punishing them in gruesome ways, such as an arsonist finding himself lit on fire. But in fact everything is happening only in their minds. The subconscious acknowledgement of their own guilt fuels The Spectre’s powers, and the depth of their guilt determines how real the physical effects of their punishment become. Of course the delusional Spectre is unaware of the true nature of his power, believing himself to be an emissary of god. Seeds of doubt will be sown when he notices that the truly delusional criminals or those lacking a conscience are essentially immune to his wrath.

Characters

Crispus Allen – A man of upstanding moral character, and a deep sense of duty to his family and friends. Unfortunately, the world he lives in is one of moral ambiguity, deception, violence, and fear. Allen’s daily struggles against his environment, as well as his own personal demon The Spectre, will provide the moments of adversity, drama, and triumph of will that define a good heroic story.

The Spectre – The self-proclaimed “spirit of god’s wrath,” it is actually a delusional soul unaware of its role as a pawn in the grand cosmic game of control waged by the Lords of Order and Chaos. Coveted by both, yet controlled by neither, The Spectre is at once a source of law and order, and calamity and madness. If a deeper tie to the New DC universe is desired, it can eventually be revealed that The Spectre was originally a religious zealot who lived during DC’s “dark ages,” as depicted in the Demon Knights series. Perhaps a gruesome death at the hands of The Demon led to its current state.

Antoine Frey – A dirty cop deeply entrenched in a vast conspiracy of vice, money, and the depraved fantasies of the rich and famous. He does the dirty work necessary, and in turn is handsomely rewarded and protected by his benefactors. The lynchpin of Allen’s investigation, he will be a recurring foil.

Dore, Jake, and Mal Allen – Crispus’ wife and two sons, and a source of moral and emotional support for the detective during his darkest hours. His moral compass remains true due to the love of his family.

Jim Corrigan – A homeless man who saves Allen’s life, and later becomes his informant and friend. Unbeknownst to everyone, Jim was the former human host for The Spectre, but as a loner “tough cop” he did not have the support structure to help him deal with the horrors he witnessed. His eventual nervous breakdown led to the loss of his job and home. He feels a deep sense of guilt for having burdened Allen with The Spectre.

As with my Blue Devil pitch, I didn’t go off in a “radical new direction,” although I suspect that’s probably what DC was more interested in. And frankly, I liked having a strong and noble minority character as one half of the The Spectre equation. I kept some familiar callbacks to the character’s previous incarnations, most notable in the reuse of the “Jim Corrigan” name, but tried to spin the series off in a different direction. But alas, the pitch went nowhere.

I’d be curious to see what form The Spectre will take when they eventually introduce him (her? it?) to the “New D52” DC universe. Until then, I’m happily plugging away at my creator owned properties.

IDW pitch: Ghostbusters

Unlike my DC pitch for Blue Devil that never went anywhere, this one had a fairly quick development process from pitch to final comic. Back in the summer of 2008, IDW’s Editor in Chief, Criss Ryall, asked me to pitch them a Ghostbusters mini series. I put together something that was probably a bit too esoteric, and sure enough, Sony (the license holders) didn’t much care for it, so they passed. So it goes.

Fast forward about a year later and I noticed IDW had solicited a one-shot Ghostbusters Christmas Special. That got me thinking, and I fired off this short email to Chris in September, 2009:

“Hi Chris,

I noticed that there’s a Ghostbusters Christmas special one-shot being offered. It made me wonder if you guys have plans for any more such issues? If so, I’ve got an idea for a Valentine’s Day one-shot I’d like to pitch to you.

Best,
Dara “

The good news? Chris liked the idea and planned on doing a few more holiday-themed one-shots to eventually collect into a TPB. The bad news? I had no story idea! I was pretty much bluffing, just testing the waters. But no worries, nothing like a real deadline to get the creative juices flowing. I came up with an idea in a few days, and sent in the following pitch:

*Spoiler Warning* – If you haven’t read the comic yet, you may not want to read the summary below.

Ghostbusters

Proposal for a Valentine’s Day one-shot by Dara Naraghi

At a Glance

At Winston’s request, the Ghostbusters attempt to capture an obsessed, love-struck ghost haunting the home of Tiyah, an attractive woman he befriended on a recent case. However, when the ghost proves to be more trouble than the team expected, it’s Winston’s courage and common sense that save the day, leading to a romantic date with Tiyah.

Plot Summary

At a fancy hotel ballroom being decorated for an upcoming Valentine’s Day gala, the Ghostbusters fight a prohibition-era ghost attempting to enact its own “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”. While taking a break after the ghost’s capture, Winston befriends Tiyah, one of the banquet hall’s employees. She describes her own troubles with a ghost, but confesses she doesn’t have the funds to hire the team.

Peter agrees to accompany Winston to Tiyah’s apartment for a pro bono investigation, though Venkman’s motives have more to do with hitting on the attractive woman than performing ghostbusting services. They are both surprised by the sheer malevolence of the ghost, but afterwards Peter comments that although hostile to them, the ghost seemed protective of Tiyah.

Back at the firehouse, Ray begins investigating the history of the apartment, while Egon creates modified proton packs designed to create less property damage (though it also leaves them less effective). Working together, the team surmises that the ghost belongs to a prominent man who was dumped quite publically by his girlfriend in that apartment generations ago. It has since become romantically obsessed with the female residents, lashing out jealously towards any male visitors.

The team’s attempt to capture the ghost at Tiyah’s apartment proves to be too challenging, however, owing to the weakened proton packs and the ghost’s sheer obsessed will power. And while Peter, Ray, and Egon’s scientific strategies prove fruitless, it’s Winston’s everyman common sense that saves the day. He confronts the ghost unarmed, and has a no-nonsense man-to-man talk to it about accepting and “getting over” his romantic loss. At Winston’s proclamation that there are plenty of other fish in the sea “on the other side”, the ghost accepts his fate and dissolves away.

The epilogue of the story focuses on some character moments:

  • Peter finally manages a date for Valentine’s Day…by duping an attractive young reporter into interviewing him over dinner.
  • Ray and Egon have a “date with science” as they analyze the curiosities of this most recent case.
  • Winston is invited to a home-cooked meal at Tiyah’s apartment as a gesture of her gratitude, and shares a romantic kiss with her in the closing panel.

Chris really liked the script, and even commented “You write a good Peter,” which sounds vaguely dirty. The folks at Sony were also cool with it, and only sent one note back on it:

“The part where Winston is able to talk the ghost into giving up seems a little too convenient–his common sense notwithstanding! Will it be something like the malevolent ghost is really a big bully who just wants a friend, type of thing–and only Winston picks up on that? Or will it be more like Winston just decides to walk into the lion’s den and tames the lion?”

I wrote a short email, clarifying my intentions about the scene, and we got the green light from Sony. Chris asked me to propose several possible subtitles for the one-shot, and this is the short list I came up with:

  • St. Valentine’s Day Massive Scare
  • Green With Envy
  • Thugs and Kisses
  • Tainted Love
  • Ghost of a Romance
  • Love is Dead

Chris liked “Tainted Love,” and the project was in full swing. Final script was due in a month from that point, and IDW picked Canadian indie artist Salgood Sam to draw the book, with a variant cover down by Nick Runge. Another famous Canuck indie artist, Bernie Mirault, provided the colors

Regular cover art by Salgood Sam

Variant cover art by Nick Runge

The book was published February, 2010. Here’s the official solicitation copy, as well as a preview:

Ghostbusters Holiday Special: Tainted Love
FC • one-shot • 32 pages • $3.99
Dara Naraghi (w) • Salgood Sam (a) • Salgood Sam, Nick Runge (c)
Love is in the air—literally!—as Winston befriends an attractive woman with a ghostly problem in her apartment. But trapping the love-struck apparition proves to be more complicated than the Ghostbusters originally thought. Can Winston step up and save the day? Just how far will Peter go to find a date? And do Ray and Egon ever stop to think about girls, or is it always about trans-dimensional ectoplasmic anomolies with those two?

The comic itself is sold out, but you can find it collected with several other one-shots (including one written by Peter David) in the Ghostbusters: Haunted Holidays TPB.

Greg Rucka on writing strong female characters

This essay by novelist and comic book writer Greg Rucka is worth a read by anyone interested in writing “the other,” i.e. any character not of the same gender, faith, sexual orientation, or race as you.

Why I write “Strong Female Characters”

“Gender isn’t simply a biological trait; it’s a societal one. The female experience is different from that of the male, and if, as a male writer, you cannot accept that basic premise, then you will never, ever, be able to write women well. A man walking alone through Midtown Manhattan at three in the morning may have concerns for his safety, but I promise you, it’s a very different experience for a woman taking the same walk, and it’s different again for a man wearing a dress. Think about it. That’s a societal factor, and it’s a gendered one, and this is not and can not be subject to debate. If you’re looking to argue that sexism is a thing of the past, that the world is gender-blind, you’re not only wrong, you’re lying to yourself.”

In Rucka’s case, he’s specifically talking about how he writes his female characters, but the same advice can be applied to a whole host of diverse characters. The first step as a writer is to stop being lazy, which is to say, not writing what comes to mind easily and reflexively, because those surface thoughts tend to be homogenous and cliche.

I once did a “how to make comic books” workshops at my daughter’s elementary school. As part of a hands-on demonstration of how a writer and artist collaborate on making comics, I had slips of paper printed with descriptions of a boy and a girl character. I kept them intentionally vague, eschewing specific references to skin color, hair color, or other physical characteristics in favor of general descriptors like “funny” or “athletic.” I then handed the slips to several different kids, and asked them to draw the (same) character. The point of the exercise was to demonstrate how different artists will interpret the written description differently, and if you as a writer have a very specific image in mind, you have to ensure that it comes across succinctly in your words.

But looking back on that same exercise now, I can see a different facet of it. The pictures drawn by the kids tended to reflect their own race and physicality.

It’s so easy for us as writers (or artists, or musicians…) to default to our own experiences and world view each time we’re staring at a blank screen or sheet of paper. The first step is to push that first lazy instinct away, and instead ask “who else can this person be?”

The next step, and the real challenge, is to do the necessary research to ensure the characters come across as real, and not just stereotypes.