DC Comics pitch: Blue Devil

Last October, while in New York for the NYCC show, I arranged a meeting with two DC editors. The first was with Vertigo editor Will Dennis, to share my pitch for a long-form mini-series titled Dervish (more on that some other time). The other was with DC Coordinating Editor Elisabeth Gehrlein.

I had been sending Elisabeth samples of my published works for a couple of years by this point, so she was familiar with my name. In fact, on the day I met with her in her office, she was looking through a copy of my Dark Horse Presents story. This was right around the time when DC was launching their “New 52” books, and she was kind enough to give me the “lay of the land,” as it were. She was open to reviewing pitches from me, but obviously all the “big” characters and the ones already featured in their own books were off limits. As for the other characters, she said to send her a short list and she could tell me which ones DC already had plans for, thus saving me time on proposals that wouldn’t have a chance from the get-go.

So I did just that, sending an initial short list of a half dozen characters, a combination of ones I really liked and ones I thought would be available for reinterpretation. For a variety of reasons, of the ones she gave me the go-ahead on, I decided to go with Blue Devil as my initial pitch.

Dig the singlet...or is it a leotard?

Now, for those of you who may not be familiar with this character, he was created by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Paris Cullins, and first appeared in 1984. Here’s a nice synopsis, from Wikipedia:

“Daniel Patrick Cassidy is a special effects wizard and stuntman hired to create and play the title character in the movie Blue Devil. To that end Cassidy creates a full-body costume with a hidden powered exoskeleton and built-in special-effects devices. When two of his co-stars accidentally free a demon named Nebiros, Cassidy uses his costume to drive the demon back, but not before being blasted with mystical energy. After the fight, Cassidy finds that the blast has permanently grafted the Blue Devil costume to his body.”

As you might have guessed, the original series was more of a fun romp than a serious superhero book. Of course, over the years, the character went through several revisions, as different writers went with different takes on Blue Devil. Most recently, he was a real demon and a member of the magic-based group Shadowpact.

BD:BA - Blue Devil: Bad Ass

But I’m not a fan of “grim and gritty” superhero stories, so for my pitch I decided to go back to the character’s roots and play up the “fun” aspect of his stories. And yes, I knew that going with that tone severely limited the marketability of my proposal, but I figured if I was going to go through the trouble of putting a pitch together, I was going to make it something I’d want to read myself, let alone write.

We've made comics FUN again!

In terms of the main protagonist and supporting cast, I definitely wanted a diverse ensemble. I modernized one of the basic concepts as well, but overall, I stuck fairly close to the original beats. I’m not a big fan of wholesale “reinvention” of characters, where the only commonality with the previous versions is the name. What’s the point? If you’re going to do such a radical change, just create a new character. So yeah, the movie industry, the Hollywood setting, the special effects angle…I kept all of those. I mean, what better setting for bizarre adventures that Hollywood, right?

Anyway, as you might have guessed, the pitch went nowhere. In fact, I never heard back anything on it, good or bad. But enough time has gone by that I feel safe sharing this on the blog. Out of all the DC characters I’d like to write, I won’t pretend that Blue Devil would be my top choice. But I definitely think it would have been a very fun book to write. Oh well.

So, here’s the text of my pitch. Well, more of a treatment that a full series pitch. But I had enough there that if it interested one of the editors, I could have easily developed it into a full series proposal. Let me know what you think.

BLUE DEVIL
A “DC New 52” Treatment by Dara Naraghi
(Blue Devil © DC Comics)

Logline

An exuberant superhero action/adventure romp through the bizarre corners of the DC Universe, with a new, diverse Blue Devil.

 

Tags

Fun, Absurdist, Humorous, Weird, Culturally Diverse, Heroic

 

At a Glance

Reza Hamidi is a 25 year old Iranian-American software developer in Los Angeles. Much to the chagrin of his traditional father, who envisioned a life of high-profile engineering research for his brilliant son, Reza followed his passion for movies and now toils as one of hundreds of computer animators at Shay Toons, a special effects company specializing in CGI animation, run by the powerful and enigmatic Robert Shay.

However, the talented and entrepreneurial Reza has higher ambitions, including founding his own CGI production house. To this end, he has spent all his free time and money developing a graphics rendering engine he has dubbed D.E.V.I.L. (Deep Environment Visualization, Interaction, and Logic). His innovative software/hardware cluster is capable of creating cutting-edge visual effects, with a built in logic engine that bestows autonomous properties to the virtual creations.

But on the night of Reza’s first successful full-scale system test, wherein he animates a character of his own design (nicknamed Blue Devil) inside a richly detailed virtual world, disaster strikes. An immense power surge of mysterious origin rips through his system, frying the circuitry and nearly killing him in the ensuing explosion. But what Reza believes to be an accident is actually an act of sabotage, carried out by Reza’s employer, Robert Shay, a demonic entity disguised in human form. The mystical attack serves to satisfy Shay’s pleasure in ruining the dreams of others, as well as fending off potential competition from the talented Reza. However, the supernatural blast interacts in an unpredictable manner with the technology of Reza’s D.E.V.I.L. system, causing the young man’s transformation into a physical representation of the Blue Devil character.

Now Reza has to navigate his way through work, love, family dynamics, and the backstabbing world of Hollywood, all while stuck as a 6 foot tall blue devil with horns and magical powers.

Powers

As a product of magic and technology, Blue Devil is able to manifest the powers and abilities that Reza had designed for the character in the virtual world, at the time of the accident. These include super strength, limited invulnerability, and the manipulation of a “blue fire” energy for offensive and defensive purposes. He will eventually also learn to manipulate the blue fire for flight.

Tone/Themes

The tone of Blue Devil will be playful and fun, paired with a fast-paced story. It will combine wild ideas and outrageous situations (think Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, minus the somber tone) with a culturally diverse cast of characters and a hero with a lot of heart. The villains and obstacles encountered will be bizarre and colorful, yet no less dangerous. At the same time, Reza’s family and friends will help ground the wild action in a realistic setting, one that readers of all types can identify with and relate to on an emotional level.

The setting of Los Angeles, and specifically the entertainment industry, will provide plenty of material for not only outrageous new villains, but also social satire. One of the central themes of the book will be our celebrity-obsessed culture, and the nature of fame. Reza’s struggles with instant, unwanted fame will be a main throughline. He’s a man who values success through hard work and intellectual achievement, not random, unwarranted celebrity. But his new situation will see him pushed towards temptations, both material and existential, that he can only resist by summoning his true strength of character.

In summary, this is Blue Devil returned to his entertaining, madcap roots, albeit with a very modern slant and a more multicultural cast.

Characters

Reza Hamidi – Our protagonist. Reza is a brilliant computer scientist, with a passion for movies. He is level-headed, analytical, compassionate, and loyal to his friends and family. In short, the kind of all-around nice guy we’d all like to have as a friend. He is not very good at sports, nor particularly “physical,” which makes his transition into the life of a superhero rather awkward at first, resulting in some early humorous missteps.

Ali & Mina Hamidi – Reza’s parents. Iranian born and raised, but Western educated. They immigrated to the US shortly before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Of the two, Ali is slightly more traditional, holding on to some Iranian cultural beliefs and values that sometimes put him at odds with his more liberal son. Mina is the peacemaker of the family, and often the voice of reason.

Brandy Jarrett – An animation voice actor, and object of Reza’s affections. Artistic, curious, and lively, she is not particularly well-liked by Reza’s father, who wishes for his son to settle down with “a nice Iranian girl.”

Daniel Cohen – Reza’s roommate, an attorney practicing entertainment law. Unlike Reza, he’s adventurous, brash, and more of a risk taker. He also has a sharp wit, but also a good heart.

Robert Shay – The exiled demon Nebiros in his human disguise. Due to a mysterious transgression centuries ago, he was banished from hell with a mere fraction of his powers. He has firmly entrenched himself into the entertainment industry as a cure against boredom on Earth. He meddles in people’s lives and cruelly manipulates them for his own amusement, and to pass the time, but longs to return to hell to reclaim his full powers. To that end, he sees Blue Devil as his ticket out of Earth.

D.E.V.I.L. – The computer graphics system developed by Reza and infused with Shay’s mystic energy. It will play a central role in the overarching narrative, after it’s repaired by Reza. As Blue Devil, his link to the system will allow him to explore new powers, including manipulating it for dimensional travel, and creating a “phantom zone”-like prison for wayward demons. The system will also be coveted by Shay, setting up future clashes between the two.

Process: Ulises Farinas

I haven’t posted a process link in a while, so I figured we are due. This time around, it’s artist Ulises Farinas, as he goes thorough a detailed step-by-step process of how he created his cover for Zupi magazine. From this:

to this:

He takes you through all the stages, from finding photo references, to drawing the perspective lines, to pencils and inks, and finally colors via Photoshop (done on a Wacom Cintiq). Pretty cool stuff.

Showing off a Persia Blues page

Brent’s been hard at work on our project, and I’ve got some inked pages coming in. I thought it would be fun to pick a page and show off his process, from thumbnail:

…to pencils:

…to inks:

I’ll be posting a few more pages in the months to come, including one where I’ll start with the page of script and show the process all the way through to the final lettered page.

Persia Blues – Anatomy of a cover, part 2 (of 3)

(go here for part 1)

OK, so last time I mentioned how our initial set of cover concepts was narrowed down to one that our publisher, NBM, liked: the “split” design, which visually mimicked the two main settings of the story. However, a question posed by our editor regarding Minoo’s headscarf made me realize that there really are 3 distinct settings for the story, not 2. So I suggested a slight variation of the split design to Brent, one I called the “tri-head.” I asked for a simple head shot of our protagonist, Minoo, plus two profile shots of her in her other looks. Here’s a snippet from my email:

“I’m thinking maybe the tri-head can be center top of the cover, and show either a collage of the various setting elements below her, or divide the space into 3 and depict each setting in one sliver.”

Brent ran with the idea, working up a few more sketches:

As you can see in the first design, he tried for more of a collage design below the head shots. This was a step back, as our editor reminded us to not “get tangled in story elements,” and to keep it simple.

That lead to the remaining concepts you see above. I suggested to Brent that he use elements from the architecture of Persepolis as a simple graphic to fill in the rest of the cover. I like that he also included a Zoroastrian motif in a couple.

OK, so this latest batch went off to Terry for review. When the reply came back, we knew we were on the right track, but still needed some tweaks before a final design would emerge.

Next: it gets personal (the cover image, that is)

(go here for part 3)

Persia Blues – Anatomy of a cover, part 1 (of 3)

We’re hopefully on the cusp of finalizing the cover design for Persia Blues, vol. 1, so I thought it would be fun to share some of the process behind the effort. My publisher, NBM, gave us complete freedom in suggesting cover treatments. That’s great in some respects, because we have total creative freedom, but it’s also a bit of a daunting situation to be in…because we have total creative freedom. Where to start? What kind of cover would best get across the essence of the book?

I had some initial ideas that I ran past my partner on the project, artist Brent Bowman:

“Show Minoo [our protagonist] in the center of the cover. The image is “cut” somewhat diagonally across her body, with the top part in the modern day Iran and the bottom in the other reality. Since her head and upper torso are in our world, show her wearing modern clothes, and maybe she has her hand up to her ear, holding in her iPod earphones while listening to music. Her other hand/arm at the bottom is holding a sword. If there’s room, you can also depict the city and ruins as backgrounds for each reality, or maybe even show Ahriman draped over top of the cover. Feel free to further juxtapose the two different settings with different art styles.

A variation of the above idea: a vertical split between the two realities, showing Minoo in the center, leaning back against herself (like a mirror image). The Minoo on the left is modern, holding an iPod, the Minoo on the right is in her Persian clothes, holding a sword.

I’d also suggest a couple of “ensemble cast” sketches…”

Granted, those maybe aren’t the most original ideas, but hey, I’m a writer, not a graphic designer! Luckily, that’s why Brent’s here. Taking those into consideration, as well as his own ideas, Brent came up with this initial set of roughs that we shared with our editor:

The masthead obviously isn’t the final one, it’s just a placeholder to give a sense of what the illustration would look like as a full-fledged cover. Personally, I really liked the last one, the wrap-around cover design, but I had a feeling it was a bit too busy for our editor’s taste, and I was right. He liked the “split closeup” designs the most (the 2 middle ones), pointing out that with the final trim size of the book being 6 x 9, the more elaborate illustrations just wouldn’t have the same impact as a simpler, bolder design. That made sense, so we embarked on a second set of roughs, variations on the theme of the design he liked.

Next: round 2 of designs, and my “tri-head” idea.

(go here for part 2)

covers and scripts – the process

Another brief look at the process behind creating comic books, from the creators themselves:

Cover for Invincible #7 Hardcover – artist Ryan Ottley shares his steps in creating a cover that features dozens of characters. It all starts with a digital sketch on a Wacom Cintiq tablet.

Script for The Sixth Gun – Writer Cullen Bunn goes into detail on his process for breaking down the story for an issue of his creator-owned series The Sixth Gun, from initial scene breakdowns all the way through final script. Two things I found interesting: his process and mine are fairly similar (though I’ve been trying to streamline mine), and he also shares some other methods he’s tried in the past and abandoned.

Creating comic books – the process

I’m a big process junkie. I love the behind-the-scenes looks at how different creators work, the process they follow to produce their script or art or whatever. So here are a few links worth perusing, if you’re equally interested in what it takes to put together a comic:

Making of a Cover – Avatar: The Last Airbender – Dark Horse Comics editor Dave Marshall discusses the steps involved in creating the cover for their new Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel. The process kicks off with the book’s writer, Gene Luen Yang, providing the artist, Gurihiru, with a few rough sketches as a starting point. Several cover roughs are then created and the show’s creators pick their favorite. Then it’s off to be penciled, inked, and colored, with more notes from the creators:


You’ll notice the extremely detailed (one might even say nitpicky) notes. That’s because the license holders of multi-million dollar franchises like Avatar are very concerned about their products always being “on model.” Having worked on several licensed comics myself (Terminator, Ghostbusters, etc.) I’m familiar with the dreaded “final approval” step, although I must admit that in my case things always went very smoothly. I chalk it up to luck, because I know other creators who have had to go through revision after revision on their licensed projects.

Coloring the Wonder Woman comic – on his blog, colorist Matthew Wilson discusses his thought process when faced with a challenging sequence in the new Wonder Woman comic. The sequence is set in a bar/club, and features several characters separated along different areas of the club. His approach was to keep the color palette fairly simple, and to light each location with its own distinguishing color. From Matthew’s post:

“One reason to choose this approach is that it’s a bit of a literal interpretation of a club’s lighting, as there are usually quite a few different lights/light sources in bars/clubs in real life. The second reason was, this helps the reader quickly identify where each character is located within the club, and how those spaces relate to each other in terms of how the club is laid out.”

Sometimes, simple color theory is all you need, as illustrated (no pun intended) by this comment:

“Cliff [Chiang, the artist] noted that the music should feel angry, so I picked red for the stage area. It seemed like a good idea to carry over that red to the background of the last panel where Wonder Woman is angrily stabbing Strife’s hand with the broken glass…”

When the inker really made a difference – and finally, here’s a look at what an inker brings to the table, from veteran inker Bob McLeod’s Facebook gallery. Lots of pages from lots of different artists, from tight pencils to looser, more “sketchy” renditions, all finished by McLeod. Here’s an example where you can see him adding in the finer details, such as in Supergirl’s hair, or the subtle shadows on her costume and below her skirt:

“1991 Action Comics #674 cover. Breakdown pencils by Dan Jurgens. BWS means “black with stars”, not Barry Windsor-Smith. 🙂 Even something seemingly simplistic, such as adding stars, can look vastly different depending on the inker. Some inkers make uniformly big stars, and scatter them pretty evenly, like wallpaper. Some inkers go to the trouble to mask off the foreground objects and use a toothbrush to spray them on, creating tiny stars clustered with larger stars. Today, inkers or colorists can digitally add a photo of real stars. I’ve used the toothbrush method and the photo method before, but I usually just try to make them different sizes and scatter them in clusters by hand, using an old brush and white paint. It’s tedious, but effective.”

And here’s a more extreme example of the breakdown/finisher method of creating a page, as opposed to the more traditional penciler/inker. This is from 1981’s The Savage Sword of Conan #63, page 46, with John Buscema providing the loose breakdown pencils:

Well, that’ll do it for now. If you have your own favorite process links, feel free to share them in the comments.

Interview on Writer’s Talk

I was a guest on Writer’s Talk, a local show hosted by Doug Dangler and produced by The Ohio State University’s Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing. Doug interviews writers in various fields and disciplines, “focusing on how they produce text and communicate in a variety of genres. Its purpose is to demystify and promote writing, especially for academic writers.”

The episode I was on also featured 2 other prolific Columbus comic creators: Ken Eppstein, editor, writer, and publisher of the Nix Comics Quarterly, and Max Ink, creator, writer, and artist of Blink.

In Columbus, the show will be broadcast on the radio at these times and locations:

– Monday, November 7, 7 pm., WCRS radio 98.3 & 102.1 FM
– Wednesday, November 9, 8:00 p.m., WCBE radio central Ohio’s NPR station, 90.5 FM

Or you can watch it right here:

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.