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.

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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….

Persia Blues: “Here and Now” flash fiction

When I did the Kickstarter campaign for volume 1 of Persia Blues, one of the reward levels was an original piece of flash fiction by me, handwritten inside the published book. When all was said and done, 11 people earned the reward.

Interesting factoid: in today’s world of technology, where we’re used to typing the vast majority of our correspondences, it’s a bit of a shock when you hand write a 300 word story 11 times and realize there are muscles in your hand you haven’t exercised in that capacity in a long, long time.

Anyway, I wanted to share the story with the rest of you out there. It’s about our lead protagonist, Minoo Shirazi, a young Iranian woman living in Shiraz.

Art by Brent Bowman

Art by Brent Bowman

“Here and Now”

by Dara Naraghi

Minoo placed a sugar cube between her lips and sipped her tea through it, savoring the aroma wafting off the hot beverage. The coffee house was packed, mostly with her fellow university students. The venue advertised its free wifi and homemade fresh pastries, but the younger crowd mainly came to socialize with the opposite sex, in the relatively private atmosphere of the shop, away from the prying eyes of the morality police.

Her laptop screen was lit up with multiple windows – news sites from outside Iran, her favorite gaming cheat site, an online political forum – but Minoo’s attention was focused elsewhere. A group of four young men sat a few tables away, drinking tea, smoking a hookah, and discussing the latest trends in structural design. She knew the oldest one, Reza. He was an architectural student, like her.

And she had quite the crush on him.

Not that she could do anything about it. Not under the strict Islamic laws governing public behavior. And not with an overprotective father at home.

But today, none of that mattered. True, her life was what it was, with all its unfairness and limitations. But she had decided that morning, rather uncharacteristically, to try and focus on the positive. On the here-and-now.

And so, Reza, with his jet-black hair and hazel eyes, with his perfect amount of facial stubble, and his crooked, yet handsome smile…Reza was her here-and-now. She would sit in the back of the coffee shop and steal furtive glances at him, and listen to his passionate advocacy for sustainable architecture. And she would let her mind wander, and fantasize about him, and her, and what if…what if…

For today, at least, no law or tradition or morality police could take that away from her.

Persia Blues: Finalist for SPACE Prize 2014

I’m thrilled to announce that Persia Blues, my graphic novel with Brent Bowman, has been nominated for the 2014 S.P.A.C.E. Prize in the graphic novel category!

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Now coming up on it’s 16th year, S.P.A.C.E. (Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo) is the Midwest’s longest running exhibition of small press,creator owned and art comics. And Columbus’ only locally owned and operated comics show. Sponsored by Back Porch Comics.

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The winners will be picked from three voting bodies in each category: two rotating judges and the registered SPACE 2014 Exhibitors themselves. Winners will be announced at next year’s SPACE, which takes place in Columbus, Ohio on April 11 & 12, 2015.

Review: Animal Man #29 – series finale

Some minor spoilers ahead. Also, not so much a review of the last issue, as a meditation on the series as a whole, and it’s unfortunate end…

So one of DC’s few remaining books featuring a character not from the Superman, Batman, or Green Lantern mythos came to an end this week. Animal Man #29 was the last issue of the surprise break-out hit of the “New 52” relaunch. And I must admit, I was a bit disappointed, not just by the issue itself, but the way the whole series was unceremoniously cancelled. Despite the publisher’s claim that writer Jeff Lemire felt he had told the story he intended to tell and this was the right place to end the series, I have a feeling the decision had a lot more to do with editorial and marketing decisions than creative ones.

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I think it’s safe to say that nobody expected Animal Man to be such a hit, but it managed to differentiate itself from all of DC’s other titles by blending horror with superheroics, feature a lead character who was married with kids, and introducing strong new concepts into the DC Universe, such as The Rot. But despite Lemire’s strong writing, the book did lose its way (and much of its stream) around midway through its run). Although counterintuitive, the “Rotworld” crossover with Swamp Thing, written by the equally popular Scott Snyder, actually ended up hurting sales. From a plot standpoint, the crossover made sense. The metaphysical realms of The Red, The Green, and The Rot were out of balance due to a power grab by The Rot, and Animal Man and Swamp Thing, avatars of their respective realms, had to come together to restore the balance. However, in execution, the story was long, meandering, and ultimately, pointless. From page 1 every reader, jaded by decades of similar “elseworlds” or “imaginary” stories knew that this supposed dystopian future would not come to bear, that somehow everything would be “fixed” by the heroes and the status quo restored. There was no real sense of drama, nothing at stake.

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And so sales took an unexpected hit.

I was actually on the verge of dropping the book when Lemire turned it around, rebounding with more strong ideas and a new direction. The whole “Brother Blood invades The Red” final storyline felt like a return to what made the book so good to begin with. And it didn’t hurt that it featured some fantastic brushwork by artist Rafael Albuquerque. And perhaps I’m wrong, but the jump to an alien planet and the introduction of the enigmatic new character The Bridgewalker in issue #26 felt like a setup for some major new storylines in the future.

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But by then, I think the decision had already been made to cancel the book. And looking at the numbers, it’s clear that sales were not the main reason for the decision. Animal Man was selling in the 18-19K range, putting it above other lower-selling yet continuing titles like Superboy and Birds of Prey. In light of DC’s reluctance to feature married superheroes, is it any surprise that the one book featuring emotionally complex and dynamic stories built around the heroes familial relationships is being cancelled?

Which brings us to the last issue. In between an opening and closing sequence showing Buddy’s reconciliation with his estranged wife (and drawn by the book’s original artist, Travel Foreman), the book is otherwise a series of 11 splash pages illustrated by Lemire himself. This sequence depicts Buddy’s young daughter, Maxine, essentially recounting the events of the whole series as a bedtime fairytale for her dad. It’s sweet, and brings a nice emotional close to the loss of Buddy’s son, Cliff, and it gives Lemire an excuse to jam out a bunch of bold splash pages like this:

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But ultimately, it felt like a cop-out. Like the writer’s best effort to put a positive spin on an arbitrary decision from on high to end the book.

And I get it. I understand that business decisions will usually trump creative ones for any publisher. Lemire is one of the few writers at DC with a high cachet, able to bring in readers to new books. And the multitude of weekly series in the pipelines are sure to sell better on a per-issue basis than any continuation of Animal Man. So I get it.

But it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Especially when it means one less book with a unique perspective, in favor of more os the same superheroes.

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)

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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.

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.

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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:

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Next: I,Robot.

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:

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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.

Review: Lazarus, vol. 1 – Family

Greg Rucka’s latest comic book series features yet another iteration of his trademarked tough-gal protagonist. But I found Forever Carlyle (also referred to as Eve) to be quite an interesting, complex lead character.

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The setting of the book is futuristic, and the world building is pretty solid. It’s not a world difficult to imagine: the wealthy, rather than governments, run the world. Power is consolidated amongst a few warring families, and everyone else is either a “serf” (useful and in the employ of a family) or a “waste” (left to fend for themselves).

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Each family has a “Lazarus,” a member who is endowed with the best bio-mechanical advances science can provide, to be the family’s ultimate warrior. This is the story of Forever, Lazarus of the Carlyle family. And although we see her begin to question her role and actions, she’s not exactly a hero. Yet.

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Michael Lark’s dark, moody artwork fits the tone of Rucka’s dystopian crime epic perfectly. It’s everything you remember and expect from Lark: atmospheric, lush, textured. The action sequences are well choreographed and presented like a punch to the gut. The character moments are equally well-crafted, with plenty of scene setting and emotional depth.

These guys are veteran creators, and work so well together. On Lazarus, they’re absolutely in sync, and the result is a complex, layered, nuanced story. I’m looking forward to future installments.

Review: Fishtown

I like a good crime story now and then, especially in graphic novel format. Brubaker and Rucka have done some great ones, and I dug a lot of the entries in Vertigo’s line of crime books. This book – which started out as a Xeric award winning webcomic – is about 4 teenagers who murder another teen, for no real reason. I picked it up for cheap at Half Price Books, based solely on the interesting looking artwork and nice packaging. Well, the gamble didn’t pay off.

I really, really disliked this book.

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The main problem I had with the story is that the characters are all unlikable. No, strike that, they’re plain detestable. And there’s not much else to it than that. A bunch of vile assholes committing a horrific crime. The end.

There’s no depth to the events surrounding the crime. No exploration of the “why” of the crime. No insightful look at the lives of the perpetrators, other than a few pages of lip service paid to the broken domestic situation of a couple of them. And I do mean a couple pages out of over a 100. It’s not enough to make you have even a sliver of empathy or sympathy for the characters. Oh, and the sole female in the group is the most messed-up, manipulative, evil one of them all, even though you’re never shown what in her upbringing led to that. So basically you’re presented with a series of gruesome images of a hateful crime, as narrated by a bunch of unrepentant, despicable teens. The end.

Joy.

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The artwork is definitely the stronger craft shown here. It’s fairly solid, though at times it’s hard to distinguish between some of the characters. I did like the aesthetic of the art presentation, done in monochromatic yellow. But that’s about it.

There is skill in Colden’s storytelling, but the story itself is vile, nihilistic, and in my opinion, pointless.

Brainbot, Jr. in Dark Horse Presents #29

Available today at fine comic book shops everywhere is Dark Horse Presents #29 (free preview here), featuring a 1-page Brainbot, Jr. strip by yours truly and the incomparable Tom Williams. Look for this cover by comics legend Neal Adams:

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Of course, it would be silly for you to pick up an 80-page book just for our single page contribution, so here’s a partial list of the other talented writers and artists featured in this issue: David Lapham, Andrew MacLean, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Mike Baron, Ron Randall, Steve Niles, Michael T. Gilbert, Patrick Alexander, Steve Lieber, Steve Rude, menton3, and Richard Corben. Not too shabby, eh?

By the way, here’s our Brainbot strip, sans dialogue:

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Hey, that’s the best I can do for a preview, without giving the whole thing away. Pick up the book to see where the funny goes!