Writing tips from Charles Soule and Jim Zub

Are you an aspiring comic book writer? Check out this post over at Bleeding Cool, So You Wanna Write Comics? Tips and Tricks from Charles Soule and Jim Zub At NYCC:

6. Self-Publish and be active: “Nowadays there are no barriers, use the internet to your advantage.” In today’s day, comics are more accessible than they’ve ever been. The industry is growing like never before and self-publishing is on the rise. Whether its digital or print, you need to have a completed work ready to go.

Most of these tips may seem like common sense, but you’ll be amazed how many people lack common sense out there.

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    IDW Pitch: Back to the Future

    Back in the spring of 2015, IDW reached out to me (and other writers) to pitch a 4-issue limited-series based on the Back to the Future movies. They were in the process of obtaining the BttF license, and Universal Studios wanted multiple writers to pitch them ideas.

    I initially had a hard time coming up with a story, but decided not to stress it too much. If I couldn’t think up an interesting pitch, so be it. But then, as these things often do, the pieces fell into place on their own. I remember laying in bed one morning, in that lucid state halfway between sleep and being awake, when the core concept of my pitch just came to me. I spent a few days fleshing it out, and then sent in my proposal.

    Unfortunately, this particular pitch didn’t go anywhere, as the studio and IDW eventually went with Bob Gale, the co-creator and screenwriter of the film trilogy. But I always look on these things as learning experiences. Plus, I don’t feel too bad losing out to the guy who wrote the films themselves!

    Anyway, here’s my pitch, for those of you curious about the process behind creating comics:

    Back to the Future: “Joyride”

    Treatment by Dara Naraghi


    When Doc’s children Jules and Verne seemingly take his time travelling locomotive on a joyride, zigzagging through time, he enlists the aid of Marty and Jennifer to find them before they create a temporal paradox. But is it really Biff who is both the instigator of, and the solution to, this fiasco?


    Fun, Fast-paced, Humorous, Brain-twister, Suspenseful

    At a Glance

    Mere moments after Doc, Clara, Jules, and Verne fly off in Doc’s time travelling locomotive (as seen in the closing scene of BttF 3), Doc and Clara reappear in a another time machine, in the form of a family minivan from the mid-80s. As Marty and Jennifer pile in, the panicked parents explain that their children have stolen the locomotive and are travelling around in time, unsupervised.

    Marty: “Doc, the DeLorean and locomotive I get, but are you telling me that you built a back-up time machine… out of a minivan?”

    As Doc fiddles with an instrument that will help him track the whereabouts of the first time machine, he rationalizes that every growing family needs sensible transportation. Our intrepid gang then sets off on a series of misadventures, visiting various timelines, but always a step behind the children. Doc blames himself for the entire mess, explaining that an argument he had with his sons drove them to run away. However, Clara believes that the boys are not that irresponsible, and suspects foul play.

    Sure enough, we soon discover that the two boys were merely playing in the locomotive when it was hijacked by what looks like 1955 Biff, who now has them imprisoned in the back. He is seen visiting different time periods, tracking down various ancestors of his Tannen family. After each visit, the Tanners are left changed, but not necessarily in a positive manner. Jules and Verne, meanwhile, manage to free themselves, and using their own scientific acumen, fashion a sort of “early warning beacon” that will transmit their next intended time jump to their parents, hoping to be rescued.

    With the helpful signal from the boys, Marty and Doc are finally able to intercept the locomotive in 1955. They spot Biff getting off the train, carrying a handgun, and heading to the high school’s Enchantment Under the Sea dance. After being reunited with the boys and taking in their account of Biff’s travels, Doc hypothesizes that this isn’t really Biff after all, but an alternate time paradox version of him.

    Marty: “But where did he come from?”
    Doc: “Don’t you see? By manipulating his own past, he made it possible for him to exists in the first place. He’s his own creator!”

    The gang catches up to Anomaly Biff, and realizes his plan is to kill the “real” 1955 Biff, who he sees as a born loser, unable to ever create a positive future for himself, despite even the temporal manipulation from BttF 2. As he holds the gang at gunpoint, he explains that he’ll then insert himself into original Biff’s place in history, prior to the seminal events of BttF 1 (George punching Biff) and BttF 2 (Marty taking the sports almanac away), avoiding both of those events, and then forging a successful future for himself on his own terms. It’s at this point that he notices Jules and Verne have slipped away, and prepares to kill the remaining interlopers.

    Just then, Anomaly Biff is startled when a voice from behind him proclaims “Hey, Butthead!” Turning around, he is sucker punched by Real Biff, and is knocked out. Real Biff then looks on in amazement as Anomaly Biff fades out of existence. He looks at the can of beer in his other hand, shrugs, and leaves. Meanwhile, the gang flees back to the two time machines, careful to avoid their previous visits to that point in time. Jules and Verne explain on the way that they had sought out Real Biff outside the dance and told him that a rival for Lorraine’s affections planned to kill him, and led him to Anomaly Biff.

    Jules: “After all, who better to fight a bully–“
    Verne: “Than another bully?”

    Doc surmises that by foiling the final step of Anomaly Biff’s plan, Real Biff disrupted the very complex time paradox that allowed Anomaly Biff to exist in the first place, causing him to be erased from existence.

    Boarding the time machines, the gang go back to the future of 1985, dropping off Marty and Jennifer back at the wreckage of the DeLorean from the end of BttF 3. As Clara and the boys board the locomotive, and Doc gets behind the wheel of the minivan, Marty suddenly remembers a remark Doc made earlier in their adventure. (Marty: “Hey Doc, what did you mean by ‘every growing family needs sensible transportation’?”) Doc simply smiles and looks at Clara, who in turn gives Marty and Jennifer a wink while resting a hand on her belly, before both machines rise in the air and disappear in time.


    So there you have it. In this industry, most pitches get rejected. It’s part of the process. But I’m still pretty pleased with my take on the BttF concept.

    By the way, the BttF comic is now actually an ongoing series. There’s also a limited-series adaption of the BttF video game, called Citizen Brown.


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      Dan Weiss on what makes a good villain

      I liked this insight into character development for villains, from an interview with Game of Thrones co-showrunner, Dan Weiss:

      “Far more often than an evil alpha male out to do evil for the sake of evil, bad things often come from people who are unfit to occupy positions of power, who find themselves in positions of power they are not suited for. They don’t have the moral fiber or leadership skills, but for some reason they find themselves sitting on the throne, and that’s where things go horribly wrong. For anybody who’s read history books or read the newspaper, that feels true.”


      (Fair waning: the interview itself contains spoilers for season 4, if you haven’t watched it yet.)

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        Spitball Anthology: sneak peek

        So a short while ago I told you about the Spitball comic book anthology being put together by the students at CCAD. I wanted to share the first page from the short story I contributed to the book, with art by the talented Lee Meyers.

        Here are her roughs:


        Followed by her pencils/inks:


        And the nearly complete colored and lettered page:


        I can’t wait to see the finished book, which will feature artwork by many of Lee’s classmates, and stories written by the likes of Matt Fraction, Noelle Stevenson, and Ivan Brandon.

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          IDW pitch: IT! The Terror From Beyond Space

          Back in early 2010, IDW and MGM Studios had worked out the deal to re-imagine some of the cult classic MGM movies in comics form. They called them Midnight Movies. I’d had a good working relationship with IDW for a few years by then, so I was asked by Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall to send in a proposal for one or more of the properties.

          The science fiction setting of IT! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) appealed to me, so I worked up the pitch, as seen below. I even included some “visual aids” in my document, to better explain my vision for the book’s look and feel.


          Chris’s response was short and sweet:

          “Yeah, we’re totally doing this. This rocks.”

          So, here’s the pitch that got me the gig:


          IT! The Terror From Beyond Space

          A reimagining by Dara Naraghi

          The Challenge

          When The Thing From Another World was reimagined by John Carpenter as The Thing, it was done through a darker setting, more realistic special effects, and amped-up levels of horror and gore. But I feel that if we were to take a similar approach with It!, we’d end up with Ridley Scott’s Alien. That may be unfair, but the reality is that Alien is so ingrained in our pop culture psyche that a modern update of its precursor (and inspiration) would ironically be viewed as a rip-off. Also, a similar updating was done when Millennium Comics published an It! Comic in 1992, so there’s no sense in treading those grounds again.

          The Solution

          My recommendation is to forego the deconstruction/post-modern approach. Instead, I propose we embrace the B-movie sensibilities of the source material, but with a twist: the retro outer shell will be juxtaposed against modern storytelling underpinnings.

          • The look-and-feel will be that of an “idealized” retro 1950s science fiction movie, but the plot will be multi-layered, with the addition of twists, ulterior motives, and modern science.
          • A more gender/ethnically diverse cast will provide the refinement to appeal to modern audiences.

          Design Aesthetics

          Again, to distance ourselves from unfair comparisons to Alien, we will forego the dark tone, grungy set pieces, and horror vibe. Instead, the focus will be on action, adventure, and above all, suspense. This is the world of sleek, stainless steel rocket ships and spirited explorers, not corporate oligarchies and blue-collar space miners.

          • Spaceship/Technology – sleek and sexy retro multi-finned rocket ships and ray guns abound.
          • Costumes – again, retro-sexy. Women’s 2-piece uniforms will feature mini-skirts and go-go boots. Guys will sport jack boots and holsters, ready for action. Classic “fishbowl” helmets will be used.
          • Creature – since we have an unlimited special effects budge, we will design a truly unique, non-humanoid monster (without resorting to either rubber-suit camp or H.R. Giger psychosis).
          • Covers – done in the style of 50s science fiction movie posters, but with amped-up sex appeal.
          • Text – each issue will open with a narrative caption incorporating the hyperbole of period movie trailer announcements. But the character dialogue will be modern and conversational.

          Plot Summary

          First, we will simplify and diversify by reducing the cast from 10 characters to 7 (discarding Maj. John Purdue and the Finelli brothers). Col. Edward Carruthers and Lt. James Calder will be African American, while Dr. Mary Royce will be of Japanese descent (Eric Royce is her husband).

          The plot will follow that of the movie fairly closely, but with the addition of several layers of complexity. Instead of sneaking onto the rocket ship through an open hatch, the creature (in a much smaller, dormant form) is smuggled in by Lt. James Calder. He is carrying out orders from a secret branch of the Pentagon to retrieve any evidence of extraterrestrial life from Mars. (A similar “sleeper” agent with the same mission was on Carruthers’ Challenge 141 ship.) In turn, Ann Anderson is a special agent for the US Space Command, Division of Interplanetary Exploration, and tasked with observing Calder. Her role will be expanded greatly, taking over as our main protagonist after Van Heusen is injured early on.

          Using a key element from the original movie – that the creature extracted every ounce of liquid from the bodies of those it killed – we’ll establish that this is the source of its power. Adapted to the dry atmosphere of Mars, it begins to grow unnaturally once exposed to the humidity in the ship’s air. It continues this exponential growth after killing Keinholz, Eric Royce, and eventually Van Heusen and Calder. Attempts to kill it with weapons and radiation fail, until Ann and Dr. Mary Royce deduce the source of its unnatural resilience. They then devise a plan to use this trait against the creature, by trapping and exposing it to large amounts of water and humidity. Similar to how humans can die by drinking too much water (“hyperhydration”, AKA water intoxication), the creature essentially overdoses on water, ironically “drowning in outer space”. Ann, the doctor, and Carruthers will be the only survivors.

          We will explore more fully the romantic triangle hinted at in the movie, involving Ann, Van Heusen, and Carruthers. Another subplot will be an affair between Dr. Mary Royce and Keinholz. Key sequences retained from the movie will be the daring spacewalk, and a trapped Calder holding off the monster with a blowtorch in a cargo bay.

          Visual Aids

          Below are some comic book covers, both vintage and modern reinterpretations, which visually summarize the look and feel I’m aiming for:


          So there you have it. Writing the series was fun, and I always love the collaboration aspect of creating comics. Sadly, the MGM projects weren’t very successful, and halfway through writing the script for the 3rd issue (of a 4-issue mini-series) I was informed that the book was being “condensed” down to a 3-issue series. So yeah, I had to fit two issues worth of plot and story into just one. Sometimes those are the breaks. On the plus side, I got to work with legendary comic book editor Bob Schreck on this project, which was a blast.

          Here’s some artwork from the finished project…

          The covers for the series, which were provided by Steve Mannion, totally captured the look I was going for. Mannion has a great retro “good girl” style:

          MGM_IT01_coverMGM_IT2_cover MGM_IT3_cover

          Interior art was by Mark Dos Santos. (Aside: at one point, Paul Gulacy was going to draw it, but that didn’t come to fruition.) Here are some of Mark’s character and set designs:



          And some interior pages:


          IT_FINAL_ISSUE 2_PAGE001




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            First look at Spitball anthology

            The Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) is offering an advanced comics workshop course for a small group of talented students, and at the end of their class they will be producing a full-color comics anthology titled Spitball.


            The instructors sought out professional comics writers to supply 5-page stories for the students. I was fortunate to be asked to participate in this cool new project, alongside such comics luminaries as Chris Sebela (DEAD LETTERS, ALIEN VS PREDATOR, CAPTAIN MARVEL), Kate Leth (EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and ADVENTURE TIME), Karl Bollers (WATSON AND HOLMES), Lora Innes (THE DREAMER), Matt Fraction (SEX CRIMINALS, HAWKEYE, IRON MAN, X-MEN), Jen Van Meter (HOPELESS SAVAGES, BLACK CAT), Ivan Brandon (WOLVERINE, VIKING, MEN OF WAR), and Noelle Stevenson (LUMBERJANES, THOR).

            The artist illustrating my story is Lee Meyers, and you can check out her tumblr here. But I’d like to share a few pieces of her art right here:

            Character designs

            Character designs

            Drone designs

            Drone designs

            Setting designs and color studies

            Set designs and color studies

            Thumbnails/roughs for page 1

            Thumbnails/roughs for page 1

            I’ll post more info on the book as the semester progresses and Lee finalizes the pages. In the meantime, you can follow Spitball on tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

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              Writer’s Talk

              Back in the November of 2011, 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. For the show, Doug interviewed 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.”

              (Note that Writer’s Talk is no longer in production. However, Doug is currently hosting a similar new show, Craft.)

              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.

              You can watch the entire episode right here:

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                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.

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                  Dial B For Brimstone

                  This piece of flash fiction is actually my very first professionally published story. It was selected as one of three winning entries (from 407 submissions) in a “short, short story” contest held by my hometown newspaper, The Columbus Dispatch. They called them “Noveleenies,” and I think they had to be under 400 words. My story was published in the Sunday edition on May 13, 2001.

                  Art students from the Columbus College of Art and Design were selected to produce mock book covers for the stories. Here’s the one for my story, by artist Genevieve L Wood (I think this is her website, but I’m basing that solely on the mention of CCAD in her bio):


                  The final layout in the paper:


                  Aside from publication in the paper, I think we were also supposed to receive a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2001 anthology, but I never got mine. Yep, stiffed by a newspaper on my very first published work 😉

                  Anyway, here’s my story:

                  Dial B for Brimstone

                  “Thank you for calling the Hades Hotline,” the lifeless recording announced. “This automated service is brought to you by Corruption, the new fragrance by Calvin Klein. Corruption. Entice mortals into premarital sex. If you know the extension of your party, please enter it now.”

                  The old woman’s bony, wrinkled finger impatiently punched in a three-digit number.

                  “We’re sorry, that extension is no longer valid. Please select from the following options: To check on the status of your soul, press (1). For real-time quotes on pestilence, famine, war and death, press (2). To listen to the latest ‘N Sync single, press (3). If you are a Fox executive looking to develop a new show, press (4). To search our patented Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife database, please have your ZIP code handy and press (5). If you are a telemarketer looking for a listing of families currently sitting down to dinner, press (6). If you live in California…”

                  After two dozen menu options, 18 minutes on hold, and several threats of disembowelment directed at an obtuse customer service representative, the old woman’s call was finally transferred to its destination. In a cluttered, unassuming office, buried under piles of legal forms, a phone emitted discordant rings. Without looking away from his computer screen, a rotund middle-aged man with a graying goatee picked up the receiver.

                  “Hello? Mom? Ah jeez, I thought I asked you not to call me at work.”

                  “Don’t you take that tone with me, young man! What, is The Prince of Darkness so busy with his career that he can’t even take the time to talk to his own mother? And why doesn’t your old number work anymore?

                  “They just installed a new voice mail system and I…”

                  “Couldn’t be bothered to tell your poor mother the new extension, is that it? And another thing…”

                  With a resigned sigh, The Dark One switched his call to the speakerphone and turned the volume down. Adjusting his reading glasses, he focused his weary eyes once again on the flickering computer monitor before him and continued with his e-mail.

                  To: Legal

                  Re: the Jordan contract

                  Please advise if Michael is covered for a second comeback under the terms of his original contract.

                  In the background a shrill voice droned on over the speakerphone. “…and when are you going to find someone nice to settle down with?…”

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                    Bill Bryson quote

                    I’m currently reading “A Walk in the Woods,” Bill Bryson’s memoir of hiking the Appalachian Trail. At times funny, insightful, academic, and even frustrating, it’s been a good read so far. The quote below is one of my favorite observations made by him on the nature of change in America:

                    “At the time of our hike, the Appalachian Trail was 59 years old. The Oregon and Santa Fe Trails didn’t last as long. Route 66 didn’t last as long. The old coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway, a road that brought transforming wealth and life to hundreds of little towns, so important and familiar that it became known as “America’s Main Street,” didn’t last as long. Nothing in America does. If a product or enterprise doesn’t constantly reinvent itself, it is superseded, cast aside, . If a product or enterprise doesn’t constantly reinvent itself, it is superseded, cast aside, abandoned without sentiment in favor of something bigger, newer, and alas, nearly always uglier.”


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                      Daredevil film treatment by J.M. DeMatteis

                      On his blog, writer J.M. DeMatteis has the entirety of his mid-90s film treatment for a Daredevil movie, for producer/screenwriter Chris Columbus and his 1492 Pictures company.

                      THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR
                      Final Draft Treatment
                      J. M. DeMatteis

                      ACT ONE

                      FADE IN—

                      —on the Manhattan neighborhood called Hell’s Kitchen, fifteen years ago, where we find a gang of teenagers strutting their stuff down the hot summer streets. The clear leader of the group is sixteen year old MATT MURDOCK…a cocky young Cagney, with energy, anger, and an attitude. He’s the focus of the group’s attention: their unquestioned leader.

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                        The working title of my memoir, as presented on BuzzFeed

                        “21 insanely boring facts about my life that will blow your mind”

                        “This man was born in Iran. You simply won’t believe what happened next”

                        “13 of my life experiences only anxious geeky extroverts with disabilities would understand”

                        “53 signs that I can’t believe I’m over 40”

                        “My career in comics, as told by Sir Mixalot lyrics”

                        “38 questions people from Iran living in America are sick of being asked”

                        “The shocking truth behind my poor eyesight, and why you won’t see the world the same ever again”

                        “My 8 most epic blog posts from 2008, and how they didn’t change my life”

                        “Nerve-wracking story of my 1988 SAT test will make you laugh and cry at the same time”

                        “12 countries I’ve traveled to, and why you’ll never see the pictures on American TV”

                        “18 times I almost used the word ‘YOLO’ but then decided not to”

                        “This Vine video will break your heart, but it made me just shrug”

                        “10 (not so great) quotes vaguely about my life from 80s indie comic books”

                        “37 Twerking pics of people who are not me”

                        “Some reporter on FOX News made an extremely racist remark, but I wasn’t watching so I missed it”

                        “27 most overused hastags that describe my life, if I knew what hashtags were”

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