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 If a product or enterprise doesn’t constantly reinvent itself, it is superseded, cast aside, . If a product or enterprise doesn’t constantly reinvent itself, it is superseded, cast aside, abandoned without sentiment in favor of something bigger, newer, and alas, nearly always uglier.”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.

    Final Draft Treatment
    J. M. DeMatteis


    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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        “Caspian” Story in Dark Horse Presents #18

        I was quite happy with my first autobiographical short story for Dark Horse Presents, which was published in issue #4 (September, 2011). It received some good reviews, and it’s always fun for me to work with frequent collaborator Victor Santos. So earlier this year, I email Victor to see if he had the time and was interested in doing another similar story. The answer was yes, so I sent him a page of script, and then put together a simple 1-page proposal to send to Dark Horse publisher and DHP editor, Mike Richardson.

        The pitch went out at the beginning of March, 2012, along with this sample page:

        51 minutes after emailing the pitch, I received a simple reply from Mike: “I am up for this.” Hands down, my fastest approval, ever.

        So Victor and I went to work. Besides finishing the script, I also had to find many photo references for him. For this, I used a combination of scans of photos I had taken myself during my trip back to Iran in 2009, plus a few I found online. Victor did his usual magic penciling the pages, and we then worked together to tweak each page through the various stages to completion.

        I thought it would be fun to share the process from start to finish on one of the pages for you. So here it is, page 5, starting with my script:

        Page 5

        Suggested Page Layout: 5 widescreen

        Panel 1: Wide. Bird’s eye view of a narrow 2-lane mountain road zigzagging across the dry, rocky landscape. (see Ref_photos5.jpg, or lots of good general reference photos for the road to the Caspian here)

        Caption: I have equally vivid memories of making the 4-5 hour trip from Tehran to the Caspian, on the long, winding road that cut across the Alborz Mountains.

        Panel 2: View of the scenery as it would be seen from the car: majestic mountain ranges in the background, beautiful rock formations in the foreground. Also, if you can manage it, place the funny “car going over the edge of a cliff” sign on the road (see Ref_photos4.jpg).

        Caption: The non-Caspian side the mountains is dry and arid, but no less spectacular.

        Panel 3: Shot of Young Dara and cousins sitting outside by a roadside café (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2), enjoying a sandwich and Coca Cola from a bottle.

        Caption: We would usually stop halfway at a nice little roadside café for lunch or a snack.

        Panel 4: View of the “avalanche protector” structure over a section of the road, as seen in the reference picture in Ref_photos4.jpg.

        Caption: I loved seeing the protective structures at key spots along the route, designed to protect the cars in case of a rock slide or avalanche.

        Panel 5: Show a line of cars waiting about 20 feet from the entrance to the one-way Kandovan Tunnel (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2). Note: these pictures are newer, from when the tunnel was widened to 2 lanes. Use them as general reference for the shape of the opening, but draw it smaller, because during my time it was only one-lane wide and cars would have to wait on each side and take turns going through.

        Caption: But the biggest attraction of the trip was always the trip through the Kandovan Tunnel.

        (The places in the script where it mentions phrases like PhotoRef1 were hyperlinks to pictures or websites with the appropriate photo references for the scene.)

        And here is Victor’s rough pencils for the same page:

        I didn’t have any changes to suggest, as it all looked good to me. So the next step was to ink the page, and then throw on some colors. Per our last story, I asked that he use a very limited color palette, almost monochromatic. Given the subject matter of this story, we decided to go with blues and greens. Here is the original colored page:

        At this stage, I suggested toning down the green, and adding in some blue highlights, as I felt the original art was being overwhelmed by the colors. Victor agreed, and turned in this second version:

        Perfect. It was now in my court to do the lettering, which I did using Adobe Illustrator, and the font “Silver Age” from the Blambot site, designed by Nate Piekos:

        When lettering my own stories, I tend to do a lot of editing and rewrites at this stage. In the page above, you can notice some changes made to the caption text from the original script, most notably in panel 4.

        And just for fun, here are a couple of my photos that I had sent Victor to use as reference:

        And finally, here’s the cover for DHP #18, in which our story was published (November 26, 2012):

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          Of pitches and publishing seasons

          A couple of links related to the business side of comics…

          Publishing Seasons – First Second editor Gina Gagliano explains why publishing houses offer their catalogs in intervals broken into “seasons.”

          Winter: January through April

          Spring: May through August

          Fall: September through December

          If you publish your book with a major publisher, your book will one day be assigned a season of its own.

          Why is this?

          Near Misses From My DC Era – Writer Brian Wood shows how even successful, popular creators can pitch projects in vain, and even when you think you have a greenlight and your editor loves the book, it can still be scrapped for capricious reasons.

          Rima The Jungle Girl – I was asked by Azzarello to write a miniseries for his First Wave thing, and I wrote the outline and met with the editor and got that approved and all seemed cool, but the green light to start scripting never came, and to this day I have no idea why. I like the story, and since I wasn’t paid anything by DC for the outline the story’s mine, so maybe I’ll find a use for it.

          That last sentence is what interests me. Good ideas are good ideas, regardless of their initial failure in finding a willing publisher. As long as there’s no contract or NDA involved, I think creators should definitely keep all options open and revise their company pitches into creator-owned books. There are many examples of this in the field, with one that comes to mind is writer J.M. DeMatteis retooling his rejected “death of Captain America” story from the 80s into the mini-series The Life and Times of Savior 28 decades later.

          And on a more personal footnote, back during my own failed attempts to pitch new series treatments to DC last year, one of the characters I was interested in was Rima The Jungle Girl. I was told at the time that another writer had plans for her, so that particular character was off the table. Now, this was after the whole “First Wave” series of pulp books, so I don’t think it was Azzarello or Wood, but I do find it amusing.

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            Archaia – effective submissions

            The Beat has a nice little piece about Archaia’s How to prepare an Effective Submission panel at the recent NYCC. Archaia submissions editor Rebecca Taylor lists what every submission packet should include:

            • Cover letter introducing the creative team and mentioning the vision for their book and why Archaia is the right fit for it
            • Full title
            • Names of the writer and artist
            • Short description of the book
            • A synopsis about one page in length
            • Scripts for the first several pages (optional)
            • Character descriptions.
            • At least six pages of sequential art (colored and lettered, if possible)
            • Your contact information
            • Signed terms and conditions, which are available on Archaia’s website

            But even better, here’s a link to a blog entry by one of the creators who participated in that panel, Michael Lapinski, artist of Feeding Ground:

            FEEDING GROUND _ NYCC 2012 Effective Pitches Panel

            At the link above, you can download the entire pitch packet for their comic in PDF format, and it’s definitely a very well put together presentation.

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              Cullen Bunn on managing your time

              Here’s another great process post for aspiring (and professional) writers. It comes from Cullen Bunn, writer and co-creator of The Sixth Gun from Oni Press, as well as a bunch of books from marvel Comics. The topic is time management, especially when you’re working on multiple projects and need to effectively and efficiently divide your working time between them all.

              I use a cooking timer to keep myself on track. You can find software and apps to facilitate this method (Google “The Pomodoro Technique”) but I think a simple plastic timer and a cheap notebook work well. I divide my day up into thirty-five-minute segments. I call these segments “mods” thanks to a funny bit on The Office. The number of mods you complete in a day is completely up to you. I have a goal of completing 10–12 mods a day…

              Click on the link above to read the rest of his process.

              I have to say, I really like this method. I use a very informal version of this process for my own writing, but to be honest, I haven’t been doing a good job of it as of late. So I can see the advantages of really sticking to a concrete plan.

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                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.”

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                  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.


                  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.

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                    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.

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                      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.

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