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

Logline

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?

Tags

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.

End.

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.

bttf

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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.

    it-1958-movie

    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:

    COLORGUIDE-ANN COLORGUIDE-CARUTHERS IT-CREATURE 2.0

    IT-CREATURE COMMON ROOM

    And some interior pages:

    IT_2_1

    IT_FINAL_ISSUE 2_PAGE001

    IT_ISSUE1_FINAL_007

    IT_ISSUE1_FINAL_006

    mgm32

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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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          Dark Horse pitch: The Protest

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

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

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

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

          Here is the pitch:

          “The Protest”

          A DHP proposal by Dara Naraghi
          Art by Victor Santos

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

          Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

          Creative Team Selected Bibliography:

          Dara Naraghi (writer)

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

          Victor Santos (artist)

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

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

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

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

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            DC Comics pitch: The Spectre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            The Spectre

            A “DC New 52” Treatment by Dara Naraghi

            (The Spectre © DC Comics)

            Logline

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

            Tags

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

            At a Glance

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

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

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

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

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

            Tone/Themes

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

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

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

            Powers

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

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

            Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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              Larry Young’s how to pitch a comic book project

              Larry Young, comic book writer and publisher of AiT/Planet Lar, shares his thoughts on what he looks for in a comic book pitch. Or rather, what he hates.

              “You wouldn’t believe how many professional writers, folks trying to break in, wannabes, and fanboys all send in work that doesn’t pay any attention to these points:”

              Click the link to read the whole thing. As always, especially in a subjective area like reviewing a creator’s proposal, these are words of advice from one particular individual, geared around his tastes and pet peeves. So obviously your mileage may vary. But still, the more of these helpful hints you read, the more material you’ll have to sort out for yourself what makes sense, what may work for you, and what bits you’re going to ignore.

              Oh, one last teaser:

              “But the most important thing a comic book writer should be aware of is:”

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                IDW pitch: Ghostbusters

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

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

                “Hi Chris,

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

                Best,
                Dara “

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

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

                Ghostbusters

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

                At a Glance

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

                Plot Summary

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

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

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

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

                The epilogue of the story focuses on some character moments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

                Regular cover art by Salgood Sam

                Variant cover art by Nick Runge

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

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

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

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                  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.

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