“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):

My Spectre story in DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1

December 8, 2010 saw the release of my first work as a writer for DC Comics, in the form of an 8-page Spectre story in the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1. (Aside to FOX “News”: yes, that’s right. Holiday Special. Not Christmas Special. Because all your fears were correct, there really is a War on Christmas (TM) and guess who contributed to it? Me. An Iranian! Gasp! And my story deals with Norouz, the Persian New Year. So yes, feel free to invite me to one of your fine programs and browbeat and berate me in the name of saving America and its children. Any of them will do, The Hannity Factor, or Glenn O’Reilly, or any of the half dozen shows hosted by Fox Interchangeable Attractive Blonde Female Reporter Standard Model #B-726.)

Er, sorry. Where was I? Oh right, the DC Holiday Special. It’s a one-shot, costs $5, and in it you’ll find six 8-page stories featuring various DC Universe characters from different timelines dealing with an aspect of the season. And it’s all wrapped up under a nice Matt Haley cover:

DC UNIVERSE HOLIDAY SPECIAL 2010 #1

Written by DAN ABNETT & ANDY LANNING, SETH ALBANO, TONY BEDARD, JOEY CAVALIERI, KEVIN GREVIOUX and DARA NARAGHI
Art by RENATO ARLEM, ROBERTO CASTRO, RICHARD & TANYA HORIE, CARLO SORIANO and more
Cover by MATT HALEY

From the dawn of time (Anthro) to the far-flung future (Legion of Super-Heroes), sentient life has honored the winter holidays with celebrations and rituals as diverse as the universe itself! Join DC Comics – and a stellar team of writers and artists – to honor the vast and diverse holidays of the DC Universe in 6 tales of holiday cheer! Starring the aforementioned characters along with Superman, The Spectre, Jonah Hex, and Green Lantern John Stewart for a HOLIDAY SPECIAL like no other!

So I thought it would be fun to show a tiny bit of the process behind creating my story. We’ll just look at the first page. First up, my script for page 1:

Suggested Page Layout: 1 x 1

PANEL 1: Wide/Large, about 3/4 page. We open with a dramatic shot of The Spectre flying high over Tehran, Iran. It’s a sunny spring day, with the clear blue sky and the snow-capped mountain range in the background nicely juxtaposed against the densely populated urban sprawl below. (References: with mountains here and here, without mountains here)

1. Masthead/Logo: The Spectre

2. Caption (credits): “The Gift”
Dara Naraghi – Writer, etc.

3. Caption: Tehran, Iran. On the eve of the vernal equinox.

4. Caption (Crispus): Being what you’d call a non-believer, the holidays, to me, were always more about spending time with family than anything else.

5. Caption (Crispus): But after my death, they lost even that meaning.

6. Caption (Crispus): So this year, I ditched the painful memories at home for the far corners of the world. I’ve been at it for a few months.

PANEL 2: Wide. The Spectre is now “landing” on a busy street in a rich part of town, lined with high-end stores and boutiques. Show several young, attractive, trendy Iranian women carrying shopping bags. (References: here and here) Also show a beggar sitting on the sidewalk, panhandling.

7. Caption (Crispus): Guess there are a few perks to being The Spectre’s human host. No borders. No jet lag.

8. Caption (Crispus): And apparently no need for a Farsi translator. I understand what everyone around me is talking about.

9. Caption (Crispus): From the rich…

10. Caption (Crispus): …to the poor.

You’ll notice a lot of “here” and “here” talk in the descriptions. That’s where I linked to URLs of photo references for the artist in my Word document; I just didn’t reproduce them in the sample above.

Anyway, next step is the pencils, which were provided by Tom Derenick:

The pencils were then inked by Norm Rapmund, and a proof of the initial lettering was done, in this case featuring the lettering of Travis Lanham:

And finally, here’s the finished page, including colors by Chris Beckett. You’ll notice some of the lettering on the story title was tweaked from the previous stage:

And of course, editor Mike Carlin guided the whole book through from start to finish, assisted by Rachel Gluckstern. So there you have it, the magic of comic book creation, demystified.

The only small downer is that a couple of lettering mistakes that were caught during the production phase somehow didn’t get corrected before printing, and ended up in the final product. Oh well, nothing can be done about it now. I’m still quite happy with the story, and hope you’ll enjoy it as well.

So if you picked up the book, drop me an email or leave a comment below and share your thoughts. What worked and what didn’t? I’d love to hear from you.

Short story in Dark Horse Presents #4

My autobiographical story “The Protest” will see print in Dark Horse Presents #4, shipping to comic shops everywhere September 21, 2011.

Here’s a look at the official solicitation, and the two different covers for the book, by the talented Ms. Fiona Staples:

…and Mr. Geof Darrow:

Dark Horse Presents #4 – 80 color pages – no ads – $7.99

The hallmark anthology continues with another spectacular eighty-page issue! In this installment, stories by creators Howard Chaykin (The Chronicles of Solomon Kane), Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and Sanford Greene continue. Joined by exciting new shorts from Ricardo Delgado and Jim Campbell, Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, and Filipé Melo, this issue is certain to have something for everyone! Plus, the first chapters of brand-new Beasts of Burden and Criminal Macabre stories! If that wasn’t enough, we’ve included another demented strip by Patrick Alexander and an exclusive interview with Geof Darrow!

And here’s a look at a page from my story, illustrated by my frequent artistic partner in crime, Victor Santos:

Set in Iran, post-Islamic revolution, “The Protest” is a story of growing up during turbulent times, class bullies, and unexpected outcomes.

Short story in the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Liberty Annual is a comics anthology featuring big name comic book creators, as well as some up-and-coming young’uns such as yours truly, whose sale benefits the CBLDF. This year’s book is 48 full color pages, retailing for $5, and will be available mid-October from Image Comics.

The 2011 edition comes with two covers, from personal favorite Matt Wagner (featuring his Grendel character) and fan favorite John Cassaday (featuring Uncle Sam). Here’s the solicitation for the book:

CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011

story MATT WAGNER, J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI, KAZIM ALI, DARA NARAGHI, J.H. WILLIAMS III, MARK WAID, CARLA SPEED MCNEIL, AJ LIEBERMAN, MICHAEL BRAMLEY, STEVE NILES, BRANDON MONTCLARE, JUDD WINICK, RICHARD STARKINGS

art MATT WAGNER, KEVIN SACCO, CRAIG THOMPSON, CHRIS MITTEN, J.H. WILLIAMS III, JEFF LEMIRE, CARLA SPEED MCNEIL, RILEY ROSSMO, FRANK QUITELY, SHANE DAVIS, FRED HEMBECK, MICHAEL MONTENAT & JACK PURCELL, JOËLLE JONES, GREG LAND, GREG HORN, THIAGO MICALOPULOS & RODNEY RAMOS, DUSTIN NGUYEN, DAVE COOPER, IVAN REIS, SHAKY KANE

cover A JOHN CASSADAY
cover B MATT WAGNER

OCTOBER 12
48 PAGES / FC / M
$4.99

A COMIC BOOK LEGAL DEFENSE FUND BENEFIT BOOK!

Stand Up For Your Rights! Censorship is the ultimate form of bullying. Censors want to take away the power people have to think, speak, or create freely. In CBLDF LIBERTY ANNUAL 2011, Legendary Editor BOB SCHRECK gathers an all-star line-up of comics creators to stand up to those censoring bullies with 48 powerful pages of ALL NEW story and art about standing up for your rights! All proceeds from this book benefit the important First Amendment work of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who’ve been fighting censorship in comics for 25 years!

This year’s Liberty Annual includes incredible contributions, including all-new original stories by superstars J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI, FRANK QUITELY, J.H. WILLIAMS III, STEVE NILES, JUDD WINICK, MARK WAID, and CARLA SPEED MCNEIL. Plus, new tales featuring GRENDEL by MATT WAGNER, COWBOY NINJA VIKING by AJ LIEBERMAN & RILEY ROSSMO, and ELEPHANTMEN by RICHARD STARKINGS & SHAKY KANE. Plus a massive, and first ever color story from indy comics master CRAIG THOMPSON! Even Marvel and DC have stepped up to show their support all-new pin-ups including BATMAN by DUSTIN NGUYEN, X-MEN by GREG LAND, GREEN LANTERN by IVAN REIS, and THE AVENGERS by GREG HORN!

All proceeds from CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 will benefit the important First Amendment legal work of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the First Amendment rights of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians and readers.

My contribution is a 3-page autobiographical short on the topic of freedom of religion. Titled “The Conversion,” it deals with an incident that happened to me in Iran when I was a kid. Here’s a sneak peek at page 1, featuring the artwork of Christopher Mitten:

Please ask your retailer to save you a copy, and remember that it benefits the work of the fund in fighting censorship and protecting comic creators’ first amendment rights.

Witch & Wizard: Battle for Shadowland

Released in October 2010, the hardcover collection of my Witch & Wizard: Battle for Shadowland debuted at #4 on the New York Times Best Sellers List (Hardcover Graphic).

It was also #9 on Amazon.com’s best selling graphic novels. Now, I know that the popularity is based on the James Patterson name recognition, but hey, I’ll take it. It’s good practice for when one of my own creations eventually makes it to the top of the sales charts.

Collecting the 4-issue limited series from IDW Publishing, Battle for Shadowland is an original story based on the characters and settings from James Patterson’s young adult novel, Witch & Wizard. The story takes place between books 1 and 2 of the prose series.

“In a blink of an eye, their world has changed, with the oppressive New Order declaring all magic as evil incarnate! In this action-packed graphic novel spinning out of best-selling author James Pattersons’s #1 novel, sibling teenagers Whit & Wisty Allgood use their newly discovered magical powers to infiltrate into enemy territory of the New Order to gain control of the inter-dimensional Shadowland.”

The artwork is provided by talented Spanish artist, Victor Santos. I’ve had a blast working with Victor; his work is dynamic, fun, and full of energy. Here’s a look at his illustration for the cover of the trade paperback edition:

…and a page from the book, showing most of our main and supporting characters, starting with his pencils:

Followed by his inks:

And finally colored by Jamie Grant (All-Star Superman):

And given that IDW Publishing has fully embraced the digital distribution of comics, the book is also available through the Apple App Store for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, and on the PSP through Sony’s Digital Comics storefront.

And finally, here’s a peek at an alternate cover for issue #2, courtesy of Brazilian artist Fabio Moon. First, his concept sketch:

And next the finished cover:

You can purchase a copy through any book store, comic shop, or on Amazon.com