Dara Naraghi - Igor and more
by Benjamin Ong Pang Kean
The last time we spoke with indie comic book creator and writer Dara Naraghi, he talked about making the leap from webcomic to hardcover graphic novel with his online episodic comic series, Lifelike being published by IDW Publishing.
Since then, the Iranian expat has gone on to adapt three of Canadian blogger, journalist, science fiction author and Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow’s short stories, “Anda’s Game”, a story selected for inclusion in the Michael Chabon edited Best American Short Stories 2005; The Hugo-nominated and Locus Award-winning “I, Robot”; and “Craphound”, a story selected for Year's Best Science Fiction XVI (all these and more are now collected into Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now, out this week and features artwork by some of comics' top talents including Sam Kieth, Scott Morse, Paul Pope, Ben Templesmith, Ashley Wood and more).
He is also writing the comic book prequel to the Exodus Film Group's upcoming CGI-animated feature, Igor, produced by the Weinstein Co. and scheduled for worldwide theatrical release this September.
We thought that it’s best to catch up with him again to chat about Igor: Movie Prequel and other projects.
Newsarama: Dara, which came first -- the deal with IDW to publish your webcomic Lifelike as a graphic novel or Igor? Basically, how did you get involved with the Igor comic book prequel?
Dara Naraghi: The Lifelike deal came first, and honestly, it set the stage for my continued relationship with IDW Publishing. I'm very proud of the work I did on the webcomic, and of the incredible artwork my 11 collaborators provided. So not only was Lifelike a showcase of my writing style and interests, but from a practical point of view, it showed IDW my work ethic and professionalism. Based on that, [IDW President] Ted Adams offered me the first book in their adaptation of Cory Doctorow's short stories. That in turn led to two more, so I ended up adapting "Anda's Game", "Craphound", and "I, Robot" for Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now.
But getting back to Igor... while I was doing this work, I saw a press release about the licensing deal between IDW and the movie studio to produce Igor comic books. After a quick IMDB check, I saw a lot of potential in the movie. Unlike a lot of other CG movies lately that seem to just be treading old ground, Igor looked to be quite clever and original. So I basically just asked IDW if I could be involved with the project in some capacity. It took a few months while they worked out the details, but a day after I sent a follow up e-mail, [IDW Editor-in-Chief] Chris Ryall wrote back and asked if I wanted to write the 4-issue movie prequel. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. Plus, given the more mature themes of my comic book work to this point, it's good to finally have a project my nine year old daughter can read and enjoy too!
NRAMA: What can you tell us about Igor and all the other delightfully twisted characters from the land of Malaria?
DN: The basic premise of the movie is a humorous and skewed twist on the classic monster movies, especially the Dr. Frankenstein mythos. The land of Malaria is a sunless place where Evil Scientists are the celebrities and if you're one of the many hunchbacked lab assistants named Igor, you're a nobody. But our Igor (John Cusack) is not only smart and talented, but also a dreamer. He wants to enter and win the annual Evil Science Fair. Needless to say, there are a lot of misadventures along the way. He's aided (or hindered, as the case may be) by his two best friends, who also happen to be his inventions: Scamper, the cynical immortal rabbit with a death wish (Steve Buscemi), and Brain, the not-so-bright living brain in a jar (Sean Hayes). The main antagonist of the movie is the greedy, egotistical, and undefeated mad scientist Dr. Schadenfreude, voiced by Eddie Izzard. In both the movies and the comic, you can expect lots of zany characters, evil inventions, humorous adventures, and new twists on familiar archetypes like the invisible man or the mad scientist.
NRAMA: How do you translate a "playfully irreverent comedy that brings a new twist to the classic monster genre" into the comic book format?
DN: Well, we started with the movie script and a PDF of the main character and set designs. Once I got a feel for the characters, their personality quirks, and motivations, I started outlining what storylines we could or couldn't cover (given that this is a prequel). Chris Ryall was actually instrumental in setting the format of the series when he suggested doing shorter, self-contained tales instead of a 4-issue long story. I loved the idea and ran with it. While there is a good bit of physical comedy in the movie, a lot of the humor is actually character based, which translates well into comic book format. I approached my stories a bit like writing a sequel to a well known movie: you want to give a nod to some of the key sequences and memorable character moments, but not at the risk of being derivative. Of course in our case, the challenge was to create stories that can stand on their own (since readers wouldn’t have seen the movie yet), but also hold up after the movie comes out. I think we accomplished that.
NRAMA: How much of it was your work and how much was artist Grant Bond letting his imagination go wild?
DN: As far as the collaboration with Grant, it was a blast. We communicated back-and-forth a lot, which made it truly a team effort. He’d send out his thumbnails for my suggestions, we swapped cover image ideas, discuss fun things for him to draw, etc. With most of the characters and settings, there were already models to follow. But for anything new that I brought to the stories, I gave a very general description of it and let him run wild with the actual design. For example, his design for a character in issue #3 that I jokingly called “Chefbot” is spot-on charming and clever. And the gyrocoptor on the cover of issue #4 is all Grant.
NRAMA: The first issue came out on May 21st and it told the origin of Igor and his talking-rabbit best friend, Scamper. What stories have you got for the other three issues?
DN: I decided to do a combination of origin stories, adventures involving the main characters, and shorter stories spotlighting the supporting characters. So in future issues, we show the origin of Brain, go on the set of Cristall Clear with invisible man/talk show host Carl Cristall, hunt for a mythical dragon with Igor, Scamper and Brain, join Malaria’s other bizarre mad scientists at Dr. Schadenfreude’s pre-Evil Science Fair party, and more.
NRAMA: The film will feature voice work from John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge, Arsenio Hall, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard, Jay Leno, Molly Shannon and others. Did you have the opportunity to talk with any of them about the characters that they're voicing in preparation for the four-issue movie prequel series?
DN: Unfortunately, the answer is no. Much as I would have loved to talk to the voice actors, we didn’t have that luxury. Knowing who the voice actors were did help me when I was writing the characters’ dialogue, though. I’d try and play each line out in my head to see if it “sounded” right. Of course the trailer for the movie didn’t become available until well after I had turned in the final script, so it was working in the dark. But the studio gave everything the thumbs up, and even had some very kind words about our work, so I think we got it right.
NRAMA: Other than the Igor Movie Prequel, there's the first issue of Zombies!: Hunters which came out the same day as Igor: Movie Prequel. However, I understand that it has been cancelled? What happened? Did it have anything to do with former Transformers artist Don Figueroa, who did not complete the fourth and final issue of Beast Wars: The Ascending last year but reportedly moved to work on Zombies!: Hunters with you...
DN: Yeah, the Zombies! series (also for IDW) shipped on the same day as Igor, which I find funny. Despite the outwardly similar subject matter, they’re polar opposites. One’s an all-ages friendly humor book, and the other is blood-and-guts action and horror. Unfortunately due to circumstances completely outside of my control, the book is dead on arrival (zombie pun intended).
NRAMA: What else are you working on?
DN: Well, no sooner had I decided to use my down time to work on the pitches for a couple of my creator-owned projects, than Chris emailed to ask me if I wanted to write an original limited series based on another movie. This one is a well-loved franchise, but I can’t talk about it until IDW makes the official announcement. So I guess all I can say is look for it in October! Aside from that, I’m still working on pitches for my own Cell Phones and Cigarettes (slice of life ensemble piece), The Twilight Order (urban mysticism with a multicultural angle), and a couple of others. I’m also writing a short story for the 12th volume of the small press anthology I co-produce with my fellow writers and artists in the PANEL collective. PANEL: For the Kids is slated for an October release, under my Ferret Press self publishing banner. Previews, updates, and lots of artwork from all my projects can be found on the blog at www.ferretpress.com