Local graphic novelist Arvind Ethan David reimagines Dorian Gray with a twist

Photo courtesy of the Solvang Library
SYV STORYTELLER: Prolific film, television, and theater producer and graphic novelist Arvind Ethan David moved from Los Angeles to the Santa Ynez Valley in 2020. Story of Soil Wine in Los Olivos will host David during a local author talk on Feb. 15.

With a background in film and television, Arvind Ethan David scripts his comic books as if he’s working on a screenplay, with a few key differences.

While a single page of a traditional screenplay usually translates to one minute of screen time, David is used to drafting multiple pages that often correspond to a single comic book page once the project’s artist becomes involved.

“If it’s a very dialogue-heavy page, it might take me four pages of script to write it,” said David, a prolific producer and author who moved to the Santa Ynez Valley from Los Angeles about four years ago.

Conversely, sometimes less than a dozen lines of comic book script—taking up a quarter of a page or less—equates to a full page spread illustration, David added. 

“In terms of how much direction I give, it does depend on the artist, and it does depend on how complicated the action is,” David said. “When I’m working with somebody who I collaborate with often, I often leave more to them because I know what they can do—I know their style, they know my style. I’ll tell them, ‘You know that thing you do? Do that.’”

David uses Final Draft, the same writing software he uses for screenwriting purposes, to script his graphic novels, but his screenplays have much less descriptive text than his comics.

click to enlarge Local graphic novelist Arvind Ethan David reimagines Dorian Gray with a twist
Image courtesy of the Solvang Library
SHADES OF GRAY: Local graphic novelist Arvind Ethan David recently released Gray: Vol. 2, his second book in the Gray series, described as a modern, gender-swapping reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

“I write [comics] in a way I wouldn’t write film scripts because if you overdo it in film scripts, the director thinks you’re trying to tell them what to do,” David said. “When I’ve shared my scripts with my partners in the film and TV world, they say this is a director’s draft, with the level of detail that one would expect to see from a director.”

In other words, David writes his comics with the elbow room of an auteur, rather than someone writing for a director who’s expected to take the reins later.

“I guess the metaphor I would use is: In comics, I am the writer and director,” David said, “and the artist is cinematographer, actor, costume and production designer.”

The graphic novelist’s latest opus is Gray: Vol. 2,
the second entry in his Gray series, a gender-swapped reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray set in modern day. 

“I became an Oscar Wilde fan, like so many people, with a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. It was my first year of high school and the seniors put it on as the school play,” said David, who was born in Malaysia and spent his teen years in Singapore. “My specific introduction to Dorian Gray was maybe 10 years later.”

David moved to the U.S. in his 30s, which is also when he started writing comics. It was an artform he had been passionate about since childhood.

“I pretty much learned to read with comics,” said David, who remembers eagerly waiting for his father to come home from work every day with the promise of a new comic from the local shop.

“From age 5, or maybe even a bit younger, comics were the thing I read,” David said. “I loved everything—obviously superheroes, but also Archie, Veronica, Betty, and also the British comics. … I read thousands and thousands of comics.”

click to enlarge Local graphic novelist Arvind Ethan David reimagines Dorian Gray with a twist
Image courtesy of Arvind Ethan David
FROM PAGE TO PANELS: “Before 5 p.m. Champagne is a choice. After 5 p.m., it’s a necessity,” Ms. Dorian Gray, as written by Arvind Ethan David, states in one panel of Gray: Vol. 2. In true Gray fashion, David is hosting an upcoming author talk at a local wine venue in mid-February.

David got the opportunity to write his first comic while producing the 2016-17 TV series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. After writing some issues of the series’ tie-in monthly comic book, David was hooked.

“I just loved it … I loved the discipline. I loved the deadlines,” said David, who later envisioned adapting a new version of Dorian Gray to comics specifically because of the novel’s take on perceptions.

“Core to it [The Picture of Dorian Gray] is the idea of what people look like and what they are are two very different things,” David said. “This is a story about the visual image and its implementation of who we are, who we say we are, so it felt natural for comics.”

David’s Gray series has received praise from critics and notable writers, including Diablo Cody, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter behind Juno, who called the first entry “an inventive, empowered, and thoroughly entertaining twist on a classic,” and “damn hard to put down.”

To celebrate the release of Gray: Vol. 2, David will host a talk and book signing at Story of Soil Wine in Los Olivos on Thursday, Feb. 15. There will also be a live reading, organized by local theater students, of one of the graphic novel’s scenes during the event.

David said it’s fitting to host the celebration in a tasting room, as Dorian Gray, “the most decadent of individuals,” would endorse the idea. He also described Story of Soil proprietor Jessica Gasca as “a brilliant winemaker and a suitably debauched individual.”

“I’m sure she’ll do Dorian proud,” David said.

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood feels like a bushy-tailed fanboy. Send thought bubbles to cwiseblood@santamariasun.com.

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