Skybound's GHOSTED: 'Ocean's 11 in a Haunted House'
Skybound Comics grew another branch at Emerald City Comic Con, announcing a five-issue mini-series titled Ghosted, that will position itself well next to its imprint siblings, Witch Doctor and Thief of Thieves as a blending of crime and horror genres. It is created and written by Joshua Williamson with art by Goran Sudzuka and Miroslav Mrva and Sean Phillips supplying the covers.
Williamson has written an array of titles ranging from the all-ages tale of Dear Dracula, the alien conspiracy Xenoholics, to Superman/Batman and Incredible Hulk. He describes Ghosted as Ocean’s 11 in a haunted house instead of a casino. The lead character has been in prison the last 10 years, gets broken out, and told by this mysterious collector that he needs him to steal a ghost from the Trask Mansion, a massive haunted house. Williamson’s talked to Newsarama about Ghosted, the big heist, and giving readers the shakes.
Newsarama: Joshua, start off by telling me a little more about your protagonist.
Joshua Williamson: His name is Jackson T. Winters, who was an amazing criminal mastermind who planned heists and made sure they went to completion. He’s an intelligent, calculated person; he’s not Danny Ocean, who was suave, sophisticated. Winters is a dark and gritty character. He’s a bad guy with a job to get done.
Markus Schrecken, an extreme collector of the horror world, has hired him to steal a ghost from a haunted house. Instead of hiring all the best thieves in the world, Winters gets all the best paranormal people. For example he gets the best magician, the best psychic, the best skeptic, and ghost hunter guys you see on reality TV. Then he hires muscle to do the dirty work and puts them all together.
Nrama: Psychologically though, Winters in a different place when the story begins, right?
Williamson: Winters has been in prison for 10 years and has given up on life, he’s come to terms with it. He’s accepted it’s his time to die; it’s just a matter of time. Suddenly he’s broken out of prison and is back in the living world again, he’s kind of confused at first.
Nrama: Is that one of the themes Ghosted explores, the acceptance of death or retirement and then repurposing your life when you outlive that anticipated death?
Williamson: He’s in a situation where he has to reconsider things, he was stuck in prison, and now he’s in a haunted house where he knows there are ghosts in there. They are trapped in this haunted house and he relates to them–it’s like they’re stuck in their own prison. Part of moving on is accepting certain aspects of your past and Winters starts thinking about that aspect of things.
Nrama: Even though Ghosted is filled with genre elements, it’s largely about real people, right?
Nrama: So you have a real world heist mixed with the supernatural. What was it about those two genres that drew you in, especially the heists?
Williamson: I’ve always loved crime comics, crime movies, and anything heist-related. I’ve always liked the “getting the band together” scenes, and then the planning it out. Ocean’s 11 is the perfect example of that. I’ve always had the idea of wanting to do more crime stuff. I did this crime comic for Image a few years back called Overlook that NO one read, but got me a lot of work. I was really happy with it, but no one knows about it. When I talked with other writers, editors or comic websites, it will come out of nowhere, which was so funny because no one ever bought it; it bombed. So I wanted to do a crime comic again and I also wanted to do another horror book in a haunted house specifically. I’m sort of obsessed with haunted houses so I kept thinking about doing a crime thing with a haunted house or maybe grave robbers. Eventually it clicked when I thought about breaking into a haunted house. What would someone steal from a haunted house, but a ghost? It was one of those happy accidents I suppose.
Nrama: What’s it like to be welcomed into the Skybound family and how has it impacted Ghosted?
Williamson: They’ve been great so far; they set me up with Goran Sudzuka and got Sean Phillips to do covers. Also having the media machine that is Robert Kirkman has been really great with this book. I’m doing a book that I’ve wanted to do for a really long time, but I had a hard time nailing it down and finding the right publisher. Once Skybound came on and helping it come through, they had the same idea with Ghosted that I had; we’re all on the same page on what this book could be so their support was really useful.
Nrama: As with any independent venture, every decision is critical, did you feel the tools Skybound has available was the best for this particular book?
Williamson: I’ve done a lot of books for different publishers, but I think this was the right place and the right time. I’ve written a wide variety of titles but I’m a Vertigo guy, those are the kind of books I like, along with Oni, and Dark Horse. I’ve always been a fan of the darker, grittier comics.
Nrama: Looking at this book and even reading some of what you showed me of the book, it definitely achieved that dark, gritty feel. The tone reminds me of Brian Hurtt’s work on Hard Time. You said you were put together with Goran Sudzuka, who we’ve seen recently doing fill-in work on Y: The Last Man and Hellblazer: Lady Constantine
We came up with a happy accident as we were making it; each issue the story gets darker as they get deeper into the house. Goran was experimenting with inks as it was going on, but we didn’t realize (until we took a look back) that each issue was getting grittier and darker in appearance. The brushes were getting rougher, and at one point we get to issue #4 and we noticed this complete progression of Goran’s art that evolved during the story. I’m an Art Director so I get picky, especially when it comes to layouts, but he’s nailed it. I got really lucky with him.
Nrama: What are some of the other characters people might gravitate to?
Williamson: All the people are kind of dark people with dark secrets. Anderson Lake is the muscle, and breaks Winters out of prison. She does Markus’ dirty work. The relationship she has with Winters is very antagonistic, which I love to write. At some point you don’t see affection, but you do see some mutual respect. I’m really curious about what people think about that relationship as the book goes on because it does take sort of a dark turn. It’s already got a dark place at the beginning, so imagine the place these two are going to go when they’re antagonistic to each other.
Oliver King (the cynic) and Edzia Rusnak (the psychic) are always together with Robby Trick (the magician), and are always arguing too. I like Trick, who is all about money. The reason he’s there is because he knows the most about the value of these items in the black market of mystical items. There are rules in the house, but Winters has his set of rules too, for example, never go in the house at night. Of course, Trick is one of the first to break them and we’ll see what happens because of it.
Williamson: We’re in the middle of issue #5 so by the time retailers can order issue #1 we can show retailers all five issues, so there will be no late books or delays. If #1 does well enough, I would love to revisit it to make it ongoing or another mini-series, but for now, my focus has been these five issues and we nail the ending in issue #5. I’m a big believer in symmetry; I love it in storytelling. I really want to make sure it came full circle and you see the character development and arc these characters went through while they’re in this haunted house.
Nrama: When thinking of crime and horror, there’s a rhythm to each of them. For heists there’s the jazzy, bass violin stuff and then there’s the more contemplative scores since it requires so much on the confidence, intelligence and execution of said heist. While horror is all over the place, ranging from sweeping orchestral to hard driving industrial. What was the soundtrack you used while writing this?
Williamson: The music I was listening to when I was working on it is all the scores from Hitchcock movies, then this CD a friend of mine gave me of crime show theme songs, and this is going to sound silly, but I was listening to the score from Haunted Mansion (starring Eddie Murphy) based on all the different Disney rides. They were trying to mesh two different genres together, comedy and horror, and when you listen to the score for that you can tell, because it takes place in New Orleans, so it’s really jazzy (snaps fingers) and then there’s this moody, creepy horror music rolls in. I listened to that A LOT.
Nrama: Since you’re dealing with horror, do you craft the story with the intent of scaring people?
Williamson: Yeah. A lot of comics are not scary. There are either horror comics and then there are scary comics. Now we’re at a weird point where if you’re talking to somebody about seeing a horror movie, you’re expecting to have some frights, some jumps. When you’re talking about a horror comic, you’re more talking about universal monsters. It’s such a different environment, it isn’t meant to scare you. So with GhostedI’m trying to go in that direction of scaring you.
Like I was talking about my favorite movies, like Psycho and The Shining, It’s not about frights, so much as it is the psychological aspect of it. This idea of it will creep with you later. The Exorcist is terrifying for a lot of reasons, but you look back and it’s this invasion of your body. Body modification horror freaks me out. Or something invading your body creeps me out.
Williamson: Human Centipede? F**k that s**t, man. [Laughs] For Ghosted, I was thinking about the psychological aspects of it, little intimate horror moments that you may not even notice at first. I’ll be curious to see if people notice (what is going on) in the background, things that happen that I hoping will stick with the reader later, give them the shakes.
Nrama: The scaring element of horror movies is interesting since so many have become cookie cutter films filled with sound cues. Horror to me has been redefined by Silence of the Lambs and the serial killer has become the vogue monster, that has become its own genre, and within that is the sub-genre of David Fincher movies. Looking back over the past 15 years or so, these remain the modern horror movies that have continue to be the most effective in terrifying us. Why do you think that is?
Williamson: That’s my number six: Silence of the Lambs. I also like serial killers a lot, and you think about them and go, what really bothers you the most about them? It’s not so much that moment of fear, it’s the unseen. The things that scare us the most is the unseen instead of the monster jumping out at you. There are a few of those moments in Ghosted that I hope surprise people too.
Nrama: Is part of the challenge the reading experience of a horror comic? We do our best on the page flip to not spoil the payoff with our peripheral vision. That is one of the few things I enjoy out of the digital comic reading experience is the panel-by-panel progression. You can’t use audio cues either like in the movies.
Williamson: I’m surprised more people aren’t doing digital horror comics because you can do a lot more with digital. I’m doing a book for Monkey Brain Comics and comiXology called Masks and Mobsters and issue #6 was meant to scare you. There’s a sequence with two characters are running away from a mad man. He just wanted to cause chaos, so when they start running, he keeps telling them to run faster. As a reader you had to keep flipping the pages, the two running keep getting smaller and smaller, running into the darkness, while the call to ‘run’ gets louder and louder. It leads to a large panel scare. I wonder if readers caught on and experienced that designed scare, but I’m trying a lot of different things.
Now Masks and Mobsters is definitely me, because I’m influenced by James Robinson’s Starman and Sandman Mystery Theatre but when you consider all of those Vertigo books I liked as a kid along with the Dark Horse books and Oni Press crime books, Ghosted is the most me I’ve ever written and I hope you like it.
Pre-order Ghosted at your local comic shop, scheduled for a July 10, 2013 release date.