With all its modern amenities and towering skyscrapers, it's easy to forget that New York City has a long and difficult history.
But the ghosts who walk its streets and haunt its darkest corners don't forget.
Haunted City, a new comic that explores the Big Apple as the "world's biggest haunted house," is the first comic to emerge from the recently announced partnership between film director McG's production company and Aspen Comics. The story follows a struggling cop who is recruited into a secret police unit that deals with New York's mythical threats.
Co-written by screenwriter Chap Taylor and Supernatural producer Peter Johnson, the Haunted City comic is just the first step in the concept's planned life, as McG hopes to utilize it as a "transmedia" property. The director's production company, Wonderland Sound and Vision, is also developing Haunted City as a feature film script that McG is slated to direct.
The transmedia approach has been somewhat controversial among comic fans in the past, because die-hard readers prefer the comic is the main focus before it's developed elsewhere. But in the modern world of multimedia, endeavors like the Aspen-Wonderland partnership are becoming more common in the world of comics.
While Taylor first came up with the Haunted City concept, Johnson is helping to write the comic after having experience on WildStorm tie-in comics like Supernatural and Chuck. The series kicked off with a #0 issue at Comic-Con International in San Diego, then releases its #1 issue next month.
Newsarama talked with Taylor and Johnson to find out more about the comic's premise, and asked why this idea makes sense not only as a comic, but in more than one medium.
Newsarama: When you first came up with idea for this story, how did it turn into a comic book? And why does the world of comics make sense for what you're portraying in the series as you also develop it for film?
Chap Taylor: We included a short essay in the back of the #0 issue that lays out the chronology of Haunted City's development. I first envisioned it as a television pilot. Throughout that process, as I went from network to network pitching my idea, it kept getting bigger. Not just bigger in the sense of being a major production, but bigger in conception, bigger in the themes I wanted to address and the stories I wanted to tell.
After the original pilot script didn't sell, I stepped back and really started thinking about Haunted City as an entire universe of stories. Comics seemed like the perfect way to start building a foundation for that universe because they're such a unique medium. You can create images in a comic that would literally cost a billion dollars to execute in a motion picture, but you can also create characters that have the complexity and depth of a novel.
Nrama: Where did the idea behind Haunted City first come from? And how did it evolve?
Taylor: Years ago, I was interested in doing a film about the New York Police Department's Cold Case Squad. I had this image in my head of a group of misfits in the basement of some gothic municipal building, surrounded by mountains of cardboard boxes that contained all of the unsolved crimes of New York City.Over the years, as the idea developed, I realized that what really appealed to me was the sense that New York was haunted by the history of the people who had passed through, the millions of human beings who left behind the psychic residue of their loves, their hates, their acts of charity and their sins. Once I understood that, I just decided to tell the story as if it were literally true — that New York City wasn't just haunted by the spirits of its past inhabitants, but that it was haunted by spirits, period. if you had to sum Haunted City up in one sentence, it would be, "New York City is the biggest haunted house in the world."
Nrama: Peter, how much did your experience with Supernatural inform the development of Haunted City?
Peter Johnson: Spending the last seven years producing Supernatural has been kind of an incredible research trip into the rich and deep world of American mythology, urban legends, and scary folklore. On the show, we draw from these real tales that exist, whether told around campfires or passed along through Route-66 America, but we bring them into our contemporary world and hopefully add something new to them.
Chap wanted to do the same thing in Haunted City. So it made the marriage of his approach to storytelling in this universe and my experience with Supernatural and in comics incredibly easy. We see the world of this series exactly the same way.
Nrama: Is the tone similar to Supernatural?
Johnson: The tone is different in Haunted City. Most obviously, it's urban, compared to the Route 66 roots of Supernatural. Supernatural started off as this great American road trip through the dusty backroads of faded Americana, complete with an old-school muscle car and crunchy hard rock on the stereo. Haunted City has more of an urban, big city grittiness and also weaves a modern crime story into it. I know Chap just said this before, but the tone of it derives from the central concept of treating the world's greatest city as the biggest haunted house in the world.
Nrama: How is the reader introduced to this secret police unit that deals with these mythical threats?
Taylor: We're introduced to the story through the eyes of our protagonist, NYPD detective Tom Whalen. As the story opens, he's in bad shape: corrupt, strung out on drugs and alcohol, with his criminal enemies and internal affairs closing in.
When he has an attack of conscience and tries to back out of a drug deal, he gets shot. He wakes up in Bellevue Hospital with a mysterious cop by his bed who offers him a job in a unit he's never heard of, fighting monsters he doesn't believe exist. Tom becomes the audience's proxy, learning about the mythology of New York and this secret unit that fights to keep the city safe. Hopefully, as Tom is immersed in this hidden universe that co-exists with the modern, secular city, the audience will take the ride with him.
Nrama: Who are some of characters we'll meet, and what are they like?
Taylor: Peter Hopkins is the team leader, a direct descendent of New York's original "Witchfinder General." He's deeply religious in a very black or white, fire-and-brimstone kind of way.
Tom Whalen is obviously a deeply flawed character, struggling to redeem himself.The female lead is Catherine Gray. She's a nun, a member of a secret order in the Catholic Church called the Order of St. Michael. She's a warrior with a passionate hatred for evil, but we also learn that her mother was just as passionate in her beliefs — she was an IRA fighter in Belfast — and that those beliefs were manipulated by a member of the British Secret Service, ultimately driving Catherine's mother to suicide. Co Catherine secretly hopes that people who have committed terrible sins can be forgiven. She falls somewhere between Peter and Tom on the moral scale.
Nrama: How much historical fact about New York City is mixed in with the fictional stories you're telling?
Taylor: New York is a mythical place in real life. As much as possible, we want to make use of real locations, real stories, real historical personalities. Part of the fun of these kinds of stories is taking a historic event and telling people a different version, implying that history is shaped by hidden forces. In the #0 issue, we reference the fact that the Son of Sam claimed he was driven to kill by a demon. In real life, no one believed him. In the Haunted City universe, maybe he was telling truth.
Nrama: What are your thoughts about developing an idea for multiple media outlets at the same time as its publication as a comic, and why does it make sense for this type of project?
Taylor: Haunted City draws on the combined mythology of humanity. We have an almost unlimited variety of stories to tell. By developing the Haunted City universe across a number of different mediums, we give ourselves the flexibility to match each story with the best possible platform. Some stories have an epic quality and are best served by telling them as a feature film. Some stories have an episodic quality that might work best as a television series. And some stories are darker, or more intimate, and would best be served as a graphic novel or a limited series of webisodes. Our goal is always to choose the medium that best serves the interests of the story and provides the most entertainment for the fans.
Nrama: How are you working with McG's Wonderland Sound and Vision to develop the property along with Aspen as publisher? And what's the relationship between the two entities?
Taylor: Peter Johnson is McG's partner. He runs the day-to-day operations of Wonderland. He was also very close with Michael Turner, who founded Aspen. When I pitched the idea to Peter, he and McG were already talking about starting their own comic imprint. Given peter's relationship with Michael, and with Frank Mastromauro and Peter Steigerwald who started Aspen with Michael, it was the obvious place to go. Even if Peter hadn't had a pre-existing relationship with Aspen, it would have been at the top of our list anyway. Aspen has a reputation for great art and for artistic integrity. They're one of the most respected independent publishers in comics. We feel lucky that they're publishing the Haunted City comic.
Nrama: What's the experience been like working with Michael Ryan on the concept art and the comic's interiors?
Taylor: Michael Ryan is stone-cold brilliant. From the beginning, we were all on the same page when it came to the tone and visual style. We couldn't be happier with both the art and the working experience.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell potential readers about Haunted City?
Taylor: They should just know that everyone involved — McG, Peter, myself,Michael Ryan, everyone at Aspen — we all brought our "A" game. There's a lot of comics out there, competing for readers' entertainment dollars. We know times are difficult. Our promise to them is that every time they pick up a Haunted City comic, or buy a ticket to a Haunted City feature, we'll take them away from the challenges and concerns of their daily lives and — for a little while at least — take them someplace they haven't been before to hear a story that will move and entertain them.
We appreciate the support of every single person who buys a Haunted City comic. We promise them the best entertainment we can provide.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!