Interview: Pope, Buckingham, And Litt Talk Vertigo’s Horror Anthology, ‘Ghosts’

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Out in stores now, Vertigo Comic’s Ghosts #1 contains a batch of incredibly memorable short stories in the Halloween-themed anthology (Review here). First off, the Rowland and Paine Detective Agency, from Neil Gaiman’s Dead Boy Detectives, returns once more in Toby Litt/Mark Buckingham’s “Run Ragged.” In a brand new case, Charles and Edwin, kid gumshoes, are on the search for a missing cat, who just happens to be a ghost. The anthology also includes the Paul Pope/David Lapham’s sci-fi extravaganza, “Treasure Lost.” In their ultimate space heist, pirates aboard the Ghost Ship are planning to steal the riches of the wealthy Steven Clan.

Bloody Disgusting sat down with Paul Pope, Mark Buckingham, and Toby Litt to discuss their entries in “Ghosts” #1 and what it means to create a unique ghost story in sequencial art. Check out the interviews after the break.

Paul Pope spoke with Bloody Disgusting about how his short piece is a heartfelt tribute to Jean Giraud (Moebius), the design of the Ghost Ship, and the themes behind the space opera.

BD: Space is either seen as a fantasy adventure like in Star Wars or as a metaphor for human evolution as in Dune. Tell me about the sci-fi influences behind “Treasure Lost.”

PP: Right after Moebius died, I wanted to do something as an elegy for him. He was a friend and in many ways was a mentor, and his death hit me kind of hard. I wanted to do a very emotional, brutal strip which harkened back to the early days of Metal Hurlant/Heavy Metal, as a way to say goodbye to him. I was also re-visiting Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing, and I really liked the setup for Treasure Island, the relationship between Jim and Long John Silver and all the loss of innocence of that story.

BD: What was it like collaborating on the story with David Lapham?

PP: That was my editor Shelly Bond’s idea. David and I broke into comics at the same time and we’ve never worked together, although we’ve known and admired each other’s work for a long time. I was at the time of pitching this strip, right on the crucial final days of deadline obligations for my big project, Battling Boy. I love working with Shelly. She and I have known each other for about 15 years, so anytime she calls to offer me a spot in one of her books, I naturally want to do it. I was having some trouble stringing together the narrative for Treasure (including a title…”Treasure Lost” is David’s title and we almost went with “The Wreck Of The Ghost Ship).” I had the plot, characters, basic beats together, but I was missing a bit of that “O. Henry” style twist to give this more than just a pretty patina. David came in and added some layers of emotion and motivation to the characters, and he gave the story its arching, almost Medieval narrative tone. He took a look at my initial design ideas and my visual wish list of images – a kingdom of barbarians versus a ship full of space pirates, a mutiny in space, a brother/sister royal kidnapping, an attack ship on fire – and gave these ideas more pinpointed names and logical story follow-through points. It was a very nice, very seamless collaboration, I think.

BD: The clothing of the Steven Clan is more elegant and fanciful. The pirates are more brutish and barbaric. Why these looks for the characters?

PP: A lot of those early Heavy Metal strips had fantasy and sci-fi elements, and in keeping with my mission of doing a sort of comic you’d find in HM/MH back in the late ’70s, I went for a mash of high technology and archaic cultures. I really love Continental sci-fi/fantasy strips, where there is little regard for costume budget or even machine practicality. It’s all just pure fantasy.

BD: The ghost ship has a skull on its surface. The other flying spaceships are more triangular-shaped. What was the inspiration behind the designs of the spaceships.

PP: I liked the visual contrast of the large, curving, whale-like shape of the Ghost Ship contrasting with the more geometric forms of the smaller royal attack ships. It’s fun to try to come up with new designs for space vehicles and I liked the contrast of scale between the two sides in the space battle. The idea of a huge pirate ship falling into orbit while burning up seemed really operatic to me, and good for a story of the fall of a royal house. And as for the ghost element, there have always been legends of ghost ships, such as the Jolly Roger or the Flying Dutchman. I wanted to throw that in the mix, knowing the story would be an odd addition to a book with the basic theme of “ghosts” as the central core.

BD: Tell me more about the themes and about the bonds between father/son and brother/sister.
PP: The idea is the fall of a great family and a mistaken sense of betrayal, a realization of loyalty and honor, a sort of subtle sense of fatalism. David really brought out the contrast between the Prince’s relationship with his true father, the King, a hard and remote man, and the Pirate Captain, who is warmer and really takes the young Prince on as a surrogate son. It sets up the tragedy. I hope people really like this strip. It ought to appeal especially to fans of ’70/’80s French comics.

Writer Toby Litt and artist Mark Buckingham discussed with Bloody Disgusting about their collaboration on “Run Ragged,” the cartoony look behind “Twinkle’s Tale,” and how Pink Floyd’s The Wall played an influence on the look of the story.

BD: Because Edwin and Charles were previously drawn by Matt Wagner, Malcolm Jones II, and Jill Thompson, do you look at these previous works for reference or do you start from scratch?

MB:I like to remind myself of the previous interpretations of any characters I am asked to draw, but I always try to find a way to bring something fresh to them. I am a fan of the work of all three of those artists, but I knew this would look different, especially as I knew the combination of my layouts and Victor’s finishes would be quite distinctive. What helped most in the end was that Victor was so enthusiastic about the project that he went away and drew several character sketches that were absolutely perfect, so I based my layout versions of Edwin and Charles on those.

BD: Tell me about collaborating with Toby Litt and Victor Santos.
MB: Toby is a very talented novelist, and I feel very fortunate to be able to work with him on some of his first comic book stories. Victor is a dear old friend and a favorite artist of mine. I have been looking for an opportunity to work with him for a while and knew he would be a perfect fit for this project.

BD: “Twinkle’s Tale” looks and feels like a warped version of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Tell me about the cartoonish feel of this scene, which stands out from the rest of the tale.

MB: Toby had described this in a way that evoked a very different feel from the main story, and this felt like a perfect opportunity to play with a very cartoony style.

BD: You use 6 panel layout, which are reminiscent from the old newsprint/pulp style comics of the ’60s.

MB: At first I was a little uncertain as to how to pace the story, but the more I read the script, the more I was reminded of the British weekly anthology comics I used to read as a child, like, Buster, Whizzer & Chips, Topper, The Beano etc. I saw the main story as being like one of the adventure strips and “Twinkle’s Tale” as reminiscent of the humor strips. They often followed a format with four tiers of panels, which fitted perfectly with the pace of Toby’s script. Finding the right panel structure for a strip is really important for me. I like to have confidence in the frame work I hang the strip upon.

BD: Before Edwin and Charles are kidnapped, they are casually walking across the streets of London. At the climax, the look of the classroom feels like a reminder of the Pink Floyd music video, “Another Brick In The Wall.” Tell me about the references, the inspiration behind the clubhouse, the street lamps, and the classroom.

MB: The clubhouse was based on designs drawn originally by Bryan Talbot in the Dead Boy Detectives last appearance. I am a fan of Pink Floyd, so there is a little of their influence here, but the Teacher’s appearance and the environment are all definitely my own, based on the description in Toby’s script, and my research of Victorian Schools and teacher’s costumes. I also extensively researched The Isle of Dogs and other elements such as the lamp post to find an appropriate look and feel for the strip. As Victor lives in Spain, I thought it was important to research thoroughly as I knew we would both benefit from having lots of images to refer to. I tried to give the teacher an almost insect-like quality. And I loved Toby’s description of his eyes and teeth looking like fat grubs or boiled eggs. Really revolting, but a great image for a scary ghost! I had a lot of fun with that. In fact the whole strip was wonderful to draw and I can’t wait to do more.

BD: Tell me about your interest with Neil Gaiman’s Dead Boy Detectives.

TL: Well, Neil Gaiman’s a great writer, for a start. That’s pretty obvious. And he comes up with amazing characters all the time. I’ve written about boys that age before, in a very dark novel called Deadkidsongs. I think Shelly Bond, my editor at Vertigo, thought I’d be good for taking on the Dead Boy Detectives. Partly, I think, because I’m English and went to a public (private) school.

BD: What was it like collaborating with artist Mark Buckingham on the story?

TL: He’s someone I was very excited to work with. I think Fables is one of the most amazingly drawn comics, just sumptuous. The collaboration was easy. There was a little back and forth over details. But, essentially, I wrote down some words and he somehow drew the pictures I’d had in my head. As this is the first time I’ve written for comics, I found that slightly unnervingly psychic. For example, I didn’t describe the extremely scary Victorian teacher as looking a bit like the extremely scary teacher from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but Mark somehow knew to make him that way.

BD: “Twinkle’s Tale” has such a cartoony feel. Tell me how you approached this scene with Mark Buckingham and Victor Santos.

TL: It was in the script. I think I asked for something that looked a little like the AristoCats. It was meant to work as an extreme contrast – super-cute style, violent content. But there’s a reason for it, too – that bit of the story is being narrated by a little girl, so it needs to be different visually. This is what I’ve learned.

BD: Rowland and Paine Detective Agency feels inspired by the adventures of The Hardy Boys and
Scooby-Doo. What was the inspirations behind “Run Ragged”?

TL: Well, firstly Neil Gaiman’s original Dead Boys Detectives story from The Sandman. Then the Ed Brubaker/Bryan Talbot/Steve Leiahoha’s standalone, The Secret of Immortality. I wanted to carry on what they’d started, and develop the relationship between the boy a bit further. Edwin’s getting less and less patient with Charles’s falling for dead girls. But, apart from this, I was thinking of gruesome school experiences, both my own and those in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times. The Ragged Schools did exist, and they were pretty extreme places – where all the Victorian street kids were gathered and had Christian knowledge forced upon them, in return for a bit of food and warmth.

BD: Though Edwin and Charles are just kids, they are dealing with mature themes, such as first
crushes, kidnappings, and school bullying. How did you approach telling these mature themes with
two children as the lead protagonists?

TL: Edwin and Charles have already been to some pretty dark places. I think the fact that they’re ghosts gives them an interesting insider/outsider status. Sometimes they can watch things, without being involved. But they also find themselves being drawn in where, perhaps, it’s not that safe for them. Above all, they’re very loyal to one another. And they get into the most danger when this loyalty is recognized and exploited. If I get the chance, I’d really like to take them on some further adventures into this kind of territory. Being bullied is something I think a lot of people can relate to.