[Interview] Joshua Williamson Talks Horror in “Ghosted”

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Joshua Williamson has worked for a variety of publishers over the last few years giving us fast talking fun adventures in a multitude of genres. However, earlier this year he released a creator owned series “Ghosted” through Image Shadowline with artist Goran Sudzuka.

“Ghosted” is an impressive blend of the horror and crime genres and has been selling out with each successive issue. The first arc is releasing as a trade this Wednesday December 4th.

To celebrate Williamson sat down with Bloody-disgusting to talk about the series, his love for horror, and the future of the book.

Bloody-Disgusting: How did you come with the pitch for “Ghosted.” Whenever you walked into Image how did you present it to them?

Joshua Williamson: Well, This book is through Skybound (Robert) Kirkman’s company so it’s a little different.

Kirkman and I share managers, and I pitched them the idea on doing a crime horror comic. At first they seemed a bit leery about it, but I sent them the pitch anyone. Originally it was called “Ghost Thief,” and was a simple one page pitch with no art. Very much focused on the concept and the fact that it would be easy to explain to people The next day they called and said what do you think about doing it at Skybound? With Kirkman. That sounded great to me, I was a big fan of the Walking Dead, so I said yes. It was that simple. I hear crazy stories about all these pitches and mine’s like well… I sent it in and they liked it, and that was it! I have another horror comics that actually with Image Central in 2014, that was pretty much the same way. I made a pitch and sent it in.

Ghosted was green light right before New York Comic Con 2011, and we knew we wanted Goran (Sudzuka) as the artist, but it just hadn’t been nailed down yet. I met Goran and we just kind of sat out in front of the con and talked about the book. Goran smoked while I rambled. We weren’t really sure if he was going to draw it or not, but after Goran and I talked we knew we both wanted to do the same kind of book. Something edgy and dark… something with bite.

Because of scheduling reasons, Skybound told me I had to turn the first script in on Halloween 2011. This is at NYCC so that was like two weeks away, but I did it. But that book was already so in my head. I had written it a million times in my head at that point. I was able to put it down. Don’t get me wrong there were editorial changes, but issue one was what had been in my head for months.

BD: Was the distinctive appearance of the ghosts in “Ghosted” from your influence or from Goran?

JW: It was Goran, I kind of explained that I wanted them to look like living shadows which was really the only note I ever gave about it. Living shadows and being creepy. That was really it. Goran cut loose. I was getting the pages in order, almost like a reader turning the pages, and the first time I ever saw the ghosts was the first time the reader sees them on the last page of issue one.

Goran does his layouts they look like little cartoon strips. Like the beginning of issue four with those little stick figures. That’s what the layouts are like. They have more shape to them, but the facial expressions are really cartoony. Their eyes are really big, it’s really funny. I remember getting the layouts to the first issue and approving them pretty quickly because they were dead on what I was thinking. But yeah, I got to that last page with the ghosts and thought “oh crap, this is awesome.” I was really happy with it. I actually own that last page.

BD: Why should people pick up the first trade of “Ghosted?”

JW: If you want a crime and horror book then I hope that “Ghosted” would be your first choice. That’s a tough question. There are a lot of awesome comics out there. Image right now represents quality in our industry. Here is a bit of a low down:

“Ghosted” is Oceans Eleven set in a haunted mansion instead of a casino. It’s about a man, Jackson Winters, who is broken out of prison. Jackson is this genius mastermind heist who is in prison for about ten years after he tried to steal from a casino and the score went really south. He gets broken out by this woman, Anderson Lake, who takes him to a man named Markus Schrecken.

Markus wants Jackson to steal a ghost, and if he does Markus will give Jackson enough money so he can be left alone. Jackson’s whole thing is he wants to be left alone. He’s hoping this last gig will give him the opportunity to be removed from the horrors he has experienced in life. After Jackson takes the gig, Markus has these special experts that he wants Jackson to take, but Jackson has his own team: a magician, a medium, some ghost hunters, and a skeptic. That will help him steal from this haunted house.

The house, the Trask Mansion, is one that has been around for a long time. The families that have lived there have been corrupted and murderous. Like the Charles Manson family, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family and the Firefly family from House of 1000 Corpses, this crazy family that lives in this gigantic old mansion. Jackson calls them “A bunch of bored, old, white people” in the first issue. But now it’s just this abandoned well known haunted house.

Jackson and his team try to steal a ghost and of course a bunch of bad stuff happens. Over the course of the first arc you start to realize that none of these people, Jackson’s team, are good people. Hell…Jackson is not a good person. He is a lot about survival, and looking out for himself. After the horrors of his past, Jackson has accepted death, and believes death will set him free. He goes from one prison to another with the haunted house. But he is stuck with this team of people who only care about themselves and the score. It escalates until the house strikes.

But back to your original question… There are lots of horror elements thrown in there, a lot of crime. It’s a fun comic with some good one-liners, and lots of blood.

BD: I found it interesting you mentioned the team was comprised of bad people but while I was reading it I found Trick to easily the most morally disgusting.

JW: Oh! I’m glad you say that! He get’s worse.

(SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TRADE FROM HERE ON OUT)

BD: When you’re reading through it a second time you see that Trick is set up for his ultimate fate early in the arc.

JW: There’s a reason Trick’s the one that get’s possessed. It’s beyond just him stealing. Two people get possessed in that book. Anderson and Trick. You see both of them commit crimes. You see Trick steal from the house and he lies. Anderson kills the cop. There is a reason that they were the ones who were able to get possessed and other people weren’t.

But yeah, Trick gets worse. In the second arc that we’re working on now that’ll start in January, Trick is in it. In issue 7 there is a scene where Jackson and Trick are talking about this haunted temple in the jungle. It’s a horrible, horrible place. Trick is explaining what this place is. Y’know what? I’ll read you the dialogue:

TRICK: Would you two give it a rest already? We need to focus on the Brotherhood of the Closed Book’s compound.

TRICK: Places like this… bad people go there to get their rocks off. Sex, bondage, guns, torture, girls, boys…

TRICK: And the DRUGS! Snort it, shoot it, swallow it, etcetera, etcetera.

TRICK: You name it, they got it.

JACKSON: And you know this from personal experience?

TRICK: What? I’m a dirty old pervert. Are YOU Surprised?

So Trick is a horrible little man.

BD: He’s so entertaining to watch. When you’re among all these despicable people, when one is even worse than the rest its so much fun to watch them go.

JW: Trick is so twisted… in a way. Originally his last name was going to be Twist, but I changed it. Trick worked better with the magician aspect. Trick does in some ways have a moral compass. He is horrible, but only because he has all this experience with the dark side of the world. In issue four Trick is talking to skeptic Oliver King and he tells him an exorcism isn’t pretty. Because he has seen one. He knows how bad it can get from personal experience, and tries to warn them.

Trick is an awful person, because he’s seen a lot of horrible things. But that doesn’t mean he wants others to share his twisted outlook on life.

BD: Is anyone else coming back from the first arc? And if so will they be more than small cameos?

JW: For sure. The second arc is Jackson and Trick together. At the end of the first arc Jackson was given Shrecken’s island. When we get back to Jackson at the beginning of the second arc, Jackson has been living on the island and Trick is crashing on his couch, basically just drinking all the time. But then they get dragged back into the horror/criminal underworld by people from Jackson’s past.

The cover to Issue 7 cover is out there on the internet so hopefully I’m not spoiling anything. Anderson is coming back. She’s haunting Jackson. She feels like what happened to her in issue five was a raw deal. She’s really pissed off about that and wants Jackson to suffer. But only on her terms. For a bit we’re going to see her ghost reluctantly help Jackson out, but not all the time.

Rusnick and King won’t be back until the third arc. King was originally going to be in issue six, but we decided the scene wasn’t needed yet. It was a hint of something to come later, but we already had too many of those.

The first arc was about establishing this cast of Jackson, King, Trick, Rusnak, and Anderson, The Ghost Trapper brothers, and even Markus. The plan is to play with it down the line, and bring things back. Every horrible thing that happened in that haunted house will impact everything else. For example… The brother’s dad used to work with Jackson. Eventually that guy is going to ask, “What happened to my sons?” All these things will come back into play. Jackson being a free man isn’t going to last. That’s just not how he is. That isn’t his luck.

The house being destroyed and the ghosts being taken from the house isn’t something that should happen. A house with that much evil energy inside can’t jus be destroyed.

There is a clue in issue one that no one has ever picked up that is a major part of the story. I have an endgame in mind, and when it happens people can go back and say, “oh man! It was right there all along.”

BD: Those are the best types of stories.

JW: Yeah, I agree. I like Vertigo stuff a lot. I think if you look at “Preacher” and “100 Bullets” there are all these little clues early on about what is going on.

If you read “Preacher” you can tell from the very beginning that Cassidy was a bad person and that Jesse shouldn’t have picked him as his best friend. As a reader you may not see it, but Tulip totally realizes it from the very beginning. That’s why that scene where Cassidy jumps in the car and she’s like “shit.”

“Preacher” is on my mind a lot when I’m writing “Ghosted.” Issue 8 is basically a “Preacher” issue. Gross and kinda weird things. Jackson keeps realizing this crime/horror world is bigger than he thought. It’s a horror book from an organized crime perspective. That best describes the next arc. Like the “Exorcist” and “Taken” mashed together.

BD: From the onset of the first arc it seemed that the blend of crime and horror was going to be reserved for the first story. It’s nice to see those two elements will continue to be at play throughout the rest of the series.

JW: That’s the fun part about it. You take these criminals and dump them into a horror setting. I’m a fan of stories that take people out of their normal world and dump them into horror setting. Like “The Shining” and “Psycho.” Which are simple stories but are also classic horror stories. Marion Crane walks into a horrible situation, her “private trap.”

You look at “The Shining,” “Jaws,” and “Die Hard.” Those are stories of people in horrible situations, which is what I’m doing with Jackson. He’s a haunted criminal both by his past and now by Anderson. He keeps getting pulled into horror and criminal acts. Everything keeps looping in on itself.

The second arc is pretty crazy. Like “Taken” but with a horror twists. Girls are getting kidnapped and the owners of that original casino pursue Jackson and as him to go after the guys who took her. Why they want Jackson is part of the mystery of the series. But again, like I said before. It’s Taken and the Exorcist.

Let me ask you a question. What do you think happened on Jackson’s last job at the casino?

BD: Well with everyone dying something obviously supernatural happened, but I don’t know.

JW: I don’t want to tell you now.

Well basically, the whole team got possessed. But Jackson was the only person who didn’t get possessed and he killed his own team. In issue five there’s this page with all the bodies around him and he’s holding a knife. We made that ambiguous in a way. He killed them all because they were all attacking him.

If you take all the flashbacks and look at them in order you’ll see that they were attacking him. He ended up slaughtering his entire team. That’s why he went to jail for so long. But more importantly that is why is so grim and haunted as a person.

BD: The juxtaposition on that page is fantastic. In the flashback he looks so young and innocent, and the next panel he’s brooding in the darkness. It’s crazy how much that must have changed him.

JW: It fucked him up. You’ll see young Jackson in issue 7, 8, and 9. You’ll see a much nicer Jackson. He had more faith in people. The next couple of issues will flesh out that story in the casino. Showing you why he’s so fucked up.

Imagine George Clooney at the end of “Oceans Eleven” just killed his whole team and did it because they were attacking him. Not because he wanted the money, but because they were trying to kill him. That’s why Jackson wants to be left alone. He’s ready for death and Trick won’t leave him alone.

BD: I wanted to go back for a moment. You mentioned issue 8 was a “Preacher” issue but that series goes into some real dark shit. Is there a limit when writing horror? Or do you have a place where you go, Okay I’ve gone too far?

JW: There is a limit. I like the “Saw” movies, but for me personally rape and murdering children is where I draw the line. I actually like the first “Hostel” movie, and I actually like the second one a little bit more, so I’m okay with a lot of horror, but yeah, I have a few limits.

But with horror in comics, the best is when you don’t completely see it. It’s no different than movie. Just replace the horror in the darkness with the horror off panel. Where you don’t have to see it. It shouldn’t just be a chainsaw in the face. Do something cool with it. In “Psycho” there’s that scene where Mother comes around the corner and slashes Arbogast’s face. You never see the knife and you just see the slashes on his face. Never the killer. I love that.

Gore doesn’t bother me; I just wish it were clever.

In this new horror comic for Image coming out in 2014 the artist and I have talked about the horror stuff in it. There are some things that are a little bloody but we try to be clever with it. This new one is a little bit bloodier than “Ghosted” and less funny but we try to be clever with it. Play around with horror tropes using the comic’s medium, and create something different.

BD: You’ve mentioned a ton of horror movies but are there any that particularly inspired “Ghosted?”

JW: “House on Haunted Hill” obviously. “The Shining” is another. It’s so strange… sometimes I watch a horror movie and walk away from it not thinking of the story but the shots of it. There are times when Dario Argento will come into my work because his stuff is so… beautiful.

A few weeks ago I watched “Deep Red” at a theater with the Goblin soundtrack turned up really loud. I was watching it going “I’m going to steal that shot” and “I’m going to steal that.”

“House” and “House 2” are so batshit crazy, but those sneak in there. I love John Carpenter. I think a lot about him when I’m writing. I’ve watched this documentary that the bio channel put together of “Halloween” about three years ago with recent interviews with Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis and it’s great. I think I’ve watched that documentary more than the actual movie at this point. I love them talking about the movie and the process of the shots. Learning why they did what they did. Talking about the script and the acting. I don’t know how “Halloween” fits in there but it does.

I’m really influenced by comics “Preacher” and a lot of Brubaker. “Locke and Key” there are little bits of that in there.

I take in a lot in. I study pacing and what people do and how they do it. Like Rick Remender on “Fear Agent” and “Uncanny X-Force.” I’ll sit there and look at all the panels, and count the panels, and figure out how they paced it. There has to be ebb and flow to comics. “Ghosted” is the culmination of all that studying.

BD: Seems like you have “Ghosted” thoroughly planned out. Do you know where your endgame is in terms of issue numbers?

JW: Uhh yes and no. I know how to do the last story. I drop clues every so often. I get worried about dropping too many clues too quickly. It’s going to be interesting. I’m curious about what it’ll be in the end if I get to drag Jackson through all the hell I want to. How many issues it takes… that all depends. I don’t want to rush, but I also don’t want to drag it out.

BD: Is there any redemption for Jackson?

JW: That’s tough. I’m going to say yes. Jackson is a guy who has accepted his death. In that acceptance he’s actually saying he wants to give up. He doesn’t think he can be a better person. Jackson recognizes that he is the bad he wants to see in the world. He believes he is a reflection of the world around him.

Over time he’s going to start wanting to live again. Everything bad in his life is kind of his fault. He solves problems by making bigger problems. He buries it. He’s the type of person who pays credit cards with credit cards. But he eventually will get out that cycle. He’ll eventually have redemption, but it will come at a really great cost.


BD: Are we ever going to see flashbacks to the Trask Mansion? And what about the secret room Trick found?

JW: You will see the mansion again very soon. The mansion gets destroyed but buildings can have ghosts. It’ll come back pretty quickly then it’ll be pushed into the background for a little bit. You can’t destroy something that evil, it’s impossible.

The room Trick found is a gateway to a hell dimension. It was supposed to come back every issue but I ran out of room. It’s an important part of the overall story. That room is EVIL. That’s the room where Markus killed the woman in red. That’s where the curse on the house started. Gradually we’ll get back to that room. I don’t want to reveal it until I need it.Originally the series was a mini. I went to L.A. I spent two days at Skybound. I pitched them how I could make it an ongoing. I walked home and plotted issue six in my head. I wrote it really quickly and turned it in and everyone was like “holy shit this is great!” Issue six begins and ends with the supernatural but is all crime in the middle. I’m super proud of it.

BD: I was worried after the first arc that we were going to lose the balance of crime and horror, but from the sounds of things you’ve got it all planned out.

JW: It’s a delicate balance. Sometimes I write an entire crime issue and it doesn’t work. So I have to go back and rewrite it. I knew this was the type of book I wanted to write for a long time but for whatever reason I didn’t take the plunge. I’m trying to keep that balance every time.

BD: The dialogue make the crime elements pop. The line where Jackson mentions taking ALL if the ghosts cemented the crime elements.

JW: That’s the hardest part. Its funny you mention it. That was the line that made everyone at Skybound go “Holy shit!” It’s actually a joke I used to make a long time ago. That used to by my answer for things “rob a bank you don’t take the hundreds… you take everything.” When it came time for that moment, I thought he wouldn’t take one ghost; he’d take all of them. A line I had been saying for years as a joke ended up being put in the book. Ghosted is so easy to write: Jackson says something funny and there are ghosts. That’s one the rules we have, we’re sticking to ghosts. There will be other things, I will cheat a little bit, but there will always be ghosts.

BD: Thanks for taking time to talk to us. It’s been a real pleasure. “Ghosted” is an absolute joy to read. We’re looking forward to what the future brings for the book!

JW: Thanks man. It’s good to talk to someone else who likes horror. I don’t talk enough with people who are horror fans and get that aspect of it. I’ve noticed those who are horror fans seem to enjoy it the most.

Ghosted has been a game changer for me and I hope I get to write it for a very long time.

The trade comes out on December 4th and issue six comes out in January.

 
  • ShadowJayd

    He was pretty damn forthcoming, eh? Awesome interview.

    • Jimbus_Christ

      He shared so much! Looking like he’ll be back to speak about each trade as they come.