5 GHOSTS is a new genre-splicing series premiering with Image Comics on March 20th, 2013 from writer Frank Barbiere (recently of THE WHITE SUITS series in Dark Horse Presents) and artist Chris Mooneyham (ANATHEMA). Frank and Chris produced the first issue of 5 GHOSTS independently and distributed the issue in a limited edition at New York Comic Con 2012 in the hopes of generating buzz for the concept and the artwork. Their strategy not only led them to sell out of issues at NYCC, but also to achieve their ultimate goal: to have the comic picked up by a publisher. There’s plenty of debate out there over what the best strategies are for developing a comic concept and getting a publisher interested, but one thing many editors have admitted on public panels this past year is that having at least a few pages of the comic drawn when you pitch a comic to an editor is highly desirable. It’s a way to “show” rather than simply “tell” a publisher what your work is all about, and for Frank and Chris, producing an entire first issue of a quality product really paid off.
What’s immediately apparent looking at 5 GHOSTS is the degree of talent and professionalism Barbiere and Mooneyham bring to their project. From Barbiere’s lucid storytelling handling the complex and mysterious character Fabian Gray, a treasure-hunter with an unusual “condition” of possession by 5 “literary” ghosts (The Wizard, Archer, Detective, Samurai, and Vampire) to his densely-packed exposition of the globe-spanning plot (Germany, Spain, England, Africa, to name a few locales), it’s clear his high-octane imagination can spin a yarn to keep readers enthralled. Mooneyham doesn’t seem to bat an eye-lid keeping up with this weird tale adventure story, and his elegant penciling and inking bring out the latent pulp influences in the work.
Mooneyham proves he’s equally adept in making the reader believe in “magic” during Fabian’s possession scenes and also in handling compression in layouts to keep action scenes punchy and memorable. Mooneyham’s choice of color schemes is also a major contributing factor in creating the mood of the story, jumping between combinations that express the dominance of key “ghosts” in Fabian’s activities. What’s surprising about 5 GHOSTS is that the complexity of the story and artwork never feels heavy or slowed down by its intricate constituent elements. Both Barbiere and Mooneyham seem to have an uncanny instinct for being succinct in all the right ways to craft great storytelling. Barbiere and Mooneyham were gracious enough to provide a preview of the first six pages of 5 GHOSTS for The Beat, and also to give us a peek into the inner workings of the new series via interview.
Without further ado, welcome to the preview of 5 GHOSTS! Scroll down for what Barbiere and Mooneyham have to say about their work on this ambitious series.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Frank, I know that 5 GHOSTS was put together as a creator-owned single initially. What kind of steps did the comic go through from concept, to finished product, to the Image version that’s coming up?
Frank Barbiere: We were planning to do the book as a series, albeit a self-published one, from the get go, so not too much has changed. Like most independent comics projects, we started with a pitch–a six-page preview of the story–but for this project it literally is the first six pages you see in the finished book. I always make sure to write full scripts even when pitching as it helps me have a better idea of the story world/arc of the plot/scope of the material, so it we definitely had a lot of what I refer to as “the macro structure” in place. There were a few things we were on a tight deadline for for NYCC, so we’ve made tiny little tweaks for the finished issue, but issue one is pretty much what we debuted back in October.
HM-S: How did you even come up with such a multi-faceted idea for a comic story?
FB: The story really came out of a lot of influences just coming together at the right time. I’ve longed to do a book that deals with story and mythology, but I could never quite find the right hook. When I started conceiving what would be “Five Ghosts,” I was thinking about a character of a thief and what could make him compelling. While mulling it over I literally thought “what if he has sherlock holmes-esque ‘powers’?” which then grew into him being able to channel the “spirit” of the detective. Then my brain kept turning and figured why stop there? Once I had the “literary” angle, things just fell in to place and the story just grew organically.
HM-S: What did you most enjoy about developing this concept?
FB: Being able to incorporate literary and pulp elements has been a real blessing. We have such a large pool to draw from, including things like horror (which I didn’t even think would make it in) that the inspiration keeps pouring in. Without speaking too far ahead, we’ve already planned stories past the first mini. I’m thrilled that we’ve managed to grow an entire universe out of the concept and have an intriguing macro plot. As a writer, that stuff is very hard to “force,” so it’s great to have it occur naturally.
Also, as I already mentioning, being able to work in a lot of literary and mythological elements is a real treat as a lover of story. I think a lot of these things resonate with a wide reader base, and hopefully some folks outside of comics, and it’s certainly something I’m very passionate about. Ideas like “Where does story come from?” and the collective unconscious really intrigue me, so I’m excited to get them into the book. We are very careful to not come off as “pretentious” or too “heady”–I say that the story wears the literary on its sleeve rather than trying to be “high art.”
HM-S: Chris, can you tell me what kind of information did you work with to develop your initial character sketches and designs? How did they change over time?
Chris Mooneyham: Well, Frank called me one day and said, “Dude, I just had an idea…” and I was like, “Bro, don’t even tell me, because I already know.” Then we did a freeze frame high five in mid-air.
We talked about the concept really only a couple of times before I started doing preliminary sketches. I do remember him coming over one night to discuss the idea, and while he was talking about it, I was just sketching. I think we had a pretty good idea of what we were going for from the beginning. Of course, over time, this “character” you keep drawing keeps getting streamlined. To tell you the truth, I’d say the characters are still evolving from their base concept.
HM-S: What were the biggest challenges you faced in visually creating the whole strange world of 5 GHOSTS?
CM: I would say keeping the scenes where Fabian is channeling the ghosts’ abilities interesting is the hardest thing for me. I mean, in the first 5 pages of the first issue, we see each ghost mimic Fabian’s poses, but that was more just to show the readers what the hell is going on. I don’t want to draw the same damn thing all the damn time, though, so I try and change it up as much as possible, just to keep things fresh/challenging for myself.
HM-S: What are you most proud of in terms of visual storytelling on 5 GHOSTS thus far?
CM: I can tell you my favorite thing is being able to play up the classic comics angle. I think that a lot of comics are really serious these days and try to be construed as movies; in both story and art. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I think that people have forgotten that comics are their own media, and should be treated as such. I’m a fan of the next issue teaser, or the over-the-top story titles, and tons of panels on one page. So, I guess I’m proud that we’re trying to make a fun book in the midst of such seriousness. Whether we succeed or not is a different story entirely, hahaha.
HM-S: Frank and Chris, can you give readers a few hints about the surprises that lie ahead in 5 GHOSTS?
FB: I think, despite the first issue setting the tone for the series, readers will be excited by the direction the series takes. It certainly has a high adventure tone, but later issues really draw on the mythological elements that some readers may be surprised by. Also, Chris’ art is just phenomenal. If you thought issue one was great, you’ll be blown away by everything going forward.
CM: Well, I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that readers will find out who shot J.R. … is that too dated? I’m not sure even I’m old enough to get that reference. But I get the reference, folks… I get it.
HM-S: Congratulations, Frank and Chris, on reaping the harvest of your hard work in bringing 5 GHOSTS to readers! We’re looking forward to the big release from Image and waiting rather impatiently to see what the future holds for the ghost-powered treasure-hunter Fabian Gray.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.