ComiXology recently announced its next wave of original comics and The Black Ghost was a standout for me, particularly because it appealed to my sensibilities as a fan of film noir and noir stories in general.
Alex Segura has made a name for himself in the noir genre with his Pete Fernandez series of private eye novels, so this comic was instantly on my radar. Joining him is co-writer Monica Gallagher, who worked with Segura on the Lethal Lit podcast. Rounding out the creative team is artist George Kambadais, colourist Ellie Wright, and letterer Taylor Esposito. I spoke to Segura and Gallagher about their book and what inspired them, working with an unconventional art style, and the Black Ghost himself.
The Beat: Alex, I know you primarily as a noir novelist, and I guess it was inevitable that you’d transition to noir comics eventually. Was this a story you had in mind or was this something you and Monica put together?
Alex Segura: A little of both. Monica and I really hit it off creatively working on Lethal Lit, the podcast we co-created/co-wrote for iHeart. She has a really great sense of story, and I felt our styles complemented each other well. I’ve always loved street-level superheroes, like Daredevil, Moon Knight, Batman, and in the same way I was driven to create my own private eye novel series – to add to that mythos – I wanted to try and do that here. I sent Monica some rough ideas – bare bones stuff, just general concepts – and she immediately added a lot, things I hadn’t even considered. Lara and The Black Ghost’s world suddenly felt more textured and unique. It became this really lively blend of nods to the past and a really modern, lively take on the idea of vigilantes and activism. So, the end result became its own unique thing, that wouldn’t have existed if Monica and I hadn’t jammed.
Monica Gallagher: Alex and I had such a blast working on Lethal Lit together, and we always had it in the back of our mind to try our hand at collaborating on something comics related, since that’s where we both come from. With The Black Ghost, he already had some ideas and I came on the scene to see what I could ruin… I mean, add to! I love vigilante stories in general, but it was important to me we do something new, and accessible, and complicated. And I think with The Black Ghost we not only have that, it’s going to continue to grow and surprise us. In hopefully delightful ways to the readers!
The Beat: I’m glad you used the word “accessible” because I think that’s the perfect term to describe this comic. Noir fans will love this but anyone new to the genre will get a kick out of it as well. Was accessibility something you both discussed when teaming up for this project?
Gallagher: I think we’re both always looking for ways to expand the audience of comics in general, and each of our work in particular. But one thing I remember hearing about Jessica Jones when it came out on Netflix, was a lot of women were watching it who self-identified as “not being into comics or vigilante heroes.” Since it was released after Daredevil, this was one of the first stories that struck people as not a superhero show, but a crime/private eye show with fantastic elements, because it was such a powerful story about dealing and living with trauma. I think there are still a lot of people who view comics/superheroes as a genre rather than an element of the genre, so the more we can create characters to hopefully transcend that assumption, the better!
The Beat: Alex, how has it been working with Monica as co-writer? I was glad to see you two reunite after Lethal Lit.
Segura: It’s been great! I can’t say enough nice things about her. When she came into Lethal Lit, she fit in seamlessly, and really added so much – it was a blessing. We ended up becoming good friends, which was a wonderful bonus, too. She’s really talented, and an amazing artist. I think the best thing about the collaboration is that none of us come at it with ego or a sense of seniority – we do certain things well, but we also let the other try new stuff, too, so we’re constantly growing and the partnership is evolving. Creating the Lethal Lit cast was a really great learning experience, and we miss those characters a ton. They just felt so fully formed. Now, with The Black Ghost, we get a chance to tell a more adult, action-oriented story that still has many of the elements that made Lethal Lit a hit. This sense of dark legacy, a strong and varied supporting cast, and really disturbing villains.
Gallagher: Our collaboration is really unique and special, and it highlights one of the most amazing things about comics – at their best, they’re pure collaboration. You’re part of a team of people and together you can produce something entirely unique, with every person contributing a unique viewpoint. Comics can be such a solitary venture much of the time, with conventions serving as periodic family reunions/creative retreats all jammed into one weekend. Collaborating with Alex has been a joy, and not just because he brings a lot of knowledge and talent, so it’s fun to brainstorm ideas with him. I also trust that he’ll tell me what’s working and what’s not and believes in making the project the best it can be together. Also, he never makes fun of me for my lack of crime/noir genre knowledge, and I appreciate that!
The Beat: Did you and the team have any specific inspirations when it came to designing the Black Ghost? I read him as an amalgamation of the Shadow, Zorro, and maybe a little bit of Batman.
Segura: When we talked to George, early on in the process, we told him to give the Black Ghost a really iconic and memorable look – but that, yes, harkened back to the era of mystery men, pulp magazines and the Golden Age of comics. We wanted to give the character a sense of history and weight. George, of course, being super-talented, took that and made it something all its own. Readers are in for a few fun twists, though, so I’m curious to see how they react to that.
Gallagher: Alex had an idea for a classic vigilante design, and I’ve always loved the more debonair heroes that get away with looking fashionable. But George really brought his own sleekness and dynamic design sense to the project and blew Alex and I away. And then we, of course, pretended like we’d planned that look all along, haha. It really is amazing how the art influences the story telling and vice versa – I think we all upped our game when we saw what George had in store for the pages. Oh this is going to be gorgeous, too? I guess I’d better stop slacking on the dialogue, then!
The Beat: Speaking of George, I wanted to talk about the look of the book. As a big noir fan, walking into this I expected more of a traditional noir look but I was surprised at how colourful and unconventional the book looked, and it worked wonderfully. I’d love to know how you came to choose George as the book’s artist and how you approached the story with such an expressive art style.
Segura: I have to be honest, sometimes it feels like George dropped from the heavens to become part of this team. For whatever reason, our original artist had to step away, and I think at that point the entire team was like “Wait, is this book even happening?” It was, understandably, a low point – because we were so excited to get The Black Ghost out there. So Monica and I started looking around, and my friend, writer Michael Moreci, suggested George – he’d been a fan of his for a long time. So we reached out, and George was super-enthusiastic and eager to be a part of the book, which meant a lot. But yeah, his style is not what you’d initially think of as “noir” – but I think that’s part of the appeal, and he brings this energetic, Batman: The Animated Series vibe to our story that just changes everything in a wonderful, unexpected way. It’s the best part about comics – how collaboration makes everything stronger when it clicks. George is also a dream to work with – always professional, positive and creative. His layouts are consistently creative and different, and he just gets what we’re trying to do. Honestly, the whole team is so painless, which is a miracle, because usually in any creative endeavor there’s some friction, but we haven’t seen it here yet. I’m not exaggerating when I say I could work on this book forever.
Gallagher: George was an amazing, pleasant surprise – unfortunately I’d been unfamiliar with his previous work, so when I saw his very first character sketches, I was blown away. And his work made us go back and view our writing differently in new ways, which is the best collaboration you can ask for in comics – each of you rubbing off on another. And then Ellie came in and added her signature colors, which layered the scenes in another way from how we’d imagined them. The world of The Black Ghost is now truly its own unique thing, and I can’t credit George and Ellie enough for that.
The Beat: I wanted to ask about ComiXology. Did they approach you to join their line-up of original comics, and how has it been like working with them compared to other publishers?
Segura: They’ve been great – really supportive, invested in the idea, and eager to promote and spread the word. I have zero complaints or concerns, honestly. I’ve known the team at CMX for a long time, so when Monica and I had nailed down the big picture idea, I sent it over. They liked it, we talked parameters, and here we are. I think they have a really diverse lineup of creator-owned titles, from humor to sci-fi to action to superheroics, so I’m really proud to see our book alongside so many other powerful titles.
Gallagher: ComiXology has always been a favourite, and for years I’ve seen them support creators in just doing what they do best. I really feel like their approach is to let the creators drive the story where they want to go, rather than micro-managing the outcome, which can be rare! So I’m thrilled to see them branching out into more creator-owned titles.
The Beat: Lastly, I’d like to talk about noir stories. They can fall into a pit of predictability since so many of these stories have been told. How did you set out to create a fresh noir tale? Was adding the superhero element a way to set it apart from the flock?
Segura: Noir is a state of mind, really, and I feel like any genre can have elements of noir – which, to me, means a story about a person pushed to the brink, and facing hopeless odds against some dark forces. That’s very general, but my point is, you can blend noir with pretty much any genre, and make it stick. In terms of telling a fresh noir tale, I think our challenge was more along the lines of “what can we do to tell a fresh superhero tale?” Because so much has been done in that space. So, the solution for us was to bring in elements of things we also enjoy as readers and writers – like crime fiction, and the tone and vibe we helped establish on Lethal Lit, in regards to how the characters talk to each other and how we roll out a mystery. To answer your question – I think we just put all the stuff we loved and wanted to write about in a blender and The Black Ghost was the end result!
Gallagher: To me, part of the fun of noir is that you can play with its elements to create something new every time. While it can retain aspects that make sure it whispers to the audience – “Psst, this is noir!”, what it does with those is entirely up to the creator. They can be used to heighten the drama, darken the mood, or even contrast against the humor of the piece (I think I LOL’ed at every line the Noir Spider-Man uttered in Into the Spider-Verse). Hopefully what we’ve done with The Black Ghost wields it well, I know it certainly makes it more fun for us to play around with!
The Black Ghost #1, the first of five issues, can be found on ComiXology right now. Check it out!