In Specter Inspectors by Bowen McCurdy and Kaitlyn Musto, with letters by Jim Campbell and flats by Gloria Martinelli, the eponymous investigators have arrived in Cape Grace, where they hope to uncover the sinister secrets hidden by the spooky town.
The Beat caught up with McCurdy and Musto over Zoom to learn more about the real-life locale that inspired Cape Grace, to ask all about the demonic inspirations for the supernatural characters, and to find out what the theme song for the Specter Inspectors show might be!
AVERY KAPLAN: What was the genesis of Specter Inspectors?
BOWEN McCURDY: I guess it started in college, actually! Kaitlyn and I, we went to school together for high school and college, and our junior year in college, we had an assignment to do a five-page comic. So what I made a little ghost hunting story set in this haunted hotel with these two girls, who were queer and in love, and it was very similar thematically but in general it was a very different story.
So BOOM! actually approached us for a story to adapt, and I had this thing that I really liked in the background, so I thought, “Well, let’s expand that and make it something more interesting.” And I brought Kat on-board to help with that, and we just made this little world.
KAITLYN MUSTO: Yep! I loved Bowen’s original idea in college, and when she approached me – we hang out all the time – she said, “You know, maybe we could do something like this.” And it turned out to be something really fun and exciting, and something we’re really proud of.
KAPLAN: In Specter Inspectors, our heroes visit many “traditionally” haunted spaces (like a library and a well). Where did the inspiration for the spooky locale of Cape Grace come from?
MUSTO: There is a town at the very southernmost point in New Jersey called Cape May, and my family had gone on vacation there a couple of times. One year I invited Bowen along with us. I had only visited briefly, but this time we were staying in it, and we were walking around town and kind of admiring all of the Victorian architecture… The town is just really gorgeous, and surrounded by water, and it was really lovely.
And while we were walking around looking at shops, we kept hearing people’s little snippets of conversations about, “this building is haunted,” or, “my kid heard something weird last night at the hotel,” or, “the library’s haunted” – “the Christmas shop is haunted!” And we were like, “Whoa! This is kind of crazy!”
So we started asking around, and it turns out Cape May is one of the most haunted towns in America. We had no idea! So we started researching, and we went on a couple of ghost tours – the town just has a really rich history of haunted buildings, haunted stories, and none of them are particular tragic, it’s just a very spiritually busy place!
McCURDY: It was a really great trip, and I actually put a lot of the photos that we took from our trip there into the backgrounds. The architecture was a big inspiration for the book and how it looks.
MUSTO: I did a variant cover for Specter Inspectors, and the photo in the background of that is actually a specific house in Cape May called the Merry Widow. It was my favorite one!
KAPLAN: Obviously, reading Specter Inspectors would be an ideal part of a perfect Halloween! What other spooky activities would you recommend for the perfect seasonal celebration?
McCURDY: I’m a big fan of lighthouses! I know they’re not traditionally spooky, but it’s the closest you’re going to get to the edge of the world, and it just feels… weird to be in one! And it’s just wonderful. Cape May has a great one – we went there, it’s also definitely haunted. But if you can get inside a lighthouse, that’s my favorite thing to do!
MUSTO: This is just something I do year round, but specifically in October, I’ve been watching a lot of ghost hunting shows, listening to spooky podcasts, just that kind of thing. That’s my favorite pastime, whether it’s spooky or not, but it makes for a good October!
KAPLAN: Was there any particular ghost or horror story that inspired Specter Inspectors (or any part of Specter Inspectors)?
McCURDY: That’s a good question! I mean, I don’t know if it’s super inspired by it, but we actually saw a ghost on our ghost tour. It was a woman who was cleaning up this old manor, and we saw her through the window. We asked the guide, “Is there someone that’s supposed to be in there?” And he said, “Nope!”
She was dressed old-timey – so I guess she sort of inspired the library ghost a little bit. We had her looking through the windows a lot, and I think that was definitely inspired.
MUSTO: We didn’t take anything directly from this, but I was mentioning, I watch a lot of ghost shows, I watch a lot of ghost hunting shows, and one of the things that I really enjoyed about one that I watched called the Ghosts of Shepardstown: it wasn’t your typical, “Okay, we are going to a different location in every episode, and it’s a completely different thing every time,” they stayed in one town and they investigated several different places in town.
And I thought, “That’s a really cool format, and I really like that.” So that’s also something that Specter Inspectors was influenced by, at least for me.
KAPLAN: What would the theme song for the Specter Inspectors show be?
McCURDY: I have a playlist that I put together of 200 songs, so… any of those!
I have one, “still feel.” by half•alive, and I always listen to that when I’m thinking of the animatic that goes by while it’s playing… so I think that one would be my pick!
MUSTO: I think in general, not a specific song, but anything that I listen to on a road trip at night feels like it could be applicable to the whole vibe of Specter Inspectors.
KAPLAN: Specter Inspectors is a ghost story, but it’s also has a romantic subplot. Can you tell us why “spooky” and “sweet” go so well together?
McCURDY: Personally, they’re my favorite genres, so I just love combining them. But I also think it’s really romantic to have the stakes so high! Your true selves really shine through when you’re literally life or death, so I think the connection borne of that is romantic – to me! Maybe that’s weird!
I think character-development-wise, it’s sort of forcing you to come to terms with who you are and what you want… I think that’s a big theme in horror, and it’s also great for romance!
MUSTO: I think the two go together really well, just in general. I like a lot of Gothic literature and I feel like that whole genre is laced – horror and romance, it doesn’t even have to be between two characters… It’s the language and the way scenes are painted.
MUSTO: Exactly! I feel like there’s a lot of romanticism to be had in horror! Even things like Carmella, the novella by Sheridan Le Fanu: you’ve got a really scary premise, and then there’s this beauty in it that’s I think is very romantic.
KAPLAN: You get to draw several demonic entities over the course of this story! Where did you get inspiration for these hellish creatures?
McCURDY: So we actually had one in mind… originally, the ending to Specter Inspectors was going to be different. It was actually going to be an existing demon, who has a name that people know, and the characters were going to discover that. But we decided to change that up a little bit – without spoilers – and as a result, sharing who the inspiration was goes against the plotline and how we follow through on that, so… I’m going to keep it a secret.
MUSTO: I do think, visually, I remember, Bowen, when you were drawing, you were trying to figure out how you were going to visually depict this demonic entity, and you did draw a little bit from comics… I know we talked about Fullmetal Alchemist, and some old movies like The Thing, that sort of stuff.
McCURDY: I took a lot also from owls, which maybe you can’t really see it all that much in the end, but there was some owl stuff going on in there. It was more animal creepy-based than established demonic entities for the design.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to include?
McCURDY: We had such a great time with these characters… Maybe one day we’ll see them again, but for now, I’m really happy to have this be an open-and-shut story.
MUSTO: I think we accomplished what we set out to do, both aesthetically and story-wise, and in terms of character growth – it’s just something that we’re really proud of, and I hope readers feel that when they read Specter Inspectors.
Specter Inspectors is available now from you local bookstore and/or public library.