It’s easy not to be scared by much right now, but when the idea of facing mistakes of your past and being literally haunted by them comes into play, fear doesn’t seem like such a distant thing; and Old Haunts from AWA Studios and creators Ollie Masters, Rob Williams, Laurence Campbell, and Lee Loughridge are delivering exactly that.
I was lucky enough to get Williams, Masters, and Campbell together in massive email thread to talk about the inherent creepiness of Los Angeles, the choice to publish with AWA, and how they manage to pace such a heavy story with so many long-game results.
The Beat: You’re publishing Old Haunts through Bill Jemas’ company AWA, which is just getting ramped up. How did you come to the decision to publish with them?
Ollie Masters: I just got an email out of the blue from Axel at some point asking to talk about this new thing he was setting up. We’d spoken a bit when he was at marvel and he liked my work so he asked me to pitch something. I knew he liked Rob’s work as well and he was already talking to Laurence (who we thought would be perfect for this) so Old Haunts just seemed like a great fit for AWA.
Rob Williams: It was perfect timing, really. Axel asked Ollie if he had any ideas at the exact time that Ollie and I were working up the Old Haunts pitch. Axel loved the idea straight away. And Laurence and I had worked for Axel at Marvel on a couple of things, the best of which was a Punisher Max we did with Lee Loughridge. So, the planets sort of aligned. And the AWA deal was good, so we were off.
Laurence Campbell: Ollie and Rob came up with the idea first. At the time I was coming to the end of drawing BPRD after 7 years on the title and was looking for something new. Separately, Axel Alonso, who was my editor when I first started at Marvel had been in touch asking if I was free as he was setting up AWA. The opportunity to work with Axel again was an attraction as I found him a great editor and he really helped set me up as an artist. Rob and Ollie had pitched Old Haunts and it looked like it was going ahead and that was when I was asked to come in. Both Rob and Ollie are good friends and great writers. We have similar ideas of storytelling and taste in films, so it was a real pleasure working closely with them.
The Beat: AWA has talked plenty about having the majority of their series set in a shared universe. Should we be expecting Old Haunts to be a part of that shared universe as well?
Masters: No, this is its own thing in its own universe.
Campbell: Here we can tell stories whatever way we like and this gives us great opportunities. However they all fit well together under the title Upshot.
Williams: This is a creator-owned book that very much has a start-middle and end. Thematically, we could do more Old Haunts in the future if there’s enough reader interest, possibly as an ‘anthology’-type series in the style of AMC’s The Terror. But we envisaged this as a movie or a novel. A satisfying emotional story, rather than something intended to run and run or intersect with other tales.
The Beat: We’ve seen ghost stories in comics before but this seems to be something new and much more intense. How did you all come up with this idea?
Masters: I can never remember how I come up with ideas… but if I remember correctly Rob and I had been trying to co write something together for a while but nothing had come of it. We started discussing new ideas and it turns out we’d both independently come up with similar crime meets horror ideas so we decided to bring the two together.
Williams: My memory gets worse all the time, but Ollie and I were discussing co-writing something completely different. That didn’t quite coalesce. I think I said that one idea I was knocking around was a ghost story with gangsters. Ollie had been playing with the exact same idea, so we started discussing it. It was at the time that Axel was approaching creators for AWA. Ollie pitched our idea to Axel. He loved it, and we were off. There’s various influences on it from movies and shows we love. Michael Mann‘s Collateral is in there, The Shining, 2001[:A Space Oddesey], Jacob’s Ladder, David Lynch. There’s a fair amount of [Martin] Scorcese and The Sopranos too. We thought that ghost stories are always done in old ruins, wouldn’t it be visually and thematically interesting to do a ghost story in the shiny neon of a contemporary LA city? And Laurence was perfect for that. As well as being a good friend, Laurence’s style couldn’t have been better suited to what we had in mind. Ditto for Lee Loughridge’s colors. Bringing a haunted LA to life. We got very lucky with the team.
The Beat: The story you’ve begun setting up is all about three friends finding themselves literally haunted by their past transgressions, and is set in Los Angeles. If I’m not mistaken, though, all three of you are British! Why choose to make Los Angeles your setting of choice instead of setting it in the UK?
Williams: Those huge American cities have a different look and feel than British cities. And Downtown Los Angeles is a character in the book in its own right. We imagined sleek, cold, reflective skyscrapers where you look up and you see something up on a higher floor and you’re not entirely sure what it is that’s looking down at you. British cities and landscapes have a lot more history. These three gangsters are made men of a new world, a world they’ve built with their actions. Plus the imagery and metaphor of this amazing modern city… and the desert right on its doorstep. A lot of things are buried in that desert…
Masters: And L.A. just looks so much cooler! Haha, I’ll be honest I’m not really sure why but two of our biggest influences for it were Mann and Lynch so L.A. just felt right.Actually none of my comics have been set in the UK… I’m sure there’s some underlying psychological reason for that.
The Beat: There is a very deliberate pacing to this first issue that suggests that while the story is fantastically set up for future issues, there’s still a lot behind the curtain yet to come. How do you balance hooking the reader while not giving too much away in the first issue with something like a ghostly horror series?
Campbell: The first issue sets up the three main characters and treads the line of a crime book before horror elements start coming in. These are ‘what the fuck’ moments. Hopefully the reader should be as surprised as the characters in the book. I’ve also had the opportunity to explore and experiment with page layouts in this series something which is accentuated because of the use of the wide screen panels in the rest of the book.
Masters: It’s always hard in monthly comics because you have so little room to tell your story. Especially if you’re trying to create a sense of atmosphere, which can take pages away from plot. But I think if in that first issue you can give them just enough to hook them then you’re doing okay.
Williams: Two things we were determined to do with this series is: pace it slowly and cinematically, let the dread grow, let the mystery build. And the other was: not explain everything. The thing you ‘think’ you see in the background is sometimes far creepier than the overt look. I think that’s when ghost stories work best. By the very definition of a ghost – it can’t be explained. And that’s what’s terrifying about it. [Stanley] Kubrick‘s the inspiration here, really. I recently read Michael Benson‘s Space Odyssey and he details how Kubrick had an explaining voiceover on 2001 for much of production, and then binned it late on. So we may get to initially be somewhat WTF when watching, but it sticks with you afterwards. Leaves gaps for us to fill in ourselves.
The Beat: Laurence, the artwork in this first issue is very film noir and beautifully, heavily inked. With the story taking place in L.A. which is the hub of Hollywood and the move industry, was the cinematic, film noir approach something you wanted to do intentionally as an homage to the city?
Campbell: Early on when working out Old Haunts we decided to lay it out with wide screen panels which gives a cinematic look. I’d done the same when drawing Punisher Max. The only times we go off the wide screen approach is when the story goes more horror. Things start to happen to our three main characters Alex, Primo and Donny and they start losing control. We also agreed we wanted to make the city of L.A. a character within the story a haunted, lost, beautiful city.
I normally draw with strong black and whites, which Ollie and Rob were thinking about when they came up with the idea of Old Haunts so they approached me. So the book does have a lot of shadows and mood lighting. Lee Loughridge — who I have worked with before on books like Punisher Max — has done an amazing job on the colors bringing a real neon noir look to the book. I’m very happy.
The Beat: At the end of the day, what are you all hoping to bring to the table of horror comics with Old Haunts? Is there anything you want to tease for further issues?
Masters: As far as teasing for future issues, all I can tell you is Laurence is doing some of the best art of his career in this book, so buy future issues for that alone.
Campbell: For me mixing horror and crime together is something that really interested me. The further the series goes on we get to look at what Alex, Primo and Donny have done, what motivates them and how they come to be who they are. There’s a daunting dread throughout the whole book, which comes to a head.
Williams: It’s the most beautiful-looking book, and it’s crime and it’s creepy. It’s genuinely one of the best things I’ve been part of in my career. Ollie and I are doing some interesting things with comics form as we progress. We talked about how we could use the structure of an issue to show the decay of a sane mind, as solidity breaks up into fractured panic. I guess we want to freak people out a little. Maybe a lot.
Old Haunts #1 will be available from AWA Studios as of May 6th, 2020.