The Dead Boy Detectives are back in Sandman Universe: Dead Boy Detectives #1 by Pornsak PichetshoteJeff StokelyMiquel Muerto, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, with a main cover by Nimit Malavia! The first issue in a new run featuring the characters is available beginning today at your Local Comic Shop.

Variant cover by Tyler Crook.

To celebrate the release of Dead Boy Detectives #1, The Beat caught up with wrtier Pichetshote over email. We asked about about what it was like to work on the Sandman Universe title, learned more about the influences behind the series, and to find out whether or not he’s ever had a close encounter of the ghost kind himself!

AVERY KAPLAN: How did you come to be involved with Dead Boy Detectives? Did you have a personal history with the Sandman Universe?

PORNSAK PICHETSHOTE: Very much so! Beyond just being a huge fan of the book, I started my comics career as an assistant editor in DC’s VERTIGO imprint and was actually assistant editor on P. Craig Russell’s comics adaptation of SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS in 2009. Since Neil Gaiman was so closely involved in that, I spoke to him a time or two, where I bored him with details of my life, because Neil is so naturally generous and inviting. At the time, I reported directly to Karen Berger, the editor who built SANDMAN with Neil, and I still remember her telling me the secret to the book’s success: “When it comes to SANDMAN, Neil’s always right.”

And then, of course, as a VERTIGO editor, it was my job to help protect the Sandman universe, fielding pitches in sync with its vision. So to be writing DEAD BOY DETECTIVES now – maybe my favorite of Neil’s Sandman creations, two of his most popular spin-off characters (they’re shooting a Dead Boy Detectives show for HBO Max as we speak!) – I’ve been telling people I don’t know if something can be both nostalgic and an honor, but writing this book has very much been that for me. 

KAPLAN: We talked a little bit about the genre influences of The Good Asian a few years ago. I’m curious what detective stories (or other kinds of stories) might have influenced Dead Boy Detectives. How much do the influences for these two distinct mysteries overlap?

PICHETSHOTE: So DEAD BOY DETECTIVES are about two boys – Edwin and Charles – who were killed decades apart, but now their ghosts have become best friends who solve crimes together for fun. It’s a supernatural take on boys’ mysteries like The Hardy Boys. For SANDMAN UNIVERSE: DEAD BOY DETECTIVES they’re meeting a few other kids who are also dead – these being Thai ghosts – which gives me the chance to mash their mysteries up with some very hard horror. Imagine Stranger Things set in the Sandman Universe, and you get the idea. But it’s also about two best friends who suddenly find themselves growing apart, and that’s a very quiet, unique horror we’ll be delving into as well. 

So as a result, there’s a lot of stories that influence DEAD BOY DETECTIVES, but through a very specific filter. They’re more Encyclopedia Brown than The Continental Op (a big influence on THE GOOD ASIAN). Edwin himself is inspired by Sherlock Holmes stories; Charles by Philip Marlowe. So while the fun of THE GOOD ASIAN was making a modern story that hearkened back to those detective pulps, DEAD BOY DETECTIVES is a modern story featuring characters influenced by those pulps. 

KAPLAN: What was it like to include Thai ghost types into this story? Is there a particular place you turned for inspiration and information for this inclusion?

PICHETSHOTE: Thai ghosts come from a long line of Thai folk stories. As a result, there are many, many different types of ghosts that all do different things – hollow backed ghosts, snake ghosts, Nak mother ghosts, and we get into a lot of them in the book, but there’s so many we can only scratch the surface. 

For the particulars, I turned to the internet, and used it to reignite my own memories of what ghosts my friends and I used to talk about it in school. I went to high school in Thailand, and there, everyone has a ghost story. Everyone knows someone with a picture with a blurry face in the background that wasn’t there when the picture was taken. Or saw silhouettes in doorways when nobody’s there. Or have things just turn on for no reason. I remember growing up in Thailand, there was a newspaper (I have to assume it’s a tabloid) where one of the cover stories involved a man seeing a woman on the road who was holding her own head at her waist. Which makes me think Thai ghost stories are kind of our UFO and Elvis sightings. 

Anyway, my internet research reignited my memories of all these different types of Thai ghosts and hardly surprising, my most vivid memories surrounded the truly horrifying and bizarre ones. Because some Thai ghosts are truly horrifying and bizarre. 

KAPLAN: What kind of other research did you undertake when working on this project (if such research occurred)?

PICHETSHOTE: There was a good amount of research on folk horror, since Thai ghost stories are all rooted in that. Most of the time with east meets west horror stories, they’re all deeply rooted in xenophobia, and I didn’t want to do that, but the more research I did, the more I realized all folk horror is rooted in xenophobia and when you think about it that way, perhaps all horror is rooted in it as well. I realized the trick was embracing the xenophobia and talking about it. Once I got there, I realized how DEAD BOY DETECTIVES was familiar ground to a horror book I wrote called INFIDEL which was also about xenophobic horror. But also how it’s different:

After writing INFIDEL in 2018, I’d been hesitant to write another full-length horror project, because I didn’t know how I could make it relevant in our post-pandemic world where we’ve all lived / are living through this collective societal trauma. DEAD BOY DETECTIVES is me figuring out what relevant horror can look like, merging the innocence of Edwin and Charles and seeing if it can survive in this world that’s more gruesome and uncertain than they ever realized. This book is very much me trying process how you balance innocence and optimisim with a truly dark world without lying to yourself about it. 

KAPLAN: How does writing pre-existing characters differ from writing original characters (if it does)?

PICHETSHOTE: For me, it definitely does. When working on my own stuff, I obsess over the character’s voices and motivations. Trying to fine tune and sharpen them until they’re crystal clear. When I’m writing pre-existing characters, it’s about reading all their appearances until I can find a baseline of how their voices and motivations work. Fortunately, when your characters are created by Gaiman, who writes the best dialogue in comics, those voices are very clearly defined – but then the problem is he sets the bar so damn high. 

KAPLAN: Do you have any personal experience with ghosts or hauntings?

PICHETSHOTE: So like I said, ghosts are very prevalent in Thai culture. So prevalent that my mother finds it hysterical that I’m writing a book about Thai ghosts. I remember telling her about this book, and her response was “You?? You’re writing a book about ghosts? You’ve never even seen a ghost! Why would they get a person who’ve never seen a ghost to write about ghosts? You… (walks away, shaking her head)”.

So, no. I’ve never personally seen a ghost. Everyone else I know from Thailand has seemed to. My mother constantly reminds me any of them would be better qualified. 

KAPLAN: Can you tell us a bit about Thai horror? How is this subgenre unique, and how did you integrate it into the Sandman Universe?

PICHETSHOTE: Well, Thai horror are mostly ghost stories that come from folk tales that have trickled down to the modern day. As such they don’t have the same causality that Western horror does – which makes them feel more unpredictable. 

For example, a krasue is a ghost who appears as a woman by day and then whose head rips off her body at night, that floating her, entrails dripping going around killing people at night. The head ripping off has nothing to do with her death, as it might if it was a western ghost story. That lack of causality has always made me feel these ghosts were less predictable and more dangerous, and I’m hoping that’s something the reader picks up as they’re reading the story. Because we’re really heading into new different territory here. 

The genius of the Sandman Universe is that it’s one of the most diverse and inclusive mythologies in pop culture. Since every living creature dreams, be the animal, human or god, it’s this vast mythology that includes everything, so there was no problem integrating Thai horror and ghost stories into this world. If anything, I got to use it to fill out the world of ghosts that Edwin and Charles incorporate. 

KAPLAN: Without spoiling anything, what can readers expect from the first issue and beyond?

PICHETSHOTE: We’ll meet 4 different types of Thai ghosts in just our first issue, with more as the series progresses. (It’s my dream that with both a Sandman and Dead Boy Detective TV show out there, who knows? Maybe some of these Thai characters and mythology will pop up in other media and expose people even further to the culture and stories.) We’ll meet ghost doctors – Thai version of witch doctors. 

But it’s also very much about Edwin and Charles – at this crossroads in their friendship – where these best friends might be growing apart. After all this time together, they might be wanting different things and what does it mean for their friendship? And it’s through these two I think we’re going to get some notes I don’t think I’ve really seen in a horror book before, so I’m nervous what people will think. Because it’s about Edwin and Charles, there’s a lot of humor and lightness here, surrounded by some very intense horror and the big question of the series will be how much of it will survive the oncoming darkness. To me, those are the questions in these post-pandemic times I realized horror is really suited to ask.  

Sandman Universe: Dead Boy Detectives #1 is available at your LCS beginning today.