Dark Horse’s Ghost series has been a rocket ride with plenty of action, plot twists and just flat out entertainment. Christopher Sebela’s dynamic scripts have been a huge driver in this series, beautifully complemented by outstanding artwork courtesy of Harvey Tolibao and Keith Champagne. I was lucky enough to catch Chris over the holidays and to find out how he approaches both this series and the craft of writing in general
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: I noted with issue #9 that the cover was trumpeting the fact that it was a “starting point for new readers” and it certainly was, but with this run nearing its end, how did they choose issue 9 for that angle?
Chris Sebela: A fine question, and one I don’t really have the answer to. That’s all the comic book science stuff I’m still not largely aware of. But when my editors brought it up, it felt like a naturally good time to take a momentary breather and take a look around at where we’d been and where we were before taking off on a pretty fast run.
CB: Elisa Cameron is a wonderfully multi-faceted character with archetypes like the avenging angel and the guardian angel and just a flat out scary dealer in justice. How did she coalesce?
Sebela: A lot of the heavy lifting had already been done by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto on their initial arc. And by Eric Luke and Chris Warner on their runs of the book back in the 90s. Kelly Sue had sort of distilled Elisa out of all those iterations into something that was built on the history, but was also its own separate thing. Elisa is her own Elisa.
As far as my take on her, I was very much interested in the whole process of what it takes to become a hero. Origin stories always rush through that part and I wanted to stop and explore some of the growing pains that come with a supremely messed up situation and how many wrong decisions you’d make along the way to becoming this figure who it’s assumed is there to always make the right decision. So Elisa jumps from murderous rages to freaked out withdrawals to a loving kind of protector because I think we’d all go through a huge spectrum like that when saddled with the kind of weirdness she’s had thrust upon her.
CB: I’m reminded vaguely of the Spectre. Was he any sort of inspiration?
Sebela: Actually, my biggest inspiration was the 6th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s all about (spoilers) Buffy being resurrected by her friends, being dragged into a world she thought she was done with, and coming back shell-shocked, trying to make her way in a world that’s familiar but totally alien at the same time. It’s always been my favorite season because of that, how it takes a character that all the rules are established and smashes it to pieces for a bit. The fun is watching her glue herself back together and that’s what felt like Elisa was going through as she became Ghost.
CB: How did you come up with Chicago as the backdrop? Couldn’t be the inherent political corruption…
Sebela: That was Kelly Sue who decided that, I think. But it all gelled perfectly because, like you said, corruption is a big vein that runs through Chicago politics. I grew up there, so I’m super familiar with the city and how it’s laid out and where there are cool places to go for a car chase or a gunfight, so it worked out that that was the city the book was set in. I felt like I’d already done all the necessary research.
CB: How does Project Black Sky fit in with everything?
Sebela: Very lightly. We’ve seen some of them poking their nose in in the last arc by sending in their errand boy to collect some of their old tech. But in my mind, Ghost is an outlier to them. She’s not ostentatious and proud like Captain Midnight, she’s not loudly embracing this mantle of vengeance like X, she’s still trying to find her way, so she stays off their radar by and large. I also think, in the end, she poses the biggest threat to this nefarious power structure and the fact that no one has kenned to that is just history repeating itself.
CB: Giving the readers what Jim Shooter referred to as “a fighting chance” with the introductory blurbs is brilliance and I don’t know why other writers don’t do it. Is that your device and if so what inspired it?
Sebela: The ones on the inside front cover? Those are Dark Horse. And yeah, I think they’re a necessary thing in this day and age, with so many books, with so much continuity, with everything, it does help as Cliff Notes to bring you back up to speed. Some fans are picking up 30-40 books a week, they can’t be expected to have to go back and re-read the last two issues or scratch their heads over some detail. I’m grateful for the blurbs; they take a lot of the pressure off me.
CB: You manage to weave in some great wit in the grim and gritty setting with your dialogue. “Hold on, Tommy. I have to kill some people.” Does it come from your characterization or your own sense of humor?
Sebela: I’m pretty bent towards gallows humor as a rule. And I suck at being completely locked in to serious mode through an entire script. I don’t want to be grimdark all day long. There’s something to a joke here and there among all the bullets and bodies that keeps me from wanting to stay in bed all day. Plus Elisa has already fought her way through a hell dimension and killed a dozen demons or so, so it’s like making a joke on your way to the conference room at work, its business as usual for her by now.
CB: What sorts of antagonists can give a ghost grief?
Sebela: That’s been the toughest question of the whole book for me is how do you make someone who is literally untouchable subject to any kind of threats or fear? I immediately took fear out of the equation because of where Elisa has been — fighting her way back through what might as well have been hell — she doesn’t have the same kind of fear you and I do. So I had to find sources that tapped into the same hybrid weirdness that gave birth to Ghost and feed off that, or the things that happen as a result of Ghost even existing, what does that open the door to? The threats she faces are basically the same ones we all do: that you’re not infallible, that you will screw up; that you can’t protect the people you love from life, that you’ll always come up against something bigger and badder and that you can’t understand.
CB: Have you been pleased with the artwork from your scripts?
Sebela: I’ve loved it. Getting Ryan Sook on our first arc was amazing, just to be working with this legend. Geraldo Borges’ stuff was great, how he picked up the the thread from Ryan and made it his own. Then Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons on the second arc, that was some of the first non-Star Wars stuff Jan had done in a while and I was crazy excited to see her and Dan bring all that to Ghost. Harvey Tolibao and Keith Champagne, on our current arc, make a huge shift away from Jan; they’ve really taken it in some really expressive, wild directions, which works really well with the street levelness of this current arc. Plus Dan Jackson has been able to switch from art styles without a hiccup, the colors ultimately help hold the artistic voice of the book together, to keep it one cohesive thing, even with artists changing.
CB: Issue #11 brought in some pretty dramatic twists, both in Elisa’s quest and in her personal life, particularly losing a family member. Without getting into spoiler territory is some resolution coming in the imminent climax?
Sebela: As much resolution as you can ever get when someone you love dies. I mean, there is no boom POW resolution, birds chirping, sun rising, everyone’s happy. There’s just you finding yourself able to cope, able to move on a little bit, more and more.
CB: Will she ever regain her full memories or would that unravel this fascinating character’s struggles?
Sebela: She pretty much got them all back as of issue 9, ultimately because I felt like it was the one thing she wanted more than anything and that old adage of “be careful what you wish for” was never more true in this instance. Losing her memories was probably the best thing that could have happened to her, one could argue beforehand. Now that she has them back, that’s when the real suffering begins. Knowing all the details of this life that you can no longer go back to. That’s a very unique torture.
CB: Ghost seems to have some tremendous potential. Do you have future plans for Elisa?
Sebela: Not currently. I would love to write more of her and her world. It’s a strange process of writing a character you didn’t create. I’ve really grown attached to Elisa and Vaughn and Sloane and Tommy, of doing a book set in Chicago. I’m just glad I got to play around in her sandbox for a bit and help put her on the road to becoming an unwilling superhero.
CB: What led you to the craft of writing?
Sebela: It’s something I’ve always done in one way or another since I was a little kid. I don’t know what made me decide to pursue it more fervently as I went on. I think it’s just one of those things that I felt like I knew how to do, that I did before I went to school and did after I got out. I didn’t have to pass a test or have a degree in it. And when it’s really flowing, there’s nothing better in the world to me than writing pages and pages of stuff.
CB: Do you have any particular techniques for your scripts or research that you do to prepare?
Sebela: I do research before outlining; just nailing down the generalities of whatever the story’s going to be about, where it takes place, the nuts and bolts of whatever is pivotal to the story. A lot of times, though, I’ve inadvertently already done the research, picking through something stuck in my brain from months ago that I fell down a rabbit hole on. Then I write it all down in a notebook (I keep one for each book) and outline by hand and get what’s going to happen on every page mostly nailed down. Then I dive in and write the script. Most of the hard work has hopefully been done by then, so it’s not as painful as writing can sometimes be.
CB: Any advice for the aspiring writer?
Sebela: Write a lot. Figure out what writing means to you. You don’t have to write every day, you can occasionally go weeks or even months without writing in a proper sense. Thinking about ideas can be enough sometimes. Take notes; write every weird scrap of an idea down. It might not be useful then, or for years, but if you don’t throw it out, the chances of you stumbling across it and figuring out an amazing story are lots higher. You’re going to write a lot of garbage, write through it, it’s useful. Eventually you have to show someone what you’re writing just to make it real. That part sucks at first, and then it gets easier. Keep doing that.
CB: Did I neglect to ask anything you’d like to share about this or any of your other projects?
Sebela: No, I think we’re good. Though if I can slip a plug in for my two times Eisner nominated creator-owned book, High Crimes, it’s still available, digital-only, on Comixology for just 99 cents an issue. So if you like what I do or even if you don’t, go pick that up. And if you don’t like digital, Dark Horse will be putting out a complete collection in July.