The first image debuted on CBR this Wednesday, and the project has been in the planning stages for nearly three years, but this June, comic readers will finally get a glimpse at the collaboration of two of Image Comics' most successful creators when Robert Kirkman and Todd McFarlane present the new monthly series "Haunt." Written by the pair with layouts by longtime "Spawn" artist Greg Capullo, pencils by "Invincible" penciler Ryan Ottley and inks and covers by McFarlane, the series formally announced today at the New York Comic Con promises a combination of superhero action, horror comic tones and espionage twists.
"I don't even remember what it started as and what happened along the way," Kirkman told CBR of what his original pitch to McFarlane included. "It's been such a long process, in that we've been trying to get this off the ground for over two years now. The main basis of the story is that there are two brothers who have hated each other for a good long time and are now forced to interact because one of them has died and is haunting the other. It's a big action extravaganza from there on out. It's not even really a straight superhero book. The character looks kind of like a superhero, but it's about as much of a superhero books as 'Spawn' is. Most of Spawn's antagonists are supernatural, and there's not exactly a supervillain guy in that book. We'll be following that model to a certain extent for 'Haunt' also."
The genesis of the project came in a round about manner after Kirkman publicly confronted the Image founder from the audience of a con panel a few years back. "He was asking a question, and I was trying to be kind in answering it, and he was pushing a little bit, and I thought, 'OK. Here we go. We're going to get there,'" recalled McFarlane, who knew the writer's Image series "Walking Dead," but couldn't have picked Kirkman from a lineup. "It was the standard question I get a lot, which is, 'Todd! When are you going to come back and do comics?' I gave the same answer I've been giving for years, which is, I don't have the time or the inclination to write, pencil and ink a comic book like I once did. I won't say that won't happen at one point later in my life, but I don't have that luxury. I need people to help me in doing those books. So as I'm getting there, Brian Haberlin goes, 'Hey! That's Robert Kirkman!' He knew, and everybody in the room knew. I guess I was the only person in the room not to know. There were some people starting to giggle in the room. I thought they were just giggling at my answers to the questions. But the gist of it was him saying, 'Well, what if somebody helped you?' When we got there, I said, 'Why don't you and I do it, and I'll carry some of that weight up the hill?' We literally from that day have been in constant contact trying to get something off the mark. It's just been both of our schedules and trying to find the right art team."
For his part, Kirkman held no aspirations to collaborating with the artist, but took a good chance when he saw it. "I didn't go into it thinking, 'Man, this is going to end up with a book by me and Todd!' I did it more as a fan than I did as a creator. I figured that guy has some time left, and he should be doing something with comics. That was really my main motivation in doing that. Having that lead to doing a book with him – there's no way I could foresee that. But it's good to have him back. It was three years ago now, but since then he's writing and inking 'Spawn,' developing this new character with me and inking this book – and Todd's inking is very heavy-handed as he's a very involved guy. So Todd's much more involved with comics now than he's been, and I'll take credit for that. That's fine. It's good to see him back. He's going to be doing all the covers on 'Haunt,' and he's very much involved with 'Image United.' We're going to be seeing a lot of art from him on that. So Todd is pretty entrenched in the comics business right now, and that's totally cool."
And while he's known for series that deliver big twists in the first year of his own monthly titles, Kirkman promised that "Haunt" would be easy to follow from page one, although a few ghostly jaw-droppers may be in the offing. "For the most part it's a straightforward story," he explained. "I kind of like to hit the ground running, and I don't like something to be too vague when you go into a story. When you're starting out with a new character, I want things to be straightforward and pretty easy to understand. We just start with the beginning of the story where you do see the two brothers alive and well. And we'll be there every step of the way experiencing what they're going through. And there's a lot of mystery to the book, too because there are spy elements. There should be a lot of intrigue and questions to be answered as we go along."
Both creators claim that part of the appeal of "Haunt" was the tension found in creating a series that rides the line between hero books and horror ones. Striking the perfect balance between the two remains part of the collaborative challenge of the series, according to McFarlane. "I think if anything, that will be the ongoing interesting conversation most people won't be privy to behind closed doors," he explained. "At the beginning of it, Robert's mindset was 'Let's go and do a superhero book and rock and sock.' I understand that mindset to a certain degree, but also I was also pushing back, and continue to, going, 'We'll see. My guess is we'll do a little bit of a hybrid.' You can't do a book called 'Haunt' and not have it be creepy at times or at least have that mood and feel to it. With that title, it can't be Green Lantern.
"As I get older, I'm trying to do more books that I would want to read and not worry so much about trying to get a 12-year-old. In my mind, there are plenty of books for 12-year-olds out there, and they're brilliant. Many of them that have that feel are being done by the competitors at Marvel and DC. But for me personally, it's 'OK. Once you've put in 20 years doing those books, you don't mind something that's got a little more meat and potatoes to it.' Even when I was younger, I read all these amazing things like 'Watchmen' or 'Arkham Asylum' or 'Batman: Year One' where you get a little more serious with it and the style wasn't superhero stuff. Those are the kinds of books that to me are treating [the material as] very serious within the context of this big fantasy story that you're telling. There's a sophistication to it. That's where I'm at."
Kirkman agreed that finding how to make a book that worked for both of them could be difficult, but rewardingly so. "Todd and I are both control freaks. I'm pretty in control of the books I do, and Todd's pretty in control of the books he does so I think it's kind of strange for both of us to be working in a situation where we can't just go, 'No no no. It's needs to be this way.' We're both having to constantly challenge each other. It's a lot of fun. I've flown to Phoenix a few times to do meetings with him in person and what not. You usually sit down to discuss ideas, and it's fun because he sits there and pokes holes in everything I say and forces me to answer his questions and shapes the book in a more complete way than I sometimes do on my own. I don't have that guy sitting there going, 'Yeah, but what about this? What about this?' I haven't worked with a lot of people that comes at something from as many angles as Todd does, and I find that to be very rewarding. I think it's turning 'Haunt' into a pretty strong book."
Anchoring "Haunt" on the visual end stand two artists well known for collaborating with each individual writer in Capullo and Ottley. However, few readers would accuse the new art team members of sharing superficial similarities. The mix of Capullo's dark, detailed and exaggerated visual flair and Ottley's slick superhero cartooning create a look different than fans of both artists are used to, and Kirkman counts what each penciler learns from the other as the cornerstone of what will make "Haunt" work on the page. "Greg is super talented," the writer said. "I don't think people realize just exactly how much skill that guy has as far as getting a page together and storytelling. Ryan and I are both getting these back and going, 'Wow. I never would've thought to do something like that.' As a writer seeing the pages come in, every single thing works 100% better than I thought it would in the script. It's really thrilling getting to work with him. And with Ryan – I've been working with Ryan for years, and it's really cool seeing him start from a place where he wouldn't normally do a page the way Greg does, but because Greg is laying the foundation, he can start from that and do things his own way. The final product is something I don't think either of them can do without each other. The book has a pretty unique look, and once Todd gets done with the pages, they look like solid gold."
The artist in McFarlane wanted to take "Haunt" as an opportunity to work with younger talent and help Ottley step outside his comfort zone to make something new. "I knew going in that Ryan had a certain style that he was known for, and as we were trying to find the right artist, I had no qualms about Ryan's drawing abilities," he explained. "What he wasn't doing – and it's no slight to him, because in 20 years in the business, I've found this the hardest commodity to find – is being a guy who can lay down shadows. And I can't do it. When I see guys that can do it, I'm envious of them. So again, if we're doing a book called 'Haunt' it has to be kind of moody and use shadows and be a little more environmentally aware of where you're standing. That takes a certain kind of looks with a lot blacks in it.
"I don't want a book that looks like 'Invincible' because that's not what this book is supposed to be, and I want to encourage Ryan to try a couple of new things on the book because it's a new book. Let's sit back and see what the audience says. Some might like the 'Invincible' stuff better, and some might like the 'Haunt' stuff better, but at the end of the day what shouldn't happen is that they're both the same....Bringing Greg on makes the storytelling different than what you're used to, and then I'm going to come in with the inks not to bury him but to say, 'If you like Ryan's artwork than he's going to change it up so he's not playing the same song again and again.'
What may seem like the elephant in the room in terms of "Haunt's" monthly launch is the fact that many of the creative team already have full time gigs on their plates including Kirkman's slate of Image comics, Ottley's duties on "Invincible" and McFarlane's dual responsibilities with his company and his writing and inking on "Spawn," however Kirkman assured readers that the "Haunt" team had a plan for keeping the comic on a consistent regular schedule. "There may be skip months built into the schedule every now and then. We'll assess that as we move along, but for the most part it should be a fairly monthly book," he promised. "Ryan is still doing 'Invincible,' but we've brought on Cliff Rathburn as an inker, and up until this point he's been doing pencils and inks. And when he's working on 'Haunt' he's working off of Greg Capullo's breakdowns with Todd inking him, so it's not full art chores there either. It's feasible for him to stay on schedule and get both books done. Todd's inking 'Spawn' as well, and he claims he can do both, and so far he's been pretty good with it. Greg's got a pretty open schedule as far as I know. Most of the time he's working on licensing art. And then I'm not very smart, so taking on another monthly book...I usually don't consider the ramifications of that until it's too late. So I'm fine with another monthly book. Why not?"
Beyond that, Kirkman noted that the team would be keeping tight wraps on "Haunt" until the series' June launch, although interested readers can check back with CBR over the next three Wednesdays for an advance peak at what the series will ultimately be. "I think we're trying to play to our strengths a bit. We've both had success on the fringes of the horror genre and the superhero genre as well. I wanted to do something that would appeal to my fans and Todd's fans. It was a cool idea I had that Todd seemed to be into, so we sat down together and broke it from there. It was a process that I liked, and you do what you like."