When your life has hit rock bottom, don't expect the arrival of a perky ghost to make things better. In Mark Crilley's "Brody's Ghost," which launched its first of six planned volumes last week following a series of shorts earlier this year on "MySpace Dark Horse Presents," the titular hero finds himself coping with, on top of everything else, the spirit of a young woman who won't take "no" for an answer. What follows is the early steps of Brody's redemption as he hones his newfound "ghost-seeing" abilities toward capturing a notorious murderer. CBR News spoke with Crilley, the writer/artist of the previous manga-inspired indie series "Akiko" and "Miki Falls," about his latest Dark Horse series of graphic novels.
When "Brody's Ghost" debuted as a series of four short comics on "MySpace Dark Horse Presents," Crilley began in the midst of the story, introducing the hero and his spectral companions at various points along their quest to apprehend the Penny Murderer. But as Book 1 opens, the cartoonist takes readers back to the beginning of Brody's journey. "When we first meet Brody, his life is at an all-time low. His apartment is incredibly messy, and his work alternates between dead-end part time jobs and playing guitar in the streets for spare change," Crilley said. "I deliberately wanted to see how a guy like this - at the bottom of the barrel - could be transformed gradually by circumstances into a believable hero. A character who's a hot shot right from page one doesn't interest me: I want to see a journey from one type of person to another."
Brody's downward spiral was precipitated - at least from his perspective - by a traumatic break-up with the love of his life. "This is mainly back story, providing an explanation for Brody's downward spiral and giving him an 'emotional hole' to climb back out of," Crilley explained. "I think everyone has their own experience of having been burned by love, and hopefully this allows readers to identify with Brody and root for him. There's also an interesting contrast set up between the 'girl on a pedestal' who dumped Brody, and the considerably more down-to-earth (but dead!) Talia."
Talia, of course, is Brody's first ghost and, without her overwhelming persistence, might have been his last. After a difficult period of grappling with her very existence, it's ultimately the promise of monetary reward that leads Brody to agree to help the spectral Talia. But the particulars of Talia's situation raise as many questions as does the mission of her afterlife: she has been tasked with solving the case of the Penny Murderer to atone for something she did in her short life. "I don't want to give away too much, but yes: Talia is not giving Brody the complete story," Crilley told CBR. "Like many people who are good at getting their way, she plays a little fast and loose with the facts."
Just because Brody is a "ghost-seer," however, does not necessarily mean he's natural hero material. In addition to his initial reluctance, he is also hampered by a total lack of skill in using his psychic abilities. "I've always liked the Hitchcock approach of having an ordinary guy get swept up in extraordinary circumstances," Crilley said. "At first, Brody gets pulled into Talia's mission of going after a serial killer due entirely to her persistence. He's very much the reluctant hero early on. This whole thing is not really his problem, but Talia is making it his problem, bit by bit. As the story progresses, Brody will gain a strong personal motivation for going after the serial killer, but that comes later, and in a surprising way."
Talia recruits Brody to do the "heavy lifting," as she puts it, in their investigation, since she herself lacks a physical body - even if she discovered the murderer's identity, Talia would be limited in her options to apprehend him. Beyond lending his muscle, as the series progresses Brody will find himself able to take a more active role. "Brody's got the potential of highly advanced psychic abilities, though neither he nor Talia knows how to unleash them. Once he's able to use these abilities, he will then be able to go to the various crime scenes to gather 'extrasensory clues,' leading, Talia hopes, to the unmasking of the killer," Crilley said.
Another ghost haunting Brody is the samurai Kagemura, who endeavors to train the unlikely hero in the psychic arts. One of the "MDHP" strips shows Brody undergoing a particularly grueling ritual on Kagemura's orders, which might seem odd given the protagonist's reluctance to heed his otherworldly call-to-arms. "At first I think Brody embraces Kagemura's training much the way a young man might join the Marines: as a means of getting back in control of his own life," Crilley told CBR. "But as I hinted earlier, a twist in the story eventually makes the whole thing much more personal for Brody. At that point he engages himself in the training even more aggressively."