The pitch for "Ghosted" -- the new Image Comics/Skybound series announced this weekend at Emerald City Comic Con -- is a simple one, but for writer Joshua Williamson, the project represents the end of a very complicated journey as a writer.
Coming in July from "Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman's imprint and drawn former "Y: The Last Man" artist Goran Sudzuka with covers by Sean Phillips, the six-issue mini series is described by the writer as "'Ocean's 1'1 in a haunted house instead of a casino."
"Jackson T. Winters is a criminal mastermind, but he's been in prison for the last ten years," Williamson explained. "He gets broken out of prison by this collector who collects odd things. He hires Jackson to break into this haunted house and steal a ghost, so he gets together all the best paranormal people -- the best magician, the best psychic, the best skeptic and 'Ghost Hunter' style reality show guys. He brings them all together to try and figure out how to steal a ghost from this haunted house."
But beyond that basic idea are a number of ideas the writer who's worked on everything from DC Comics superheroes to Oni Press all-ages titles has been playing with for a while. "The part that really got this going was haunted houses. I'm obsessed with haunted houses," he said. "I kept trying to figure a story I wanted to do in a haunted house just from a visual perspective. And ghost stories are often the same, and in comic books, ghost stories miss something movies have in that the movies are actually scary. It's hard to accomplish in comic books. I think some manga have been able to do that, but American comics have always lacked the scare factor -- that idea of a moment making you jump while reading comics."
Adding the crime elements both solidified the uniqueness of "Ghosted" for the writer and gave him a level at which he could develop stronger characters. "We've been trying to avoid the clichés of ghost stories like people running up the stairs. Or if they do run up the stairs, we've got to give them a good reason for it," Williamson promised. "All of our characters are pretty shady. The magician is a thief. Yes, he's a magician, but he's really around for access to the black market. I can't reveal the things about the psychic, but she has secrets too. The only person who feels very true in the group is the skeptic."
That mystery element holds true for his lead as well. "Winters has a haunted past, but he's already dealt with it. The hardest thing is that he's been in prison so long that he's accepted death. He knows he's going to die in there, and he's come to terms with it. It doesn't have a death wish, but he's cool with dying. Now all of the sudden, he's broken out of prison and it's like 'What do I do with myself now?'
"Everyone on his last job died. Why they died and what happened is something we'll explore in the series, but he still knows he's the best, and so he's setting up rules for what they do. One of the rules is that you never stay in that haunted house at night. As soon as the sun sets, they're out. But of course, not everything will go to plan."
Sudzuka helped set all the ideas on how to make scarier comics with stronger people in place. The pair started working on the series over two years ago, and so far they've been able to complete five full issues before the first has seen the light of day. "I ended up meeting Goran at New York Comiccon in 2011, and we sat around talking for hours about this book. At first I kind of felt like he was on the fence, but we spent to much time talking about what we could do with it visually, and we were so in synch with each other about things like page layouts. He said, 'I'll think about it and get back to you' but then an hour later he walked by my booth and was giving me the thumbs up. He's been amazing. His thing is that he wants to draw people. But we're also trying to take the human drama and turn it into this gritty, dark, twisted world."
According to Williamson, the move to Skybound was an easy choice for him because of the fit between project and company. "They were so excited about this. That's what did it for me," the writer said. "It seemed like we were all on the same page with what we wanted to do on this -- and I like 'Walking Dead" and 'Witch Doctor' and 'Thief of Thieves.' I think Robert has a good eye for talent and for these sort of books about people thrown into crazy situations."
But overall, the thing that has him most excited is the fact that he's finally telling a story that feels uniquely his own. "For a long time, I was struggling as a writer. I was trying to find my place, and I was always a hustler out there trying to get work. I think at the same time, I wasn't working hard enough to be a better writer and find my voice. I always knew I wanted to to crime comics and gritty stuff. I'm a Vertigo guy. 'Preacher' is probably my favorite series ever, and I love 'Punisher MAX.' So I always leaned to that in my reading while I was writing these funner books. The end product would always mean that I wasn't as ecstatic about a comic when I finished it as I was when I started. With this, I finished the first issue and knew I'd got it. This was the kind of work I was always supposed to be doing -- not to knock any other books I've worked on, but this book feels the most like me of anything I've ever written."
"Ghosted" ships this July from Skybound Entertainment and Image Comics.