EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS: HAUNTED CITY Creators Bring New York City Urban Legends to Aspen Comics
Published: October 27, 2011 - 9:05am
The team behind Aspen Comics' newest series share details about how they made their idea, originally conceived for television, into a comic book reality.
For more than a century there has been this rather farfetched myth that New York City may perhaps be the largest graveyard and most haunted place in the entirety of the United States. It is an ouroburos, continuously recreating while simultaneously destroying itself. While each new layer of the city rises, another must fall filling the depths of Manhattan with the ghosts of New York’s past. At first, it may not be as plausible as the tales of a city that never sleeps or the real life Gotham, but when you really get to thinking it is scary how real this legend creator/writer Chap Taylor has stumbled upon truly is.
Haunted City begins by playing off of this truly terrifying myth of New York’s past, but the places writers Chap Taylor and Peter Johnson are taking this new series are far more frightening than the original myth itself. Haunted City is creating a new legend; a legend that is perhaps more frightening for the sheer fact that it is entirely believable. “New York is a mysterious place,” says Taylor, “it’s very easy to find yourself on the lower East side or on one of those winding streets in the West Village and feel the presence of all the people who have passes through before you. It’s just a small step further to feel the presence of the things they feared. Who knows what’s really going on behind the closed door of a Little Italy social club, behind the garden wall of a West Village Brownstone, or up in the penthouse of an art deco skyscraper? New York is full of ghosts in real life.” One of the initial reasons New York City was chosen for the first volume of haunted city was, as Taylor says, because “literally every kind of human being on the planet has past through New Yok over the last four centuries.. [We're just] amplifying what already exists” to entertain readers.
Upon reading the back of Haunted City #0, one will see that this brilliant story has been in the works for quite some time. Chap Taylor had originally planned to create this New York City myth for television, and it wasn’t always meant for the glossy pages of a comic book. When asked about its adjustment to comic form, Taylor begins to praise his writing counterpart Peter Johnson, "[He] knows all about the limitations of telling supernatural stories on television, since he’s been producing the actual show Supernatural for the last seven seasons and he does a great job.” Where a television show may run into some obstacles with a story of this grandeur, a comic has far less limitations. Taylor observes that a comic can “create visuals for our story that would have been impossible with the resources available on television. The biggest change to the story itself [when adapting it to a comic] was probably our decision to depict the supernatural history of New York from its very first days as a Dutch settlement. Obviously, there’s no way we would have been able to build sets that convincingly depicted the whole city of New Amsterdam circa 1624. We wouldn’t have been able to show the reader all of the different kinds of monsters and myths that had immigrated to New York down through the centuries.”
Taylor mentioned that one panel of Haunted City #0 in particular which depicts the Irish slough inciting the draft riots in 1863 states would have consumed most of the budget of a television episode. The stories Taylor and Johnson can now tell of these Haunted Cities are, as Taylor says, “limited only by our own imaginations and the talent of the artist. And luckily for us we’ve got an artist who can draw anything and make it look brilliant.”
In addition to the duo's bone chilling story line, Haunted City is filled with the stunning illustrations of Michael Ryan colored by the equally talented Peter Steigerwald. The pages of this comic are truly mesmerizing. The colors compliment the art quite beautifully, and both artists work brilliantly together to bring Taylor’s vision to the pages. “Creating the look of haunted New York began with the script,” Steigerwald states, “Chap and Peter are wonderful to work with. Much of my cues are taken from there – mood, setting, what to spotlight, and so on. Everything was there in the script – the red light in the final scene, the dark candle-lit rooms – it was all there.”
Steigerwald notes that the creation of Haunted City unfolded from Ryan’s art: “Michael understands drama and light... which is exactly what you need to create suspense. If this book is haunting, it all began with him. He put all the information down and I could se the plan that was in his head and that made it a joy to color.” He keeps each haunting specific, allowing the reader to easily jump from story to story as our tale unfolds. It is remarkable to see an artistic team work so well with the writers. It is, as Steigerwald says after describing a set up for pages 4 and 5 of issue #0, “one of those beautiful moments in making comics where the team work is easy and it all flows just right.”
The overall ambiance of Haunted City was perfectly described by Michael Ryan as “one of disquiet, or maybe even trauma.” Nothing, at first glance, seems out of the ordinary. It is in fact so recognizable that the harrowing events of the supernatural seem real, believable, all too disturbing and perhaps familiar. Ryan, who has always been interested in history and folklore and how they compliment each other, adds a new depth to Taylor’s story with his pencils. Though he jokes that he’s learning there is really only one way to draw a zombie, the amount of detail he brings to each haunting is truly incredible. Haunted City is, as Steigerwald describes, “suspenseful, eerie, and creepy. One could fall into over-the-top gore or blood dripping everywhere, but that’s not the aim here. It’s about haunting, not a chainsaw massacre.” Though, he joking points out, we haven’t seen Michael Ryan’s Werewolf pages yet and “there might yet be some chunks of flesh flying about.”
The future of Aspen’s Haunted City is a promising one. Taylor assures us that readers can expect to see a variation of traditional horror characters, as well as “monsters and supernatural creatures from African mythology, from the Caribbean, from Asia, from Mexico, and South America” as the team is planning to take this story as far as their readers will let them. “We have a very clear direction that we want to take these characters, especially our lead, Tom Whalen.”
Without giving too many details away, Taylor states that Whalen’s “relationship with his father is going to be the key to everything that happens in the first volume. We’ll reveal the true nature of that relationship by the end of this volume, and we’ll resolve Tom’s conflict with Vic Cerberus, the Albanian drug dealer who wants him dead. We’ll reveal the identity of the little girl’s ghost who keeps appearing to Tom at crucial moments. After that, we’ve already talked about taking the next volume to London. We’ve talked about doing single issues in other American cities, like New Orleans. We’ve talked about doing another volume in New York, but set in an earlier period of time. It’s really an unlimited canvas. As long as the readers are willing to buy the books and take that journey with us, it’s our privilege to tell them stories.”