Just in time for Halloween, Vertigo is upping its creepiness quota by unleashing “Ghosts” #1, an 80-page anthology featuring nine terrorizing tales by a superstar cast of creators including Geoff Johns, Gilbert Hernandez, Paul Pope, Phil Jimenez, Jeff Lemire and the late Joe Kubert.
And if that’s not enough to get your blood curdling, “Fables” artist Mark Buckingham, British writer Toby Litt and artist Victor Santos (“Godzilla: Kingdom of Monsters”) have teamed to tell the eight-page “Run Ragged,” a tale marking the return of the Dead Boy Detectives.
Created by Neil Gaiman as part of the cast of “The Sandman,” Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine are British pre-teen ghosts that investigate murders, thefts and other brutalities while avoiding their final meeting with Morphius’ older sister, Death.
Buckingham returns to the characters after having illustrated them briefly 20 years ago in “Swamp Thing Annual” #7 while Litt, a relative newcomer to comic book writing, gets his first crack playing in Gaiman’s sand(man)box.
In addition to resurrecting a pair of favorite characters, “Run Ragged,” teased as Part One of a larger story, introduces a new villain, Mr. Locke, to the Sandman-verse. Buckingham and Litt spoke with CBR News about the new bad guy while sharing their thoughts on the project’s secret origin, getting Gaiman’s blessing and hinting at exactly when we might see more of Charles and Edwin.
CBR News: Ghost stories are obviously different from other horror stories, but what is it about them we, as a culture, love so much?
Toby Litt: I think, in a strange way, we find ghosts quite comforting. They’re a localized terror, rather than a global or universal one. However evil they are, ghosts are things we might just be able to defeat, reason with or understand. It’s the totally incomprehensible which is really scary.
Since “Ghosts” is being released on Halloween, I have to ask — what gives you the willies?
Litt: The totally incomprehensible, pretty obviously. And the pink eyes of albino rats.
Mark Buckingham: Everything. I’m very easily spooked. [Laughs]
How did you two come to be paired up on this project?
Buckingham: Our wonderful editor, Shelly Bond, put us together. I am so glad she did. This has been great fun. Knowing how busy I was, Shelly offered me the option of concentrating on design and layouts and picking a collaborator to work as finisher on the project, and I knew my old friend Victor Santos would be perfect for this.
Was it you that requested using the Dead Boy Detectives or did Vertigo offer them to you?
Litt: We can thank Shelly for that, too. She offered them to me. She must have thought I was the right kind of person to try to take the characters further.
I have been working with her on comics ideas for a while, and a few of these had involved bullying and public schools. When she asked me for a couple of Dead Boy Detective story ideas, I was really delighted. I think the stories were there waiting. Two of these went to Neil Gaiman, who really liked “Run Ragged.” Originally, the idea was for a standalone eight-page story, but he suggested I expand it to three eight-page chapters. Thank you, Neil.
Mark, obviously you have a rich history with “The Sandman” mythos, but I don’t believe you worked with Edwin and Charles before, have you? What intrigues you about the supernatural sleuths?
Buckingham: Actually, they did briefly appear in the “Swamp Thing” Annual that I drew during “The Children’s Crusade.” I have always found them fascinating, so it was a delight to draw them in their own adventure.
Toby, how about you? What’s your working knowledge of “The Sandman” and his universe, which includes the Dead Boy Detectives?
Litt: I’d say it was a working knowledge rather than any kind of omniscience. I read the first issues when I was at university. I lived in a house of comic freaks — freaks generally, in fact. Since then, I’ve looked in on the series ever so often, to see what Dream was up to. Working on the Dead Boy Detectives has given me a chance to catch up properly. I still feel like I’m finding my way around — very awestruckly.
Toby again, while the storyline is much different, you did work with teenage boys in your critically-acclaimed “deadkidsongs.” When writing boys, what must you do create a sense of authenticity in their dialogue and delivery?
Litt: I’d say it’s all about power. The boys in “deadkidsongs” are a little younger than Charles and Edwin. But they’re very aware of status. Who is the winner in the room? If you can get any particular boy’s attitude to power right, you’ll probably get his voice right. When they don’t have an enemy, Charles and Edwin start to bicker.
You only have eight pages, so we don’t want to give too much away, but what can you tell readers about “Run Ragged?”
Buckingham: I don’t want to be the one to spoil this for anyone, so I’m saying nothing. [Laughs]
Litt: Charles and Edwin are employed to try and find a ghost-cat, called Twinkle. She’s lost on the Isle of Dogs — a real part of London. While they’re out late at night hunting for Twinkle, Charles and Edwin are confronted by…
And that’s all you’re getting from me.
Fair enough. I’ll finish the sentence. Charles and Edwin are confronted by… Mr. Locke, a character that I thought was great. What was your inspiration, in terms of his character and design?
Buckingham: Toby described him as, “His bizarre face looks as if it were constructed entirely of hard-boiled eggs, or maggot’s bodies — bulging white eyes, cheeks, teeth,” and that really sparked my imagination. This, combined with the way he crawled along the drainpipe, just made me think of spiders and insects, so I combined his maggoty head with something akin to a thorax, abdomen and long spindly limbs. The combination was instantly disturbing, even more so when wrapped up in a Victorian School teacher’s outfit. His cape could almost be insect wings.
The subtitle for this story is “Part One: The Isle of Dogs.” When might we see Part Two, and are there plans for Part Three and beyond?
Buckingham: There are indeed plans for a more in the new year.
Edwin and Charles are terrific young heroes and I would love to read their adventures in a monthly series. Do you think the Dead Boy Detectives could carry their own ongoing series?
Buckingham: I do agree that Edwin and Charles are terrific characters and I would love to see more of them. If Toby, Victor and I were able to develop this further into some specials or a series, I would be delighted to be involved.
Litt: That would be the dream.
Before I let you go, beyond this return of the Dead Boy Detectives, Vertigo is releasing “Before Sandman” next year in celebration of the 25th anniversary of “The Sandman.” What is about Gaiman’s mythology that you believe keeps readers begging for more stories set in this universe, a quarter century after its original introduction?
Buckingham: Neil created some marvelous characters and a rich universe that still remains ripe for exploration. I am really looking forward to the “Sandman” prequel and feel certain that the combination of Neil’s wonderful writing with J.H. Williams III’s exquisite art will be something truly exceptional.
Litt: There are a whole load of writers and artists out there engaged in universe-building, but very few manage to create a mythos that’s so overwhelming it seems to influence everything around it. I think that’s what Neil Gaiman managed in “The Sandman.” He’s colored our dreams, dammit.
“Ghosts” #1 haunts stores and digital devices Wednesday, October 31