With “The Sandman Overture” #1 arriving in October, Neil Gaiman’s sequential art opus is returning to comics in a very big way, and the mythos will grow even larger when Vertigo launches a new “Dead Boy Detectives” series in December. Created by Gaiman and artists Matt Wagner and Malcolm Jones III in 1991, the Dead Boy Detectives debuted in “The Sandman” #25. Gaiman revived the characters in 1993 for “The Children’s Crusade” — Vertigo’s first-ever crossover event.
Co-written by novelist Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham, and featuring art by Buckingham and Gary Erksine, “Dead Boy Detectives” continues the adventures of Edwin Paine and Charles Rowland, a pair of ghosts who take it upon themselves to solve supernatural mysteries between space and time, including their own untimely deaths which occurred nearly 75 years apart at St. Hilarions School for Boys.
Litt shared his thoughts on the series, explaining that he and Buckingham received Gaiman’s blessing to make “Dead Boy Detectives” their own and revealing that not only does the title tie into the greater Sandman universe, but also that Edwin and Charles may not be solving mysteries as a dynamic duo for too much longer.
CBR News: In the Vertigo one-shot anthologies “Ghosts” and “Time Warp,” you started a story with Charles and Edwin titled “Run Ragged.” Is the third part still coming in an anthology, or will the story you’ve started dovetail into your new ongoing series?
Toby Litt: The third part of “Run Ragged” — “Gone to the Dogs” — will come out as part of “The Witching Hour” anthology. This was always the plan. But that story now leads directly in to the beginning of the ongoing series.
For those who may have missed those stories, and shame on you if you have, can you bring us up to speed on what the boys have been up to?
Things haven’t been easy over at the Dead Boy Detective Agency — or tree house. Cases just haven’t been coming the boys’ way. In fact, they’ve been reduced to that lowliest of detective activities: Searching for a lost cat. Okay, so that cat is a ghost cat. And the clients who hired them, two girls called Maddy and Libby, are also ghosts. Of course, Charles — as he always does — has fallen for Maddy. Edwin has done his best to keep the investigation on track.
However, whilst in pursuit of their quarry, the boys are captured by the spirit of a demented Victorian schoolmaster named Mr. Locke, who has been running a ‘Ragged School’ since 1844. Ragged Schools really did exist. They were for the poorest of the poor, for orphans and street children. The Dead Boy Detectives, assisted by a couple of Mr. Locke’s pluckier students, have managed to escape, but Mr. Locke whistles up all the savage hounds that inhabit the Isle of Dogs to chase Charles and Edwin and to tear them to pieces. When we left them last time, the boys were desperately trying to escape by climbing a crane. Mr. Locke was right after them, though.
Charles and Edwin are dead, boys and detectives, but what else can you tell us about them? What strengths — and weaknesses — do you feel each one brings to the partnership?
Charles and Edwin met at St Hilarion’s school. Both were killed by a trio of extremely psychotic bullies. In the usual run of things, Charles would have been paid a friendly little visit by Death, and would have gone wherever he was destined to go. However, because things were getting a little confused with the afterlife at that point, and because Death was running late, had more important things to do and because she thought the boys were kind of sweet and amusing, she let them carry on as ghosts — promising to return and gather them up one day. These events were narrated by Neil Gaiman as part of the “Season of Mists” run of “Sandman.” All through the planning of the comic, we’ve gone back again and again to Neil’s original story. It seems to set up so many fantastic possibilities.
The boys have very contrasting characters. Charles follows his heart, whereas Edwin tries to use his head. They are both obsessed with being detectives, but of very different kinds. Edwin models himself on Sherlock Holmes. Charles’ hero is Philip Marlowe. The main thing that separates them, however, is that Edwin has spent many years in hell. He’s a darker character than Charles, though he keeps this hidden a lot of the time.
What is about the dynamically dead duo that you think works and why do you think the characters have what it takes to carry their own series?
What’s great about the boys is, I think, their friendship. They don’t have anyone else in the world — and they want to do something to help people. They’re good-hearted idealists and ghosts who can pass through walls or swoosh from one part of the world to another in an instant. So, who better to solve those tricky supernatural mysteries that no-one else can?
Will you be resurrecting and reimagining classic adventures of Charles and Edwin, or are these all new adventures?
These are all new adventures, but they will be taking Charles and Edwin back to some familiar locations, allowing them to conclude some long-neglected business. For the most part, though, they are going to be encountering a much vaster universe of trouble. Our ambitions are to have the boys continue to pursue individual cases, but there are some much bigger things at stake than lost cats — even extremely cute and feisty lost cats.
Will these individual cases be done-in-one adventures like the Hardy Boys, or will you be telling larger stories over longer arcs through multiple issues?
I’m hoping it will be a combination of both. The discrete cases will bring out aspects of the ghost world that the boys have inhabited without really investigating. Charles, in particular, wants to test his own limits. What can and can’t ghosts do?
Can you give us a tease of what’s ahead in the first six to twelve issues? Storylines? Villains? Supporting characters?
I don’t think it’s any secret that the boys don’t stay as a duo for too much longer. And, like I said, they’re going to be drawn back to where they have unfinished business.
What? They’re not staying together as a duo? Can you explain?
Well, that’s certainly a game-changer. Will Mr. Locke continue to play a role beyond “The Witching Hour,” because he is one of my favorite new bad guys of late.
Thank you. He is extremely horrible, and was great fun to write for. And, yes, it’s quite possible he’ll make a return appearance. But there are even badder guys on the horizon.
You’re also adding a new supporting character to the mythos. What can you tell us about Crystal?
Crystal is the tech savvy daughter of a washed-up Britpop star and a media-obsessed Young British Artist, who is no longer so young. She’s thirteen years old, and into detective mangas and a particular MMORPG. More than that, I’m reluctant to say.
When we last spoke, you shared that you received feedback and even signoff from the Boys’ creator, Neil Gaiman. Has he had any input this time around?
Yes. I was able to ask him all the questions I needed to, about the boys, their relationship to Death, what he intended for “The Children’s Crusade.” He’s been following the development of the stories. Mainly, though, he gave us his blessing to go and make it our own. That’s definitely what we’re doing.
Obviously, it’s an exciting time for Mr. Gaiman and the “Sandman” Universe with the upcoming release of “The Sandman Overture.” Will your series tie into that series at all? Are you excited to be a part of the franchise as Neil prepares to make his return?
There are tie-ins with the Sandman universe. But if Hell is the underworld, and the Endless an overarching superstructure, then the boys will be exploring some vast, shifting spaces left in the gaps. For instance, they’ll be traveling down the ghost roads only passingly mentioned in “The Children’s Crusade.”
“Dead Boy Detectives” #1, written by Toby Litt and Mark Buckingham and featuring art by Buckingham and Gary Erskine, goes on sale December 31.