As a great mumbler once said, the times, they are a changin’. The sentiment is as true for the comics industry as a whole as it is for individual titles, specifically the Image Comics published “Haunt.” Created by Todd McFarlane and Robert Kirkman with artwork by Ryan Ottley, Greg Capullo and McFarlane, the series focused on priest Daniel Kilgore who became entwined with his newly-deceased brother Kurt who discovers the afterlife-fueled ability to form a supernatural suit worn by his living brother. Since their debut in 2009, things have been pretty crazy for the Brothers Kilgore as they’ve been running from one task to another in an attempt to sew up some of the loose threads of Kurt’s former life.
Come September, the Kilgore brothers will have a new set of changes to deal with as both Kirkman and Capullo join the recently departed Ottley in stepping aside from the title. Their departure kicked off a search for a new creative team that would not simply rehash what their predecessors had done creatively, but would branch out on their own. and take the series in a new and unique direction CBR News spoke with McFarlane about the reasons behind the creative shake-up, what Joe Casey and Nathan Fox bring to the table and what readers can expect from “Haunt” in the months ahead.
“In my perfect world, Robert Kirkman and Greg Capullo would do 100 issues of ‘Haunt,'” McFarlane told CBR. “When Robert started doing his work on the [‘Walking Dead’] TV show, as somebody who’s been down that road before that has a lot of people pulling at you for various reasons, whether it’s comics, video games, toys or Hollywood, the problem is that you have 24 hour day but you have more demands in that same 24 hour day. I warned Robert, I went, ‘Robert, you’re not going to be able to keep this up.’ He thought he could do it all. Eventually, he woke up to the reality that it was just too much. Instead of doing five things a day, you have to do ten. As a friend, I said, “If you have to let go of ‘Haunt,’ I’d rather you not, but I completely understand it because you’ve got another opportunity to go and take care of. Go ahead, rock and roll.'”
Around that same time Capullo began looking for different creative opportunities, so the pair decided to depart “Haunt” at the same time.
“When [Greg] saw Robert was going to be leaving, all of a sudden he started having chats with Marvel and DC [Comics] and ended up choosing DC,” McFarlane explained. “Now, Greg’s going to go do some big Batman project over at DC, which is awesome for him. I think Greg is the best superhero artist in the business, bar none. People who haven’t seen his art recently on ‘Haunt’ or ‘Spawn’ are going to be blown away by what he’s doing on ‘Batman.’ He’s the best American superhero artist out there.”
With the departure of a pair of heavy hitting creators, McFarlane had to decide whether to end the book or carry on with a brand new team. McFarlane decided to soldier on.
“I see ‘Haunt’ in the same vein as ‘Spawn,’ which is, [you] start with issue #1, next thing you know you’re up to issue #10, you blink you’re up to issue #50 and then you’re at issue #100. You just grind it out,” McFarlane said. “Now I need some people to come on and help me grind it. With Robert and Capullo gone, the question then becomes, ‘How good of a team can I put in behind them?’ and on top of it, I’m not a fan of having the team to come in behind do a knock off of their predecessors. I think that’s unfair and it sends mixed messages to the consumer. I usually like it when somebody comes on, there’s a different look and the consumer can decide if that look is better or worse based on their own personal taste. What Joe and Nathan are going to do doesn’t look like what Robert, Greg and I were doing.”
Putting the team together came down to McFarlane looking for a writer and artist who would let themselves cut loose on “Haunt” and not be too precious with it. To that end, he expects Joe Casey will fit the bill.
“Number one, there’s some name recognition, which is always good to put on the book,” McFarlane said. “More so for me, from a creative point of view, I like that the body of work he has done is very wide-ranging. He’s a co-creator of ‘Ben 10’ — that’s sort of youth-oriented, character driven stuff. Then if you’ve read some of the stuff he does for Image and some of the other publishers, it’s adult stuff, truly adult, that you would term as R-rated. He hasn’t just been in that generic, American superhero spandex groove, he’s sort of bounced back and forth. My hope was that if a guy has that much range, then he should be able to take a character like Haunt, take the things that are exciting to him and then add new stuff.”
McFarlane gave Casey the same “keys to the castle” that he has with previous creators on “Spawn” in hopes that the incoming writer gets wild with his stories and doesn’t worry too much about what came before.
“I’m not looking for somebody to do a version of what already exists,” McFarlane said. “I’m looking for somebody to actually add to the mythos, so that by the time you get to issue #50, half of it belongs to [Casey and Fox] and people go, ‘Yeah, that’s cool stuff that Joe Casey put in.’ I think he’s up to the task and he seems pretty excited right now. He’s going to slowly scratch the surface and doesn’t want to get too crazy because he doesn’t want to go too far off the rails with what we established. But with that said, I’m hoping that eventually he does get that far off the rails, meaning he’s blazing his own trail when it comes to this character.”
Along the same lines, McFarlane focused on finding an artist whose style would not directly reflect his or Capullo’s, but would still be versatile enough to work in the strange corners of the world “Haunt” takes its heroes while playing up the spooky aspects of the character inherent in the name.
“Nathan’s style is almost as different as you can get from guys like me and Greg, who are kind of anal pen and ink guys who do cross hatching and all this super, hyper-detail,” McFarlane said. “A guy like Nathan has that big, broad brush that’s more about mood and less about dazzling you with detail, if you will. When I looked at his stuff, I said, ‘Wow.’ He sets you up to feel something in his books. It’s less about whether his anatomy is perfect or his women are right out of Victoria’s Secret and all the guys have got perfect muscles. I think it’s just me getting old. I find those books that I see out in the marketplace are more interesting to me as I get older. The perfectly drawn, superhero books, I’ve kind of seen those books before. There’re very few surprises for me in that style, anymore. The guys who surprise me have that kind of off kilter, odd style. I don’t mean odd in a bad way, but odd in a jealous way. I go, ‘I wish I could do that, that’s cool!'”
McFarlane, who co-created “Haunt,” provided covers and inked over Capullo and Ottley’s pencils, will be shifting into more of an editorial role moving forward, though he’ll still be available for Fox if he needs help with layouts, inks or thumbnails.
“I’m having long conversations with Nathan, so we’re putting out a book that would be close to if I was writing, penciling and inking it,” McFarlane said. “I’d be taking it off the tracks and putting it in these spots. Let’s go and let’s make this guy as significantly different from Spawn as we can, but still have another guy that’s a creature of the night. Creeper is that guy. Batman is that guy. Punisher is that guy. Wolverine is that guy. There’s a whole length of guys that sort of hang around after 11 o’clock and do crazy stuff, so there’s no reason [Image] can’t have more than one of them. They just need to be distinct in and of themselves.”
When it comes to filling in some of the heretofore unexplained elements of “Haunt,” McFarlane proffered up a series of questions to answer that Casey, Kurt and Daniel will be dealing with.
“‘Why am I channeling a ghost? Why is that ghost my brother? Did I even like my brother? What the hell’s all this government stuff? What the hell is going on?'” McFarlane asked for his lead character. “This is the piece we haven’t done yet. As I said in another interview, he’s mostly been going on adrenaline and he hasn’t stopped to actually take a deep breath and go, ‘Who the hell are all you people? What the hell’s going on?’ Even Kurt the ghost hasn’t acted like a ghost yet. He’s just going, ‘We’ve got to do this and this,’ but he hasn’t said, ‘Oh by the way, I’m dead, I’m a ghost — what the hell is going on?’ Everybody keeps sort of running on adrenaline and we need to stop a little bit and ask how we got here and what does it mean?”
“Haunt” will also be dealing with Daniel, a man of the cloth, reacting to his newfound role in the world as host to a supernatural entity while building the history between Daniel and Kurt that led to them disliking each other as adults with an exploration of what McFarlane calls “the id of Daniel.” But the book will also still include plenty of mystery and intrigue to keep readers entertained.
“As part of making the transition, for people who are familiar with the book, there’s this whole underground installation that was there,” McFarlane said of the location seen in issues leading up to coming creative change. “It was super hi-tech, sci-fi type stuff. Daniel’s going to go down there [in “Haunt” #19], and it’s going to be empty. It’s one of those cool moments that you’ve seen in the movies where, all of a sudden, you go to the place you spent half the movie, and it’s gone, the people are gone. It’s a bit of an impetus for him to catch his breath and ask, ‘Who were these people? They said they were the good guys, but if they were the good guys, why did they leave me all alone?’ Then there’s a pretty big cliffhanger that I won’t spoil, but should get people to go, ‘Oh, okay, so I guess they’re not being overly sensitive with all this stuff.’ Then, all of a sudden we’ll pick him up in issue #20 and he’ll be on his own instead of having a big congregation around him of government officials. He doesn’t even know what the power is doing to him physically or if it’s harming his health. Is it a good thing or is it like cancer? We’re starting to dabble in those pieces of the puzzle too.”
As the picture begins to come into focus for Daniel and Kurt Kilgore, McFarlane hopes Haunt also becomes aware of just how frightening and impressive a figure he can be.
“I want to get him to the point where he understands that the costume he has can be intimidating too,” McFarlane said. “Not because it shoots spikes, but just standing there in that costume at 2 o’clock in the morning just like Batman can be intimidating. He’s got the skull face, so if he’s standing in the shadows and all you see is this skull face and the design on his chest and he doesn’t say one word, he’s just standing in the corner of the room — it should mean something. He should be a bit of a boogeyman, a bit of a ghost to earn the name Haunt. He just needs to discover that.”