CCI EXCLUSIVE: Joe Harris Gets "Spontaneous"

Joe Harris has had a big year in comics with the Oni Press miniseries "Ghost Projekt" and his story in the relaunched "Creepy" from Dark Horse Press. The year is not over, though, and there are still a lot of books from the writer scheduled to come out that he's hard at work on and Oni Press revealed yet another title at a panel discussion at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

When CBR News spoke with Harris and artist Steve Rolston about "Ghost Projekt" few months back, Harris mentioned another graphic novel that would be released through Oni, "The Hashishian." Today at Comic-Con, it was announced Harris will be doing yet another project with the company, "Spontaneous," along with artist Brett Weldele ("The Light," "Surrogates"), and he gave CBR a few details about what we can expect.

CBR: Joe, tell us about "Spontaneous."

Joe Harris: Like "Ghost Projekt," "Spontaneous" is a supernatural thriller that borders on being a horror story at times with another slow burn of a mystery that weaves in and out of both. It's about a young man who's convinced the phenomenon known as Spontaneous Human Combustion exists, despite what sound science and skeptics say, and his quest to prove it.  Our unlikely hero is this guy named Melvin who works this shitty job as a cashier at the local mall's food court.  But it's all a cover for what he's really up to: tracking what he believes to be an outbreak of Spontaneous Human Combustion in his boring suburban town.  Melvin not only believes SHC exists, but that there's a pattern and he's determined to crack the code.  

For Mel, this is all personal.  On his third birthday, he watched in helpless horror as his own father collapsed to the floor and burst into flames.  He's been determined to prove his father's death wasn't due to some bullshit explanation conventional investigators usually give to these sorts of hard to explain cases like the "wick effect" or "static flash."  Only thing is, nobody takes Melvin seriously.  He's a bit of an outcast, a loner.  He doesn't trust people and people tend to think he's strange.  For as close as he feels he's getting to the truth, he always seems to experience a setback and he fears his own failure to honor his father's memory more than anything.

But when he crosses paths with this cute but ruthless would-be investigative reporter working at the local paper named Emily, Mel's world is turned upside down. She's a skeptic, at first. But Melvin manages to convince her of some things he's uncovered.  She likes Melvin.  And nobody like's Melvin, so he's soon smitten with this would-be mix of Woodward and Bernstein and Eric Brokovich looking to blow the cover off what she soon comes to believe is a conspiracy in their little town.  What follows is this trip down a suburban rabbit hole and the discovery of their town's dark past, a connection to classified military experiments, and the shocking family secrets Melvin's going to wish stayed locked away.  Like "The X-Files" used to posit"the truth is out there"... only Melvin's really going to regret finding it out.

It's a smaller story than "Ghost Projekt" in that we're not jetting across the globe and getting into Cold War espionage and Soviet state secrets, but it's larger in other ways in that it explores not only the unexpected and shocking truth behind the cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion that hit Melvin's hometown but also gets into the desire to believe in something, spiritual longing and the need for life to have meaning and to accomplish something when everybody assumes you're going to fail.  "Spontaneous" is set in a small, suburban town that's sunny and nice on the outside but with dark undercurrent running through it that gradually reveals itself as the story unwinds. It's very much in the vein of movies like "Brick" or even "Veronica Mars," you know, in that it makes a big deal out of the mundanities of growing up in some little town most people can't wait to get the fuck out of. It's about outcasts. Nerds. Losers. People trapped in the same shitty place they grew up, and got beat up in school in.  And now this new, strange thing happens and reshuffles the status quo.

Where did this idea come from?

I've been interested in Spontaneous Human Combustion since I saw it featured on an episode of "That's Incredible!" when I was a little kid.  I've got a soft spot for freaky, mysterious pseudo-science and I've always wanted to do something with it as subject matter.  One day I was just ruminating on that first word"Spontaneous."  It sounded so Golden Age of Hollywood, you know?  Like the title of an Alfred Hitchcock film starring Cary Grant.  But the subject matter is so"Ripley's Believe It Or Not!" or Robert Stack in "Unsolved Mysteries."  And the story just started to knit itself together.

How did you end up connecting with Brett Weldele and what is it you enjoy about his work?

Well, I had brought the project to Oni Press. It's one of a few things we're going to be announcing in the coming months.  But we hadn't found the right artist. Then one day I get a message from James Lucas Jones, Oni's Editor in Chief, and he asks if I've seen Brett's stuff. It was really his work on "The Light" that turned us both on. It's creepy and elegant all at once with these painted flourishes that are just perfect for what I wanted to do.  This is a book about fire, and explosions, and burning... lots of burning.  Crap, I hope he wasn't looking to use a lot of blues and other cool colors... 

So the nitty gritty details: when is it coming out, how many issues, etc.?

I believe the plan is to launch in the late winter or spring of 2011.  As of now, it's five issues.

Two issues left in "Ghost Projekt." How has the response been from comics fans and do you still have a few more surprises in store for us?

The response has been really gratifying.  "Ghost Projekt" is my first creator-owned book and I've been fortunate to have a fantastic collaborator in Steve Rolston. I hope you dug the cliffhanger in issue three.  Issue four is all about "The Dark Rider," one of the first subjects of the Soviet's Dosvindanya Projekt of weaponizing ghosts.  It's full of violence and blood and destruction.  But there's more going on beneath the surface and I'd like to think our main, human villain, Konstantin's story... his sadism, his propensity for evil in the pursuit of his obsessions, will yield a couple more surprises as we find out more about him, and the nature of the Projekt beyond the failed attempts to resurrect, and control what turned out to be uncontrollable Tartar warriors dug from centuries old graves on the Siberian plain.

What's the status of "The Hashishian," your other project with Oni?

"The Hashishian" proceeds.  We're about halfway through it.  It's an OGN, around 120 pages or so and it's going to be so fucking cool.  I love stoner movie duos like Cheech & Chong and Harold & Kumar and I'd like to think we're trying to do something new in that genre. And Trevor McCarthy's artwork is gorgeous.

I know you're working on a few other comics projects, which you can't talk about but you were one of the writers Dark Horse asked to help relaunch "Creepy." You're a big horror guy. Was this a big deal to be part of this project?

It was awesome being a part of the "Creepy" relaunch.  You don't know how many people would smile fondly when I mentioned I was involved.  There's a lot of love out there for history of that title.  I was so happy with how my three-part story"The Curse," turned out.  And working with Jason Sawn Alexander was a thrill.

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