CCI EXCLUSIVE: Kirkman and McFarlane on "Haunt"

Three years ago at Comic-Con International, "Invincible" writer Robert Kirkman called Todd McFarlane out. The "Spawn" creator wasn't doing enough comic books, Kirkman contested, and it was time to change that. McFarlane agreed, but only if Kirkman helped him hash out a new concept. Now, three years later, the Kirkman and McFarlane-created comic book series "Haunt" is arriving courtesy of Image Comics. The series - which focuses on a pair of brothers, one living and one not, who unite in one corporeal form for a series of supernatural James Bond-inspired adventures - debuts October, courtesy of the aforementioned creators and artists Ryan Ottley and Greg Capullo. Kirkman and McFarlane spoke exclusively with CBR News about the announcement.

It's been a long time coming, but "Haunt" is finally around the corner. It hasn't always been an easy road, the creators admitted, but it's nonetheless a road they've traveled over many years. "We've been working steadily behind the scenes for a good long time," Kirkman told CBR News. "We're finally at the point where we're well enough ahead of schedule, we have our plans mapped out, we know exactly what we're doing. We're ready to go, and not a day too soon."

"We've had some fits and starts, and some false starts," admitted McFarlane. "I didn't want to be in a position where I put out a solicitation for the sake of putting out a solicitation. That's too easy. I keep telling my Image partners that that's the easiest thing that anybody can do in comic books. The hard part is delivering a book on time that's of high quality, and maybe even delaying the solicitation so that you can hype it a little bit more. I know it's been a little frustrating to Robert, but it's already been two years - what's two years and one month? We gotta do it. We gotta get it right. We gotta get this thing down. So him and I knocked down some of the big issues both creatively and on a business-marketing level, and now I'm inking the cover for issue #2. 'Haunt' has been given birth."

As hard as it's been for fans to await significant movement on "Haunt," it's been equally difficult for the creators who've waited to share their product with the world. "I'm pretty excited. I think it's going to be a pretty cool book and a good addition to the Image Comics line," Kirkman said. "It's been an absolute blast to work with Todd on this, and since we've brought in Greg Capullo and Ryan Ottley, it's just been everybody I've enjoyed working with and everybody I'd wanted to work some day jamming together on one book, which is pretty exciting. I think the final product is absolutely stunning, so I'm pretty excited to hold a copy in my hands."

The original idea might belong to Kirkman and McFarlane, but artists Ryan Ottley and Greg Capullo deserve a lot of thanks for getting the book ready. Capullo has been constructing the page-by-page breakdowns, with Ottley filling in the details after the fact. Kirkman, who works with Ottley on "Invincible," said that his artistic partner-in-crime's work on "Haunt" is certainly recognizable, though it's very different than what Ottley's fans might be used to.

"I would say it's vastly different than what he's doing on 'Invincible,'" Kirkman surmised. "The book is much darker - I hate using the word dark, but, whatever - and he's working off of Greg Capullo's breakdowns, so he's really only shaping the figures after they're laid down on the page and going in to fill all the details that Greg isn't doing. It's kind of an amalgam of Greg and Ryan's work, then Todd comes in and inks over it and it's like a whole new thing all on its own. I think people are going to be interested to see it - it has Ryan Ottley flavor, it's definitely Ryan Ottley's work, but it's vastly different and very cool."

Kirkman's not the only one who's noticed a change in Ottley's art. As the book's inker, McFarlane said that he's had a lot of fun tinkering with the "Invincible" penciler's style while still maintaining an Ottley aesthetic. "When I get guys like Ryan to ink over, the end result should be that it's recognizable as Ryan Ottley in the blink of an eye," McFarlane stated. "But I'll spend time on stupid stuff that an artist normally wouldn't. I'll tell him, 'Take a look at the gun and notice that I put in fifty more lines, take a look at the jeep and notice that I added a bunch of detail to the headlights. It's silly stuff. But let's go look at a face: you draw so well that I don't need to fuck with it, all I've gotta do is just a little bit here and a little bit there just to give it a little bit more dimension; but under no circumstances do I bury you. It's just rounding the eye, making it feel like there's a little bit of a shadow on the eye.' Either he's being very kind to me, or he's actually going, 'Wow, that's cool, Todd! It's still me, but it's me looking different than I've seen before. It's cool.'"

The end result, McFarlane expects, is that "Invincible" and "Haunt" readers will be divided on Ottley's latest style. "I think Ryan Ottley fans are going to pick sides," he said. "Either they're going to like the super-clean slick look, or they're gonna like the grittier look. But both of them are going to like what they see."

Beyond inking Ottley's art, McFarlane's collaborative approach extends to the storytelling process. Kirkman cited McFarlane's team player attitude as one of the highlights of the "Haunt" experience thus far. "He's very hands-on," he explained. "He's got a lot of good ideas, and they're not annoying. I've worked with people in the past who've given me changes or suggested things that I didn't exactly agree with - that's not any fun. But Todd will just sit there and go, 'Well, what about this?' And I'm like, 'That's something that makes more story possibilities, and that's a really good idea. I can't believe I forgot that.' So, it's sort of working with Todd to shape the concept and bounce story ideas off of him and whatnot - I didn't expect that aspect to be so fulfilling. It's pretty exciting."

Likewise, McFarlane praised the writer's own sensibilities, but it's Kirkman's unbridled love for all things comic book that truly excites the "Spawn" creator. "That's the part that I'm the most jealous of," McFarlane confessed. "He hasn't gotten distracted with some of the silly stuff that some of the founding fathers did. He just likes his comic books and he's very successful doing those comics books. I think he's tapped into the vein of comic book readers to a certain extent. Sometimes when I'm actually trying to put something together, whether it's on 'Spawn' or 'Haunt,' I'll phone him and say, 'Hey, how do we do this?' He's living it every day, a lot more than I am. For me, my time is still limited and it's all about getting the work done. I don't have the luxury to spend on [reading about] what's happening out in the rest of the comic book world and how readers and retailers are reacting. He does. He's been very helpful about that."

The two comic book creators may not have known each other particularly well before working on "Haunt," but their relationship has changed significantly now. McFarlane even equated Kirkman to a family member, though not in a particularly flattering way. "He's just a fun guy to bug, because he reminds me of my brother in that he sometimes doesn't understand when I'm poking him in the eye," McFarlane said. "He's almost too easy to mess with. Sometimes it's not even fun, because he's just too easy! For example, there was an e-mail going around the other day to get together for an Image meeting. Everybody was replying, 'I'm in,' and I'm always sort of the last guy to answer those. I sent an e-mail back to Robert saying, 'Well, if Kirkman's showing up, I'm not going.' But I intentionally only sent it to him, and he sent me an e-mail back saying, 'Dude, you forgot to reply to everybody else!' I'm going, 'Robert, it was intended to go to you because I'm just bugging you.' Like I said, sometimes he's too easy to poke at - it's not even a challenge anymore."

"He's an easy target to pick on, too - I just do it behind his back," Kirkman retorted. "This is just a case of the young genius teaching the over-the-hill guy what to do. That's pretty much how it's working. Every now and then, I'll let him think that he's giving me some sage-like wisdom just to make him feel good about himself. It's a good relationship, though. No knives out yet. We'll see where that goes after this interview."

Given the fun that both creators have at each other's expense - not to mention their kind words for both Ottley and Capullo's output on the series - "Haunt" is poised to be an entertaining read at least. But the more important question, and perhaps the least certain one, is whether or not "Haunt" will be a consistent read; that is, with several other projects of their own in comic books and elsewhere, how will Kirkman and McFarlane manage to keep "Haunt" on schedule?

"We're working on it," Kirkman said. "If you work on a book, it usually comes out on time, as I've learned this year. We're well ahead of schedule right now. Issue #1 is in the can, I'm working on issue #3 and everyone else is finishing up issue #2. Our first issue doesn't come out until October. And because Greg is doing the breakdowns and Ryan is doing the pencils and Todd is doing the inks, everyone involved in the book can do the book better than monthly. I really have no concerns. As long as they're getting scripts, everything should be running like clockwork - famous last words!"

The first issue of "Haunt" is slated for release from Image Comics in October, 2009.

EXCLUSIVE: Batman/Superman Preview Proves How Powerful the Infected Are

More in Comics