It's hard to concentrate with a ghost in your brain! Writer Danny Djeljosevic and Artist Eric Zawadzki team up to discuss their webcomic The Ghost Engine!
Danny: The Ghost Engine follows a supercool art thief named Becky Chapel, an uncouth ex-reality TV bounty hunter named Geoffrey Price, and the 19th century ghosts that live inside their heads. Becky shares a brain with William Bark, a steadfast English secret agent who investigated the paranormal for the Queen, while a fairly sinister Russian occultist named Grigori Mikhailovich Zimyatov occupies Price's headspace.
That clustercuss of mismatched personalities relates to this huge machine in the French Catacombs called The Ghost Engine that's capable of opening portals to the spirit world -- provided you have enough living beings to fuel it. The last time our heroes were forced to rebuild the thing and turn it on, a giant monster emerged and bunch of people died. Now Becky and Price are under the custody of a secret US agency called MAESTRO that's been taking part in ongoing -- and thus far, abortive -- attempts to explore the afterlife. Now MAESTRO wants to turn the Ghost Engine back on again as a last ditch attempt to actually accomplish something. As of my writing this, a giant creature has burst out of the portal, so yeah, it's not going very well.
It sounds incredibly high-concept, but we spend a lot of time developing the characters and going into their backstories and figuring out just what makes our heroes the way they are. It's got action. It's got pathos. It's got jokes. It's got amazing art from Eric.
Eric: What he said.
2. What materials and/or software do you use?
Danny: For writing comics, WriteRoom is usually my jam -- it takes over the entire screen so that you can't easily click away to Facebook or whatever. It also makes your screen look like some old school DOS computer if you change the font and page settings right. As a word processing program, it's pretty bare bones compared to Word or OpenOffice, so if you're the kind of person who needs extreme amounts of organizational stuff to keep you in line, I'd probably recommend Final Draft or Scrivener (which I've got on my computer but haven't tried out yet).
In the physical world, I use unlined note cards for sketches and page layout thumbnails. And, of course, a pen.
Eric: I primarily use a Cintiq and Photoshop. I do everything on it. Roughs, illustrating, colouring and lettering on Photoshop. I'm told that it's better to do the lettering in Illustrator, but I like the all-in-one aspect of Photoshop and I tend to letter first so that I can tailor my layouts to it all. (I make adjustments while I go, though)
3. Are there any books, movies, toys, artists, or authors that have inspired or continue to inspire your comic?
Danny: Besides everything I've ever read, watched, played with, gazed at or idolized? Let's see... there's likely some Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis in everything I do. This one's probably more Ellis than Moz. We started working on this comic in 2009, which was the summer I got obsessed with Fraction/Bá/Moon's Casanova. That one really opened my eyes to making comics with a clear authorial voice that actually intend to be comics instead of something that reads like a movie pitch.
Eric: I'm also a big fan of Casanova. Those guys are crafting a masterpiece. I'm inspired by a lot of creators so my answer changes every day. I'll read anything by Brian Wood and Joshua Dysart. Olivier Coipel is one of favourite working artists. R.M. Guerra, Frank Quitely, Ryan Sook, Stuart Immonen... a lot of these guys clearly don't do work that doesn't looks anything like my stuff, but they inspire me quite a bit.
4. Are any of your characters based on real people in your life?
5. Are there any actors you know you would want to play or voice certain characters in a movie of your comic?
Danny: Y'know, I've never really thought about it. I rarely consider stuff like that when I make comics, which prolly stems from my "this is a comic, not a movie" thing. Occasionally I've been inspired by a specific actor when writing a character, but I never think about who'd play them in movies.
But since you asked...
I imagine the Ghost Engine movie -- co-directed by Ryuhei Kitamura and Harmony Korine in a blatant cash grab to help fund his backwoods erotic thriller with Joaquin Phoenix and Lindsay Lohan -- would feature Matthew McConaughey hitting Magic Mike levels of sleaziness as Price. His ghost, Zimyatov, would be played by either Daniel Craig or Liev Schreiber -- whichever one can do a better Russian accent. Mustache required.
As for Becky, Gillian Jacobs of Community or Anna Kendrick would fit the role pretty well, but I'm also biased because I'm in love with them. William Bark would be played by, I dunno, that guy from Sherlock, Benedict Pumpkinpatch? Or one of those young lads who played The Doctor. Someone weird looking, British and easily befuddled. Mustache also required.
I'd populate the rest of the movie with Elias Koteas leading a cast of under-appreciated character actors and guys from The Wire. Josh Charles would finally play a role where he doesn't betray the team. The Ghost Engine itself would be played by WWE Superstar John Cena.
Eric: Hah! Everything Danny just said would make for an absolutely perfect movie translation!
6. What songs would you like in a soundtrack of your comic?
Danny: Metric's album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? is pretty much Becky Chapel in audio form. Price's soundtrack is probably Mountain Goats, though I doubt he himself listens to them. For the rest of the comic... let's go with electropop. Anytime the Ghost Engine gets activated the soundtrack is Dan Deacon and that time Dan Deacon layered "Call Me Maybe" 147 times.
Eric: Any score from John Powell works for me.
7. What is your overall goal for your comic?
Danny: Tell an entertaining story that only we could tell, build an audience, have something we can show people to prove our skills and hopefully get other gigs by virtue of being able to create comics that look good and read well. Like anything I do, it's a desperate cry for attention.
Eric: Yeah, basically we're just trying get an audience. I don't think we have any illusions of profiting on The Ghost Engine. We're just trying to have fun and build ourselves up a bit, show the world what we can do. And of course get better at what we do. I'm always running towards that 10,000 hours goal.
8. How has managing a comic impacted your life?
Danny: For one thing solid proof that I'm a guy who makes comics, which I now tell people without having to mitigate it with "Well, I'm still looking for artists so I have nothing to show for it now..." And it's made me realize I need to work on my pitching skills. This one time a pro I'm pseudo-friends with asked me what The Ghost Engine was about I stumbled and stuttered my way through an incoherent plot summary. Never again, I said.
Eric: Well, some of my friends joke that I have no life because I'm always drawing. But I figure I should only really be concerned when there's no one left to make that joke. Hah!
9. What do you do to advertise your work?
Danny: We got the social media game on lock -- new pages come out every Monday and Friday, and I put the word out through Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, MySpace, Friendster, Faceparty, Face the Jury, OkCupid, JDate -- what was that comic book social networking site that was popular for five minutes? ComicSpace? I don't post anything on there. I give out business cards for The Ghost Engine at conventions to anyone I think is cool. We're also on sites like ComicRocket and Just the First Frame. Then there's Project Wonderful, but I'll let Eric talk about that one.
Eric: I put about $20 a week in to Project Wonderful over the course a month a little while ago and our stats jumped through the roof. Unfortunately, I couldn't really keep that up because I'm not made of money. We're basically just using social media and word of mouth these days.
10. Web comics can be very time consuming and sometimes expensive to keep up. Often there is little reward in regards to money and sometimes public attention. Why do you do it?
Danny: In the year 2012, it's the only game in town, isn't it? Self-publishing physical comics isn't exactly sustainable anymore, but there's an entire Internet to put up your stuff at a minimal cost and get it in front of people's eyes. Comics is a world where talent outnumbers jobs, and one of the only ways to prove your chops is to put out a comic yourself. Anyway, like everyone who makes comics, you do it because it's in your blood and you can't do anything else anyway.
Eric: I'm going to make comics no matter what. It just so happens that Web Comics ensures the widest possible audience. If we were to sell $1 PDFs, I'm sure we'd make about $20 after a year and we'd have a tiny audience. Web comics ensures a bigger audience and that's all we're really after right now.
11. Got any other projects we should know about?
Danny: Let's see... the other artist I regularly work with is Mike Prezzato. Together we do a lot of lo-fi "Kirby meets 2000 AD" style garage comics. The collaboration I always show to people is our short "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men" which is basically a war comic pilot where a bunch of robots fight a dinosaur. I'm actually working on coloring (or, in some cases, recoloring) our previous collabos with some old school simple Photoshop spot coloring to make our stuff pop in weird psychedlic hues. I got a thing for pre-digital comics coloring.
I'm also Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, one of the older still-functioning comics websites on the Internet. And, at this point, probably the coolest. I write about cool comics, the latest movies and bring on writers who are prone to making indie music references.
Otherwise, Eric and I are doing preliminary stuff on our next big comic project. Too early to talk about it, but it's the biggest thing I've ever written.
Eric: I'm working with a couple of different writers on various shorts and long form projects. I've got a short with Ed Brisson (of Murder Book and Comicback fame) up on Challenger Comics.. I did an Occupy Comics short with Patrick Meaney (known for his comics based documentaries) and we're working on something else at the moment. I've got some things brewing with Ryan K. Lindsay and of course, there's the previously mentioned follow-up project to The Ghost Engine with Danny.
12. What advice would you give to aspiring creators?
Danny: Make comics. Just make them. Make them however you can. Nobody's impressed with the guy at the comic shop telling his friends about his awesome idea for a Heroes for Hire book. Comics are the visual medium with the lowest barrier to entry. There's no such thing as an "aspiring creator" -- just people who make comics and people who don't. You keep at it, get better, make sure people know about you, and you'll be fine.
Eric: Yup, just go out and do it. Put as many hours into it as you can and you'll just get better and better. Also make a lot of friends who are at the same level as you in the industry. Work with as many people as you can. Eventually, one of those friends is going to hit it big and suddenly you'll be connected. And, of course, that only works if you're not an asshole. So basically just be a nice person to everyone and try not take anything personally.
Sounds like you guys are keeping crazy busy. Thanks so much for taking the time!
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