Buoyed by the success of the five arc of Five Ghosts, the ship-shape creative team of Frank Barbiere, Chris Mooneyham and Lauren Affe have been sailing forward these past few months on a wave of critical acclaim. Okay, sorry, no more ship puns. With the second arc of the much-loved Image series now underway, protagonist Fabian Grey sees himself taking to the high seas as he continues his quest ever onwards.
Five Ghosts is another one of those books from Image which continues to build a reputation for itself every month, with a pulp-y adventure vibe to proceedings and a healthy dose of humour and action in each issue. I’m a fan myself, which is why I was delighted that Barbiere kindly agreed to talk to The Beat about his inspirations on the series, his approach to the characters and story, and what we can expect from the second half of ‘Lost Coastlines’.
Steve: When did you know that Five Ghosts would expand from a five-issue miniseries to an ongoing? Issue five seems to have a defined ending – was that written while you thought the series would end with issue five, or was it written in the knowledge that there would be an issue six?
Frank: The plan was always to do more than five, so that’s just the ending to the first arc as we always envisioned it. Financially, it was pretty clear by issue 3 that we had a solid readership and could sustain moving forward–it would be impossible to continue to put the book out if no one was actually reading it!
But when we constructed the first arc I really wanted to make sure it was a fun origin story of sorts, without giving too much away about the character of Fabian. I think mystery is intriguing, and readers will continue to get more backstory as the narrative develops.
Steve: Is it a challenge to keep a book continuing on, beyond a first arc?
Frank: It’s definitely a challenge to keep the book out consistently, but we really love it and having it on the shelves every month is really the best way to get people interested. The whole team is in a place where we can really buckle down and focus on producing the book, so we figured we’d give it a shot! Luckily things have been going well so far!
It’s a strange badge of honor to be closing in on issue 12, our first “year” so to speak, and it’s always been our dream to have a book we can carry into high numbers.
Steve: How did you set about with creating the second arc? The first five issues now play as an origin of sorts for your protagonist Fabian Grey, and going forward sees him as a fairly fully-formed adventurer.
Frank: Five Ghosts is very much Fabian’s story. Clearly he has a concrete mission to save his sister, but the story will really see him evolve and challenge his beliefs about the world. The first arc was about showing him learning to work with his powers, instead of against them. The story is a redemption tale, and we’ll learn more and more about Fabian and let’s just say he has a lot of history that is going to come back to haunt him.
With an ongoing series there’s an amazing opportunity to see characters grow, and the goal with Five Ghosts is to take Fabian to some new and interesting places and make his growth exciting and enjoyable.
Steve: What were the inspirations on the series? It has the sort of high-adventure tone which brings Indiana Jones or even Tintin to mind.
Frank: The book is very much a love letter to Indiana Jones in my mind. There’s such an untapped potential in the “adventure” genre, and the fact we stumbled into such a rich world, and then managed to elevate it with the involvement of the literary/fantasy angle, has just given us such a rich world to play in. Clearly there’s also a lot of pulp influence, and Chris loves horror so we’ve incorporated a lot of that as well. It’s just so much fun to work in the different genres we love and keep the book feeling fresh.
Steve: How did you build the five ghosts into the story? What inspired you to pick the five who appear here, over any other choices who could’ve appeared?
Frank: They were just the most iconic characters I could think of with the coolest “powers” that would help Fabian. Clearly the ghosts were the springboard for the concept, but it quickly turned into explaining what they were, where story comes from, and a lot of the more literary elements that I really love. We’ve had a new “ghost” in the form of SINBAD who another character possesses, and we’ll definitely incorporate in some more fun stuff as we move forward.
Steve: Do you try to use some of them more than others? For the first storyline you seemed to use the vampire sparingly, to emphasise the effect when he does appear?
Frank: We definitely want the vampire to be seen as a force of immense power that is a bit uncontrollable. We clearly rely heavily on the Musashi ghost as Fabian’s main weapon is a sword, but the fun of writing the book is coming up with new and interesting ways to work the ghosts in–I’ll definitely be pushing to come up with fun, interesting angles as we move ahead!
Steve: Each of the five lend themselves to a genre, meaning you can play in at least five genres at any given time. How do you balance them all, so one genre never overtakes another?
Frank: It’s really a happy accident, to tell the truth. I just write what comes naturally and focus on telling the story, and they just manage to texture themselves in. The story comes from a very fun, organic place in my mind, so things just happen to align nicely on the page for me.
Steve: The current arc, Lost Coastlines, sets off an adventure on the high seas, with all the pirates you might expect. What can readers expect from this new arc of Five Ghosts?
Frank: We’re about to shift into the second half of the story that takes us to an island and works in a lot of elements of THE TEMPEST. The first half was a very fun, swashbuckling story, but it’s about to get pretty crazy–I think it really ramps up in the second half and readers are in for some really fun, unexpected story turns.
Steve: The new arc has so far been exploring more of Fabian’s past, fleshing him out a little. What’s your approach to building a character like Fabian? Do you plan out an extensive backstory for him, or bits and pieces at a time – what’s your approach to character?
Frank: I’ve given a lot of thought as to who he is, his backstory, and what makes him interesting. As I mentioned, I don’t want to divulge everything at once, but we’ll learn his whole life story as the series continues–and hopefully it will serve to inform readers as to who he is, what his intentions are, etc.
Steve: The series has a distinct pulp feel, and a lot of that comes from the artwork by Chris Mooneyham. How did Chris come onto the series?
Frank: I had worked with Chris for a few years before Five Ghosts, so when we dove in we already had great chemistry and a lot of trust. Chris is such a talent and can infuse classic elements into his work, but keep his own modern sensibilities. He has given the book such a unique style, and it’s all his own.
Steve: How do you build that level of collaborative trust, that you can try sequences like the mostly silent dream sequence in issue 4?
Frank: As I mentioned, we came into the book having already worked together for almost three years, so we have a great level of trust. Chris is such an amazing storyteller–I love giving him the center stage with a lot of “silent” action as he just handles it so well, and quite frankly you don’t need words to clutter his fantastic artwork.
Steve: Lauren Affe, who came onto the series as colourist during the first arc, also seems to have a great handle on the tone you’re going for. How does the collaborative process work between the three of you?
Frank: Again, it just comes down to implicit trust. Lauren is an amazing talent, and we just hand the pages off to her and she goes for it. If we have specific notes we let her know, but largely she is creative and experimental with her work (like in issue four) and we get to reap all the benefits. I firmly believe in working with people you trust, as it takes a lot of worry out and gets you amazing results that you might not expect.
Steve: How long do you hope for Five Ghosts to continue on for? Do you have an idea of an ending for the series, or do you simply plan to go for as long as you can?
Frank: I have an ending in mind, but how long it takes to get there is really anyone’s guess. We have the book plotted through issue 25 right now, so we know for sure we’ll be getting there–in a perfect world we’d love to continue as long as our audience will have us, so time will tell!