SO THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Geoff Johns, DC Entertainment’s Chief Creative Officer, also a comic book writer who’s been involved in such projects as Green Lantern, The Flash, and Superman, has teamed up with Jeff Lemire, the author of the Essex County Trilogy, Sweet Tooth and The Nobody, to write and illustrate (respectively) a story in for a Vertigo anthology called Ghosts. The book is being released by DC Comics today, which, given that it’s Halloween and all, is appropriate.
Their project, a short story called “Ghost-for-Hire,” marks the first time that Geoff Johns has written for the Vertigo imprint. And it’s a great debut collab for the comics powerhouses.
TSJ talked to the partners in spook about comics bro love, real ghosts, and how to cinch a scary tale.
THE SMOKING JACKET: I dig ghost stories. And I love how everyone knows someone who knows someone that this story really happened to… summer camp campfire style. So I’m stoked to check this book out. So many talented people are part of it, too. And that’s cool.
GEOFF JOHNS: I actually saw a ghost at a cabin in Colorado. I was literally woken up by the sound of breathing, looked up and saw someone standing over my bed. They reached out for me and I went to grab their arm and my hand went through it. I turned on the light and they were gone. True story.
TSJ: See what I mean? That’s a great story. Can you tell me a bit about how each of you decided to get involved on the Vertigo project?
JEFF LEMIRE: Geoff and I have become friends over the last few years through a mutual respect for each others’ work and the fact that we are both working in the DC Universe together as writers. We’d just collaborated on a short writing assignment in Justice League and had a great time. Geoff suggested that it would be fun to write something that I could draw sometime and Ghosts seemed like a fun way to do that. It was a relatively short story so it was easy for both of us to fit it into our busy schedules.
“I actually saw a ghost at a cabin in Colorado. I was literally woken up by the sound of breathing, looked up and saw someone standing over my bed. They reached out for me and I went to grab their arm and my hand went through it. I turned on the light and they were gone. True story.” – Geoff Johns
GEOFF JOHNS: I’ve been wanting to work with Jeff on something like this for a long time. He’s an unbelievably talented artist and writer and a great friend. And I’ve been wanting to work for Vertigo for a long time now. While I’ve got a creator-owned project planned that’s on a larger scale, this was a great opportunity to take an idea that’s been swimming in my head for awhile and do a short story. Working with editor Mark Doyle, who was fantastic and unbelievably supportive, was another factor.
TSJ: What were you excited about with regards to your collaboration? Did you already know each other? Had you worked together before? Admired one another from afar? What do you think each of your talents brought out in your story?
JEFF LEMIRE: Geoff brings an uncanny sense of pacing and storytelling to all his work, but also a real heart. Which I try to do as well. I think, for both of us, a lot of our work may be dark, but it’s never cynical. And that came to the forefront in this story.
GEOFF JOHNS: I’ve known Jeff for awhile, though I never met him before I gave a quote for Sweet Toth #1, which to me was one of the best new books out that year. I went back and checked out all of Jeff’s previous work and follow both his DC and independent books and have had the opportunity to get to know him on a personal level. He’s a terrific guy and has an incredibly unique approach to both writing and art — he also has a huge love and appreciation for the DC universe of characters.
Jeff’s designs for these characters hit the tone of the story perfectly — in a world of Ghost stories, this is a bit lighter.
TSJ: Can you give me a brief synopsis of the story you guys collaborated on?
JEFF LEMIRE: Eddie and Louis Chance are sort of a modern Abbot and Costello pair. Eddie is the skinny huckster and Louis is a bit less shrewd… and also dead. Eddie hires Louis out to haunt people’s houses for various reasons.
GEOFF JOHNS: The living brother hires out his ghostly brother to haunt places, though he doesn’t enjoy it.
JEFF LEMIRE: He longs to do something else with his afterlife.
TSJ: What do you guys think is scary? Are there things that scared you in childhood that still spook you? Like I’m more scared of those Omen/Rosemary’s Baby/The Shining/House of the Devil kinds of filtering through evil you can’t really fight than blood and guts.
GEOFF JOHNS: You just named the greatest horror films of all time to me — I would add The Changeling in there. Have you seen that? It’s with George C. Scott and it’s completely underrated. There is a single shot in there that’s more scary than any slasher flick. I found The Descent incredibly chilling because it combined the fear of being lost, underground and eaten all in one.
JEFF LEMIRE: I agree. Gore never really did much for me. Slasher flicks etc. did not, and do not interest me at all. I’m much more effected by the bizarre and unexpected. For me there is nothing scarier than Bob from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It’s that bizarre mix of surrealism and psychological horror that freaks me out.
TSJ: What’s the best way to end a ghost story? Slaughtering the darlings? Scaring the bejesus out of your readers? Sudden twist? A hook on the car door?
GEOFF JOHNS: Not all Ghost stories are horror tales.
JEFF LEMIRE: In our case, it was best to end “Ghost for Hire” with a smile.