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AICN COMICS: Q&@ is our new semi-weekly interview column where some of your favorite @$$Holes interview comic bookdom’s biggest, brightest, newest, and oldest stars. Enjoy this latest in-depth interview filled with @$$y goodness and be sure to look for more AICN COMICS as we gaze into the future of comics every week with AICN COMICS: SPINNER RACK PREVIEWS every Monday and then join the rest of your favorite @$$Holes for their opinions on the weekly pull every Wednesday with AICN COMICS REVIEWS!
Q’s by Ambush Bug
@’s by GHOST PROJEKT’s
Joe Harris & Steve Rolston!
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. Oni Press has a new comic coming out in March called GHOST PROJEKT. It looks to be a pretty intense read. When we previewed it in AICN COMICS PREVIEWS a few weeks back, I knew I had to learn more about this new miniseries from writer Joe Harris and artist Steve Rolston. Both were nice enough to answer a few of my questions…
JOE HARRIS (JH): It's a supernatural thriller and a good old fashioned revenge ghost story that takes place in the former Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the Soviets experimented with all sorts of weapons of mass destruction and Russia and its old satellite states are littered with abandoned test sites, decaying laboratories and twisted victims of leaks, exposures and all sorts of grisly tests. The United States knew all about most of the insidious things they did over there. Hell, we did plenty of them ourselves. And, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, our Department of Defense ramped up efforts to help a stretched-thin Russian government catalog and contain loose materials that might make it onto the black market and into potential terrorists' hands.
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Aside from the preview pages we ran on AICN a while back, I know next to nothing about this miniseries. Can you give me a brief synopsis of what GHOST PROJEKT is all about?
Enter Will Haley, the best American Weapons Inspector working abroad. When he's called in to investigate a break-in at a crumbling, abandoned Siberian facility, he crosses paths with this beautiful Russian detective named Anya Romanova who's investigating a string of murders linked to the super-secret research and development that went on here. They don't know much about the work that was conducted, but they know operations went on here under the project name "Dosvidanya" which is Russian for "good-bye." Ever since the break-in, people attached to the old project have been turning up dead and Operativnik Romanova suspects one of the project heads of using whatever mysterious weapons materials were stolen from that lab to pick off his fellow scientists and administrators who worked on this illegal program in hopes of covering his tracks and avoiding prosecution for any war crimes committed under his watch.
Only it's much more complicated, and deadly, than that. Something has been released from that lab, but it's something far more dangerous than any sort of biological or chemical weapon Will is used to cataloging and containing. And Konstantin is responsible for far worse than anything Anya suspects. The whole investigation leads them down a rabbit hole of state secrets, deadly sins and research into some of the most devastating weapons of supernatural design imaginable since the Nazis sought the Lost Ark of the Covenant before Indiana Jones could shut them down. Will and Anya are going to have to overcome some cultural differences and resentments, as well as crippling institutional problems and deep distrust between the former Cold War countries in order to get to the bottom of things and stop an even greater catastrophe from unfolding.
The story criss-crosses the snowy Russian continent as our heroes chase the stolen Dosvidanya materials from the Siberian Taiga to the center of Moscow. It's full of hauntings, killings and one mother of a battle scene in the heart of Red Square.
BUG: How did you guys come up with the idea for this series? Was it a collaborative effort?JH: Well, the idea first came to me in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. I remember hearing, in the media, about the global concern to secure loose WMD materials many believed were sitting, unguarded and unchecked in decaying weapons labs and facilities all over the former Soviet Union. Russia's proximity to Afghanistan and the Middle East, along with the simmering war in Chechnya and all the religious and ethnic strife that came with it, made this whole issue a serious concern for anyone paying attention.
I wanted to write this as a screenplay, initially. Something to follow up my first movie with. But I had met Steve and wanted to work with him on something after seeing what he'd done on QUEEN & COUNTRY and the POUNDED graphic novel. He did this design for this ghostly badass of a character in the book we call "The Dark Rider" that just blew me away. It was, aesthetically, exactly what this story needed. His other designs ain't bad either.
STEVE ROLSTON (SR): According to my computer files, the two of us first talked about this project back in 2003. When I read the pitch, I instantly knew it would make a killer comic and I greedily wanted to have a hand in it. It took years for our schedules to sync up but I'm glad Joe waited for me.
And yeah, that initial Dark Rider sketch always got a lot of positive comments from friends, I think partly because it was so dark and menacing, something I'm not entirely known for. It has been a bit of a challenge trying to capture a spooky atmosphere within the range of art styles I'm comfortable with. But some of that weight was lifted off my shoulders when we decided to bring in Dean Trippe as colorist. I think he's a really good fit for my art and will push things in the right direction.
BUG: This looks to be a pretty intense spy/intrigue comic. What did you use as inspiration for this miniseries? Were there any particular books or movies that inspired this comic?JH: I would say Brian Lumley's NECROSCOPE novels were a pretty big influence. GHOST PROJEKT has nothing to do with vampires. Those books are the best of that sort, for my money, by the by. But the idea of Cold War-era threats and the Soviets investing themselves in the paranormal for the purposes of espionage and war, as well as the West's call of duty to combat them really does occupy an esteemed place in my 1980s genre head. Much of what I know or, you know, pretend to know about clandestine conflict with the Soviet Union and Russia itself probably comes from those books. I tend to love most genre stuff set in Russia though. I'm sure some early Tom Clancy I read as a kid crept in here someplace too.
BUG: This comic uses Soviet Russia as a backdrop. What type of research went into both the writing and the art to make things look authentic?JH: Lots of viewings of the training scene in ROCKY IV! Honestly, I wish I could tell you we've been to Russia, during the waning days of the Cold War or otherwise. But the mighty Google has stepped in to assist. I know Brad Anderson's TRANSSIBERIAN was a really entertaining and sort of confidence instilling depiction of that part of the world in a kick-ass thriller and I probably ended up watching that a lot while writing. I know it's hardly a definitive source, but those Chris Claremont X-MEN heyday stories involving Colossus and his family who all grew up on a Siberian farming collective are probably pinging around in my head too. I know the first time I ever heard, or read, Russian expressions like "Dosvidanya" were in the pages of 1980s UNCANNY X-MEN issues.
SR: Flickr and Google have been invaluable for me, in terms of photo reference. I have close to 2000 jpegs I'll pulled off the web to aid me in drawing everything from Russian vehicles to Mongolian warriors, from militsiya uniforms to various types of abandoned Soviet facilities. And I'll admit I spent far too long on Wikipedia and other websites, pondering which type of gun would be most appropriate for each character. For example, I gave our female lead--Operativnik Anya Romanova--an MP-443 Grach pistol (aka Yarygin PYa). The deciding factor on that one was that Joe likes a lady with a big gun.
I would have liked to do even deeper research and spent more time immersing myself in Russian cinema and the like...but you have to draw the line somewhere and, well, get to the drawing part.
BUG: The miniseries' premise has a sort of "ripped from the headlines" feel with US weapons inspectors investigating abandoned Soviet labs. From the previews I saw, it looks like the comic is steeped in realism. Is this an accurate description or do things get more fantastical as the book goes on?JH: Oh man, you have no idea. There's not much known about these programs that I could find, so I had to piece things together through some Pentagon documents that are available for viewing related to the "Cooperative Threat Reduction Act" which sort of set up the program in which US inspectors would operate inside the former Soviet Union. I also have a pretty photographic memory of the work UN inspectors were doing in Iraq prior to the 2003 American invasion. At least, what our media would show us on cable day after day in the run-up to the war. The premise is born out of this actual thing, this international effort that's going on in the prevention of weapons proliferation. I have a feeling the reality is stranger than the fiction in a lot of ways. There really are these strange, lost sites out there with all sorts of secrets rusting inside of old refrigeration tanks and cloudy specimen jars. I invite you to go to Wikipedia and look up things like Vozrozhdenye Island, the chemical plants at Dzerzhinsk or even the strange Kola Superdeep Borehole. The Tunguska Event. All sorts of weird stuff that just gets even more mythologized because of its secretive Cold War past that make where we actually take the story in GHOST PROJEKT not seem like that far of a stretch.
But things do, in fact, get quite fantastical as we go forward. And just when you think you know the nature of the ghostly threat we're unleashing, I'd like to think we up the ante. This isn't a quiet haunting story. We've got ghosts fucking shit up in a big way. Lots of guns, destruction and large-scale chaos once things get going.
BUG: Would you consider GHOST PROJEKT a singular miniseries, or are there plans on revisiting the story after this mini is over with?JH: We've discussed it. I know I have a bunch of ideas, including bringing the war back home, in a sense. We've seen what the Soviets were up to. Now let's see what the U.S.A. had in store.
BUG: You've worked for other publishing companies in comics. What's it like working for ONI? How does ONI differ from other comic book companies out there today?JH: What I love about Oni is that they have this cultivated air about their publishing catalog and slate. There's a classiness, a selectiveness to the product that sets them apart from most of the other publishers of their size. Their black and white product transcends what you expect with this slickness while the newly-minted color series they're publishing, of which GHOST PROJEKT is the latest, just look gorgeous. The entire industry has come up in a huge way since I first wrote for Marvel, quality and consistency-wise, and I think Oni Press is one of those specialty houses helping push the envelope. Plus, they let us do what we want to do which is awesome, considering this is the first of a bunch of new titles I'm going to be releasing with them.
SR: Of course, I have a longer history with Oni Press. They took a chance on me 10 years ago when they let this unpublished kid draw the first arc of Greg Rucka's QUEEN & COUNTRY. I think it's safe to say that worked out fairly well. Then we kept that relationship going with various projects such as POUNDED with Brian Wood and my own graphic novel ONE BAD DAY. We've made some good comics together over the years and I really appreciate the creative freedom they offer. I also feel good working with a publisher that's open to such a wide range of genres.