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AICN COMICS Q&@: Russ Sheath talks to Chap Taylor and Peter Johnson about Aspen Comics, HAUNTED CITY!

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Q’s by Russ Sheath!

Chap Taylor and Peter Johnson!

Russ Sheath here. HAUNTED CITY from Aspen Comics is the latest in a growing trend of collaborations between Hollywood and comic book publishers. McG, director of “Terminator: Salvation”, and Peter Johnson, producer of series such as “Chuck”, “Nikita”, and “Supernatural” launch HAUNTED CITY, a super natural thriller that asks, what if New York City were the biggest haunted house in the world?

McG and Johnson are joined by Chap Taylor, writer of numerous Hollywood screenplays, artist Michael Ryan and publishers Aspen Comics, the home of high concept storytelling. HAUNTED CITY #0, the prelude to the ongoing series that launches in September, hits shelves this week featuring an interview with Taylor, a prelude of the book, with fantastic art by Michael Ryan and a preview of Ryan’s designs and sketches. Peter Johnson and Chap Taylor took time out from working on Haunted City to talk to AICN’s Russ Sheath about the series.

RUSS SHEATH (RS): HAUNTED CITY IS a super natural thriller set in New York City. Is that a fair assessment of the book’s premise, and can you elaborate for us please?

CHAP TAYLOR (CT): Our idea, basically, is that New York City is the biggest haunted house in the world. In the haunted city universe, all of the superstitions of all of the immigrant groups who passed through New York over the last four hundred years are real. So Jewish golems, Irish banshees, voudou zombies just to name a few, all immigrated along with their associated ethnic groups and have been haunting the city ever since.

RS: Your protagonist is a detective, Tom Whalen. Can you tell us a bit about him and how we find him when the story starts?

CT: The other part of our idea is that from the very beginning of New York City, there has been a secret unit of the New York Police Department fighting to keep the city safe. As our story opens, Tom Whalen has no idea that such a unit exists. Tom is a bad cop, corrupt, strung out on drugs and alcohol, and on the day we meet him, he's had an attack of conscience and is trying to extract himself from his agreement with some Korean drug dealers. Part of what haunts Tom is the fact that his father is the most decorated cop in the history of the NYPD. "Iron" Mike Whalen is a legend and his son, Tom, has always lived in his shadow. Making matters worse, Tom knows that in the privacy of his own home, Mike Whalen was a brutal, abusive racist who tormented his wife, Tom's mother. So the combination of living in his father's shadow and knowing that his father's reputation is a lie leaves Tom in pretty bad condition as our story begins.

RS: Can you tell us a little about the origins of HAUNTED CITY and where the idea came from?

CT: I've always been fascinated by the history of New York City. I've lived in and around New York for the last twenty years, but I'm not a native New Yorker. I'm a New Yorker by choice and I've really never stopped seeing the city with the eyes of an immigrant. I've always loved the places in New York where you can feel the presence of past lives - the old bars, old restaurants, old houses of worship - the places where you can almost feel like the past is coexisting in some invisible fashion with the present. When you're walking down one of those winding blocks in the far west village and you're staring up at the old brownstones, if you've maybe had a couple of drinks and the moon is just right, it's easy to imagine that just around the next corner, people might still be living the same kinds of lives they lived when they first immigrated to New York. It's only a short leap of the imagination to pretend that maybe all of the things those early immigrants feared are just around the next corner, too.

RS: Visually and thematically, can you give us some kind of indication of the influences that have helped shape HAUNTED CITY?

CT: Anyone who's familiar with New York will tell you that there are plenty of real life locations that can feel haunted. The New York of the HAUNTED CITY universe just exaggerates what already exists for dramatic effect. We wanted to give people the feeling that up in the penthouses of the buildings they pass every day on their way to work, or down an alley they've never had the courage to enter, strange and mysterious things are happening. That feeling - that evil forces are at work just behind the familiar streetscape of your daily life - is the kind of thrill that we think is important to a story like this. Frankly, it's just human nature to speculate on what may be happening all around you without your knowledge, to wonder if some of the strangers passing you on a crowded streetcorner are secretly monsters. Artistically, our references were a lot of the great vintage photographs of New York that have been taken by artists like Weegee or Bernice Abbot, German expressionism, great old black and white movies like “Angels With Dirty Faces” or the location films that Fox made in the 1940's like “Naked City” or “Kiss Of Death”, and all of the classic horror films you would naturally suspect. If you had to sum up our artistic influences in a single reference, it would probably be the front page of a New York tabloid from the early part of the twentieth century, edited by HP Lovecraft, crossed with a German expressionist horror flick.

RS: Similarly can you tell us about some of the films, comics or TV that you are a fan of?

CT:Pretty much the films i just mentioned. I grew up on classic American movies. Anything from John Ford westerns to “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”. I'm a huge fan of all of the classic late sixties, early seventies urban tough guy movies. Anything by Don Siegel or Michael Mann. Francis Coppola. Scorsese. Anything starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin or James Caan. As for television, I think “The Wire” was pretty much the greatest drama ever made, but I'm also a big fan of “30 Rock” and “Modern Family”, so draw whateverconclusions you will.

PETER JOHNSON (PJ):Ii’m a comic fanatic, so everything from SANDMAN to FABLES to Y, THE LAST MAN. And my television producing experience tends to lean toward shows that combine great character stories with high concept or genre concepts – like “Supernatural” and “Chuck”.

RS: Can you tease a little as to how the story progresses and the situations that Tom finds himself in?

CT: The zero issue introduces the concept of the series and our protagonist, Tom Whalen. The rest of this five-issue arc will introduce the rest of the unit, introduce the universe of HAUNTED CITY and climax in the solution of their first case – the disappearance of a series of children they ultimately trace to the Morrigan, a creature from ancient Irish mythology. We will be trying to balance the ongoing procedural elements of how the unit works, how they investigate supernatural crimes, with the back stories of the other characters and Tom's ongoing struggle with his father. Tom is also being pursued by NYPD Internal Affairs and by several different criminal groups, so all of that has to be resolved. If we had to pitch you what's coming up, I guess the Hollywood shorthand would be, "”Men In Black’ meets ‘The Wire’ and they double-date “The X-Files’ and ‘The Shield’."

RS: Why New York as your setting?

CT: Our idea is basically that all of man's superstitions and myths are secretly true. To tell that story, you want to be in a city where every kind of human being coexists. New York is already a mythical place. It just made sense to use it as a setting for our own take on everybody's mythology. But we should be clear, we see this as a global franchise. I know that's a loaded word, but honestly, if New York has 400 years of scary stories, London has 2000. Paris has 1500. Cairo has 5000. New York is our initial entry into this universe, but we plan to reveal that all of man's great cities are equally haunted.

RS: Peter, there’s clearly a ‘supernatural’ theme (pun intended) in your work, what’s the interest in that world that you keep returning to?

PJ: Ever since “Star Wars” turned my world on its head as a kid, I’ve been forever drawn to stories that take you into incredible worlds and capture your imagination. In television, I grew up watching “Star Trek” and “The Twilight Zone”, and then “The X-Files” became a real inspiration for things I started working on myself. I think “The X-Files” showed me that you can do supernatural stories on a mainstream TV network if the world is sufficiently grounded and the focus is on great characters. Hence my own show, Supernatural”.

RS: Is the series ongoing or limited?

CT: Aspen has committed to a five-issue arc. We certainly hope to keep going as long as people find our stories entertaining. As long as people are buying the books, we'll keep writing them.

RS: The book is being released in association with McG’s Wonderland Sound and Vision; can you tell us a little about that collaboration?

CT: From its inception, I envisioned HAUNTED CITY as a universe that spans all different kinds of media. McG is obviously a huge feature director, but he also has a big presence in television and has been looking to expand into comics and video games. For anyone who Doesn't know, Peter's day job is running McG's production company, Wonderland Sound and Vision. Peter has written for Marvel and DC. He and McG were already talking about starting a comics imprint. It just made sense to partner with them. We'll be taking a feature package out to the marketplace in January with McG attached to direct, and then probably a TV pitch. As much as the marketplace has an appetite, we've got stories to sell them.

RS: You’ve also bought the book to Aspen? What initiated that idea? Why Aspen?

CT: Michael Turner founded Aspen, together with Frank Mastromauro and Peter Steigerwald. He was one of Peter Johnson's good friends. Tragically, Michael passed away a few years ago, but Aspen continues to live up to his standards. They only work with the best artists. They're really good guys to deal with. When Peter and McG decided to make HAUNTED CITY the first issue of Wonderland's comic imprint, it was really the only place we wanted to take it.

PJ: we really didn’t want to just make a comic book out of a movie idea. Key to that for us was great art that would bring the idea to life and achieve credibility as a comic first and foremost. And that’s what Aspen is great at and known for.

RS: Is the intention to diversify the concept into other media and if so, what it is aboutcomics that make a good ‘proving ground’ for concepts like HAUNTED CITY?

CHAP: I think the average AICN reader has a better than average grasp of the entertainment business. From a business perspective, we wanted to create an underlying intellectual property that we control. We didn't just want to write a screenplay and sell it and have the whole universe taken away from us. We want to keep telling these stories across a bunch of platforms and creating a comic gives us a great launching pad to do that. We also just love the opportunity to tell these stories in the comics arena. It's a particular kind of story-telling, one that Peter has a lot more experience with than I do, but it lets you digress to past events, visually illustrate what characters are thinking and feeling. It's just a very liberating way to communicate with a very passionate audience. No matter what else may happen with the HAUNTED CITY franchise, we never want to stop telling some of our stories in the comic or graphic novel format.

RS: HAUNTED CITY from Aspen Comics is available in September!

You can follow Russ Sheath's blog Russwords here and on Twitter here.

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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