IDW Publishing is following up their unlikely Ghostbusters Christmas special with an even more unlikely Ghostbusters holiday special—Ghostbusters: Tainted Love, a one-shot pitting the perennially popular specter exterminators agains a lovelorn ghost on Valentine’s Day.
Curious to find out how a holiday devoted to romance and a comedy/adventure/horror franchise fit together, and how one might go about writing characters brought to particular life by very particular actors, I checked in with my fellow Ohioan Dara Naraghi. He’s the writer responsible for the special, working with artist Salgood Sam to deliver a valentine to Ghostbusters fans.
Blog@Newsarama: First, let’s run through your Ghostbusters experience. What was your first encounter with the characters, and did you follow them from movies to cartoons to comics when you were growing up?
Dara Naraghi: Well, since I’m in my—ahem—late thirties, my first experience was seeing the original movie in the theaters when it was released (Can you believe over 25 years ago?!). I really liked the irreverent humor in it; that it didn’t take itself too seriously, and was just trying to be fun and original and entertaining. I wouldn’t say I was an avid fan of the cartoon series, but I’ve probably seen more than half the episodes and enjoyed them as well. But to be honest, I never really followed the comics, though I’ve been reading the IDW series to make sure I don’t accidentally tread any ground that’s already been covered.
Blog@: Why do you think the characters remain popular enough that in 2010 there are still comics being published featuring them?
DN: It all goes back to the entertainment factor, I think. These characters are interesting, quirky, funny and charming. They have distinct personalities, so we enjoy watching them deal with these bizarre—and one might even say silly—situations in their own unique ways. There are qualities in each that we can relate to, whether it’s Peter Venkman’s smart-ass attitude, or Ray Stantz’s unabashed geeky devotion to his profession or whatever.
Blog@: And on the subject of the passage of time, when is your story set? Today, or the ’80s? For some reason, it seems hard to wrap my head around a sliding time line with these characters, as compared to superheroes.
DN: Would it be too vague to say the setting is “timeless?” But seriously, I purposefully kept the notion of the time period out of the book, because it’s not important to what’s going on in the story. As a writer, I didn’t want to get bogged down and tripped up by the minutiae of continuity, and as a reader, I want you to enjoy the characters and conflicts, without being distracted by unimportant elements like “do they have cell phones?”
Blog@: Can you walk us through your thinking when it came to writing the characters…do you write the characters-as-the-characters, or do write, like, Bill Murray as Peter Venkman and so on?
DN: That’s a really good question, and kind of hard to answer. As with all the other licensed books that I’ve done, I always start by treating the characters as the characters from the source material (movies, books, etc.) I think about their personalities, their quirks, their interests and values and motivations. What would Winston do in situation X? How would Egon try and resolve problem Y, versus how Peter would approach the same problem? That helps me construct the structure of the story, and where/how the characters fit into it.
Where the real world actor counterparts come in is when I’m writing the dialogue. For example, I’ll sound out in my head what Peter is saying by picturing Bill Murray saying it. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds (for instance, Murray’s delivery relies so much on his subtle facial cues and the pitch of his voice, which you can’t really capture on the printed page) but I think it does help a lot in making sure the characters “sound” authentic.
Blog@: So how did this particular story come about? Halloween is an obvious holiday for these characters, and even Christmas has its famous ghost story, but Valentine’s Day? Can you tell us how ghosts fit in without spoiling it?
DN: This was actually one of the few blind pitches I’ve ever done, so you can thank Chris Ryall’s solid editorial instincts for seeing it as the brilliant diamond-in-the-rough that it was! But again, trying to be somewhat serious, when I saw that IDW was doing a Christmas special, I got the idea to pitch other holiday-themed one-shots. It was already past Halloween, so I figured “why not Valentine’s Day?” Chris liked it, and Sony liked it, so here we are. As for the ghost angle, I’ll just say that he’s had some bad luck with love in his past human life, which has left it with a rather twisted notion of romance.
Blog@: So is there a romance component for the non-ghost characters, or is the focus more on the ghost-busting side of things?
DN: An equal amount of both, actually. It wouldn’t be a Ghostbusters book without some ghost-busting action. And it wouldn’t be a Valentine’s Day special without some romance. In this case, there’s a ghostly romance angle, and a human one, for our man Winston Zeddmore. During the course of a typical Ghostbusters call he meets a nice woman named Tiyah. They strike up a conversation, and he becomes aware of her own ghostly problems, and the story takes off from there.
Blog@: You had previously mentioned wanting to focus on Winston because he’s somewhat under utilized compared to the other characters? Can you explain why that is?
DN: I’ve always liked working with under utilized and under appreciated characters. For one thing, there’s the underdog appeal. And for another, they’re more of a blank canvas to work with. Lots of storytelling potential that hasn’t been tapped yet. In the case of Winston, he’s the only one out of the four who’s fairly well-grounded and mentally balanced! Sure, eccentric scientists like Egon or cynical smart-asses like Peter are fun to watch on the screen, but I think we can all relate more to the “everyman” character of Winston. The way he reacts to the crazy experiences he’s confronted with is probably how we’d react if we were put in those situations.
Blog@: Since you and I share a city, I’ve been following your comics writing for quite a while, and I know you’ve worked with an awful lot of different artists over the year. How was your collaboration with Salgood Sam?
DN: Like you mentioned, there are lots of talented artists here in Columbus (C-Bus represent!), and thanks to the Internet, I’ve collaborated with other great artists from as far away as Romania and Chile. Salgood is my first Canadian connection (I believe) and he was a joy to work with.
He’s got a solid indie cred and although it may sound a bit weird, I loved the fact that he brought that vibe to such a “mainstream” project as the Ghostbusters franchise. Plus, he’s just such a consummate artist. For example, he spent a lot of time designing the layout of Tiyah’s apartment, almost like an architect drawing up plans. Not because the script asked for it, but because he wanted the scenes that take place in her apartment to look authentic and be staged realistically. And as if that wasn’t enough, he took the book to a whole new level by hand lettering it!
All of that attention to detail, combined with fellow Canuck Bernie Mireault’s colors, made this a gorgeous looking book. Another anecdote: I had posted a couple of work-in-progress pages on a Ghostbusters forum to give the fans a taste of things to come. One of the members pointed out that the tile in the Ghostbusters HQ was colored incorrectly, and to his credit, Bernie went back and revised the page because he wanted the book to be as accurate as possible for the fans. As a writer, you dream of working with true professionals like Salgood and Bernie.
Blog@: Can you tell us what you’re working on in the immediate future? Any more Ghostbusters work in the future?
DN: I’m currently in the middle of two other projects for IDW. One is an original mini-series based on the characters and settings from James Patterson’s latest YA book, Witch & Wizard. It’s a fun little tale of a totalitarian government hunting down a brother and sister who happen to practice magic. Victor Santos (Mice Templar, Filthy Rich) is providing the artwork, and he’s kicking all sorts of ass.
The other project hasn’t been announced yet, so in deference to IDW I’ll just say that it’s a good ol’ fashioned ‘50s retro sci-fi romp with square-jawed men of action, sassy space babes and of course, a space monster! My editor on both projects is Bob Schreck, so you know he’s pushing everyone involved to bring their A game to the books.
Both are slated to start shipping in late spring/early summer. I’m also contributing a short story to the 15th volume of the Panel small press anthology. This is a book that I self-publish (along with my Columbus friends in the Panel writer/artist collective), and the theme this time around is “movies”.
As for Ghostbusters, there’s nothing definite yet, but I’d love to do some more work with the characters. So I’d like to ask all your readers to get on the IDW forums and demand that Chris Ryall allows me to pitch him my “Ghostbusters Bastille Day Special!” Seriously.