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The History Of Horror: In Conversation With T.W. Burgess, Writer Of “Early Haunts”

Horror’s such a malleable idea. Even a subgenre like the ghost story can come in so many different forms. That’s no less true for horror comics. T.W. Burgess’ new anthology graphic novel Early Haunts intends to look back at the origins of our most famous ghost stories and re-present them to modern audiences in the most appropriate form modern horror comics can provide. We had the opportunity to speak with Burgess about the forthcoming project on Kickstarter.

A Place To Hang Your Cape: What is Early Haunts?

T.W. Burgess: Early Haunts is a graphic novel adaptation of four early, seminal, but now mostly forgotten, ghost stories which inspired some of our greatest supernatural horrors in popular culture – including Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s Creature, Koji Suzuki’s Sadako from Ring, and Charles Dickens’ ghost of Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol. There’s a huge amount of research that’s gone into the book and I’m so proud to have been able to work with four of my favourite illustrators in bringing these stories to life.

AP2HYC: Why did you choose to adapt these ‘forgotten’ ghost stories? Was it hard to choose these four?

TWB: For me, these four stories have always been cornerstones within the horror genre, along with generally being firm horror favourites for me. They’ve endured the test of time and seem to constantly be lurking in the horror zeitgeist coming up over and over. Each is also a perfect snapshot of a ghost story from four very different cultures. To me, that was really important in offering variety to these tales and an idea of how they’ve influenced people.

AP2HYC: What challenges are there when adapting historic stories from around the world?

TWB: So, the biggest would have to be sourcing the original texts of each story. I was fortunate enough to work with some truly skilled translators who were able to pinpoint details for each story. For instance, there’s over 40 variations of ‘The Tale of Dish Mansion’ (which inspired Sadako from Ring) from around Japan. There’s long been confusion as to which adaptations predate others. But for me, it was important that the story itself would work well as a comic. So it was a case of finding the perfect version which had enough heritage and reach to have been crucial in the inception of the later ghost story.

AP2HYC: What advantages are there to adapting these stories as a graphic novel?

TWB: The main catalyst undoubtedly was the fact that these stories in their original forms are pretty unwieldy for a mainstream audience and so would probably be overlooked by many horror fans. With comics being such a visual medium, I felt that an adaptation would mean that more people would be able to get a handle on these fantastic tales—even opening them up to a younger audience! I also had fond memories of classic ghost book titles such as the Usborne books of the unknown, and Hamlyn supernatural series which always had terrifying but stunning artwork accompanying the text. As these titles still have such a huge fanbase, for me it was a no brainer to take these ghost stories into the comic medium.

AP2HYC: What does it take to make a good horror comic?

TWB: I would say primarily, good planning, and working with an artist who understands the genre and isn’t afraid of pushing the boundaries. For me, too many horror comics rely on such familiar tropes and big ‘scares’ that they often miss the mark. For me, it’s a case of plotting out the story and making sure your audience is lulled into a calm narrative before you start unsettling them. NOT just jumping into well trodden scares. Also, incorporating those ‘jumps’ into page turns where possible so you constantly leave them on edge.

AP2HYC: Can you tell us a bit about the creative team on Early Haunts?

TWB: I’ve been hugely lucky in working with the four illustrators behind Early Haunts. Mike O’ Brien, I met whilst working on a comic adaptation of a local ghost story. He’s an amazing talent whose work has been featured in exhibitions and magazines. And his style has really added a raw, creepy feel to Pliny’s tale.

I’ve long loved Brian Coldrick’s work from his legendary ‘Behind You’ animated gifs and book out on IDW. We’ve been working on another ghost story comic adaptation so it was a no brainer in approaching him about ‘The Wild Huntsman’. His stunning illustrations really give a depth and uncanny tone to the tale.

David Romero is someone I’ve worked with extensively previously with my other comic project Ghoster. He has a huge following for his horror art, and what he’s done with ‘The Death Bride’ is spectacular with a phenomenal amount of detail per panel.

Lastly, I’ve long loved Bri Neumann’s work and it’s been a joy to have her involved in illustrating ‘The Tale of Dish Mansion’. Her style perfectly fits a Japanese ghost story. And colourist Bryan Valenza’s colouring perfectly sets the tone to the piece.

For more information on how you can support Early Haunts, check out the Kickstarter here. Have you supported the campaign? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter!

About the author

Matthew Smith