Back in October I was combing through comiXology one Wednesday, looking at the various new releases when I came across an interesting title called This Haunted World. The short description of the title was compelling and the price was right – only 99 cents. As a reader, I’m often willing to take a risk with a new title, especially when it’s cheaper than a cup of coffee. As it stands, the first issue of This Haunted World (a digital exclusive from Sea Lion Books) was well worth it. A supernatural story, great artwork – I was hooked. On that note, today we’ve got an exclusive interview with writer/co-creator Mark Powers, who talks about where his story came from, its ties to real life events and the world of digital comics.
Andy Burns: What could you tell me about the roots of This Haunted World? Where did the original idea come from?
Mark Powers: I’ve always been interested in the paranormal, and particularly ghosts. My dad passed away when I was very young, and my aunt told me years later that my brother and I both saw him appear shortly after he’d passed. If it really happened, I was too young to remember, but the whole idea of ghosts has always been intriguing to me. As years went by, and I became old enough to have an awareness of just how much suffering there is in the world, it occurred to me that, if you accept that ghosts are some sort of remnant of past trauma…what happens when the world is filled with more and more trauma every day? Assuming for the sake of argument there is some validity to the paranormal, what if some sort of tipping point is reached, and the entire planet is engulfed in a massive paranormal event?
It’s a concept I’ve had in mind for years, but I needed to figure out how to make the story a personal one.
Andy Burns: For those who haven’t yet read the first issue or encountered the story, how would you describe This Haunted World?
Mark Powers: We live in a world of ever-increasing violence, anguish, and mayhem, and our history of inflicting harm on each other is inescapable. Due to a combination of events — some of which haven’t been revealed yet in the story — a global paranormal crisis occurs. Think of that kid’s room in Poltergeist, but on a global scale, where every person who ever died in anguish becomes a supernatural threat. Amid that, a handful of characters — some of whom are shackled by their pasts, some who thought they’d successfully overcome their pasts — are drawn together in an effort to prevent mankind’s extinction.
Andy Burns: There’s a very real world feeling to the first issue; the focus isn’t totally on the supernatural. You’ve got the current battlefield of Afghanistan on one hand and then the legacy of Hiroshima on the other – both of which worked well and grounded the story. I wonder, though – do you as a writer ever feel like there’s any inherent risk in melding the real world with a supernatural story?
Mark Powers: There’s a risk, sure. I was aware that if I handled it poorly, the Hiroshima sequence could be seen as unintentionally diminishing the tragedy of the real life event. That being said, I think that utilizing real world tragedies and locales helps convey the weight of the concept in a more visceral way. I hope I pulled it off.
Andy Burns: Rahmat Handoko’s art is quite stellar in the first issue – how did he wind up working with you on This Haunted World?
Mark Powers: Rahmat is a part of Caravan Studio, a visual development/illustration house owned and run by Chris Lie, who co-created the book with me. Chris helped design the world, provides layouts, and essentially serves as Art Director for the project. I agree with your assessment of Rahmat’s work, and the exciting thing is he gets better with every page.
Andy Burns: What’s your creative collaboration like with Rahmat – how much back and forth is there between the two of you?
Mark Powers: Rahmat and I don’t correspond much – it tends to be Chris and I discussing things. Chris then works directly with Rahmat at Caravan.
Mark Powers: Sea Lion Books made a very attractive offer, and I liked the fact that they are working with so many authors who have genuine presence in the bookstore market. But I worried that their direct comic book market presence was as yet not well established, and putting out regular comics would probably not be ideal for them — and thus, not ideal for Chris and I. So Chris and I talked, and came to the conclusion that going digital first would give us a more cost-efficient way of reaching a broader range of readers than a standard print comic book series would. Next year, when the series is complete, Sea Lion will publish a collected edition for the bookstore market.
Andy Burns: I was really impressed with the summary used in describing This Haunted World on comiXology – in a digital world where you only have maybe three preview pages to “flip” through and get a taste of the inside of a book, I think those summaries are going to become more and more important. On that note, what do you think the key is to attracting readership in the digital space?
Mark Powers: Honestly, I’m not really sure yet. I think everyone’s trying to figure that out right now. Obviously finding the right unit price/cost balance is a factor, but so is assessing whether or not a typical 22 page story is the ideal unit for readers consuming the material on a per-issue basis, or if they prefer something shorter (or longer). And depending on the answer to that, adjusting storytelling and approach accordingly.
Andy Burns: What sort of hints can you give me as to what we’ll see as This Haunted World progresses?
Mark Powers: Think of how many people have died over the course of human history, and then think of how many ghosts might result from that. Then imagine if the lights went out…all of them.
Andy Burns: Besides writing This Haunted World, what else are you currently working on?
Mark Powers: Chris and I will be bringing back Drafted in the near future. I’m in the midst of developing a couple of other creator owned books in tandem with some truly amazing collaborators, and I’m working on The Dresden Files adaptations for Dynamite
Andy Burns: Finally, is there anything you’re currently reading that Biff Bam Pop readers should check out?
Mark Powers: Whatever Comixology’s running their promotional sales on, that’s what I end up reading. As far as what I’m literally in the middle of reading now — A Dance with Dragons. But I doubt anyone needs my plug to pick that up. 😉
Thanks to Mark Powers for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop, and to Sea Lion Books’ Patrick Victor for helping make it happen. You can pick up This Haunted World from comiXology here.