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Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher Remix Noir and Superheroics in “Black Ghost”

By | September 17th, 2019
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

In the right hands, fresh takes on noir comics can captivate anew.

Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher are just the right creators for that task. “Black Ghost” is an exciting new ComiXology Originals vigilante noir series written by Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher, with art by George Kambadais (“Grave Lilies,” “Short Order Crooks,” and “Double Life of Miranda Turner”), colors by Ellie Wright, and lettering by Taylor Esposito. The first issue of this five issues (with a cover by Greg Smallwood) debuts September 18th on ComiXology Unlimited for readers with comiXology Unlimited, Kindle Unlimited, or Prime Reading subscriptions.

We spoke with co-writers Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher (together, the writing team of the Lethal Lit podcast) about “Black Ghost” hero Lara Dominguez, the iconic stylings of artist George Kambadais, and the origins of their intriguing new ComiXology Originals series.

“Black Ghost” is full of gripping superhero and noir elements–the urban setting, the masked vigilante–but it centers on a relatable hero, reporter-by-day and teacher-by-night Lara Dominguez. How did you come to this cool project as partners? And what inspired this genre blending story and the design of its hero?

Alex Segura: Monica and I had just finished an intense run writing, creating, and executive producing a podcast for iHeart called Lethal Lit – which featured a smart, funny, and sharp-witted heroine named Tig Torres. We had a great time working together, and I think we immediately wanted to figure out something else. I’d had a rough idea for a superhero noir – a blend of detective stories and vigilante comics, really, but it wasn’t fully formed. So I messaged the rough idea to Monica and we jammed on it, with no real concrete idea of what it was going to become. But then she got back to me and it really clicked, in the way Lethal Lit had, so I knew we were on to something.

In terms of inspiration, I really wanted this book to feel like something that occupied the gray areas between mainstream superheroics and more adult fare – really akin to the proto-Vertigo books like “Animal Man” or “The Question,” or early titles like “Sandman Mystery Theater.” Series that didn’t just fit into certain tropes, but at the same time respected and inverted them while adding something new to the chorus.

Monica Gallagher: Alex and I had such a great time joining forces on Lethal Lit, and since we’re both already in the comics realm, it seemed natural to try our hand at something there next. I was eager to see how much I could learn collaborating on a project that was in Alex’s wheelhouse– noir/mystery/murdery– and what I could add to it. I’m a fan of vigilante comics, but I wanted to see a main female character shown dealing with a variety of issues and having to juggle them every time she makes a moral decision.

I’m instantly enamored with your protagonist, Lara Dominguez. Besides covering the law enforcement (and vigilantes) beat as a journalist, she is also a teacher for GED classes at night. Those are some tough jobs in some hard-scrabble arenas, very much in line with the story’s setting Creighton, a fictional “mid-Atlantic ‘burg struggling to survive.” What compelled you to create a town like Creighton for this story?

AS: I think that was part of tipping our hat to what’s come before – using elements that make certain superhero vigilantes work, like a fictional city a la Gotham or Blüdhaven or Opal City, seemed fun. At first we tried to have it set in a real place, but it felt much more engaging and, strangely, real when we started from scratch. Though I will admit Creighton’s loosely based on Monica’s hometown of Baltimore!

MG: Haha yeah, Alex told me Baltimore was one of his inspirations, and … yup, I can see that! It’s important for the city to take on its own persona, and we’ve really only scratched the surface of what Creighton has to offer. Like Lara, it won’t be predictable, or one note! Or maybe like the ocean, you can’t turn your back on Creighton??

Yes, there’s a resiliency to Creighton/Baltimore that’s apparent from issue 1. The titular character, the Black Ghost, is a vigilante superhero that Lara becomes wrapped up in investigating. The Black Ghost also has that throwback vibe to a bygone era, when the Shadow, the Spirit, or the Question blurred the hardboiled detective and the caped crimefighter. Where do you think those characters sit in our contemporary imagination? Do particular elements of those stories feel relevant in new ways in 2019? Or is there more of a certain nostalgia you’re trying to evoke?

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AS: It’s a little bit of both. I think once people read the first issue, they’ll have a much stronger idea of what the series is trying to be, so I want to leave that open to reader interpretation. A lot of these classic superhero stories are about legacy, and the weight of it, but also about carving out your own path – so there’s plenty of that in the book. But I feel like The Black Ghost, as we meet him in #1, is a blend of some of the iconic heroes you mention – an avatar, almost, of those ideas. And Lara provides a fun, human contrast to it – and serves as a really engaging viewpoint character as we learn more about who this activist hero is, and what he stands for.

It’s a great juxtaposition, Lara as a kind of hero and the Black Ghost as another!

MG: It’s interesting, because even in this age of more human heroes or anti-heroes we’re seeing a lot more flawed characters, which appeal to people because they’re easier to identify with. However, it’s always nice to have a place for aspirational heroes, or more appropriately heroes who are an idea, not a person. That way they’re less likely to let down their fans if they only present one idea, not the myriad of conflicting ideas that most humans hold inside them every day. Lara is struggling to understand what it is about simplified, do-gooder justice that can appeal to her so much, while at the same time she’s trying to crack him open and see what he’s really like.

That’s interesting! That meshing of very human and very iconic protagonists reminds me that both of you have poured your substantial talents into great genre-meshing stories. I’m thinking of, Alex, your Archie work and Pete Fernandez mystery novels; and Monica, your “Part Time Princesses” and “Bonnie N. Collide” books. Can you talk more about how your collaboration played out between the two of you and your team?

AS: Well, Monica is a great writing partner and an even better friend. I always tell her how much I like working with her because she’s just fun and professional – there’s no ego. We can rewrite each other or just say “this doesn’t work for me” without the feeling that anyone’s going to get proprietary about words. I don’t know where my stuff ends and hers begins because it’s a strong, well-stirred blend. She has such a great ear for modern dialogue, and I love how she throws in surprises that fit in perfectly with the story. As I noted before, we were really looking to keep working together, so the Black Ghost idea just popped up at the right time.

We really lucked into George, no lie. Creator-owned work is so tough, because you not only need to find talented people – but you need talented people who are easy to work with. You end up wearing two hats – the creative and the business ones, and that’s not something you deal with in “corporate comics” as much. My point being, we were moving along and we suddenly had to find a new artist, and it was fairly late in the game. I had an idea of what we wanted the book to look like, but that was all in our head. My friend, Michael Moreci, mentioned George’s work and when we reached out, I think we knew right away he was our guy – because, in my mind, the best collaborators don’t just amplify your work – they add an unexpected element to it, and George does that. He brings this really fun, but also dark, animated vibe to the comic – giving it this pulpy, neo-noir feel I’d never even considered. Add to that the fact that he’s fast, easy to work with, and such a team player – he’s been a dream, and the entire team has been amazing – from letterer/designer Taylor Esposito to colorist Ellie Wright to our editor and captain Greg Lockard (plus Monica and George, of course), it’s really been a dream project, and it feels like we’re all in it together.

MG: Writing comics can be a very individual, somewhat lonely endeavor (unless you have an editor that likes when you bug them to chat all the time), so it’s always wonderful to get the chance to collaborate with others. Comics collaboration is magical in that it’s all team related – every book will be different depending on the team – you can’t just swap out a writer or an artist and get the same result. It’s pure collaboration, and a pure mixture of all of our voices. I’ve enjoyed working with Alex so much, that I was excited to see what this new project would bring out in our joint forces. And then George came along and quietly blew us away with his gorgeous, dramatic, clean character designs and settings. It’s always a risk when working as a group – I used to hate group projects in school, haha. You can’t help but develop a mentality of “ugh, is this person going to disrupt the dynamic?” But I think when you’re a group of creatives who genuinely love comics and are excited to make any of their projects come to life, the excitement comes through and the collaboration clicks. And then of course Greg keeps us honest and challenged, Ellie breathes more life into the artwork, and Taylor reminds us when we’re being wayyyyy too wordy. 😉

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Can you talk more about the visual aesthetic of “Black Ghost”?  The covers for the series by the likes of Greg Smallwood and Franco Francavilla feature gorgeous, noir-ish poster art. But actually, as far as storytelling goes, I’ve become a huge fan of George Kambadais’s stylings, as I see in it a post-Darwyn Cooke, post-Bruce Timm, art-deco-inflected elegance that feels perfect for this story. There’s also an emotional range and charming toughness that reminds me of Monica Gallagher’s art. Would you let us in on some of the discussion you had as creators about the book’s visual style?

AS: I think George can speak to this mostly, but from my perspective, I wanted the book to feel very grounded/gritty/real, but not hyper-detailed, if that makes sense. The books I was looking at while we crafted the pitch were things like “Batman: Year One,” the early trades of “Sandman Mystery Theater,” Rucka’s first “Batwoman” arc, Bendis and Gaydos’s “Alias”, and Denny’s run on “The Question,” – so, dark, noir, but also unique. All of those books felt different but spent time in that same, grounded and philosophical space – these were vigilante books that were not scared to ask tough questions or push the envelopes and that was accompanied by a unique and definite visual aesthetic. So we wanted something like that, but it didn’t really come to life until we saw George’s first few sketches of the characters. Then we knew we were onto something.

MG: Yes, it’s so Bruce Timm!! The art can really pull a story in different directions, and one of the reasons why George’s blew us away was because it presented us with an entirely new way to engage people with the story. I love gritty realness, but sometimes when art is too realistic I find it difficult to insert myself into the story. George has found the perfect balance of darkness, elegant design and stylized characters that remain accessible. He gives you something gorgeous to look at that’s not distracting from the story at hand. I could gush about George’s work forever, and I’m hoping his stylings will rub off on me!

Cool! Really wonderful to talk to both of you, and we’re looking forward to seeing how “Black Ghost” unfolds! 

Paul Lai