Indie Comic Showcase: Five Ghosts!
“Pulp” as both a style and a genre is misappropriated altogether too often. It’s not that creators of pulp-inspired works are necessarily abusing the idiom. Far from in fact. Usually, it’s that fall short of the mark of what makes a pulp story, well, pulpy. A 1911 to 1930’s back drop and a fedora-sporting protagonist does not a pulp story make. The essence of pulp is in the devil-may-care tone of the storytelling, the over the top villains, the globetrotting journeys, the heroes who find strength in forbidden knowledge, and the edgy dames with dark secrets… In short, pulp has a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that is all too often missing from stories aspiring to feel pulpy by emulating the aesthetics of pulp, without really grokking that the essence of pulp is in the tone.
Five Ghosts nails it. Five Ghosts grabs the pulp by the neck, taps pulp’s favorite head up against the barroom wall and asks the pulp, “Have you paid your dues, pulp?”
Five Ghosts is the story of Fabian Gray, an adventurer and treasure hunter, who–after an encounter with the fabled “Dreamstone” artifact–became afflicted with the curse of being haunted by five literary-inspired spirits, called ‘the ghosts.’ But it’s not all negative for Gray, as his curse gives him the power to harness the ghosts’ powers to perform miraculous feats of strength, cunning, and daring. Like his name implies, Gray isn’t a monochrome hero. He’s a complicated man with a tortured past and secrets of his own–and that’s before accounting for his spirit buddies.
Initially pitched as a five issue self-contained story arc, the first storyline was so well received that Image made it a recurring title. Now, a year later from it’s initial launch, Five Ghosts is celebrating it’s twelfth issue, and the conclusion of it’s second major plot line. In the intervening months, author/creator Frank Barbiere and artist Chris Mooneyham gradually moved the needle from a story emulating the pulp style, to one of the most compelling pulp tales in recent memory. Barbiere’s writing has all the easy panache and edgy tone that a good pulp story demands, while Mooneyham’s moody, shadow-heavy style, with it’s emphasis on dark, bold lines is so achingly evocative that it’s hard to imagine the story being drawn any other way.
In a time when ‘steampunk’ and other counter factual histories have been more or less run entirely into the ground by creators more concerned with emulating than innovating, Five Ghosts is an example of a title that builds on the genre rather than simply servicing it. Here’s to a year of great stories. I can’t wait to see where Five Ghosts goes next.