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DF Interview: Ryan Cady relays a ghost story for the end of the world in ‘Haunt You to the End’
By Byron Brewer
In a not-so-far future rife with climate disasters and worldwide instability, an eccentric billionaire and his crew – a disgraced journalist, a radical doctor, a TV demonologist, and a squad of hard-bitten military contractors – set out to prove the existence of life after death. But even if their mission is a success, the truth behind the "most haunted place on Earth" may not be the comforting revelation the world is hoping for.
From Top Cow Productions, an imprint of Image Comics, comes Haunt You to the End from writer Ryan Cady and artist Andrea Mutti. If the story concept doesn’t get you (and why should it NOT?), the epic artwork will! I sat down with scribe Ryan Cady and he told me about his upcoming mag.
Byron Brewer: Ryan, I usually ask about the inspirations behind coming comics, especially intriguing ones like Haunt You to the End. You said this idea “popped” into your head, but I was wondering if it was foreshadowed perhaps by your collaboration with artist Andrea Mutti on Infinite Dark? That art style is definitely perfect for this mag’s SF-horror atmosphere.
Ryan Cady: Oh, absolutely! Andrea and I had been talking about working together for awhile – ideally on another book with Top Cow – but it needed to be the right fit. And as Andrea debuted more of his new washed out, watercolor style, I knew I had to pitch him something with a lot of “weather” to it.
I’m not a huge disaster movie person, but I love haunted house stories – books, movies, comics, you name it – and I started imagining these spooky old mansions in Andrea’s new style, and it didn’t take long for the high concept to announce itself.
Byron: Just reading the solicits, you can tell this is going to be a sweet ride. It seems the “world” you are creating here is almost a central character itself in the story. Everything about the book I have read springs from its canvas, its atmosphere. Tell readers a little bit about this “world”.
Ryan Cady: Setting stories in the near future is always tricky. It’s hard to make predictions that stand the test of time (and I really cheated on Infinite Dark, since it takes place millennia from now) – but I like to think Andrea and I have crafted something believable here. A lot of my doom-saying friends joke that we’re living through the end of the world, but that it’s so slow and tedious, so I tried to inject a little of that in here, too.
Haunt You to the End takes place in a (relatively) near future, where the world is ravaged by climate change and chaotic weather patterns, but humanity has managed to find a little equilibrium and slow the whole apocalypse thing down. Coastlines are dramatically altered, many of our big, important cities are in ruins or underwater; these ruins are the playground of the ultra-rich, who love to go on “exca-vacations” and recover relics and souvenirs.
We’ll follow one of those ultra-rich fellows, but instead of old Hollywood or abandoned European museums, his obsession is with ghosts.
Byron: Speaking of which, where IS “the most haunted place on Earth”?
Ryan Cady: It’s a small island off the coast of Southern California – and there’s a reason you’ve never heard of it before. Since the beginning of the 20th century, this island’s been in the hands of a powerful oil conglomerate, and they don’t exactly invite visitors. It doesn’t have an official name, just a lazily translated Spanish misnomer: “Isla Lodo,” or “mud island.”
For as long as Rasmussen Oil has been pumping and refining and digging up this island, it’s seemed “cursed.” Extremely high rates of employee deaths under mysterious circumstances, unexpected suicides, and unprompted acts of violence – all of which Rasmussen Oil has tried to cover up – and of course, with this violence come rumors of hauntings.
Our intrepid band of ghost hunters only gets this rare opportunity because – in a matter of days – Isla Lodo is going to be wiped out by an extremely devastating hurricane.
Byron: Introduce us to your protagonists, a rag-tag bunch of eccentric ghost hunters: a tech billionaire, a catholic priest, a Sarah Connor-like military contractor turned explorer, uniformed military contractors, and one washed-up journalist.
Ryan Cady: Let’s go down the line! The guy bankrolling the whole expedition is Callum Shah, a Pakistani-British tech billionaire who *loves* ghosts. He’s borderline obsessed with finding evidence of the supernatural and has paid a small fortune to “lease” Isla Lodo for a few days.
Shah’s “spiritual advisor” is a Catholic priest named Sandoval – but he’s more of a TV demonologist than a practical preacher. He’s…eccentric, to say the least, and a veteran of Shah’s previous ghost-hunting endeavors. While Sandoval ostensibly guards the expedition from spiritual threats, it’s Suzanne Gershwinn – a highly decorated military contractor – who takes care of the rest. “Gersh” (as she prefers to be called) is a cigar-chomping grump with a crew of highly trained soldiers at her disposal, and while she jokes about “babysitting billionaires,” it’s clear that her team is always ready for a fight.
And the washed-up journalist – Matthew Park – is our entry point into this wild expedition. Matt’s the unfortunate product of an industry given over to clout and social media flame wars, an exhausted reporter with a dwindling sense of integrity and a growing pile of credit card debt. Matt doesn’t believe in ghosts; indeed, he openly mocks Callum Shah’s obsession, but becoming the expedition’s official documentarian is an opportunity he can’t pass up.
Byron: OK, so Matt’s based on me, right? LOL!… Any other characters we should know about before picking up this limited series in June?
Ryan Cady: One of our main characters is a radical United Nations doctor – Maddison O’Connell – who’s spent most of her life in disaster relief zones. Shah convinces her to come on board by purchasing her medical school debt outright, and while she seems contrarian and resentful (with good reason!), there may be other motives for her to visit the island.
There’s also Jon Rasmussen – the oil baron who found the island and built his crumbling manor house on its peak. Rasmussen’s been dead since WWII, but as most readers can guess, souls don’t exactly seem to stay “restful” on Isla Lodo.
There are more ghostly manifestations, of course – and none of them are friendly – but I’m still very excited for you to meet them!
Byron: Not to start a writing lecture, but describe a bit the writing tools you might utilize to make readers feel they are indeed following these explorers and discovering the truths of this book as it sheds its layers like an onion.
Ryan Cady: In a way, this is where having a big ensemble cast does me a lot of favors. It can be difficult to juggle all of these different characters’ motives and backgrounds, and showcase enough of them to make them feel real - but if I pull that off, the rest is easy.
It’s not hard to explore the world then, because I can do it naturalistically. The things we learn about the island through Matt the skeptic are very different from what we’ll see alongside Padre Sandoval, for example, and it’s the interplay between all of these characters, their reactions to the horrors that are waiting for them, the way their opinions and goals either bend or break in response…yeah, that’s the good stuff!
Byron: Talk about the art of Andrea, the mood created here that is a large part of the mag, and how it feels to be working with him again.
Ryan Cady: Oh man, I know I talked about it a little already, but Andrea’s new watercolor art style is INSANE. It’s just gorgeous and muddy and dark and suggestive and I love it. Which isn’t to say his traditional line art (like we had on Infinite Dark) isn’t gorgeous, too - it is! But there’s something so perfectly doom and gloom about the way he’s rendering this world. I find it super inspiring.
And of course, it helps that we know each other’s quirks and styles after collaborating before. Maybe I’m over-hyping it a bit here, but I really feel like we’re in lockstep sync with this book. I’m scripting this story specifically for Andrea, for his art style, and every page he turns in just hypes me up more. He just turned in a page from issue #3 as I write this, a scene that takes place in one of the abandoned oil derricks on the island, and DANG! I wish you could see it. Well…you will get to see it, but you know what I mean. The dude’s on fire is what I’m getting at.
Byron: Ryan, any projects coming up from you that you can tell readers about?
Ryan Cady: I think I have to do the annoying thing that us comic writers always do, which is to say: “I’ve got some really cool stuff on the horizon, but it’s all secret.” I can confirm I’m actually working on another horror book for Top Cow – not an original property – and I’m really excited about that one, too. Very different from Haunt, but also with a perfect horror collaborator.
I’m also working on an OGN, but it might be years before I’m allowed to talk about that one openly! Publishing is weird. But while this particular OGN is also horror, it’s radically different from anything I’ve done before, and I really hope folks end up digging these new horizons.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Ryan Cady for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Haunt You to the End #1 from Top Cow Productions and Image Comics is slated to be on sale June 14th!
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