SPOOKS is the name of a secret branch of the government that guards humanity from things that go bump in the night, and when the king of all vampires allies with the deadliest of witches, it unleashes an invasion of classic monsters on Washington DC, calling the SPOOKS team into action.
We spoke with writer/director Ryan Schifrin about what we can expect from the book.
The Big Bad Wolf: Have you always been interested in comics?
Ryan Schifrin: I’m a huge collector of comics, ever since I was a little kid. I think growing up reading comics really helped me with directing films, because it taught me how to think visually from an early age. I used to walk to Golden Apple Comics and spend all my money on SPIDER-MAN, GI JOE, FANTASTIC FOUR, HULK, DAREDEVIL and a slew of others. And, it just so happens that I’d been collecting Devil’s Due books like GI JOE and FORGOTTEN REALMS before we set up SPOOKS with them!
The Big Bad Wolf:
How did you come up with the concept for SPOOKS?
Ryan Schifrin: Dan Alter (who just produced the HIT MAN movie) and I were having coffee a few years ago. It was right before Halloween. I had just sold a comedy script to Warner Brothers, but I was telling him that the genres I love most are fantasy, action and horror. He suggested I write something on spec along those lines. We got to talking about MEN IN BLACK, and came up with the idea of doing something related to Halloween and monsters and magic. We walked over to this store called AAAAHS! which sells Halloween decorations, and I saw this life size pumpkin headed scarecrow in the window which I absolutely had to have.
While I was going through the store and geeking out over the scary props, we basically came up with the concept of a government agency that protects us from vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies etc, and how all the monsters decide to join forces and take over the world. My feeling was that every Christmas they play A CHRISTMAS STORY on TV non-stop, but the only perennial Halloween favorites are THE GREAT PUMPKIN and NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. I wanted to do a big epic fantasy action movie that is a love letter to my favorite holiday and monsters that could become a staple of the season. So I wrote a screenplay and developed the characters and the big action set-pieces. We realized this was a huge ambitious story. Since it’s not based on a video game or a re-make, it would be difficult to set-up as a movie. Dan suggested we turn it into a comic book, which would also help create a brand name for it.
I’ve been a huge fan of fantasy author R.A. Salvatore for many years. He created the Dark Elf series, I think I’ve read about 40 novels of his, and had corresponded with him via email from time to time. When ABOMINABLE came out he watched it and really enjoyed it. We finally met in person at Comic Con two years ago, and I told him about SPOOKS and that I would love for him to work on it with me. He read the script, and had suggestions about how to improve the tone and characters and story, so I asked him to write a whole new treatment based off my screenplay. So, Bob and his sons went through it and came up with a treatment that incorporated their ideas with mine and really made the whole thing much stronger. The tone became much darker, more realistic, and the main character became more three dimensional. One of Bob’s former editors, Steve Saffel, called me up and told me that he had just run into Larry Hama and did I want to meet him? Steve knew I was a huge GI JOE fan, and that we always pitched SPOOKS as “GI JOE versus monsters”. Larry basically created GI JOE (in the 80s)—all of the characters, from Snake Eyes to Storm Shadow etc. He wrote the file cards on the back of the action figures, and wrote every issue of the comic for twelve years. So, I was ecstatic to meet Larry, and we hit it off, and I asked him if he’d like to write the comics with me. Larry looked over the materials, and agreed to come on board. Larry is a true Renaissance man – he was in a rock band, in the military, draws comic books, writes comic books, screenplays, does storyboards – you name it! I’ve never written a comic book before, so having Larry co-write the issues with me has been invaluable, and he’s come up with a lot of brilliant ideas that have made it even better. For a story that involves military and fantasy, you can’t ask for greater collaborators than Bob and Larry! And to be able to work with guys whose stuff I grew up reading, and who are idols of mine is the greatest experience in the world. I’ve learned so much from them. The next thing we needed was an artist, and by coincidence, Adam Archer had just watched ABOMINABLE and had sent me an email expressing his interest in working with me on something. He showed me the work he had done on the FRIDAY THE 13th comics for Wildstorm, and I loved his style, and asked him to draw SPOOKS. He’s really helped bring the characters to life.
The Big Bad Wolf:
In SPOOKS, are all monsters bad?
Well, that’s an interesting question. In general terms, if you run into a werewolf in the SPOOKS universe they’re probably not going to be too friendly. However, rather than just show them as mindlessly evil, we try to present their own point of view. I always believe that villains never see themselves as evil. They are always the hero from their own point of view. The monsters aren’t happy that they’ve been hunted by humans since the dawn of time, and are forced to hide in the shadows and live on the fringes of society. They feel that humanity has totally screwed up the world and do not deserve to control it anymore. Also, humans are a food source to some of these creatures. They would point out that we don’t feel much guilt when we eat a hamburger, so why should this be any different? Perhaps there are some monsters that have a guilty conscience, but we won’t be meeting them in this story!
The Big Bad Wolf: Can you tell us a bit about each of the characters we will see in SPOOKS?
Ryan Schifrin: Sure. The main hero of the piece is Zach Ramirez. He’s the top field agent for SPOOKS, and a former veteran of the war in Iraq. He’s one of the few .001% of humans who are immune to lycanthropy, so SPOOKS sends him on missions which involve werewolves. Due to an incident in Iraq, Zach is full of anger and guilt, which he channels into sheer pleasure in killing monsters. He’s got a crush on Felicia, the adopted daughter of the commander of SPOOKS.
The commander of SPOOKS is Frank (last name CLASSIFIED). Thirty years ago he was a professor living in Europe, and a vampire slaughtered his whole family. He became like Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH, a lone vigilante monster hunter who roamed the world looking for payback. Eventually he was recruited into SPOOKS, where he became their top field agent for years, before finally being promoted to leader of the unit.
Frank’s daughter is Felicia. She’s in charge of forensic investigations, and is an expert on magic. What no one knows is that she’s actually half-witch. Years ago, when Frank was hunting monsters he terminated a particularly evil witch, and afterward found this infant wrapped in a blanket. Out of guilt, he adopted the baby and raised her as his own.
Felicia’s still developing her powers, and even she doesn’t know what her limits are. She’s not particularly happy about having to hide who she really is.
As for the bad guys, the evil mastermind of the whole monster coalition to take over the world is a deadly and cunning witch named Patience Van Anders. She was the apprentice of the most dangerous warlock in history, who is currently in captivity. She plans to raise an army of the dead, and needs the muscle of the werewolves and vampires to protect her until she is able to muster her forces. She brings in Vlad Igorovich Tepes, who is the most powerful vampire in the world, sort of the Godfather of vampires. All the vampire clans owe allegiance to him and will do what he commands. And, it just so happens, he is the vampire that killed Frank’s family all those years ago. The Witch also needs a general to lead her army of the dead, so she raises up Headless Jack from the netherworld. He used to be an evil Confederate general that had his head blown off by a cannon ball in the Civil War.There’s a ton of other characters but those are the main ones.
The Big Bad Wolf:
How did you hook up with Devil's Due Publishing?
Dan Alter and Adrian Askarieh already had a relationship with Devil’s Due, as they are producing the HACK/SLASH and LOST SQUAD movies over at Rogue with them. Since Devil’s Due also publishes Bob’s FORGOTTEN REALMS and DEMON WARS, as well as GI JOE and Larry’s STORM SHADOW books, it seemed like the perfect fit. I met with Josh Blaylock and I think he really sparked to the idea of having R.A. Salvatore and Larry Hama working on the same project.
The Big Bad Wolf: This comic is slated to be a 4 issue mini series. Would you like to make this book to be an ongoing series if the fans wanted more?
Ryan Schifrin: Oh, absolutely. I’ve had the best time putting this together, it’s been an absolute joy. In the course of creating the characters and the universe, we’ve come up with so much material that we could never fit it all in. And new ideas keep coming – there are lots of stories left to tell. I know that Larry and Adam Archer (the artist) have said they’d love to keep going on this. Fingers crossed that people like it and want more!
The Big Bad Wolf: You already have a hit on your hands with the Abominable movie, do you have any interest in turning SPOOKS into a movie?
Of course! The 4 issue mini-series is really structured like a movie, since the material and structure were derived from the screenplay. My favorite movie of all time is STAR WARS, and I’m also a huge fantasy buff. LORD OF THE RINGS and STAR WARS are the same genre to me – only the setting is different. Obi-Wan is a wizard like Gandalf, and mentor to the hero. Darth Vader is a Black Knight, the Force is the equivalent of magic, and so forth. What made STAR WARS fresh was that it took the archtypes of fantasy and placed them in a sci-fi setting. So, along the same lines, I wanted to do it but with Halloween iconography instead. Rather than armies of stormtroopers or orcs, we have armies of vampires and werewolves. Instead of wizards we have warlocks (not a big difference really). But structurally, we follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and also have the high speed chases and giant battles that you’d find in those big summer movies.Now, having said all that, SPOOKS won’t be a cheap movie to make, and it was really important to me to get the story out there in some form and see it come to life. I’ve treated working on this the same way I would direct a movie – including sending Jonny Rench (our colorist) photos and images to convey the sort of moods and lighting I’m looking for. My goal is that regardless of whether it becomes a movie or not, to make the best graphic novel possible and take what was in my head and translate it into images. Anything beyond that is a bonus as far as I’m concerned.
The Big Bad Wolf: What is the cover price of this book going to be?
It's $3.50 for the regular cover and $5.50 for the prestige cardstock cover.
The Big Bad Wolf: When is the release date?
Ryan Schifrin: The first issue comes out in February.
The Big Bad Wolf: What else would you like to say to fans regarding SPOOKS?
Ryan Schifrin: I believe the secret to creating stories is to make something that you’d like to see yourself. This subject matter is something that I’m such a huge fan of, and wanted to channel all of that passion into – so anyone who loves monsters, Halloween, GI JOE or fantasy should find lots to enjoy in this book.
The Big Bad Wolf: Is there anything else that you are currently working on that you would like to plug?
Ryan Schifrin: There are two movie projects I’m trying to get off the ground in the near future. One is a sequel to ABOMINABLE, and the other is a buddy action horror movie sort of like INDIANA JONES and THE MUMMY in terms of tone. But a huge chunk of my time these last few months has been devoted to bringing SPOOKS to life, and it’s one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had!
The Big Bad Wolf: Where can fans get more info on you? Website? MySpace page?
Ryan Schifrin: We’re putting together a website for SPOOKS, which should be up and running soon. In the meantime, I am on MySpace – just look me up and I’m more than happy to answer questions and say hello!
The Big Bad Wolf: Thank you for your time, Ryan. Good luck with SPOOKS!
Talk about the SPOOKS Interview.