Small press, independent, lesser-known, and forgotten comic books read and reviewed.
Outside of the big-name comics publishers — Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image — there is an unbelievably vast sea of talent. In this semi-irregular, occasionally frequent column, I will introduce you to titles (new and old) that you may not have seen at your local comic book store.
The Ghosts In Space
Review of issues 1 and 2, and an interview with the creators Jake Oliveira and Kyle Armstrong.
At the 2017 Rose City Comic Con, during one of my forays out into the Artists’ Alley, I discovered the table of Jake Oliveira and Kyle Armstrong, the creative team behind The Ghosts In Space comic book. The cover art of issue #1 of their book halted me in my tracks: simple lines, bold colors and the two visual flags of the word “Space” and the image of a skull. Sold!
Imagine if Robert A. Heinlein had written Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and it had been serialized in comic form sometime in the 1980’s. I was immediately reminded of the wide-eyed, “golly-gee-whiz” protagonists of the pre-space race era science fiction written by Robert A. Heinlein. If you’ve ever read Rocket Ship Galileo or Have Spacesuit—Will Travel you’ll know immediately what I mean.
The premise of The Ghosts In Space is a little difficult to discern as we’re given very few clues about why things are the way they are. There’s mention of a war and of the titular “ghosts” and with just another couple of clues, the reader is left to gather that humanity was apparently pushed to the brink in a global war with the Ghosts, and that those Ghosts seem to have the ability to “bond” with or possess machines…
Issue #1 of The Ghosts In Space opens with the narrator (whom we don’t know yet) letting us know that this is “one of those space stories.” But it’s not yet time to get into the thick of things and the narrator directs our attention to a couple of kids (somewhere on Earth) sneaking out in the early morning to go on an adventure. (Pre-breakfast! Who does that?? Seriously, I have a strict “no adventures without breakfast” policy.) Anyway, in typical kid fashion, our two plucky adventurers, Caroline and Felipe, wind their way through town: hopping fences, crossing creeks, poking sticks at things, and eventually winding up at a rally and/or launch ceremony featuring none other than… Skyfire. Who?? C’mon! Y’know— Colonel Leila Stace, ace pilot, acclaimed war hero? Skyfire!
But the kids aren’t here to listen to the boring grown-up talk. Nope, they’ve come to get a close-up look at the spaceship parked in the hangar behind Colonel Stace. All it takes is some sneaking around, the theft of an ID badge (that guard is SO losing his job)—and presto they’re in the hangar admiring the gleaming wedge of the spaceship. You can see where this is going next, right? Soon enough our two meddling kids are simultaneously freaked out and ecstatic about actually being IN SPACE.
Up in the cockpit, while Colonel Stace is running a systems check with her co-pilot, she learns something startling about the aftermath of the war with the Ghosts: Earth wasn’t the only planet to have encounters with these marauding entities. Communications stations on Earth began to detect distress signals from our galactic neighbors. However, due to the overwhelming number of distress calls picked up, and that Earth was in no condition to give aid, these distress calls were simply tuned out and their existence apparently hidden.
In light of this new information, Stace instructs her co-pilot to plot a course to the nearest planet broadcasting an SOS… (Cue the rousing martial anthem…)
Issue #2 opens with Caroline and Felipe being found out by Colonel Stace as she’s preparing to land. Gibbering kids, mismatched socks, and righteous grown-up exasperation ensues.
Oh! Have I mentioned the robot yet? I’m sorry— “Robot.” With a capital “R.” Stace’s co-pilot is a robot that is simply referred to as “Robot.” Robot does have eyebrows though, so that’s a thing. (And fortunately, Kyle has wisely drawn the little vertical tracks that the eyebrows articulate on.)
Anyway, Colonel Stace shuts the kids away in a storage compartment under the watchful sensorium of Robot and sets out to explore the alien planet (alien to us, at least) and, presumably, seek out the origin of the distress signal.
Caroline and Felipe employ Ye Olde “We hafta pee” ruse and manage to get out of the storage room and escape the confines of the ship. They run from an armed, shielded craft, guarded by a robot, and straight into strange, dim, forest. No worries!
Wait… what’s that noise? Oh, it’s just a local. A cyclopean, shaggy, monkey-goat-boy-person. And… IS THAT A GHOST?! Yep. The interloper (or is it the other way around?) encourages our two Earth kids to “Run!” and run they all do. In order not to cause any undue alarm or stress, I’ll just let you know that everything works out okay. Colonel Stace arrives at an opportune moment and saves the day.
Introductions are made and our party sets off for monkey-goat-boy’s city. (Goat-monkey-boy’s name is “Teketin,” thankyouverymuch.) As they journey down the ravine and through the woods, off to Teketin’s house they go, he reveals some intriguing details about the society he lives in, namely that adults are apparently not to be trusted and the city exists in a de facto segregation by age. As the group crests a final rise overlooking Teketin’s city, they are all greeted by an unnerving sight… and Teketin makes a final, chilling statement…
And we have a classic cliff-hanger.
Jake Oliveira is scripting a classic space adventure… you know, “one of those space stories” that takes me back many years to summers spent escaping the Texas heat and humidity in the cool refuge of our ranch style’s living room while I worked my way through a stack of comic books, a glass of iced tea and a bag of chips. Kyle Armstrong’s art neatly conjures Jake’s world from the past with bold, spare illustrations, “simple” flat-style shading, and restrained use of halftones. The blank portions of the pages are even colored to evoke the yellowed pages of old newsprint.
Two issues in and The Ghosts In Space is off to a slow but promising start. The reader is dropped into the middle of a story AFTER something huge has happened and is given tiny clues, cast off casually by the characters, that provide a maddeningly tantalizing glimpse at the larger picture. Jake and Kyle are able to dole out just enough intriguing little tidbits to keep stringing the reader along without causing “suspense fatigue.” I can’t wait to see what develops next and what our party finds in Teketin’s home.
For a little backstory, you can read the prologue (issue #0) here:
Interview with the creators Jake Oliveria and Kyle Armstrong
What’s your background? How did you arrive at creating your own book?
(Jake) Apart from reading a lot of comics, I’ve written a lot of different kinds of things from songs while playing in bands to short stories to comics. I had a lot of projects that misfired or never got off the ground prior to meeting Kyle and getting to work on The Ghosts in Space. As far as creating a book, my instinct when I see something I really love is to see if I can find a way to make something too; thus far, to wildly varying degrees of success.
(Kyle) I’m an illustrator and designer by trade. Out of college, I illustrated a 60-80 page webcomic with my brother. I had really enjoyed the process of creating sequential art and was excited when Jake was looking for an artist for a new project. He asked me for a collection of things I like to draw and crafted a story around it. Thus, The Ghosts in Space was born!
What’s your workflow like? How do you collaborate?
(Jake) Getting to the draft of the script I send to Kyle happens in roughly 3 stages with a couple different rounds of edits thrown in between. The basic 3 are brainstorm, map, script. Pretty much, I brainstorm what will be in the issue, map it across 20 pages to make sure I’m not over or understuffing it and my beats are falling on the right pages, then I script it. Now keep in mind that’s going to include about all of those steps being done and redone at least a few times, especially the first two.
As far as collaborating, we live in different states so when we do see each other we spend a lot of time talking about the more overall ideas of what we’re doing. We also talk on the phone pretty much every other week to keep each other updated and work out any questions we have. Beyond that, I send him a script, he does a ridiculous amount of work to make it into a great looking comic, then I go and redo all the dialogue that I’ve discovered is terrible since I wrote it.
(Kyle) On my end, I print the script and block out scenes by drawing frames in the margins. It helps later on when I’m drawing thumbnails of the pages to look at the visual notes I’ve taken for the scene. Then it’s Photoshop time. Rough all the pages. “Ink” all the pages. Show Jake the sweet panel I drew. Color all the pages.
You both seem to be comics fans: what titles would we find heaped in a pile on your desk right now? Are you a “trade waiter”?
(Jake) I do read a lot of comics or, at least buy a lot with the intention to read, I’m pretty behind. I’m reading a lot of the current can’t miss books, your Saga, The Wicked+The Divine, Southern Bastards, etc. Greg Rucka is probably my favorite writer so I’m reading all of his stuff. Same with Fraction, Brubaker, & so many more. Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson is a more recent book that is goddamn barn-burner and I’ll also pretty much try anything put out by Oni Press. I really really try not to trade wait but inevitably there are more things I’d like to read than I can afford so I do end up waiting for some things.
(Kyle) Ditto to Extremity. Head Lopper, Rumble, Pretty Deadly, and Copperhead. Anything westerny/ spacey/occulty/fantasy I am down to read. Also Lake Of Fire by Nathan Fairbairn, and Matt Smith is still hanging around. It was a huge influence (for me) for issue 2.
What are your “tools of the trade”? What’s your workspace/studio like?
(Jake) Notebook for the brainstorming, Computer for the mapping/scripting, Patio for pacing.
(Kyle) Photoshop, a really old Cintiq, hours of Star Trek, a playlist curated to the issue I’m working on. My workspace varies from trash heap to tornado aftermath.
What are your Five Rules To Live By? (I just made that up… play along with me here.)
1. Try to do the right thing and try to forgive yourself when you mess up.
2. Do the same for other people.
3. Put in the work it takes to listen to good music.
4. Breakfast burritos are the peak of food, in both concept and reality.
5. Dogs are the G.O.A.T. pet.
1. Be excellent to one another.
2. The shit that you hate don’t make you special.
3. Share what you love with other people, and surround yourself with people that have passion.
4. Take criticism graciously and don’t dwell on it too long.
5. A person who doesn’t like pizza is to be avoided.
Why comic books?
(Jake) For me, they’re my favorite medium. I also really love movies but comics, the way they involve your brain to be active in reading the story, their ability to put story in what isn’t shown in the art, and the immediacy that they can be created and put into the world compared to other mediums. Comics are the clear winner.
(Kyle) I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller (well, after I wanted to build robots). Drawing has always been my goto way to do so. I enjoy creating art that tells a story and I can share with other people.
In the back of issue 1 (TGiS) you (Jake) mentioned that making comics is “very hard.” What are the challenges that you face that make the process difficult? So rewarding?
(Jake) I know, at least for us, it’s just a lot of work. We’re both working full-time non-comics jobs and have other stuff in our lives and the sheer will that it takes to finish something, much less make it good, is exhausting. The worst comics you’ve ever read were still a ton of work for the people who made them. However, there’s really not anything as cool as holding a comic you made in your hand.
What/who are your creative influences?
(Jake) I try not to ape anyone too hard, but there a lot of creators that I really love, and storytellers in other mediums. I’m a huge fan of most forms of storytelling so I’m kind of pulling from everything I’ve ever read or experienced. A lot of the artists I look up to most from a work ethic standpoint are musicians.
(I’m sure you get this question all the time but… I have to ask) What advice would you give to someone seeking to create their own comic book?
(Jake) Pick an idea and finish something. Everyone can do the first 1/3 of a drawing or a story. That’s the easy part and the fun part. The finishing is the hard part and its the only part that means anything. It’s the only time you learn something.
(Kyle) For sure, it’s so easy to flake out after starting something. For me, the social pressure to finish after telling people I was making a comic, was very helpful. Also setting a deadline and sticking to it is incredibly helpful. If we said we wanted to make a comic someday, it might get done… maybe. Saying it will be done and printed by the time a Con comes around, is so helpful.
FINALLY… when can we expect issue 3 of The Ghosts In Space to hit our local comic book stores? (Or be available online?)
(Jake) Really bringing the heat now, Brian. As I said earlier, comics aren’t something we get to dedicate as much time as we’d like but we’re trying to maintain a 2 issue a year pace. If we can do better, we will but that’s the goal for now. I’m working on the script for issue 3 of The Ghosts in Space now, we’re aiming for a (hopefully early) Spring 2018 release.