Erik Burnham, writer and artist for the Ghostbusters ongoing series from IDW Publishing Comics, has spoken with the Ghostbusters Wiki about what to expect from Volume Two and provide a look back on some of the highlights of Volume One. Check out "Mars Attacks The Real Ghostbusters" scheduled to release on January 16, 2013 and Issue #1 of the Ongoing Series Volume Two set for February 27, 2013. (Interview Conducted by Mrmichaelt)
1. How did you break into the comic book industry?
ERIK BURNHAM: Back in December of 2001, I was in a group chat, talking comics with a bunch of online pals. There were complaints about things they thought weren’t being done right, and someone finally said “could we do better?” A chunk of us decided to put our money where our mouths were, so to speak, and cooked up the Shooting Star Comics Anthology. I had an eight page story in there… Nick Landime in Remember the Alamas. A silly little thing, but fun to do.
The group decided to continue, becoming a full-on comic company for a few years. We put out several more issues of the anthology, a one-shot with Nick, and a few other books… including Tom Waltz and Casey Maloney’s Children of the Grave. That’s how I met Tom, who then went on to edit at IDW, and gave me a chance to pitch for another anthology – Gene Simmons House of Horrors. That story, the Wish Thief, saw print about five years after the first Shooting Star Anthology… that’s how I snuck in (the condensed version.)
2. Take us through a typical work day of Erik Burnham
ERIK BURNHAM: I wake up, check my email and such. I may do some reading, or throw on Netflix and get to drawing, if it’s a drawing day. Otherwise, I’ll start writing – either at home, or, if it’s nice and early, down at a quiet coffee shop. (You can’t beat 5:30am in the wintertime at a rural coffee shop for lack of distraction!) Those are the broad strokes. Typical doesn’t really describe my workdays!
3. Do you write the Ghostbusters ongoing scripts on your own or have you frequently collaborated with Tom Waltz, Tristan Jones, Dan Schoening, and Luis Antonio Delgado online between and during drafts?
The scripts themselves I pretty much do on my own, though Tristan and Tom have both been sounding boards on plots, and Dan and Luis have thrown me some great ideas (though most of the time what they do is tweak what I wrote in their handling of the visuals, which sometimes inspires a rewrite of dialogue, and that generally makes things better all round.)
4. For the fans who have discovered you through Ghostbusters, what other projects of yours should they be picking up, past and near-future?
ERIK BURNHAM: Well, the Nick Landime stuff – if it can be found – has a similar joking tone. (I mean to redraw some of those stories now that I’m not holding down a full-time-plus job besides!) The Murdock chapter of A-Team War Stories is also a personal favorite. Near future… gosh, tough to say. I have some irons in the fire, but nothing definitive. I’m working on Secret History of the Foot Clan with Mateus Santolouco, but it’s not the same tone as Ghostbusters (it’ll be good, though!)
ERIK BURNHAM: Peck wasn’t going to be as overt a part of the book, no. I was kind of inspired to use him more by Tristan Jones’ backup, and once I wrote him – he was just too much fun.
6. When you first started writing Peck vs. writing Peck at the start of the The New Ghostbusters arc, what are his motivations and goals and how have they changed along the way?
ERIK BURNHAM: I don’t see Peck as a villain. He’s a jerk, he thinks he’s smarter than other people, and he has a major personality conflict with Peter. But he’s competent at his job. He likes running PCOC; it’s a unique position. He will take the Ghostbusters’ expertise, generally at face value, because he’s seen what happens when things go awry. Peck will accept when he’s wrong.
Basically, he aims to keep his position, and any power and influence that comes with it. (And if he can put the screws to Venkman without jeopardizing any of that, hey, he’s happy to do that as well.)
7. Peck is definitely the public face of PCOC as well, but will we be seeing more employees appearing and will the ramifications of the Ghost-Smashers have any permanent effect on PCOC's mandate moving forward in the series?
ERIK BURNHAM: You will see another employee in the second issue of the New Ghostbusters arc (by request of Mr. Dan Schoening!) We also covered some of the ramifications of the Smashers on ghost hunting in the first issue.
ERIK BURNHAM: Pretty much. He was created to serve a purpose, and, when he failed in his purpose, well, he’s been severely… we’ll say injured. He’s not the entity he was. He can’t pop out and do what he did before – he’s kind of running on his own battery now. If he ever comes back to look for revenge, he’ll have to do so indirectly.
I like to leave possibilities for future stories out there. If we never see him again, it’s fine, but the door isn’t so far closed that we can’t use him again if we want to.
9. With Gozer captured after #4, Idulnas is at his weakest and actually needed Janosz' consent in #16?
ERIK BURNHAM: I figured that kind of thing would require Janosz to be an active participant. He’s a bit of a tragic figure now, driven totally nuts, but he did it for the right reasons.
10. The Megatrap was an interesting addition to the arsenal. One of the key elements of the Ghostbusters has always been the equipment used to research, capture, and contain the beasts. When writing for the series, how do you determine when to use the equipment, when to not use equipment, or introducing new gadgets?
ERIK BURNHAM: Sometimes it’s just a matter of it being fun (like the boson darts or Egon’s love of grenades.) I try not to make up too many things, and in issue #15, folks will see that sometimes there can be equipment failure. Like so many other things in this book, I tend to go with what feels right at the time.
11. Kylie Griffin was another fan favorite of the series thus far, how did she get added and what can the fans expect to see in her character development in the future?
ERIK BURNHAM: I was planning on adding a staff – or at the very least, a store manager – for Ray’s Occult bookstore. I like that he keeps it as a revenue stream/research library, but he can’t be there and go bust ghosts at the same time… anyway, I was just going to create a character from scratch. It would’ve been a she, and it would likely have been more or less the same personality as Kylie has… but I didn’t get that far before Jones said “it needs to be Kylie!” I’ve never seen an episode of EGB, so I was only familiar with her on the most basic level… but that said, she’s so much fun to write! She’ll be appearing, of course, in the New Ghostbusters arc come February, and hopefully work her way into more stories.
12. When developing the supernatural entities for the ongoing series, how did you go about selecting what to use - such as the Manitou from mythology or something original like Myrtle from the retirement home in Issue #8, and what influenced the character development of these entities?
ERIK BURNHAM: Well, with the Manitou I started with a rough idea and, while I was writing the issue, did some research to flesh things out. Sometimes the research causes me to think of new things and the story changes (this happened in the New Orleans-set issue #10.) The Major Threats get a little more thought put into them (and more research, which, like I said, can cause some on-the-fly story changes) while the standard busts (like Ellen Gold or Myrtle) are pretty much just made up on the spot.
13. Take us through the development of Dante Barnes from #12 for example. What did you start with - coming up with his name, his M.O., back story - and what did you add on the character as you researched more and wrote the script?
ERIK BURNHAM: In this case, the guitarist bursting into flames (and fire on his return) came early. His first name was pretty much an unwritten pun due to that fact. The biggest thing I added upon research (of Seattle, which I was doing as I wrote) was the climax happening in Pioneer Square, which had a terrible fire in its history. The rest just flowed out as I was writing – issue twelve came easier than some. The fire gimmick also inspired Peter getting back into the charcoal suit, for fun – that wasn’t planned before I wrote the scene. Happy accident. (A lot of scenes – and certainly dialogue – in this book comes together in a way that’s close to improvisation, which is appropriate to the franchise!)
ERIK BURNHAM: Sort of! This is part of the first thing I pitched to IDW way back in 2009. The story (with death captured, and the Ghost-Smashers) was all there… I changed it when it came to the ongoing, because of other changes I’d made (cut an issue’s worth of content from the Manitou story – I decided not to bog it down with the in-joke of a Scooby Doo like group at the park as well.) So I did the Egon issue, and just established Eugene and Death there instead. At the time, I wrote it, the Ghost Smashers was still probably going to be the third arc. We did Haunted America instead, so…
Like I said, sometimes these things just grow organically!
15. The 16 issue pitch. Is there anything else from this pitch being used for Volume 2 or is The New Ghostbusters arc and on, all new material from a new pitch?
ERIK BURNHAM: There was one story from the initial pitch that I didn’t get to; some of it was drawn into other arcs, and some was made obsolete by similar-but-better ideas that came along the way. I’m still considering the core of the idea for volume 2 stories, however. Everything else got used – and then some!
16. Haunted America proved to be an entertaining summer event. Can fans expect something similar for 2013?
ERIK BURNHAM: We’ve talked about other kinds of events for Ghostbusters… we bounce around a lot of ideas. Some are ridiculous and could never happen in a million years (like a crossover with a superhero, as an example) and others have a little bit more of a possibility (I won’t share examples since I don’t want to jinx it.) But we are thinking about “big” stories just as much as “small.” I’ve seeded things in the book in case we can ever do some of the things we want to. If we don’t, the seeding kind of just goes unnoticed, or is speculated upon by fans. If we do, hey, I look like a genius in retrospect. Heh.
17. Was Alan, Winston, and Janine talking about Janosz in #1 an example of seeding things which led to his debut appearance in #13?
ERIK BURNHAM: In that specific case, referring to Janosz was more to explain to those who hadn’t played Sanctum of Slime who Alan was… though it certainly seeded his sacrifice in #16.
18. Egon and Janine becoming an item has been debated since the movie and it seems the ongoing has them on a roller coaster ride with Roger in the mix. And then there's the Gris-Gris given to Egon. Will this object come into play soon or should we wait until Volume Three?
ERIK BURNHAM: That’s one of those seeded items. I’d intended it for use in one particular way, but the story I’d been playing around with doing was changing as elements in the book changed (letting the characters go the way they decide to go can have that effect.) Now, they’re so different, the story wouldn’t ring as true, so I have to figure out a different way to go.
As far as Roger and Janine and Egon… I honestly don’t know how that’s going to turn out. (I certainly don’t want anyone to assume I’m definitely doing something, one way or another.)
19. Egon was distracted with the ambient P.K.E. surge and/or didn't care in #8 but now he does in #14... but the scene in the latter issue was a great interpretation, on your part, of Janine and Louis in Ghostbusters II. Or was it more about giving Egon (and even Ray and Winston) a romance subplot since Peter went through that in the two movies and video game?
ERIK BURNHAM: The thing is, I like writing about these guys living their lives even more than the ghostbusting… that’s where some of the most fun is, and romantic subplots are part of that. (Taking my cue from the movies influences that – most of their daily grind is in montage!) Finding the right balance is important – and yet some months I still lean more in one direction than the other.
20. Is the Ghost Smashers your vision of why the Ghostbusters franchises haven't really taken off during the events of the ongoing series?
ERIK BURNHAM: Not really. Definitive franchising is a tricky point. People both want and don’t want at the same time. (I think many want what’s specifically in their heads, period, nothing else when it comes to this subject. So if there are franchises, it must be this way, not that or I got it wrong and there are angry letters! Heh.)
Mostly, I don’t do it because I don’t think most folks are interested in other teams of Ghostbusters EXCEPT as far as their story relates to the original team. (The Ghost-Smashers are barreling ahead without regard for consequences, which the ‘Busters will have to face. The New Ghostbusters will be concerned with where the originals went and how to get them back. The Rookie worked with them, etc.) The further you move from the core, the less it really works.
I don’t know, at this time, if a “CSI Miami” kind of set up would work, wherein we have a book with a different cast and location with minimal if any contact/relation to Venkman and co. If I’m wrong and that’s something fans would eat up, hey, I’ll admit I’m wrong. But I don’t see it yet. That isn’t to say it couldn’t happen, though.
21. The bureaucracy Rookie's dealing with in Chicago and the Ghost-Smashers blundering were a rather brilliant way of implicitly addressing the franchise expansion and/or seeding a return trip to Chicago.
ERIK BURNHAM: It certainly leaves things open for such a story.
22. Since one Rookie from Ghostbusters: The Video Game appeared, what are the chances of the two Rookies from the Stylized Version making a guest appearance?
ERIK BURNHAM: Not in the cards at the moment, but like with ANYTHING else, if a great idea occurs to me (or is suggested to me by Tom or Dan or Luis or…) and Sony says we can go for that idea, we will. Right now, no particular idea for an appearance by the Stylized Rookies.
23. That brings up another thing, what is the turnaround time for the approval process? Say for example, for #13 you wanted to use the Rookie. How long ahead did you start the approval process before working on the actual script? If Sony happened to have said "No" and the script was set...
ERIK BURNHAM: Well, when I’m doing something large (say, the New Ghostbusters arc) I need to get advanced approval, and that can have a pretty fast turnaround – I’ve been answered same day, in some cases. In other cases, they’ve given me a little bit of leeway.
I pay attention to what I can’t do: I was given a small list early on – for example, if something was in the video game, it was cleared, so I knew Rookie was someone I could make use of. In the case of Janosz, I asked Tom beforehand – if Tom had said either no or that he needed to check, I wouldn’t have gone ahead until I had a yes. If I were to write something that was later decided to be a no-go, I’d simply have to rewrite. That’s how things work in any situation where you’re playing with someone else’s toys.
24. #16 was definitely more than a done-in-one story. I was surprised to have felt any kind of sympathy for Janosz - he did do the wrong thing for the right reason (spare his family). Was that Tom's influence to make Winston an ex-Marine and not ex-Air Force like in early GB1 drafts?
ERIK BURNHAM: Funny thing, I knew Winston’s character had been in the military, but I didn’t see that the Air Force was used in early movie drafts until just recently. That completely blew by me! I know Winston has been mentioned as a Marine in other comics, Ernie Hudson was a Marine, and Tom, yes, he indirectly inspired me to show a little bit of that side of Winston, too. I like to think it’s something Winston is proud of.
Thankfully Tom was able to course correct any mistakes I made in Marine terminology… I certainly wouldn’t want to get that wrong.
25. The ongoing series takes a New Years break in January while fans are treated to the "Mars Attacks The Real Ghostbusters" one-shot. How did you get the writing gig for it, was it automatic or did you have to pitch an idea?
ERIK BURNHAM: Tom just asked me if I had any ideas. I did still have to come up with something that Topps, Sony, and IDW liked… so, after a long road trip wherein I had plenty of time to think… I remembered the War of the Worlds. The Martians in this story caught wind of the broadcast, went to check it out, and found out it was a story. Leaving Earth, they crashed…. And now, in the present day, they’re ghosts ready to be busted.
It was a lot of fun – just an in and out quick Saturday morning cartoon kind of story.
26. Since this is the first story in the vein of The Real Ghostbusters in decades, how did you initially feel about writing in the animated canon and how do you feel about the final script?
ERIK BURNHAM: I really, REALLY liked how the final script came out… I had a short amount of time to write the first draft (it needed to be approved by IDW, Topps, and Sony, so there was extra lead time needed) and, amazingly, there was only one cosmetic change I had to make in panel description… I played it safe, though, and tried to stay to the side of canon… there’s not going to be references galore. (Not that there was room anyway!)
Like I said, it was fun -- some of the most fun I’ve had writing all year, and it’s been a VERY fun year.
27. Are there any plans to do any future stories set in The Real Ghostbusters or the other animated shows?
ERIK BURNHAM: Yes! I’ll be doing 8 page Real Ghostbusters backups serialized in two page bursts in the back of the comic, in the space PCOC once held. (We offered this to Tristan Jones first, I should add! He wasn’t bumped on my account.)
The first story doesn’t quite feature the Ghostbusters (but it’s a story that would only work in RGB and helps me shake some of the rust off of my drawing hand!)
28. IDW does seem to be testing the waters with Real Ghostbusters collections and now new stories. I'm sure the questions fans have is "will there be a Real Ghostbusters ongoing and/or a Real Ghostbusters-Ghostbusters crossover?"
ERIK BURNHAM: I don’t know whether or not there will ever be an RGB ongoing (though I’m sure the possibility exists, if the numbers start looking good to IDW, for more content in some form or another.) As to an RGB/GB crossover, I’ll be honest… the thought had crossed my mind.
29. The New Ghostbusters arc kicks off the second volume of the ongoing series and fans have sounded off without a hitch. What reactions surprised you the most so far and did you expect most of it while developing the storyline?
ERIK BURNHAM: There was a little bit of the negative -- we went with the gals-in-shorts cover (it’s part of issue 2) and it looked great and stood out, but we’re not doing the sexy adventures of the lady Ghostbusters, and the image lead some to jump to that conclusion (the cover to issue #3 has quieted a lot of folks up!) Other folks jumped to the conclusion that we were dumping the originals wholesale… not the truth, either. Some folks didn’t believe me when I told ‘em otherwise (what would I know?)
But that kind of reaction was the minority. Folks who have been reading the book have afforded us some trust – we’re telling stories, here. The cartoon did an episode with this theme (Janine Melnitz, Ghostbuster) that I took a look at while revising the issue breakdowns. This story doesn’t resemble that episode in any more than a superficial way, but c’mon, there’s a little precedent, isn’t there?
Good will win out, the guys will return… it’s the middle part where the fun is. (I hope!)
30. Yes, the online reaction. Shorts. That was... to be fair, fans were already freaking out that the series was being completely rebranded before IDW confirmed it to be the first arc of a new volume.
But since we are talking ~24 pages, was it a challenge to juggle two teams and make sure they both got their share in each issue?
ERIK BURNHAM: This story’s focus is more the new team, but as long as the originals get some shining moments in this story, I think we’re safe. It’s always a challenge to get some character time in for everyone. Sometimes I’ll look at an issue and go “Hey! So and so doesn’t have much presence here!” You can’t always be fair with that, though I do try. And if anything sticks out like that, I make sure to cover the character in the next available scene or issue.
31. Tom Waltz did a fantastic job developing the new team of Ghostbusters in the Sanctum of Slime game and we've seen some cameos and references in the comic. Was there ever a possibility of doing a flash forward story or was it always going to be a brand new line up?
ERIK BURNHAM: We could potentially do a flash-forward story, I’m sure, or play with the SOS characters in some way. I haven’t made plans to do so, but I never rule things out outright, I could have an epiphany in ten minutes and make myself a liar!
32. News is starting to trickle in about the New Ghostbusters, but in closing, any more hints you can give to the fans about this and future story arcs in development?
I can give plenty of hints – I can outright say – that you will see the original Ghostbusters in this arc, and the events of it (their interdimensional jaunt) will complicate their lives. And now that we’ve opened up the can of worms of other dimensions, who knows what could come down the pike? (I’ve pitched more than one crossover possibility, and at least one of them will happen. Maybe not the one everyone is thinking, but at least one!) It’s a half step closer to what Aykroyd thought up, way back in the day (though I don’t know that I’ll ever go fully down that First Draft road. The guys would need a TARDIS for that, wouldn’t they? Heh!)
Interview Conducted by User:Mrmichaelt
Continue to Part 2 of the interview covering the ongoing series Volume 2.