by Jarrod Jones. I’m not sure if people still go “channel surfing” through the hellscape offerings of modern cable, but if you ever braved the dial during the mid-Aughties odds are you’re already well-acquainted with the lead characters of Dead Dudes.
Three bros with dubious facial hair and black t-shirts, wandering around in the dark with expensive recording equipment, busting each other’s chops, looking for ghosts. Meet Trev, Kent, and Brian, the triumvirate (or maybe just the epitome) of the “Ghost Bro” reality show genre, dim-bulb types who are somehow just savvy enough to have landed a low-tier program on some godforsaken backwater cable channel. You’ve encountered their like before. But never quite like this.
It might have been enough to put together a graphic novel about these dinguses, take the easy pot-shots and call it a paycheck. Dead Dudes isn’t that kind of comic, however; it goes further because this is Christopher Sebela and Ben Sears we’re talking about here, two creators whose individual bodies of work blatantly illustrate both the deep wells of inspiration they work from and their general sense of joy creating in this field. So, when Christopher and Ben finally got their chance to team up, going the simple route with this goofy premise—what if TV ghost bros died chasing ratings and actually became ghosts?—simply wouldn’t do.
I mean, Dead Dudes is still goofy as hell, but it’s sharp. Barbed in places. Smarter than your average indie OGN, and it looks terrific, too.
“I spent many years with ghostbros living inside [my head] with zero payoff except stoned laughter and a tremendous misuse of my free time,” Sebela says. “So, writing the book was my slow goodbye to that time spent with this weird niche culture of guys in Affliction shirts yelling challenges at ghosts. This is them paying rent for all that living in my head they got away with.”
My advice to you? Put down the remote and join Christopher and Ben in the exorcism. I promise it’s going to be fun.
Well ahead of its October 14 release, DoomRocket spoke with Christopher Sebela and Ben Sears about Dead Dudes, an appropriately oddball collaboration that explores the dimensional limits of the horror-comedy subgenre with laughter in its voice.
1. I imagine the two of you have been thinking of working together for some time now; this pairing seems like such a no-brainer in retrospect. How did you two land on ‘Dead Dudes’ for your first collaboration? I seem to remember a tweet about [Oni editor] Charlie Chu being involved somehow…
CS: It wasn’t a no-brainer for me. I’ve loved Ben’s stuff for awhile. I have a print I bought from him 6-7 years ago when I was a just a fan and we’ve become low-key friends in that we won’t shy away from saying hey to each other at a show we’re both at and chatting. But I never once thought I’d get to work with him on a book. Because Ben has his own stuff he writes and draws and it’s so good, so why would he waste his time on me? But Charlie Chu was the one who asked what I thought about Ben drawing Dead Dudes and I said yes so fast. These chances only come around once and it felt like a book that fit well with Ben’s sensibilities more than anything else I’ve written.
BS: I think Charlie emailed me initially. I’d just started drawing comics a year or so before that, so I was kind of shocked that they asked me. I dug Chris’s comics so I said yes.
So, real quick—what’s the story with all the bleeps over the swears in this book? Is that a nod to all the ceaseless bleeping we hear when we watch these ghost-bro shows? “Oh, [BLEEP], OH, [BLEEP], let’s get the [BLEEP] out of here, there’s a [BLEEPIN’] ghost,” that kind of thing? Who’s taking credit for that one?
CS: That’s all me and I can’t 100% explain it to anyone’s satisfaction, except that it felt like the right choice. A lot of it is influenced by the shows, but more about how their first reaction, no matter how long they’ve been banging these episodes out, is to start swearing when they think they’ve seen a ghost. So, I just put in a bleep to see how it felt and it was funnier to me than draping the book in uncensored curse words because I can. Then it became an exercise in how much can I use the bleeps to make things funnier? So, like a lot of things I do, I did it because it felt like a challenge that I might fail and I was as curious as anyone if I would.
2. How have the two of you gotten along during the production of this graphic novel? Looking forward to the next project? Has a burgeoning friendship already been tested?
CS: Ben and I only really met up and talked [about Dead Dudes] exactly once during the production of this book. And we both showed up because Ben was in town and our editor was paying for lunch. Otherwise we’d see each other at HeroesCon every summer and run into one another on the internet but otherwise I’d send in scripts and quietly apologize in my head, then Ben would send back art that I loved. I never had notes on anything, if Ben thought something didn’t work, he fixed it and it was great. So I think we got along amazingly because we basically stayed out of each other’s way and never talked about it at all. Which I don’t recommend as a blanket policy for making comics, but with Ben and I, anything other than that would’ve felt really weird to both of us, I think.
BS: I think it went fine, I hope I didn’t make anyone mad. Towards the end of the project I thought about redrawing the first three chapters of the book to match the last two, since such a large amount of time had passed between me working on them. I don’t think delaying the book further would’ve made anyone happy though.
3. Christopher, ‘Dead Dudes’, like most of your projects, is incredibly character-focused. And while the eponymous dudes are a bit more broad than the people we’d read about in, say, ‘Shanghai Red’ or ‘Cold War’, they take on just as much story-wise as any of your other characters. Shouting “bro” and such at each other all the while. What was it like to have these bros living rent-free in your brain for the duration of you writing this book?
CS: I tend to write about things I’ve obsessed about as a way of getting them out of my head once and for all. I spent many years with ghostbros living inside it with zero payoff except stoned laughter and a tremendous misuse of my free time. So, writing the book was my slow goodbye to that time spent with this weird niche culture of guys in Affliction shirts yelling challenges at ghosts. This is them paying rent for all that living in my head they got away with.
And I tried to infuse the dudes with as much deep thoughts and characterization as I do in all my other books but they resisted a lot and I’m nothing if not willing to listen to my creations when they’re telling me I’m doing it wrong.
Who was your favorite Dead Dude to write?
CS: Probably Brian is the Dead Dude I like the most. I wouldn’t want to hang out with any of them, but Brian seems the most reasonable of the three of them. But I always liked writing Trev and Kent sniping at each other. Something about their friendship hanging on by a thread of money made it a fun twisty game of passive aggression [through] the lens of dudes who are incapable of playing complex mind games.
4. Ben, your character design work is always so dang great to see. With ‘Dead Dudes’, did you feel like you had a chance to cut loose a little bit? Because it feels like you were tapping into some of your primal inspirations in this book—there’s one character in here that looks like James Marshall’s version of Nurse Ratched—you tapped into the vein of Viola Swamp in ‘Dead Dudes’ and it freaks me out!
BS: It was a challenge for me to come up with designs for this one. Firstly, because I was pretty inexperienced as a character designer when the main characters were established. Secondly, all of my personal work has kind of a retro-futuristic look to it, and this project was very much set between 2005-2015. I definitely read more picture books and newspaper comics than comic books growing up, so my designs tend to be on the Gary Larson side of things. I tried to work a little EC Segar into the later chapters but it ended up becoming its own weird look.
5. Ben, you worked on ‘Dead Dudes’ with colorists Ryan Hill and Warren Wucinich. What did the three of you talk about going into this project? Were there particular visual cues you wanted to make sure landed in the finished product?
BS: I was pretty hands-off with the coloring. Over the course of the book I learned how to draw shadows better, and the colorists managed to make it look like I wasn’t still figuring it out.
6. I like to think that if you’re gonna make a horror/comedy, the comedy needs to be funny but the horror HAS to be scary. So let’s talk about Edgeway Penitentiary, the main location of ‘Dead Dudes’, for a little bit. The backstory to this place is legitimately scary, almost makes you feel sorry for these ghost-bros who see it as a way to bounce back from their ratings doldrums. How did the pair of you create Edgeway, from the foundation up?
CS: Every ghost show has a list of places it goes to and those lists are always full of abandoned asylums and prisons, because nothing is spookier than a place that’s been abandoned. So I figured if it was gonna be the most haunted place in the world, let’s combine the two and drop the result in the middle of remote nowhere to make it feel legitimately dangerous and spooky. No one is coming to help you if you get injured, never mind if ghosts are trying to murder you. After that it was just building a mythology around it all that made sense and trying to describe it as best I could visualize it to Ben and let him take that and make it real.
BS: I tried to give the prison an old sanitarium look. Lots of broken tiles, mysterious stains, cracked plaster, random pipes, etc. I could draw dungeons all day so once we got into the prison it was pretty easy to just let it flow. I don’t typically draw graphic stuff, so when it came to the scenes of people getting ripped apart, etc, I tried to make it look gross but still like it could be made of plasticine. There’s already enough horror in the news, I don’t think people need photorealistic gore to get the picture.
7. Early in the book, the Dudes’ network producer has a particularly sharp comment on the state of cable ghost-bro shows: “You can’t copyright videotaping dust motes.” Just brutal. Christopher, is this a glimpse at how you perceive this type of “reality” TV?
CS: Sort of? I think maybe the whole genre of reality falls under this particular shade. It’s all so easy to replicate that once one thing is successful, everyone else comes to feed at the carcass. But that’s how you get some of the best worst shows, so it’s also a necessary cycle. Basically I think all reality TV is like a donut or a hot dog—they’re both awful for you, it just comes down to finding the awful that you enjoy enough to sacrifice for.
You once told me that you believe horror was the first genre that you “learned to love.” Does it chap your ass at all to watch charlatans in black t-shirts and grift-y goatees make such a phony fuss out of ghost stories? It feels like turning a feast into a weenie roast, doesn’t it?
CS: Not really. Because you walk into those shows knowing they’re never going to give you a full body apparition that will prove beyond a doubt that ghosts are real. It would be like getting mad at haunted houses popping up every October. There’s a reason all these shows are on channels like The Travel Channel or A&E, because they’re meant to be mindless entertainment with zero scares and zero enlightenment. Sometimes you want something with the horror tropes you like that you can watch while you’re folding laundry. They fill that role. But the only horror vibe I ever get is from imagining having to be around the hosts of these shows without the ability to turn them off with a remote.
8. Once the bros get theirs in Edgeway and they begin to acclimate to the afterlife, we come to know a few of the more notorious guests of the penitentiary. Did either of you check out old true crime stories to find, erm, “inspiration” for any of these dastardly types that populate the later chapters of ‘Dead Dudes’? Maybe swap murder stories with each other?
CS: The good thing about doing a prison story, even if it’s a prison full of ghosts, is people have seen enough prison stuff in their lives to fill in those gaps themselves. Lots of people with lots more vivid imaginations than either of us could fill in those gaps if they wanted to. My biggest complaint about true crime stuff is how it always ignores the victims to focus on the one who victimized them and I never want to do that myself. I’d much rather focus on our doofuses trying to address their comparatively boring concerns than on the hungry murderous ghosts all around them.
BS: All of the dead characters besides the bros are presented in a fairly one-dimensional way. I took that as an opportunity to just draw some people with funny faces.
9. Let’s say you two pair up for another graphic novel go—what kind of story do you think you two would be down for? Head-chopping adventure? Gnarly sci-fi? Torrid romance?
CS: I think if we did, we’d have to go some direction no one was expecting whatsoever. So maybe an exhaustively-researched biography of someone seemingly very boring who, we would reveal, did, in fact, live a very boring life.
BS: A throwback Kirby-style romance comic would be funny to draw. I have no interest in writing one, but if Chris had one that they wouldn’t mind me taking liberties with I’d be down.
10. Do either of you believe in ghosts? If so, are you afraid of them?
CS: When I was a little kid, I read tons of “non-fiction” books about ghosts and cryptids. I was so primed to believe. And then, a few years later, I was in my room and a hat flew at me. That’s the closest I’ve come to proof of a ghost and I once lived 20 feet from a graveyard for a month. So, sorta believer but lacking proof. And no, not scared of them, their whole thing is they’re dead and can’t affect this world anymore, so consider this an official challenge to any ghosts reading this.
BS: I don’t believe in ghosts but I love ghost stories. I’m more afraid of the Leatherfaces and Michael Myerses.
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Dead Dudes’, courtesy of Oni Press!
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