Haunting Refrain Interview with Greg Smith

by Rob Caprilozzi

When the ghost from an old campfire story begins killing Bongo Brasher's family and friends, Bongo is increasingly drawn into the ghost's world until the ghost encourages him to settle old scores by becoming a killer himself.

We caught up with writer, Greg M. Smith to talk about Haunting Refrain.

Horror News Network: How did the concept for this title come about?

Greg M. Smith: I grew up in a small town, and in many ways Haunting Refrain is my attempt to come to grips with that experience. Like my protagonist Bongo Brasher, I wanted to get out of that environment, which seemed too constricting and, well, small. But as I grew older, I began to value the grounding that I got by being raised in a small town. In addition, I got to know some incredible people while I lived there. Slowly, I began to see my small town upbringing as a gift.

The specific germ for the comic came from the experience of a childhood friend of mine whose father owned the local boating marina. My rural home county is on the Tennessee River, and the marina is one of the businesses that keeps the county alive. My friend and I both went to college, but his father died suddenly while he was in college. My friend had to leave school and go back to run the family business, and I wondered what that would have been like. What if I were the one who interrupt my own personal path to take over my father’s business? How would I, at 20 years old, would have dealt with a whole community depending on me? What would it be like to work at a place where my father’s ghost lurked around every corner? Hopefully in the real life version of this story, there were fewer beheadings.

Horror News Network: Can you tell us a bit more about the main character, Bongo Brasher?

Greg M. Smith: Bongo is (as you might expect) a drummer and a bit of a slacker. He thought that his music would help him escape not only his small town roots but also his oppressive, straight-laced father, but no one really escapes their past. The past has a way of seeking you out, no matter where you go. Bongo has responsibility thrust on him, and he seems very poorly equipped for dealing with it. The question is, how will he respond? Where can he find the resources to cope? Or will his anger suck him down into increasing violence? He does have some good companionship along the way, provided by some old bar buddies who stayed in town, and part of the comic gives a sense of the importance of hanging out (and drinking!) in a little community like that.

Horror News Network: Ghosts are particularly hard to portray, especially in comics. Can you talk a bit about the challenges you faced in doing so?

Greg M. Smith: Ghosts certainly are challenging if you simply think about them as things that jump out of the woodwork and say “Boo!” But part of the reason good horror works is that it evokes things we’re really scared of, and there are frightening things about all of our pasts. The past is like a ghost: you can’t control it, and it appears when you least expect it. And yet they’re seductive; even if a ghost is scary, at least it’s an echo of something that is now otherwise dead and gone. A ghost is a way to hold onto that, even if it scares the bejeezus out of you. The way I handled the ghosts in Haunting Refrain is to make sure they were tied to real fears that we all have.

Horror News Network: What can we expect from this series in terms of blood, guts and scares?

Greg M. Smith: I’m a bit worried that this interview so far makes the graphic novel sound like a lovely little indie film! Don’t worry, the comic delivers regular doses of violence and death. The ghost doesn’t just drift through the book looking spooky; it causes people to do nasty things to each other.

Haunting Refrain isn’t the most explicit horror book out there, however, and I think that has some advantages. When violent things do happen to the characters we care about in a book like this, they really have an impact. When my publisher showed pages to people early on, they thought that some of the images were too disturbing, and so for the most horrific actions we had to figure out how much to imply and how much to depict explicitly. Hopefully we manage that balance well.

Horror News Network: Can you talk a bit about the artist on this book, Ulises Carpintero?

Greg M. Smith: Ulises and I have a completely 21st century relationship: he lives in Argentina, I live in Atlanta, and we’ve never met! I looked at a lot of online artist portfolios to find the right artist who could handle the book’s challenges. Most of the action takes place in today’s world, but a significant chunk occurs in the 1880s. It was easy to find someone to draw the contemporary stuff, but I needed someone who could also handle the Old West imagery. I knew that both eras needed to have different looks, but I thought it was important both time periods should be drawn by the same hand.

Ulises was one of the few who could handle both. Also, since this is a haunted house story, it’s crucial that the spaces have their own spooky, evocative character, and Ulises does a terrific job of giving life to the places as well as the people in this book. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

Horror News Network: Where can our readers find out more about this graphic novel?

Greg M. Smith: There’s a snazzy video trailer on YouTube if you want a quick feel for the project (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ovcnu9GMwY). I promise that anyone who reads the first 8 pages (available at http://www2.gsu.edu/~jougms/HR8pgred.pdf) will want to read more! There’s also information at the Committed Comics website (http://www.committedcomics.com).

Horror News Network: In closing, what would you like to say to our readers about Haunting Refrain?

Greg Smith: Everyone who has read it so far calls it a “page-turner.” It’s also a great bargain: 104 pages of story for $7.99. It’s listed in the July Previews catalog (Diamond order number JUL130979), and it will be published by Committed Comics in September. If you like your horror grounded in the real world, you should check out Haunting Refrain.

Horror News Network: Thanks for your time, Greg. Best of luck with Haunting Refrain!

Leave a Comment