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The Return of the Originals: Win Scott Eckert and Eric Fein, Haunted by the Green Ghost

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This September, Moonstone Books expands its already extensive pulp line under the banner of The Return of the Originals. One of the many heroes the publisher has drawn back into the spotlight, from the mists of the past, is the Green Ghost.

Be forewarned though, this ghost’s green hue has a far pulpier tinge to it than recent comics incarnations.

Both Win Scott Eckert and Eric Fein have worked extensively within two of the most well established and jealously guarded shared universes in fiction. In the penultimate installment of our Moonstone Return of the Originals interviews, Broken Frontier spoke with the new writers of the Green Ghost. Win is writing the prose adventures and Eric is writing the comic book stories. The first comic book story, will be appearing this October, in The Phantom Detective #1 Double Shot.


BROKEN FRONTIER: Both of you have worked extensively within very well established, well-developed shared universes. Win, as someone who’s been intimately involved with the evolution of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, which proposes a new mythology of fictional characters, you have an interesting perspective on Moonstone’s new Return of the Originals line. What do you think is the enduring allure of pulp fiction and how is Moonstone’s approach unique from other modern interpretations of these characters?

WIN SCOTT ECKERT: At its heart, pulp fiction is about good, exciting storytelling with a punch. This storytelling can cross, and mix and match, various genres: adventure hero, mystery, horror and occult, lost race and sword & sorcery, SF, and so on. The key is active protagonists and a plot which moves forward, doesn’t stagnate, and isn’t boring. Moonstone’s approach with the Return of the Originals characters is to tweak, enhance, and grow the characters without changing the core of who they are and how they were portrayed in the original pulps.

BF: Eric, when you worked for Marvel, you operated within one of the most fully realized shared universes in fiction. How does Moonstone’s concept of a shared fictional universe differ from traditional perceptions of what that idea encompasses?

ERIC FEIN: On a very basic level, I’m not sure that it differs that much. One of the goals of a shared universe is to create a sense of time and place. I think Moonstone is doing that very nicely. What I think Moonstone’s Originals shared universe has going for it that puts it ahead of a lot of other shared universes is its instant accessibility. Despite the fact that many of these characters have long histories, the readers won’t need to be pulp fiction experts to grasp the characters and follow the stories, which will be self-contained.

BF: The Green Ghost might be one of the more familiar characters featured in the line, at least in name, thanks to appearances in different comics in recent years. Is this the same Green Ghost and if so how is he different from previous incarnations?

WSE: The Green Ghost—magician sleuth George Chance—started out as The Ghost in the Winter 1940 issue of a self-titled pulp magazine, with a novel called, appropriately enough, "Calling the Ghost". Over the next four years Chance appeared in thirteen additional tales, all penned by master pulpsmith G.T. Fleming-Roberts, in The Ghost Super-Detective, then Green Ghost Detective, finally migrating to Thrilling Mystery, and making his final appearance in the October 1944 issue of Thrilling Detective.

Chance equals his mentor, the late Harry Houdini, in the art of escape. He’s also a renowned skeptic and debunker of fakes and frauds, as well as a master criminologist, excelling in makeup and disguise, lock-picking, knife-throwing, illusion—anything and everything a top-notch magician knows. Chance puts his expertise to use as a relentless crusader for justice, donning a skull mask to become “The Ghost” (shortly after changing his name to “The Green Ghost”), and aiding Police Commissioner Standish against criminals everywhere, solving impossible crimes. Chance is aided by a select band of six agents and friends who know his secret and share in his mission for justice.

                           

The covers to the pulps that carried his stories depicted a character with a ghoulish visage—one that harkened back to Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera. Our new stories in Moonstone’s Return of the Originals will match the mood and intensity promised by the pulp covers. The Green Ghost strikes terror in the hearts of criminals and even civilians due to his horrific skull-like appearance and his seemingly supernatural abilities.

EF: We’ve also established that during World War II, Chance worked for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) and took part in many top-secret missions all over the world. His war experiences have left him a changed man. He’s much more intense and more dedicated to combating evil than ever before.

WSE: And for the first time, The Green Ghost is going to face a few real supernatural menaces. We won't go overboard, but the idea of a Houdini-type skeptic facing the real occult, as opposed to charlatans, and how he responds to it, is intriguing. In addition, his girlfriend Meriem “Merry” White had "flashes of intuition" in the original pulps, i.e. she's psychic. How does her skeptic boyfriend deal with that? We're going for a Mulder/Scully in reverse vibe here.

BF: One aspect of the Green Ghost modern readers might be unfamiliar with is his supporting cast. Could you tell us about some of the different characters inhabiting the Green Ghost’s corner of the Originals universe?

EF: Sure, the Ghost has six associates – sometimes they are all involved in a case, other times just a few will work with him. These associates were established in the original pulp stories.

Meriem White is George Chance’s girlfriend and sometimes assistant. She is very smart and strong willed.

Ned Standish is the New York City Police Commissioner. Standish was the one who encouraged Chance to cultivate his interest in criminology into actual crime fighting.

Tiny Tim Terry is a childhood friend of George Chance. They both lived and worked in the circus as children.

Joe Harper is a racetrack bookmaker, a theatrical booking agent, and gambler. He’s got contacts in every strata of society, which makes him quite valuable to The Green Ghost.

Dr. Robert Demarest is the New York City Chief Coroner and works closely with Chance and Standish when needed.

Glenn Saunders is Chance’s assistant and double.

                           

BF: How have you updated this version of the Green Ghost to make him more relatable or relevant to modern audiences?

WSE: Our approach is not to create an alternate neo-pulp universe where the characters are radically different. We see no reason to change what works—just provide a logical continuation, a view into what The Green Ghost’s adventures could have been had they continued in the pulps.

The beauty of a shared pulp universe is that, unlike superhero universes, it could actually be our universe, the world outside our window. Sure, maybe occult menaces or mad scientist death rays really couldn’t happen in our world—but if one squints, perhaps they could be rationalized away. Unlike the cosmic and world-altering events shown in the superhero universes, a shared pulp fiction universe is relatable to the “everyman.”

We are not changing the characters’ general backgrounds, although certain details are certainly being elaborated and expanded upon. For the modern audience, we can also ramp up the action quotient a bit, and where appropriate, provide a more frank and honest portrayal of characters’ sex lives. I mean, come on, in The Spider, you knew Richard Wentworth and Nita Van Sloan were having sex. They weren’t celibate for 11 years. Similarly, the Green Ghost (George Chance) and Merry White (now a more grown up, Meriem White) are not a perpetually celibate couple: they wind down from their adventures in bed.

EF: The primary way we’ve done that is in the tone of the stories and the voice we have given Chance/Ghost. We wanted to go for a hardboiled feel that had a hint of humor and sarcasm to it – the kind that you find in John Huston’s version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon and in Howard Hawks’ version of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Also, if you look at the covers to the original Green Ghost pulps they have really intense, moody horror themed images. So, it was a surprise for us that when we read some of the stories to find that they had a lighter touch. We decided that we wanted to bring the intensity suggested by the original covers into our new stories.

Our take on the character is that Chance is very serious about his fight against crime. He just doesn’t take himself too seriously. Also, he has a very mature and well-balanced relationship with his girlfriend, Meriem.


                           

BF: Who are your collaborators on The Green Ghost?

WSE: I made the original pitch to Joe Gentile at Moonstone (the seed of the idea having been planted by my pal and fellow writer Martin Powell several years back) and did the initial draft of the series bible. Then I decided that I had too many projects going to write the comics stories and the prose stories (which will be published in Moonstone’s “wide-vision” format with spot illustrations), so Joe brought in Eric, a talented and all-around nice guy, to write the comics scripts.

EF: We crafted a series bible that laid out the basics of the character, his supporting cast, and his modus operandi. So we have a good solid foundation to work from. We’ve had a blast creating these stories and hope that people will enjoy reading them as much as we enjoyed writing them.

WSE: It turned out my time constraints necessitated collaboration on the first prose story, as well: I wrote the detailed outline, Eric wrote a first draft, and I wrote a second draft from that. It worked out quite well and we hope you’ll enjoy the results.

EF: David Niehaus is the artist for the comic book stories and will also supply the illustrations that will accompany the prose stories. He’s doing some really cool stuff. He took our character descriptions and brought the Green Ghost and his cast to life. It’s like they stepped out of a classic `40s film noir. It’s great stuff.

WSE: It’s worth noting that Tim Lasiuta serves as the Originals line editor, while of course Joe Gentile is the editor and publisher of Moonstone Books.

BF: When and where can fans expect to encounter The Green Ghost?

WSE: Eric’s first comic story, “A Mystery Named Rosabelle,” will be the backup tale in The Phantom Detective #1, hitting store shelves in October. His second comic story is “Of Monsters and Men.” Our prose tale is called “Zombies under Broadway.” These latter two haven’t yet been scheduled, so stay tuned!

Win Scott Eckert’s Myths for the Modern Age: Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe (MonkeyBrain Books) was a 2007 Locus Award Finalist for Best Non-Fiction book. His credits for Moonstone Books include stories about adventurous characters such as The Green Hornet (he is also co-editing The Green Hornet Chronicles anthology with Moonstone’s Joe Gentile), The Avenger, The Phantom, Captain Midnight, and Zorro. He has also written tales about The Scarlet Pimpernel, Doc Ardan, Hareton Ironcastle, and Sexton Blake. He was honored to write the Foreword to Farmer’s seminal “fictional biography,” Tarzan Alive (Bison Books, 2006) and is writing a series of tales about the origin of the Wold Newton Family, the first of which appeared in the just-released The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 1: Protean Dimensions (Meteor House, 2010). Win’s latest books are Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World 1 & 2 (Black Coat Press, 2010), and the novel The Evil in Pemberley House, about Patricia Wildman, the daughter of a certain bronze-skinned pulp hero (co-authored with Philip José Farmer, Subterranean Press, 2009). Find Win on the web at winscotteckert.com.

Eric Fein is a freelance writer and editor. He has written dozens of comic book stories featuring characters such as The Punisher, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Conan, and Godzilla and prose stories featuring characters such as The Green Hornet, The Avenger, and Johnny Dollar for various anthologies published by Moonstone Books. He has also written more than forty books and graphic novels for educational publishers. As an editor, he has worked on staff for both Marvel and DC Comics. At Marvel, he edited Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, and The Web of Spider-Man, as well as limited series and one-shots including Venom: Carnage Unleashed and Spider-Man and Batman: Disordered Minds. At DC Comics, he edited storybooks, coloring and activity books, and how-to-draw books.

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