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Matchett’s Musings: Working For GrayHaven Part III

Working At GrayHaven Part 3:  The Gathering Clears

More stretched out than the film adaptions of the Hobbit, here is my third and likely final tales of my memories of working on the Gathering volumes for GrayHaven comics.  There’s a lot more outside the Gathering I did with GrayHaven I want to talk about but I wanted to get this part of it out of the way first because I knew it would be the most extensive.

Once again this only deals with volumes I was involved with as a writer and is from my own perspective.  Other versions of events may vary, I can only tell you what happened from my view of things.

Vol. 14: The Infinite Abyss

For the first few years of its existence, GrayHaven comic’s best seller by quite a fair margin was its horror books.  At this point the company had produced two very high quality horror books and a third was pretty much inevitable.  Since I had edited the previous horror volume (which at this point I still considered GrayHaven’s best), I was selected to edit this one also.

Editing however is a different story for a different time.  After how well my previous Gathering Horror story ‘the Station’ had been received, I was eager to go to the horror well again for one last drop.  This time I attempted to craft a tale partly inspired by the atmospheric horror movies and books I enjoy so much.  I was a big fan of Stephen King classics like Misery and the Shining as a teenager and much preferred horror movies that had a slight creepy and psychological aspect to them.  With some exceptions I was never a big fan of monster horror but found the aspects of old haunted places incredibly creepy.  Along with hotels, I find that most people find hospitals to be naturally creepy settings.  It’s a building full of sick people and creepy, clinical hallways so I decided to go one further and make it an old abandoned hospital that two kids decide to explore on a dare.

In typical horror tale fashion, their curiosity does not bode well and both kids meet a nasty end at the hands of a creepy ghost girl.  The combination of the ‘creepy abandoned building’ and the ‘creepy child’ are tried and tested horror staples that I tried to put my own spin on.  I was fortunate enough to be paired with my partner from ‘Silver Age’, George Amaru once more to try and craft a super creep tale.

I have to give George a lot of props on this one because I don’t really feel that connected to this story.  I feel that the type of horror I was trying to go for is usually a slow burn and I was trying to pull it off in 3 pages.  I also don’t like in retrospect how many cliché’s I leaned on and found the story a poor successor to my previous horror offering ‘the Station’.  I felt that George really salvaged this story from being entirely forgetful so thanks for that old chum!

In the past year I have toyed with the idea of doing a horror mini-series and using that same hospital that appeared in this tale to try and accomplish what I couldn’t here.  I would very much like to see more of the back-story I have developed for the building and perhaps add more depth to the ghost girl that featured here as part of a much larger story.

I’m sure I’ll get around to doing that someday.  Hopefully sooner than later but considering my only completed full length creator owned work took 10 years to see fruition, it might be a bit of a slow burn on that one folks.

Vol. 15: A Fistful Of Panels

There are certain things in comics you can do that you can’t do in any other media.  I could write an entire series of articles on the things that comics can offer its fans versus television or prose but one thing I like when it’s done well is misdirection.  Comics can have you see a character and read a narration but misdirect you into thinking the narration is coming from another source entirely.  A recent example of this being pulled off really well was Amazing Spider-Man 698 where ‘Peter Parker’s’ narration was revealed to be those of his enemy Doctor Octopus.

So I wanted to something like that and I thought the Western volume was a pretty good place to do it.  I’m primarily a crime/sci-fi/horror guy so western was out of my comfort zone but I wanted a challenge.  I was going to take on two challenges as a writer; I was going to try and trick my readers and do it in a genre I had not written for before.

To accomplish this I wrote ‘the Saloon’, which featured a character called Alex Quick who was going after the man who had murdered her parents in front of her when she was a child.  To fool the readers, I allowed them to think a man at a poker game in an old style saloon was Alex and he was hunting the one responsible for the aforementioned murder.  In actuality, Alex was the saloon girl who had been hanging around his shoulder the entire story and led him up to a bedroom and to his death.

To pull this off, I needed a top artist who would be able to structure the story to help misdirect everyone.  I asked an artist named Amanda Rachel’s to draw the story and I was very fortunate that she said yes.  At that point, Amanda was becoming our most prolific cover artist (I believe she has still done more covers for GrayHaben than anyone else) and had done a number of volumes already.  She had started in GrayHaven from a company she co-founded with Kevin LaPorte called ‘Inverse Press’ and they had done a high quality mini called ‘Clown Town’ I highly suggest you track down and read.

Amanda was in high demand and really brought the level of skill the story required.  I’m not sure how many people it fooled but ‘The Saloon’ was one of the few Gathering stories were I could honestly say I wouldn’t change anything.  Amanda went on to further stories with GrayHaven and even worked with Arcana on ‘The Book’ before going back home to Inverse.

Meanwhile I had created another character I had fallen in love with.  I wanted to tell one hundred stories with Alex Quick but had to say goodbye to her after too short a time.  The problem with letting these characters and stories go after so brief a period was steadily growing.

Vol. 16:  Ghost Stories

This volume was an interesting one for a multitude of reasons.  Firstly, this issue featured a cover that was a result of a contest that was intended to find someone fresh and to also do something unique that other companies were not doing.  The company received a lot of high quality submissions and I really like the the public poll chose as the winner.

Another interesting tidbit is that this volume had a criteria for its ghost stories that was a bit of a double edged sword.  We asked people to only submit ghost stories that were ‘true’.  The aim of this was to get writers to do some research which, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you is an essential part of writing.  The trouble is that proving the truth behind a ‘ghost’ story is near impossible.  I do believe in ghost’s myself but what was to stop me from submitting a story where Abraham Lincoln popped round for tea?  People could submit their own ghost experiences as ‘research’ and there was little the editor could do.

The other problem is that some of the stories didn’t really feature ghost stories but more so, urban legends and none were no guilty than my story ‘Black Aggie’.  I did do the research on this volume and found a ‘ghost’ story resulting a very real statue that people said horrible things happened around.  The part of the story that really got my interest is that for quite a long period, the statue went missing and people would spot it during times of tragedy or loss before it reappeared, unexplained some time later.

It was complete urban legend but it was close enough for me.  It got in and I felt I delivered a suitably creepy script that hit the notes I felt I had fallen short on in Vol. 14.  I decided to go all weeping angel’s on the story essentially and felt I gave it enough of my own flavor to make it a good story, even if it didn’t entirely fit the volume.

For this story I was paired with a GrayHaven newcomer in Alan Anguiano.  I’m not honestly sure what Alan is up to these days but when discussing him I feel I should remember advise my mother gave to me.

‘If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.’

Thus as all good things, my most prosperous period with the Gathering came to a close.  It was a great run with some stories and characters I was incredibly proud of and I got to work with some stellar artists.  I got busy with editing and working on volumes outside the Gathering (more on that later) and I wouldn’t return to the anthologies pages for a whopping 11 volumes.

Vol. 26: Alternate Reality

So much had changed during those 11 volumes.  Long gone were the snappy clever sub titles each title had and while I was as busy as ever as an editor, my writing with GrayHaven had taken a backseat in favour of other talents.  I honestly wasn’t happy there anymore for a multitude of reasons I won’t go into here.  Suffice to say, things weren’t fun anymore and I was feeling increasingly less and less welcome at GrayHaven, whether that feeling was warranted or not.

Alternate Reality was a volume I very much enjoyed editing and featured a brilliant cover by my good friend, Alena Lane.  There were some really strong stories in this one and I felt mine, while good got lost in the shuffle.  When trying to come up with a concept for ‘Alternate Reality’ my mind had exploded with possibilities.  Sadly, I had to come up with something that was going to be a quick hit.  I only had 3 pages to explain how my world was different than the world we know and then get out before the next story.

I did ‘We have a problem’ which depicted a world that had came about after we had discovered aliens during the moon landing.  Flash forward to the present, those same aliens had overrun our planet and humans were second class citizens, slaves or even pets.  I thought the story turned out well enough and showed how much I had grown as a writer since ‘Black Aggie’.

I worked with an artist named Greg Kimmet on this one who did a sterling job.  He had a really unique style that I felt complimented the dark and sinister tone my story was going for.  I know he did a few other stories with GrayHaven but I’m honestly not sure what he would be up to now, I hope either the company or someone is putting his skills to good use.

Vol. 28: Paranormal Romance

I suppose most people don’t automatically think of ‘time travel’ when they look at this genre but it was in the submission criteria, so I gave it a go.  At this time I was able to bring back Lucy Letwood from my Silver Age story.  I’m not sure if the rule for returning characters had been relaxed or if no one was paying attention but I brought her back.  Using Lucy in a far more serious story than what she had appeared in previously, I told a tale where she travelled to a retirement home and found there an old man who was her husband…who she had yet to meet.

Using both ‘the Time Travelers Wife’ and the ‘River Song’ story in ‘Doctor Who’ as inspiration I spun in an element of tragedy also.  I let Lucy see that at some point she would travel to a time where she would meet the man in the care home during his youth, they would fall in love and she would die during a car crash leaving him to grow old to the point where she was meeting him currently.  I felt it was a decent story with a ton of winks and nudges to my other stories that my kind editor, Ray Goldfield allowed me to keep.  I felt it fell flat a little in some places which likely reflected my mindset at the time.

On this story I worked with artist Chris Dixon who had worked on a bunch of GrayHaven stories at that point.  He was someone the company could rely on in a pinch and to do a good job on a story.  I didn’t have much communication with him during the process of constructing the story that I recall.  These days I know Chris has been long working on his own projects and I assume still doing GrayHaven work as of this typing.

Vol. 32: Western 2

This story was a long time coming and featured the return of another character of mine.  Like I said earlier, I had been reluctant to say goodbye to Alex Quick and wanted to bring her back as soon as possible.  Not only did I pitch to get her in this volume (which worked) but I also wanted her in GrayHaven Graphic Novel ‘Western/Horror (which didn’t).  For her return in this volume I thought I would do something no Gathering story had ever done (to my recollection), the first ever crossover!

Back in Vol. 15 I was astonished to find a story very similar, yet very different to my own.  Completely by coincidence, Jenny Gorman (one of those annoyingly talented people who writes and draws) did a tale featuring a cowgirl of her own.  Like Alex, Jenny’s cowgirl was someone who had her parents taken from her and now swore vengeance in a most bad ass fashion.  Whereas my story had leaned on misdirection, Jenny’s had featured an empowering almost ‘Tarinto’ style tale of vengeance which I really enjoyed.  She had been with GrayHaven since its first ‘All Woman’ volume and done exceptional work both art and writing wise ever since and she fast came on my list of artists to work with.  Noting the similarities between our stories, I approached Jenny about co-writing and drawning a crossover between them.  She thankfully agreed and we had a lot of fun doing it.  Writing someone else’s character, I felt a lot of responsibility but Jenny was incredibly encouraging and giving and I felt we did our girls proud.

For the first time in a long time, I was having fun again.  I didn’t know it at the time but this was (as of this typing) my last Gatheirng tale.  I had been there since the first one and had never envisioned not being involved with the anthology but yet, the end it seemed had arrived without me knowing it.

I kind of wish, in retrospect (isn’t it a wonderful thing?) I had known and I could have done a farewell story.  I’m not sure how I would have done it or indeed who I would have done it with but it would have been nice.  Still, if working with Jenny and bringing back a character I adored is my farewell, then there are far worse ways to say goodbye.

Next: Writing Outside The Gathering

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