Christopher Sebela and Kendall Goode have never met a ghost — probably. Growing up in an apartment where he knew a previous occupant had died, Sebela once saw a hat seemingly fly across a room under its own power. Goode once experienced a bout of sleep paralysis. They’re not exactly the most robust of supernatural encounters; but then again, we can’t all be a stoner who communicates with ghosts for the purposes of blackmail.
That’s the concept of their new comic book series, Dirtbag Rapture, which follows a Tacoma-based spirit medium named Kate who is plagued by an ability to talk to the dead. Kat’s line of work is simple: When approached by a ghost with unfinished business, she demands that the deceased provide her with information that she can use to extract money from the living. That’s how she manages to afford the illicit substances that help her cope with incessant ghostly visions.
It’s a risky line of work, so it’s appropriate that Sebela and Goode took a risky approach to bringing the story to life.
Dirtbag Rapture began its life as a personal passion project — one that cost its creator thousands of dollars.
“The pandemic was on, I wasn’t going to conventions, I wasn’t going anywhere,” Sebela says. Stuck at home, he was joking with friends online about a story that blended the movies The Transporter and The Frighteners, and suddenly realized it was a good idea. An experienced comic writer, as he jotted down plot beats he knew he had to flesh the jokey concept into a full script. It almost seemed to write itself: “It’s rare that you have a book that you don’t have to struggle with,” he said.
Instead of pitching the concept to a publisher, Sebela decided to fund the book himself. He had a little money saved up, and reached out to Goode, an illustrator he’d always wanted to work with, to see if he was available to hire.
“I loved it right away,” Goode says. “It was one of the most visually clear scripts I’ve read. … I could see it in my mind so clearly.”
Goode took on the job and the two began fleshing out the visual elements of the script, filling the story with lush landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.
Why ground a ghost story in Tacoma? “There’s the very regal downtown, with the big old buildings, and it’s beautiful,” Sebela says, “and then you realize it’s dead. There’s nobody around, nobody’s even walking down there.”
It also doesn’t hurt that weed is in plentiful supply for the book’s protagonist. The PNW also provides an appropriate visual setting for a realm that exists only in Kat’s mind, a sort of waiting room where she stuffs ghosts waiting to be sent to the beyond. The environment is depicted as a cozy cabin in an overgrown Washington rainforest, a perfect setting for a sort of post-death limbo. “There’s a peacefulness to it,” Goode says of our local wooded areas. “It’s a quiet place for those people to exist.”
Sebela was pleased to see Goode’s illustrations take shape, but it was far from guaranteed that it would reach an audience beyond the two of them. “If you invest a couple grand in making an issue of comics, who knows what’ll happen,” he said. “This thing you think is super cool, everybody else could think is trash.”
But they caught a lucky break when Portland-based publisher Oni checked in to see if Sebela was working on anything interesting. Oni had published his previous works, Short Order Crooks, Heartthrob, and Dead Dudes (also about ghosts) and were delighted to find a new series already in progress.
“They were like, ‘we love this,’” Sebela recalls. His self-funded passion project, initially burdened by unfinished business of its own, had finally found a home. The first two issues are out now, with a conclusion slated for release in February.
The chaotic heroine — selfish, flawed, and abrasive — has proven to be one of the most fun characters Sebela has ever written. “That’s my favorite, if I can serve up a semi-shitty human being, yet you’re still rooting for them — that’s the dream,” he says.
Issue One begins with Kat insisting in voiceover that she’s not an asshole, and that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for how she found herself in a high-speed police chase with a spectre by her side; and indeed, as we learn more about her past and her life, Kat elicits and unexpected antiheroic sympathy.
“She’s one of my favorite characters I’ve created,” Sabala says. “It felt like I plucked her out of the ether.”
Or — who knows — maybe a ghost whispered her story into his ear. WoooOOOOooOOOOooooo!
Dirtbag Rapture is available through Oni Press.