The Making of Ghost Machine #1: Insights from the Creators of a New Comic Era

In a world where superheroes have long dominated the comic book landscape, a new player emerges to shake the foundations and chart a bold, uncharted course. Ghost Machine, a groundbreaking cooperative media company, steps into the spotlight with its much-anticipated special release, Ghost Machine #1. This 64-page marvel marks the dawn of a new era, introducing four shared universes where capes are swapped for compelling narratives across diverse genres.

In this exclusive interview, five of Ghost Machine’s creators—Bryan Hitch, Rob Leigh, Francis Manapul, Peter J. Tomasi, and Ivan Reis—unveil the spirit and strategy behind this seismic shift in the industry. From the electrifying launch at last year’s New York Comic Con to the intricate tapestry of characters and universes they’ve woven together, these creators give us a rare glimpse into the heart of a creative revolution.

Ghost Machine #1 - Cover A
One of several special variant covers for Ghost Machine #1, illustrated by Gary Frank, Jason Fabok, Francis Manapul, and Bryan Hitch

As they navigate the evolving dynamics of the entertainment industry and champion the rights of creators, Ghost Machine is not just about crafting enthralling stories—it’s about rewriting the rules of the game. Join us as we step into the world of Ghost Machine, where every page promises a journey into the extraordinary. Also, get a first look at merchandise exclusively available at Ghost Machine’s Artist Shop, powered by Threadless.

What inspired the decision to launch Ghost Machine at last year’s New York Comic Con, and how was the reception from the audience?

Bryan Hitch (Artist, Redcoat): I think the feeling was that we didn’t just want to have a press release and a promise of materials to come, but to go out and present ourselves for what we are in-person with lots of materials to show off as well, and be there to meet the long-time fans and readers of our work when we launched the new company. It was also brilliant for all of us to get together ourselves and spend time with each other. We started the week as a group of relative strangers and ended it as a family. It was worth it for that alone. 

Rob Leigh (Letterer): As far as the reception goes, it couldn’t have been more positive. I think the fans see us as a breath of fresh air—a departure from the status quo. They seem to be as excited as we are to explore these uncharted waters.

Francis Manapul (Artist, The Rocketfellers): New York in the mind of comic book fans and myself is the capital of comic books. It makes a lot of sense for us to launch it there both as an homage to the past as well as a look towards the future. And the reception could not have been more enthusiastic and positive. I think both fans and professionals felt a big shift was happening with the announcement of our formation.

Peter J. Tomasi (Writer, The Rocketfellers, Hornsby & Halo): Um…let’s see…I guess it comes down to two words: Geoff Johns.

Today we celebrate the official release of Ghost Machine #1, a 64-page special introducing characters from the company’s four shared universes. Can you describe the creative process and collaboration involved in bringing together such a diverse group of creators for this project?

Bryan: Well, we were already together at that point and working on our new projects, which will begin launching in April, but building on the NYCC ashcans we felt [we needed] a larger, expanded book that introduced the universes we’re building, the characters and creators using specially created preview stories for this one-shot. It’s really the tip of a much larger creative endeavor as we grow the line of books and characters but we kept the price point low and we hope that everyone else will be as excited as we are doing this stuff.

Ivan Reis (Artist, Hyde Street): We have formed an incredible creative group. Our industry experience in different capacities allows us to approach this with calm and a vision, together, and to discuss and create unique ideas and infinite universes. We’ve learned to listen and develop these concepts, and the trust that each member has in the team allows us to always give our best.

Francis: Collaboration is what makes this medium fun. When you approach it with an open ear and an open heart, the process of exchanging ideas creates something entirely unique than we could have achieved individually. The fact that Pete and I can talk on the phone for hours and weeks later our thoughts and conversations manifest into a visual form and now a physical form you and I can hold in our hands…For as long as I’ve been doing this, that will always be a thrill. Getting to do it with friends whom I respect as people and creators makes this an even more rewarding experience.

Peter: The Rocketfellers collaboration—fun and exciting. Francis Manapul, a kickass storyteller. Hornsby and Halo collaboration—fun and exciting. Peter Snejbjerg, a kickass storyteller.

Without revealing any spoilers, how can fans expect these universes to interact with each other in future releases?

Ivan: We always strive to take ideas and concepts to another level, completing and adding new elements to what is already in progress, or starting new concepts from scratch where we always count on the creative potential of the group to help develop and improve these ideas, creating harmony and connections between these universes.

Francis: We want the interaction to be organic and based on what’s best for our characters. If a cool thread can be picked up by other books, then we can make it happen, but it will never be forced. We really mean it when we say our stories are characters first, and all our decisions are based around that.  

Peter: Crazy writers and crazy artists with no electrified fences to keep them reigned in are capable of anything and everything. Expect the unexpected!

How does today’s special release lay the foundation for future storytelling within Ghost Machine, particularly regarding characters like Geiger, Redcoat, and the Rocketfellers?

Ivan: The foundation we created for these characters is something we’ve worked on for a long time, and all the planning that goes with it. We’re not rushing into anything, and we’re sure that the readers will love it.

Francis: These short stories help establish the tone of each book as well as an opportunity for the readers to get to know our characters.

Peter: We wanted to create a book that set the table for readers and retailers that immerses them into our worlds by opening a doorway that gives everyone a clear and concise character building throughline that’s emotional and involving while also laying out mystery boxes that will entice our readers to get on the rollercoaster ride with us!

How do you envision Ghost Machine’s role in the current landscape of the comic book industry, especially considering the historical issues with creator rights?

Bryan: We’ve taken a different approach to creator ownership. We’re going to be able to build expanding worlds of comics and characters because Ghost Machine owns all the IP, but we ALL own Ghost Machine, so we all share in the company’s successes in all media and development. Imagine DC and Marvel with all those characters, films, TV shows, and merchandise. Now imagine that the artists and writers who created all that wound the company. That’s Ghost Machine. It’s possible that anyone could replicate the approach, it’s not a complicated idea, but you’d have to be the right group of people to do what we’re doing and that’s the real alchemy of our setup. It’s the people that came together that make it what it’s going to be.

Rob: We are the products of previous creators having fought for rights and recognition. My hope is that we pick up their banner and expand the ground they gained for us and for other creators.

Francis: Hopefully what we’ve created will establish a new ground for how creators should be treated. 

Peter: We want to create kick-ass characters and stories that readers will gravitate to while shining a light on a new road by example and execution.

Ghost Machine will focus on genres outside of superheroes, which makes it quite distinctive. Can you share more about what drove this choice?

Ivan: Many of our creators are known for their work and influence in the universe of superheroes. But being able to be part of a different genre allows us to present a totally new and challenging creative side. This inspires us to evolve as creators.

Bryan: We’ve all spent a long time doing superheroes and loved it, but for me, it felt time to take all that I’ve learned doing that and do something a bit different. I’m still doing action adventure, heroic fantasy, and SF–based material, and it’s superhero adjacent, but it’s fresh and exciting to me to do something where I don’t feel like I’m repeating myself. Again. It wasn’t really that we said ‘NO superheroes,’ just that we had things we really wanted to do. It’s driven by a positive, not a negative.

Rob: Superhero comics are wonderful (heck, I broke my shoulder in 1975 pretending to be the Human Torch!), but why limit yourself to being just another voice in the chorus? There are limitless characters and stories to create and share!  

Francis: Superheroes have defined our entire medium. It’s quite an anomaly when you think about other forms of fiction and entertainment. We want to be additive to the landscape of comics and by focusing on different genres we hope it can help expand its perception and hopefully grow our audience.

Peter: It’s a big ol’ world out there with so many wonderful genres and characters to be explored. The wind was blowing just right. It was time to go sailing and see other parts of the world.

How does Ghost Machine’s cooperative media company model influence the creative process and decision-making?

Ivan: We trust in the creative ability and expertise of the group across various areas. We constantly listen and learn new facets of the industry and adapt. Geoff assembled an amazing and diverse group capable of covering all aspects of the market and production—and most importantly, a group that knows how to work as a team.

Rob: Being tapped on the shoulder and asked to take part in GHOST MACHINE is like being selected for the All-Star team. Everybody on the team has previously worked with one or more of the other creators—some of our histories together go back decades—so there is that sense of knowing that all involved have the chops necessary to achieve our goals. That is reassuring, given that we’re all-in on this venture. We also really like one other, which may sound insignificant when it comes to a business, but we don’t look at this as simply a commercial undertaking. This is a tight, supportive group. Despite the fact we are spread across the globe, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes banter and relationship building among the team. Indeed, relationships are the foundation upon which GHOST MACHINE is built, both internally, and with our business partners—including THREADLESS, of course!

From a collaborative standpoint, this is a very generous crew when it comes to storytelling. These characters and tales belong to all of us. Everybody has a voice, everybody is heard. It is a true creative partnership.

Francis: At Ghost Machine we have the ability to adhere to a creed of character first. The decisions we make about our stories aren’t informed by a business model or quarterly goals. If anything the business model is built in order to allow us the creative freedom to pursue only what’s best for the characters.

Peter: We’ve all got a helluva lotta years of experience in our collective kitbags. We are all friends and now partners. The only thing influencing each of us is our excitement for what we’re creating together and our wonderful luck in being part of a company that honors and respects the creator who brings to life something from nothing.

What are some of your favorites from the Ghost Machine Artist Shop? What does it feel like when you see fans wearing merch from any of your projects?

Ivan: The hats and hoodies are incredible. And knowing that they are your creations is an amazing experience.

Bryan: Me and my family wander around in [Ghost Machine] tees all the time. That’s cool enough in my books; the ultimate endorsement!

Rob: My GHOST MACHINE dad cap is in my regular rotation, and I recently placed an order for some more items myself! It is certainly gratifying to spot a fan wearing our gear!

Francis: I love the flat-brim hats as well as the crew-neck sweaters! And the buttons! You can represent Ghost Machine everyday and on anything with those buttons.

Peter: I love the sweatshirts, t-shirts, and coffee mugs. And the best part is having friends and family shoot me pics from around the world as they model or hold up merch they purchased of characters that a short time ago didn’t even exist.

How does the company plan to navigate and contribute to the evolving dynamics of the entertainment industry, especially in light of recent strikes and industry changes?

Ivan: Working as a team. One for all and all for one. Trusting the creative process and the support of the team helps overcome obstacles and find solutions.

Rob: There are things we can control and things we can’t. But one of our advantages is that we are a nimble team which can pivot deftly to face challenges and obstacles. GHOST MACHINE is not an ocean liner that has to make ponderous course corrections; we’re a zippy speedboat that can zig and zag—hang on!

Peter: We’ve all got a creative North Star and that’s the main factor driving each and every one of us. Creating the best characters and stories and trusting in that is the only way to navigate through turbulent times that come our way.

How do you envision the future of creator-owned media companies like Ghost Machine in the broader context of the entertainment industry?

Ivan: I believe that the way Ghost Machine was created is unique in the market. This will open up space for discussions and possibilities for other creators. Evolving and learning is the key to everything.

Francis: I do believe we may be the first but I certainly hope we won’t be the last to establish an equitable ownership of the characters and the companies we create.

Peter: Even though it sounds a little high-minded, I’d like to quote the original Willy Wonka film: “We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of the dream…” Telling stories around the campfire is what it’s all about. Primal and immediate. No matter the leaps and bounds of tech and insanity in this crazy world, the currency of character and story as it relates to people’s hearts and minds will be timeless and always in demand.

With the founders’ extensive experience in different media, how does Ghost Machine plan to integrate comics with other forms of storytelling?

Ivan: Learning from each other. As I said, working as a team and trusting the process to discover the best ways to integrate different storytelling media. 

Bryan: It will evolve as we go. First we make great comics with great characters; then we make great films, movies, and games with those characters and ideas. We have the right people at Ghost Machine and the right partners to work with on all fronts. 

Francis: As we’ve learned from each other, having a shared vision for where we want to be goes a long way and the same goes with any partnerships we establish along the way.

Peter: It’s a wonderful world of so many tantalizing platforms of story delivery systems, and we here at Ghost Machine are intent on being a part of all of them.

Ghost Machine #1 - Cover F
Another variant cover for Ghost Machine #1, illustrated by Francis Manapul

How does Ghost Machine plan to support and collaborate with the next generation of comic artists and writers?

Ivan: Helping them understand the process and grow with their creations in a new way.

Francis: As creators, having a strong sense of self worth is truly valuable. We hope to establish a new status quo for creators rights as well as potentially change how collaborative endeavors take shape.

Peter: As my father always said: “Every door you walk through, be ready to hold it open for the next person…unless of course they’re a complete a-hole.”

Is there any message you’d like to share with fans who’ve been awaiting the release of Ghost Machine #1?

Ivan: You are as creative as we are. Readers are a part of Ghost Machine because everything we create comes to life in the imagination of our readers as they turn the pages. They, too, are artists. 

Rob: We are thrilled to create these characters and their stories for the fans, and our hope is that we exceed their expectations!

Francis: You’re going to fall in love with these characters. Pete and I have already cried twice before noon when we were breaking our story. Prepare yourself!

We extend a heartfelt thanks to each Ghost Machine creator for sharing their passion, creativity, and insights with us! For every comic book enthusiast and adventurous reader out there, don’t miss the opportunity to dive into the captivating world of Ghost Machine #1, where storytelling takes an unprecedented turn. And for those who want to carry a piece of this extraordinary franchise with them, visit the Ghost Machine Artist Shop for exclusive merchandise. Embrace the adventure, and let the pages of Ghost Machine #1 lead you into a realm where imagination reigns supreme.


Rafael Velez

Copywriter at Threadless. Lover of thin-crust pizza, heavy metal, and B horror movies. Food source for a husky and two cats.