I’ve always preferred ghosts to any of the other creatures. There’s just something personal and elegant about them, about how they are told in stories. Demons witches, werewolves, slasher murders, vampires all took and will forever take a back seat to a good old fashioned well crafted ghost story. Their closes cousins, the zombies share a lot of similar traits that makes them so enduring and powerful: Zombies and ghosts are both made of us. Ghosts are a reflection, a memory, a wish unheard or a promise unfulfilled. There’s terror and love stories and mysteries and crimes tales and almost any genre of storytelling that has hugged a good old ghost yarn to drive it along. They can be sweet dear grandmothers reaching across the veil to comfort our loss of them, or grasping green armed wet nightmares to drag us down into the cold and dark for daring to seek them out. They’re each of them trapped by their simplicity, but together too complex to paint as pure evil or good. There can be a million of them in a room and not be aware of each other to the point of feeling crushingly alone. Like us you see? Blurry, contradictory and impossible to grab and hold and ever really understand. So doing a series of portraits of some of the ghosts I’ve brushed up against and stories I was told growing up was an inevitability for me.
GHOSTS was the first of the now very many series living under the banner of The 52 Weeks Project, to break out of the mold of it’s title’s requirement. I knew it wasn’t something I was going to beat into the ground because the name said I had to. I wanted to kick it off with a few, just two or three even, and revisit the subject year after year. I’d had more than enough encounters to fuel things for a long while and seemed only to collect more and more of them as time went on. GHOSTS was the first series that wasn’t an ongoing year long weekly enterprise, but it was also the one that affirmed it’s most important core principle and rule: it must be for fun’s sake, first and always.
Some of these pieces, executed in graphite at around 9×12″ in size, are pulled straight from my own childhood.
The Gray Lady haunted me at home in my house growing up. I could hear her creeping through our hallway late at night, her gentle footfalls on the creaking floorboards, sometimes when I dared the journey into the kitchen for a snack, or a clandestine run to the tv room for a late night Creature Double Feature, she’d watch me go, peeking over the couch, or following to close behind me as I braved my way through mild disobedience. We had a small window in the bathroom she liked to peer in through too close to my left ear while I peed, (which is why for years I always always sat when it was after hours release time). She never attacked, but just crept and watched, and not ever in a good way.
My grandparents once told me the story of Sideshow Billy the day before we were heading into Busch Gardens one summer when I was very young. Back when they still had those machines that made on-demand wax figures of dinosaurs that smelled like an old uncle’s foot cream. Billy had apparently been careless in a Ferris wheel back in the day, and had tumbled out when his car was at the apex, banging off every available rung along the way down th where he parents waited for him, in horror. He floats there still up top looking forever for whatever lured him out of safety, and never finding it.
I went to an absolutely terrible summer camp in Texas one year called, ominously, Camp Friday Mountain. They wouldn’t let you drink water, but instead only ever offered Lipton iced tea. ( I loathe tea and of course more now as a result of this place). If you wanted plain water you had to go to the bathroom sink, and there were so many rattlesnakes that you could never make the trip safely without wearing your leather shit-kickers. No nighttime passage to the latrines ever went without at least two strikes at your ankles. Most of ran to keep ahead of the as best we could, but that often led to tripping over rocks at night and falling flat to the ground- making things worse. One year a snotty kid from Connecticut refused to wear her boots to the bathroom, (this being the first red flag of the story’s veracity- who in the name of god would come from Connecticut to this horrible backwater rat-nest in Texas for camp? That and anyone from New England area was considered subhuman down there anyway). She of course was not only bitten by snakes but also dragged to hell by all the native ghosts that haunted the area, (the camp being based on an old colonial homestead wherein these Andrew Jackson styled maniacs clearly committed every atrocity they could on the native population there.) This girl now climbed up inside your clothes if she caught you out there, hiding from snakes and vengeful spirits like a stow away on a ship bound for the new world. If you felt her in your jacket, you had to keep on to the bathroom to shake her off. The lesson being, always tucked your jimmies into your boots, and zip your short tight. Better still… NEVER go to Camp Friday Mountain.
I was born into a house with a small white Maltese named Mr Bojangles, who absolutely adored my mother, but with equal energy resented and loathed my intrusion into his perfect kingdom. To her he was a sweet little pumpkin bear that could do no wrong, but to me, he was a tiny nasty growling little demon dog who corn-robbed my ankles on every whim, particularly when I dared pass near him while he was dining on his devil’s kibble. I recall he had tiny black claws like some Satan’s badger, and snarled at me endlessly. There was no love shared between us as I grew up, in fact his animus grew worse as he became older, more crook-tithed stained and nasty. One evening after we returned from my math tutor’s house, (I was and remain very bad at math), Mr Bojangles was found floating in the swimming pool, apparently having stumbled into it and unable to swim his way out. My mother’s banshee wail at this sight will haunt me forever, but worse so was the nightmare visions of Mr Bojangles entering my room, dripping wet from the death-pool, his arms paddling the air as he slowly moved towards me, snarling and snapping those tiny rat teeth, night after night for months. Whether asleep or awake I could not now declare, but. he became indelible among my childhood’s traumas, surprisingly more so after he’d departed than when he was among us, biting my ankles without any repercussions or consequence.
I spent many years working in and then living in as caretaker of an old mansion in Brooklyn built for the Bon Ami soap mogul, a notorious child laborer who’s giant curving stairwell was lined with the bayonet scabbards from his friend’s Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders after the Battle at San Juan Hill. The place was so haunted I could never find anyone to house sit for us twice, when we travelled. Too many stories from that place to list here, but suffice it to say, Even as a child I appreciated a good ghost story, and moving up to the oldest part of the country and all it’s old victorian buildings and spooky hiding spots and history. The next year I crafted a few more and more still after that…
And this year broke out of the convention to combine my fascination with witches and ghosts setting them in the backwoods behind our house near a mysterious fire pit that is often maintained and used by some never seen person who wanders back there when we do not…
And a few new ones that have been waiting in the wings. More certainly to come, in the years following I bet. But for now I will be releasing the remaining original drawings and for the first time creating a ltd edition giclee print series of each other the piece available Today at NOON EST on the shop, HERE.
You can also visit the GHOST series in its current entirety HERE
Have a great Halloween, share your own ghost stories if you wish below, but otherwise… watch them rattlers!
Greg Ruth has been working in comics since 1993 and has published work for The New York Times, DC Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics, Harper Collins, Hyperion, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster amongst many others.
He has shown his paintings in New York, Houston, and Baltimore, and exhibited a series of murals at New York's Grand Central Terminal.
He has also helped craft music videos for Rob Thomas, and Prince, and has illustrated children's pictures books including; Our Enduring Spirit (with President Barack Obama), A Pirate's Guide to First Grade (with James Preller) and Red Kite, Blue Kite (with Ji Li Jiang), as well as many illustrated novels.
Greg currently lives and works in Western Massachusetts.