The Design Of Ghost Racers

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Ghost Racers by Juan Gedeon for Marvel.

I’m a pretty big Marvel geek and am reading a handful of their comics right now. Last year, I picked up the all-new All-New Ghost Rider featuring an all-new Ghost Rider. It ended up being a wild story about a Mexican-American teenager named Robbie Reyes who gets possessed by a satanic spirit. The spirit gifts him with incredible powers, a chrome dome, and a hot—in more than two senses of the word—car, but also pressures him to do things that satanic spirits tend to think are fun. The art, cartoonish and kinetic, by Tradd Moore was unlike anything I had seen before. It lasted 11 issues before it was cancelled.

Not The End

But that was not the end of Robbie Reyes. With Marvel’s “Secret Wars” event, he returned in a weirdo alternate dimension storyline called Ghost Racers that pitted Reyes against other Ghost Riders in a Death Race-style arena called the Killiseum. A couple of the Riders are old faces to me. Johnny Blaze was the original Ghost Rider, and Danny Ketch was the Ghost Rider when I was a kid. But the Killiseum is filled with a spate of other Ghost Riders that the world has never seen before and the creators really worked to make sure they were cooking up the craziest concoctions that push the limits of just what a Ghost Rider could be.

There’s Carter Slade, a zombie centaur with six-shooters in his hands and a Gatling gun on either side of his saddle. There’s Knuckles O’Shaughnessy, a tiny, flat-cap–wearing Brooklynite who drives a flaming Power Wheels rig with a Tommy gun mounted to the hood. There’s even a racer who lights up with electricity, instead of the traditional fire. He rides none other than a giant, flying chainsaw with the words “Viro Mutilator” spray-painted across it. And those are just a few of the maniacs in the first two issues.

The Mad Minds Behind It

It’s a crazy adventure story, but, because I’m a designer, the part that really fascinated me was the backmatter of the books. On the final page of the first three issues, artist Juan Gedeon talks a bit about how he came up with some of the Ghost Racers, and shows off some of the concept art. It’s a fascinating look at what goes through the mind of a creator, when they’re tasked with designing a world without limits.

In the first issue, he talks about Slade, the centaur racer and how it’s not just the big, loud, metalic details that can differentiate the racers:

If you think about it, all Ghost Riders have a skull on fire instead of a face, so they’re kinda like zombies! … And since I wanted him to look dead as… well, death, I though it’d be cool to avoid the fire and use a cloud of dust when he is racing, instead.

In the second issue, he talks about tackling Danny Ketch, and what makes him distinct from Johnny Blaze:

Danny is heavy metal. Hard rock. Anger. More strength than speed. He wouldn’t dodge a punch, he’d take it and enjoy it.

Instead of spikes [seen on Ketch’s original costume], I threw in some sort of big nails, because I think they’re more creepy (and I feel like it hasn’t been done before). Spikes can hurt, but if he gets you with the nails, you’d probably get stuck there, like with a cactus, and you don't wanna get stuck with Ketch. So this thing screams “STAY AWAY”.

And on Johnny Blaze, the original Ghost Rider:

I love the design, because he looks like something from White/Rob Zombie’s world, with the horror circus vibe. … I added the grenade launcher on the back [of his motocross bike] for defense, but it can also appear like he is farting bombs, which I think is kinda funny and works with a carnival freak from hell, like our version of Johnny.

These are just excerpts, but there are so many good nuggets jammed into those three pages. Altogether, I would say the main takeaway is this: ferret out what makes each character unique and translate that into something that makes sense… even in something as gleefully non-nonsensical as Ghost Racers. Some of Gedeon’s design decisions even opened up new possibilities with the story, which, in my opinion, is where some of the biggest satisfaction comes from when you’re creating. And, occasionally, you gotta go with your gut, just because it looks cool or feels right.

I’d say you should go pick up Ghost Racers right now, but I tweeted at the artist, desperate for more, and he got back to me: “I wrote about Alejandra, too! They’ll probably include it in the trade paperback as bonus, with all the other Ghost Racers… maybe!” All the other Ghost Racers! If that’s true, this one will be worth waiting for the collected edition.

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