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Curse of the Vessel: An Interview with Michael Leal

Geeks a Gogo recently corresponded with Michael Leal, creator of "Curse of the Vessel", a new comic series that at the time of thie publishing of this article, is nearly fully-funded on Kickstarter. The story features a former mob hitman, Vincent Faustino, who now atones for his crimes by acting as a host for restless spirits returning to earth to settle unfinished business. The Kickstarter campaign for Curse of the Vessel runs through July 19th, 2017 so be sure to check it out.

Geeks a Gogo: First of all, what gave you the idea for “Vessel”? What were your inspirations?

Michael: It was a few things that came together over the course of several years.The initial concept of a of an evil man forced to do good came from the Shadow film with Alec Baldwin from the 90’s. I found it really compelling that this horrible drug lord forced to become a vigilante. I have no idea if that is from the original books or not but it worked for me. The rest of it came from about 2007-08 when my wife and I moved into a home that we later discovered was quite haunted. Now you may not believe in those things--ghosts or whatever, but you don’t have to. I have seen, heard, and felt too much to deny the fact that something very real was going on. When we first moved into the house there were always bumps in the night, but we had three cats and if you have three cats you know they are always knocking things over and causing a ruckus…but then a funny thing happened. All three died over the course of two years and there were still bumps in the night, chairs moved, items tossed all over the floor and footsteps up and down the stairs. This got more active once we brought my new born son home from the hospital it escalated to voices talking to us and him. Cold hands on our backs while we laid in bed. It was spooky but it never really felt menacing. It actually seemed childlike in many regards; playing with us. During this time I had given up my dream of making comics and started working nights at a grocery store. It was a pretty depressing time for me. During the day I would take care of my infant son and while he napped I watched a lot of reality cop shows, such as Manhunters and the First 48 on AMC. The First 48 was about the first two days of a murder investigation and everything involved. There were some gruesome and heartbreaking stories. All of these things swirled in my head. I wondered why the ghosts were still in my house. What did they want? What happened to them? Were they murdered? Were they wronged somehow? What is their unfinished business? What if they could come back? What would they do? I was then invited by an acquaintance of mine to compete in Small Press Idol (American Idol for comics). I needed a story to write and here one was. I just combined it with the criminal forced to do good thing to give it an extra layer. It worked out. We won with the most votes in SPI history. I probably could have shortened this answer, but then you wouldn’t be wondering about all the other stuff that happened in that house.

Geeks A Gogo: So, in the story, the main character, Vincent Faustino, is a vessel for spirits of the dead. I’m wondering, if you’re going for sort of a macabre, reverse “Quantum Leap” sort of story. Are we going to see Vincent possessed by a new spirit in each story in a way that brings a lot of variety of storytelling?

Michael: I often describe the comic as Quantum Leap in reverse instead of him jumping into other people throughout time people from different times jump into him. He has no memory of it and they get him into all kinds of horrible situations. That’s part of the fun. Waking up in a car that’s sinking into a swamp or on a boat to Iceland which bloody hands and a mysterious key or something. I write the book like a TV series where there is an overarching story but smaller stories in each episode. So the A story is whatever the ghost wants. It’s story it’s unfinished business. The B story is Vincent hunting this Witch that cursed him across the country and back again while Manhunters from the U.S. Marshals hunt him. Many layers and potential for story. So every small arch will have a new ghost possess him. Maybe even multiple ghosts or returning ghosts that didn’t get it right the first time.

Geeks A Gogo: So, how dark does this story get? Who is your target age group for “Vessel”?

Michael: Dark, but not too dark. There is certainly violence and murder, but I’m not looking to crank up the gore or anything like that. I’m not doing Hellrasier meets the Human Centipede. It’s like a Quentin Tarantino film with gangsters, but merged with a supernatural horror. My target age group is about 16 to 100. If you like ghost stories, crime stories, noir, mysteries and supernatural action this is for you!

Geeks A Gogo: A lot of our readers are gamers, and they’ll be surprised to hear that you’re working with Mike Wilson on this project, who worked on Rifts for Palladium. How did he get involved, and how does his art compliment your story?

Michael: Mike is great. I stumbled across him way back on Myspace. I was checking out his art every time he posted something and tried to get him to work with me on a few things back when I had no street cred at all--basically stalking this guy. I think that was before any of the RPG work. I only later about the time of Small Press Idol did I discover we both lived in Portland. He was going to work on the Original #0 issue but I made the mistake of introducing him to some Marvel people and he was entangled with them for a while, so we parted ways. In 2013 he contacted me and asked if he could get on with the book and I said “of course!” This was after the project stalled so it was lucky for me. During that time he started doing work on various Palladium projects--Rifts and that magazine they do. I forget the name. He has also worked for Gygax Magazine and TSR and some others. He was largely influenced by D&D-style RPG art far more than comic book art and once you know that you can see it in what he does. The level of detail and design really help make Curse of the Vessel feel so much more real. The swirls in the smoke and fire, the look in the character’s eyes the blood splatter is all so kinetic. It really brings it to another level. Michael McElveen the colorist on the project is also doing some great work. We are coloring right over the pencils on the one it’s a fantastic look. For those interested Mike Wilson is doing commissions of any character you want for the Kickstarter campaign. Many folks choose their WOW or D&D characters. It could be anything though. Dark Phoenix, Hellboy, or an original creation. Anything you want but there are only a few slots left.

Geeks A Gogo: What are your plans for “Vessel” after this Kickstarter?

Michael: COTV is a four part miniseries. So we have two more in this initial story. We will see that arc resolved and there is a potential for an ongoing series of mini-series after that provided we hit our funding goal and if people actually want to see it. This is like a proof of concept. If you don’t support it, you can’t expect us to make more. It’s a continuing story, that’s just broken up into mini-arcs. This one is called “A Man Possessed”. The next one is going to be four one shot mini stories, single issues that will then be combined into a trade paperback collected edition in the future. That one will be called “Past Lives”. I’m in talks with a couple of publishers right now. Depending on how that works out we might just go that route or bring it back to Kickstarter to finish of the story. The ideal would be to be so successful on Kickstarter that we could keep making them forever. But forever is a long time…hey that’s a good title for book right there…now you have me thinking…

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