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James Van Hise: RGB Comic Writer
July 22, 1999, 01:32 PM PDT


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James Van Hise has written for Starlog, Sci-Fi Universe, Cinescape, and The Green Hornet Comics, just to name a few. But there is one interesting line on his huge and impressive resume. He was writer for most of the Real Ghostbusters Comics. (all but numbers 4 and 21). I sat down and asked James a few questions and here is what he had to say.

GBC: Were you a fan of the movie before you started the comics? If so, tell us about your first "Ghostbusters experience."

JVH: Actually, yes. I saw the first Ghostbusters film at a preview screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills. I loved it and have seen it many times ever since.

GBC: Had you previously seen the Real Ghostbusters before writing the comic, and if so, what were your favorite episodes if you can recall any?

JVH: I hadn't seen the Real Ghostbusters cartoon show before being approached to write the comic book, but since it was being shown five days a week at that time, I was able to embark on a crash course and was impressed by most of what I saw. I saw many episodes which I liked but I don't have an episode guide handy. I remember one Joe wrote where Cthulhu appeared.

GBC: How did you get the job?

JVH: It was handed to me on a silver platter, something which rarely happens in life. I was slightly acquainted with publisher Tony Caputo because I'd interviewed him once for the magazine Comics Feature. Then in 1988 he called me from out of the blue and asked me if I'd like to write the Real Ghostbusters comic book. I said I was interested, but I still had to try out for it and prove myself. I sent him three plot ideas and he picked one which I did as a script. He liked the script enough to give me the permanent assignment. I wrote 26 out of the 28 issues of the regular comic book. The two fill-ins came about due to their own production problems at Now Comics because I was always way ahead of my deadlines.

GBC: The first two issues of the RGB comic had time travelers, a ghost shark, and the ghost of Captain Nemo (and the ever cool Nautilus sub). What inspired you to mix such odd elements together into a story?

JVH: I was experimenting. It was the first Ghostbusters story I ever wrote and I was trying to get a handle on the series. By issue #3 I had that handle. The focus of that first story wasn't helped, though, by the fact that in issue #2 several pages were printed out of order. Also the inker and colorist on issue #2 didn't bother to read the script (which made me wonder what planet the editor was visiting at the time) so that the moon wasn't inked like it was the moon (it became a featureless disc in the artwork) and the colorist made it look like the sun because that's what it looked like to him in the art. Here I always thought that inkers and colorists would read a script if for no other reason than so they could tell what time of year the story took place and whether it was day or night. Little things like that. I was also plagued with sloppy letterers who didn't proofread their own work (where was the editor again?) so that I had to insist that I be sent B&W copies of the finished art so that I could proofread the lettering. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't because they were always under such pressure to get this monthly comic book out on time that there wasn't always time to make corrections. To help on the schedule early on I wrote two Ghostbusters scripts in one month while also writing Fright Night (and I had to write two Fright Night scripts that month as well).

GBC: What was your favorite story?

JVH: Scriptwise my favorites are some of the last ones, especially "The Strength To Dream" (in #23). Artwise my favorite is issue #15, "Spike," which is part one of a two part story. Unfortunately the same artist didn't draw part two. I also especially liked my three-part story, #9-11.

GBC: Who's your favorite character?

JVH: Egon, as he was portrayed in the cartoon show, and which I followed for my comic book characterization.

GBC: What did you like the most about writing for the Ghostbusters characters?

JVH: I liked being able to tell different kinds of stories because each of the characters were different enough that fans had their own favorites. I myself liked Egon. When I met Harold Ramis and mentioned that in the cartoon shows Egon was the leader of the Ghostbusters, he was surprised to hear this. In the films there clearly is no leader and as a result anarchy often reigns. Because the characters are different I sometimes wrote stories which emphasized the individual characters as their personalities would help determine where the plot would lead and how it would transpire.

GBC: When prompted to do the Ghostbusters II comic, did you get to see a screening of the movie before you wrote the comic, and if not, what did they give you to prepare for the comic, and how did you take to it?

JVH: For Ghostbusters II we were given the script, which I just went through and divided up for the mini-series. Not only didn't I see the film until a screening shortly before its official release, but the comic book adaptation included the original ending wherein the Ghostbusters are being given a testimonial by the Mayor of New York in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. That scene was even drawn for the comic book but cut out when 20th Century Fox noticed that we'd actually followed the script! "You can't include this! It's not in the movie!" they said. They'd never bothered telling us the script had been changed until after an artist had been paid to draw the scene. I still have a photocopy of those missing pages around somewhere. I believe there's a couple small scenes in the comic that aren't in the film, plus the whole bit with Louis helping to save the day at the end was a last minute addition to the film. I did visit the set of Ghostbusters II at Columbia Studios in February 1989. It's unusual for a film to still be in production four months before its release, but Ghostbusters II had a rush on it to make the Summer. If they'd had more time they might have had a better script, and the film would have done better in the Fall of 1989 where it wouldn't have been up against the first Batman film which blew everything out of the water that summer. Did you notice that Ghostbusters came out in 1984 against the second Indiana Jones film and Ghostbusters II came out in 1989 against the third Indiana Jones film? I find this interesting because presently there is talk about finally making both Ghostbusters III and Indy IV. I was on the set for a couple of hours and met Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis, but Bill Murray wasn't there that day, although Ivan Reitman was. Mostly I saw a full size prop of the head of the Statue of Liberty (which was a "big secret" at the time) and the set of Peter Venkman's apartment which was built about eight feet off the floor completely inside a sound stage. You'd walk up a flight of stairs and enter the apartment which looked like a real apartment from the inside, complete with a ceiling, but it was all just an elaborate set. I also spent some time with producer Michael Gross (not to be confused with actor Michael Gross). I can't tell you how many times I've seen "Michael Gross" listed as appearing on a talk show only to tune in and find that it was the actor, not the producer. Michael said he liked my Ghostbusters comic book stories and would have used me on the cartoon show had he been aware of my work at the time.

GBC: Was it odd trying to marry the RGB comic to the movie? What complications, if any, did it cause?

JVH: I just adapted the script and they used the likenesses of the Real Ghostbusters characters because Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd didn't want their likenesses used in the comics, even though they said that they liked what we were doing in the comics. If you've noticed, modern movie tie-ins of the 1990s don't have that problem. Apparently something that the studios now insist on is that actors agree to allow their likenesses to be used on in order to make things easier for the licensees.

GBC: Have you ever been approached to do anything else in the Ghostbusters franchise?

JVH: No, unfortunately not, although I'd love to. If someone decided to do the comic books again, I'd send them some of mine by way of introduction. Hopefully they'd do that instead of the so-called "Extreme Ghostbusters" which is really just an annoying kiddie show and not the least bit entertaining with all the obnoxious new characters they've added.

GBC: Why do you think people still dig Ghostbusters after all these years?

JVH: The first movie is an imaginative adventure which was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Had the second film expanded on this instead of backtracking and covering the same ground in order to arrive where they'd been at the end of the first film, I think the franchise would have grown even more. As it is the franchise was pretty much stopped cold in 1989 by the film, and the Extreme Ghostbusters seems like a desperation move to kickstart it. They should just go back to the basics. The Real Ghostbusters cartoon show captured that sense of imagination and discovery which was celebrated in the first film, and I wanted to honor what the first film and the original Real Ghostbusters cartoon series did by trying to tell those stories in my comic books. I still like those comic books. I can go back and read them and feel satisfied at what I accomplished. I met fans at conventions at the time who liked them, too. My biggest surprise was at the 1996 World Science Fiction convention when I was walking around the dealer's room and saw fanzines filled with Real Ghostbusters fan fiction. I'd been unaware of them even though I knew there were truckloads of Star Trek fanzines like that around.

GBC: What advice can you offer young fans who think they might like to write for a living?

JVH: It's a highly competitive field, comic books in particular. I haven't written any comic books since 1992 because there's more and more people competing for fewer and fewer jobs. In fiction there's almost no short fiction magazines any more (there used to be a lot). It's easier to become a published novelist than any other kind of writer these days.


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