Digging in the dirt: the secret origin of Gravedigger

allstarsquadron_homage_clean_smallCharity Grace – aka Gravedigger –  has appeared in two solo volumes so far (with a third on the way!) and she played a big role in the  “crossover” novel that paired her with Lazarus Gray and The Peregrine. She’s become one of my most popular creations, thanks in no small part to the stunning costume design that George Sellas came up with. But where did she come from? What inspirations led her to spring forth from my crowded little mind?

What follows is an essay that ran in the first volume of The Adventures of Gravedigger. If you’ve read it before, hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing it again — if it’s your first time, expect a few insights into my creative process. I’ve tweaked it from the original in a few places, removing a link to the blog and altering the name of Max Davies’ costumed identity.

Our art today is from my buddy George Sellas and is an homage to one of my all-time favorite comic book covers: All-Star Squadron # 1. The original was drawn by Rich Buckler but I think George captured the feel perfectly, replacing the original DC heroes with my own. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

And now on to the main event:

Hello, Faithful Readers! I hope you enjoyed the introduction to Gravedigger, the newest member of my New Pulp universe that began with the arrival of The Peregrine. Since The Peregrine’s first flight back in 2008, I’ve added to the universe with Lazarus Gray, The Dark Gentleman, Guan-Yin, The Claws of The Peregrine and many more.

But none of them are quite like Gravedigger.

To understand how and why I created the character, we first have to go back to the misty past. It was a time of optimism and a surging economy. We were well on the way to electing the first Democratic President since Jimmy Carter. Grunge was filtering its way into the public consciousness.

It was 1992. I was 20 years old and in college, where I was working towards an undergraduate degree in Psychology. Then, as now, I was a huge comic book fan. Then, as now, I was a huge fan of the Valiant Universe. I loved the tight continuity it possessed and the way that little background events and characters would float from book to book, building a cohesive universe.

One of my favorite characters in that universe was Shadowman, who debuted in May 1992. A supernatural hero, Jack Boniface was poisoned by an alien, allowing him to “die” before being resurrected as an avenger of the night. We would later find out that he was only the latest in a long line of Shadowmen. I loved the concept and the series but it eventually faded away with the rest of the Valiant Universe.

But like all good things, it would not stay dead. Shadowman and the rest of the Valiant heroes were recently revived by a new Valiant. The promo art by Patrick Zircher floated around for months before the first issue actually debuted and I adored the revised look of the hero. It got me to thinking… Perhaps I needed to add a new title to my pulp hero collection, one that would serve as a “connector” series. It would have ties to all that had come before and would be the place where fans of The Peregrine or Lazarus Gray could come to get a taste of the greater universe.

I decided I wanted to make the new character a female, to balance out the male-heavy universe that I already had, and that I wanted her to be heavily supernatural as a nod to Shadowman. Like Jack, she would be the latest in a long line of heroes and, as with Shadowman and Lazarus Gray, rebirth would factor large in her origin.

From there, artist George Sellas and I tossed a few ideas back and forth. I had the name Gravedigger but I was afraid it was too masculine for Charity. He convinced me that it could be a neat twist on the name and concept. I told him my idea of tying Charity’s past to Samantha Grace’s origin, which he liked. It not only provided a link to the Lazarus series but also furthered the Grace family’s role in the overall universe.

Once I’d come up with the full origin and George had done his initial character sketch, I thought it would be fun to have a “hand-off” in the story. When I wrote my first Lazarus Gray collection, The Peregrine appeared, as if giving his stamp of approval on the new arrival. With this one, I wanted to have both The Peregrine and Lazarus appear in ways that would bolster Gravedigger but not detract from her starring role. I was inspired by the way Star Trek used to do this – Dr. McCoy from the original series was on the first episode of Next Generation, then Captain Picard from The Next Generation appeared on the first episode of Deep Space Nine, while that space station was a jumping-off point for Star Trek: Voyager when that series began. I thought was a nice wink and nod to the fans.

The decision to use The Headless Horseman in the book came about because I recycle everything. A few years ago, I wrote nearly 20,000 words on a novel I was going to call “Headless.” It was going to be a sequel to Washington Irving’s classic and would introduce a new hero of mine, Mortimer Quinn. I eventually abandoned the project but I always wanted to use parts of that story… so it ended up here. Tying Mortimer to the Gravedigger legacy was easy enough and allowed me to bring the Horseman into the story.

As for Charity’s allies… one thing that I learned from the Lazarus Gray series is that I like having a steady cast of characters to supplement my protagonist. But I didn’t want to create another Assistance Unlimited, who was inspired by Justice, Inc. Instead, I looked to another favorite pulp hero of mine – The Shadow. While Lazarus has a group of partners, The Shadow had a group of agents. There was never any doubt that Harry Vincent and Burbank were lower-ranking than The Shadow. That’s what I set out to do here – Mitchell, Cedric and Li all get their ‘origins’ here and we see what skills they bring to the table. All of them, however, are agents – not partners. Our heroine is the one that stands on center stage during the final conflict.

So where do we go from here? Obviously, the arrival of Mortimer on the last page suggests that there are more stories to be told here. The first Gravedigger book appeared in 2013, with a second in 2014. I hope to continue to update her adventures regularly, just as I have with Lazarus and The The Peregrine.

Speaking of artwork, I have to say thank you to George Sellas, for designing Gravedigger’s look and for the incredibly awesome cover he whipped up. Also, Will Meugniot’s interior illustrations perfectly captured the mood of the story, pairing Charity’s obvious beauty with her deadly nature. Thanks, guys.

Lock your doors, everyone. Gravedigger is hitting the streets.

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