Popular films and comics have unleashed an army of of nightmarishly detailed ghosts on us in the last several decades. But before modern VFX, there was a universal shorthand for the restless spirit of the departed—the formless figure in a white sheet. It’s an image that stuck in the collective consciousness and one that persists in cultural images to this day. It’s about time for a spooky disruption.
Doogie Horner is the creator of the recently published 100 Ghosts, a compendium of drawings that provide various clever new permutations on the classic apparition. While some artisans are working toward taking the carved pumpkin to the next level, this one is content coming up with concoctions like the "Russian Nesting Ghost"—and executing them.
The 100 Ghosts project started after Horner and a friend went to a Halloween party where the friend had dressed as a classic bed sheet ghost—with two eyes holes cut out and not much else. After a couple minutes at the party, though, this friend felt uncomfortable and draped the sheet over a chair. When people asked him what he was dressed as for the rest of the night, though, he still said he was a ghost, and pointed at the sheet. This slight obfuscation delighted Horner, and also inspired him.
"I thought it was funny," the artist says. "I loved this idea of a lazy, half-assed ghost. I drew the nudist ghost (an empty sheet draped over a tree branch) and that was the first one."
When he initially started drawing ghosts, Horner only planned on creating enough to fill out a poster. He was aiming for around 25 of them. Before long, though, he hit 50 ghosts, and began to think about turning the concept into a book. Ideas continued piling up—everything from an octopus ghost to the Fantastic Four. Not every idea worked, though.
"For most of the ghosts the ideas were harder than carrying them out, because the drawings are simple—although they take me longer to draw than you’d probably expect." Horner says. "I kept trying to make the Beast of Babylon (from the book of Revelation, with a thousand eyes or whatever) work, but it was just weird, and also looked like Pigpen’s ghost from the Charlie Brown Halloween special. I had one ghost that was a fake hill in a model train set. I did a bird that didn’t really work."
Ultimately, what worked when Horner was filling his quota of ghosts was simply putting ass to chair and drafting out whatever came to mind. It’s the kind of strategy that ensures a fun concept like 100 Ghosts has an afterlife beyond the pitch stage.
"Waiting for inspiration isn’t productive for me, I’ll always end up goofing around," Horner says. "But if I start working then that eventually creates inspiration. I want to get rid of the blank page as quickly as possible. I like graphic design and illustration because you have a goal and a timeline. ‘What are we trying to communicate? When is this due?’ You’re creating a product, you have a user in mind and want them to have a specific experience. Fine artists might have those same goals, but they’re not stated as explicitly, and they certainly don’t have as many constraints. It’s a fun challenge to put constraints on your work and then see how creative you can be in that small space."
Have a look through some brand-affiliated ghosts Doogie Horner drew just for Co.Create in the slides above.