Specter Inspectors was an unexpectedly pivotal moment in my queer journey this year. It was quite literally the moment I first truly came out to myself. But, it turns out, even the authors’ sense of self and identity were shaped by creating this comic series from BOOM! Studios’ imprint BOOM! Box. I sat down with Bowen McCurdy and Kaitlyn Musto to discuss Specter Inspectors, queerness, and finding your own identity.
BUT WHY THO: I absolutely loved Specter Inspectors. What were the inspirations for creating the series?
BOWEN MCCURDY: Growing up, I’ve always been a fan of horror, so it was a no-brainer to do a horror. I love ghost stories for the depth of human emotions that you can invoke through them. They’re just a wonderful gateway for reflecting the self and figuring out what’s going on inside. And Kaitlin… she just got back from a trip to Cape May, which is actually the location that inspired Specter Inspectors. She took me there when we were first doing this.
KAITLYN MUSTO: Yeah, I took Bowen on a trip with my family there, and it was the first time that I had been staying in Cape May and not a little bit outside of it. And so we were very much inspired by all the Victorian architecture… just the general small-town spookiness that was going on. And almost every shop owner had a story so we were just like “oh my gosh, this is the best.” I’ve believed in the paranormal since I was a kid… because of stuff I experienced as a child. So, ghost stories have always been something I’ve gravitated towards. There’s always some element of spookiness in every story I’ve written.
BWT: On a similar beat, is there something special about the ghost hunting, demon-possessing genre that was essential to the overall story you were trying to tell?
BOWEN: I think so. I think that specifically, as queer people, we’re constantly self-reflecting and looking inward. I think, in some ways, ghosts are perfect representations of that. They’re what we leave behind, and our true selves boiled down. And I think that the act of looking for that and exploring, trying to find that is also very queer. I think that’s why a lot of queer people are drawn to horror in general. It just was a natural marriage of the two, and as a queer person, I love ghosts, and I love stories that are themed around what happens after we leave. What do we leave behind?
KAITLYN: I also think that a lot of times, ghost stories, monster stories, demons, are… there’s a lot of the idea of the other, and I think that’s also something as a queer person, a lot of people experience—sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. And I think horror also elevates that idea. Especially with Astrid, we really delved into that. That was a big aspect of getting into her character.
BWT: I did not have “this comic would help me understand and feel less anxious about my own queerness and coming out to myself” on my reading-this-comic bingo card. It’s a story about a demon who possesses Astrid and can only be released if they find its true name. And something that I think a lot of queer folks struggle with is that naming piece of it. What do I call what I feel? Am I gay? Am I bi? Am I this or that label? Spoilers, but the conclusion is they get to make up its own name. The personal part of it… this released a valve for me. You don’t have to actually come up with a pre-existing name for something. You can just let it be. You can come up with another one later if you want to. The pressure’s not as high as you think it is.
What do you hope that people get from the conclusion of this story and the way that it doesn’t end… like normally in a demon-possession story you find the name and the demon’s released—this does the total opposite. What do you hope people get out of it?
BOWEN: Just like what you said, I hope that people come out of it with either a better understanding of themselves or a better acceptance that they don’t. You don’t have to have all the terminology, you don’t have to have all the answers, but as long as you are looking and as long as you are enjoying that process and letting yourself be unknown, that’s totally fair and good. And you shouldn’t feel lost for that because… you’re not reaching a goal; you are just a person—a human being who has nuance. You might be one person one day and another the next, and both of those people are allowed to exist.
Even for Kat and I, we started off this book thinking that we were cis, and writing Gus was eye-opening to us. We started realizing we’re not as gender-conforming as we had originally thought. We underwent growth through this project too. We hope that other people can reconcile with the fact that they’re fully fleshed out and not 2D.
KAITLYN: That whole process… looking inward and figuring yourself out—it can be a personal thing as well. A lot of the time in Specter Inspectors, when Astrid speaks to her demon, it’s very much like, “This is me and you.” And I think that that’s totally fine as well. No matter how you have this conversation, either way—if you’re open and proud and out—all that is lovely, it can also be something very quiet and personal and special, and I think that is equally as important.
BOWEN: It’s yours to define and to define on your own—with help or without.
BWT: Something I love the most when I’m reading comics is looking at the clothing that characters are wearing. Something I love in Specter Inspectors is that they’re not just wearing the same clothes every single issue. Each of [the characters] has very distinctive clothing-based personalities; how do you balance minimizing clunky exposition dialogue without letting the clothing and the way the characters are drawn turn into stereotypes?
BOWEN: I have answers for this, and one of them is that everything they wear in the comic is things that I own. [The characters] felt very real to me, so I definitely put a little bit of my style into all of them. Some days I feel like Ko where I’m soft and approachable and cuddly. So he’s got a lot of soft sweaters on. And sometimes I’m Astrid where it’s skin tight and patterns and classy and loud. And that’s reflecting when I’m confident, and I want to give off a certain energy. And sometimes I’m Noa where I want to be doing… things like going to the library or being productive. I tried to base them off of that.
But in general, I also tried to reflect their personal growth with how they wear their clothes. Astrid starts off wearing skin-tight clothing that’s very specific to her character. But she starts to wear more loose clothes and sort of retreats into herself through the comic as she becomes more unsure of who she is—until the ending where she reconciles with herself, figures stuff out… and comes back to her original style.
KAITLYN: When you were mentioning, “how do they not become stereotypes?” we have so many queer friends also, so… you look at the people around you that you love in your life—okay, I kind of get it. And I think that reflects in those characters as well.
BOWEN: Queer people aren’t just one type of person. They are characters before anything else. They have personalities, and those personalities are just as important, if not more so. Their queerness does not take away from their style or make them less queer because they’re wearing a hoodie.
BWT: Something that I think is great about the stories is that you have these four main characters. What was the thought behind making sure that all of them got to be their own people and have not just relationships with one of the others but across the four of them?
KAITLYN: When we set out to create these characters, there wasn’t, “this one is more important than the other one.” They all have a home in this little group. It was important when we were writing the script to have those scenes like in the museum where they get to be with the characters maybe you think they wouldn’t get along with. But they all have their own way of interacting with each other. They do have special relationships, even Gus and Astrid. Gus has their own feelings about Astrid but, through those scenes, we get a better idea of the nuance of that relationship.
BOWEN: Just like in real life, in stories, you have to ground through the relationships. They are more real people if they have more nuanced connections to different kinds of people. If it was just Astrid and Noa the whole time, they would just be in this bubble that exists in their relationship. But by expanding them past that they become more fully realized so when they do connect it feels more genuine. They don’t exist for the relationship. They are more than their relationship.
BWT: At first, I was confused about what [Noa and Astrid’s] relationship was. And then, by the end, I realized… like all of the parts of this story, it’s not about calling something something specific. Was there particular thought into being obscure about their relationship and changing the way we perceived it throughout the series?
BOWEN: It didn’t really matter if they were dating beforehand. We hadn’t intended it to be, but it didn’t matter. They’re obviously flirting, and there’s obviously something there… but the fact that they hadn’t reconciled with that—just like with the name, with identity—the fact that they hadn’t come to terms or explored that and just let it be unknown, that’s where… the tension lies. They didn’t really feel comfortable in their… unknown.
KAITLYN: That romantic relationship between Astrid and Noa, it directly coincided with the idea of identity that Astrid goes through. Because that relationship doesn’t find that reconciliation until that identity issue resolved itself. There were a lot of things that were unknown and up in the air until the plot tied itself up. And then it all kind of makes sense.
BOWEN: The point was not “are they dating in the end.” It’s more “I know, and I’m sure of my care for you, and I know that you care for me, and that’s all that matters right now.”
BWT: Are there any last things you want to say about the series?
BOWEN: We just really hope that everyone enjoys Specter Inspectors. We had such a great time working on it. It helped us get through some tough times with the pandemic and with our own identities—it helped us reconcile with those parts of ourselves. So I hope that even… if a tiny bit, it brings you some joy or some comfort.
KAITLYN: And I just hope that when you’re reading… these characters, that feeling of comfort and figuring things out comes through in them. And I hope you can maybe look at them and maybe see a little bit of yourself because that’s definitely how we feel about them.
Specter Inspectors is available now in trade paperback wherever comics are sold, including our Bookshop.org affiliate link.