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George Marston

Ethan Sacks and his daughter Naomi tell a personal tale of mental health and healing in A Haunted Girl

A Haunted Girl art

Writer Ethan Sacks and his daughter Naomi are creating their first story together for Syzygy Comics, titled A Haunted Girl. Along with artist Marco Lorenzana, they're telling the story of a young woman who undergoes a mental health crisis with stakes that go far, far beyond her own life.

And for Ethan and Naomi Sacks, A Haunted Girl is much more than a story - it's a bonding experience drawn from Naomi's own experience with depression and suicidal ideation. Now several years on from the Sacks family's crisis, they're addressing their healing and trauma through the power of storytelling.

Announced briefly at WonderCon, A Haunted Girl will publish in fall 2023 through Syzygy Comics, a new Image Comics imprint run by industry veteran Chris Ryall. 

Now, Ethan Sacks opens up to Newsarama about the story behind the story, what it's like working with your daughter on her first comic, and what he hopes readers will take away from the deeply personal tale of a family in crisis.

We've also got an early look at some preliminary art used to pitch the story, with the final art still in progress.

(Image credit: Ethan Sacks)

Newsarama: Ethan, you're co-writing A Haunted Girl with your daughter Naomi, and I know it's an incredibly personal story for both of you. How did the idea to do this comic together come about?

Ethan Sacks: The original idea for this story came to me in a hospital waiting room four years ago. At the time, my daughter had just been diagnosed with major depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. All of us had to suddenly learn how to navigate waters we previously didn’t know existed.

It was at this beginning of our mental health journey as a family, that I came up with a tale that could inspire her and other teens battling what really is a rising epidemic. A tale that featured a protagonist that channels that fear, but ultimately overcomes it. The tale of a depressed girl who finds out she is the only person who can save everyone else.

My creative partner, artist Marco Lorenzana, instantly understood the mission and spent years honing the stunning visuals.

But it’s only recently that we found the missing ingredient: Four years later, my daughter has made tremendous progress and reached a place where she can help us write that story.

Our shared goal is to have this series be an entertaining horror story for everyone, while at the same time being an inspirational tale for anyone going through similar struggles.

Nrama: What can you tell us about the story of A Haunted Girl?

Sacks: Cleo, an adopted Japanese-American teen whose anxiety and depression drives her to suicidal thoughts, is fresh out of the hospital and trying unsuccessfully to reintegrate back into her old life. What she doesn't know is that her biggest struggle is just beginning…and it’s going to be terrifying.

A Haunted Girl is a four-issue supernatural horror with some pretty deep themes coming this fall from Syzygy Publishing and Image Comics.

The tagline sums it up best: The fate of all life on Earth depends on a girl who doesn’t know if she wants to live.

Nrama: How has it been working alongside your daughter on this story? How has that changed your perspective on a process you've been involved in a long time?

Sacks: My daughter is a full-time college student, so there’s been a lot of working around her academic schedule. We broke down the full story, issue by issue, scene by scene, over her winter break.

Then I wrote the template for the script, setting the number of panels and the majority of panel descriptions. She would swoop in and write the therapy session scenes, as well as all the dialogue for Cleo, her teen classmates, and her therapist. My daughter is half-Japanese, speaking the language and knowing the culture, and with some help from her mom (and my wife), helped a lot on a couple of other sequences.

We work off a script that’s a shared document and hash out questions over video chats.

Basically, I bring the knowledge of how to put together a comic, she brings the authenticity to Cleo’s experience.

Nrama: You're working with artist Marco Lorenzana, colorist Andres Mossa, and letterer Jaime Martinez. How has it been working with them on A Haunted Girl? What made them feel like the right collaborators on a story this personal and important?

(Image credit: Ethan Sacks)

Sacks: Marco is the third member of our power trio. He’s a gifted artist, but just as importantly our creative partner.

We teamed up two years ago on a creator-owned one-shot called Intrusion, from Magma Comix and Heavy Metal, so we have a creative rhythm nailed down. Also, he’s a huge fan of Japanese horror movies, which are very much an aesthetic touchstone for this book.

His art will scare the hell out of you. But he nails the smaller emotional moments, too. He’ll make you cry and then make you scream.

Andres Mossa is one of the best colorists in the industry, and a collaborator with me during my time on Old Man Hawkeye and Old Man Quill. He elevated those series into a cinematic quality that I think was an underappreciated part of their success. I swore back then that I would work with him again - and here we are.

And Jaimie Martinez, who rounds out the band, has been the letterer attached to the project since we first started. He’s inventive and talented, and we are lucky to have him.

Nrama: You mentioned to me that you and Naomi are working with sensitivity readers including a psychiatrist on A Haunted Girl to ensure that it accurately represents the real world side of this kind of experience. What has that taught you about the creative process and how it relates to the kind of real world impact that stories can have?

Sacks: They’ve helped with a lot of the nuance to make the story more realistic. Yes, I know, it’s a supernatural story, but it’s also about being haunted by less literal demons. And we were determined to portray that accurately. The feedback has helped us present life in a pediatric psychiatric ward and during a therapy session as genuinely as possible. We want people who are going through these battles themselves to feel seen.  

We also plan to include resources vetted by a professional as a service to readers.

Nrama: A Haunted Girl is publishing through Syzygy Comics, a new Image imprint that's got some big names attached. What makes Syzygy the right home for A Haunted Girl?

Sacks: Chris Ryall, our editor and publisher, has in a short time created a creative haven in the comic book industry. We are grateful to be a small part of a Syzygy roster that’s emerging to be the equivalent of the 1927 Yankees’ batting lineup, including the great Francis Ford Coppola.

But Chris is more than a publisher, he’s also a teacher. He’s helped us navigate not just the story, but also the business side of the process. He’s generous with his hard-earned knowledge and has made the book better.

Nrama: What do you want readers to know going into A Haunted Girl?

Sacks: I’ll flip the question, if you don’t mind, into what I’m hoping readers get out of reading A Haunted Girl: 

That when you feel you are at your weakest, you have an inner strength inside of you.

That, if you are struggling, it does get better. That, if someone you love is struggling, you can make a difference in their lives.

That you are not alone.

That you are worth fighting for. 

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