Sisters Shawnelle and Shawneé Gibbs Make Ghost Stories Come to Life in a New Graphic Novel

Sisters Shawnelle and Shawneé Gibbs join forces with artist Emily Cannon to bring paranormal adventures to life. Their newest graphic novel, Ghost Roast, follows Chelsea Grant, a 15 year-old who is trying to distance herself from her father’s occupation as a professional ghost hunter. She is forced to work with her dad one summer and learns she can see the ghosts her father hunts. The graphic novel is full of first crushes, lost histories, and an important father-daughter relationship. We got to chat with the trio to learn more about the creative process behind creating Ghost Roast.

Young Entertainment: What was the experience like with everyone working together on this graphic novel?
Shawnelle: It was amazing to collaborate with Emily Cannon and with our colorist Aishwarya Tandon, and the editorial team at Versify. It was our first graphic novel, and our first foray into creating comics with a traditional publisher. Emily moved to Florida, Aishwarya is in India, and our editor was in Boston, it meant that we all worked 100% remotely.
Shawneé: Graphic novels are an incredibly collaborative medium. You get a chance to see a bit of all of us in each page of the book. Emily is such a masterful artist. Her ability to translate words into visual magic is nothing short of amazing. Our colorist, Aishwarya complimented Emily’s gorgeous illustrations with colors that are like eye-candy.
Emily: Working together was interesting because Ghost Roast production began in different parts of the world, through email and conference calls.

Shawneé:Graphic novels are an incredibly collaborative medium. You get a chance to see a bit of all of us in each page of the book.”

YE: What is something you learned from each other during the process of making Ghost Roast?
Shawnelle: Emily should have a whole second career in architecture because her blueprints for all of our world building and buildings were immaculate.
Shawneé: With Shawnelle, we really learned how to fine-tune working together virtually on one manuscript. We were writing from two separate homes, at ungodly hours of the morning and night and Google Docs was such a regular part of our lives.
Emily: This being my first graphic novel I’m going to say: everything. Everyone on the team was so understanding and helped me every bit of the way.

YE: In the graphic novel Chelsea can see ghosts, have you ever personally seen one yourself?
Shawnelle: Shawneé and I have had several experiences. I can only refer to them as encounters or supernatural experiences probably from the age of three or four. It involved the usual “ghostly” things such as sensations on the skin, lights flickering, footsteps heard when there were no live bodies around. I’ve had about six memorable supernatural experiences in my lifetime.
Shawneé: I’ve never “seen” a ghost with my own eyes, but I did have an experience at my aunt’s grave site many years ago that was proof enough for me that something might be out there.
Emily: I wish! Nothing yet, but here’s hoping 2024 is my ghost-iest year.

YE: Where did the inspiration for Ghost Roast come from?
Shawneé: One of my early (uncredited) jobs in television was working as a video logger and transcriptionist on a paranormal documentary series, which meant I watched a lot of footage and interviews of paranormal investigators and learned about the passion these enthusiasts had for their work. I’ve always loved ghost stories, and I became intrigued with the idea of the story of a paranormal expert and his teenage daughter.

Shawnelle: “I’ve had about six memorable supernatural experiences in my lifetime.”

YE: How would you best explain the relationship that Chelsea has with her father?
Shawnelle: I love the relationship Chelsea has with her dad, Doug. She can tell him almost anything and even though they’ve had a strained past, they haven’t allowed that to shape their relationship. Chelsea’s relationship with both of her parents is progressive. You respect your elders, but elders also respect the young people, and that allows for a teenager to go through these challenging life experiences with some independence, but also unyielding support as she establishes her identity.
Shawneé: Ghost Roast is a father-daughter story. Chelsea loves her dad, but she’s 15 years old and at the age where she’s incredibly embarrassed by his line of work, which is ghost hunting.

YE:  What was the process of making a graphic novel like since it involves illustrations?
Shawneé: A graphic novel takes the combined efforts of writers, artists, editors, art directors, letterers and copy editors. It began with the manuscript from Shawnelle and myself, which we wrote using a comic book script format. The script then goes to Emily, who gorgeously interprets our words into hand-drawn art. Those inks then go to our colorist, Aishwarya, who through conversations with Emily, created the incredible and lush color palette of Ghost Roast.
Emily: From the illustration side of things, I use the script as a map for how to frame scenes and what the focus should be to match the dialogue. Shawnelle and Shawneé did a marvelous job getting me so many photo references including New Orleans history pamphlets which helped me piece together the vision they were looking for in Ghost Roast.

YE: Why did you decide to base the graphic novel in New Orleans?
Shawnelle: Shawneé and I love New Orleans. It’s one of our shared favorite cities in the country. Our own ancestral roots run through New Orleans on both sides of our family.
Shawneé: New Orleans is a unique and ethereal city, with a cultural history unlike most places in the United States. You almost can’t walk down a street without being taken in by its people, architecture, and general vibe. And I haven’t even begun on its incredible cemeteries. We knew if we were going to tell a story about ghosts it would be here. 

YE: What did it mean to you to be able to have a black family represented in Ghost Roast?
Shawnelle: I love this question! I adore how Doug and Vicky have built a relationship and a modern family dynamic based on respect, trust, and not shying away from hard conversations with their daughter while fully supporting her and one another.
Shawneé: Having a loving and not picture-perfect African American family represented was important to us. We didn’t grow up with a traditional nuclear family so through Chelsea and her parents, who are divorced, we wanted to normalize families that may not share the same roof, but whose goal is to create a loving and safe environment for their kids. Also, our grandmother’s generation, who were from the Southern U.S., were big believers in the supernatural, and weren’t shy about recounting ghost stories. In Chelsea’s family, ghosts are a part of the family business. 

YE: What do you hope readers can take away from Ghost Roast?
Shawnelle: I hope readers are inspired by both Chelsea and Oliver’s courageousness. Shawneé: My hope is that readers are encouraged to embrace their unique gifts no matter how weird or even paranormal they may be.

YE: With two sister writers, how do you make sure that there is a balance between work and being sisters?
Shawnelle: I’ve borrowed shoes and deodorant from Shawneé within the last two weeks and I don’t think I would borrow either from any other collaborator.
Shawneé: We try to make time for rest, relaxation and self care. That means making time for curiosity excursions where we discover something just for fun’s sake.

YE: What is your favorite part about having a young adult audience?
Shawnelle: To know that the audience is connecting with a world we created at a time when they’re craving being seen and understood most just makes me so proud.
Shawneé:  I love helping to provide young readers with stories that may inspire them to dare, dream, or even create their own.
Emily: I love young-adult audiences because it’s awkward and it’s embarrassing, but it’s also the time to be the most intense “you” you can possibly be.

YE: Let’s try something fun, please illustrate the graphic novel in 10 emojis!

Shawnelle: 👧🏾🧑🏾💰👯‍♀️🚗👮‍♂️👨🏾‍🦲🏨👻💜

Shawneé: 👩🏾‍🦱🎒 💜✨👣👻👁️✨🐈💕

Emily: 🤔👻🔦😳🏛️🐱🌺🐎🪦💕

Consider this:

  • Use your passions and interests in your own life to your advantage in creating your art. Don’t be afraid to let some of your personality shine.