Nailbiter from Image Comics has been one of the most talked about new books of the year. From the moment the first issue was released in May, the book has been critically praised (you can read Comicosity’s reviews here and here), and the first two issues have gone back to press for a second printing. With a great premise, enthralling central mystery, colorful characters, and beautiful art, the creative team of writer Joshua Williamson and artist Mike Henderson have been firing on all cylinders. On the eve of Nailbiter #3 we here at Comicosity are proud to introduce our first installment of “Chewing Nails With Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson.” This monthly column will give readers an inside look at the previous issue, or in this case issues, of Nailbiter through the eyes of the creators, and look ahead to what readers can expect in the upcoming issue.
As imagined, this interview will contain spoilers for the first two issues of Nailbiter.
John Ernenputsch: First off I wanted to thank you guys for taking the time to join us today. I feel that Nailbiter is perfect for the monthly interview format where we can discuss on the series’ ongoing mystery, character development, and shocking twists and turns. “Chewing Nails” should be a lot of fun, and I’m excited to see where Nailbiter, and by extension this column, go next.
Given that this is our first discussion I wanted to start by going back to the beginning, and getting some background on the genesis of the book.
Josh, you and Mike had worked together before on Masks & Mobsters at Monkeybrain, so did the idea of Nailbiter evolve out of discussions you two had, or had the concept been swimming around your head for awhile?
Joshua Williamson: Nailbiter had been in my head for a few years. Dating back to a short story I tried to get into Dark Horse’s Creepy publication. Thankfully, it didn’t make it in there as it wasn’t at all what we have now. In fact, Nailbiter went through a few publishers fingers before Mike became involved. Which I’m super thankful for because it wouldn’t be what it is now if it had. The ideas kept changing and evolving over time. Once Mike became involved it really started to take shape.
JE: Mike, as an extension of what I asked Josh, what was your first memory of what would become Nailbiter?
Mike Henderson: I knew the idea was floating in Josh’s head. It had come up a few times while we were working on Masks and Mobsters (and other things individually), so I knew it was something he wanted to get out. But my first memory is an image of small town Oregon, crawling with a cast of maniacs. Suited me just fine!
JE: The Serial Killer subgenre of horror has been around a long time, and never seems to go out of style. Which serial killers, and stories have served as the biggest inspiration for Nailbiter for each of you guys?
JW: For me Psycho, The Shining, Zodiac, Halloween, and Silence of the Lambs are the biggest influences. A lot of films, and directors, honestly. Twin Peaks and Se7en are mentioned a lot with Nailbiter as well.
There is no one real life serial killer that influenced my work on it. I looked at them all. Lots and lots of crazy depressing and creepy reading. And I don’t want to give any one more credit than the rest.
MH: Obviously the Hannibal Lecter character looms large over any serial killer story, but we didn’t use any real life killers as inspiration because their motivations are so different than the cast of characters we’re working with.
JE: And how did each of you approach Nailbiter to ensure it stood out from all of the past serial killer horror stories?
JW: By making it more about the impact the serial killers had on the people around them. Making it less a basic “hunting killer, saving victim, story.” But also not going with the more recent and popular “Killer’s perspective” like Dexter.
A lot of serial killer books focus on the idea that the killer’s identity is a secret… well, in Nailbiter… the secret is out. We all know Warren is a killer. And he’s free. Now how do we react to that?
MH: I’ll let Josh explain the how’s and why’s (which were thoroughly discussed and agreed on) of why we didn’t make these serial killers “real” in the sense that they behave like they would in our world. But from the art perspective, I wanted more psychological thrill and mystery punctuated by horrible, horrible (but quick) gore, rather than the reverse.
Now lets move on and talk about the first two issues.
JE: What do you feel this book is about, and who do you feel is the main character? Let me expand on that a bit. One of the things I find so fascinating about the first two issues is that there is so much going on with so many characters and concepts introduced. You have Carroll, his disappearance, how it connects to the secret of the Buckaroo Butchers, and the suicidal Nicholas Finch’s search for his friend. Yet the book is named after only one of the famous serial killers. Knowing what us readers know at this point, how do you HOPE readers would answer the above questions?
JW: It’s an ensemble cast for a reason. Finch is out starting main character but eventually the book bleeds out into Sheriff Crane, Alice and Warren himself. They each have perspectives on the mystery that we will explore.
And also the town of Buckaroo is a major character.
Like I sort of said before the book is about what happens to people after the killer is caught. What happens to the people who knew the killers. Their families and friends?
MH: I consider it an ensemble, really. Clearly Finch and Crane are our heroes, but Warren is the engine that drives the story and it somehow feels like it will always come down to him. In a way, I’d love it if every reader answered this differently.
JE: The first issue starts out with a bang visually with the eponymous Nailbiter, Edward Warren in all his finger eating glory. It is an effectively gory double splash page. Josh, It really felt like that page set the tone for not only the issue but the entire series. How important was that fast start for what you are trying to accomplish early on?
JW: Because the book was going to be a bit of a slow burn at times we needed to start with horror. Opening on the Nailbiter getting arrested actually came a bit later in the planning stage on my end. I hadn’t started scripting yet, but I saw it all in my head. It’s a horror book… we better show some horror. And once I started scripting I knew it was the right call. That opening… the “thump thump” was influenced by the fact that we couldn’t use sound in the comic. Not in the way that sound is used to build tension in comics. I look at Psycho. From the moment the movie opens the sharp score was already building tension in the viewer. The “thump thump” and the Opening of the Nailbiter’s gruesome lair was our attempt to build the tension right of the bat and then to segue into the calmer… but equally as tense shot of Finch about to kill himself. It was very calculated on our part.
JE: Mike, outside of the cover this was our first look at the book’s title character. How much pressure did you feel to nail that page, and can you walk us through your thought process while designing Edward Warren?
MH: That was a big page, yeah! There’s always pressure to hit those reveals and first appearances, but the scenario made it easy to get a big punch out of it. Warren had to give you the creeps (and sometimes the downright shivers) but above all I wanted him to be charming. There’s no fun in a bad guy you can’t stand to listen to, is there?
JE: Josh, there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to both Alice, and Officer Crane as strong female characters. As I was discussing the first two issues with Comicosity’s own Jessica Boyd she brought up the fact that Alice’s introduction in particular was a stereotypical female introduction that ended atypically. Is finding that balance for female characters something you actively think about when writing these characters? And after not seeing much of her in issue 2, can we expect more Alice moving forward?
JW: Alice was in issue two. Briefly. But yes, for sure. She’s a very important piece of the story. Right now we needed to set up the mystery, but over time she’ll play a bigger role. Much bigger. And I don’t think people will expect it.
And yes, how we portray the women in Nailbiter is on my mind all the time Every scene with Crane I think about it. I wanted to make sure that they weren’t just window dressing, or typical “final girl” mold. They needed to be better than that. You’ll see in issue three how Crane is getting more screen time how we are doing this.
JE: Let’s talk about the Buckaroo Butchers for a moment. The book may be named after Edward Warren, but the first issue gave us a glimpse at The Book Burner, and issue two featured several glimpses several more of Buckaroo’s’ finest serial killers. I’m already pining for a Terrible Two spin-off.
JW: We have plans for them all. Over time we’ll show all the killers and they all have parts to play.
I also love the Terrible Two. People also love the Blonde.
JE: Josh, did you come into the story with all 16 of the Buckaroo Butchers thought up, and can we expect to see all 16 (and counting?) of them make an appearance throughout the series?
JW: At first I had about 8 nailed down. As we started to work, Mike and I figured out the rest. Only one has changed since we started publishing. But yeah, like I said. We’ll see them all. It’ll be interesting to see what people think as they are introduced.
JE: Mike, outside of Warren, what was your favorite Butcher to design?
MH: So far, it is the Book Burner, hands down. He screams backwoods murderer. Also, I get to draw lots and lots of fire whenever he’s around!
JE: One scene that stood out in issue 2 was the POV murder scene. We discussed inspirations and influences in general above, but I was wondering about that scene specifically. It felt very Hitchcock influenced to me. Is that safe to say? Can both of you talk about that scene a bit?
JW: It is Hitchcock influenced. The scene in Psycho where Mother kills Arbogast. BUT it’s really heavily influenced by the amazing single tracking shot that John Carpenter did in Halloween. That’s where I got the idea. But then Mike took it and turned it into our own.
It’s one of our favorites.
I expect we’ll see a lot of copycats later this year and beyond of that scene.
MH: Very much some Hitchcock in there and, I think it’s safe to say, probably both our favorite sequence so far in the series. That being said, I’m glad no one was around when I acted it out in my studio to get the shots down.
JE: Josh can you give readers a look at what lies ahead for our characters?
JW: It’s like the first trade is called… “There will be Blood.”
Actually… just lots of mystery. For each question that is answer a new one pops up. It’s never going to be easy for them. Each character is dealing with this world… the possibility that THEY could be a killer. So we are going to show them dealing with that.
And some big questions will probably get answered much faster than people expect.
JE: Mike, to wrap things up here, can you tease your favorite page from this week’s issue?
MH: it’s a page chockablock full of new faces. Obviously I can’t say any more than that!
Both Nailbiter #3 and the second printing of issue two will be released this Wednesday, July 2nd. After reading the new issue, if you have questions that you want to see Josh & Mike answer in future installments of Chewing Nails send a tweet to @Comicosity or my personal account @jpooch21 using the hashtag #ChewingNails