Joshua Williamson And Mike Henderson On The Secrets And Serial Killers Of ‘Nailbiter’ [Interview]
Sixteen of America's most notorious serial killers all came from the small town of Buckaroo, Oregon, and a conspiracy suggests there's a link between them. The most recent "Buckaroo Butcher" was Edward Charles Warren, nicknamed "Nailbiter" for his penchant for chewing his victims' fingers down to the bone --- but after being found not guilty, he resides peacefully in Buckaroo, until an investigation into the conspiracy begins, and a new Butcher makes their presence known.
That's the pitch for Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson's Nailbiter from Image Comics, which along with books like Wytches and Harrow Country, is spearheading a revival for horror comics on the whole. The series returns this week for a new arc beginning in Nailbiter #21 and we caught up with the creative team to discuss the mental toll of living with a town of serial killers in your head, and the evolution of their collaborative process.
ComicsAlliance: Right out of the gate, I’ve got to ask, how messed up is your Google Search History after three years working on Nailbiter?
Joshua Williamson: It’s pretty bad. I was doing a lot more research in the year leading up to Nailbiter #1 coming out. If the FBI was going to bust me, they would have busted me by now.
I imagine it’s like the Joker’s plan in the 1989 Batman movie… it’s not one thing, but a combination of things. That’s what the FBI looks for.
But I honestly don’t think it’s as bad as some of the actual books I have in my house. I have two books on crime scenes that are often left out around the house. I had a buddy over one day who just picked one up and started to flip through it and got a huge shock when he turned to some pretty graphic and grisly serial killer murder scenes.
Mike Henderson: I wonder which of ours is worse, actually. But more often than not it’s the stuff you find accidentally that’s the most horrific.
CA: The subject matter of Nailbiter is often very heavy stuff. Does the work ever follow you home, so to speak? Do you have to watch thirty minutes of cat videos for every one issue of Nailbiter?
JW: No, I’d say it’s much more of a release. Lets me get out all my own dark thoughts…
Just kidding. Sort of. I’ve been working on this book for so long now… When I first started I think I needed to take a walk after I wrote some issues, but not so much anymore.
MH: Mostly, no. There have been a couple of times where I found myself a bit affected by what I’ve drawn but I generally chuckle to myself the more horrible it is.
CA: How tightly plotted do you have to be for a big mystery book like Nailbiter? Is there wiggle-room as you go, or do you know exactly where the book is going all of the way?
JW: All the big beats have been planned but we have made a few changes as we went. Mostly because of room and pacing. Originally the stuff with Barker wasn’t as big as it turned into. And issues #21-25 all take place in one night. Pretty much. That wasn’t planned.
CA: How has your collaboration evolved over the past few years working together? Is there a level of free reign in the scripts where Mike can just go nuts?
JW: You might have to ask Mike that one, hahaha. We’re pretty much on the same page. He knows how I am, and I know what he likes. So usually he reads the script, does some rough notes, and then we’re off to the races. I haven’t seen penciled pages in years. There are some pages I barely see before they are colored.
MH: I’d say I have more free reign now, but that mainly stems from knowing what Josh is aiming for when he wrote the script. Knowing those parameters makes it pretty easy for me to do what I want and know we’re not going to have to fight about it.
CA: I’m fascinated by the designs and the stories behind the past Buckaroo Butchers. How closely did you guys work together to create the history and look of each unique serial killer?
JW: Just like with the pages, we usually don’t do a lot of back and forth.
MH: The designs for the killers are pretty fluid, like Josh said. I enjoy character design a lot, but I often have trouble completely designing a character beforehand, without knowing how he or she is going to move and act or what their body language is going to be like.
CA: Follow-up question, will we see more of Nailbiter’s breakout star, The Lucha Eliminador?
JW: Maybe? Maybe a short snippet, but he won’t have a big spotlight. Mostly because of time and room, and how big the story gets. We have a lot happening in the next year and I want to make sure that all the main characters have some room to shine.
CA: Do you each have a personal favorite Buckaroo Butcher?
JW: Aside from Warren… probably the Blonde.
MH: Warren, certainly. Josh stole my backup answer.
CA: The previous arc saw some major developments on multiple fronts with the reveal of Alice’s parentage and what happened after Carroll woke up. What’s going through our lead characters’ heads as we enter the next chapter of the story?
JW: They are in a panic. Finch is angry. Crane is worried. Barker is crazy. Warren is starting to let the real him show. And Alice… is a confused teen who is going to be forced to confront her own dark thoughts.
MH: Almost everyone is in desperation mode and no one has enough pieces of the puzzle to make heads or tails of it.
CA: Finally, just between us, what’s the connection between all the serial killers guys?!
JW: Is there a connection?
MH: What serial killers?
Nailbiter #21 is out this week and is available digitally and in comic book stores. Check out a preview below: