Nailbiter: Your Friendly Neighborhood Butcher [Interview]

IMAGE COMICS: Okay. October started a new arc for NAILBITER, and we're close to the end of it. Let's start with a mental status quo check-in for this story. What states of mind are Finch, Crane, and Barker, our troubled FBI agent, in when the Devil Killer case begins?

MIKE HENDERSON: I think as we dive into the Devil Killer case, both Finch and Crane feel like things have spun a bit out of their control. Finch because he's so far away but still preoccupied by everything that's happened and Crane because she's suddenly left without the one person who was actually helping her, no matter how much of a pain in the ass he was. Barker, on the other hand, is slowly coming undone. Something I feel a little too closely at times when drawing her slow, definite unraveling.

JOSHUA WILLIAMSON: Barker is a mess. She doesn't remember what happened to her in issue 11, and is hiding the fact that she knows something is wrong. She can tell she is starting to snap and doesn't want anyone else to know.

Crane knows the jig is up. Her one big secret is out there. The whole town knows. But she wants to find a way to solve the mystery on her's a distraction from her daughter Alice being in a coma.

Finch is lost again. Still angry about what happened in the first 15 issues. He has no reason to be in Buckaroo now that Carroll is awake...he wants nothing to do with that cursed town. But the mystery is still scratching away at the back of his head.

By the end of issue 20 we'll see which character is the one who sells their soul to the devil.

IC: Mike, the covers for this arc have been striking, thanks in no small part to the unifying theme of devils. Can you talk me through designing these covers? NAILBITER #19 is particularly cool to me, the way it hints at performance/theater, the question of Warren's innocence, and even more besides.

MH: We have a very throw-your-idea-in-the-hat type process for cover ideas to the extent that I don't always remember whose ideas were whose, but Josh had most of this arc's covers in mind before we started, so most of the devil covers only took one quick pass and we were off. The first was the easiest concept and most fun to draw, but selling the map needed Adam's touch. Even though #19 was the one I struggled with the most, it turned out to be my favorite. I'm a bit of a Shakespeare nut and the idea of Warren in the Puck role was too juicy. Playing with the readers' perceptions of Warren and his motivations are one of the best parts of drawing this book.

JW: What Mike said. We knew from the very beginning that this arc would have a devil theme, so it was always sort of in the back of our heads. With the #19 cover...I think Warren thinks of himself as a one-man show and the world is his stage, so this cover totally made sense.

IC: Joshua, what's your favorite thing Mike's pulled off in his art? The one thing that when you get the jpegs in your email that made you go "Sheesh" the most?

JW: Issue 11 as a whole I think is my favorite issue. There was a moment with a needle from #6 that he drew next to me while we were figuring out that issue on an airplane. Gave both us the willies. OH, and the last page of issue 13 was pretty gross. I actually texted that idea to Mike when I had it and we both knew it was going to be a sick one.

IC: NAILBITER has a more vibrant palette than the subject matter would initially suggest. What does Adam Guzowski bring to the table for you guys? What's he do that you really love?

MH: It is bright and vibrant! It was never actually planned that way, though. I think Josh and I both envisioned something darker and moodier, but as it unfolded it seemed to fit the unsettling nature of Buckaroo. I think Adam's best quality is the way he sells our big "Holy shit!" moments. They feel a bit surreal and yet totally grounded in the gory details of the Buckaroo world. We may have specific directions we send him on other parts of the book, but we seem to never need to in these major moments. He just nails it every time.

JW: Adam brings it all home. He really helps us nail down the tone that we wanted.

And just you wait until the Christmas issue we have planned.

IC: You run a lot of polls in Nailclippings, the NAILBITER letter column. Tell me what you get out of that, and why letter columns are important enough to do in this age of Twitter and forums.

JW: I started to do it because it was something I loved as a kid, but eventually it has turned into something else. We get a lot of repeat write-ins, and our readers seem to enjoy the letters that people write in. We actually only did ONE poll, but got so many answers we will probably be running them for at least another year.

IC: The characters in NAILBITER have quirks without being quirky—I'm thinking of Morty the Mortician here and his insistence that he grew up perfectly normal. It's funny, but not, too. What kind of effect have the serial killers had on the culture and atmosphere of Buckaroo? Gallows humor abounds, but real pain seems to, as well.

MH: The quirks of the characters are what make them fun to draw (and, I assume to write and, hopefully, read). And with the exception of Crane and Alice, I think Morty's perspective of his own upbringing is probably the status quo for a lot of Buckaroo's residents. Most of them have been affected by the killings but sort of feel that it is separate from them. Often times I find the pain that most of these characters are in because of what's happened in Buckaroo is the part I have to work the least on. It's just so plain in almost every line of dialogue. The gallows humor especially.

JW: In issue 7, we had Brian Michael Bendis talk to a guy whose brother was one of the killers...I think that conversation really captured what we were going for, how the people of the town feel about their own lives. There is a bit of black humor there. I think they are at a point where they have to laugh about it. To them...this is the normal. We explore a lot of how that has effect people who grew up there in issues 21-25.

IC: Let's go out on a gimme, but with a twist. Everyone has favorites, so I want to know yours. The twist is, you get to tell me your favorite character to write or draw and what appeals about them, but also a character that surprised you the most when they began to grow on you over the course of the series.

MH: I make no secret of the fact that Warren is by far my favorite character to draw. Every deception, truth, and half truth that comes out of his mouth has something great behind it that Josh has written and only I get to know (at least for now) and channel into my art. I didn't feel a strong connection to Crane at the very beginning but she quickly turned out to be the mover and shaker for me on Team Buckaroo. Finch may be the fire starter, but nothing happens without Crane's say-so.

JW: I have to say Warren as well. He is absolutely the best. The most fun to write for sure.

And the surprise to me was Barker and the horror stuff with her...honestly wasn't planned. But was something that came about as I was writing 11 that became a HUGE part of the book. I'm sure you can see why.

NAILBITER is available in three collected editions (Volume 1: THERE WILL BE BLOOD, Volume 2: BLOODY HANDS, and Volume 3: BLOOD IN THE WATER) and ongoing single issues. NAILBITER #19 is on sale now. NAILBITER #20 arrives 2/3.