Talking with Joshua Williamson And Mike Henderson About Serial Killer Series ‘Nailbiter Returns’

by Olly MacNamee

Olly MacNamee: I suppose the easiest question to get the ball rolling with Nailbiter: The Return coming out from image Comics is: why now? I’m assuming there was a bloody itch still there that needed scratching? 
Mike Henderson: It was less of an itch and more of a scab that readers of the first series kept asking us to pick at! But as exhausting as the original run on the series was I think Josh and I always knew we’d come back to it. Wrapping up my stint at Marvel seemed like the perfect time to go back to Buckaroo.
Joshua Williamson: I missed the Nailbiter world. The horror. The way we’d tell the story. We had more stories with these characters and once we both had the time to really dig in, we got to work. Thankfully we’ve had a few years to talk about the new crazy ideas so it was easy to return to it.
OM: Nailbiter Returns #1 seems to strongly suggest a continuation directly from where the ongoing series finished off, but that can’t be the case given the revelation in this debut issue, can it? 
JW: That’s part of building the mystery within the new series. We go back to that #30 issue a few times. We wanted to make sure a new reader could jump on here but you for sure get more out of it if you read the first 30 issues. So yeah, it does continue.

OM: It’s a very cinematically realised book, with great shocking page-turning horrific moments revealed in glorious gory detail a number of times in the book. Given your longstanding relationship in and out of comics, how much direction is given by you, Joshua, and how much are you allowed to frame the various shots, Mike?
MH: After so long, we work in such comfortable shorthand that it’s hard to tell who’s shot choices are whose in retrospect. But on the whole I’d say we’re pretty evenly split on whose idea the finished shot ends up having been. My typical rule of thumb though is that however gruesome an image Josh calls for, I have to ratchet it up enough to get a reaction out of him when it hits his inbox. “EW” is how I know I got it right.
JW: Yeah, Mike and I know each other really well. I give less direction now than I did at the start of the first series. Mike knows what I’m going for and then amps it up.
OM: Do you approach scripting in a different way when working with someone you know so well and because it’s a creator owned book? It’s certainly very different from your work on The Flash isn’t it, Joshua?
JW: Yeah, Mike and I just know each other and I can write a looser script. He doesn’t just know the script in front of him, he knows the ins and outs of the cast and story as he developed it all with me. Now with FlashThe Flash is a very particular type of book. It has its own ticks and beats you have to hit, so yeah it’s its own beast. I write them very differently from each other. Flash has to move at a certain pace to give that feel of speed that the character brings, while with most of my creator owned and Nailbiter I try to let it breathe a bit more. Move at a slower pace. But, that being said, I’ve been lucky to work with artist who know and love the Flash mythology just as much as I do.

OM: Mike, you’re no stranger to horror comics, so how do you keep from going stale, like day old congealed blood? 
MH: I think if we’d simply continued the original series instead of wrapping it up where we did, it might easily have gone stale. But as bloody as Dead Man Logan had a tendency to get, after two years of capes and tights, I’d recharged and am ready to go. I try not to read too much in the genre of whatever I’m working on at the moment, but while I was at Marvel I read a whole lot of Junji Ito.
OM: There’s a new kiiler in town, but the opening suggests he or she has been around for quite some time? And, like the previous over-the-top murderers, he or she has their own M.O. heavily suggested on the front cover, and in the preview pages put out by Image Comics. Where do you keep on coming up with fresh inspiration like this? 
JW: It’s my own fears or things that worry me. One night I was helping one of my young kids with the bath and I was worried they’d get soap in their eyes. Which I think we’ve all experienced. How it’s a special kind of pain. And that made me think about eye horror a bit. We already knew the new villain was going to have long gross nails, but to tie that into the eye horror…it all came together. And I wanted to play around with some different ideas in this volume. And a lot of that involved our eyes.

Cover to Nailbiter Returns #2

OM: But, this new eye-catching (see what I did there?) serial killer isn’t the only threat, it would seem, as FBI agent Nick Finch is called in to looking into a very mysterious murder case. What, if anything, can you tell us about these copycat murders, and the murder victim who seems, impossibly, to be one of the infamous Buckaroo Butchers?
JW: The most I can say there without giving away too much is…victim? A lot of that starts to come together in issue 2.
OM: You’ve suggested in previous interviews that we may get to see more of the Gauntlet. Is that still the case with the plans for this new series?
JW: Yes. and we might get to see an even bigger version of it.
OM: From the original ongoing we learnt about a device that can test whether a person is genetically inclined to be a killer. Yet our eponymous anti-hero, Edward Warren, chose to become a serial killer. You’ve always shied away from admitting to a supernatural element at work on this book, but I’ve got to at least try and ask now? Is there something more wicked this way coming that simply a biological predisposition to do evil by so many from such a small town?  
JW: MAYBE? I think we’ll continue to walk that line for a while. In terms of big plans down the line…? we might get really close to falling over that edge, but I like to keep it a mystery. Even the characters within the series are not done asking questions, y’know? There are some who still believe there has to be a supernatural angle to all of this.  And we will eventually explore that.
Cover to Nailbiter Returns #3

OM: As seasoned horror fans, what recent films, books for comics have you been most impressed with? I must admit, I’m liking the look of HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
MH: Visually speaking, I gravitate towards recent movies like The Witch, The Lighthouse and Midsommar. The latest season of True Detective was also beautifully shot and acted, a series that I think both Josh and I would admit lends some of it’s DNA to Nailbiter.
JW: Yeah, Get Out and US for sure influenced me a bit. I’m a tad bit behind on my horror films, to be honest. I liked Channel Zero a bunch. Haunting of Hill House, Stranger Things, The Outsider. I read the Lovecraft Country book and I’m also really interested in how they do the TV show on HBO.
OM: One last one. That I’m dying to ask. The Nailbiter—what does it taste like? I’m a big fan of pickles, but having the juice as an ingredient in a cocktail sounds, well, horrific. Is it?
JW: It tastes like your nightmares.
Nailbiter Returns #1 will be out on June 3rd from Image Comics. Go ask your LCBS to add it to your pull list now and help them out. mAybe ask them about the original seers too, with all 30 issue available in trade paperbacks.

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