Comics Korner: Joshua Williamson On Nailbiter

By travis - October 24, 2014

Joshua Williamson on NailbiterJoshua Williamson sheds some light on the process behind his series Nailbiter, as well as what can be expected next in this tale of serial killers from the beaver state.

During the New York Comic Con a couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with writer Joshua Williamson and talk about his on-going series Nailbiter, which he co-created with artist Mike Henderson. The series is released through Image Comics. Williamson is best known for books like Image Comic’s Ghosted or their newest series Birthright or Dark Horse Comic’s series Captain Midnight, but it’s the story of Edward Charles Nailbiter Warren that interests me most. Williamson took the time to talk inspiration for serial killers, point out some clues in the previous issues, and give us a look at where this series about a town of serial killers is heading.

I started by asking Williamson where the inspiration for Nailbiter came from, to which he cites some prominent titles including Twin Peaks, Halloween, Psycho, and The Shining. However, Williamson surprised me by noting that his greatest influence wasn’t the movies themselves, but the documentaries about actors playing these types of roles. For example, he said that Warren stems from Anthony Hopkins talking about playing Hannibal and Jack Nicholson not only talking about playing Jack Torrance but also the Joker. He found the actor’s process of getting into these roles very fascinating, especially what it did to their psyche and how it influenced their interactions with the people around them.

Nailbiter6AliceOther inspiration came from research into real life serial killers, which Williamson points out was super depressing, as well as real life examples from his own life. I was surprised after asking about if he knew any serial killers when he responded that growing up, his soccer coach turned out to be one. He didn’t learn about it until much later in life, but the closeness to the situation could have made an impact. He also referenced a real life experience of one of his coworkers who broke up with her boyfriend after finding out his uncle was a serial killer. The boyfriend had nothing to do with it, but she couldn’t be that close to anything that evil. Williamson further questions these types of dynamics by considering not only what happens to the family of the victim, but the family of the killer. He posed the question what if you woke up tomorrow to find out your best friend was a serial killer? Would you still accept their friendship, or would you toil for hours thinking back to all the signs that should have warned you? Now considering these types of thoughts when reading Nailbiter, I can’t help but look for the signs from a character like Alice.

Williamson used his American northwest home state as the haven for his serial killing crew. He talked about how he would ride his bike down long stretches of roads to find houses from horror films. You know the ones, they’re set back from the road, look run down and decrepit. Maybe no one has stepped inside in years. The kind of place that makes you think, yea, someone was murdered there. It just goes to show how much thought and consideration Williamson puts into his series. I would expect nothing less from a guy that has been planning the perfect murder since he was 13. Even the character names all have some significance. I suspected the connection was birds, but Williamson corrected me, and shed some light on the mystery. Such as Finch being named after Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird or Crane being named after Marion Crane from Psycho. Those two are a little easier to decipher, but what about the title character Edward Charles Nailbiter Warren? For that reference, you’d have to look at the publishers of horror mainstays like Tales from the Crypt and Eerie. Take a good look at the cast, and I’m sure you can build the connections to all the great pieces of work Williamson pays tribute to if you think about it enough.

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After talking a bit about how Williamson transitioned from graphic design to writing during college due to his love of comics and lack of motivated friends, we talked a bit on how he controls a lot of the production of his books. I find the fact that he’s worked an array of roles and duties in the industry very admirable, and only helps to increase my affinity for this creator. You have to respect a guy that loves his craft so much that he takes the time to learn every step of the process for taking a comic from concept to print. I also liked how he doesn’t just write scripts, he visualizes the book in his hands during the creative process. Seeing every page turn and planning ever break. He said that sometimes he writes dialogue first, but typically it’s straight to the action. It also helps that he studied under a master like Brian Michael Bendis. Which sheds some light on the Powers #7 tribute that’s coming out in the next issue of Nailbiter.

Before we got there, we talked about the latest issue, that just came out at the beginning of the month. I enjoyed the issue, but felt that deviating from the main storyline to build characters felt out of place or too soon. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much of a pivotal role this issue plays later in the series. Williamson didn’t talk specifics, but he teased that once the series reaches issue 15 or 16, we’ll be able to go back to issue 6 and see things hidden in plain sight. Due to the end of Nailbiter #6,  I asked him straight up if Alice is a serial killer, to which he laughed, then posed the question right back to me. It’s clear Alice plays a major part in this series. Williamson wasn’t shy in sharing that although she might not be prominent in every issue, she is always up to something, toiling in the background. Some other stuff he teased in the coming issues includes the introduction of Hank’s dad, the town preacher, a focus issue on Finch and Warren, as well as a promise that Nailbiter #9 is pretty messed up and dark. So dark that when Williamson shared the plotline with his girlfriend, she assured him he was going to give his fans nightmares.

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Before any of that can happen, we’ll first get Nailbiter #7, which has Williamson’s mentor Brian Michael Bendis coming to Buckaroo for research on serial killers. Just like Bendis writing Warren Ellis into Powers, Williamson has Bendis interacting with the people of Buckaroo, and even has a scene of Bendis being accused of being a serial killer by Nailbiter himself in the middle of a playground. Williamson described the issue as nutty, and as his letter in the back of Nailbiter #6 said, assured me that although it’s kind of a special issue, there’s still some insight to be learned during Bendis’ time in Buckaroo.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short conversation with Joshua Williamson. He has put a lot of time, thought and energy into his Nailbiter series, and it was great hearing about his thought process. I will admit that I’ve already gone back and re-read Nailbiter #6 to try and find what he’s hiding. I have some theories, but I’d love to hear about your’s in the comments section. Nailbiter #7 is due out on November 5th, and you’d be crazy not to want to read about Bendis in Buckaroo. Oh, and if you think you’ve missed the boat on this series, fear not. Image released the first arc as a trade titled Nailbiter: There Will Be Blood at the beginning of the month.


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