Throughout 2013, Joshua Williamson proved his horror chops with his Image Comics series “Ghosted,” and now the writer is digging into the tale of Edward Charles Warren — Buckaroo, OR resident and one of the sixteen serial killers the town has spawned since 1969.
Announced at Image Expo, “Nailbiter” begins with the capture of Warren, who loved to bite the nails of his victims — and didn’t always stop there. Although Warren is behind bars, the FBI agent who cracked the case has disappeared, raising the suspicions of close friend and NSA agent, Nicholas Finch. Finch travels to Buckaroo in search of his buddy but begins to uncover the real mystery: how can one tiny town give birth to so much evil? In order to discover the fate of his friend, Finch must explore the dark connections between the killers without ending up their next victim.
Williamson has teamed up once again with “Masks and Mobsters” artist Mike Henderson to create “Nailbiter,” which premiers this May as an ongoing series. The writer snuck into a relatively empty hallway with CBR News during Image Expo to share some of the juicier morsels from his creepy new work, including the story behind the visceral cover he almost didn’t use.
CBR News: You mentioned that the cover we saw today wasn’t your first choice. How did that work out?
Joshua Williamson: Yeah, we had worked out a different cover and were only going to use the bloody one for the Image Expo. But right before I went on stage, Robert Kirkman told me I was crazy if didn’t use the bloody cover as the actual cover. Kirkman said that I should listen to the crowd’s reaction when it went up, that it would convince me.
So I went out there, and the cover was shown and I heard the crowd going nuts over it, and I was like, well, all right. This is the cover. Another friend of mine didn’t like the cover, but he was in the audience when it was shown, and when he heard the eruption from the crowd, he came around. What Kirkman was telling me was that the final cover tells you everything you need to know about the book. Its called “Nailbiter,” the guy is eating his fingers and it’s bloody. The book’s not even that bloody, which is the weird thing. The first issue has a little bit, but each issue after that is going to get darker and darker, kind of the way “Ghosted” did. It’s going to be a slow burn, close in theme to “Twin Peaks.” There is a lot to introduce.
With so much to introduce, what were some of the major challenges in setting up the series?
One of the challenging things Mike Henderson and I have been dealing with is the number of serial killers. Originally, we were going to have like, thirty killers from the town. Then we started talking about it, and another editor told us to make it sixteen. He knew, for whatever reason. Mike and I sat down to try and create sixteen serial killers, and it was way harder than we thought it was going to be. We wanted each of them to be unique, to have a motive, some sort of method to their madness. We wanted them to have some sorts of code among themselves.
Personally, or within the group of sixteen killers?
Within each other. We wanted to make sure there was some sort of hint that they’re connected. The idea that sixteen serial killers are all from one small town is crazy. It was one thing I thought would be impossible. Then, when I started doing research, I found that there were small towns, mostly overseas, where this sort of thing is true and there are a lot of people who become serial killers that are from the same areas. There’s a small town in Russia where they found like thirty-two serial killers and arrested them in a short amount of time. There was an interview with a cop involved and asked him what was going on and how there were so many killers. His response was, “It’s no different than anywhere else, and it’s just that we’re really good at catching serial killers.” Then they asked a rabbi what he thought was going on and he said, “Why God has chosen this town is not for us to know.”
The amount of research I’ve done on serial killers is so creepy because it’s all so brutal and horrible. Doing a book like this can be challenging on one’s sanity. â€¨â€¨Are there any female killers in your story?â€¨â€¨Hell, yeah! For a really long time people said women were never serial killers, but we’re going to show how brutal female serial killers can be.
Tell me more about Nicholas Finch.
Finch is an NSA Agent with a bit of a temper who will act as our eyes into this crazy murderous world.
The reason he comes to Buckaroo, Oregon is because a friend of his, this FBI Profiler that arrested the Nailbiter, was obsessed with finding out more about the town. He goes to Buckaroo to investigate and goes missing. That’s why Finch comes to find him. Finch doesn’t really care about the serial killers; he thinks its fucked up, but he’s more concerned with his missing friend. He starts realizing that to find his friend, he needs to solve the mystery of why so many serial killers come out of this town. He realizes that his friend figured it out, and he has to do the same to find him.
In doing your research, which were some of the more memorable killers that influenced Warren, the Nailbiter?
Probably Dahmer. Dahmer, Bundy, The Zodiac Killer. There are so many. Jack the Ripper is very interesting, too. With Warren, the Nailbiter, he’s fictional but there are a few people there — Norman Bates, Ted Bundy, sometimes Dexter. I don’t talk about that a lot, but there’s a certain element about Dexter that bothered me. The idea that he never got caught drives me crazy. I think one of the reasons “Breaking Bad” works is because the writers weren’t afraid to do what scared them. There are moments where writers in general are afraid of doing something that would totally change the story, and I feel like you should do that. I think about cost and consequences a lot. With “Nailbiter,” it opens with Warren getting arrested and then it’s the idea of what happens next. The kind of life you lead once you are arrested as a serial killer is different. Can you imagine?
Years ago, my Grandma saw OJ Simpson at a restaurant. She straight out walked up to him and spit in his face. Security had to haul her out. She said, “You’re a murderer and we all know it.” That was part of the thing with Warren, living that way.
Is the story primarily focused on Finch finding his friend, or will you be introducing other characters in side stories? â€¨â€¨Finch and his mission at first but then it will bleed out in to the people who live in the town and how it has affected their lives. One that we’re eventually going to do in the ongoing series is about the school bus driver. Every day for thirty years, he’s been dropping these kids off at kindergarten. He’s seen sixteen of those kids grow up to become serial killers. He’s starting to freak out, seeing them every day, thinking that one of them could grow up to be the next serial killer.
In issue #6, there’s a pregnant woman who comes to Buckaroo hoping to give birth there in hopes that her child will grow up to be a serial killer, because then she’ll be famous.
There are a lot of nature versus nurture elements, and we explore how where you’re from dictates who you are.
Mike Henderson and I are really excited about this book. We’ve been putting a lot of work into doing different comic book tricks to really play with the horror themes that we’re going for. Hopefully we scare a few people.