When you’re planning a big reveal at the largest pop culture event in the United States, you need to make sure it’s something that can stand out from the crowd. Over the course of the four-and-a-half day event, comic publishers, video game developers and Hollywood studios are all vying for the spotlight, each promising a bigger piece of news than the one before, so it’s easy to get lost in all the hubbub. And if you don’t have the budget to compete with the spectacle provided by movie studios and toy manufacturers, well, then, you might just have to make sure your news is pretty damn unique.
Luckily for “Nailbiter” co-creators Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson, they just so happened to have a quirky little bit of news in their back pocket, perfect for the mid-summer convention. In one of the more off-beat announcements at this summer’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, Williamson announced that superstar comics writer Brian Michael Bendis will be making a guest appearance in the seventh issue of the series. But Bendis isn’t writing or even co-writing the issue — he’s a character in the story, a comic writer who finds himself doing research for a story in the town of Buckaroo, which is famous for having birthed 16 different serial killers.
CBR News caught up with Williamson at the show to discuss this unique story beat, where the Image Comics series is headed ahead of Bendis’ guest-starring role and how Warren Ellis inspired the whole thing.
CBR News: Even though you guys are just three issues into the series, so much has happened and the story is moving along really well. Where are things at heading into the rest of the arc?
Joshua Williamson: Yeah, we try to put a lot of stuff in there. I was talking to somebody when it first came out and I was saying that I didn’t think very much happened in the first few issues and they said, “What? A ton of stuff happens!” I guess they’re right.
We left off issue #3 with a secret — the discovery of a serial killer graveyard where all of the fifteen that have died are buried. The town doesn’t really talk about it, it’s kept pretty quiet, but it’s there. It’s a nondescript, very plain graveyard but I think adds to the creepy factor. So the team of Finch and Crane are going there to search for the Book Burner, who may or may not be dead. If they don’t find his body, then what’s in his grave? Most of issue #4 takes place in the graveyard. A lot of crazy stuff happens, and I think the last page of the issue is going to be really surprising. We’re also finding out more about Warren and what life is like for him.
What has the fan response to Warren been like?
For me, what’s funny is that Warren is this horrible human being. I don’t make him to be sympathetic, but people tell me that they feel badly for him. He’s a serial killer! He’s a horrible human being. You’re not supposed to feel bad for him! I understand finding him charming, that’s what he’s supposed to be because he’s a sociopath, but don’t feel bad for him.
I think that means you’re doing a good job. There are those sociopathic people you feel badly for, want to be heroic, want a redeeming quality, like Dexter or Hannibal Lecter.
â€¨With Hannibal Lecter, I always want them to find a way to outsmart him. With Warren — he’s a little different. He is what he is and he knows what he is. You know how real crazy people don’t think they’re crazy? Warren is fully aware of it. He knows how people around him react to him, so he does the creepiness on purpose. You wonder about how much of it is an act, how much isn’t.
I read and watch these interviews with Jack Nicholson on playing the Joker, and there’s a great one where he talks about how it’s tougher playing the Joker than other characters. With the Joker, it’s all about the randomness of that guy’s mind and how it’s difficult, because when you’re an actor, you try to follow a certain path to keep in character. When Jack was playing the Joker, when he felt the deviation, he followed it. That’s what I do with Warren. The randomness of things he says is intentional, and following that crazy path of wherever he leads me as a writer.
I understand there are some exciting things happening in Issue #7?â€¨â€¨
It’s guest-starring Brian Michael Bendis!
How did that happen? Did you have a relationship with him previously?
I asked him. Which was nerve-wracking, because it’s such an odd request.
I was one of his original students, from his first year teaching at Portland State University. He knew me from “Dear Dracula” and Jim Valentino talking about me, so he was very nice to me. I lived nearby him at one point — I would see him on the street, and he was always very cool and supportive. I had this idea for a long time, although I was thinking of a different creator, but then I realized, if I really wanted to do an issue about a comic book writer traveling to Buckaroo, Oregon to research serial killers — it had to be Brian.
It was really inspired from “Powers” where he brings Warren Ellis in. The “Ride Along” issue.
Brian and I aren’t close or anything, but I e-mailed him at like two in the morning and asked. I said that I understood if he couldn’t do it, and he said that he’d remembered how excited he was when Warren Ellis said yes to him, so he wanted to say yes to me. I was so relieved. I felt so strongly about the idea and when I sent that e-mail I worried that he’d be offended, and he wrote back within minutes and gave me the okay.
Did he have any preferences in your in use of him?
No. We won’t do anything crazy with it. I’ve sent him everything. I think the most important thing is the dialogue, of course, since that is the thing he is the most known for. I want him to input there, but we’ve been sending him stuff when we get it in. I’ve written it in a way where we can make changes along the way if needed, but it’s been a lot of fun.
He’s so open. Look at his Tumblr, his Twitter — he’s very approachable. Some people can be really standoffish, but he’s really friendly. He’s just great and I look up to him, his career and the things he’s done. He’s always had this great communication with people.
Will there be any other comic book professionals guest-starring in future issues?
It’s just a one-time thing. It’s open-ended, kind of. The issue isn’t a standalone, and it does have weight on the actual story, but I don’t know if we’ll have another guest star.
We wanted to make sure this issue mattered. Bendis actually finds something in the issue that Finch and Crane don’t know about yet, which will be exciting.
“Nailbiter” #7 goes on sale in November from Image Comics.