McNamara, Hinkle team for true life-inspired horror in 'The Rattler'

Combining his love for horror with a pretty scary event from his own past, writer Jason McNamara (The Martian Confederacy, First Moon, Continuity) has teamed with artist Greg Hinkle (the upcoming Airboy) to tell the story of The Rattler. A campaign to bring their self-published graphic novel to the printed page began this morning on Kickstarter.

According to The Rattler Kickstarter page, "10 years have passed since Stephen Thorn’s fiancée vanished without a trace, and he has grown into a prominent, if bitter, victim’s rights crusader. Despite the cold trail and lack of leads, he stubbornly refuses to give up the search. And then ... he begins to hear her voice in the strangest of places."

I spoke with both McNamara and Hinkle about the project, their favorite horror comics and what "dinner" at the MacNamara house (one of the Kickstarter prizes) consists of (here's a hint).

JK Parkin: Jason, the first thing that jumped out at me about the description on your Kickstarter page was that it's a horror story "inspired by true events that occurred to me on a road trip years ago." Can you elaborate on the "true events" that inspired the story?

Jason McNamara: It’s both a love story and a horror story. The story follows Stephen Thorn, a man who will do anything to find his missing fiancée. The further down the rabbit hole Stephen journeys, the more he clings to love as his motivation. It’s a book about relationships and what we look for in ourselves in others. Love and terror are both extreme emotions that bleed over into each other in The Rattler.

The story was inspired by true events that happened to me on a road trip years ago. I’ve written an afterword to the graphic novel that gets more into it, but basically a female friend and I were on a road trip and had a breakdown in a rural area of California. A seemingly helpful motorist stopped and offered to tow our car. Instead, he took off with my friend and left me behind. Luckily, in the true events she was able to get away, and we were able to get help.

But I always wondered: What if she didn’t get away? What if I had to live with that? That was the inspiration for The Rattler.

How did the two of you first meet? Greg, what drew you to Jason's story?

Greg Hinkle: How'd we meet? Good grief, that seems like forever ago. I think Jason was one of the judges for the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics, and he read the book I'd entered. We'd run into each other in the shop on Wednesdays and talk comics, and pretty soon I was hanging out with the rest of the Writers Old Fashioned group and selling my minis at conventions. We worked together on a six-page short for the little horror anthology that I put together back in 2010, called Parasomnia. He approached me with the idea behind The Rattler just after that, I think.

Jason pitched me the idea and I couldn't resist all the fun stuff he had in store for me to draw. It was a horror book, but in a great, B-movie kind of vein, which meant I'd get to draw some gratuitous gore. There's a car chase, the beginnings of a basement snuff film and a dozen other things I can cross off my To-Draw List. Jason just keeps the pressure on, and the story moves fast, which just sounded like a blast to draw. But he always described it as a love story, and that's what sold me on it.

How far along is the book at this point, and what kind of timeline are you looking at once the Kickstarter is finished?

McNamara: The book is done, lettered and ready to go to print. We didn’t want to launch a Kickstarter for The Rattler until it was completely finished. Should we be lucky enough to get funded, our expectation is to ship copies in August.

I planned the campaign the same way I would approach self-publishing a graphic novel through Diamond. The book is done and review copies are out in the world. After the final reward numbers are in we go directly to print and then fulfillment.

What happens if the Kickstarter doesn't meet its goal?

McNamara: We’re looking to raise $4,600, which, for producing a graphic novel, is pretty reasonable. But it’s far from a slam dunk; horror books are historically a tough sell and we are going to be competing for coverage against two big conventions in the next month.

Should we fail, we’d have to ask ourselves why. Was it a lack of engaging rewards, competition in the market or is there simply no audience for this kind of work? If it’s the latter, the book will go into a drawer, we’ll pour ourselves a stiff drink and shuffle on to the next project.

Horror seems like a hard thing to get across in comics (there's no scary trombone or other sound effects, for instance, like you'd have in a movie). Not impossible, of course; I'm still creeped out by one panel in Locke & Key that instantly came to mind as I starting asking this question (shutters), as well as stuff like Creepshow, "The Anatomy Lesson," "His Face All Red," that issue of What If? where their second child lived ... What are some of your favorite horror comics, or favorite horror moments in comics?

Hinkle: I love all the old Creepy books. Dynamite published a collection of horror stories called Eduardo Risso's Tales of Terror that's always been a favorite of mine. I think 100 Bullets can fit nicely into the horror category, too. Risso's work always made that series feel like horror to me. Emily Carroll does fantastically scary comics. Becky Cloonan's Wolves/The Mire/Demeter books are also huge influences.

McNamara: Right now I’m enjoying Fatale, Ghosted, Walking Dead and anything by Becky Cloonan. I thought Fialkov and Ekedal’s Echoes was great. HellBlazer was a longtime favorite. I’m a big EC horror comics guy; I loved Tomb of Dracula, Richard Corben’s '80s self-published stuff, Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson.

My favorite horror moment from a comic came from Issue 38 of Peter Parker: Spectacular Spider-Man. Morbius, the living vampire, stalks and feeds on a pretty teenage girl, and her friends are helpless to stop him. It’s a short scene but as a kid it scared the hell out of me, I’ll never forget it.

I’m also a huge fan of cinematic horror, and The Rattler is definitely a love letter to the genre. To achieve that tone and mood in the book we employed a lot of Hitchcock-ian angles and perspectives. You’ll know from page one you're in a horror book.

Also, the suspense of a horror story can only equal to how well developed the characters are. Our approach was to make sure everyone felt like a real character in their own story that just happened to cross paths with something awful. Nobody was written for the sole purpose of adding to a body count; all the characters add a perspective to our story, and if we’ve done our job right, you’ll feel invested in their journey.

Greg, how do you approach capturing the elements of horror on the printed page?

Hinkle: I wish I had some highbrow, academic response to this. I don't know if I think too much about genre when I'm working. I can say that I spent an inordinate amount of time making horrible, pained faces in a mirror. Creepy old houses with cobwebs and graveyards with broken headstones will set the stage, but I'm the most scared when I can see the terror in someone else's eyes. Jason runs these characters through a wringer, and I wanted their reactions to feel genuine.

I know that Jason spends a lot of time in Michael Myers masks. Greg, do you have any weird/creepy hobbies you'd like to come clean on, or will those be revealed in your upcoming Airboy book?

Hinkle: I'm working on developing some new, more shocking hobbies for Airboy. But at this point in my life I get to draw comics, and I can't think of anything else I'd rather do. That's a wicked boring answer. I'll spice it up. Since I'm home all day, and my office window faces the street, I watch all the neighbors live their lives. I know when the family from next door is away at school and work, and which neighbors speed up and down the street. I know how full the neighbor's trash cans are on garbage day. I know when the boyfriends sneak out right before Mom and Dad get home. It's like Rear Window, but with a lot less intrigue.

And Jason, for the "winners" of the $300 level prize, do you plan to wear one of your masks during dinner?

McNamara: For 300 bones I’ll provide donors with a mask and coveralls and we can stalk the neighborhood together.

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