By: Nicole D’Andria
The Rattler is an upcoming black-and-white graphic novel that will be released this March. This 104 page work is a horror story about Stephen Thorn. His fiancée has been missing for 10 years now. While never giving up on finding his fiancée, Stephen has become a bitter man and an advocate of victim’s rights. But he may be reaching his breaking point as he starts hearing voices and gets chased by his own organization. There’s murder and mystery as Stephen desperately tries to find his fiancée. I spoke with the creative team, writer Jason McNamara (First Moon) and artist Greg Hinkle (Airboy), in detail about the project.
Me: The Rattler was inspired by a road trip you took. Could you talk about this in a bit more detail?
Jason McNamara: Back in 2001, a childhood friend and I decided to spend our Christmas Eve exploring Northern California in her vintage Ranchero. The car had a busted gas gauge and we ran out of gas on a country road somewhere near Inverness. It wasn’t that late out, maybe 7 PM, but it was dark and we were in a desolate area without lights. We pushed the car off the road and waited for another car to pass by.
Some time later, a truck drive up the road and we flagged the driver down. He was a stoic guy in his mid-forties, with dark unkempt hair and un-ironic trucker hat. He looked at us like the two lost pathetic city kids we were and reluctantly agreed to help us out. His idea was to tow our car to a nearby gas station, which was exactly what we wanted to hear. Oh, yeah…he also just happened to be traveling with some very thick rope.
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This man, whose name we never asked, tied our bumper to his truck. The first order of business was getting our car out of the ditch we rolled it into. At his suggestion, I got behind the Ranchero to help push it out of the ditch, while my friend got behind the wheel of the ranchero and helped steer it. The plan was to get the car out of the ditch, stop, collect me, and go onto this mythical gas station. Well, you can probably guess that’s not what happened.
I pushed the car, my friend steered it and the dude towed it. But he didn’t stop. In fact, he sped up, leaving me standing on the road realizing what an idiot I was. My friend tried honking, swerving and finally pulling the emergency brake and that managed to sever the rope binding them. Her car rolled backwards and his truck eventually came to a stop. She hopped out of the Ranchero and ran toward me; together we jumped into the woods at the side of the road. The guy got out and peered around for a minute, then got back in his truck and drove away.
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Years have passed since that night, but two questions always stuck with me. Who does something like that? And what if he had had a chain instead of a rope? The Rattler answers both those questions.
Me: Can you describe Stephen Thorn, as well as some of the supporting cast in the book?
McNamara: Stephen Thorn watched helplessly as Catherine, the love of his life, was abducted, never to be seen again. Years later, we check in with him and he’s a popular but bitter victim’s rights advocate. To his personal detriment, he refuses to move on from the loss. When he receives a message that may, or may not be, from Catherine, he undertakes a bloody journey of self-discovery.
Thomas Hernandez is a grizzled US Marshal who is also a big fan of Stephen’s work. He’s the guy trying to put an end to the madness and keep everyone alive.
Chantal has a professional and personal relationship with Stephen but is tired of living in Catherine’s shadow. Despite this, she is determined to aid Stephen in his quest for closure.
Kaizu is a rockabilly programmer who has a habit of looking for love in the wrong places.
And finally, Esther is the old woman who kidnapped Catherine for reasons unknown.
|Other side characters…
Me: The main character, Stephen, is a novelist. Later on, he uses the last name Bachman, part of Stephen King’s pseudonym. Why did you decide to add this little nod to King in your work? Is he a big inspiration to you?
McNamara: Good catch! Like many of King’s works, The Rattler features a writer as the protagonist. Our Stephen chose the pseudonym Thorn for himself and later in the book, in a Misery-like scene, we learn his birth name was Bachman. I thought it was a nice little nod to Misery, which was supposed to be released as a Bachman book before King was outted as the author. I also like the idea that in The Rattler world Stephen King exists and coincidentally took the name of a budding writer, forcing Stephen Bachman to flee the connection by creating a pseudonym of his own.
The name Thorn is a homage to the Omen film series and the lead character Damien Thorn. Chantal’s last name Tramer is plucked straight from the Halloween film series; Ben Tramer is the boy Laurie has a crush on and dies a fiery death in the second film. Kaizu is named after a well-know horror collector in Japan. I tried to put as many Easter eggs as I could in the book for the die-hard horror fan.
Me: How did you meet and begin working with your artist, Greg Hinkle?
McNamara: The two of us used to live in San Francisco and hang out at the Isotope Comic Lounge. Greg was finishing art school and was putting together a horror comic anthology for his final project. I wrote a short story for him to illustrate and we both enjoyed the collaboration enough to try a full-length book. So I went off and wrote The Rattler script specifically for him. Greg drew a few pages in 2011 and then got pulled away by paying gigs and the project was put on the backburner for a few years.
When Greg returned to The Rattler, he had advanced tremendously as an artist, so much so that we had to discard his original pages because they were so different. We had a pretty intense collaboration in that it was just us; nobody was asking for this book or even knew it existed. Greg and I had to keep each other going during that long process. It was exhausting but we believed the finished book would be worth it.
I’m sure we’ll work together again but until then I get to just sit back and be a fan of Greg’s, which is a fun experience.
Me: The Rattler started off on Kickstarter. How were you able to go from Kickstarter to the getting the comic published by Image Comics?
McNamara: The campaign ran smoothly, our backers got their books early and the finished book got rave reviews. But, we only printed enough copies to satisfy our backers and demand for the book continued to grow, especially after Greg started on Airboy.
We were very grateful to be picked up by Image; it’s really the best of all possible worlds. After all the effort we put into producing the book on our own, Greg and I would rather let it go out of print than not own it 100%.
Me: What do you hope people will take away from The Rattler?
McNamara: You should never enter a relationship thinking it’s going to fix the things you don’t like about yourself… it never works out well.
Also, make sure you have roadside assistance.
Me: Is this a stand-alone graphic novel or are you planning any sequels or spin-offs?
McNamara: All the above! The Rattler is a complete stand-alone story. We wanted to create a book that could be discovered and enjoyed on its own. But if there’s interest in seeing another McNamara / Hinkle suspense thriller, we have another script ready to go. It’s another stand-alone story, but it shares a character with The Rattler.
Me: Are there any other personal experiences you’ve had, or other interesting historical events, which you would like to base a future story on as well?
McNamara: I’ve always wanted to write a book about Alexander Graham Bell and his conflict with the deaf community. Bell strongly petitioned to abolish sign language, and by association deaf education that was delivered in sign language, in an effort to “normalize” the deaf. He had a deaf mother and was probably well intentioned, but he completely devastated deaf education for quite some time; the community is still recovering from the consequences of his actions. It’s a fascinating story that most people are not aware of.
Me: You previously won a Xeric Award for your graphic novel First Moon. What was this graphic novel about and how did you react when you received the award?
McNamara: First Moon was about a young boy who discovers he’s a descendant of the lost colony of Roanoke and that there is a curse that goes with it. Winning the award was incredible; it was a huge confidence boost at a time when I really needed one. Also, it almost didn’t happen. After submitting the application I moved and didn’t receive the award letter. You have to agree to accept the award before a deadline or they give the money to someone else. Luckily my work number was on the application and they tracked me down on the last possible day. I couldn’t believe how close I came to blowing it.
Me: What inspirational words do you have for aspiring comic book writers?
McNamara: Don’t try to catch a trend or recreate someone else’s success. Write for yourself and develop your own voice. Tell the story you’d like to discover as a reader. And be open to the collaborative process; that’s where the real magic happens.
Me: Who are some of your artistic influences that you think are reflected in your artwork in The Rattler?
Greg Hinkle: I don’t know what shows through in the end, but I was looking at a lot of the old EC Horror comics, Creepy and Eerie while I was drawing this book. Guys like Jerry Grandenetti and Gene Colan were able to connect such raw emotion to their characters, so I would look to them for “acting tips”. I was poring over Darwyn Cooke, Jack Davis and Will Eisner, trying to figure out how their figures were always moving, and full of life. Mike Mignola’s use of atmosphere and composition were starting points for me on more than one scene in this book.
Me: Why was it decided to make the comic book in black-and-white with red being the only other color?
Hinkle: Honestly, it was a happy accident. It was originally planned as a black and white story, but I was having trouble punching up a particularly bloody page and tried dropping in a bright red, probably out of frustration. I finished up enough of a page to run it past Jason, and it just sort of clicked into place. Having a single color in my toolbox certainly helped me solve some problems. It was pretty tough limiting the red to only blood though. Once I started putting color down, it was hard to hold back.
Me: What was your favorite page/panel to draw?
Hinkle: Anything with red on it was a blast.
Me: You also worked on Airboy, another Image Comics title. What was this series about?
Hinkle: In my mind, Airboy is a direct result of The Rattler. James checked in a few times with us as we were working, and first pitched Airboy to me as I was wrapping things up on The Rattler. Airboy follows James Robinson and I on a semi-autobiographical journey to reinterpret the Golden Age war hero for a modern audience. We turn to drugs and debauchery to shake off a case of writer’s block, but everything really goes sideways when Airboy himself shows up. James really opens himself up, and it hits on things like depression and self-doubt. There’s even a slight connection to Airboy within The Rattler, but I don’t want to give it away.
Me: What was that experience like versus your experience working on The Rattler?
Hinkle: Jason and I finished The Rattler before we even started a campaign to fund it, while Airboy was announced months before we even got started. So the differences were piling up from the beginning. I also think the scope of each project was very different. It was a trip to suddenly have so many more eyeballs on my work. I worked on The Rattler in virtual seclusion for a year. Only a handful of people saw any complete work for a long, long time. I don’t think our Kickstarter campaign even started until after Airboy was announced at Image Expo. So I didn’t even have my first story available before being mentioned in articles alongside James Robinson. It all happened so fast.
From a more technical standpoint, the intended pace of each was very different. Airboy had more conversation and comedy, while The Rattler is more about slowly ratcheting up the tension. Airboy kind of takes a bit of a scenic route, as much about the journey as the destination. The Rattler is more like running down a narrow alley.