How I Learned To Read A Horror Comic
This article was originally written on August 9th 2015 and published at Geekade.com.
There was a time when horror comics sold as well as, if not better than, superhero comics. Unfortunately, that appears to no longer be the case, but that's not for lack of effort by some incredible authors, including Scott Snyder, Steve Niles, and many others.
Despite being a fan of horror comics, I came to the sad realization that I hadn't read a good title since the end of “Locke & Key” by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, which ran its final issue in December of 2013. Although I just listed Steve Niles as an incredible author, his recent Cal MacDonald comics haven't exactly been the best, and that's me being polite. Niles' recent book “October Faction” is a fun title that I enjoy reading every month, but while it deals with horror elements in virtually every aspect of the book, it isn't actually scary, nor do I think it intends to be. So while I continue to collect and enjoy it, I’m still left wanting something that would rock my horror/comic world.
I was eagerly awaiting the collection of Scott Snyder's “Wytches”, and while it was enjoyable, I felt it wasn't as good as what I know he's capable of. Afterwards, while looking for another horror title to try, I encountered a lot of reviews clamoring over “Wytches” and even heard positive recommendations from people I typically agree with. That's when I had my minor epiphany (are all epiphanies major by definition?) What if I had read it wrong? Allow me to explain. You'd think that there's only one way to read a comic, especially in a collected edition where every issue is laid out in order, but that's where the problem actually lies. What if reading “Wytches” as a collected trade removed the suspense inherently built into monthly comics? Where readers who picked up Wytches as it came out experienced the story being doled out over the course of 6 months, I read the book in the span of 48 hours, which might be the same as watching a horror movie in fast forward. You'll probably pick up what you need to understand what happened, but you won't get to the heart of the story, even if the killer removes it from the victim's chest.
So I did an experiment with the first trade of “Nailbiter” by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson. Having the collection, I obviously wasn't going to wait an entire month between reading issues; however, I forced myself to wait at least 24 hours before I read the next. How did it go?
Honestly, I had been holding off on picking up this title, mostly because I didn’t know the author well enough. I’d heard of Joshua Williamson, and have probably read something of his at one point or another, but he wasn’t one of those everyday names you hear when it comes to comics. Several weeks ago, when I had a particularly light pull list of comics, I asked a friend who works at my shop if he could recommend a good horror trade. Without hesitation he suggested “Nailbiter.”
The story takes place in an average small Americana town that has the unique distinction of being the birthplace to over a dozen serial killers. After the latest killer, named Nailbiter, is declared not guilty in a California court despite mounting evidence, he returns home to Buckaroo, Oregon. He’s followed by an officer who was key to his original arrest. What happens next isn’t immediately known, but the officer goes missing, and Nailbiter is the prime suspect. An NSA agent and local cop must figure out if Nailbiter had a role is in these events, or if they are the happenings of a new Buckaroo Butcher.
Perhaps “Nailbiter” is simply better than “Wytches,” or perhaps it’s just the result of my reading experiment, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the reading experience altogether. The story is well crafted, the art perfectly fits the style, and the pace keeps you guessing what the next issue will reveal. If I were to give it a rating, it’d give it two bloody thumbs up. With the third volume hitting shelves in September, I have to rush and pick up the second trade, but take my time in reading it.
It’s difficult to say definitively if my enjoyment of Nailbiter over Wytches was due to the way I read it, but I tend to believe it was. As such, this is a practice I will continue with future horror comic trades, including the upcoming “Wytches” vol 2. I’m glad I finally learned how to properly read a horror comic.