With the pulp horror graphic novel The Rattler, writer Jason McNamara (Short Hand, First Moon) and artist Greg Hinkle tell a story of loss, guilt, madness, desperation, obsession, and violence that is punctuated with surprising turns and graphic and unnerving imagery. The book feels like a Twilight Zone episode that the censors refused to make and in our exclusive interview, we talk to the creators about the personal connection to this story, the long process to finish this story, and the decision to take this completed work to Kickstarter.
Can you explain what The Rattler is to the uninformed?
Jason McNamara: Stephen Thorn is a bitter victim’s rights advocate whose career was built on the abduction of his fiancee ten years earlier. His life is turned upside down when he receives a message that may or may not be from her. This sends Stephen on a very dark journey of self-discovery.
The 96 page graphic novel is completely done and ready to go to print. The Kickstarter campaign is to raise money to print and ship a copy to anybody who wants one. We’re printing enough copies to satisfy our donors and to send one to my mother, that’s it.
When it’s said that The Rattler is based off of a personal experience, are you talking about one of obsession or loss, and can you go into some of the parallels between Stephen and what you experienced?
McNamara: The abduction element of the story came from a road trip I took in 2001 with an ex girlfriend. We had car trouble, broke down and a passing motorist tried to kidnap her. Luckily, she was able to get free and we were able to go for help. But in my darker moments I let myself dwell on what the alternative could have been. What if I was the last person to see her and what would that loss have done to me?
Like Stephen, I think I’ve made some questionable relationship choices over the years (certainly anyone who dated me could say the same). I think when I was younger, and less emotionally available, I entered relationships that I thought could help define who I thought I was. Of course, those relationships tended to be one sided and didn’t last long. You look back and ask yourself “What was I thinking?” Answering that question helped me create the character of Stephen Thorn.
Can you identify some of the artists and influences that we might be able to spot in the finished work?
Greg Hinkle: I don’t know if I can answer that for readers, since everyone will have their own interpretations. I’m influenced pretty heavily by the EC comics greats, like Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman. Will Eisner has always been a favorite. Their people were always moving, and display such real emotion. More recently, it’s been Mignola, Eduardo Risso, Becky Cloonan, and Darwyn Cooke for their manipulation of atmosphere.
Talk to me about the decision to only colorize the blood, of which there is much.
Hinkle: I wish I could say it was a calculated decision, intended to act as a visual cue to heighten tension. (And maybe it works that way. I’ll let readers decide!) But in reality, I just thought it might look neat. We’d already finished the first quarter of the book, I think, and I sent Jason a test page with the red. He liked it. I liked it. So we went with it. It was a very happy accident.
I think that there is a notion that Kickstarter is a place for creators to go when they have no other options. Obviously, that isn’t the case, but can you tell me why, in some cases, crowdfunding makes more sense and how it surpasses small press and other third party options?
McNamara: Greg and I realized early on that we wanted to take a little extra time and put our best work into The Rattler. Our philosophy was, a good book can be sold for years. That meant producing the work at our own pace and not having any external expectations put on us. When it came time to release the book, we just couldn’t reconcile someone else putting it out.
A black and white horror book by two relative unknowns would be easy to overlook in the direct market. We had to do something different to build awareness for The Rattler. By going through Kickstarter, I can control how the book is presented to an audience and I can actively engage our readers.
What’s been the most complicated part about going it alone, so to speak?
McNamara: The toughest part of this approach is altering pre-conceived notions about comics on Kickstarter. Many people associate sub par quality with the platform and assume an element of risk. And I get it; there have been a few high profile disasters that the rest of us have to now operate in the shadow of.
Greg and I tried to alleviate some of those concerns by finishing The Rattler in its entirety before launching our campaign. We wanted our approach to be familiar to anyone who has pre-ordered a comic book through the direct market.
I’m not sure that came across well enough in our marketing. Even though The Rattler has been reviewed numerous times, I’m still trying to convince people that it’s really done and they will get a copy in August. Alternately, backers miss out on some of the excitement with an already finished project. Our campaign might be a little too cut and dry for those looking for a traditional Kickstarter campaign.
Greg, you departed and returned to this project and while talking to CSBG, Jason said that you were, at that point, 100% committed to the story and turned down higher paying work to finish it. What transpired in the down period when you were off the project that ultimately helped to get you back on board and what made this become priority one?
Hinkle: Sometimes you really don’t realize how much you’ll miss something until it’s gone. I did a lot of soul searching while I was off of the project. I was working as a concept artist at a video game start-up at the same time, and was really trying to figure out if comics were where I wanted to be. My day job was paying good money (at least for me), so it was hard to discount it. But I think that just holding down a day job in addition to working on The Rattler was too much for me. Having my time and concentration split between projects just wasn’t working. The video game company imploded before too long, and I saw it as a chance to throw all my weight into The Rattler and really make it count. Though when it comes right down to it, Jason’s patience and trust – and fantastic story – are really what made me redouble my efforts.
— Mild Spoiler Alert —
Is Stephen the only one who can hear Catherine’s voice, and if not, what pushed you to leave that thread un-tied?
McNamara: Without giving anything away, I will say the script that Greg illustrated definitively answers this question. In lettering the final pages I made a decision to focus more on Stephen’s journey and to leave certain elements for the audience to put together on their own. The answer is in the book if your looking for it, we just didn’t want it to distract from the emotional punch of the ending. Should Greg and I ever get to do another entry in this universe, we’ll spell it out for people.
The Rattler is complete and a fantastic read. If you have an interest in learning more about it and in contributing to the Kickstarter campaign which has just 3 days(!) left, go here.