Artist Daniel Hillyard and writer Doug Wagner have an insane comic book coming out from Image Comics on June 23. VINYL #1 (OF 6) is an unsettling tale of psychopaths, sweet love, and a serial killer named Walter. Hillyard and Wagner took the time to chat with Monkeys Fighting Robots about the new series.
MONKEYS FIGHTING ROBOTS: Doug and Daniel, thank you for taking the time to chat with me.
HILLYARD: Thank you very much. It’s nice to meet you.
WAGNER: It’s our pleasure, Matthew.
MFR: Doug, Daniel Hillyard’s art is excellent in the first issue. Talk about how he pairs well with your script.
WAGNER: Daniel’s work is absolutely stunning, and his storytelling is always on point, which makes my job of delivering a visually captivating story so much easier. What makes his art so perfect for something like the dark comedy, horror of VINYL is his ability to draw realistically and in great detail but with a layer of Disney-esque animation to it. It helps take what could be an overly horrific scene and make it feel comical at the same time. We both agreed we wanted to lean into that aspect of this project heavily. I wholeheartedly admit we went way too far with some of the more disturbing bits, but then we purposefully added a touch of comedy to it all. Daniel and I seem to personally enjoy the mix of those two feelings, and we desperately want the reader to experience that same sensation as well. Yeah. We ain’t right.
HILLYARD: Thanks, dude. I will pay you later. [wink]
MFR: Daniel, how does Doug Wagner play his scripts? Is everything spelled out, or does he give artistic room to explore?
HILLYARD: The way that Doug writes amazes me. All the crucial information is there in the script, but with loads of room to play. When I read a scene or a panel description, it’s like a bolt from the blue, and I know exactly what to draw. Sometimes we go into a scene with a particular motif in mind, like starting and ending each book with a certain panel layout, but we try not to get too precious about things and let the story grow naturally. Sometimes Doug might say something in a conversation that sparks an idea, or sometimes I might draw something into a scene without realizing it, and before we know it, there is this whole other dimension to a character or scene that we hadn’t expected. And that all comes from that freedom to play a little.
MFR: Can you talk about the creation of Walter and how you constructed the character? Are there artistic elements that make Walter standout out as well?
WAGNER: We started with this idea that Walter shouldn’t “feel” like a threat. Actually, we were aiming for quite the opposite. We wanted him to be one of those people that blends in… until he doesn’t. It was important that he felt like that favorite, cool uncle that you know you can hang out with that won’t judge you. The relative you go to for real advice, not the kind you wouldn’t dare ask for from your parents. That was Walter’s basic foundation. From there, we had to figure out how to sell that aspect of him. Typically with me, once I can find that foundation for a character, the character takes it from there. I stop telling them what to do, and they start telling me what to do.
HILLYARD: From there, we worked closely to define Walter visually. Sometimes it’s easy, and characters appear on the page in the first sketch, and for others, it takes a little longer. With Walter, I remember it being a long process. We bounced a lot of images back and forth until we finally hit on one, and both thought, that’s him. I think it’s like trying to match a face to a voice. You’ve heard this person talk over the phone but never seen their face, then suddenly you have to spot them in a crowd [laughs.]
MFR: Doug, is it tough to make a serial killer the hero of the story? (Should I seek help since I already like Walter?)
WAGNER: Well, maybe we both should seek help then. To be honest, I take way too much pleasure in taking a character that should be perceived as a horrible creature and making them likable. Walter starting out as a serial killer kind of made that easier. In this case, I got to start with the character’s primary flaw and build from there. Okay, he kills people, but what’s the good side of his soul, and how will we show that to everyone. In VINYL, we find Walter has a big heart for those he deems worthy of it. He doesn’t deem very many people worthy of it, and God have mercy on your soul if he deems you not. I think just about everyone has a little bit of that in them. I mean, I’d burn down the world to protect my cats. I’d do far worse to avenge them. Doesn’t everyone have something they feel that way about?
HILLYARD: Is it wrong that I’m now envisioning Doug burning down the world, hugging his cats, and laughing maniacally? What, just me? Okay.
MFR: Was there a conversation about Walter wearing a different mask, and if so, why is the Teddy Bear mask perfect for Walter.
WAGNER: There was never another mask per se, but we did spend a few days trying to conceptualize the right one for Walter. We both agreed it shouldn’t be your typical horror movie-style mask. Been done. Not for us. Since we were playing with trying to create this beautiful horror mixed with dark comedy, we knew it had to be something that walked that line. I believe I threw out the idea of a teddy bear head being used as a mask, and Daniel ran with it, far past my expectations. We tinkered with it until it was something we would both be terrified by in real life but made us giggle at the same time. I have to admit my favorite part is that dangly eye. I silly laugh every time I see it.
HILLYARD: It sort of started off as a random idea. We’d never done a killer with a mask before, but right from the start, Doug threw out the idea of a bear mask. I tried a big mascot-style mask with reflective eyes, but what I hadn’t realized is that Walter would need to carry it around with him, so that idea quickly fell away [laughs.]
MFR: The last page of the first issue is epic as we witness a transformation of Walter. How dark is Walter going to go? Do you have a line of darkness you won’t cross?
WAGNER: Oh, Walter’s going to go pretty dark. But we’re hoping his kind of darkness comes across a little different than you’ve seen before. It’s this cold, unfeeling, unrelenting kind of thing. He’s just so matter-of-fact about it. In my head, it’s all based on his personal philosophy. His philosophy is a little more in line with Sun Tzu in that he believes you must love your enemy in order to absolutely ruin them in every way.
As far as a line, I won’t cross. I really don’t know. I haven’t bumped into one yet.
HILLYARD: Oh yeah, it gets pretty crazy. I mean, later in the story, there’s some stuff there that’ll give people that faraway glazed look in their eyes.
MFR: Creating horror in comics is challenging; what elements do you plan to use to scare the reader?
WAGNER: This is all my opinion, but I think to be successful in a horror comic, you have to focus on psychological horror and building tension. I mean, you can’t exactly do a jump scare or creep somebody out with how a character moves and talks. But you can have the reader worried about what’s around the corner, what’s on the next page. You can tease them with what a character might do in the next panel or scene. If you can make the reader hesitate before turning the page, scared of what they might see, that’s a win in my book. That’s the tension part you hope you can attain. On the psychological side, I think that’s where concept is everything. Imagine you’re locked in an underground bunker and have to choose whether to side with a Manson family-style death cult or a group of serial killers. That’s the basis of VINYL, and I think everyone would be terrified to be caught in that fight. AND you know us, we also tossed in a ton of over-the-top, ridiculously ridiculous gore, but I don’t think that scares people as much as makes them uncomfortable.
MFR: The first couple of pages come out swinging with a crazy-looking monster lady. How did her design come together?
WAGNER: Mum, as we affectionately refer to her, was a blast for me. This was one of those characters where Daniel and I cut loose and just let our 5-year-old selves have at it. We sounded like kids hopped up on caffeine and moon pies.
“Mum should be all emaciated and bony with nasty teeth.”
“I want people to cringe when they see her.”
“She should drag an axe around.”
“An axe covered in BLOOD!!”
Yes, I’m fairly certain that’s exactly how that conversation went.
HILLYARD: [Laughs] that’s exactly how I remember it.
MFR: Daniel, your art style is realistic but not hyper-realistic; how do you think that influences how people connect with the story?
HILLYARD: Thanks so much. I read somewhere that people only see a small percentage of a character’s emotion when it’s shown in a still image, and so in comics in particular, you have to dial it up a little. I still want our characters to feel solid and real but have a cartooniness (is that a word?) to them. Characters that you can really play around with but still be uncomfortable with seeing cut apart. I think that hyper-emotive expression is one of the reasons that so many people relate to their favorite cartoon and comic book characters. My hope is that we can tap into a little of that here and in the many other books that we plan on making together and create characters the people can fall in love with. Characters that you’ll miss.
MFR: What’s your reaction going to be like when a person walks up to your table at a convention dressed like Walter?
WAGNER: I have yet to see anyone dressed up as one of my characters, so I have a feeling I will probably be overwhelmed by pure joy and a sense of validation. Heck, I might even cry.
HILLYARD: That would be my whole world! And maybe that was the real secret reason for having a character wearing a mask. You never know.
MFR: Doug and Daniel, thank you again, and best of luck with the series.
WAGNER: Thank you, Matthew. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you giving our little book the time. It means the world to us.
HILLYARD: Thank you so much, Matthew.
VINYL #1 (OF 6) hits your local comic book shop on June 23.