After his beloved girlfriend, Catherine, is abducted during a freak accident, Stephen Thorn devotes his life to the singular purpose of tracking her down. Along the way, he slowly begins to unravel, as the grief forces him to do things he never thought possible. Written by Jason McNamara with art by Greg Hinkle, The Rattler is a new graphic novel that will soon be released by Image Comics. A worthy new addition to the true crime drama, this gruesome tale will remain with its readers for days after they turn the final page.
Inspired by true events and born out of a Kickstarter campaign, The Rattler has had an unconventional trip to publication. McNamara spoke with Uproxx about Thorn’s descent into madness and why Kickstarter was the perfect place to launch this project.
This story was born out of your personal experiences, as readers can see in the end notes of the book. Tell me about the narrative decisions that you made to build off the nonfictional events. Did it help you sort through any residual trauma?
The story was inspired by a road trip I took with a friend years ago. We ran out of gas in a rural area of California and a passing motorist offered to tow our car to a gas station. Instead, he attempted to drive away with my friend and leave me behind. Luckily she was able to get away and he drove off empty handed. Strangely enough, at the time, it wasn’t that traumatic, but over the years, I’ve dwelled on it more.
I would wonder; what if she hadn’t gotten away? What would that have done to me? Then I’d feel guilty that I was focusing on myself…and then I realized that was the story: How a self-aggrandizing writer would commodify the tragedy as a brand. So it’s a personal story in that I’m writing about all the narcissistic traits I dislike in myself.
The art in this book is mesmerizingly grotesque, and the lack of color save for the red blood is particularly striking. Can you explain this creative decision?
Originally, we conceived using just black and white to set a tone and establish a mood, but Greg had the idea that the use of red could work in parallel with Stephen’s mental state. As Stephen travels further down the rabbit hole, the bloodier each page becomes until it’s everywhere. I was skeptical at first because it sounded gimmicky, but once Greg showed me a few pages I knew it would service the story.
Can you point to any major influences on your work, either other comic writers or from the true crime genre?
My biggest creative influence will always be John Carpenter. He’s the master of taking deceptively simple genre concepts and crafting atmospheric thrillers that encompass big ideas without getting bogged down by them. I listen to his soundtracks constantly when I write.
I liked the moral ambiguity of this story a lot. Thorn clearly sees himself as a tragic hero, but he does a lot of morally reprehensible stuff along the way. Is that part of what drives him mad in the end?
My take is that Stephen is an emotionally empty person who uses Catherine’s disappearance to justify his behavior. As he gets closer to finding Catherine, he’s also trying to outrun his own anxiety because he knows finding Catherine won’t fix him. He’s been living in this myth he created for himself, but by the end that façade has completely crumbled and Stephen is exposed for what he truly is.
So, you started this project on Kickstarter. What was it like undertaking such a project without a safety net?
We wanted the experience of the Kickstarter campaign to be as of high quality as the book itself. That meant being patient, doing our research, and accepting an element of risk. Greg and I created The Rattler on our own, in our spare time, over two years. We had the book completely finished, lettered and ready to go to the printer before we launched the campaign. With Kickstarter, you have an opportunity to turn every backer into an advocate for your project, and the way you do that is by giving them a unique experience and exceeding their expectations. Our backers got their books a few months early and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I will always be grateful for the experience and the new friends I made along the way.
Do you have plans for a second volume or do think it works better as a tight, self-contained story?
Greg and I are working on a new book that shares a character with The Rattler but isn’t a direct sequel to it. We like the idea of playing around in this world and telling self-contained stories that can complement each other, similar to what Brubaker did with Criminal.
I shouldn’t ask for spoilers sake, but I have to know: Is Catherine really speaking to Thorn in some way, or is it all in his head?
Originally we had some dialogue on the last page that answered that question definitively, but I felt knowing for certain was less interesting than leaving it up to the reader. I will point out that when Greg illustrated those final pages, we were still planning on the reveal, so if you squint hard enough the answer is on the page, we just removed the lettering that made it overt.
The Rattler will be available from Image Comics on March 23 for $14.99.