The inner cities of the modern metropolises have always been a fertile ground for telling stories about the brightest – and the darkest – among us. In the upcoming miniseries Shuddertown, a troubled homicide detective plays both guide and victim as he tries to figure why all of his recent murder cases point to being committed by people that are dead. Although deeply entrenched in the gritty world of crime drama, the air of the supernatural tinges Shuddertown -- but if that’s the case or not remains to be seen.
Shuddertown is the third project by the prodigious new writer to comics, Nick Spencer. Following up from his series Existence 2.0 and 3.0 and the currently running Forgetless, Spencer’s new series shows him moving in a new direction down the dead end streets of the ominously sounding Shuddertown. Scheduled to debut on March 31st, Newsarama talked with the writer for more.
Newsarama: So Nick, what can you tell us about Shuddertown?
Nick Spencer: Shuddertown is about a troubled homicide cop named Isaac Hernandez who's trying to solve a string of murders in which all the forensic evidences seems to point toward perpetrators who are themselves already dead. Most of these killings happen in and around a dilapidated housing project referred to as Shuddertown, and his search for answers leads him towards a very shocking and very powerful truth.
On a broader level, this is my biggest and most ambitious project to date. It's told very differently than most stories in the medium -- we used a lot of visual cues and selective imagery to move the story forward, paced it distinctly, and used dialog sparingly. The result is a book that I genuinely believe will stand as something unique on the shelves. I think we've done something very special here, and I'm excited to see the response to it over the next few months. It requires a little more patience and care from the reader -- this is a book you really need to involve yourself in to make the most of it. In a time where so many people are flipping through their books very quickly, almost skimming them in many cases, I think we've managed to create something a bit different, and hopefully the result is a more involving, more compelling experience for the reader.
Nrama: You said that your lead, Isaac, is troubled. What makes the detective so torn up?
Spencer: Isaac is in a very bad place. He's recently separated from his wife and kids, he's been injured in the line of duty, and now he's got these strange cases were the dead seem to be killing. He's plummeting into addiction and depression, he's at the end of his rope, and he's flailing around looking for help. He doesn't believe in ghosts and sees the whole thing as some elaborate lie, but his investigation is hampered by the lies he himself is telling.
Nrama: You really seem to get inside the head of being a homicide detective. What kind of research or reading did you do for this book?
Spencer: It's been a real dream come true to finally get to work on a police story. I'm a huge Richard Price fan, so I leaned on that stuff heavily -- just trying to capture how real detectives talk, the dynamic between them, that kind of stuff. Also, early Bendis -- especially Torso. His books have always been a huge influence on me, especially in terms of characterization and dialog, and never more so than here.
To your other point -- getting inside his head was always very important to me. I always cite David Fincher's Se7en as the best analysis of what drives people towards this profession, the hidden motivations and compulsions some have that leads them to work like this. Most of us could never do that job, so I think it's worthwhile to examine why some can -- or why some shouldn't.
Nrama: Getting back to the story at hand, things start getting bad when all of Hernandez’ murder cases turn up to have been done by people that are already dead. I don’t see this turning into some supernatural zombie tale, Nick – what’s going on?
Spencer: I've been very up front in saying this is not a traditional ghost story, but rather a story that plays on our various concepts of ghosts. Aside from God, ghosts have to be the most widely accepted supernatural belief that we have. They're such a huge part of our folklore, there's something about them that just resonates with us as human beings. And I wanted to explore that through this story of a homicide cop who seems to have some dead murderers on the loose here -- really examine the different things we mean when we talk about ghosts or being haunted by something. There's something to the idea that we all carry around ghosts with us, and this book is all about that.
Nrama It seems Isaac’s primary friend and sounding board is a narcotics detective named Sam. Can you tell us about him and their relationship?
Spencer: Sam is someone we'll get to know a lot better in #3. Isaac calls him 'the best and worst friend' he has, and that's pretty spot-on. Sam is not a good guy, but he's a good friend -- the problem is when those two opposing notions collide, and the fallout from that is a key part of the book. Also, Sam is in a very different place than Isaac -- he's able to laugh at all the insanity and the chaos around him. I think, when you're in law enforcement, you make a decision at some point in terms of whether you'll let the things you see in the line of duty consume you, or if you'll set up some kind of wall to separate yourself from it. And Sam is certainly in a place where he's managed to do just that, while it's clearly taking over Isaac's life.
Nrama: The title – Shuddertown – how’d that come to you?
Spencer: The literal meaning of the word is something we deal with #2, but what I can say for now is that location is very important to the story. Shuddertown is a place where the people society no longer wants or needs are put. The rest of the city has forgotten them, or at least want to. And yet, its residents continue to haunt them -- through headlines about drug-related murders, for instance... I think every city has a Shuddertown. It's that neighborhood or street where criminal activity seems to thrive, that place that society cedes to despair then tries to ignore.
Nrama: You’re working with a relative newcomer in artist Adam Geen, who’s also doing the colors. How’d you come across such a distinctive artist?
Spencer: Yeah, Adam is a once in a lifetime find, and someone I hope to collaborate with for a long time to come. This is actually his first published work, which is just unbelievable to me. He's doing some things in this book that I've never seen before anywhere, stuff that's just incredibly effective in terms of setting the tone of the story. This is a book where we really tried to experiment a lot -- lots of silent panels, jarring imagery, interspersed dream and memory flashes... to pull it off, we needed someone great on art duties, and Adam has been more than up to the task. He's a very special talent with a huge future in front of him.
I also want to spotlight the incredible work our letterer, Thomas Mauer, has been doing on the book, too. Tom and Adam have a great chemistry, and they both really seem to get the various ways we're trying to do things a bit differently on this project. Tom really goes the extra mile on the books he works on, and having seen the finished product, I can definitely say it shows.
Nrama: And you, Nick… from sci-fi with Existence 2.0 and 3.0 and an eclectic party/adventure book with Forgetless and now a very noirish crime book… you’re really covering all corners, Nick. How did this spate of work come about with you so quickly?
Spencer: I have no idea! All credit goes to Kris Simon and Jim Valentino at Image/Shadowline, who have been just unbelievably supportive of me from the start. I am constantly aware of how lucky I am to be given the kind of support and freedom that I get from them daily. It's very rare in this short-attention span age to have this kind of long term investment, where the publisher really helps you develop both as a talent and a name. I truly believe I have one of the best gigs in comics right now, and I'm having the time of my life doing it. Each book seems to do a little better than the last, so we just keep plugging away while the readership grows.
I'm also incredibly grateful to the comic shop retailers around the country. The economy is obviously not so great and people are dropping books left and right, so it's not exactly the easiest time for the folks who run the shops to take a chance on new talent trying to do new things. This was the first book where I really called a lot of stores, and I gained a whole new appreciation for the work they do. I'm so thankful that they do in fact seem to be behind this book. I hope it continues with issue #2 onward!
As far as genres and what not, I just try to push myself in a new direction with each project, just keep experimenting and trying new things, never let yourself feel satisfied. In this medium, you have so much freedom and so many different ways to experiment, whether it's in terms of genre, or process, or structure, or whatever. So I just try to never play it safe, and hopefully the audience will appreciate the effort and thought that goes into it. I hope, if nothing else, that when people pick up a book with my name on it, that they know there will be something there that challenges them as a reader in a new way.