Another Creator-Owned Sales Monster in the Making

| May 12, 2014 | 0 Comments


A year an a half back, I dissected BEDLAM, the Image series from Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo, and projected it would do “monster” sales numbers for a creator-owned series, as it had all  of the elements necessary for success in the direct market.   Well, it’s time to break down another “creator-owned sales monster,” Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson’s Nailbiter, also from Image comics.


In the past, I’ve said there are five keys to direct market success of a creator-owned comic book.   Now, I’d like to actually add a very important “6th key” — publisher reputation. The more I’ve dealt with the direct market and followed sales trends, the more I’ve seen the impact of imprint on sales. (I’ll elaborate more, below.)  As before, the pyramid lists the six keys in reverse order of impact of moving the sales needle. (Yes, writers, your unbelievable idea for a comic is the LEAST important thing…at least when it comes to driving sales in the direct market.)

Let’s go down the list and see how Nailbiter performs on these key elements:

1) An Undeniable Hook

Nailbiter  rates extremely high on the hook scale. What could be better than a book about a compelling serial killer?   How about a book about a lots of  compelling serial killers…a whole town full of them!

If you’re a fan of the serial-killer, detective-crime genre, this book is right up your alley…potentially the ULTIMATE serial killer story. And much like Bedlam, this book has every crime/horror writer screaming, Why didn’t I come up with that!

Let’s review the key elements a solid hook needs, and see how Nailbiter rates:

  • Million dollar title
  • Tasty tag-line
  • Compelling, Get it in a Tweet logline
  • Scintillating synopsis


No questions about it, Nailbiter is a certified million dollar title (read for more insights on what makes a title great.)   Extremely clever, it works on two levels — it evokes the genre of the book, as a nailbiter is a common term for an edgy horror flick, and it also refers to the name of the killer the book will initially focus on.   It’s short, sweet, and does the job.
The only knock against the title, is that there appears to be a B-movie horror flick out there of the same name. Googling “Nailbiter” without adding the word “comic” returns mostly images from that, and not the book. However, I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to not use the awesome title, and should it do as well as I anticipate, I imagine it’ll soon fair a lot better on the “Google-test.”


What makes a serial killer?

That’s the tag-line I’ve seen used for Nailbiter.   It’s solid. What that tag-line does is set up a central theme for the book, which promises to provide the ultimate origin story for serial killers. It establishes the essential mystery that the protagonist will try to uncover…what about this town has given rise to so many serial killers?  For fans of the horror genre, it’s a provocative and intriguing theme to explore. Not bad for five words.


When his FBI friend goes missing after apprehending the latest of   sixteen serial killers Buckaroo, Oregon has spawned since 1969, an NSA agent tries to solve the mystery of how one tiny town can give birth to so much evil.

(Note: I cobbled this log-line together from a few interviews…this isn’t an official Williamson approved piece of copy.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m intrigued enough by that single sentence to pick up the book.

As I’ve said before, the ONLY reaction to a log-line worth a damn is an upturned (slightly wicked) smile resulting from thoughts of the possibilities of such a story, and a desire to hear more.  If your log-line does that, you win.  If it doesn’t, you lose.

In this case, Williamson and Henderson win.


And finally, here’s the solicited synopsis that appeared in Previews for Nailbiter #1:

JOSHUA WILLIAMSON & MIKE HENDERSON deliver a mystery that mixes Twin Peaks with the horror of Se7en!

Buckaroo, Oregon has given birth to sixteen of the vilest serial killers in the world. An obsessed FBI profiler investigating the town has suddenly gone missing, and now an NSA Agent must work with the notorious serial killer Edward Nailbiter Warren to find his friend and solve the mystery of Where do serial killers come from?

“If Josh died I wish he’d leave NAILBITER to me in his will so I could say it was my idea.” —Scott Snyder (SEVERED, Batman, American Vampire)

The only thing I’d critique about this solicit is leading with the creative team. Neither Williamson  or Henderson  are marquee names in the comics world (yet), so leading with them (IN ALL CAPS NO LESS) is an odd choice. (That said, sometimes the best way to become a “marquee name” is to simply start putting your name on the damn marquee.)

The rest, though, is great. The X meets Y, two properties you might already love high concept lead-in, followed up by a textbook short synopses is  very strong.   Why textbook?   Because that synopses, in just two sentences gives us:

  • A compelling setting we’ve never been to (the birthplace of serial killers)
  • A compelling hint of a protagonist (NSA agent) and supporting characters (obsessed FBI profiler) and serial-killer (Edward “Nailbiter” Warren)
  • An inciting incident (missing FBI profiler)
  • An intriguing conflict (NSA agent must work with serial killer)
  • A big sexy idea the book will explore (where do serial killers come from?)

That’s two sentences folks.   Josh NAILED it.

And then, just for good measure, he closed with a pull quote from the hottest writer in all of comicdom.

Now, Josh’s pitch to Image may have been longer…though with that pitch and Mike Henderson’s art, I would have signed the book in a heartbeat.

In summary, Nailbiter boasts a compelling high concept, and horror is hot right now. It’s definitely an undeniable premise.   As my pyramid illustrates, such a high concept alone isn’t enough to create direct market success but it’s a great start.

2.) Compelling Writing

The reviews for Nailbiter are coming in with lots of praise for Williamson. I’m not going to go into a detailed critique here, but the first issue delivers on the promise of the premise, the first job of the writer. Much like the first issue of his last creator-owned Image book, the delightful Ghosted, Williamson pens  a solid first issue that introduces a compelling protagonist, nasty villain, a few unexpected twists and turns, and a rock-solid central mystery.

3) Very Strong Artwork

I was not very familiar with Mike Henderson’s artwork prior to this book.  But in the lead up to Nailbiter‘s release, the panel teasers, covers, and pin-ups for the series all pointed to Henderson having the chops to deliver the goods on this series. Now, having a number of Image series under his belt, and clearly an “IN” with the powers that be over at Image, Williamson might have been able to get this series greenlit on the strength of the pitch alone.  But it’s telling that much of the buzz about this title is about Henderson’s atmospheric  art.


4) World Beating Covers

On a release day when Marvel and DC (and even ComixTribe) unloaded both barrels with their biggest event releases of the spring, it was Williamson & Henderson’s Nailbiter that won  the social media war of that wild Wednesday, thanks to savvy retailers getting their customers to pose as the Nailbiter with this even savvier cover that encouraged user participation.

This Nailbiter cover won the social media war this past Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of our pals at Rubber Chicken Comics.)


As Image has been doing with several of their higher profile new #1s, they engaged in an aggressive variant cover push, and just about all of them for this series have been solid.


5) Publisher Reputation

Joshua Williamson announces Nailbiter at Image Expo

Image comics has carved out an enviable and well-earned position in the industry as a multi-media hit-maker. Though a distant third in market share behind the Big Two, Image dominates the graphic novel sales charts on the strength of The Walking Dead juggernaut and Saga. Over the past five years, Image has become a commercial and critical darling, one retailers have proven to be willing to bet heavily on.  Take a look at the last five #1s that have launched from Image that we have sales data on (March 2014, Comichron):

  • Starlight #1 – 34,080
  • Real Heroes #1 – 23,716
  • Stay Bullets: The Killers #1 – 14,208
  • Tales of Honor #1- 13,827
  • Sovereign #1 – 13,204

In today’s comic market, a 5 digit debut is pretty much a given for any book with an Image “I” on it. Whether it’s because retailers, speculators, and fans simply refuse to miss out on “the next Walking Dead” or if the recent string of top quality books from the publisher have earned everything they publish a closer look, Image books are launching solidly.

What we’re seeing is Image books by young or unproven talent opening in the very low 5 digit territory, whereas creator-owned Image books from superstars like Millar, Hitch, Hickman, etc. are opening in the 20- 50K range.  All that bodes very well for Henderson, who, while not yet a “superstar”, has still amassed a solid track record of sales.

6) Creators with a Proven Track Record of Sales

Joshua Williamson

As I said above, Williamson isn’t quite a household name, but most comic fans have probably seen his work by now, and he’s a known quantity to retailers. He’s worked with most of the major publishers, and worked on a number of New 52 titles for DC. He’s also launched a few well-received Image series, including Xenoholics and, most recently, Ghosted.  He’s been great at continuing to push his own creator-owned books, while keeping his name in print doing licensed work for top 5 pubs.

Henderson is somewhat less known in the industry. He’s been making his bones on licensed work for IDW (Ghostbusters, TMNT), and some smaller projects for Marvel.  He’s previously worked with Williamson on the well-received but very short mini-series Masks and Mobsters, which was a digital first series from Monkeybrain that was later collected in print and published by Image. While Nailbiter  might be the first time many readers are seeing Henderson’s work and paying attention to his name, the guy does have a resume of 30+ issues  to his name. That speaks volumes about his ability to deliver on this new series.

While Nailbiter‘s creative team certainly isn’t as high-profile as some of Image’s other books, Williamson especially has been establishing a strong sales history for his work. The fact that his new series Nailbiter would logically appeal to most if not all of the fans of his current series Ghosted doesn’t hurt at all. Ghosted, opened at around 18K last July.  I expect Nailbiter to be  much bigger.

Additional Keys to Super-Charge Sales

So, Nailbiter gets high marks on all the Keys to  Direct Market success. As an Image book, it was going to do pretty good, regardless. But it was clearly “pretty good” wasn’t all Williamson was hoping for, as evidenced by:

1) The Work Ahead Play  â€“ On Twitter, Williamson announced that the team had  some four  issues already in the can prior to issue #1 going on sale. I know that the first two issues of Nailbiter were made available to reviewers and retailers well before #1 released last week. What working ahead ensures is that the book will come out on time, which any retailer will tell you is paramount for their bottom-line, and which any Image historian will tell you has always been a knock against the publisher. This allows retailers to order with confidence, and allows the book to stay relevant on the shelves.

2) The Media Blitz  â€“ In the lead up to, and following the launch of Nailbiter, Williamson has been hitting social media hard, blogging teasers, doing interviews, and being responsive to fans. I don’t know Josh, personally, but the few interactions I’ve had with him through social media have left me thinking he’s probably a good dude.  His media accessibility and drive show that he’s also a hardworking one. All things being equal, comic fans’  dollars are more likely go to the guys and gals we know (or think we know) and like.

3) Riding the Horror Wave – And a third key is that Williamson’s timing for the book is awesome, as it appears to be riding a resurgent wave of interest in horror comics. John Lee’s recently posited that Summer 2014 might prove to be “The Summer of Horror” in this piece well worth your time. Lees writes:

Just as horror films at their best have a unique power with the way they utilize the tools of that medium in the most visceral and potent of ways, I think that the comic medium has the same potential for engaging the senses. It’s a visual medium, and a well-crafted image can be seared on a reader’s psyche, yet despite the notable works in the field I feel like much of that potential remains untapped…  For  years I’ve felt like the horror market for comics could be huge, and this year it feels like we could be taking major steps in that direction.

I  should note that both Lees and ComixTribe hope this “wave” is the real, as we’re launching AND THEN EMILY WAS GONE, a monthly horror mini-series from John Lees and Iain Laurie with covers from some of the top artists in comics, in July.


For all these reasons, it’s no surprise that Nailbiter  came out of the gate hot this past week, and was an immediate distributor level sell-out.  (As was ComixTribe’s EPIC #1, by-the-way.) Image has already ordered a second printing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another one or two are in the series’ future.  We’ll see how big the series ends up, but I’m betting it’s Williamson’s biggest Image launch yet, putting it in the 20-30K range.

Once again, we should all  wish Williamson and Henderson well on their success and then replicate it ourselves.

Keep Reading!

If you liked this article, you may want to read one of these three articles next:

A Creator-Owned Sales Monster in the Making

Nooo! That’s My #$%#ing Idea! What Are Your Options When Someone Steals Your Pitch?

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Category: Comix Counsel

About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at

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