Michael W. Conrad and Noah Bailey, the creative team behind psychological horror comic Tremor Dose, are back to haunt your nightmares with their latest ComiXology Original graphic novel, Double Walker.
Double Walker’s folk horror sensibilities, steeped in the mythology of the Scottish Highlands, is deftly executed by Conrad and Bailey in their new tale, and we were lucky enough to get to speak to them about the creative process that they used to craft Double Walker in this exclusive interview.
Where did the idea for Double Walker come from?
Michael W. Conrad: My partner and I found ourselves in the UK for Thought Bubble, one of our favorite conventions, and took a trip similar to the one our characters Cully and Gemma are on. I immediately fell in love with Scotland, it’s people, and the lore. The story arrived nearly fully formed in my mind and it was just a matter of translating it in a way that worked in comics.
Double Walker is a mix of psychological and folk horror. Why do these elements work so well together when telling a story like Double Walker?
Conrad: Folk horror is, by its nature, interested in the human condition. Often seemingly antiquated or bygone practices and beliefs of people reveals something about our fears of the unknown. Melding anxieties of today with those of our ancestors is far less complicated than it seems, in many ways we all still fear and desire the same things. Seeing ourselves as part of a continuum where myth and modernity mingle is of great interest to me.
Noah Bailey: With folk horror there seems to be a common theme of paranoia with your surroundings and the people that you supposedly know. I think of the townspeople of Summerisle toying with Sergeant Howie and summoning him under false pretenses in The Wicker Man, and the secret witches covens and vampires conspiring against puritanical communities in films like Twins of Evil or The Witch. The fear of looking into the eyes of a loved one and realizing that they are no longer inhabiting their temporal shell is a fear that I believe is pretty universal. Some of my favorite examples of this, and ones that were always in my mind when working on Double Walker, are: Boris Karloff as Gorca, returning to his family after a meeting with The Wurdulak in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, the suburban housewife nightmare of The Stepford Wives and the opening sequence to the Coen Brothers masterpiece, A Serious Man!
How much research went into the legends and fables found within the story and did you have to take any liberties with them to shape your narrative?
Conrad: We did our best to honor the stories of the fae, but all mythology is presented in a way that is malleable, in this way we were able to insert our own flavors to compliment the narrative. We didn’t want to recreate as much as reshape and recontextualize lore to serve the story we were telling. We did a ton of research, because we had no desire to present stories that might be seen as an offensive interpretation. I believe we did our homework, and that this feels like a bit of a love letter.
Bailey: For me, I spent weeks buying up books on Scotland, Scottish folklore and faeries, deep-diving into blogs on the internet and just getting into any bits of information I could dig up! It was a tremendous amount of fun, and I learned so much in the process. I wanted to stay true to reality for the most part with my approach to the locations, but I had to try to put my own spin on some of the creatures and make a few references to some of my favorite fairy tale illustrators!
If all horror is based in the stated or unstated fears of the creator, what aspects fueled the terrors that the couple faces in your story?
Conrad: You’re right, horror reveals a lot about what keeps creators up at night. It’s a shame that horror is often marginalized as low art, because its capacity to reveal the human condition is so great it’s almost unavoidable to learn about the creators through the art. In the case of Double Walker I’m sure there will be folks who believe that our fears are this or that based on parts of the central premise… those assumptions may be true, but the main fear I wanted to explore was, and typically is, about identity. Can we trust our own minds? Can we be sure that our perceptions are feeding us information that hasn’t been damaged or altered? Are we, and the people around us who we claim to be?
Bailey: I think I have dozens of answers to this question, but one of the biggest fears expressed for me in Double Walker is the fear of all of the things that could possibly go awry in the whole process of creating a human life. I remember my dad telling me at one point that he could never watch a movie in which a child is harmed or meets a brutal demise- referring to horror films. At the time, my response was kind of “Oh, come on! If it makes you sick, it’s doing its job!” and I’ve kind of always enjoyed movies or comics with a sort of nihilistic, or indifferent approach to the fate of all of the characters involved. With a “Nothing should be off-limits” attitude toward the whole thing. But, I must say, when sitting down to draw such scenarios for several days, my attitude may have been slightly swayed- or at the very least I certainly made myself a bit queasy a few times!
Michael: You have been working on Wonder Woman and The Midnighter over the past few months, two characters who are on different sides of the spectrum in the DC Universe. Thoughts on working on both titles and characters?
Conrad: I’m really lucky to be working on characters that have such different motivations and ways of approaching the world, it requires me to step into different philosophical mindsets when approaching the stories. Superhero comics tend to have a certain rhythm to them, and expectations, especially when the characters are so recognized. I can’t help but be attracted to the idea of bringing some unexpected qualities to the characters, while trying to reinforce what came before. In the case of Wonder Woman, she’ll be 80 years old this year… between that long publishing history, films, tv, cartoons, underoos, there are a lot of expectant eyes on it. This is a blessing and a curse, and one that makes being able to do books like Double Walker so meaningful… no one can tell us what our characters will do, we are in total control.
Noah: Your art style is perfect for horror stories. In terms of composing Double Walker, what techniques did you use in terms of the medium and tools available to you to establish the look and tone of the story?
Bailey: Thanks so much! Before I sat down to lay out the pages of the book, I made a list of rules that would get me out of any creative rut I could find myself in, or remind me of my goals, and I taped it up on the wall above my desk. The two that were the most effective: to never be stifled by the fear of doing something that isn’t “conventional” in comics storytelling and WWOWD?- “What Would Orson Welles Do?” Hahahahaha. I’m a huge Charles Addams fan, and I became a bit obsessed with the painted backgrounds of early Disney animations while working on Double Walker. So, those were two major influences for me artistically throughout. I told myself at the beginning that I could use whatever medium I wanted at any moment and make things as abstract and chaotic as possible, if it suited the panel. I get bored very easily, so I was throwing everything I could at these pages to keep things fun the whole time- charcoal, pastels, watercolor, colored pencil, ink, acrylic paint. I destroyed a handful of paintbrushes with glue and mashed them into ink and bits of charcoal and just went nuts with it! It was a blast!
Both of you thank Becky Cloonan in the afterward to the graphic novel. How did she assist both of you in the making of Double Walker?
Conrad: Becky is my partner and someone that I work with often. In the case of Double Walker I have never shared the book with her. I’ve shown off pages, and mentioned elements, but I really wanted to have little/no outside influence on what Noah and I were doing. We created this thing in a vacuum, it might be foolish not to consult others, but we wanted to see what would happen if we allowed ourselves space. Becky deserves our gratitude because she has been roundly supportive of us as people and as creators. We are lucky to have such a resource easily available, and we will never take that for granted.
Bailey: Aside from Michael, Becky has been the greatest mentor I could possibly ask for. She is a genius artist and such a kind, intelligent and insightful person. Her help and support has been such a blessing for me. She did so much work on the final production of Tremor Dose, and I still feel like an ass for not thanking her then. But I really cannot thank her enough for everything that she has done to help us. She’s the best.
Conrad: I’m wrapping up our piece of Midnighter soon, and will continue on with Wonder Woman, and some other DC Comics projects that have yet to be announced. Dark Horse Publishing will release Tremor Dose, the first Bailey/Conrad joint in November, and we’re very excited to see how it feels to read it as physical media. I’ll continue to make comics on my own, and of course Noah and I are already working on our next book together. We hope to keep telling stories and making things together for a long time.
Bailey: I am currently working on several illustration commissions and film posters, as well as some shorter-form comics for anthologies (one with Michael) and a graphic novel. Michael and I have our next book in the works, and I am looking forward to sinking deep into that and allowing it to become me for a year!
Double Walker is currently available from comiXology, as is Conrad and Bailey’s original horror story, Tremor Dose (which also arrives in print from Dark Horse Comics at your local comic book shop on November 30, 2021).