Writer James Tynion IV is no stranger to the world of horror—there have been strong horror themes throughout his current run on Batman, and in his recently launched The Joker series. Outside of DC, he’s had major success with BOOM! Studios’ excellent Something Is Killing the Children and co-created the anthology series Razorblades: The Horror Magazine.
So, it’s a natural fit for him to bring a full-on horror story to DC, but this one is far outside of the heroes and villains of the DC Universe. The Nice House on the Lake, a new DC Black Label series, sees Tynion reunite with his Detective Comics collaborator Álvaro Martínez Bueno for a story that starts in a world very much like our own, with Walter—weird, sure, but seemingly harmless—inviting friends to the vacation of a lifetime at the titular nice house on the lake. But what starts as a fun getaway soon turns into something truly terrifying.
With the first issue of The Nice House on the Lake’s initial 12-issue season now on sale, DC Nation spoke with Tynion about his appetite for horror writing, re-teaming with Martínez Bueno, the role of social media in the opening chapter, and why his home state of Wisconsin finds its way into so many of his stories.
Both the current arcs of Batman and The Joker have significant horror undertones and The Nice House on the Lake is your most overt horror series for DC yet. Clearly The Nice House on the Lake is literally in another universe from those books, but do you see any commonalities in the themes you’re exploring this year?
I’ve always thought of myself as a horror writer. I like taking the things that I’m afraid about and turning them into monsters for my characters to grapple with. Batman and The Joker deal with a lot of the things that scare me right now about society. In Batman, I’m telling a Scarecrow story which is all about how fear can make us easily manipulated by dark forces with their own agenda. In The Joker, I’m telling a story about how the status quo resists chaos and change, and how the people caught in the mix of that struggle can turn to dangerous ideologies.
But in superhero comics, you can always turn away at the last minute and boil that conflict down into people in fun costumes punching each other. The Nice House on the Lake is trying to hit at a deeper nerve and the goal is to reach that final last moment and sit with the horror rather than turning away.
This isn’t an action comic book, this is a character-driven story where people need to grapple with living in a seeming paradise that they know is not a paradise. It’s about the cognitive dissonance of trying to relax in comfort when you know that the world around you is falling apart. It’s also a story about how friendship evolves as you enter adulthood, and how you can’t recapture the bonds of youth in your adult life.
In a similar vein, what’s it like collaborating with Álvaro Martínez Bueno on this series after your extensive work together in the superhero world? How has that creative process evolved?
I work with a lot of incredible artists, but pretty much from the moment I started working with Álvaro, he draws comics the way that I think comics. Seeing him draw my scripts going all the way back to our time together in Detective Comics helped me finally see my writing in something close to its true form in a way that I genuinely think made me a better writer, not only for him but for other artists. There’s nothing more powerful than being on the same wavelength as your collaborator on a project. And really, the process hasn’t been all that much different, other than the fact that we talk directly a lot more than we used to, riffing on where the story might go and what elements we can draw out in the story.
The best thing is that we were given the time to develop the book. Álvaro spent months designing the characters and the titular “Nice House” before he started drawing the book itself. Top-level, Álvaro only gets better and better each year, and I’m going to hold onto him as long as I can.
This series looks to tap into distinctively modern anxieties like social media—which fuels fear for so many of us multiple times a day—to propel the horror. How much does social media play into the series? And how much did your relation to it shape your perspective?
It plays a pretty key role in the first issue, but then it stops factoring in pretty much after that, for reasons that will become very apparent when people read the first issue…
But I will say that in as much as the series is about friendship, it’s about communication and honesty between friends, and we’ll see different modes of communication highlighted throughout the book. Social media is a kind of communication, but it’s a faulty kind of communication—more performative and indirect by design. But it’s still a part of the spectrum, and unfortunately still a key part of all of our lives.
How did you arrive on upstate Wisconsin as the setting for the series?
Fans of my other creator-owned titles will recognize my penchant for setting everything I can in Wisconsin. On one hand, it’s me basically trying to pull off a Stephen King’s Maine type situation, but on the other, it’s just the backdrop of what America looks like to me—the balance between the rural and the urban, from college towns like Madison, to a city like Milwaukee.
I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, so I’m always going to default to Wisconsin-based stories, particularly when I’m drawing directly from my own experience of growing up (which I absolutely am in this series). Other Wisconsin natives will look at some of the art and think, “Wait. There aren’t mountains in Wisconsin.” And trust me, that’s something the characters are going to notice, too.
Is there a character you most identify with in the series?
Oh, absolutely. I’m the villain of the story.
The Nice House on the Lake #1 by James Tynion IV, Álvaro Martínez Bueno, Jordie Bellaire and Andworld Design is now available in print and as a digital comic book.