Home Comics Matt Chats: Mike Henderson on Ending Nailbiter, Transitioning to Marvel, and the...

Matt Chats: Mike Henderson on Ending Nailbiter, Transitioning to Marvel, and the Challenge of Drawing a Long-Running Series

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For many reasons, drawing comics takes more time now than ever. Producing 20 pages a month is a big ask, and very few modern artists can answer that call. Mike Henderson is one of them, and he delivered a new slice of murder thriller Nailbiter month after month, even squeezing time in to draw a couple comics at Marvel.

His fluid, expressive linework captures emotion and grit better than just about anyone else out there. That perfectly suited him for a mystery centered around serial killers, and now makes him a great fit on Marvel properties like Daredevil and Old Man Logan.

Check out my conversation with Mike about his schedule, recent and upcoming Marvel projects, and feelings about joining another long-running series.

Nailbiter was a big leap from issues of Masks & Mobsters and other smaller projects you worked on prior. Was it daunting to begin drawing a series intended to have a long run?

At first, no. We had 30 issues of Nailbiter in mind certainly, but in the beginning, there was some discussion about making it a maxi or even a miniseries. After the response to the first few issues though, Josh and I knew it had some legs to it. I freely admit things got somewhat daunting around halfway through. It was my first experience with anything even close to that length and 30 issues is a long, long time to draw a slow-burning murder mystery with no capes or explosions. 30 issues is a long time to draw anything, period! But I had a couple of one-shots with Josh at Marvel to break things up.

Nailbiter came out very regularly, especially for a creator-owned series. How do you produce pages so quickly?

I had a slightly different mindset than most in art school and the years after and it led to me getting fast well before I got what I would consider good. I knew enough to know you have to check at least two of the three boxes (good, fast and easy to work with) to make it in comics and I was always so impatient with my progress as an artist that I just started cranking out pages. Not at the expense of quality, but I stopped obsessing over my mistakes and instead made sure I didn’t make them twice. Fortunately, that carried over when I started getting more and more work.

You’re very consistent with your Daily Sketches. Are those warm-ups an important part of your process?

They certainly were on Nailbiter. It was nice to draw something that was so insanely far outside of Buckaroo each day that I didn’t become bored. It kept me loose and let me share art even when the stuff I was working on was too spoilery. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot less time this past year and I suppose a little less motivation given that I’m drawing mutants and Daredevil kicking the stuffing out of The Hand.

I’ve noticed very few artists follow up a long run on one book with another long run. Does drawing the same series for an extended period become draining over time?

That’s true and, I think, a mixture of artistic burnout and the comic market simply not being in love with long runs in the way it used to. Short runs can be rejuvenating after a long project and I was exceedingly lucky to have Deadpool vs Old Man Logan and Daredevil to follow Nailbiter with. But carrying a story from start to finish is an *incredibly* satisfying thing to do, especially when it’s your baby. I can’t stress how enough how incredibly draining it is though. I had peaks and valleys and approached burnout more than once. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I’d also do it differently a second time.

Were comics like What If? Thanos a valuable opportunity to let loose, drawing things very differently from the world of Nailbiter?

It definitely was. As I said, those couple of one-shots I did at Marvel during my run on Nailbiter may have added to my overall workload but I think also saved my sanity. I may have been tired going back to Nailbiter, but I was plenty refreshed, artistically.

Would you take on another long run if the right project came along, or do you need more time to decompress?

I’m sure I will again at some point, but given what I learned on Nailbiter and so far on Dead Man Logan, I’ll be doing things differently. Built-in breaks and probably some other projects to keep me fresh.

Deadpool Vs. Old Man Logan was written by Declan Shalvey, an artist himself. Did his scripts do anything differently from others you’ve read?

I don’t think they did anything differently per se but they were written with me and my strengths in mind and that makes for a very fluid experience. Declan and I are also similar storytellers, so I knew instinctively what he was going for most of the time. Once the guesswork and anxiety of trying to bring out the writers vision are removed from the comic-making process the artist just gets to go kind of bananas (especially when that artist is drawing Deadpool and Logan). It’s very liberating.

How was your experience drawing Daredevil, your first stint on an ongoing Marvel title?

DD was great fun! Charles and Ron had built this epic, whirlwind story arc with an enormous cast (who knew I’d love drawing Foggy?) of super fun characters for me to draw. It was a privilege to bring it to a close with him.

Ron Garney’s art gave Charles Soule’s Daredevil run a very signature look. Was your approach informed in any way by groundwork laid by Garney?

To a limited extent, it did, at least at first. I wouldn’t say we have similar styles, but they’re not so dissimilar that all I needed were a few tweaks to bridge the gap between art and artist. Subtle things mostly, a storytelling choice or specific composition here and there and you’ve brought the reader along for the ride without reminding them someone as crazy good as Ron Garney isn’t drawing it anymore.

Art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

You drew a successful Image series, and now you’ve worked on several projects at the #1 publisher. Where do you go from here?

Dead Man Logan will be my home for the next year or so but Josh and I will be working together again soon. Lining up our schedules is tricky these but we’re getting all our ducks in a row.

Follow Mike Henderson on Twitter and Instagram, plus check out his original art.

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