Nice House on the Lake has been an instant success under DC’s Black Label imprint. It is an unsettling story about a group of friends gathered at a lake house by their mutual friend Walter. Each character is given their own unique title and symbol in the series which instantly struck me as something very different that was seen through the art. As soon as I closed issue one, I reached out to Álvaro to see if he would chat with GateCrashers to which he agreed. I knew my place was only to gather two minds in one place to chat. I reached out to a friend, one of the most brilliant and insightful minds I know, Robert Secundus. He was delighted with the title and symbol I pinned onto him, The Interviewer. My only ask was that he include a question about how attractive Walter was. Anyway, enjoy Robert and Álvaro’s conversation about horror, art, and sandwiches.
Robert Secundus: As is tradition at GateCrashers, I’ll ask our hardest hitting question first— what’s your favorite sandwich?
Álvaro Martínez Bueno: The cuban!!
Nice House on the Lake is one of the most strikingly haunting and beautiful comics on the stands. What were your influences in designing its aesthetic, and forming its setting?
Thanks a lot! I think that, although until now I was channeling my “standard american SH” influences in my comics, for this series I am trying to show other of my interests as a reader and artist, from artists like Rm Guera, Zaffino, Mazzuchelli to other great European authors likeToppi, Christophe Blain, Pratt .. these influences somehow overlapped the more visible ones in my previous work. I am also influenced by contemporary art, architecture, photography, cinema, music … in TNHOTL there is Francis Bacon, David Hockney or John Carpenter. I feel very privileged because I am able to incorporate very organically many things that I am discovering and that I think are good for the aesthetics of the series.
How does your approach to horror differ from your approach to superhero comics?
Actually, I have the impression that we played a lot more with raw horror in JLD, my previous work on superheroes, than in TNHOTL. I would say that in this series we lean more towards fear, despair, anguish… but it is not a morbid story, or gore, nor does it seek easy scare jumps. I think it is one of the successes of the series, that even avoiding all those things we have created an atmosphere of discomfort and oppression in the reader.
What role does beauty, in your mind, play in the horror genre?
It works great as a contrast in terror, just like purity, childhood … they are things that we would like to preserve at all costs and, precisely for that reason, it affects us especially if they are attacked or corrupted.
How did you arrive at Walter’s particular look, and why is he so hot?
It’s based heavily on James so I think he´ll be pretty glad you think so 🙂
I wanted him to be definitely attractive in a haunting way. I’m glad you see it like this too! For me Walter is this bright, interesting Brooklyn fella that you love to run into on a friday night with his mischievous boy glow and a deep presence. But is also strange and disturbing. I was very inspired by Phillip Seymour Hoffman or James Murphy too.
Speaking of Walter, the panel that will stick with me the most is the moment when his physical form— or at least, the appearance of a physical form— is disrupted, and at once he shifts into something like a hologram, a human being, an alien, an animated skeleton, and maybe even the flicker of a flame. Could you walk us through your process in conceiving of and realizing this moment?
It was one of the great design challenges of the series, one day I will show all the stages we went through … I would say that the final design is a mixture of all of them. We started with a very organic approach, something Giger owed, with alien and strange tissues, trendils and weird shapes. Then we drifted to something more glitchy, like a blurry image between two frames … but in that way we lost the fleshy component that my first sketches had and that provided the horror component that the series needed. At some point I came up with the concept of “flesh tornado” that somehow captured both sides.
One of the many striking things about this series is its use of cryptic symbols, both in the icons that represent the main characters, and the alien statues that we glimpse a few times. How did you go about designing these symbols, and do signs/ semiotics play a broader role in the visuals of the series?
They arose from the search for a characteristic graphic identity for our history. I was obsessed with this because I was worried that the series, having a cast of regular people as protagonists, would get a little lame in this regard. James launched these wonderful ideas about symbols and statues and we developed all that imagery. The powerful thing about this is that now that the reader is familiar with these concepts we can play with them not only in the story itself (where they play a vital role) but in the graphics of the series, alter them, change them for others … it is frankly funny.
For the next two questions, I want to ask you about a couple of specific aspects of the setting you’ve designed in the series. Are you scared of lakes, or bodies of water? Why do you think horror often features lakes?
I am definitely scared of lakes, there are lots of mosquitoes there.
The lakes have certain characteristics that I think make it interesting for horror, in addition to mosquitoes. One can be their balance between beauty and mystery. Aquatic environments have something related to the border too, they are good havens for the hidden, the invisible. They make excellent places for drowning too!
The ultra-spacious, sprawling, empty, clean homes of the extremely rich— are these unsettling to you? If so, why, and how do you make such a space feel unsettling to a reader?
That’s very accurate! In my first designs the house was much more opulent, it had more furniture, more elements, it was more impressive … later I emptied it, removing ornamentation. I wanted it to be impressive but skeletal. Somehow I was looking for what you suggest, to be uncomfortable. In fact, it seems to me that Norah’s phrase in number 1 “you want to die now that you know that such a place exists” (I quote from memory!) Is super appropriate for what we wanted to convey: a wonderful place where you would hate to be locked in.
What would you choose, in Walter’s shoes? What would be your apocalypse?
I lean towards what I have once heard referred to as “mild apocalypse”. A systematic erosion of society and its structures, combined with financial, political, cimatological, social, health, or migratory crisis… oh, wait a minute.