Coffin Bound: nihilism meets theater in comic book form

When Coffin Bound originally started in August, 2019, I took a chance on it because of its striking cover and strange, grimey artwork. I loved it. I sold a friend on the book by showing her a page from the comic depicting a stripper slicing off and removing her skin while performing at a club. My friend knew she had to read it. 

“The book definitely found its audience, which is really nice. It definitely wasn’t a sure thing when we started,” writer Dan Watters said. “It wasn’t like, ‘oh, this is definitely something people are looking for.’ You know, ‘no one’s done a bleak, grindhouse, nihilist book with baroque dialogue and theatrical flourishes and all this kind of stuff.’ There wasn’t a specific gap in the market.” 

This disturbing, stunningly drawn and engrossingly strange comic book, published by Image Comics and drawn by an artist who goes by Dani, just ended its second arc this month. 

Watters, based in London, has also written comics like Sandman Universe: Lucifer, and his new series, Home Sick Pilots, drawn by Caspar Wijngaard, debuts next month. Greece-based artist Dani has done the art for comics like The Low, Low Woods, a horror book written by Carmen Maria Machado in the Hill House Comics line from DC Comics. She’s also done comics work with publishers like BOOM! and IDW. 

Coffin Bound has had two, four-issue arcs so far, each of which have been collected into paperback collections. Each arc appears to take place in the same world but follows different protagonists and storylines. The latest arc follows a city banning an addictive, religion-tinged drug called “God.” The first arc followed a character named Izzy, who tried to erase all evidence she ever existed after she learns an assassin has his sights set on her. 

Watters and Dani looked a lot into theater and nihilism when working on Coffin Bound. Digging deep into nihilist philosophy proved particularly important for Watters’ writing of the first arc. 

“It’s very dark, very grim,” Watters said. “I find that stuff interesting in that it’s philosophy with no way of actually enacting it in real life. You can’t put that stuff into practice. I think our first arc, Izzy is the closest embodiment that you can get. That was why I wanted to explore that. What if you tried to live as a real nihilist?”

When Watters and Dani work together, there’s a lot of back-and-forth. They’ll chat for hours on Skype, showing each other their cats as a break.  

“I think that’s a big part of it,” Watters said. “That’s the thing I always like about doing books at Image. There’s always a little bit more of a direct line between the creative team.” 

Dani agreed. She said Watters usually leaves her a lot of leeway in his scripts, except every now and then when there’s something he really, particularly wants. 

“It’s organic,” she said. “That’s the only way I can describe it.” 

The idea behind the imagery I found so arresting in the first arc, of a stripper removing her skin, is that once the women are displayed as a collection of flesh and organs and blood, the men begin to demystify them as objects of desire, finding the process therapeutic. Dani looked to burlesque for visual inspiration. Watters thought a lot about the nature of strip clubs. 

“It’s the idea of, you’re going somewhere in order to get something that you can’t have because there’s no real connection there,” Watters said. “There’s no real sensation beyond the desire, which I think is an odd and very, very human sort of thing.” 

It’s an odd book that reads a bit like poetry at times. There’s something sort of gross about the book, but there’s also lots of beauty. The book also always feels focused on some fascinating thematic concept. 

“We’re trying to reach something a little bit uneasy and a little bit uncomfortable,” Watters said. “And then trying to reach, especially in the second book, at things you can’t really put into words, like faith and the idea of grieving and how these things kind of escape language is a big part of that second book.” 

It’s quite different compared to other comics from mainstream publishers, so it’s fortunate that it’s found an audience from around the world. 

“I think we have a little bit of everything. In Greece, the people that follow the book are the weirdos,” Dani said, laughing. 

Watters interrupted her while she laughed. “They’re going to hear this, Dani,” he said. 

“Yeah, I know,” Dani said in reply, still laughing. “They like being the weird ones.” 

***

images courtesy of image comics. you can find lots of options for buying the issues and trade paperback collections by clicking HERE

the patreon page for this blog is currently suspended, but these are the fine folks who supported the blog in october: 

Vali Chandrasekaran

Josh Farkas

Eddie Trizzino 

here’s a doodle owed to vali – fan art of the protagonist of his comic genius animals? 

and here’s a doodle of my buddy eddie, who graciously supported the patreon as well. 

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