Embracing the Dark Side: Niles talks '30 days' sequel, 'Dark Days'

Wed, February 19th, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

Last year was a big one for Steve Niles. He went from a guy most comic fans had maybe a passing knowledge of, to the writer of one of the most unexpected smash hit comics of 2002, "30 Days of Night." A horror comic in a sea of super heroes, "30 Days" was a big success for Niles. Then news of the film option for "30 Days" came down the line and that "Spider-Man" director Sam Raimi would be Executive Producer on the project. All of this success meant a trade paperback collection of the book was on the way (in stores now). So what's next? How about a sequel to "30 Days of Night," picking up where the final issue leaves off, called "Dark Days."

First off, for those not familiar with the story in "30 Days of Night," it's a straight up horror story. The action takes place in a small town in Alaska called Barrow, where for thirty days each year the sun doesn't rise. On the night when the sun sets for the last time, vampires awaken and terrorize this small little community. The husband and wife Sheriff team of Eben and Stella are the only ones to protect the town and, well, as you can imagine all hell breaks loose.

"Dark Days," a six issue, bi-monthly series coming in June from IDW Publishing, reunites Niles with series artist Ben Templesmith and is edited by Jeff Mariotte. The story picks up following the events that took place in Barrow and be forewarned, it's hard to describe "Dark Days" without giving away some details from "30 Days of Night," so consider this your spoiler warning.

"Here's the dilemma with 'Dark Days,'" Niles told CBR News Tuesday afternoon. "I can only go into so much detail because it does pick up where '30 Days of Night' left off. I'd have to give away the ending to '30 Days of Night' to completely describe what happens in 'Dark Days.' Let me just put it this way, some of the survivors and people who lost loved ones reunite in 'Dark Days' and they have a new mission in life which is 1) to call attention to the fact that vampires exist and they're out there and they're everywhere and 2) to seek them out and destroy them if possible."

A zombie from "Dark Days" by Ben Templesmith
In the world that "30 Days" exists in the people are just now starting to realize that vampires do actually exist, but that doesn't mean everyone's willing to accept it straight away.

"If you look back at '30 Days of Night,' in the first issue there was a woman, Miss Judith, who lives in New Orleans, and it was definitely hinted at the fact that she's well aware of these people, these things, these monsters. What the Barrow attack is going to wind up being is one of the first documented attacks. One of the first times where there were actually enough survivors and physical proof to take it to the next level. That's what's always lacked. As it turns out there are hundreds and hundreds of years of attacks in the Arctic Circle with whole towns disappearing, but it wasn't until this attack that things went wrong and didn't go quite as smoothly as they would have like. Because of the [News] Helicopter flying in [to Barrow] some footage was sent back on a wire with actual footage of the attack."

"Dark Days" will be a lot more action oriented than "30 Days," but Niles was quick to point out "we're not going to start seeing Stella doing 'Matrix' moves!" But don't expect "Dark Days" to be all action with no heart.

"You know what, the love story is still in there," said Niles. "The story follows Stella, who lost her husband, her one true love [in '30 Days'], and part of her is holding onto some glimmer of hope that she might be able to get him back. She really hasn't gotten over the loss."

As for the characters populating "30 Days," we'll be revisited by some old friends and a whole slew of new characters will be making an appearance.

"We're bringing Judith back as a major character," said Niles. "There's a new character, a vampire, named Dean. He's a little bit mysterious. Seems to have been friends with Marlowe and just missed the meeting in Barrow. He finds the actions that Stella takes to be a challenge. His character's a bit more of what I want to get into with the vampires. A lot of them are just pure evil because of their needs, but he sort of still carries around a lot of the baggage from his life, because he hasn't been a vampire all that long.

"I'm also bringing in some law enforcement elements. The FBI is going to be involved in this one. They're very intrigued by a book that Stella's written called '30 Days of Night,' which is basically the vampire version of Whitley Strieber's 'Communion.' She's coming out and saying, 'This book all of you are calling a work of fiction is not a book of fiction. It happened to me!' So she's attracting a lot of negative attention from the living and the dead."

Considering the success "30 Days" was met with some might think the only reason to do a sequel would be to try and capture that success a second time, but for Niles it's more than that. It gives him an opportunity to flesh out the world he's created and go in new directions with the characters he's become so familiar with.

Page 2 from Criminal Macabre by Ben Templesmith
"This thing, '30 Days,' started out as just this little thing we [Niles and Templesmith] were going to do while we waited to get back into 'Hellspawn.' I didn't realize until we really did that first issue when I said, 'Oh My God! This is a really rich idea! This can go a lot of places.' As I developed it I realized that '30 Days' could have been six issues easily, just developing the characters and towns people. I want to see, now, if I can take it that much further. Ideally what I'd like to do is do another 'Dark Days,' but pick up with different characters. Each time sort of add a layer to the mythology or world. The next one could follow 'Dean' or a new character I've invented, so on and so forth."

"Dark Days" will expand the world we see beyond the focus on Barrow found in "30 Days of Night," taking the reader to points around the world.

"We still have Barrow. Since Stella's doing a book tour she's in Los Angeles, where a lot of the action takes place. There's also going to be some locations in the Arctic Circle and other places that experience these periods of darkness where we'll be introduced to a whole wide range of new vampire characters. Places like the Netherlands, Finland."

Many have wondered what about "30 Days of Night" captured the imagination of readers, what made it such a big success. When asked, Niles says he didn't know either, but has some thoughts on why his horror story has worked in comic form where others have.

"From what I hear and what people tell me is how simple and direct the idea is. When people want Horror in comics they just want to hear a horror story. They don't want a guy in leotards in a scary world. That's far too often what they're being given.

Chupacabra From "Cal McDonald's Field Guide to Monsters and Freaks." Art by Luis Diaz
"When Ted at IDW came to me about 'Dark Days' he asked about doing it as an ongoing series. I said no because I'm going to have the same feeling I do when I read something like 'Hellblazer,' which is that if it's ongoing you know everything's going to be okay. If you know everything's going to be okay, horror doesn't work. So I said six issues. I'll do another six and another if it continues to work, but I think you really limit yourself in horror doing an ongoing series."

Getting back to the "30 Days of Night" film for a moment, Niles tells CBR News that as of now no casting has been done, nor has a director been hired for the movie, but he's still hard at work on the screenplay for the film.

"I am writing multiple drafts of the rough draft! I'm really making sure I've got it down. I'm fortunate to have a situation right now where Raimi's working on 'Spider-Man,' so nobody's really rushing me at all. I've spent the past couple of months really taking my time with it. Breaking it down, passing it back and forth between Mike Richardson, Raimi's people and other people involved. Really getting a chance to hone it in.

"I'm so happy with it. The frustration I mentioned earlier, you know, writing '30 Days' as a three-issue series from a pitch and then realizing it had all this other possibility, well, now I'm getting to realize that all now by fully populating the town and understanding Eben and Stella and where they come from. It's coming along really great and I expect within the next couple of weeks to be passing it on."

Sketch of Cal McDonald by Josh Medors
Since the success of "30 Days of Night" the comics market is seeing a number of new horror titles hit the market. Dark Horse Comics has even announced a new line entirely dedicated to the horror genre. While Niles doesn't believe he's the reason for this sudden interest, he does hope that this is just the beginning of creators exploring genres other than those populated with super-powered beings.

"I think there are people out there that just want to do horror," explained Niles. "Then, something like '30 Days' comes out and they're going to jump on it, that gives them their cue to do it. I hope! What I would also hope is that it triggers other people to do stuff like westerns, crime comics. Some freakin' romance even! Try some other genre's too, because I think '30 Days' proves that if horror is a viable genre in comics it proves we should keep trying to do other things. I really think that's what comics need more than anything else, more variety. The super-hero stuff is covered! It really is!"

In addition to "Dark Days," Niles has a number of other books available now and in the near future. This week sees the release of the final issue of "Fused" and "Hellspawn" #15, both from Image Comics featuring artwork by Ben Templesmith.

This May finds "Criminal Macabre: A Cal McDonald Story" released as part of the previously mentioned Dark Horse line of horror comics. It's an all-new adventure featuring the hero from the "Savage Membrane" and "Guns, Drugs and Monsters" novels. "Criminal Macabre" is five issues long and once again sees Ben Templesmith teaming with Niles to tell the story.

Cy-Bot head by Josh Medors from "Fused"
Fans of Cal McDonald will also be interested to hear there's another book featuring the character coming later this year from IDW Publishing called "Cal McDonald's Field Guide to Monsters and Freaks," like a bird watching guide for all the monsters in the world. The book has narration from Cal, facts for each monster with a different artist illustrating each entry.

In September of this year a new horror comic from Niles called "Wake the Dead" will hit store shelves from IDW. It's a four-issue series with art by newcomer MILX, an artist from Malaysia that Niles discovered on his message boards. Niles was impressed by the art he posted, saying he "outdid Geoff Darrow's Geoff Darrow for details!"

"[MILX and I] were throwing around a few different projects and a week and a half ago I remembered this pitch I wrote up called 'Wake the Dead' which is a really straight-forward, modern retelling of Frankenstein. When you watch Frankenstein you don't realize that these characters are 20, 21 years old in the 1920s. These are kids! Young doctors, young people doing these things. ['Wake the Dead'] takes place in the American suburbs and is real gritty."

Also from MILX, Niles and IDW is "Queen Boudicca: The Warrior Queen," a decidedly different style of story than "Dark Days," "Wake the Dead" or the Cal McDonald novels. It's a historical graphic novel telling the story Roman Queen and the struggles she faced under the most incredible of odds.

[Queen Boudicca]"It's an incredible story! You know, everyone is very familiar with the story of William Wallace because of 'Braveheart.' [With 'Queen Boudicca'] we're talking about 500 years before that. A 40 year old, mother of two, rose up against the Romans and burned three cities to the ground and had them on their heels. I find that to be really inspiring. In writing about Queen Boudicca you get to write about a lot of other really great characters. You get to write about the Druids, the Celts and the Iceni and all these other tribes. I'm really interested in that time period."

While Niles has clearly explored genres outside of horror, many think of Niles as just a horror writer, but the scribe has no problems with that label and doesn't see himself being pigeonholed by fans as "the guy who writes horror comics."

"That's a really nice positive thing for people to say! Even within horror there are different genres," said Niles. "I hope people that read '30 Days of Night' will go pick up one of the Cal McDonald books and realize there's a lot of humor in those. Sure, those books live in a horror world, but they're hardly scary and they're not meant to be. Being pegged as a horror guy doesn't bother me because I love it! I love horror! I have a lot of fun doing it.

"'Fused' is going to be continuing. That's got a little more science fiction, super-hero edge to it. People can call me the horror guy if all I've got out is horror, so I have to take the offensive and get some other stuff out there."

Look for "Dark Days" #1 in comic shops this June.

 
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