Ghouls, Monsters & Batman, Oh My! Chatting With Steve Niles

Fri, October 14th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

Steve Niles is approaching one of the busiest times in his career right now. Over the next three months he'll see new books coming out from five different publishers: DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics, IDW Publishing and Boom! Studios. And while Steve may be known as one of the masters of horror comics, the projects coming out in these next three months run the gamut from straight up horror ("Long Pig," Cal McDonald), to super heroes ("Batman: Gotham County Line"), science fiction ("Bad Planet"), action/adventure ("Fused Tales" and comics with a more humorous, light hearted side ("Monsters on the Prowl"). It's pretty clear once these books start hitting the stands, you won't be able to pigeon hole Steve as just the "horror writer" anymore.

The following interview, conducted at Steve's Los Angeles home, covers a lot of ground, from the recently released "Batman: Gotham County Line," to November's "Fused Tales," the soon to be released "Monsters on the Prowl" for Marvel, the latest on "The Lurkers" feature film and much more. You might notice in this interview that there's no mention of "Bad Planet," the December debuting Image Comics series with Tom Jane, Tim Bradstreet and Lewis Larossa. Don't fret because starting Monday you'll get five days of "Bad Planet" goodness when we launch a special week-long look at the coming series.

Now, let's get back to the business at hand, talking with Steve Niles.

"Fused Tales" #1 Page 1 from Steve Niles' "Fused Tales" Story. Artwork by Chee.
Allright, where to start. How about we start with "Fused." You've got a new book coming out soon from Boom! Studios don't you.

Yup, this November. We're doing it as a one-shot "Fused" Special called "Fused Tales." It's by myself and two other writers-- Christopher Long, who did "Easy Way," and Joshua Fialkov who did "Western Tales of Terror" and "Elk's Run." There are three artists, Chee, Nick Stakal and a new guy from the message board named Andrew Ritchie, who's drawn the most disturbing version of Fused ever. Really, it's three more short stories pushing the story along to see if there's interest in more Fused. We'd love to turn it into an ongoing. It could end up being the type of thing where I write some stories, while some other writers can come in at times. We're just sort of testing the waters at this point.

It's got a beautiful Jay Fotos cover. Tell us a bit about the stories we'll find inside.

Well, Chris did a story that dealt with the relationship with Nikki and really helped finalize that relationship as ending. Joshua did a funny adventure story that finds Fused on a mission, which I really liked. And I did something I've been wanting to do for a long time-- now that Fused has joined the Implementers and he's basically under Government control, they've sent him to Iraq. So, I have him dealing with a situation with some of the soldiers and insurgents in the country. I'm curious to see what people will think.

Pages 2 - 4 from Steve Niles' "Fused Tales" story. Artwork by Chee.

Is this your statement on the war?

Sort of. I slipped some things in, but it's not like I've used one character to represent how I feel about it, but I've tried to get all the different views on what a freaking mess it is over there. How truly scary it is. The basic theme of my story is "hate the war, love the soldiers." It is just kids over there who don't want to be there.

I was on a plane a couple of months ago, sitting next to a soldier who just got back after serving for a year in Iraq. He was pretty open to talking about it. He said to me, "Right now, George Bush is about the least popular person with my unit." He mentioned how there's no clear mission, they don't really know what they're doing and they're just trying to maintain peace in a situation where their presence is fueling it. It's the snake eating it's own tail.

Is this when the idea for the story came to you?

You know, I had the idea for the story a while ago, but talking with him helped me solidify a few ideas that I really wanted to explore. Plus, one thing I thought was really interesting talking to him was when I told him about that new Steven Bochco FX show "Over There." He hadn't heard of it, so I told him a bit more. I told him about how the show is about what's going on right now, how it's very violent and graphic. He was furious. He said, "I can't think of a worse thing for morale than a show like this. There are mothers and fathers back home waiting for their kids to come home and there's this TV show depicting those same kids legs being blown off and being attacked." It made some sense. Look at how long it took us to really start making movies about Vietnam? We needed to let it settle in a bit. It's a really stupid idea for a show.

Artwork from Christopher Long's "Fused Tales" story.
Artwork by Andrew Ritchie.

You know, "Out There's" not filmed far from here. Just up in Chatsworth, maybe 20 minutes away, amongst all the ranch style homes.

Really? God, that's bizarre.

Yeah

So, yeah, I guess we should get back to it. "Fused Tales" is pretty much Ross & I testing the waters. See if there's any interest in the characters and if there is, it may launch into something bigger.

Is this the first time you've really brought the "Fused" world into the real world?

In a way, yeah. It was always about his relationships, but Bush & Cheney were characters in the earliest series. I always had the Implementers get their orders directly from the White House.

Artwork from Joshua Fialkov's story in "Fused Tales."
Artwork by Nick Stakal.

For a six-page preview of "Monsters on the Prowl," click here.
Let's talk about your Marvel projects a bit. You've got the one book for now, right? "Monsters On The Prowl?"

Yeah, Duncan Fegredo's doing the interiors and Eric Powell's supplied the cover. I just had a blast writing this, I've got no better way of putting it. It was based on this very early story I had. There's definitely a retro feel to it.

The story addresses the fact that up to "Amazing Fantasy" #15 pretty much every Marvel comic was monsters. There were all these monster comics, but then when all the super-heroes came along they disappeared, except Fing Fang Foom, of course. But the rest all disappeared, so I worked that into the storyline and it explains that they were collected by The Collector? Are you familiar with The Collector?

I admit I'm not.

I'm probably dating myself here, but there was a story I read when I was a kid where the Collector tried to collect the Hulk, which isn't exactly a smart idea! (laughs) So, he's had all these monsters in storage in a zoo under Canada for years. It's actually the Mole Man, who only has his one monster and millions of minions, who tries to break in and steal some of these monsters and winds up setting them loose. Of course, they just do a beeline for New York! (laughs)

Of course, there's buildings to climb and destroy in New York!

Right, that's just what they do. It's like there's a monster homing signal in New York City! What happens at the same time is Bruce Banner is on the run, he's hungry, he's starving. He ends up stopping by the Baxter Building and the only person home is Ben Grimm. While Ben's feeding Bruce, they're trying to reminisce, and Bruce keeps telling Ben, "I don't remember any of our adventures. That's the Hulk!" Like, Ben would ask, "Remember when I threw you over the bridge?" Bruce would say, "No! I don't! We've never hung out!"

(laughs)

"Monsters On The Prowl" #1, Page 1
So, then, the monsters arrive and they realize that they're going to need some backup, so we have some great guest appearances like the original Beast-- you know the one still in his X-Men costume with his giant feet-- and then we've also got Giant Man, whose really upset because they say to him they decided to assemble a team of good monsters to fight the bad monsters and he's like, "Hey! I'm just big, I'm not a monster!" (laughs)

It's fun. It's really light. I had such a blast writing it. I never realized how much those characters were ingrained in me.

Now, this is part of a larger group of Marvel Monster books, but yours isn't connected to those stories.

Right, they're all separate and different stories. Giffen's doing one, as is Eric Powell who just did "Devil Dinosaur." I remember when we were editing my story I sent off this request to Marvel of monsters I wanted to use like, "OK, I want to use Goom, Gog, etc…" All these hilarious names, then I get an e-mail back that says, "You can't use Goom because Keith's using Goom. You can't use Congorilla either." Just the weirdest e-mail exchanges I've ever had.

How does Duncan's art look?

So good. It's so amazing. Check out this monsters escape page.

Wow. That's pretty!

This was the first thing I saw and it blew me away. It's a beautiful piece. See this guy right here? [Steve points to a piece of original on his wall, "Where Monsters Dwell" #33] That's Tragg! See, there's Tragg and he's in my story, too! Tragg, the thing that stalks the subway!

Wow, clearly you've had a life-long love affair with the Marvel Monsters!

Absolutely. That includes the Hulk and the Thing, too. I love these characters. That's what was so startling when I sat down to write this stuff-- how easily it flowed. I already knew how the Thing spoke. There were little things I had to adjust for, like I gave him a cigar, but then I remembered nobody smokes anymore. I did dumb Hulk, but I also did that thing, which I had forgotten at first, where the Hulk always played dumber than he actually was. In those early issues of "The Defenders" or even "Avengers," it's clear he has an idea what's going on. I mean, he remembered to show up for the meeting? (laughs) So I had some fun with that as well.

How'd this all come together for you?

It originally got started with Jenny Lee at Marvel, but then she left Marvel to do martial arts or something. She went off to kick peoples asses.

So, who approached whom then?

I had been approaching them and this was basically a story I pitched and then finally, since they're doing this whole Marvel Monsters tribute, it came together. I'm just really excited about this. I know I said it before, but I just never realized how big a part of my brain these characters are. Everything just flowed right out. Even the Beast, "Wow, that's right, I know how Hank McCoy talks!"

You didn't scare yourself too much?

Just a little bit! Just a little bit. Plus, this art from Duncan is a bit different than you've seen from him before. He went with an older style Hulk who's a bit less defined.

Now that you've worked with both Marvel and DC editorial, can you illustrate the differences between the two?

You know what was really funny with the Marvel thing-- and this is just me, I could be completely wrong-- but I remember when I got the reaction back to the script, my editor Jenny Lee called me and said, "Everybody likes it. It's, it's really fun!" And it dawned on me, they probably thought I was going to have Hulk smashing peoples skulls, ripping peoples arms out of their sockets, all these horrible things! (laughs) I don't think they realized that I'm able to shift gears. I do the horror thing because I love it and that's what took off for me, but it's not all I do and it's not all I love.

So, in some ways this book shows a different side of your writing repertoire?

Totally. If anything this is more in the vein of "Very Big Monster Show" or "Aleister Arcane."

Was that intentional that your first big project coming from Marvel would be a little more light-hearted compared to what people know you best for?

Nah, I think the project lent itself to that. It seemed like this was a light project. I mean it's giant monsters invading New York! You have Giant Man, who when he finally finds out why he's there, is a fun moment, nothing horrific about it. I got to do action, which I don't get to do a lot of.

"Batman: Gotham County Line" #3
What about DC Comics?

When I did "Batman: Gotham County Line," editorial was great. Joey Cavalieri, well, you couldn't ask for a better editor. They gave me a lot of freedom compared to the new stuff I'm working on that hasn't been announced. There were a few things I didn't know like Batman couldn't even say crap! Evidently you can't, which is fine. But they let me get away with a lot of things I wasn't sure of. It's a very strange story, so I'm really curious to see what the reaction is.

You know, I've had my fights with editors in the past over my stuff, but if I'm working for DC or Marvel and they tell me that a character doesn't sound like this or that, fine. It's your character, it's your sandbox. Thank you for letting me play in it.

"Batman: Gotham County Line" finally came out last week. It's been over a year since it was announced. Why the long delay?

It's three, 48 page books. Simply put, it's a big project and it took time. DC did a really nice send off with the book, putting pages inside the Previews catalog.

[At this point in the interview Steve's wife, Nikki Niles, co-writer of "Lonely Tombstone," walked into Steve's office.]

Steve: Nikki, do you have anything to say for yourself?

Nikki: No, I just need a box.

(laughs)

Nikki: What, are you guys doing an interview?

Steve: (laughs) You better leave that in!

OK, getting back to it. Have there been any changes to "Batman: Gotham County Line" since we first talked about it?

There are two guest appearances starting in the second issue. They were originally planned as other characters, but I naturally gravitated to these new ones I used. Originally it was going to be Hellblazer and Swamp Thing, but those characters are held under other jurisdictions.

One of the best things about working with DC so far is that before I really only knew Batman and all the iconic heroes because that's all I've ever really read. I didn't grow up reading those characters. Now I'm going back and reading a lot of DC stuff and it's been great to discover. There are artists and writers that I never read because I was a Marvel kid. But lately I've been picking up a lot more DC stuff. The thing is, DC has such a long history and so many characters that it was daunting getting into their books. It was intimidating for a long time, but now with the excuse of work, I'm going back and reading all kinds of great old stuff.

With the first issue of "Batman: Gotham County Line" just released, it marks your first published work from "the big two." Now, you've certainly had a lot of success in the comics industry and Hollywood, but there's got to be something neat about seeing that big stack of comics on new comics day with your name on the cover right beside Batman. Did you have a geek moment that morning, or did you keep it together?

I had a major geek moment. I'm pretty used to seeing my stuff on the back shelves, you know, where the crazy-people books are like "Elk's Run" and everything Rick Remender does, so seeing it right there, up front, by the counter was like a promotion. I just stood there and beamed and when someone bought one I almost screamed, "I did that!" Luckily I was heavily sedated at the time and managed to restrain myself.

(laughs) Allright, so what's the reaction been like to your story so far? What are you seeing in reviews and on your message board? And have there been any odd or interesting complaints from readers?

So far so good. I've read a couple reviews and gotten the thumbs up from fellow writers and editors. Why? What'd you hear? You didn't like it?! OA GAWWWWWD YOU DIDN'T LIKE IT!!! Why! Why! Why!

Next question.

(laughs) Yeah, I think that would be a good idea! (laughs) So, you told us that we've got some interesting characters to look forward to in issue #2. Anything else you can tell us about the story and where you're taking readers?

I'm taking them on a magical carpet ride...through a bloody nightmare the likes of which Batman has never experienced. Let's just say expect the worst. Heh, heh.

A couple of months ago you revealed that Cal McDonald is moving back to Dark Horse with a new trade collecting all of "Supernatural Freakmachine," including the two previously unreleased issues. Is there anything new to add there?

Well, as we reported, we're finishing it up as a trade with the two issues missing added on. So, when it comes out there will be 44 new pages. I got railed on one Web site for this.

Why, for repackaging the first three issues in this trade paperback?

Yeah. Someone actually said I was trying to shine a turd! So I told the guy to send me the three books he already purchased and I'll send him the twelve bucks. This is hardly a situation I asked for. But this is the best solution we could come up with.

As to your first question, the only thing that's changed at this point is anything we do with Cal McDonald from now on will be called "Criminal Macabre." So, we'll keep that as the brand name. For instance, "Criminal Macabre: Supernatural Freakmachine." And because of all the time that's gone by, Kelly Jones has taken on a bunch of other gigs like "Conan," a creator-owned series with monsters and shit coming out…

Artwork from the final two chapters of "Criminal Macabre: Supernatural Freakmachine"
The title's not "Monsters & Shit" is it?

No, but I really want to use that, though! (laughs) That would be shooting myself in the foot coming out of the gate. "C'mon, why won't you publish my book?"

(laughs) So Kelly's not involved with the next "Criminal Macabre" chapter?

Nope, he's too busy. I'll probably wind up doing a short series with another artist, which is fine. But Kelly and I are fine and we'll keep doing Cal stuff.

Then, once "Supernatural Freakmachine" is published, there's going to be a "Criminal Macabre" regular series. Is there a target release date for this yet?

Not yet. We're just getting things together now. I have the story for them, so I just need to talk to my editor Shawna and get the ball rolling.

You mentioned to me when I came in that you've been working on the "Lurkers" film script.

Right. We debuted the poster for "In The Blood" and "Lurkers" in San Diego. I'm doing a treatment on "Lurkers" right now. What the comic was and what I'd like the movie to be are really different in a lot of ways.

How so?

With the script we'll go much more into Dietz's character and his personal problems. There's things that are lightly touched on in the comics, like him taking pain killers and with the treatment I'm able to explore why and what happened to him that put him into this yearlong depression. There's a lot more about him and his family and the way that ghouls are being handled is just a little subtler. There are things you can do in a comic that if done in a movie would just come out so cheesy. Everyone would just get up and leave if we did it exactly as in the comics. So, there's a slower reveal on the ghouls. There's a new opening scene and a different, or rather an additional ending.

I

'd say "Lurkers" and "Hyde" were two seeds of a story for me. Just the barebones of the idea. Then when I wrote the comic I expanded on those original ideas. Then when you start picturing it live action, you realize you have to go for different things and can really explore a new side of the horror.

So, it's not like you held back on story in the comics, but once you got to writing the scripts, you realized you had more to explore?

Yeah and there are those things when you write comics that you know you can't put in. With "Lurkers" I knew I only had four issues and 22 pages per issue and there's only so much you can address under those circumstances.

It's interesting you say that. In film there's been some talk about how Hollywood is censoring themselves more today than they have in a long time in that many studios aren't looking at R rated films these days because there's too much financial risk associated with that rating. In comics you don't really have those restrictions, per se.

That's why we're dealing with Lions Gate Films because they're the one company out there not worried about being politically correct and will allow their artists to do things that might be shocking. That's what's so ironic about censoring horror movies because it's like studios are saying today, "You can't do that, it's too scary." Uhhh, that's what we're going for here. If you censor the scares, you're censoring the whole genre itself.

Now, that being said, that first spread of the first victim in "Lurkers?" We probably won't be seeing that in the film because children are a very touchy subject.

Right.

Yeah, and fill in your own Michael Jackson joke there. (laughs)

Allright, tell me a bit about this "Dark Delicacies" book you worked on?

It's a new collection of short stories from a store in Burbank that I always do signings at. Del Howison & Jeff Gelb put this together. I can't believe I'm in the same book as some of the people in this book. I mean, cmon, Clive Barker, Ray Bradburry, Ramsey Campbell, Richard Matheson, then there's this guy "Steve Niles." (laughs) They should put my name in there half-sized!

So, I did a Cal McDonald story for them called "All My Bloody Things." It's a new short story that's not available anywhere else.

How can fans get their hands on this? Just through Dark Delicacies?

Through bookstores, at Amazon.com and on my site for the usual jacked up, signed price.

Oh, before I forget, I just pitched this to one of the big two, which those of you reading this won't get to see. Check this out.

Wow. That's …

You see who the villain is?

Yeah, XXXXXXX.

That's right. I'm working on it with Casey Jones.

Are they going for it?

I think so.

I notice that this has a date of 2004 on the pitch. Is this just the rate at which the major publishers work at?

Nah, it's the speed me and Casey work. It just took us that long to get it in considering how much other work we've been working on. So, I've got that pitch in. I've got probably three or four pitches in at Marvel and at least two things at DC right now that may or may not take off. One is a six-issue series based on an old character and then I think we might do an ongoing based on a character that I've created that will hopefully be with Kyle Hotz. We should hopefully have that settled shortly.

I think you're almost done here. Anything new with the "30 Days of Night" novels?

Well, the first one is almost done. It'll be coming out from Pocket Books in March of 2006. It's called "Rumors of the Undead" and I wrote it with Jeff Mariotte. We're just doing the final edits on it. I think it came out really good. What's really fun about it is that it ties together a lot of the stuff that happened post-"30 Days of Night." A lot of those characters are re-addressed. It's about the partner of Agent Morris and trying to find out why he disappeared, which is what happened in "Dark Days." So, there's a little backtracking and it winds up back in Barrow.

I'm so bent on not stretching the "30 Days of Night" thing out. I've always said that. Every step has felt pretty good so far and I want to make sure any further steps feel that same way.

And there's a "30 Days of Night: Bloodsucker Tales Annual" coming from IDW Publishing, right?

Yeah, there's a story by myself and Nat Jones. It's a John Ikos story, the grizzly hunter guy.

"30 Days of Night: Dead Space"
And there's one other "30 Days of Night" project coming from IDW, right?

Yeah, it's called "30 Days of Night: Dead Space" and I wrote it with Dan Wickline. Milx is doing the art. It's vampires in space. You haven't seen blood until you've seen it in a weightless atmosphere. It's so cool! (laughs) I just love the idea that if somebody is killed in space, the blood would just float everywhere.

No "30 Days" projects with Templesmith?

None planned. I had one last Eben and Stella story I wanted to do, but he declined. He's doing "Fell" with Warren Ellis. Good book...very familiar cover design. Did you notice?

I think...

Yeah, they look just like the original "30 Days" covers. That Warren is a marketing genius. I'll give him that.

And you've got something new coming from Desperado and Image Comics, right?

Yeah, it's called "Long Pig." I love this. First off, I wonder how many people will get the name.

Tell us!

Well, it's the word for human flesh! Plus, I wonder how long it took people to see what's going on with this cover. What's odd about that?

Well, there are too many fingers!

(laughs) Yup! The original ad line for this was going to be, "Welcome to the country. Take your shoes off. Sit a spell. Get disembowled." (laughs!)

So when will this hit the stands?

It'll probably be in the next Previews, so three months or so. It's a 48-page one-shot that'll be a little "Deliverance" mixed with some cannibals and crazy people. Lots of blood. Just a good, straightforward horror story.

Now, what's interesting is the other thing you've got at Desperado is very different from this, "Lonely Tombstone," which is something of a children's story.

Yeah, it looks like a children's story, but it's about loneliness and being the outsider.

Whereas "Long Pig" is your answer to "Deliverance?"

Well, yeah. This is me and Nat Jones going crazy. We had a lot of fun doing "The Nail" together and while we did "Giant Monster" together and I love that genre, he likes straightforward horror, guys with axes in the woods type stuff. So, I said OK, let's get some guys with axes in the woods for Nat. I threw some titles around for him and when I came up with "Long Pig," he loved it.

It's about people who love to eat people. You know, something for the holidays, a stocking stuffer.

So, where does this term for human flesh, long pig, come from?

Oh, I dunno, cannibals? (laughs) I don't hang out with those guys, so I really don't know!

(laughs) I get it, because we're like a stretched out pig or something?

Yeah, I guess we taste like ham.

(laughs) What, you don't know from personal experience?

No, I do not!

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