“30 Days of Night” co-creator Steve Niles and IDW Publishing continue their horrific relationship this March with the release of “Monster & Madman” #1. Illustrated by newcomer Damien Worm, the latest series from the horror writer explores what happens when the Frankenstein monster manages to make its way to London during Jack the Ripper’s infamous Whitechapel murders in 1888.
Niles spoke CBR News about “Monster & Madman,” and the writer explained why he casts the Frankenstein monster in so many stories, teased a new, top-secret DC Comics project, discussed how his Texas home flooding led to “one of the most incredible things to happen to him in his entire life” and more.
CBR News: What’s “Monster & Madman” all about?
Steve Niles: It started out as a “Crime and Terror” story I was doing with Scott Morse, and it just kind of grew into its own thing. Basically it’s about merging a historical figure with characters from literature. In this case, it’s the Frankenstein monster who wandered off into the frozen tundra. He’s been wandering around all these decades and now finds himself in London in 1888, which is when the Whitechapel murders occurred. Five of those were attributed to Jack the Ripper. During the story, the Frankenstein monster meets a doctor eager to help the monster make a new wife.
Will you be delving into the history of Jack the Ripper?
I’ll be hinting at it, but there’s not going to be a lot of stuff. I wouldn’t read this if I was looking for facts about Jack the Ripper. I am going to work some stuff in, but the thing I have on my side is that there were all these other Whitechapel murders, some of them far worse than the ones attributed to Jack the Ripper. I think one of them, they only found a torso. There will be some new things people might learn because I’m going to keep it as grounded to reality as possible, but nobody knows who Jack the Ripper really was, so I’m creating a fictional character.
You’ve used the Frankenstein monster a lot in your works, most recently in “Criminal Macabre.” What’s your fascination with this misunderstood giant?
I have no clue, but I use him all the time! Years ago, I did a story called “Wake the Dead,” which was basically a modern retelling of “Frankenstein.” He’s a character in “Criminal Macabre,” too. I’m also doing a continuation of the Mary Shelley novel with Bernie Wrightson that I’m on the third issue of, called “Frankenstein Alive, Alive!” I wish I knew why I was so fascinated with it, but I don’t think it’s any different than people who obsess with Spider-Man.
I really like the idea of a man, a creature, a child, who is created from dead body parts and then basically abandoned. It just fascinates me. I don’t know why, because I wasn’t created in a lab or abandoned, but there’s something about the Frankenstein monster and the “Frankenstein” story that has always fascinated me.
Do you write the monster the same across all your stories, or does his characterization depend on the story?
Different ones every single time. There’s so many permutations of his character. You can do anything from the Frankenberry cartoony riff to the Boris Karloff version to the novels. There have been so many versions in all media. That’s part of the fun, to try and find your version.
The only one I haven’t really done is Frankenstein as an action hero. There’s one at DC Comics. Every time I see him, he’s holding a machine gun and riding a horse. Then we’ve got “I, Frankenstein,” and that looks like a pure action Frankenstein monster movie.
How are you characterizing the monster in “Monster & Madman?”
I’m trying to keep him somewhat close to the version of the monster in the Mary Shelley novel, which is a slightly more intelligent monster. The wonderful thing about that one is that he’s a sponge for knowledge. He reads books. Sure, he went on a murderous revenge rampage and all that, but he’s still a pretty intelligent guy. He’s able to work through society. He’s trying to find his way in the world.
Will you be filling in the gaps of Frankenstein’s history between wandering off into the arctic at the end of Mary Shelley’s novel and the time “Monster & Madman” takes place?
I might. If people like it, I might. I just love writing the Frankenstein monster. And you’re right, those little gaps in time could hold a million adventures. Just on his travels around Europe, even. From the arctic to Great Britain is a pretty big voyage right there. I touch on it a little bit in “Monsters and Mayhem,” but not too much.
“Frankenstein” is in a lot of ways a story about science gone awry. Considering how fast science and technology are advancing, do you think the story is especially relevant today?
I don’t know if it was so much science gone awry as man playing God. It’s man using science to step into a domain that’s forbidden. It’s the one thing we’re not supposed to be able to do, which is create life. To me, it’s a story about a father rejecting his son. I think that makes it pretty relatable to everyone.
For a while, “Wake the Dead” was in development as a movie with Jay Russell, and the two of us went to a hospital here in LA. We went to a heart specialist, observed surgery and saw how they do it these days. We asked them the most outlandish questions we could and the biggest one was how far off are we from transplanting an entire human head. They honestly didn’t even flinch. They didn’t think it was a silly question at all. They said we are only 10 or 20 years off from that. That’s “Frankenstein.”
Do you have a love for Jack the Ripper similar to your love of the Frankenstein monster?
Not really. I’m not one of those people who has killers as their heroes. I think it’s a great story and a great mystery — all the theories and stuff fascinates me — but he’s not a hero of mine, in any way.
How did you convince artist Damien Worm to make his comics debut with “Monster & Madman?”
I found him on Facebook. I basically saw him and had a sense that if I didn’t grab him, somebody else was going to. I dropped him a line, found out what his interests were and he turned out to be this really smart, enthusiastic guy. And he’s fast. What I love about Damien is that his work is just perfect for horror, just like some of my other collaborators, like Bernie Wrightson, Ben Templesmith and Kelly Jones. You put him next to an issue of “Avengers,” and it’s just worlds apart. His art is just absolutely perfect for horror. I have him booked up for years, now. Next, we’re doing a short for a horror anthology called “In the Dark.” Then, we haven’t announced it yet, but Damien and I will be doing a long-term project together.
You’ve done so much work with IDW over the years, pretty much every creator-owned book you do is under their label. Is IDW your home at this point?
It’s kinda my home. It goes back further than IDW, even. I’ve known Ted Adams since the late ’80s or early ’90s when he and I both worked at Eclipse Comics. Then we both went to [Todd] McFarlane. Ted pulled me in there. From there, Ted created IDW. Ted’s family. IDW’s my extended family in that way. We’re actually talking about doing more stuff and keeping up that steady relationship. I see no reason to go anywhere else. They keep putting out good stuff.
So I’ll keep doing stuff for IDW, but I’ll also do stuff for Dark Horse and Image. IDW’s kinda my home base, but I do try to run around a bit. I’m working for Dynamite now, too. I’m working on a DC story today, too. I can’t tell you about DC, because I literally just paused writing the script to take your call. But they’ll announce it soon.
Your home recently flooded, as was widely reported online, but I’m glad to hear that you’re now happy, healthy and recently relocated to Los Angeles. How’s LA treating you?
It’s going really good. We still have the house in Texas, and we have to figure out what to do with it. We’ve got a massive repair bill. Seriously, if I told you, you’d probably pass out! So we need to deal with that and then get rid of the house. Right now, we’re renting this ranch in the middle of the desert, only a couple of miles from where they filmed the “Star Trek” episodes. I love it out here. Aside from packing and just trying to be comfortable, we’ve been running around seeing friends and stuff. It’s really good to be home.
The outpouring of support from the comic community was easily one of the most incredible things to happen to me in my entire life. This beats out selling the movie — this beats out everything, having the comic community come together and help us out. I’d still be in Texas. We’d still be in that moldy, disgusting, flooded house right now if they hadn’t helped. All things considered, I’m feeling pretty good about things right now.
“Monster & Madman” is out this March from IDW Publishing.