Keeping busy is something Steve Niles knows well these days. With numerous titles currently being published, work on a number of film projects still proceeding and a slate of new material coming out later this year, Niles seems to rarely stop for a moment of fresh air. One of those rare moments occurred recently when Niles sat down with CBR News at his Los Angeles home to talk about four new projects coming from the writer later this year.
First up from Niles is a new ongoing series called “Secret Skull,” coming this August from IDW Publishing. “Secret Skull” will be part of a series of books by Niles published under a “Meeeednight Pulp” banner, promising a different approach to horror than you’ve seen from Niles before.
“Really, it’s just faster, fun, more pulpy stuff,” said Niles. “‘Secret Skull’ is just like that. It’s kind of a horror super-hero. It’s a self-contained story and I’m doing it with this guy Chuck B, from off my message board. He’s great. I just want to do some straight forward, fun comics.”
It should be noted that Chuck B is one in a long line of artists Niles found via his Web site’s message boards.
“[‘Secret Skull’s’] about a person who is bit by a ghoul and begins to dream murders before they happen. They are stuck in sort of a crossroads where he’s being pursued by the undead and also by the police for these vengeance killings. He’s preventing murders, but nobody knows.”
Until now, all of Niles’ creator owned books have been finite series of four, five or maybe six issues in length. Niles felt it was time to try something different for “Secret Skull,” making it his first ongoing series.
Next up from Niles and IDW is the new four issue series, “The Lurkers,” with artist Hector Casanova, coming this October.
“‘The Lurkers’ is basically Cal McDonald in reverse. I always do these stories where it’s like, ‘Monsters exist! Yaaaay! Everybody knows it! They’re all around us!’ But in this, it’s a world where monsters don’t exist. It’s based in Los Angeles and follows a homicide cop. The first story involves grave robbing. Fresh graves are being robbed and bodies are being eaten.”
Another project Niles is working on doesn’t have a set date yet, but you may have seen a cover image for the book in a recent edition of Rich Johnston’s Lying In The Gutters. The subject? Only one of the greatest horror icons of all time, Dracula, but this book won’t be what you’d expect from Niles.
“‘Dracula’ is this thing I’m doing with Ashley Wood. It’s the first part of a series that we’re hoping to do with IDW which is called ‘Little Books of Horror,’ which is basically campfire versions of famous horror stories. It’s actually more of a chance for the artist to show off.
“For ‘Dracula,’ I wrote 25 blurbs in children’s book style, and then I give that to Ashley and he comes up with whatever he wants to do, packaging it like a children’s book version of ‘Dracula.’ We’ll do others. We’ll do Poe stories, ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ ‘Frankenstein,’ etc., trying different artists who want to do different things.”
Each “Little Book of Horror” will sport a smaller size in hard cover. Unlike Niles’ work on “Wake The Dead” or “Hyde,” which both contained the writer’s take on “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” respectively, this “Dracula” book is not his take on the Dracula story, but that is something that interests him.
“I’d like to do a totally updated version. For instance, ‘Wake the Dead’ was a lot of fun. It was really fun to play out the one concept of Doctor Frankenstein as the bad guy. I have similar views on Dracula as far as what characters do what. I always thought Jonathan Harker always pusses out, when he was the one who should really step-up to the plate! I’m talking to some people about doing it more as a love story between the human characters, maybe with Ben [Templesmith.]”
Continuing with the idea of Niles reinterpreting horror classics, there are others he’d like to get his hands on as well.
“I love them all,” said Niles. “I could do four different versions of Frankenstein. All these stories are so rich. I could just keep pulling from all of them. I want to do something with Nosferatu. Obviously there are some I can’t touch since they’re owned by Universal Studios. I know they’re doing a remake of ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ That’s one of my favorites, but I can’t do anything with that.
Over at Dark Horse, Niles still has issues of “Freaks of the Heartland” and “Last Train To Deadsville” to come out. “Fused: Think Like A Machine” recently finished up its run and, for the moment, there are no plans to continue with the character.
“I’m hoping to do more Fused,” said Niles. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. [Dark Horse] wasn’t very happy with the numbers that came in. I may just let ‘Fused’ lie for a little while.
“I think it partially got lost in the Rocket Comics shuffle at Dark Horse. There was still a lot of retailer hesitation based on the first series since that one was so late. I don’t know if you noticed, but we got this new series out almost weekly! I can’t believe how fast it came out. We’ve got two trades coming out from Dark Horse. I want to do the final story, which should be two four-issue series or one long series. I don’t know where or when I’m going to do it.”
Next on the Cal McDonald front is a 48-page one-shot called “Supernatural Freak Machine,” coming later this year from Dark Horse, with Kelly Jones once again providing artwork for the series.
“It’s going to be like a Frankenstein story. There’s a character in the book, Doctor Polynice, he’s like the Frankenstein mad doctor. Then we’re thinking of doing a ‘Tales of Cal McDonald’ type thing, something where a bunch of artists contribute. I’d like to do a book where Ben does a Cal story, then Kelly does a Cal story, and so on.”
Earlier this year rumors ran rampant of Niles providing his first work for one of the “big two” publishers, DC Comics or Marvel Comics. While Steve’s under strict orders to keep details quiet on the series, he did offer up a few hints.
“It’s still for DC! It’s one of their big characters. It’s not that hard to guess! That’s all I can say! Well, I did turn in my first script and both editors and artists liked it.”
He went on to say it would be three forty-eight-page books. Look for an announcement on this project to be made during Comic-Con International in San Diego.
A bit further in the future, Niles has teamed up with “The Punisher” actor Thomas Jane on a new six-issue science fiction series called “Bad Planet.” Niles and Jane first met at Wizard World Los Angeles earlier this year.
“Someone came over to me and said Tom Jane was looking for me, which is like, ‘The Punisher’s looking for me? What did I do?’ He’s a big Cal McDonald fan. We started talking. I get a lot of people come up to me and say they’ve got an idea they’d like to pitch me and most of the time, it’s not a matter of good of bad, my response is usually, ‘That’s a great idea. You should do something with it!’ Tom and I start talking and I swear to God we mapped out a full series in one night. He’s got a really great imagination.’
Niles said the series has a very different flavor than his other books. For one, its science fiction, a genre we haven’t seen Niles dabble in too much. “Bad Planet” is about a parasitic invasion of earth, following the outbreak all over the globe from Las Vegas, Washington D.C., the African continent and more. Artist Tim Bradstreet is on board helping with character, creature and ship design. Bradstreet and Jane have already done photo shoots, the photos from which will be used to help design the characters.
Outside of the comic industry, Niles is still keeping busy with a variety of film projects.
“‘Thirty Days of Night’ has a new screenplay being written right now by Stuart Beatty and we’re that much closer with Sam [Raimi] being done with ‘Spider-Man 2,'” said Niles “I know of two different occasions where Sam’s been interviewed for ‘Spider-Man 2’ and he brought up ‘Thirty Days of Night.’ The studio’s still excited about it, I’m still excited, we’re just waiting.
“‘Criminal Macabre,’ I’m writing the second draft for MGM right now and I have to turn that in soon. It’s a big, pulpy Cal movie. That’s going really well, I’m having a lot of fun with that.
“‘Wake the Dead,’ we’re talking with a well-known director now, but I need another conversation or two with him to find out if he’s doing it. Mike Dougherty is still doing the script.
“With ‘Hyde,’ they bought that so far in advance, I hadn’t even written the comic! So, I just turned in the comic and the studio is running around with that.”
It’s a well-known fact amongst horror and comics fans that Hollywood doesn’t always treat their favorite characters with total respect. Cal McDonald is a character Niles holds close to his heart, being one of his earliest creations and one he’s got a lot of history with. Plus, with the edgy nature of the character, Hollywood may try to tone him down a bit, but Niles isn’t too worried since he’ll always get his say when it comes to Cal.
“The one thing I hold on to with Cal is the publishing rights, so I can always write the novels and comic books,” said Niles. “With the movie, it’s all down to casting. Everybody worries about all the drug references with Cal. It doesn’t have to be like ‘Cheech and Chong,’ where every time he gets out of the car there’s a big puff of smoke. It’s really the attitude that’s more important. I’m still pushing for that because I feel that part of the noir detective thing is the downtrodden guy. Alcohol was the way people used to do it, but now people have a lot of other ways of doing it. The stuff he abuses is like prescription drugs and whatever else he can get his hands on.”
When CBR News mentioned that Niles is like the John Grisham or Michael Crichton of comics, two writers who consistently sell their book ideas to Hollywood before the books are even published or in some cases finished, Niles was amused by the comparison.
“But I do it with comic books. Can you imagine how they’d treat me? ‘Mr. Grisham, I’m just like you!’ (laughs).”