This week, “30 Days of Night” creator Steve Niles took to Twitter to post an intriguing teaser image by artist Menton3. Titled “The Nosferatu Wars,” nothing else was revealed about the project — until now.
Steve Niles has a new vampire story to share unlike any other and it’s premiering in premiere anthology title, “Dark Horse Presents.” Created by Niles and Menton3, “The Nosferatu Wars” follows the story of a vampire couple separated through five hundred years of history only to meet again in the modern day during a war between two factions of vampires. The four-part story of the as-yet-unnamed vampire couple begins during the Black Plague, a time Niles describes as “Heaven on Earth for the undead.”
Niles took some time to speak with CBR News about the upcoming stories in “Dark Horse Presents,” revealing details on concept, character, collaboration with series artist Menton3 and his thoughts on the horror genre of comics.
CBR News: Steve, what’s the concept behind “The Nosferatu Wars?”
Steve Niles: Well the really quick thing, because everybody’s going to think, “Oh no, he’s doing vampires again,” is yes, I am doing vampires again. I’ve always viewed that as kind of a silly comment anyway, because I’m in a world where everyone else does superheroes. Really, what I want to do with the vampire thing is, one, the story focuses on the vampires themselves and it takes place in three different time periods, but I can only tell you about one. The depth of the story takes place during the Black Plague, which was basically Heaven on Earth for the undead. They could hunt at will and it would be blamed on the plague. All of the rich were hiding in their homes, like little meals waiting for them every night. It was just a perfect time. Then, an event happens that separates the vampire couple that we’re focusing on for 500 years. The story focuses on what happens while they’re separated and trying to find each other. It turns out, as we find out, they meet each other in modern day. The twist of how they are separated and how one of them goes missing for 500 years is really what we’re holding close to the chest right now.
How much of this couple’s backstory will you be delving into? Will we get to see what initially turned them into vampires?
That’s one thing I definitely don’t want to do. I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about what vampires are or how they are. We all pretty much get the mechanism, you know? I’m not planning on adding anything new. They’re not going to be able to walk in the daylight or anything like that. In a way, I’m going to be dealing with fairly traditional vampires, so how they came to be what they are isn’t a problem. Because of the plague, these aren’t your typical angsty vampires. They don’t really — especially these two — hate their existence. They’re enjoying it. The onset of the Black Death saw an abrupt end to anybody hunting them, even knowing they exist. They basically had free run of the planet for the first time in history. So, I’m going to be mainly focused on these two characters. I haven’t named them yet.
You’re collaborating with Menton Matthews III (better known as Menton3) for “The Nosferatu Wars.” Why is his art style the right fit for the story you’re telling?
Well, you couldn’t get much darker or more gothic looking. He’s very experimental, but at the same time, he’s not locked to his computer. I love when I talk to Menton on Skype — behind him is a wall of the exact paintings that he just sent me. He really likes to push the limits of things, and I really enjoy that, too. Especially for something like this, that has such potential for unbelievably — and this is speaking as a horror guy — unbelievably cool imagery. I’m sorry, two vampires in love during the Black Plague, that’s some gorgeous imagery to me. Menton is the artist who can really pull that off and also pull off some of the strange places this story is going to go.
You’d been posting updates on Twitter saying how interested you were in writing vampires. Why do you think they continue to be compelling as a storytelling device?
It’s funny, because I’m doing the regular “30 Days of Night” series again and I really think I got a pretty good break there, for a while. I got a five-year break. The thing is, I was talking to Menton about this, how come we can come up with endless vampire stories? They’re great characters, especially if you like writing horror. Again, I cite that the rest of the comic industry has figured out how to build shelves with stories about people in costumes fighting crime. So, riffing on the undead — it’s the same thing with Frankenstein stories. I think what really got me going was really starting to do the “30 Days of Night” ongoing series, because I got rid of all the original characters, except for a few key people, and just started fresh. I realized I was having fun again. The way things work with Menton is, we get on the phone and we start talking. I had this fragment of an idea of vampires in love during the Black Plague with this little twist at the end of the chapter, and he just loved it.
The book focuses on this relationship between this vampire couple, but the title is “The Nosferatu Wars.” Does that mean we can expect to see a knock-down, drag-out fight between vampires?
Well, what I can say is, when the two are reunited, they find themselves on different sides of a war. After searching for each other for so long, they find out they’re enemies and they don’t even know it.
Wow. That almost adds to the tragedy.
Exactly. The war is this little underground war that’s been happening for thousands of years and has finally boiled over to the surface. They’re going to settle once and for all who’s going to be running things — and humans are stuck in the middle. That was the one really funny part about writing this. When Menton and I were talking about it, we never even brought up humans! We’re really very different with the “30 Days of Night” stuff, where I definitely focus on humans and human reaction and how terrible it is to be a vampire. It’s almost the exact opposite, here. So far, except for a landscape of bodies and the black death doctors, we don’t see very many humans for a while.
Vampires have been enjoying quite a bit of prominence in popular culture of late thanks to books like “Twilight,” but it almost seems as though, as vampires have become more popular in the mainstream, vampire comics have gotten far darker — both with your own “30 Days of Night” and books like “I, Vampire.” Will “The Nosferatu Wars” take the concept of the pop-culture vampire and turn it on its head?
That is the twist. There’s a third element here that I’m not bringing up that is basically how the female disappears. Her disappearance and who takes her and what they do to her is what I’m doing to change it. It will be so apparent how Menton and I are turning this thing on its head. There are things I didn’t get to do in “30 Days of Night” that I really wanted to do, or didn’t get to do in “Criminal Macabre” that I really wanted to do. It’s always hard for me to say, “I’m going to do this.” It’s always dangerous to say you’re going to revolutionize anything iconic. I feel like we’ve got a really good story here, and because it takes place over three huge eras, I think it’s going to be really interesting — and because it’s Menton, it’s going to be beautiful.
I’m buddies with Josh [Fialkov] who does “I, Vampire,” and the one thing I was most impressed with wa,s he proved you can have the romance that so many people crave with the vampire genre without having to go cheeseball, without having to turn it into a melodrama. In that way, I think there’s a lot of ways that we can still play with the modern vampire myth without cheesing it out. I’m not knocking any specific aspect of it; it’s a natural tendency of humans to tame our monsters. I’ve always said this. You start with Dracula, you end up with Count Chocula. It’s just what we do. We tame the things that scare us. So, this swing back to darker vampires is something that makes me very, very happy. I hope it leaks from comics back onto the screen.
Can we assume “The Nosferatu Wars” will be on par with the darkness inherent in your “30 Days of Night” ongoing series?
[Laughs] At least until people read up until issue #6. I don’t know if people will forgive me for what I’m doing in “30 Days of Night.” It’s pretty gristly in there. I would probably say what I’m going to be doing for “Nosferatu Wars” is going to be a lot more straightforward as far as it being a horror book. There’s not going to be a lot of laughs. I tend to take things pretty loose sometimes with “Criminal Macabre” and stuff like that; this isn’t going to be any of that. It’s going to be dead, dead serious. People are going to be really surprised. At the very least, they’re going to be blown away by Menton’s unbelievable imagery.
How many chapters of “The Nosferatu Wars” do you have planned for “Dark Horse Presents?”
I have at least enough, right now, on paper, to do four [chapters]. If it’s a success and we can go to a series, that’d be cool, but the beauty of “Dark Horse Presents” is that Menton and I can both afford to do it while we’re working on other things. We can keep it going for a long time. In general, I had a good sit down with Dark Horse and [Dark Horse President Mike] Richardson and [Editor] Scott Allie — we’re going to be testing a lot of material through there and seeing what sticks while we continue to do “Criminal Macabre.”
Beyond “The Nosferatu Wars,” what’s on the horizon for you?
I’m hopefully going to have some news about one more series at one more publisher, but at this point in time, today, right now, I’m 100% creator-owned. I can’t say it was all intentional, but that was one of my goals for the New Year — to try and focus on creator-owned. I think it’s a really important, hugely viable part of comics and it think it is our answer to growth and finding a new audience. We’ve given superheroes a chance — the mainstream is just not interested. They want the movies, they’re not going to go to the comic stores. But we can get them reading horror and westerns. I’m so excited about what they’re doing at Image right now. I love the ads they put out with Brubaker and the books he’s doing. I think they just announced two more. Between IDW, Image and Dark Horse, I think there’s going to be an assault of great material in the next year.