Mysteries and conspiracy theories, whether grounded in fact or composed purely of fantasy, have long fascinated curious minds. And while there may be an innate desire to shed light on the unexplained, it’s also true that there are some things that are best left secret, as the truth might be deeply unsettling – or worse, mundane. Steve Niles’ “The Mystery Society,” co-created with Ashley Wood and which features art by Fiona Staples, debuts in May from IDW Publishing, starring a pair of esoteric adventurers looking to shed light on government cover-ups and occult conspiracies. CBR News caught up with Niles to discuss the project, as well as the rather large slate of other projects he’s working on for the coming months.
Niles’ enthusiasm for “Mystery Society” was on display throughout the interview, as more than once he said, “I’m really excited about this – can you tell?” He was also eager to point out that “Mystery Society” is a very different series from the horror genre with which he has become associated. “I know everybody thinks of me as the ’30 Days of Night’ vampire guy, but what they forget is that I wrote ’30 Days’ because I didn’t really like vampires.Â I didn’t like the state of them, so I wanted to create a different type of a killing machine,” the writer said. “That’s what I set out to do, and that’s what was done, but it’s one of those things that kind of sticks to you.Â I love it, but that’s ten years ago now. I really want to move onto some other stuff.
“Mystery Society is a concept that really comes out of my love of comics and my love of vintage films and is a more action-adventure type of thing as opposed to always being horror,” Niles continued. “The opening issue deals with one of the lead characters trying to rescue these people that have been experimented on in Area 51. At the same time, in other areas, we discover that Edgar Allen Poe’s skull has been stolen. Some lunatic believes that if you light a candle on the night of his death it will recite ‘The Raven.’ They have to split up and solve these separate mysteries while they’re actively campaigning for new members.”
The series begins with the Mystery Society – Nick and Anastasia Collins, who have changed their surname to Mystery “just for fun, because they can” – in operation and looking to expand. Niles laughed that the series “has a rather odd opening,” and the Society’s story kicks up “when they’ve really made a public splash, we’ll say, and they’ve begun recruiting. One of the members – and this is a lot of fun for me, actually – years and years ago I created a book with Chuck BB as the artist called ‘Secret Skull,’ about a woman who was bitten by a ghoul and becomes a super-ghoul. This is kind of a cool character, an ass-kicking skull-headed woman. I’ve always wanted to use her again. So she wants to join the Mystery Society,” Niles told CBR. “In the second issue, we’re going to introduce a new character, who is actually a literary figure. I think it’s a lot of fun.”
As to how the Mystery Society got their start, Niles said there are actually two right answers, one of which may or may not see print. “Their origin is really, really simple. They were very, very much in love, and at one point owned an esoteric book store, sold chariots of gods, videos of bigfoots and UFOs, you know, anything you wanted, having to do with the unexplained,” the writer said. “And one day, and we may or may not actually ever see this played out (my favorite-ever origin sequence Fiona and I came up with for the second issue, but this isn’t it – the untold origin!), basically, one day [Anastasia] goes out to lunch, buys a lottery ticket, and wins. They take what they were doing in this esoteric book store and they turn it into the Mystery Society. They turn their hobby into a career. What winds up happening, is they discover that some things that are secret, like those that happen at Area 51, well, some people want them kept secret. The Mystery Society, where they expected to be welcomed to the world with open arms, is in for a pretty rude awakening. Unfortunately, this is not a world that likes to have its secrets exposed.”
Despite the apparently disparate adventure Niles mentions, “Mystery Society” will have one major story arc running through its five issues. And, Niles added, “If it’s a success, we’ll do more.” “It’s hard to plan on these things, especially with the independent creator owned stuff. But right now, the response we’re getting from retailers is phenomenal. Especially compared to – I think people forget, ’30 Days’ only sold 4000 copies. It was not a big success until the movie deal. As a comic it was just sort of wah-wah, a big old flop. So I’m seeing numbers coming in, for independent comics, for ‘Mystery Society,’ that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m taking that to mean people are digging what we’re doing.
“It has been unbelievable, the support we’ve gotten from IDW,” Niles continued. “They came up with this really unique way to promote this book to retailers, and basically I just said, whatever it takes. Just yesterday and today, I’ve been seeing the numbers coming in, and I’ve been spending today calling retailers who have ordered extraordinary amounts of this thing, staggering numbers. I’m used to [feeling] lucky if a store orders five copies. The numbers I’m seeing are just amazing, and I couldn’t be happier.” The promotion sees Niles making an in-store appearance at any shop ordering 1000 or more copies – and 12 stores took him up on the offer. Those stores are New Dimension Comics, Alakazam Comics, Bedrock City Comics, Coliseum Of Comics, Midtown Comics, Larry’s Comics, Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find, Harrison’s Comics, Madness Games And Comics, SSALEFISH Comics, Hometown Comics, and Hastings.
Niles developed “The Mystery Society” with artist Ashley Wood, who is providing covers for the first issue. “Me and Ashley get on the phone and talk and talk, probably [have] more ideas than we have time to do them. He’s a machine as it is,” Niles said of their collaboration. “This is one that we’d been playing around with for a long time. Basically, we wanted to come up with a way to address these things that we loved so much. [If] you remember a show called ‘In Search Of’ with Leonard Nimoy, it scared the crap out of me. It was Leonard Nimoy’s voice, and it would freeze on the Patterson footage of Big Foot right as he stares at you. Especially when you’re a little kid, you go, ‘Aaagh!’ Me and Ashley were huge fans of the series.
“What’s great about it, what got us talking, is things like the show on Stonehenge, which is hilarious. They’re like, ‘Was Stonehenge built by wizards?!?‘ No, it’s a burial ground! We know now. So mysteries do get debunked, or they do get proven true. They get explained. It was honestly that, talking about ‘In Search Of’ and these old mystery shows and how they change over the years. And now, two of the most famous, Big Foot and Loch Ness’ Nessie, have been proven to be frauds. We wanted to get that into a comic book. Then have some jackass steal Poe stuff, and have fun with stuff like that.”
The interior art for the series comes from Fiona Staples, for whom Niles also had high (and frequent) praise. “Did I mention how much I love Fiona Staples? That’s major,” he said. “I feel a little guilty about how I got Fiona. An editor at Wildstorm, Ben Abernathy, had sent me an advance copy of ‘North 40’ to get a quote. Not only did I love the story, but obviously I loved the art. I just thought, when I saw ‘North 40,’ by the time I get to her, Marvel or DC will have her on an exclusive and it’ll be all over. But I got her on the phone, and it turns out this is what she wants to do. She wants to do creator-owned, independent stuff. To have an artist of her caliber, and you know, she’s young, to want to do that. At her age, all I wanted to do was work at Marvel! So it’s really refreshing. So basically, I swiped her from Wildstorm, right under Ben Abernathy’s nose!
“Fiona Staples – I’ll have a lot of artists mad at me for this – but she is so much fun to work with, one of my favorites ever,” Niles continued. “I just love it. I love the book. Honestly, it’s something I’d pick up, and I can’t say that about all my stuff.”
Also scheduled for a May release is a collected edition of Niles and Bernie Wrightson’s “The Ghoul,” the story of a gruff and monstrous PI assisting a skeptical detective with an exceptionally strange case. The series was Niles’ third collaboration with Wrightson, though the writer explained that it’s actually the second in a universe they are building at IDW. “I started with ‘City of Others’ at Dark Horse, and that series got discontinued, so basically we just re-started what our original plan was with IDW. We explained to IDW what we wanted to do, and the plan is basically starting right now,” Niles said. “We started with ‘Dead, She Said,’ which established the detective who wakes up and, you know, he’s [been] killed, and tries to find out who killed him and why he’s still alive. That ends up being a cross between a ’50s B-movie and an old noir, and at the end we’ve established these characters. Then we moved on and did ‘The Ghoul.’ In ‘the Ghoul’ we set up the Ghoul, and this cop Klimpt, who goes through a pretty serious story arc and he’s a changed man by the end of it. Plus, Dugan, the dead detective, makes an appearance, gives the Ghoul some information. Next up, when the trade comes out, we’ll have begun ‘Doc Macabre,’ which is about a kid who graduated from MIT at 12, and now at 17 is basically a self-made mad scientist. He’s just a kid and he builds inventions. After the three-issue ‘Doc Macabre,’ I’m bringing them all together in one big series, hopefully six issues, called ‘The Rejects.’ It’s going to be the Ghoul, Dead Detective, there might be some other characters popping in, and Doc Macabre. This has been a two year plan. So this coming along, it’s actually starting to come together. The characters are interrelating. ”
In addition to “Mystery Society” and his work with Wrightson, Niles is keeping busy with an impressive number of other projects. “I’m going to be making announcements very soon about a pretty major sci-fi thing,” he said, before getting into projects he could discuss. “There’s the ’30 Days of Night’ sequel, which we’re doing straight to DVD. They’re giving us budgets and freedom, we’re doing ‘Dark Days,’ and if ‘Dark Days’ works out, hopefully ‘Return to Barrow,'” he said. “Ben Ketai co-wrote and directed the whole thing, and I’ve seen some really rough cuts, and right now things are looking pretty good.
“It’s been more or less announced, but I’m doing a series, me and Kelly Jones, after working together for like eight years, we’re doing our first creator-owned series, called ‘Edge of Doom.’ And I think people are really going to dig it, because it’s really me and Kelly doing our version of ‘Twilight Zone’/’Tales from the Crypt’/’Outer Limits’/’Night Gallery,’ but without being an anthology. I think in movies and in comics, anthology is like the worst thing you can say. You say anthology, [retailers] are like, ‘OK, we’ll get one.’ So me and Kelly are big fans of short form, it’ll be beginning, middle, end in 22 pages,” Niles continued.
“I’m working on ‘Edge of Doom’ #3, ‘Lot 13′ #4, which Wildstorm will be announcing very soon. This is a project me and Glen Fabry have been working on for two years, literally. Glen is knocking it out of the park and I can’t wait for Wildstorm to promote that. There’s also going to be a ’30 Days’ crossover with ‘X-Files.’ I’m just never going to get used to the fact that people say yes, I’m just going to have to admit that to myself. I’m working with Jim Valentino on some Shadowhawk stuff, working on the backup feature for him. I’ve got a lot of stuff simmering. I’m working on one called ‘Something Monstrous.’ I’m working with R.H. Stavis who’s co-writing it with me, and Stephanie Buscema, who’s doing the art. I did a one-page Batman story, that Snowstorm ‘Batman Annual’ that they did – it was 80 pages and we were the last page. Stephanie had been working with me as an assistant editor on ‘Simon Dark,’ then she went off to pursue her art, and ever since we met we’ve been trying to figure out a way to do some horror books. I’ve got to say, whatÂ I’m working on with her is one of the creepiest things I’ve ever done.”
Wrapping up discussion of “Mystery Society,” though, Niles returned to a familiar theme. “I’m having a lot of fun with this,” he said. “Can you tell I’m excited?”