As his “X-Files/30 Days of Night” crossover enters the home stretch, prolific horror writer Steve Niles is set to launch two more new miniseries before the end of the year, both featuring art from masters of the macabre. First, Niles and Kelley Jones approach the “Edge of Doom” in October, a five-issue miniseries composed of standalone but interconnecting stories, Ã¡ la “Twilight Zone.” Then in December, Niles and Bernie Wrightson continue their horror universe-building collaboration with “Doc Macabre,” the adventures of a teenage mad scientist who uses his talents to hunt monsters for profit. These, along with the “Mystery Society” trade shipping in December, are all offered by IDW Publishing. CBR News caught up with Niles talk about each project.
Though the two have paired up for numerous projects through the years, “Edge of Doom” marks the first creator-owned collaboration for Niles and artist Kelley Jones. “We worked on ‘Criminal Macabre,’ but Kelley was just work for hire on that, because I’d created it years before. We’ve never had an opportunity to create our own thing,” Niles said. “Kelley’s right up there with guys like Mike Mignola and Bernie Wrightson for people you can sit around and talk about horror movies and TV and books and comics – forever. Forever and a day, you can just sit there and talk about this stuff. Kelley’s always sort of been a guy I go to as my walking horror genre encyclopedia. He literally knows every comic and movie and TV show, who made it and what character actor was in it. He’s just great.
“So obviously we’re really big fans of the older stuff, we’re really big fans of ‘Twilight Zone,'” Niles continued, noting that the short story format such as that used in “Twilight Zone” is being lost in the comics medium. “Everything in comics is sort of built on that movie model or these events that go on seemingly forever. Then the event’s done, and they unravel what went on in the event for another couple years. I just really wanted to do some short stories without having to do an anthology. Because, for whatever reason, anthologies are the kiss of death. Retailers don’t want ’em, publishers sure don’t want ’em, so Kelley and I came up with this – it’s kind of a trick. The whole thing with ‘Edge of Doom’ is this: five issues, and when all five issues are out, you can read them in any order you want. Each issue is a standalone issue, but the entire series [is] interconnected, without relying on each other. How’s that? I think I figured out a way around it!
“I think part of the fun is finding out what the connection is between the issues,” Niles continued. “But I’m serious: if you want to start with issue 5 and read backwards, it will work the same way. It’s kind of nice, too, getting to play with short stories. I get to do five completely different settings. Concentrating on that sort of style of writing is really lost. I think the only place to do that anymore is short fiction, and that market is even shrinking. And there’s nothing like it on TV anymore.”
The first two issues of “Edge of Doom” have been solicited, with the first finding things getting worse for a downhearted man, as tiny demons rise up from his garden to sacrifice him. “All the stories are about different experiences with relationships,” Niles said of the miniseries. “[Issue one is] basically the story of a guy who, in the later years in life, when he’s well past the point when he thinks he’s going to have to date, he suddenly finds himself alone after being married for 25 years. So it’s sort of that, [set] against finding this colony of little people. [Laughs] So it’s like a Lifetime movie with miniature people in the back yard. This is a market Lifetime should explore, to tell you the truth.”
December’s issue #2 is set in the far reaches of space. “As a writer, I think every creator has this – you have these little ideas that you want to do, and you try to expand them into movie ideas and it’s just – ugh, it’s too thin! And ideas end up haunting me for years,” Niles told CBR. “The second issue is one I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I’ve always wanted to do a ‘marooned in space’ story. [I’ve] basically always had this idea where I wanted to have [a character, and] his only company is a little utility robot. Literally, it’s pretty much just built to take basic readings – it’s the robot equivalent of a calculator, and that’s this character’s only company.”
Continuing the trend set by these first two installments, Niles joked that the remaining issues “really just bounce all over the place!” He noted, however, that the thread connecting them “isn’t some genius thing, like ‘you’ll never guess!’ It’s right there.”
“The third one is about this poor couple who’s actually on the verge of a breakup. One night, they find themselves in the hands of a rogue group of surgeons and doctors who are tired of what the FDA says they can and can’t do for testing,” the writer told CBR. “So these doctors have just taken to kidnapping people to do their tests. It’s like a mad scientist Lollapalooza. The working title is ‘Circus of Surgery.’ I’m really squeamish, I do not like doctors and scalpels and shit like that. So this story, for me, was very personal.
“The fourth one is mobsters and sea monsters. You know, that old thing. I can’t really tell you what 5 is about – 5 is about a really nasty plague, but I can’t tell you much about that one because the fifth issue really pulls everything together. Again, still a standalone story.”
Niles’ other new IDW series, “Doc Macabre,” reunites him with artist Bernie Wrightson and further fleshes out the universe the pair began creating with “Dead, She Said.” Niles described the title character as “a sixteen-year-old self-made scientist. He’s a wannabe monster hunter. There’s nothing about him that’s supernatural or anything like that, so he uses his money and his brains to create inventions for zombie fighting and catching ghosts. It’s a little bit of light fun.” Niles also said that, while Doc Macabre diversifies in his monster-hunting talents, this miniseries will focus on ghosts. “Surprisingly, for all the horror stuff I’ve done, I haven’t done much with ghosts.”
As to what kind of ghosts might be haunting the young doctor, Niles said, “Well, that would be giving away the end. But it’s going to be really nasty. Not something you want chasing you around the house, trust me.”
Returning to the idea that “Doc Macabre,” like “The Ghoul” and “Dead, She Said” before it, would be on the lighter side of horror, Niles agreed that this was somewhat unexpected given the creators involved. “I find it kind of funny, Bernie and I, this is our third series for IDW, our fourth together [including ‘City of Others’ at Dark Horse], and we find ourselves [doing stories that are] very light. ‘The Ghoul,’ ‘Dead She Said,’ for two guys like us – especially Bernie, literally a living legend of horror – and we find ourselves doing light, almost comedic horror, but it’s really fun. I wish I could say it was totally planned, but it’s where we found ourselves. I think it comes out a genuine affection for the macabre.”
Niles confirmed that other characters created with Wrightson, including Detective Coogan and the Ghoul, will appear in “Doc Macabre,” leading up to the next planned miniseries which would bring all of their leading men together into a group called the Moorpark Rejects. “We’ve still got to clear it with the publisher, but they seem really into it,” the writer said of his and Wrightson’s plans for the series. “The whole plan was to create all these characters and put them together in a group, kind of a like a Bernie Wrightson ‘Defenders.’ A group of monsters, who, because of their special circumstances, can take on these things. They’re really fun to write. I’m looking forward to writing the Ghoul again.”
Also shipping in December is the trade paperback of “Mystery Society,” Niles’ series with Fiona Staples which he promoted with an extensive signing tour. “What’s really funny is, the 13th stop – I only did 12 on the first tour because one of the stores wanted to wait ’til October. So, I don’t know how this worked, out, but I’m doing the 13th stop, at the end of October for Halloween, in Salem, Massachusetts,” Niles said. “How’s that for a perfect storm of spookiness? I’m looking forward to that.”
The writer told CBR that he’s quite happy with how “Mystery Society” turned out, continuing the enthusiasm he displayed during an earlier interview on the series. “You know, I absolutely loved working with Fiona. The story I came up with was ok, but Fiona made it great.” But, he said, if there is a second series, Staples will likely not be involved. “Doing a monthly book is just not what she wants to be doing, she wants to try do some other creator-owned books and I’m talking to her about some other ideas right now,” Niles told CBR. “But as far as the ‘Mystery Society,’ I couldn’t be happier with how it came out. Fiona just knocked it out of the park.”
Finally, Niles confirmed a project related to his most famous work, one that had been mentioned briefly on IDW’s Formspring page but does not appear to have been formally announced – namely, Joe R. Lansdale and Sam Kieth will be teaming up for a “30 Days of Night” series. “Joe contacted me through Chris Ryall at IDW, who just said, ‘Hey, Joe Lansdale has an idea for a “30 Days of Night” story.’ That’s kind of how this has happened every time; we don’t go out looking for it, somebody comes to us,” Niles said. “Chris and I read the story, Joe is amazing. I love Sam Kieth. So I just said, have fun, go nuts. As far as I know, they’re off and running. Generally, unless they need me, once they sign on for these things I pretty much just let them go. I’m really excited about that.”
“Edge of Doom” #1 ships in October, while “Doc Macabre” launches in December.