After convincing comic fans everywhere that vampires are hiding around every corner with “30 Days of Night,” writer Steve Niles plans to let us know there’s a lot more to fear than bloodsuckers hiding in the shadows. This March, Niles returns to his creator-owned “Mystery Society,” presenting the latest chapter in the story of occult-hunters Nick and Anastasia Mystery’s hunt for everything from Big Foot to Frankenstein. Joining Niles for the IDW Publishing one-shot is artist Andrew Ritchie, who replaces original “Mystery Society” artist and co-creator Fiona Staples.
Niles spoke with Comic Book Resources about “Mystery Society Special 2013,” giving a candid and honest look at the history of “Mystery Society” and the his hopes for the title’s future. Among other things, Niles filled us in on what expect in the upcoming special while sharing his role in putting Staples in touch with Brian K. Vaughan for “Saga,” updates on his much-anticipated “Coming of Rage,” his and Tony Harris’ recently announced “Chin Music” and more.
CBR News: Steve, for new readers, who is the Mystery Society and where did they leave off at the end of the first miniseries?
Steve Niles: “Mystery Society” was a thing I came up with with Fiona Staples and Ashley Wood. I remember the pitch-line I always gave IDW was, if Nick and Norah from “The Thin Man” movies ran the X-Men. That’s exactly what it’s about. Nick and Anastasia Mystery, two people very much in love, who have a fascination with all things occult, supernatural and unexplained, they win the lottery and decide to use their new fortune to assemble a group to go out and solve mysteries, to prove and disprove everything, from Big Foot to UFOs.
The first arc was about getting the team together. We had Nick and Anastasia and Verne, who is a robot with Jules Verne’s brain. Jules Verne created him so he could live on and see how many of his predictions came true. Secret Skull and the Atomic Twins round out the team. It’s very quirky, and even though it’s based in the superhero team genre, I try to avoid most of those trappings.
When we last left them, they had just gotten everything together and defeated their first super-villain, of sorts. It ended at issue #5, unfortunately, because of sales. IDW pulled the plug on us.
The first miniseries ended early?
It was actually supposed to be ongoing. All of a sudden, I had to wrap it up. I suppose one of the most famous stories about “Mystery Society” has nothing to do with “Mystery Society.” IDW pulled the plug on us, and literally within four days of that, I got a call from Brian K. Vaughan asking if I knew any artists that would be good for him. I knew Fiona would be perfect. I didn’t want to lose her, but I recommended her and now they’re doing “Saga!”
So that’s the secret origin of “Saga!”
It’s one of the parts of comics that I really like, personally, and it’s way too rare when creators work together. Not necessarily on the same creative projects, but just helping each other out. It doesn’t happen enough in this industry.
What’s going down in “Mystery Society Special 2013?”
Basically, they’ve found a guy who “collects” monsters. As it turns out, he’s holding captive in an underwater base — because I really wanted to do an underwater base — many of the world’s mythological creatures. They find the Frankenstein monster down there, and the Golem of Prague. The Mystery Society is about a bunch of freaks and misfits who band together willingly. The idea that somebody is holding all these monsters captive for their own collection doesn’t sit too well with Nick and Anastasia.
You sort of answered my next question, which is if this story takes any inspiration from existing creatures and legends.
I didn’t want to do it like an “In search of…” story, where they’re actually trying to debunk a myth. I wanted to have some fun with it. There’s more that I can’t really give away without giving the surprises away, but this guy’s got a cave full of things that we’re familiar with that we maybe thought were legends. That’s part of the fun of it.
Why return to these characters now?
I wrote it pretty soon after the series was cancelled. I’d like to make it sound more glamorous, but it’s been sitting at IDW. We knew we couldn’t get Fiona back, so I wound up asking my old buddy Andy Ritchie, who I’ve done some of my most twisted, bizarre comics with, to do it. I did stories called “Pieces for Mom” and “Black Sparrow” with him, and they are probably two of the most twisted things I’ve ever written, but a lot of that is due to Andrew’s art. It’s a quirky, unusual style. He can make a child look sinister.
What genre would you place Mystery Society in? It has elements of adventure, sci-fi, mystery, horror and pulp comics.
Adventure, really. I created “Mystery Society” so I could write a sci-fi story or a horror story depending on what mystery they’re solving. That was always the idea behind their creation. Something where I could shift gears and try to do different genres within a basic adventure set-up.
Nick and Anastasia fund the Mystery Society through their lottery winnings, but what is their motivation to go on these adventures in the first place? They could just sit pretty with their money and the occult store they already own.
They motivate each other. You know those couples who are so in love they just energize each other? Honestly, that’s my favorite part of the whole series. How many things are about couples in trouble? It seems to be such a typical thing in movies, TV, books or whatever that if you have a couple, you have to give them a problem. People don’t realize it, but I did it for “30 Days of Night” and now I’m doing it for “Mystery Society.” I like writing about functioning couples. Nick and Anastasia, to get back to your question, are self-energizing. They feed off each other, which is why I always harken back to Nick and Norah from “The Thin Man” movies. They were a couple that was so in love that you enjoyed watching them. They enjoy being together and you enjoy watching them because of it. That’s it. They’re their own motivation.
How did “Mystery Society” end up at IDW, initially?
It all started with Ashley Wood and I talking about that old TV show, “In Search of…” Remember that one? Leonard Nimoy narrated it.
Can’t say I’m familiar.
Oh, dude! It was so good! It’s wonderful to watch now because of the misinformation. It’s incredible. You had Leonard Nimoy talking about Stonehenge and wondering, “Was it build by Wizards?!” No, dude, we know it wasn’t wizards! It was a lot of that “Chariot of the Gods”-type stuff. So Ashley and me started talking, and I kept wanting to move forward but Ashley has his little robot/toy empire, so I could never get him to do anything. Finally, I talked to Ted at IDW and just asked if we could bring in another artist and just list Ashley as a co-creator. It was a slow-build for a few years, but as soon as Fiona came on-board, it was great.
Will Ashley Wood ever contribute art to a future “Mystery Society” installment?
No. [Laughs] I’m not even gonna ask! It would be great, though. Every time I see him, he tells me how great a “Mystery Society” book he could do, but I have yet to see any art or anything. And that’s fine. Like I said, he’s got his own robot empire, so I can’t blame him. I think, if anything — I’ll see what this annual will do, but I’ve been told by IDW that they just can’t sell creator-owned right now. So there’s not much chance of more. I don’t want to get this interview going on a grim note, but chances of more “Mystery Society” are pretty slim at this point.
Since you say we’re unlikely to see more “Mystery Society,” what other projects do you have coming up?
I’m only doing creator-owned, right now. I’m wrapping a project today, actually, hopefully, with Wes Craven. He came to me with a story and I’m helping him do the script.
I’ve also been working on the project “Chin Music” for about three years with Tony Harris. Honestly, I had written a bunch of pitches for various corporate comic companies dealing with their supernatural characters, and I think I woke up a couple of years ago and realized I was working on all these pitches for all these companies for other people’s characters. “Chin Music” is me taking all those pitches and combining them in to one book as a creator-owned book. We don’t really need corporate comic characters anymore. The general public and readers understand superheroes, now. “Chin Music” is about gangsters and demons. It’s about a man who’s been on the run for a very, very long time. The mystery of it is whose he running from? I’m very excited about it.
Can you tell us who some of the characters “Chin Music’s” original, mashed-up pitches were for?
I don’t think it matters, but everything from Dr. Strange to The Phantom Stranger to Creeper to old pulp characters. I found that instead of trying to figure out how to make somebody else’s character really great, I could just take all of these ideas for other stuff and try to make my own characters.
What makes “Chin Music” really odd is that it’s very mainstream for me, in an odd sort of way. I’m tackling the superhero, to an extent, even though there’s no capes or anything like that. I’m really curious to see what people think. The artwork that Tony is doing for this thing is just phenomenal. Like I said, we’ve been working on this for years. I’m very excited about it.
I also continue to do my “Frankenstein” series with Bernie Wrightson. Bernie and I are going to be neighbors again soon, so we’re going to be announcing some other new work. I just finished a “Golem” series for Dark Horse that I’m very excited about.
There’s also “Criminal Macabre: Final Night – The 30 Days of Night Crossover.” The first couple of issues are out now. Basically, it’s a crossover between two series, but only one series is going to survive. I just finished all the scripts and one of the two series isn’t going to make it.
That’s a great concept, having one series kill off another one.
Having one creation kill off another creation is pretty special, I gotta tell you! [Laughs]
You mentioned you hope to finish the scripts today, but what’s the publishing status of “Coming of Rage” with Wes Craven?
I love this. When publishers do this, it’s my favorite thing in the world. We are finishing the fifth script today, or this weekend, depending on me, and we haven’t even got an artist yet! It’s my absolutely favorite way to work. Just sit back and write.
Wes has been amazing. He came to me with an idea, and we just spit-balled. We fully outlined it and now I’m scripting it. I’ll give you a really good example of why I love working this way: Most comics, once you get that first script out, you get the artist working and you move on to the next script and it’s almost like an assembly line trying to keep up with it. With “Coming of Rage,” just last night Wes and I spotted a problem with issue #5 and, because there’s no artist working on it, I was able to go back to issue #2 and fix something that fixed the problem in issue #5. It’s been really great. Wes’s very meticulous, but we’re in the home stretch now. That’s for Liquid Comics, so I imagine they’ll be announcing when it’s going to be out pretty soon.
Is this Craven’s first time working on a comic title?
I know he’s had comics associated with things he’s done before, but I think this is the first time sitting down and actually working on one
So he’s actually helping with the script and not just giving ideas.
Oh no, he’s hands-on. He’s completely hands-on. I’m doing drafts and then he takes passes. He’s very, very involved. It’s really been a great learning experience, because the guy’s been doing this for a long time. He knows a lot of stuff. It’s been great.
And again, which I find more than anything with people in comics and movies and books, the nicest people I meet are these big horror guys. It’s hilarious. You meet somebody like Clive Barker or John Carpenter or Wes Craven, and they’re the nicest guys in the world. I feel like I’ve also gotten to be friends with Wes, and that’s been a very cool part.
Maybe people in horror are able to get all their anxiety out on the screen. They don’t have any personal issues left afterwards.
That’s what I say! That’s what I always tell people. These guys get it out, ya know? They get it all out on paper, so they’re pretty relaxed people.
Is there an eye to turn “Coming of Rage” into a movie at some point?
I’m sure with Wes there’s some kind of film or TV component planned. After ten years or more of doing this with comics and movies, I’ve learned that when I’m doing my comics I just concentrate on the comics. If something happens with the movies, fantastic. But sitting around waiting and worrying about that stuff? You’ll just kill yourself.
You said above that you’re only doing creator-owned work right now. What’s your take on the creator-owned comic scene in 2013? Is the future hopeful?
Yeah, I think it’s definitely hopeful. If anything, corporate comics are making it much easier on us.
By only offering one product. Most comics, you can get superhero and that’s it. What I love most about creator-owned is that it’s the one place you can go where you can read a Western or other genres. Look at “Fatale;” you’ve got Brubaker doing straight-up Lovecraftian noir. You’ve got “Saga,” which is straightforward science fiction. That drives me nuts, that there isn’t more science fiction in comics. Really, that’s the thing I love. Creator-owned offers more of what comics can do. So I’m very hopeful.
I hear people crying all the time that comics are dying, and I absolutely refuse to believe that words and pictures are dying. [Laughs] It’s not gonna go away. It just might change. I feel really good about it and I think people, especially creators, are starting to realize that creator-owned means more work available. The work we do will be better for comics and better for creators. I’m really excited. I feel things are really gonna start happening.
“Mystery Society Special 2013,” by Steve Niles and Andrew Ritchie, goes on sale March 20 from IDW Publishing.