2011 is turning out to be a busy year for Steve Niles. But then, so was last year, and the year before. Niles, who rose to prominence with “30 Days of Night,” has released a steady stream of miniseries spanning multiple genres and published through a variety of publishers. A quick succession of events early this year saw former Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash’s new Slasher Films studio sign Niles’ “Wake the Dead,” with Jay Russell directing and writing the screenplay; the beginning of a collaboration with Scott Morse on a new ongoing series; Niles’ Bloody Pulp imprint acquiring a Lance Henriksen biography; the writer taking on the adaption of a one-man play for comics; and Niles launching a Creator-Owned Spotlight blog on Robot 6. And that’s only scratching the surface of Niles’ current workload. CBR News caught up with the prolific creator to discuss his most recently announced projects.
Beginning by talking about “Wake the Dead” and the Slasher Films option, Niles said of the comic’s story, “I always described it as, remember when all those teen comedies were coming out and they were actually Shakespeare plays but they just changed the title? That’s what I did with ‘Frankenstein.” “Wake the Dead” was published by IDW Publishing in 2003, with art by Chee. “I kind of did a version of the Frankenstein story in a modern setting. To tell the story without all of the old trappings and the period piece. It sort of addresses the whole Frankenstein mythos in an odd sort of way.”
Niles said that he and the folks at Slasher Films have a lot in common in their tastes in horror. “Rob Eric, who runs Scout, is helping Slash with Slasher — he was the first guy I met there, and we just spent the entire hour nerding out on horror movies, it was fantastic,” Niles said. “I love his taste. He actually made ‘Section 9,’ which I always thought is a great horror movie that deserved a lot more attention than it got.”
Slash, too, shares Niles’ sensibilities for the genre. “He’s a really, really level-headed guy, real easy to deal with. Honestly, once we’re sitting there talking about movies and comic books and monsters, you rapidly forget who you’re talking to,” Niles said. “He’s really enthusiastic, really knowledgable about horror movies. I’m not absolutely sure, but I’d guess we’re a similar age because we seem to like all the same stuff, which is always really refreshing. In particular, it’s just this one very basic thing that we really love, which is character development in horror movies, really quality storytelling amongst all the monsters and the violence and the fun stuff, too. Like ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ being one of my favorite examples. That movie just takes its time and develops those characters so well. I just love it.”
Though “Wake the Dead” had been previously optioned for film, the realities of Hollywood have prevented Niles’ story from reaching the silver screen. “It’s just one of those things. At this point, I don’t even know how many things I’ve sold in the last decade, but only one was made, two if you count one direct-to-DVD,” the writer told CBR. “I think it’s just one of those Hollywood things where all these things have to connect to get us on that set and filming. It’s amazing how hard it is.”
In the midst of recent discussions about creator-owned work kicked off by “Goon” creator Eric Powell, Niles has begun blogging about worthy independent comics and has teamed with “Strange Science Fantasy” creator and Pixar artist Scott Morse for a new series called “Crime and Terror.” “It kind of came out of all this talk about things we can do on our own. Scott Morse just started contacting me, and he and I have been talking to each other for years anyway,” Niles said. “We met at a comic store, we did that Frankenstein ‘Little Book of Horror’ together, he’s an old buddy and I’ve just always loved his stuff. We both have a huge love for the pre-hero monster books, from Marvel especially. In fact, it just knocks me out, because he reads those to his boys as bedtime stories. You think about it, if I was a little kid, that’s like a little sci-fi movie every night, a ’50s sci-fi movie. They are great kids’ material.
“Scott and I are always been talking back and forth, and recently we said, let’s just do it. We had all these ideas for a title, one was ‘Crime and Terror,’ and he said ‘Why don’t we just call it what it is?’ I said, ‘I couldn’t agree more,’ and he just started cranking out the covers,” Niles continued. “We’re literally doing this like they did the old monster comics: I’m writing little plots and sending them off to him, he’s doing pages — at incredible speed! I can’t believe how fast this is moving. And today, I’m writing a little prose piece he’s going to illustrate, and we’re just going to keep compiling material. We’re tossing all these ideas and combining them, all these monster stories and sci-fi stories and horror stories and crime stories, and then we’re going to find a way to get them to people, which hopefully will not be a problem. We’ve got really good momentum — in just a week we’ve got pages and covers. Scott Morse is amazing. That helps significantly.”
Though Niles and Morse are taking a DIY approach to the creation of “Crime and Terror,” Niles said they would likely avoid self-publishing because “that’s a job in itself.” “I started out self-publishing and it took me years to segue into being a writer, which is what I wanted to be in the first place. I’m the worst businessman in the world, I just have no patience for it,” Niles said. Another route Niles would like to avoid is direct-to-digital, out of concern for retailers. “I’ve had a lot of talks, there are a lot a lot of ways to do direct distribution. I could afford to just print books by myself and sell them directly to fans, and maybe make a pretty decent living off of pretty low numbers, but that would be cutting out the retailer and basically shooting their business in the head,” he explained. “I will not be a part of it right now. I want to find a way to make everybody survive this. So if I’m going to do digital stuff, I’m really really pushing for some print component the retailers can do. I love the idea of doing the floppies digital and the trades print. I think that’s a great compromise. I think floppies have become more a burden to retailers anyway, so that might be one possible solution.”
As to where “Crime and Terror” might land, Niles said that it’s still an open question but he and Morse are exploring their options. “I’m having really, really great talks right now with Image. I really think they’re one of the few places that we can take creator-owned books right now. That’s all they do! I’m talking to them about a couple projects. Scott and I both have great relationships with IDW, we both just did a series through them, so we’re going to run it by them. We’re going to run it by Dark Horse, too. We’re very open to where this could go.”
Niles’ prolific output to date has largely taken the form of miniseries, though some have enjoyed multiple runs (“30 Days of Night,” “Criminal Macabre”) and others have had recurring characters (the universe he and Bernie Wrightson have created at IDW beginning with “Dead, She Said”). But “Crime and Terror,” the writer told CBR, is envisioned as an ongoing series. “We’re gonna keep doing it. Scott and I are not having any problem running out of ideas,” he said. “It’s hilarious, we just keep writing stuff; the more absurd the stories get, the more fun we’re having. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. I feel so lazy because I’m writing these little treatments and then Scott’s going off and doing the art, but then he sends the art back to me and I have to script to what he draws. That’s gonna be really fun. I imagine, hopefully if it works out and we can find out a way to eke out a little money out of this, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t go on. It’s a really natural team up.”
In addition to his work with Scott Morse on “Crime and Terror,” another bit of fallout from the recent discussions on independent comics is that Niles is now publishing a Creator Owned Spotlight blog through CBR’s own Robot 6. Three installments are currently online, highlighting the work of writers and artists whose work Niles enjoys. The positive, promotional aspect of the blog is meant in some ways as a counter to what Niles sees as an overwhelming and often unfair negative strain in comics discourse online. “We have to realize that, and this is the thing I had to realize as a creator, the same freedoms that are available on the internet for creators are there for critics,” he said. “Now we have a new generation of everybody’s a critic. Out of that, we will find our Gene Siskel, somebody will come to the top who has a balanced [view], who knows how to write without attacking creators, without it being a spotlight on their snarky jokes — all of these things that we see as problems.” This is not to say, though, that there is no room to pan a book. “There’s plenty of room for actual constructive criticism. I actually had to deal with three days of people thinking I was suggesting that there should be no negative criticism at all. Come on, people, please? Common sense. That’s all I’m asking. Because of brutal reviews and comments, I don’t spend a lot of time online. I’m hearing that it’s getting around and people are talking, so I’m thrilled about that.”
Among other projects that Niles has recently announced are two books that came together in the same day, a biography of actor Lance Henriksen with illustrations from comics talent including Bernie Wrightson, Eric Powell, Tim Bradstreet, Mike Mignola, Ashley Wood, Bill Sienkiewicz and others, and a comic book adaptation of Jeff Combs and Stuart Gordon’s “Nevermore,” a one-man play illuminating the life of Edgar Allan Poe. “My inner-nerd literally had a stroke and died last week. I had breakfast with Lance Henriksen, then I came home and Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs came over. Anybody else want to come walking through the door?” Niles laughed. “It was so surreal, and the good news to report is, they’re all really good guys. I’ve been really lucky that way: I keep meeting my heroes, and they turn out to be really cool people. I’m starting to get spoiled.
“Lance Henriksen came to me through a friend, we met, got along really well. He’s like me, sort of no-nonsense, let’s just do this thing,” Niles continued. “He has the book, I love the title, it’s called ‘Not Bad for a Human.’ And basically, we came up with this idea — I’m not sure where the idea originated, but every biography has the same photos in it. We’ve all seen all of the photos from Lance’s movies: everybody knows that shot of him from ‘Close Encounters,’ and his Westerns, and obviously him as Bishop [in ‘Aliens’] is an iconic image. So we said, let’s not do pictures. I suspected Lance had a lot of fans among comics folks, so I started calling my artist friends and telling them we’re doing this project, and except for one artist, they all said ‘I’m in’ immediately, without hesitation. It was incredible. The lineup is amazing! We’ve got Bill Sienkiewicz, Ashley Wood, Tim Bradstreet, Mike Mignola, Eric Powell… I’d buy this freaking book. This is also part of this creator-owned thing, little attempts to sort of cross-pollinate. Lance is going to be doing lots of promotion outside of our little comics bubble, and I’m gonna be doing this. Honestly, I think we’re down to the point where even a few hundred new readers could help us.
“[‘Nevermore’] is a thing I’ve been working on through IDW, we’re doing a comic version of the play that Stuart Gordon directed, starring Jeffrey Combs. It’s a one-man show that is basically an evening with Edgar Allan Poe. But in that evening, you hear several stories, several poems and get tremendous insight into his life. I’ve read a lot of Poe biographies and they always want to do the same freaking thing: suddenly, he’s a detective! And they just go off the rails. But this reminds me of what they do with ‘Amadeus,’ where they told the story of Mozart while presenting all of his work. I’m really excited to be doing this. Jeff was over the other day and we started breaking down the script.”
A one-man play employs narrative devices significantly different from those used in a comic. Niles said that hashing out what the “Nevermore” adaptation would look like was the primary concern of his meeting with Gordon and Combs. ” We’re able to do things differently,” Niles said. “For example, in the play, there’s an imaginary stage manager in the audience. [Combs] plays very much off the audience. There’s an imaginary woman, who at the time was actually courting him at the time in which this play was set. In the play, they’re imaginary. It’s Jeff Combs doing all the work, making you think these people are there. In the comic, we’re creating these characters, you actually see the interaction.
“What we’ll do, we have one artist who’ll be doing all the segments that are Poe ‘live,’ let’s say. The real-time Poe. Then every time we hit a poem or a short story, those will be done by other artists,” Niles continued. “You see Poe talking, and he tells some stories, and then you go in his head. Then we come out of his head, he tells some more stories. Because the nature of the play, it gives you some glimpses into his alcoholism and stuff like that too, so you actually slowly see him coming apart at the seams as the play goes on too.”
Niles told CBR that the last part of his schedule involves finishing his novel, “World of Hurt.” “It’s a little overdue right now, but I finally got it to a point where everybody’s happy and I’m having fun, so I’m going to try to wrap up the novel this month,” he said. “It’s definitely horror, I’m not getting away from my horror roots, but I’m trying to push the envelope a little more on deconstructing monsters, I guess is the best way to put it.
“Then I’m working on a new ’30 Days’ thing for Joe Pruett and IDW,” Niles added.