Slash Away: Steve Niles & Keith Giffen Talk "Gutwrencher"

When you consider the various line-up of creators you could assemble to put together a comic, the combo of Steve Niles and Keith Giffen may not come up at first, but once you get these two guys together on a project there's no stopping them.

The proof will present itself in the first quarter of 2006 when Boom! Studios releases the first issue of the four-issue mini-series "Gutwrencher" by Niles & Giffen. CBR News caught up with both creators to get the lowdown on this new horror series.

"I am very excited about this. I've been trying to get this thing off the ground for years," Niles told CBR News. "The biggest problem has been, well, me, and getting me and Keith Giffen with enough time between us to work on it. I'm a big Kieth Giffen art fan and I really wanted him to do the art on this.

"'Gutwrencher' really is the most straight forward horror thing I've ever done because it's really a nod to the horror movies of the '80s-- the slasher films, the 'Prom Nights,' the 'Friday The 13th's' and things like that. It's about a high school reunion and the kid who thought he was abused in high school by all these people who comes back for a little revenge. I'll leave it at that."

As Niles said, "Gutwrencher" is their take on the popular slasher genre, "with a nice little twist half-way through it," added Giffen. "I'm surprised no one's ever thought of this before. I believe it was Steve who first brought this idea to the table and my reaction was 'Thank God, we're on the same wavelength!' It's the kind of thing where when I'm watching slasher movies I think, 'I don't get it, why doesn't this happen now?' Plus, I think the main character's kind of cool, too."

But how do you go about bringing the slasher genre to the printed comics page when you don't have the luxury of using film tricks like jumping out in front of the audience at the last second, scaring the crap out of your audience? "It's really the same thing as we've done with '30 Days of Night,'" explained Niles "You wouldn't give a flying shit about anybody in Barrow if you didn't like Eben and Stella. So, the goal with 'Gutwrencher' is to come up with an interesting group of characters that you like and care about, that are trapped in this high school and you don't want them to die. It's really the same approach, without the one 'boo' scare that was so popular with those films. So, you miss out on that, but you can make up for it with tension and good characterization and then lots and lots of blood."

The duo were brought together by Giffen's friend Shannon Denton. Denton made the introduction a couple of years back at the Dark Horse party held during Comic-Con International in San Diego. Niles said, "Shannon put us together and we started to play around with this idea of, the best way to put it is, a poorly motivated killer! I think we're going to have a lot of fun with it, just turning that whole '80s genre on its head."

"When I met Steve there for the first time we just started gassing and somehow the name 'Gutwrencher' came up and he started riffing on it," explained Giffen. "Before I knew it, it was [spoken quickly] 'Youwannadrawit?' 'Youwannawriteit?' 'OK, let's put on a show!' (laughs)

"I have vague recollections of who came up with what or how it all gelled, but I do seem to recall it coalescing the way most of these things coalesce-- just shooting the breeze with a fellow professional and an idea presents itself. No great inspirational story here outside of the fact it just happened."

When Niles writes a new comic he generally writes full scripts, but this time around Niles & Giffen will be handling things in a bit more collaborative manner. "We're doing this book old style-- plots and script," said Niles. "I do a little plotting, then I send that off to Keith and he does some art, then I'll do some scripting to that. I started the idea, but then he did the character sketch that gave me more ideas. Once the whole process started it began to come together. It's a lot more collaborative than most books I've done."

"It is weirdly collaborative," added Giffen. "Steve'll take things to a certain point and ask me what I think, then I'll bounce it back at him. It's a give and take. We talk things over to the extent that things have to be talked over. This is almost like auto-writing; this project seems to be happening in spite of us. It's kind of the old Marvel style. I like the fact that it's very, very organic. We're not so much trying to impress one another, no, it's more like a good natured game of can you top this? As long as we're having fun, that will translate to the page."

As for the title of the book and what it means, Niles says it's pretty simple. "I'm not going lie to you, I thought it just sounded cool! Anything I'd say beyond that would be an out and out lie. I just thought to myself, 'Ahhh Gutwrencher! What a cool title!'"

"Gutwrencher" gives Niles a chance to work with a creator he's been a long-time fan of, citing his work on DC's "Dr. Fate" title as some of his favorite stuff. "I own a ton of that art," said Niles. "I absolutely love it. He's done so many different things. I'd say his most extreme stuff had to be 'Trencher' where he really pushed his style, but I loved his work in 'Dr. Fate.' I collect original art so I've bought a bunch of his stuff off eBay, so I own some stuff from that Spider-Man/Silver Surfer thing he did that's just beautiful. I've liked his stuff for a long time. I don't think he's ever done a straightforward horror title, though. I'm really excited. The main character is so cool looking!"

With "Gutwrencher" not scheduled to ship until the first quarter of 2006, Giffen has a long lead time to work on this book and the many others currently on his desk. He's already begun working on pages for "Gutwrencher," but he's not the kind of artist who starts with page one and goes from there. "I usually go through and break out like six pages then look at them and ask, 'Which are the bitch kitties here? Which are the panels that are going to be hell-on-wheels to draw?' I like to get that out of the way early so that later on when a deadline is calling me I won't have to deal with the crowd scene. I also do weird things where I'll get in a mood to draw just all the noses on one page. I'm not kidding! Or, I'll draw the background first, then leave it alone for a few days and come back and gradually fill in people. To me, the comic book page is like filling in a huge jigsaw puzzle."

As to whether or not "Gutwrencher" represents Giffen's first foray into horror comics, arguments could be made in a number of directions. Giffen points out that his work on "Mars Attacks" could qualify as his first and certainly the upcoming "Common Foe" that he's co-writing with Denton will pre-date "Gutwrencher," but with this title he's not only playing a part in the story, but also the art. "I've done other horror comics-- maybe not all of them are recognizable as horror comic and maybe some of them weren't meant to be horror comics-- but look, I'm a huge fan of grind house horror. The kind of horror you find in drive-ins or those cheaper theaters. When I saw the original 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' I thought it was one of the funniest movie's I've ever seen! I still bray like a donkey when I watch that movie. It's hysterical! So, I'm coming to things with a bit more skewed perspective.

"This may be the first time that people are going to be seeing me do something so deliberately in the horror genre. I can say that this is the first time I've ever worked with other creators who are steeped in horror. It's going to be hard not to do a scary book with Niles. That said, I think I've got a bit of shock value in me as well. This could end up being one of the keepers, but then again we could drop the ball viciously and it could end up being the thing we never talk about for the rest of our careers."

For more from Niles & Boom! Studios, including news on "Giant Monster" and "In The Blood," click here.

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