This week, Steve Niles invites readers to a “City of Dust,” a metropolis in which the population is protected from the dangers of imagination--until, suddenly, it isn't. The five-issue miniseries, illustrated by Zid of Imaginary Friends Studios and published by Radical Comics, introduces the writer's vision of a stark future unexpectedly facing the return of supernatural monsters. CBR News caught up with Niles to discuss the new title, the introduction of Detective Philip Khrome, and the bipartisan nature of dystopia.
“Horror-noir is something I'm really interested in,” Niles told CBR, adding there's “a little bit of science fiction thrown in there, too.” Best known for his horror comics including “30 Days of Night” and “Criminal Macabre,” Niles admitted “City of Dust” represents “sort of new territory for me.” “I've written a lot of sci-fi stuff but this is the first time I've attempted it in comics. It's really fun, actually. It's a bit of a change up.”
“City of Dust” introduces a new leading man in the character of detective Philip Khrome, who inhabits what Niles describes as a Big Brother future where everything is censored. “He's a cop, he enforces the laws of the land, and he doesn't question the laws, or the authority, or any of that,” Niles said of the series' hero. “And one of the things that's going to be challenged in this story is that whole idea. One of the things that I really like [about the 'City of Dust' world] is that at this point police work is basically all automated. A cop shows up at a murder scene, lets loose some bots, and the bots gather all the clues. Before the cop even begins the case, oftentimes the perp is caught, the trial is set, it's all done right there. The side effect of this is that the cops don't really know good old-fashioned detective work. So when strange, supernatural things start to happen that their sensors don't pick up on, our guy has to learn to be a real cop.”
The delegation of law enforcement to robots, and the resulting degradation of the police force's deductive reasoning faculties, is a product of the larger dystopian culture Niles establishes in “City of Dust.” This is a world where, in the writer's words, “anything--whether it be a fairy tale, or a prayer, or anything that revolves imagination or religion or anything that could upset people--is illegal, for your safety.”
Niles also hopes that his vision of a dark future will be distinct from those seen in other works of speculative fiction. “It's very funny, because a lot of times people see these 'Big Brother' futures [as] the ultimate right-wing conspiracy. But in a way, ['City of Dust'] is also PC-lefty attitude--which I'm very much a part of--going out of control,” he explained. “It's not just the idea that video games should be illegal because they teach kids to kill, it's also people believing in a god or any kind of afterlife is a distraction from real life and causes people to fight. Therefore, it's gone. They just made all illegal to keep everybody safe and happy.”
Khrome, then, will be dealing with a supernatural threat in a world that is completely unfamiliar with such ideas. A preview comic distributed at Comic-Con International in San Diego suggested that the series antagonist would be a criminal who has managed to “merge reality with superstition.” But if there is no superstition in the “City of Dust” future, there arises the question of where this baddie finds inspiration for his crimes. “If you've never seen a monster, or for that matter a goblin or a fairy, or any sort of mystical creature, what if you tried to create an artificial one?” Niles pondered in developing this story. “They look unusually classic, actually. I think that's where people will be surprised. If you go back and you're trying to create something like, say, a vampire, you don't have that much to go off of—you might find a box of Count Chocula. So there might be several different manifestations that are a bit odd.”
Niles told CBR that Radical's relationship with Singapore-based Imaginary Friends Studios was a huge draw for him. The writer’s long enjoyed video game and film concept art, “stuff that you generally only see behind the scenes,” and that he had long wanted to work with an artist who employed such a style. “It's this caliber of artwork, and I'm looking at these guys thinking, 'God! Why can't I get you to do a comic?' And they're like, ' because video games pay me this much to do one drawing,” Niles laughed. “It drove me nuts for years. And so when Radical showed me, basically, that they were working with these guys and were going to get them to do comics, that motivated the entire process. I was just thrilled. It's a very different look, even for one of my stories. It's a cool opportunity.”
Radical has also shown an affinity for developing its projects across several media; “Hercules,” “Caliber,” and “Freedom Formula” have been optioned for films and the upcoming series “Shrapnel” is being simultaneously developed as a video game. As such, CBR asked Niles whether there had been any discussions about cross-platform potential for “City of Dust” prior to the comic's release. “Yeah, that's a big part of what they do,” Niles said of Radical. “I'm already talking to some people about a movie, possibly a paperback with the character. We're exploring all those options. One of the things Radical asked me to do with this was create a world. So there could be more Philip Khrome stories.”
"City of Dust" #1 is on sale this week from Radical Comics. Writer Steve Niles will host a webcast chat about the book at 6:00PM Pacific at http://www.radicalcomics.com/.