Guest Interview: Steve Niles Talks Ugly Vampires, How to Treat Fans, Creator-Driven Comics, His Inspirations, and Lots More
Dark Horse Comics Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie provided us with another guest interview this week in which he chats with the incomparable Steve Niles, horror writer extraordinaire.
SCOTT ALLIE: Your 30 Days of Night, which had its tenth anniversary this year, is widely credited as responsible for the resurgence of horror comics in the last decade. What do you think of where horror comics have gone since the first 30 Days of Night?
STEVE NILES (pictured above): It’s very nice people think Ben Templesmith and I had the slightest thing to do with horror becoming a stable comic genre. There was a great shift that happened. Horror comics went from EC tributes to having their own spotlight. I hope it happens to other genres in comics. Right now we have many great horror comics out there, from Hellboy to Fatale to Revival. Even the horror titles from Marvel/DC have gotten pretty great.
ALLIE: What do you mean by EC tributes? You’re talking around the year 2000, or before that?
NILES: For decades most horror comics followed the EC formula—somebody does something bad and pays for it in some macabre method.
ALLIE: Why do you make all your vampires so ugly? Don’t you know they’re supposed to be sexy?
NILES: I like my monsters scary. I feel like the romantic vampire has been—and continues to be—done to death. I’m just not interested.
ALLIE: Where do you see the origins of the real monstrous sort of vampire you did in 30 Days of Night? The prettified vampire owes a lot to Anne Rice, but people connect it to a certain way of reading Dracula. Do you think the 30 Days vampire is a more accurate read of the legend, or something subsequent to that?
NILES: Well, Dracula was pretty hideous in the original novel, so I do feel like the 30 Days vampires are a return to the original monster vampire.
ALLIE: You’ve written novels as well. Besides the obvious, what do you think is the difference, for the reader, between horror comics and horror prose?
NILES: Both have the lack of the “jump scare,” so you have to find other ways to frighten readers. Both offer us a way to get inside people’s heads and really lay the groundwork for a good scare, but comics have the addition of being able to also use images to pound the point home.
ALLIE: Are you trying to frighten your readers with comics? Often horror comics aren’t scary so much as they just feature characters and ideas familiar from the horror genre. When you sit down to write, do you specifically think about scaring the reader?
NILES: Sometimes I do, when I have an idea I think will be scary. But scares in comics are tough. The best I can do is plant something that sticks with people and they think about it when it’s dark. The "creep-out" factor.
ALLIE: Have you had moments where you really felt you pulled it off, got something in the comic that was really gonna get under a reader’s skin?
NILES: Every once in a while. The last time was when I wrote a Western horror. The characters tie bells to the dead they bury in case they come back. Late at night, when everything is quiet, the bell rings. I find that scary as hell.
ALLIE: You worked with Clive Barker really closely at a formative stage in your career. His stuff can be genuinely scary, or just creepy and weird. I think of him when I think of dark fantasy—the good kind of dark fantasy. What did you learn from him?
NILES: I learned a lot from Clive about everything from writing to how to treat fans. With Clive, fans come first. They pay our rent. They feed us. Creators who are rude to fans confuse me. I also learned a lot about characters from Clive. He knows the key to good horror is characters readers care about. When you get that down, scares come much easier.
ALLIE: Do you see Clive’s influence on the current state of horror in comics or film?
NILES: Clive left his mark, to be sure. I think of all his stuff, the Books of Blood for their insane originality and Hellraiser have left the biggest impression. Pinhead is an iconic monster. He’ll be around for a long time with the rest of the monsters.
ALLIE: Outside of horror and comics, your current relationship has you involved in music again, after your early punk rock days. Have you been playing all along?
NILES: I didn’t play at all for nearly fifteen years, maybe longer, but I did a reunion show a few years back and sorta got the music bug again. I recorded a new CD with Monica Richards and might do another reunion show with Gray Matter in September, but no, I’m not jumping back into music.