Guest Interview: Steve Niles Talks Ugly Vampires, How to Treat Fans, Creator-Driven Comics, His Inspirations, and Lots More
ALLIE: What do you think of as the best period in the history of comics?
NILES: For me, when Watchmen and Dark Knight and Batman: Year One were coming out and there were lots of indie companies and everybody was selling books. It felt like comics had finally made that jump to respectability.
ALLIE: You were self-publishing then, weren’t you?
NILES: I just started self-publishing. 1986 was the year I published the first time, I believe.
ALLIE: What do you think of the horror comics of that time? Besides your own, naturally…
NILES: There were some good ones coming from strange places. Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing was an excellent horror comic.
ALLIE: Right, of course. One of my favorites of all time still…Before that, back when comics were a quarter, you must have grown up reading Bernie Wrightson comics. You’ve done a bunch of work with him now, including writing the sequel to his career-defining Frankenstein book. What’s the process of collaborating with Bernie like?
NILES: Working with Bernie is probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. You called it right. I was a Wrightson fanatic as a kid. I read everything he put out and carried the hardcover of his Frankenstein around with me like it was the Bible. I’m always nervous meeting an idol, but in Bernie’s case it was great. We’re best friends. We work very closely. We usually hang out once a week and talk through whatever we’re working on, then I’ll go write it up. With Frankenstein, though, Bernie is taking the lead. We talk it through, and he writes in what we discussed in his roughs. I take that and script it, and then we finish. I’m still stunned I get to work with him. It’s pretty amazing. The thirteen-year-old in me freaks out a little, still.
ALLIE: Is there anyone whose work inspires you like that these days?
NILES: We’re living in a time where we have so many talented writers in comics it’s almost daunting. I find guys like Vaughn, Brubaker, Simone, Remender, Seeley, Lemire, Snyder, Kirkman—and on and on—inspiring. And that’s the thing I could really go on. These guys are all great, but there’s more and they’ll be pissed I didn’t mention them. So, I’m really inspired on a daily basis by all of the great writers. And artists? I won’t even start a list. Again, so much talent. Guys like Mike Mignola who can do it all make me want to be better. No shortage of inspiration out there.
ALLIE: In Creator-Owned Heroes, you’re doing a post-apocalyptic story. How do you feel post-apocalypse stories fit into your general oeuvre?
NILES: American Muscle started as a post-apocalyptic story and then wound up being a character piece. It’s just one chapter of the story, and I’m hoping to be able to do more and expand the world. It wound up going in some unexpected places.
ALLIE: You’re in a very unique position with Criminal Macabre and 30 Days of Night. They’re at two different publishers, but you own or co-own them both, and you have the same artist on both. What do you think are stronger, the similarities or differences between the two titles?
NILES: It’s hard to say. Cal McDonald, the lead character in Criminal Macabre, has been with me for a long time. I certainly know him better. But 30 Days of Night has a nice, clear horror concept. What was funny was that I was unintentionally doing similar but opposite stories in the two titles. In 30 Days I was writing about the vampires’ ever-growing hatred of humans and wanting to spark a war between the two species. I’ve been writing and hinting about a coming war of the monsters for over a decade in Criminal Macabre and other Cal stories, including the novels. When I first mentioned the idea of the crossover to you, I remember we both noticed the books were already on a potential collision course, so the crossover was pretty much a no-brainer.
ALLIE: You’d been creating your archetypal hero in one book and villain in the other.
NILES: I suppose so! It really worked out perfectly.
ALLIE: What does [illustrator] Chris Mitten bring to the books? Does he bring the same thing to both books, or is there something different about his contribution to one than the other?
NILES: Mitten has been put to the test and come through in flying colors. The sheer amount of pages he’s had to do is staggering. Chris is such a great artist to work with. He knows exactly what we need and does it. He’s perfect for horror, too. He pays a lot of attention to light and endures my endless crowd scenes and need to have multiple actions going on in panels. He’s made both books better books, but if I had to pick where he shines, it’s with Cal. Criminal Macabre has some humor in it, and I think Chris is at his best playing off horror and laughs.
ALLIE: Is the current run of 30 Days at IDW the end?
NILES: If the vampires lose the fight in the crossover, then the series ends.
ALLIE: If you were to do another crossover, what would it be?
NILES: Once upon a time we pitched a Cal McDonald/Batman crossover. But they took one look at Cal and (probably wisely) passed on the idea.
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