EXCL: Steve Niles, Busiest Man in Horror & Comics!

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Talking to the 30 Days of Night creator in Jersey!

In the world of horror and comic books, there are few guys busier than Steve Niles. Having started his comics work in the late ’80s adapting some of Clive Barker’s popular stories, Niles went on to write some of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn books, and things really took off in 2002, when IDW Publishing released Niles’ three-issue mini-series 30 Days of Night about a vampire invasion on the small town of Barrow, Alaska. It was successful enough to lead to a series of sequels and spin-off comics after the movie rights were picked by Sam Raimi, a man who has just a little bit of experience both in horror and comic-based movies. They tapped director David Slade (Hard Candy) to helm the feature.

These days, Niles is keeping busy between his comics work for IDW, Dark Horse, Image and DC Comics, and his production deal with actor Thomas Jane through Lionsgate, and soon, he’ll be returning to the world of 30 Days of Night with the release of the movie in October and a new mini-series drawn by a comics legend.

Over three months before the movie’s release, Steve Niles came to New Jersey for Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors to preview it, and it seemed like a good chance to talk to him before the San Diego Comic-Con and the usual bout of junket interviews. Besides the movie, we talked about a lot of different topics including some of his horror peers, upcoming comics work, creepy kids, and this site’s very editor, who Niles knows quite well from their L.A. stomping grounds at Dark Delicacies

Steve Niles: I see Ryan all the time, so I was wondering when he was going to interview me for his stupid site. (laughs)

ShockTillYouDrop.com: Yeah, I knew that he’d grab you one day to ask you questions, but when I found out you’d be on the East Coast, I figured I might as well meet you, since they do all the junkets out in L.A. these days

Steve Niles: I haven’t started those yet and luckily, I have a two-week break before that stuff.

Shock: Obviously when the comic books came out, they were fairly popular right off the bat.

Niles: You know what was pretty surprising actually. At the time I was working for Todd McFarlane doing “Hellspawn” and “Spawn: The Dark Ages” and my buddy Ted Adams called me and said, “We’re doing some comic but we can’t pay you.” I did the first issue of “30 Days of Night” for free and then it only sold 4,000 copies. Once the first comic hit, that’s when everybody went nuts, so the numbers on #2 and 3 went way up, and then it went into multiple printings and all that stuff. Initially, we were like, “Oh, well, we tried” and then the comic came out and the bidding war started.

Shock: Was the idea for this something you had for a long time before you finally did the comic? How did you hook up with Ben Templesmith?

Niles: Through “Hellspawn.” We both worked at McFarlane and we had this thing where any time we did an issue of “Hellspawn,” we had to wait about a month for Todd to approve it, so we’d be sitting around twiddling our thumbs, and I had this whole pitch list of movies I’d been pitching that never sold. I gave it to Ted Adams and he picked “30 Days of Night,” and since then, literally everything on that list has become either a comic or sold as a movie. (chuckles)

Shock: So you’re not only the busiest man in comics, but you’re becoming the busiest guy working in movies, too. I don’t know how you’re able to keep it all straight.

Niles: This is all I’ve ever done, even as a little kid. When I was a teenager, I was playing in a band, making Super 8 movies, putting out fanzines or whatever, so I love it. I’m having the time of my life right now.

Shock: And every idea you’ve come up with since the age of 10 has been used for something.

Niles: Yeah, yeah. Well also for a while there, I’m writing novels in Pittsburgh, and I’d just put them in a drawer, so nothing happened, and then when things sort of hit, I had this huge backlog of material that I’d already written. So everybody was like, “Oh my God, he’s so prolific!” “Well, no, I’ve just been writing for 30 years and I’ve saved everything.” So I’ve been trying to keep up with that reputation.

Shock: Maybe in ten years you’re going to run out of material and will have to actually sit down and write new stuff.

Niles: Yeah. Actually now, everything comic-wise now, I think I’ve gone through everything that was written, and the two novels are published. Now everything I’m doing, I have to sit down and write and do new pitches for and all that.

Shock: Did you already have a screenplay written for “30 Days of Night” or was that something you started working on after finishing the comic book? When did you write that?

Niles: Just before issue 3 even came out, because Randy came in and they started that bidding war between the three studios, and then Raimi entered that and that ended it. I said, “I don’t care about the other offers. Go with Raimi.” Within two weeks, I was in Raimi’s office developing it with him and Robert Tapert and a bunch of the other producers before I’d even written the last issue. I had the basic beats down but I didn’t know what a lot of the action was, so I was developing the screenplay while I was still trying to finish up the comic. It was really cool, but it was definitely trial by fire, you know, just suddenly thrown in, because I’d only written two screenplays before that. I wrote “Spawn 2” for McFarlane and then “Freaks of the Heartland.” That was the exact opposite. I did it as a screenplay and then I just turned the screenplay into the comic series.

Shock: “Spawn 2”, wow, that must have been a long time ago.

Niles: Oh, yeah. A lo-o-ong time ago. I was working at a place where I was testing 2nd Grade educational software at like 7:30 in the morning every day and then in the afternoons, trying to go pitch stuff.

Shock: Working on that stuff drove you into writing horror?

Niles: Yeah, it motivates you so well. I’m counting ducks all day, and it’s so awful.

Shock: When you were writing the screenplay, did you already deviate from the comic book plot?

Niles: Yeah, it started to deviate a little bit, especially because Sam wanted to explore Eben and Stella’s relationship. In the comic book, it’s just “they love each, they’re a couple” and that’s it, and I kind of liked that, but for the movie, they wanted to flesh it out a little bit. I mean, that was the biggest thing, populating the town, making these characters have lives, so there was some stuff that sent us off in different paths even though it still had the same beginning and end. It still had the same effect, and yeah, I took two cracks at it, and they ended up bringing in Stu Beattie, who I wound up becoming buddies with. We were talking all through that and then after that, it was Brian Nelson, who had already teamed with David Slade on “Hard Candy.” He and I met at a Comic-Con and we became buddies, so it’s just this incredible experience where everybody was like welcoming back into the fold and keeping me a part of the process the entire time.

Shock: Brian’s a great writer. I mean, “Hard Candy” could be staged as a play on Broadway in some respect.

Niles: Yeah, when the “30 Days of Night” script book comes out, you’ll see the same thing. He just knows how to write these lean perfect screenplays. It drives me crazy, ’cause I read his and then I read mine and I’m like “How does he do this?” He’s just so good at cutting out the fat.

Shock: Did you go to New Zealand and hang out on the set? I talked to Josh Hartnett and he told me they built an entire village out there.

Niles: Yeah, they completely built it, and I couldn’t go just because you had to go a minimum of two weeks just because of the jet lag. It takes you three days to get acclimated and you have five days to hang out, and three days… I just couldn’t. I’ve been so busy, I just couldn’t. It was like a vacation and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t see anything. I didn’t see any actual footage until it was done.

Shock: So it’s done already? Ryan wanted me to ask you how gory the movie is, because Raimi, who used to put a lot of gore in his own movies has kind of been going the way of PG-13 horror in recent years.

Niles: It’s really gory, but not over the top, I don’t think at least. All the gore makes sense to me. There’s not a lot of gratuitous stuff going on, but it’s vampires attacking hundreds of people, so there’s blood.

Shock: Were they able to base any of it on Ben’s art in the comics?

Niles: Yeah, totally. The vampires are all from the comic. There’s definitely vampires from the comic that you’ll recognize that are in the book like the little vampire girl, and Marlow, what Danny Huston did is an amalgamation between Vicente and Marlow the two vampire leaders, he kind of encompasses both of those. And Iris is in there.

Shock: I didn’t even realize Danny Huston was in the movie. I feel I’ve been a bit out of loop, which is bad considering that we host the site for Sam’s production company, Ghost House Pictures.

Niles: Yeah, I remember when Slade called and said, “You will not believe who we got for the villain.” I saw not the final cut, but I saw the cut before, and it’s just so great. I love it.

Shock: What else have you been doing? You obviously have a lot of comics in various stages, you’re producing movies with Thomas Jane. When you go back to L.A., what’s the first thing you focus on to start getting into production?

Niles: You know what? I just have a list I’ve gotta hit. Now, I’ve been dealing with all the movie stuff, so I gotta get back and I got three comic scripts due, which on a good day, I can get one a day done. So I gotta catch up with that stuff. I’m working on the screenplay for “The Lurkers” for Lionsgate based on one of my comics from IDW. That will star Tom Jane, so I’m getting that screenplay in. It’s just like every day there’s like a million things going on. Now with all the “30 Day” stuff, all the merchandising is starting to happen, and I’m in the loop with all that, so I’m starting to talk to those guys.

Shock: Are you a co-producer on “30 Days”?

Niles: Nope, and the thing is that I’ve been doing the horror and comics circuit since I was a kid, so I just told them to send me to these things, because I know these people. Sure enough, I show up here, and it might as well be the Fango in Burbank, it’s the same vendors, same guys.

Shock: Are you generally going through all your comics and adapting them into movies or are you doing anything specifically as movies?

Niles: Definitely doing movies. Tom and I, it looks like we’ll be doing a TV series, so we pitched that. We got two movies right now. He’s leading the way for a 3D movie called “Dark Country.” (Which you can read more about in STYD’s exclusive interview) You know that old movie “Detour”? It’s somewhere like “Detour”, “Blood Simple”… the whole thing takes place in the desert between L.A. and Las Vegas. It’s just very creepy, very claustrophobic, really cool.

Shock: Are you trying to stay in that horror noir genre you’ve created or are you trying to break away from that eventually? Everything you’re doing seems to have elements of either one or the other.

Niles: Yeah, I just kind of lean towards that even when I’ve done children’s stuff. I’ve done three children’s books, but they’re still about monsters, like I have a book called “The Cryptics” and to look at it, it’s basically the monsters as “Peanuts.” It’s the monsters in the 4th grade but it’s totally for kids and just for fun, trying to break away. Everyone keeps wondering if I want to break out of horror but I love horror. I don’t have a problem being known as the horror guy.

Shock: How do you feel about the recent allegations by some journalists that (cover your ears, Ryan!) horror is dead, as seen by the lack of success of recent horror flicks like “Hostel Part II”?

Niles: Horror’s not dead! Torturing women might be dead. Torturing and murdering women seems to be not big, but you know, the next week, Stephen King’s movie came in #2.

Shock: True and that was straight horror in every sense of the word.

Niles: Yeah, that was horror, so horror’s not dead, “torture porn” is.

Shock: Fortunately, I think Eli Roth has enough talent that he can break away from that.

Niles: Eli can do anything he wants. I’d love to see him do… he was talking about doing “The Bad Seed” for a while. That’s what I heard. Now that I would be really interested in seeing him do.

Shock: Have you seen the movie “Joshua” by any chance? It’s based on that same kind of evil kid theme but without any supernatural reasons.

Niles: No, well I love those. “The Bad Seed”, just the kid who’s just inexplicably bad, but actually in that.. I guess the next “Halloween” is sort of taking that route now. Michael Myers is the way he is because his parents are… you know, his mom’s a stripper so he had a bad upbringing in the new version. So they’re doing that, which is what “The Bad Seed” was about. Heredity vs. environment, and the whole thing with Rhoda was she was raised by perfectly good parents, but they find out her mom was a murderer, so she’s got it in the blood. Actually, there’s another thing. There’s a Doris Lessing novel called “The Fifth Child,” that’s one of the best freaky child things I’ve ever read. Did it in a very real-world way, like “What if you realized your child was a monster?” and in that, he’s even more physically odd.

Shock: I’m not sure if you’ll appreciate “Joshua” as much if you don’t have kids yourself, but how about yourself? Would you ever want to try something in that genre of horror or will you wait until you have your own kids?

Niles: What? Do I want kids?

Shock: No, I meant if you’d want to do a creepy kid comic or movie.

Niles: Yeah, it hasn’t really come up. I did that thing “Freaks of the Heartland” which is sort about monster kids. That was for Dark Horse with Greg Ruth, and it was sort of the opposite—”Just because they’re monsters doesn’t mean that you have to treat them that way.” A little different take on that.

Shock: It must be cool working with artists like Richard Corben and Bernie Wrightson, because when it comes to horror comics, they were the guys who really were at the forefront.

Niles: You have no idea. Working with Corben, for one, was just bizarre, because he’d write me Emails saying like “Do the pages look good? Are they okay? Do you want any changes?” like I’m writing “Mr. Corben…” and he’s like “Call me Rich, please.” He was just so nice about it, even gave me a page afterwards, totally free. “Here’s one of the splashes.” Nice guy and who else?

Shock: Bernie Wrightson!

Niles: Well, that is too funny, because I mean I’ve read Wrightson when I was a little kid. My Mom knows who Bernie is because I talked about him so much. I went and did a convention in Dallas, and Bernie was there and we had mutual friends, Tim Broadstreet, and he was like, “You guys gotta meet each other.” I met him and I brought him a big stack of books, all this stuff, and he had no clue who I was. Then we got talking a little more, and it turned out that he lived two blocks from me. We’ve been neighbors for the past ten years. At least ten years, we’ve been living in the same neighborhood. So we got together for some beers and next thing we know, he’s saying “I want to get back into comics and I wanna do it with you.”

Shock: Are you bringing either of those guys into the movie aspect of what you do, whether it’s using them to do storyboards…?

Niles: Yes, with anything I do. You know, I’m doing a creator-owned thing with Scott Hampton for DC called “Simon Dark” and that will be starting in Vertigo, and I’m doing “The City of Others” with Wrightson and then I’m going to be doing an ongoing series with Bill Sienkiewicz called “The Sinner” that we’ll hopefully be premiering at San Diego. But right now, Bill’s working on what might be my last “30 Days of Night” comic. I think I came up with one more concept and we’re doing it in three issues like we did the first one, and he’s painting it right now, and it looks… Bill just painting. He hasn’t painted in a book in years. He did the cover for one of my first books I ever did. I did a book called “Fly in My Eye” in like 1988, and he did the cover for it.

Shock: You started your comic career by adapting Clive Barker’s novels. Have you ever thought of adapting some of his stuff into movies?

Niles: Clive and I are talking right now about that exact thing, about maybe doing some sequels based on some of the comics we did, ’cause there was some really good..there was “Rawhead Rex,” “Son of Celluloid” ’cause I did all the graphic novel ones, just a couple of the short ones, but yeah, he and I are talking again, trying to figure out… it’s been really funny, cause I was like the little kid, I was like 18-19-20 when I hung out with him, and he was huge, and I’d just follow him around doing all this stuff.

Shock: Would you do those sequels as comics or as TV or movies?

Niles: I don’t know. We just wanna get together and talk and see.

Niles’ first foray onto the screen, 30 Days of Night, will open nationwide on October 19. Stay tuned to ShockTillYouDrop.com and Superhero Hype! for more on Niles’ other upcoming movie projects as they develop.

Source: Edward Douglas