Quantcast Steve Niles interview - 30 DAYS OF NIGHT

Steve Niles!!!

For years, writer Steve Niles tried pitching his horror scripts to unreceptive Hollywood studios. He opted instead to tell his stories via the comic book medium & won over legions of fans with such works as '30 Days Of Night', 'Freaks Of The Heartland', and 'Criminal Macabre' (Featuring Niles recurring character Cal McDonald). Now, practically ALL of his comic work is coming to the silver screen! And he's still churning out books with collaborators such as Rob Zombie, actor Thomas Jane and Ben Templesmith. Folk, Icons Of Fright is proud to present this FRIGHT exclusive interview with Steve Niles! Check it out! - by Robg., John Torrani. 7/06

What are your earliest recollections of the horror genre?

Well, the first horror movie that scared me was ‘NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ’. Without a doubt. Because I caught it late at night. And I thought it was a documentary. I was probably around 7 or 8 and I had my mini-“War Of The Worlds” moment, where it freaked me out so bad. (laughs) But even before that, I used to read ‘Creepy & Eerie’. I’d bring them to church when I was around 5 or 6 and my mom would take them away from me, because I’d be reading the horror comics in church. (laughs)

What was it that initiated your interest in writing and to follow that creative path?

I was just one of those kids always working on projects – making Super 8 movies. I thought I wanted to do special effects, so at one point I was building monster heads, and I was doing some stop-motion animation, and really, I just got frustrated trying to make movies with my stoned drunken friends all the time (laughs), so I started working on scripts and I really enjoyed it. I was a huge, HUGE Richard Matherson fan, and he made writing really accessible. Just the way he writes, he’s not intimidating at all. After reading ‘I AM LEGEND ’, I really wanted to start writing. So, it was sort of a mixture of all of that stuff.

Do you remember what some of those early stories were about?

Oh yea! The first story I wrote was about some kids that hide in the Washington Monument from zombies. (laughs) I was living in DC at the time.

Well, you have a long history of writing and initially you were trying to do it for films, how did that segway into writing comic books.

I started doing comic books in 1986-87 and that’s when I went out and I met Clive Barker before the ‘BOOKS OF BLOOD ’ were released here. I wrote Richard Matherson this long letter and he ended up selling me the rights to ‘I AM LEGEND ’ for $100 bucks. So, I was living in my sister’s basement and hiring artists that I saw doodling on napkins at restaurants. Just doing whatever I could to work. Clive gave me half the rights to the ‘BOOKS OF BLOOD ’. He split them with me and Eclipse at the time. I had a company called Arcane comics and that pulled me into this really weird area where I was editing for a few years. I was adapting Clive’s stories and editing books. I had done a book called ‘M’ and I had done ‘I AM LEGEND ’, and I had done a bunch of the Clive Barker stuff such as ‘RAWHEAD REX ’, and I got sucked into this whole editor/publisher world for a while.

It took me a really long time to get out of that. Then this really bizarre thing happened. I was living in Pittsburgh, and I got offered a job at Disney. So, they called me and I thought “They’re hiring everybody at Disney” and they’re active now with their video game division. They were trying to copy the old Disney model, which was hire people from all over the place from all different artists and writers, put them in a room and you’ll create magic. All they did was create an army of people who could play video games. (laughs) because none of us knew how to make them, so we sat around and played them. But THAT’S what got me out to LA.

I’d always been doing comics on and off during all that time, and so some guy at Disney convinced to take some of my stuff out and pitch it. I pitched ’30 Days Of Night’, ‘Cal McDonald’ and ‘Freaks Of The Heartland’ and all these scripts that I had at the time, and I just got “No. No. No. No.” After that, I worked for Todd McFarlane and I was writing ‘Spawn’ – ‘Dark Ages’ and ‘Hellspawn’, and that’s when we decided to do it just as a fluke. I did the first issue of ’30 Days Of Night’ for free. I just thought, “You want to put out a comic? Here’s all these pitches that no one will buy!” (laughs) Let’s do “3 Act” comics. 3 issues. One for each “Act”. And the day the ad hit, things went nuts!

Let’s talk a bit about ’30 DAYS OF NIGHT ’ because it’s one of my favorite books. I always notice that you take certain genres and put a very unique twist to them. The vampire genre for example has been done to death, but you came up with a really kick-ass original idea. Mike C. doesn’t read comic books for example, but he has read ‘30 DAYS OF NIGHT ’ So, what were the origins for the ‘30 DAYS OF NIGHT ’ story?

It’s the same thing as you! I’ve read a lot of vampire stories. I’ve read all the Anne Rice books and seen every one of the movies. I knew all the things that annoyed me and that were tired, and had already been done. Honestly, I’m so sick of the fucking romantic vampire! I really wanted just some vicious killers! Once I got into it, I started thinking about the hierarchies, and how it would work. And what their systems would be like, which is how I got that whole other twist in there with the other vampires showing up.
What about the whole Alaskan backdrop? The whole 30 days of night thing was something I never knew until I read your book!

I was living in Minnesota for a year, and I’d read those little human interest stories. And what caught my attention was every year, not only was it dark for this long period of time there, but alcohol was illegal during that period because the suicide rate was so high. I though “God, what a grim fucking setting THAT is! (laughs) Now, let’s attack you with vampires! (laughs)” So, yea, I carried that idea around for years, thinking that’s the perfect place for vampires.

Now, it’s stemmed into so many different '30 DAYS OF NIGHT' comic books. But you did follow up your initial run with ‘DARK DAYS ’, the official sequel to '30 DAYS OF NIGHT'. And I loved it! Did you write the sequel because of the success of '30 DAYS OF NIGHT' or did you kind of have this whole story mapped out from the beginning.

No, actually! And you can dig this quote out, but I believe I said “I will not do a sequel. I will not stretch this.” I wasn’t going to do vampires in Finland (laughs) or go around the Artic circle and do the whole story over again. But I was talked into it.

Really? Because it felt as if you had this whole trilogy planned.

Once I started thinking about it, I got an idea of where I wanted to go with it. Because I didn’t want to go back to Barrow. I didn’t want to do the same thing over again. I just wound up liking Stella so much as a character. It just came out of me. I swear to God, that whole thing was outlined on one page, the whole series. It was a time when everyone was so excited about it. So, it was a lot of fun.

You had a pitch for it way back as a movie, then ended up doing it as a comic, and NOW it’s going to be a movie again. How does it feel that it had to go thru this whole long cycle just to make it to a movie again?

I feel really lucky. I spent years pitching stuff and just got nothing. I can’t believe that something exploded so big and now a bunch of my stuff is being adapted into films.

Are you nervous about the way Sam Raimi’s Ghosthouse Pictures might approach the film?

Well, I know Raimi really respects fans, and he really respects the source material. I think he really learned that doing ‘SPIDER-MAN’. The latest version (of the script) I read is absolutely very accurate to the book. And David Slade, who’s directing and who recently made ‘HARD CANDY ’ - when I had met him, he told me he bought the comics off the stands. And as a fan, he pursued the project. Which is great. And he is fighting to make sure it’s everything that the comic is. Because… there were a few studios executives that had some “creative” ideas they tried to get in there.

I’m mad at Raimi for ‘BOOGEYMAN’!

No, this isn’t going to be anything like that. They’ve got Weta involved, and they’re got a $30 million dollar budget.

I hope they do your book justice!

You know, I just hope they keep it simple! It’s a simple story! It’s ‘NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD ’ in the snow. (laughs)

Another character you’ve been with for a while is the ‘Cal McDonald’ character from Criminal Macabre. Can you tell us a bit about the creation of Cal McDonald?

When I first started writing him, I tried to mimic Raymond Chandler. And all I was doing was really bad Raymond Chandler, but with no real plot. So, I started throwing in things I knew. Like drugs and monsters (laughs) and the character just literally started coming together. All those short stories were things I wrote while I was on tour with my band. I’d torment my friends with these stories because I made them read them. Because I had ‘Savage Membrane’ and ‘Guns, Drugs & Monsters’ and the first ‘Hairball’ comic, they were in drawers for years! So, when people asked if I had any more from this character, I had tons of stuff!
Are there any plans for a cinematic interpretation of Cal McDonald?

Yea, we’re trying to figure out what to do with that right now. Dark Horse is going monthly with the comic. That was one of the problems. We were doing all these different comics – ‘Criminal Macabre’ & ‘Last Train To Deathville’ and it turns out everyone was really confused! So, NOW it’s going to be just called ‘Criminal Macabre’ and it’s monthly. First artist is going to be Kyle Hotz. Tim Bradstreet is doing all of the covers with Thomas Jane modeling as Cal and Chris Nelson is modeling as Morlock. We just did a big (photo) shoot. And I actually have that ’73 Nova that he drives. So, we took it into a shop and put it up on hydraulics so we could tilt it for different angles. KNB loaned us some monster parts and bodies and we staged the covers for the next few years.

JT: Did you ever finish ‘Supernatural Freak Machine?’

It hasn’t been finished. There were some problems with the publishers at the time. Some rights disputes that haven’t been worked out. One was on IDW and what we’re doing is Kelley’s finishing the book, there were 2 issues to go, so they’re going to go straight to trade (paperback) with 44 pages that nobody has ever seen.

JT: So, I have to buy that trade now.

Yes, but there’s a standing offer on my message board – any one that wants to return the original comics to me, I’ll send you back your $12 bucks. (laughs)

JT: Well, Steve… just so you know, those are coming to you!

Well, yea, I felt really bad! Everyone went out and bought those issues and the publisher just went and dumped it. It was out of my control.

JT: There are times when I read Cal McDonald that I laugh out loud…


JT: There was this one time – he’s being chased and I think Morlock shows up and someone asks him “Who’s that?” and Cal responds, “Oh, that’s just my friend. He’s dead.” (laughs) And he keeps running.

(laughs) Yea, that’s from ‘Hairball’ – one of the first comics we did!

JT: Doesn’t that open with Cal hanging from the giant head? Does that head come from something else?

Yeah. You can find a copy of a book called ‘Daughters of FLY IN MY EYE ’, the first Cal McDonald story is in there. It’s called ‘Big Head’, so I just segwayed out of that. And even if you read ‘Savage Membrane’, that character “Bighead” returns.

JT: When I read it, I just thought it was so cinematic (laughs), this guy hanging from this giant head. I thought it was amazing.

That’s how I always want to open the movie! I’ve had a crack at the script a couple of times, when it was at the other place, and that was the opening for every single draft and the studio would ask, “What does this have to do with anything?” And I’d reply “It’s a guy clinging to a giant head for God’s sake! What better way to open a movie?! It’d get my attention!” (laughs)

Ben Templesmith is such a unique artist and you’ve collaborated him quite a bit. And I think he compliments your work so beautifully. So, how did you two end up working together?

We actually met on the ‘SPAWN’ message board. He posted his work up on there, and I was writing ‘Spawn: The Dark Ages’ at the time and McFarlane was interested in having me taking over ‘HELLSPAWN’, because Ashley Wood & Brian Bendis were doing it. I pitched Ben, and we got that gig and that’s how we ended up doing '30 DAYS OF NIGHT'. The thing with McFarlane is he has to approve everything, so we were literally on a break waiting on approval for a ‘Hellspawn’ issue when IDW contacted us, because Ted Adams who started IDW was the one who hired us to work at McFarlane. So, he called us and said “Is there anything you guys want to do?”

So, we did '30 DAYS OF NIGHT' and that was it. Ben’s one of those artists I work with that I write the script, I throw it to him, and what I get back I love. I don’t think I’ve ever asked Ben to change a single thing. Honestly, I think what Ben does so good is he’s ballsy enough to make comics dark. If you’re going to do a horror comic, you’re not going to do big, bright daylight. Make it a little murky, mysterious and hard to look at. It’s what it’s like in a horror movie sometimes. You squint to see what’s coming from the woods. And he does that. He’s one of the best horror artists out there right now.

Ok. One of my all time favorite books that you ever did – ‘FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND ’. There’s something about that book, man! You have to tell me where that story originated!

I wrote it as a novella originally back in 89 or so. This little book. It had this totally awful ending. (laughs) It had a ‘Twilight Zone’ ending, which tormented me for years. And then Mike Richardson, from Dark Horse – when the Cal McDonald stuff was starting to do well, had asked me about it. “Remember that novella you wrote?” And I told him “Actually, I wrote a screenplay” where I fixed the ending. I finally wrote it the way I wanted to. Basically in the novella, I told you where they all came from. And in the book I realized it’s so much better to let everybody’s fears fill in that blank. Are they demons from hell? Is it radiation from the nuclear power plant? Whatever. You put it in there, whatever it is that YOU fear. The comic worked out so good, because that was one I wrote and had all these captions for – I mean, tons of captions, tons of narration. I had the kid’s voice all the way thru it. And then I saw Greg Ruth’s art and I cut everything out except for the most basic captions.

I remember one of the things I loved about the first issue was that it didn’t have a lot of text in it, but it told the story wonderfully.

He was doing the facial expressions! When a comic artist can get that stuff across without the words, that’s what you hope for. As a comic writer, you’re sort of attempting to erase yourself in the process, and ‘Freaks’ is the closest I’ve come.

Besides myself (laughs), has anyone else approached you about making ‘FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND ’ into a movie?

Yeah. I’m talking to a few people, but I’m being really protective of that one. I’ve had people want to take it and sell it to the highest bidder and I said “No.” No way. I really want that one done right or not at all. Mike Richardson feels the same way. So, we’re looking for the right people.

Give me a couple of years!

JT: I really liked ‘NAIL’ and ‘BIGFOOT’, your collaborations with Rob Zombie. Both of you are credited as writers. Can you explain to us a bit about that dynamic?

Actually, we met because literally someone just shoved us in a room together. It was like “You guys will like each other!” And we just stared at each other for a while and then we started talking. (laughs) “Ok, I do like him.” We both had all these ideas we wanted to do. I said “I’ve got a Bigfoot thing.” And he said, “Well, I’ve got a Bigfoot thing I want to do!” So, we came up with a plan – ‘NAIL’ was Rob’s idea. So Rob starts the idea off and then we’d play “hot potato” with it. We knew the general outline, so we’d pass it back and forth, until we’d get it done. The only subtle difference if you notice is his name is first on ‘Nail’ and my name is first on ‘BIGFOOT’. That’s how we trade off, because ‘BIGFOOT’ was my concept and that he played “hot potato” with. It’s probably one of the real true collaborations.

Those are some of the things I can read, because I don’t hear myself in them at all. It’s been tossed around so much that there’s characters in there saying dialogue that’s not mine. It really works out good. We have a lot of similar sensibilities. We were both bound and determined to undo the damage done by ‘Harry And The Hendersons’. (laughs) That was our mission. Now, we just signed the deal – Rob and I are going to be writing the script for ‘BIGFOOT’ with Rogue pictures.

Is he interested in directing ‘BIGFOOT’ as well?

I don’t think so. He’s still looking around for what he wants to direct next.

Oh, well they announced he’s writing, directing and producing the new ‘HALLOWEEN’ movie. (This interview took place on the day of the announcement at Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors)

Oh, he is? Really? I think I have to call him! That’s great. I knew he was looking at a few properties. But that’s perfect. Is he starting from scratch? Is he writing it too?

Not sure if they’re starting over, it’s been vague so far, but he is writing it.

Oh, then it’s going to be great! That’s great. I talked to him 2 days ago and he didn’t say a word! We talked about ‘El Superbeasto’. He got Paul Giamatti for it! I think that’s going to be great.

JT: ‘NAIL’ is a wrestler. Are you yourself into wrestling or not really?

Not at all. No, as a matter a fact, because of that comic I know more wrestlers then I ever have in my whole life! Diamond Dallas Page just walked by and waved at me. (laughs) Well, when I was a little kid – I liked the pre-WWF wrestling. I loved those magazines. I would pick them up because those guys were always covered in blood and I loved that stuff! That’s the time period we were trying to capture. I wound up learning a lot about it. When we started, Rob sent me over all these tapes and all this stuff and I watched it. It was all the old school stuff. The only modern stuff I know is from playing video games. I do like those. Just doing the work with Rob has been so much fun and I can’t wait to do more. Hopefully we’re going to do ‘Lords Of Salem’ next. He did a song on his new album called ‘Lords Of Salem’, so we’ll have to figure out how to work it in.

I’m a huge Tom Jane fan! So, can you give us one good Tom Jane story?

Just one?! Actually, I met Tom when he was promoting ‘The Punisher’ and he came up to me and said “I want to be fucking Cal McDonald!” (laughs) And I thought “Alright!” So, we just started talking and he said he had this comic idea he wanted to pitch me, and we went and had lunch, and it turned out we had so much in common. And the weird moment was when he asked where I was from.

I told him I was from Washington DC, and he said he was from Baltimore. So, he asked “Do you know the music scene at all?” Well, yea I was in a band called ‘Gray Matter’. And turns out, he used to come to my shows! He was 13 years old and he used to come to my shows! (laughs) I didn’t believe him. So, he went back to his parents, and came back with the vinyl record that he obviously had played a million times. So, we’ve had a million of those bonding moments. We just totally get along.

I think I witnessed the moment when he decided to do ‘THE PUNISHER’.

Let’s hear it.

He did a Fangoria convention to promote ‘DREAMCATCHER’, but he was the only actor that showed up for it, so he pretty much had to do this panel by himself. He got up on stage and I remember he had this really bad plaid suit on.

(laughs) That’s his suit! He still wears that fucking suit!

So, immediately the fans were being a bit harsh on him. And to change the subject, he asked the crowd “You guys ever see that Punisher movie?” And everyone screamed “Yea!” And he continued “The one with Dolph Lundgren?” And everyone booed. So, he asked “Do you think they should remake that?” And he started winning over the crowd, and they cheered “Yea!” “But if they do it, he has to have the skull, right?” Everyone again cheered “Yea!” “Because… I’m thinking of doing it. But I was thinking of wearing a happy face.” And everyone screamed out “Nooo!” (laughs) So, then he asked the audience, “Do you guys think I should do it? Because I’d never really heard of it, but they offered it to me.” And everyone started cheering him on. Afterwards, he did a signing and everyone came up to him and said “Dude, you have to play ‘The Punisher’”. Then a month later they announced he was going to do it.
That’s amazing. I didn’t know that! I’m going to bring it up to him. And now I know he HAS had that plaid suit for years. (laughs)

JT: In fact, he actually signed my ‘DREAMCATCHER’ poster “Tom Jane – Punisher?” with the question mark and I still have that.

Wow. That’s cool.
JT: I loved when you wrote Batman. Are there any other superheroes that you plan to work on in the future?

Well, I’m doing ‘THE CREEPER’. It’s a 6 issue series. They just handed it to me and said “Start him over.” So, I asked “Does he have to be yellow and green?” And they said “Yes.” But I got this artist and I said “Well, let’s make the character fit the name. He’s called The Creeper! Why’s he juggling off of rooftops?! (laughs) He’s got to be out of his freakin’ mind!” I’m doing that, which is weird because I grew up on Marvel stuff, so I had to train myself to write DC, except for Batman! The Creeper, I went back and read the old Ditko issues and just came up with a new take. People are going to be really shocked when they see what we do with him.
JT: If there was one superhero you COULD do, which one would you want to write?

HULK. The Hulk! It’s Jekyll and Hyde! It’s perfect. I would love to do him. BUT the way he was in the 70’s. Not talking and getting haircuts and shit. (laughs) Now, I think he’s on another planet or something. Yea, that one I’ve always wanted to do. Hulk and Batman.

You’ve been to both comic book conventions AND horror conventions. What’s the convention experience like from your perspective?

The horror cons are completely different from the comic cons, but essentially they’re all the same. I love being able to sit down & talk to fans. Really, because I don’t read reviews, so conventions are the only way I get to talk to people and find out what they really like and what they want to read, because that was me. I was the little kid standing in line waiting to get stuff signed. So, now I get to do it myself, and I love it.

Thanks to Steve Niles!!!

All Content Copyright 2006 Icons Of Fright.com.
No articles may be reproduced in any manner without expressed permission of Icons Of Fright.com.
Back to Interview Index