In comic books today, there’s no scarier name than Steve Niles. The New Jersey native took vampires to a new snowy frontier in “30 Days of Night“ and carved out an unexpected new niche — the first tough-guy-junkie-ghostbuster-in-L.A. character – with the Cal MacDonald adventures in “Criminal Macabre“ (think “Rockford Files” and “Shaun of the Dead” but with an injection of “Permanent Midnight“). Niles also collaborated with one of his own heroes, the horror-comics titan Bernie Wrightson, for “Dead, She Said,” a nasty bit of retro horror that was equal parts Lew Archer and George A. Romero. Now Wrightson and Niles are taking a lighter approach to their dark impulses with “Doc Macabre,” which features a young, eager specialist in supernatural investigation who hires himself out to anyone with a poltergeist problem or life issues involving the undead. We caught up with Niles, who lives in Southern California and is getting a lot of interest from Hollywood suitors these days.
GB: The first issue of IDW’s “Doc Macabre” just hit store shelves and one thing is obvious in the first few pages — you seem like you’re having way too much fun on this project.
SN: Completely true. Bernie and I made a decision to have fun with these character books. We’ve both done a lot of truly horrifying material (at least we tried) but we also love the fun side of horror and monsters too.
GB: A fundamental decision for any storyteller is tone. Can you talk a bit about the choices you made with “Doc Macabre” as far as its spirit and personality?
SN: While we were able to keep things pretty light in “Dead, She Said” and “The Ghoul,” ”Doc Macabre” presented a whole new set of opportunities. He’s a kid, he’s a genius and he wants to be a ghost hunter. Just those key points give us a way to explore the funnier sides of darkness. Really, it’s just following Doc’s child-like enthusiasm and from that all the humor came.
GB: I know you have big plans for a widening universe with heroes of horror. What can you tell us about that at this point?
SN: Right now, between Dark Horse and IDW we have created a small universe of characters. Our hope is to one day get all these characters into one series, sort of a Wrightson Monster Avengers, and have one big series called “The Moorpark Rejects.” Right now those plans are on hold because Bernie and I have decided to take on a new series, a straight-forward horror series. I wish I could say more but Wrightson fans are going to poop themselves.
GB: Well, “Dead, She Said” was an instant classic…
SN: Thanks! Yet another created over a meal and laughs. It still blows my mind to be working with Bernie. Not just because I get to work with one of my heroes but because he has become my best friend in the process. One day he was my idol, the next I can’t imagine life without him. We’re very close and everything we do is done as a team. Knowing Bernie could work with anyone on the planet, this just blows me away. I guess the best way to sum up how surreal it is to work with Bernie is when he came over and I asked him to sign my books — I have most of his books – but when we opened them most of them were already signed. I’d stood in line as a kid at cons and asked him to sign.
GB: Can you give us a snapshot insight into the actual logistics of your collaboration?
SN: Every Friday night Bernie and I have a Scrabble night at my house with his wife Liz and my girlfriend Monica. Really, these books came out of those nights with us talking plot points between Scrabble turns and pizza and beer. If we laughed, it went in the book. I know this sounds a little to simple, but the friendship plays so much into the collaboration now it’s almost too fun to call work.
GB: Every part of a creative career offers new challenges as well as opportunities. What do you consider your biggest challenge these days as far as craft or your trajectory as a career creator?
SN: Right now the biggest problem is plummeting sales in a flooded market. Creator-owned books are tougher and tougher to sell, which is my bread-and-butter, so we’re all trying to figure out new ways to tell stories and get them to readers. I do not envy being a comics retailer right now. There are amazing creator-owned books out they can’t order or never even see because they have to keep up with the avalanche of crossovers and event books from the majors. I see a lot of shortsightedness in the modern comics market. But at the end of the day we are dealing with a corporate mentality that does not care nor nurture creativity. I’ve never depended on the majors for work. Not working for Marvel has helped me; I was forced to pursue creator-owned and I wouldn’t have it any other way. DC has been good to me. I look forward to seeing what happens with DC in the future. I hope they pave their own path. By the way, we had the same problem back in the ’80s and the ’90s … but the big difference now is we may be reaching the bottom. I love comics and have faith we will survive, but the key is diversity. As long as we play to the stereotypes we won’t be taken seriously.
GB: Even with that backdrop, I know you’re always juggling a dozen or so projects. What are you most excited about right now? Give us a Top 5, even…
SN: Number 1 is the new series with Bernie. I wish I could say more, but let’s just say it’s Bernie and I returning to our roots and taking on one of horror’s greatest characters. I’m very excited about “Edge of Doom” with Kelley Jones. Sales were stinky, but reviews have been great. I just finished “Lot 13” with Glenn Fabry. Not sure when that will come out but Glenn put the best work of his life on paper. Mostly I’m working on new projects now so I’ll be able to plug those soon.
– Geoff Boucher
RECENT AND RELATED