‘The Thing’ comic debut: Steve Niles talks horror, John Carpenter

Sept. 20, 2011 | 11:47 a.m.

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

In time for the latest big-screen incarnation of “The Thing,” which hits theaters Oct. 14, Dark Horse Comics is releasing a digital comic set in the same universe — “The Thing: The Northman Nightmare.” The first installment of the 29-page book, written by Steve Niles with artwork by Patrick Reynolds, goes live Wednesday on Dark Horse’s website, but Hero Complex readers get a sneak peek at the first eight pages, above.

Niles, best known for his comics “30 Days of Night” and “Criminal Macabre” (and more recently for his vampire expertise on the vamps vs. zombies “Deadliest Warrior” finale), has his hands full these days. His latest comic, “Criminal Macabre: No Peace for Dead Men,” just hit shelves. He’s writing “30 Days” again after a nine-year hiatus. And his comic “Remains” is making its small-screen debut as a Chiller network TV movie this fall. But Niles said when he was offered the chance to write “The Thing,” he couldn’t turn it down. Hero Complex writer Noelene Clark caught up with Niles about “The Thing,” John Carpenter and horror in comics.

Check out the first eight pages of “The Thing” comic in the gallery above, and if you’re over 18, you can watch the restricted trailer for the new film here.

NC: Coming from the background you do with “30 Days of Night” and “Criminal Macabre,” what was it like working on “The Thing”? Was it a natural story for you to tell?

SN: It couldn’t be more natural. Two of my favorite movies in the world are “Night of the Living Dead” and “The Thing,” both versions of “The Thing.” So, if you take John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and combine it with “Night of the Living Dead,” you’re not too far off with “30 Days of Night.” I’ve always cited those as being my biggest influences. I’m so bad that I know the original story — “Who Goes There?” — that “The Thing” was based on by heart. It’s just one of my favorite things. And Scott Allie, my editor at Dark Horse, knew this, and so when he called me about the offer, I’m pretty sure I said yes before he could get the question out. I wanted to be involved so bad.

NC: Can you tell us a little about your take on the story?

Page 1 of "The Thing" (Steve Niles and Patrick Reynolds / Dark Horse)

SN: Essentially what I wrote was: What if it happened in other periods of history? The thing I had to really tackle was what would be a perfect setting, and historically, one of my favorite things to read about are Vikings, ’cause they were lunatics. They were very smart lunatics, and they basically discovered Greenland, and so I combined the discovery of Greenland with a “Thing” story, and I think it came out really great. The art from Patrick [Reynolds] is just stunning. And I hate to say stuff like this, but this was one of those stories; I got the idea, and I loved it so fast that I think they got a pitch from me within the hour. I knew what I wanted to do, and I was scripting immediately. These projects, they come along so rarely, where you’re just working for love of the property or the project.

NC: Does your story tie into the upcoming film adaptation?

SN: There’s no direct tie-in other than the idea that there are possibly more than one of these spacecraft throughout history that crashed. In the old movie, when they do find the spacecraft, they think it’s been frozen for 500 to 1,000 years. So I took that concept — who says that only one ship crashed? The connection to it is that there’s a possibility that there’s more Things out there like this, and they’re just frozen and waiting to be defrosted to take us over.

NC: Could you talk a little bit about John Carpenter? Is his work a big influence for you?

SN: I actually was very lucky. I got to work with John. We collaborated on the story for the video game F.E.A.R. 3 for Warner Bros. that came out about a month ago. I got to sit and talk to John a lot. I got to ask him a lot of questions about “The Thing.” There are so many reasons why I love John Carpenter and “The Thing,” but one of the reasons that I love John so much is that he’s a true pioneer. He gets his movies made, hell or hot water, and if he can do it within the Hollywood system, he’ll do it; if not, he’ll step outside and do it. He always finds a way to get it done. I’ve always found him incredibly inspirational.

And “The Thing,” his remake, No. 1, it’s closer to the original story “Who Goes There,” and No. 2, it’s the last great practical effects movie. People forget. Everything is CGI now. That movie does not have an ounce of CGI in it, ’cause it didn’t exist. So all those wonderful monsters and bizarre creations you see were made by hand. So that was huge for me as a kid. John Carpenter’s version, especially, created this wonderful atmosphere of paranoia where you had this great cast of familiar faces, character actors, and within minutes you are in the same position as those people, questioning now the people you liked five minutes ago. Now they might be the enemy. And you find yourself within the movie getting as paranoid as the characters. And then, as a horror fan, the one thing you always hope to achieve is that hopeless isolation. So an alien attack in an Antarctic outpost is so claustrophobic and so frightening, and so I think John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is hands-down in my top five movies of all time, not just horror movies. I still think it stands up today.

Pages 2 and 3 of "The Thing" (Steve Niles and Patrick Reynolds / Dark Horse)

NC: What do you think it is about the genre that is so timeless? It just continues to draw such huge audiences.

SN: I think horror’s cousin, of all genres, really is comedy. They both work the same way. Comedy works when you’re surprised, when they say one thing, and they go the other way, and it’s so surprising, you wind up laughing. Fear is the same way. You shock people, and you give the jump out of their seats. People love to be scared when they know it’s safe, like going on a roller coaster. It’s controlled fear. Addressing your fear and feeling fear is exhilarating. And it’s a relief, just like laughter is. The simplest answer to the question is we really love being scared.

Page 4 of "The Thing" (Steve Niles and Patrick Reynolds / Dark Horse)

NC: How do those goals translate to comic books?

SN: It’s a different set of tools. There’s a lot of things you can’t do. In a horror movie, somebody can jump out of a window, and you get that jump scare. With comics, more of what your job to do is to crawl under somebody’s skin. At best is to get a page turn, where your favorite character is right there, and then the next page he’s killed. And that can be very shocking. In any horror, it works best when you care about the character, and you can do that with comics. But because we can’t do the big jump scares, I rely heavily on just creepy ideas and creepy concepts that hopefully when people are reading them, it starts to crawl under their skin, but later when they’re trying to get to sleep, that’s when it really starts to get to them. …

Everybody always asks me, “Why horror? Why horror?” I’ve shared this with Clive Barker and John Carpenter. People basically will more or less ask us, “What happened to you to make you want to do this?” I had a pretty normal American upbringing — divorced parents, living in the suburbs, just a big horror fan as a kid. I actually had a pretty happy childhood. I find most of the horror guys I meet are very pretty nice guys. They work it out. On the other side, I’ve met guys that draw Tinker Bell for a living, and they’re like the meanest guys I’ve ever met. They don’t get that release, and that’s what people forget about. It’s just all a big release for me. I am not what I write. I am setting out to scare people. I’m not necessarily always pulling things out of my deep, dark psyche so much as trying to figure out what’s going to freak people out.

NC: What’s it like to take the mantle? To put your own take on something that’s so iconic and has gone through so many incarnations?

SN: It’s an honor. It really is. Oddly enough, I got my start in comics adapting some of my favorite authors. At 20 years old, I adapted “I Am Legend” for Richard Matheson in the comics. I adapted five or six Clive Barker stories. I even did an annotation of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” in the comics. And “The Thing.” It’s always an honor, and I always consider it part of my job to make it something that fits within it. I never have an urge to re-create “The Thing” — I want to do a great “Thing” story. For the fans who like it as much as I do, I really do, I consider it a real honor that people would call me and ask me to do these things ’cause they feel that their material is safe in my hands. That’s a big responsibility for me to make sure I do it right.

For the record, 12:05 p.m. Sept. 2o: An earlier version of this post referred to the comic as “The Norseman Nightmare.” The book is called “The Northman Nightmare.”

– Noelene Clark

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Comments


3 Responses to ‘The Thing’ comic debut: Steve Niles talks horror, John Carpenter

  1. Steven Moshlak says:

    Anything John Carpenter does is magic and entertaining.
    Halloween Series
    The Fog
    Assault on Precinct 13
    Ghosts of Mars
    Vampires
    Escape from L.A.
    They Live
    Prince of Darkness
    Big Trouble in Little China
    Starman
    Christine
    The Thing
    Escape from New York
    Eyes of Laura Mars

  2. ThingSider says:

    Anyone feel sorry for the Thing?

    It crashed into a desolate wasteland after a turbulant fall onto an alien world only to freeze solid as it tries to get to safety in case its ship explodes.

    After an eternity in the ice, not knowing if it’ll ever be found, it’s woken from its unintentional stasis by hostile creatures drilling through its flesh.

    Would you be in the right frame of mind to make good decisions?

    So it lashes out when they seem hell-bent on catching it, chaos ensues and it’s chased by a gun toting madman in a helicoptor who ruins the entire movie for anyone who speaks Norwegan, in the opening credits.

    Can you blame it for being paranoid?

    It should be commended on its restraint, especially since it didn’t attack anyone unprovoked …except for the huskies.

    Let’s face it, if you didn’t eat in a thousand years, you’d eat dog too.

    All it wanted was to build a new ship to get home, but instead, the ‘good guys’ believe just because it can infect the world with its essence, it most definately will: after all, it’s what we’d do, right?

    McReady puts it best with his ‘Let’s kill it or it’ll hide’ speech.

    Kill it …or it will hide.

    It wants to hide from the savage barberians who want to kill it and that’s their reason to …kill it?

    With that train of thought, it makes you wonder why the professor really brought one single woman to an isolated cabin full of lonely men…

    • Chris D says:

      Ha. I always thought the same thing, especially about the original story. Case in point…. these things (humans) blow up your ship, KILL your crew (there were a couple others frozen inside the ship in the OG story) and then dig you out of the snow, hey thanks, maybe I won't mercilessly slaughter all of you.. maybe ask your help to build a little escape ship so I can get home, possibly do a technology exchange and teach you how to harness atomic power of anti-gravi -… oh… you really just hacked an icepick into my head and leave it there on your trip back to your outpost? So you can dissect me and get famous? That's it. You're all f#$@ed!

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