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Committed: Halloween Interview with Steve Niles, Horror Writer

In case you hadn’t noticed, today is Halloween. It can be hard for me to understand how I can love some horror comic books, yet hold such an aversion to horror movies, so I asked acclaimed horror comic book writer – Steve Niles – if he would to talk about what it is that makes horror comic books so appealing, how he writes, and what we can look forward to from him in the future.

Sonia Harris: It is ironic that horror is probably my most hated genre, yet in comics it is often one I gravitate towards. Perhaps it is because elsewhere there is such a lack of grit.
Steve Niles: There really aren’t many other genres besides superhero in comics. Horror is a great genre. You’re automatically on edge simply because it called horror. The anticipation of being scared is a huge factor.

SH: Maybe that’s why I can handle the comics but not the movies, the pacing.
Steve Niles: Yeah, you’re in a little bit more control. Movies are more like the rollercoaster thrill.

SH: That explains it. All the monster stuff on TV this time of year stirs up old fears of things that go bump in the night.
Steve Niles: I think that happens to a lot of people. I still get scared.

SH: But doesn’t writing this stuff make that worse?
Steve Niles: Sometimes. I’ve definitely freaked myself out, but then I know I’m onto something good. It’s different when you’re trying to scare others. I get to step back from it.

SH: I guess the whole thing is Alan Moore‘s fault. If I’d never read Swamp Thing (not knowing it was intended as a horror comic) I’d never have got started on them.
Steve Niles: Those are some great comics though. When they came out they got me back into comics.

SH: I’d always liked comics, but they completely changed the game, didn’t they? After that, comics were addictive. Had to have them.
Steve Niles: They really did. I remember when those issues came out.  First comic to drop the comics code. Every issue was jam packed, and perfectly written.

SH: Yes. they didn’t read like horror, more like tragedy. Maybe that is part of my interest in the horror comic genre, it allows for much more pathos in a much less narcissistic way than superhero comics.
Steve Niles: Exactly! Emotions are hard in superhero books, I think. the characters are hard to relate too. Superhero comics seem to be more about exploiting an extraordinary situation while horror is more about dealing with extraordinary situation.

SH: The pain is implied in horror, the connection to human emotion doesn’t have to be spelled out the way it would be in bright and shiny superhero comics. I’m not sure why I have less empathy for a sad superhero than I do for a sad Swamp Thing, but I do.
Steve Niles: I think it’s easier to relate to an outcast monster then a sad superhero. Or maybe that’s just me. Horror and monsters gave me much more to relate to.

SH: Do you like Richard Corben? I kind of love anything he does. He’s like, genetically programmed to make horror and only horror, in exactly the kind of way I like. 
Steve Niles: I love him! I got to do a book with him years ago. So fun. A book called Bigfoot. I wrote it with Rob Zombie. Corben’s work is gorgeous.

SH: How did you get into writing comic books? 
Steve Niles: I started writing really young. I wanted to do movies and sort of fell into comics. I always love them but never thought about making them. It’s a really rough business, but I really like writing comics.

SH: I’d imagine that making movies would be an exercise in constant compromise, because of budget constraints and logistics, things you rarely have to deal with in comics.
Steve Niles: Yeah, it is. Movies are insane. You have much more control with comics.

SH: When you’re writing, do you describe the scenes and layouts to your writers in your scripts, or let them figure out how to convey the story visually?
Steve Niles: Depends on the artist. Generally I write full scripts and describe everything but always leave room for them to do their thing.

SH: Does your interest in film making help?
Steve Niles: I think it does. Though much of what i do in a comic script would be frowned on in a screenplay. They don’t like you to direct in a screenplay.

SH: So comic book writing really is a unique skill?
Steve Niles: It’s a mish-mash of all other form of scripting really. There are no rules. I range from being very conversational in a script to almost writing prose at times.

SH: Do you tailor the script to the artist and their skills and your experience with them?
Steve Niles: I sure try to. I struggle when I have to write scripts and don’t know who the artist is. That’s why I tend to work with the same people over and over. I always relate it back to music. If you have a good band together why change it? playing with a new drummer every week is a drag. I started in music. The Washington DC punk scene in the 80′s. One sort of folded into the others. I was doing both for around 10 years.

SH: Do you have any phobia? Heights? Flying?
Steve Niles: Not a fan of open water or crowds. But no phobia’s that would prevent me from doing anything.

SH: You know, you could do horror about those things in a “Twilight Zone” or “Outer Limits” sort of way, if you wanted.
Steve Niles: I always try. I love Rod Serling.

SH: Is 30 Days of Night secretly just about fear of crowds? It’s just in this case it is a crowd of vampires?
Steve Niles: I don’t think any of my fears made it into 30 Days. That one was just “this will be scary.” Tonight I’m writing about vampires during the black plague. They love it. Free hunting.

SH: And the diseased humans don’t bother them?
Steve Niles: The sick don’t bother them because they’re already dead. The vamps hunt the rich who held up in their houses. Menton3 is the artist. I just did Transfusion with him. This is for Dark Horse Presents, they’ve really risen to the occasion and been a pleasure to work for.

SH: What comics are you buying right now?
Steve Niles: I’ve really only read a few of my friends books. I’m woefully behind. But of what I’ve read I really like Saga and Fatale. I was reading all my Charles Burns books. I love him.

SH: And what do you read day-to-day, to inspire you?
Steve Niles: I love old detective stuff. I love reading Hammett or Chandler. Always inspires me. Ellroy too.

SH: Thanks for chatting with me and answering all my weird questions…
Steve Niles: It was fun!

2 Comments

Didn’t read through this (yet) but I like Niles’s stuff. Lot 13 #1 was pretty cool. And I’m digging Creator Owned Heroes that he’s a part of.

Interesting article. I had never really thought about writing from the comic book perspective. I found the discussion of emotions particularly interesting. I rarely even look at any kind of comic book, but I have read quite a bit of Stephen King and H.P.Lovecraft. I think what makes King so appealing is that his characters are ordinary people caught up in horrible situations. Readers can therefore relate to his characters. In his article “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”, Lovecraft talks about how readers should relate to the fantastic element of story (which he terms a “marvel”) thus: “But the characters and events must be consistent and natural except where they touch the single marvel.” I believe the lesson learned in both instances is that in order for an event to appear supernatural, it must be seen in relation to things that are natural. It is a matter of literary relativity in a sense. If all events in a story are supernatural, then the supernatural becomes the norm. But, if all events are natural, except for one, then that one event stands out above all rest as supernatural and gives the story its desired effect.

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