Blood on the big screen
Comic-book writer Steve Niles reinvents the Hollywood vampire with 30 Days of Night
Wearing a vintage black T-shirt and matching leather wrist band, Steve Niles radiates a subtle rock ‘n’ roll vibe despite the geek giveaway of his thin-frame glasses and unchecked smile.
He is a man genuinely in love with what he does and willing to share his excitement about the future.
Niles is already a familiar face to comic-book fans, but he’s likely to reach a much larger audience with the Oct. 19 theatrical release of 30 Days of Night (30DoN), based on his comic-book series of the same name. And due in large part to Niles, and Ben Templesmith, the artist behind the critically acclaimed comic, the face of the Hollywood vampire is about to change.
“The vampires in 30 Days of Night are scary, and they don’t like humans. They don’t want to romance ’em, they don’t want to turn ’em, they don’t want to seduce their wives. They look at people as food,” Niles said. “Since Ann Rice, we’ve been immersed in vampire culture—it’s been great, it’s been fun, but, as far as horror movies are concerned, they haven’t been very scary.”
Since 30DoN, Niles has released dozens of comic titles along with several novels, working with high-profile creators such as rocker Rob Zombie (The Nail) and Punisher actor Thomas Jane (Bad Planet). The explosion of Niles’ popularity has led an army of new fans to see him as a classic overnight success story.
“People always freak out when they find out how old I am,” said the 42-year-old Niles, who lives in Los Angeles. “I had a couple lifetimes before this.”
One of those “lifetimes” was spent in D.C. hardcore band Gray Matter, which released a handful of albums on Dischord Records in the early ’80s before disbanding in 1993. Niles then went on to start his own publishing company, Arcane Comix, before getting his first comic book gig in 1999 with a stint on Todd McFarlane’s Spawn: The Dark Ages.
In 2002, Idea Design Works released the first issue of Niles’ groundbreaking 30DoN series. Set in the small town of Barrow, Alaska, residents struggle to survive a ruthless vampire attack during the region’s 30-day stretch without sunlight.
When Ghost House Pictures, Sam Raimi’s production company, beat out others in a movie-rights bidding war, copies of the sold-out first-print run began popping up on eBay for $100 and up. The frenzy sustained, leading to hard-cover editions and a follow-up series, including Dark Days and Return to Barrow.
Too often, a great property loses integrity on its journey through the movie production machine. However, Niles’ appreciation for the 30DoN adaptation is clear. “It’s so visceral and so scary and what I like about horror movies,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that it came from something Ben and I did.”
Niles accepted from the outset that he wouldn’t have control of this train. It was his first movie deal. But he said the smartest thing he did was trust his “geek” sense and go with Raimi (director of Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, and later the Spider-Man series) to produce the movie. He also gives 30DoN director David Slade, whose disturbing film Hard Candy was well received by horror fans, credit for bringing the comic to life.
“I owe him a huge debt for taking such good care of the film,” Niles said. “Honestly, it’s probably better than the comic.”
Despite countless blockbuster productions, comic books in America have been struggling for survival for more than a decade.
“After our entire history, we’re more or less relying on Hollywood to keep comics alive right now,” Niles said, “which is just too funny to believe.”
Although he has no problem with classic superheroes, Niles says it’s difficult to change people’s perception of comic books as simply being all about leotard boys—while the industry opts to use the more adult-sounding “graphic novel” to sell ideas to production companies.
“We as an industry are doing very little to change that,” he said. “I wish it said ‘based on a comic-book series. Mainstream doesn’t get the graphic novel thing. They think ‘graphic’ means there is nudity and violence.”
His solution is simple: “We should just embrace what we are,” he said, explaining the often self-destructive nature of inter-industry competition. “We’re on the second rung of a thousand-rung ladder and we’re trying to kick each other off already. We need to support each other for awhile.”
For his part, Niles still interacts openly on his Web site with fans, some of whom have gone on to write and ink alongside him. One such fan was artist Ben Roman, who worked with Niles on The Cryptics. The open communication is something his music background helped foster.
“When you’re in a local thing, there are no rock stars. The band plays, everybody cheers, they get off stage, and you hop up to play. It’s an exchange.”
He also meets thousands of hopeful writers throughout the year at comic-book conventions who hope to discover the secret to success. His answer is simple.
“Write. You just do it and you hope somebody will notice,” Niles said with a laugh. “It’s not like I had some fuckin’ master plan. I had two skills—I thought maybe I could write, and if I couldn’t write I was an excellent retail clerk.”
Niles probably won’t have to resort to retail again after the movie’s release. There will be a flurry of print material offered alongside the film. The comic series will be re-released as it originally appeared, with a script book and a hardcover set of all three issues. Even Niles is surprised by one of the byproducts—a recent novelization of 30DoN written by horror and dark fantasy author Tim Lebbon.
And while Niles certainly wants his vamps to tear up the box office, he isn’t allowing the idea of success and failure to consume him. If the film flops at the box office, he says it’s been a great experience for everyone involved. And if things go well it will be satisfying, even if success came later in the game for him.
“[Overnight success] is a better story to some people. Personally, I think it’s more inspiring to work for 20 years and then have something happen.”