Interview: Steve Niles and Menton3
As many of you know, a new project between comics writer Steve Niles and breakout artist Menton3 was recently announced and has stirred up quite a bit of excitement. Personally, I’m jumping up and down, squeeing like a child going to Disney for the first time. Steve Niles is an amazing story teller, specifically in the realm of horror. Menton3 creates some of the most intense and beautifully crafted art landscapes the comic industry has ever seen. These two together? Explosions will surely happen. Not only are these guys both incredible creators, they are also super nice, down to earth dudes and they were awesome enough to let me nail them down for an afternoon chat about Nosferatu Wars. The conversation veered into so many directions; Steve and Menton were candidly honest about who they are and why they love being part of the comics industry. I found the whole thing thought provoking, intriguing and just lots of fun. I hope you do too.
Steve Niles/ Menton3 interview:
Lissa: Ok, guys, thanks for taking the time to talk to me, I know you both have tons of projects going on right now.
Steve: Of course.
Menton: It’s a nice break for me, to stop and do this, I’m about to kill myself on Monocyte 3.
L: I’ve covered few things for the two of you separately recently, including a review of the Saltillo (pronounced SAL-tillo) Monocyte album for you, Menton, and the Criminal Macabre Omnibus #2 review for you, Steve. It’s so much fun to have a joint project now with both you to talk about and anticipate.
S: Actually, Monica (Steve Niles’ fiancée, Monica Richards) and I are sitting here waiting for the pallet of cd’s and books to arrive for the album we did which Menton did some artwork for. It’s Monica Richards’ new cd with fully illustrated book!
L: I’m just going to start signing my paychecks over to you guys. Ok, so a little question I’d like to ask that is sort of fun, ‘can you summarize Nosferatu Wars in one sentence?’
S: No, and that’s the beauty of it! I’m not worried about being able to pitch it to a movie studio; this is just a fun comic book for me and Menton to do. I’ve had people ask me ‘what’s the pitch?’ and I tell them it’s a three part trilogy. It’s a huge story and what I love about it is that we can’t tell it in one sentence. I spent the last 11 years writing stories that I could tell in one sentence, it’s really nice to have one that’s impossible to.
M: I’m the worst person at that, I’m the most long winded son of a bitch, so for me to say what I want for dinner in one sentence is saying a lot. I’m a complete geek, I’ve only been doing comics for, like, 2 years and I’m a huge fan of Steve. To be able to do a vampire book with him has been a dream of mine for a really long time, then to be able to do it at Dark Horse, it just gets better and better. But, I don’t really know how to summarize it in one sentence besides ‘holy shit, I’m excited!’.
L: I think that’s perfectly acceptable.
S: This thing is happening in comics more and has completely taken over movies. I literally won’t watch trailers anymore because now we live in this world where people want to know the entire plot of everything before they’ll go pay money for it, and I hate that. We have one big part of this, of Nosferatu Wars, that we’re keeping hidden because it’s just going to be more fun to read it than if I say it all in an interview or a plug. For me it’s fairly traditional vampires, during the black plague, in love, having the time of their lives. Something separates them for 500 years and that launches us into the middle story and then the last element of this being the lovers’ return, looking for each other in modern day. One of the really fun parts of this is we get to spend a whole lot of time playing in the Dark Ages, during the ‘Black Death’.
L: Oh, god, throwing vampires together in a story with the black plague is such a cool idea; it creates a whole new twist and concepts to work with in the classic vampire story.
S: Here’s the thing: during the black plague it was the commoners dying in the streets, out in the countryside were all the rich, holed up in their homes, and that’s where the vampires are hunting. So they get fresh, clean, rich meat. The vampires are going from castle to castle, dining on the best quality blood they can. Nobody’s looking for them anymore, every death they cause is blamed on the black plague.
S: You want us to tell the fictional, exciting version or the boring one? We shook hands, met, began talking and fell in love. I can tell that in one line!
L: That was pretty simple. So, what’s the fictional version?
M: Steve’s really a vampire. I’m his chosen one to carry the torch after he’s goes into hiding. I don’t fucking know, I’m talking out of my ass now. (Laughs) Well, we met at SDCC, but starting talking before that.
S: Honestly, we just hit it off right away. At the time, we were at the IDW booth and I remember just immediately getting along and jamming out ideas. Normally at conventions, you meet each other, shake hands, it’s whatever; Menton and I just knew immediately that we were going to be working together.
M: I think me and Steve were kind of cut from the same cloth a little bit, I don’t mean that pretentiously but we both have musical backgrounds, we both grew up in subcultures that were similar and I think we just had a lot in common. So we were on that IDW panel and we were just like two kids in church, giggling, taking pictures of each other and posting them on Facebook.
S: It’s true, though; we found out that we had connections from years back because Menton knows Monica, my fiancée, from the music scene. I think that’s a major element of why we work together so easily is because of our roots in music. The music industry is where you learn how to cooperate; you don’t get anything done without cooperation. More of that kind of community in comics would be great. But we come out of that; me and Menton are able to apply that to our comics work.
L: You guys are a match made in heaven. My first thought when you announced this project was ‘why didn’t this happen earlier?’
S: We hadn’t met.
L: Menton, the atmosphere of Nosferatu Wars, the black plague and vampires, is so perfect for your artwork. How has it been different working on this versus the art development for Monocyte?
M: Well, like working on Silent Hill, you’re definitely working on someone else’s property and that’s a certain kind of work, whereas working on Monocyte is just pure fun because it’s something I wrote that I just really love doing. In that way, it’s really not different because Steve is a professional and he knows how to write a story to actually work with the artist. Some of this came out of me and Steve sitting around saying ‘what do we want to do together?’ He said ‘what do you want to do together?’ I said ‘vampires’ and he starts throwing this amazing story out. It’s easy for me to do this because Steve has more or less written this story for me to do. Does that make sense?
S: What other artist could make vampires in love, walking over piles of dead bodies, beautiful?
L: So, it was more or less like you guys just fell into each other and really needed to find something to make together.
S: Well, it was funny because the actual idea was just this nugget, this thing I had that every time I tried to bring it forward, it came off as very comic bookey, almost like 70’s Marvel magazine kind of vampire story. Then, once me and Menton started talking about it, it started taking on layers of reality that I loved and it changed. This is definitely a total collaboration, you know? Honestly, that’s been the most fun part, with Menton, is we’ve only worked on a few things, but everything has been like two trucks colliding. It happened so fast, with such clarity, I couldn’t be happier. I hate to use the word ‘easy’, because this is the fun part, but it’s just been fun and easy. I cannot tell you how rare that is.
L: Steve, you’ve been in the business for a long time already, and Menton, you’re fairly new to the game. Talking about the comics community, and especially the realm of independent work and creator owned comics, what sort of experiences have you had working with the smaller publishers and independent creators?
M: I haven’t really done that much, I’ve done ZVR with Chris Ryall, which was awesome, I did Silent Hill with Tom Waltz, I did some Lovecraft stuff with Joe Lansdale and I did Monocyte, so thus far it’s been a pretty relaxed situation. There have been a few projects that I didn’t do, that I quit from pretty early on, and that was fairly shocking to most people that I would do that. For me, I don’t really get involved in a project unless it has something to offer me. I’m pretty careful about what I do and don’t do right now; if in the beginning stages it doesn’t have some kind of interest, I just don’t do it. Thus far, I’ve just been lucky I think.
S: I’ve been doing this since, like, 1986 and it’s been peaks and valleys. People don’t really know that I was 34 when 30 Days of Night happened; I’d already been doing comics for 25 years. IDW has been huge, I learned very early on that I wasn’t going to be working at Marvel and DC, so I was sort of forced to go off and do things by myself and luckily IDW was there and Dark Horse has really been a big help to me. That said, my relationship with the creators, almost every artist I work with I’m really happy to say I’m also friends with. Menton, Bernie Wrightson, Kelley Jones, guys like this, that’s been huge. Comics are struggling right now (in case you haven’t noticed), so it’s been really important to me to at least be able to have fun while I’m not able to eat. And I think the comic world desperately needs some new material.
M: I very much believe in the medium, I mean what’s the Sistine Chapel but a graphic novel spread all over the walls of a church? I’m a super hero fan, I like the X-Men, etc, but I think there’s a whole lot more that can be done with comics. My interest sometimes isn’t in trying to make comics that comic people like; my interest lies in trying to make comics that people who don’t like comics will like.
S: Well, that’s a lot of the audience we’re building. I have a really odd cross section of fans and a lot of my fans are people who basically say they were bored with comics and came back. A lot of this is 30 Days of Night and Ben Templesmith’s artwork that really attracted people who were turned off by what they thought were comics. Like Menton, I’ve got closets full of Marvel comics, I grew up on that stuff, but I feel that if the medium is going to progress and we’re going to find new readers, we have to grow up. This has been the battle of my career: convincing people that we’re not doing stuff for 8 year old boys.
M: For me, a lot of it comes down to what you want to say and what kind of stories you want to tell. Like with Monocyte, I don’t think we’re really doing anything all that different. With the first issue we had a lot of great reviews but we also got reviews where people were just pissed off because it wasn’t Wonder Woman. I think there are enough people out there making standard comics. For me, the difference between art and illustration, is with an illustrator all the lines are in the right place and you know it’s an apple; with an artist you feel that it’s an apple whether the lines are in the right place or not. I think storytelling is a lot like that as well, spelling everything out and spoon feeding the plots. Everybody’s complained about those plots but if you do something different they all freak out and they don’t know how to read it anymore. You’re never going to please everybody, so the only thing you can do is make something you really love and hope other people will like it too.
S: I agree.
L: I never would have started reading comics if someone hadn’t handed me just the right one, which was not a super hero story, because at one point that’s all I thought comics was.
S: I hear that so much. I have a lot of female fans, women are big readers, especially horror fiction. So, I find a lot of the new readers I’m getting are women who read horror novels. I used to think I should go after horror movie fans, and I’d set up at horror movie conventions, just sit there. I discovered those people aren’t ‘readers’, they want movies. So, it’s been a very odd trying to figure it out, but I think it’s all about finding new readers; finding new people who haven’t figured out that comics are simply the combination of words and pictures. All the other preconceived notions, throw them out the window.
M: We spend so much time at conventions with people who collect comics and love the tradition of comics, but there’s nothing that says that everyone in your comics has to wear spandex or be a detective, you can do a lot of other stuff with it. There is a construct and a preconceived notion as to what a comic is. I think there is a way to change that, I don’t expect that I’m going to change it or anyone I know is going to change it, but it would be great to put out more and more books that definitely challenge people. As a reader and an art collector, I like a challenge, a story that makes me think about what the hell is going on. For me, the kind of stuff that excites me, as far as story telling is concerned, is telling an in-depth perspective of the world, a story that you feel needs to be told, not to change the world or save anybody but because this is something that entertains the living shit out of you. I find that way more compelling than some of the books you read from some of the major publishers that are literally doing what they know they can get away with, that they won’t get yelled at on the forums for.
S: Let’s be very honest, as you notice with the big two, creator names are becoming less important. Three years ago the names were all over the covers, now they’re shrinking, sometimes not even on the cover. Those companies are about product, they want to sell Spiderman, not Brian Bendis. It’s just a different model; they want to sell the product, bed sheets and slurpy cups and movies, obviously. I honestly think comics are becoming their last priority
L: I’m a lifelong horror fan, grew up watching all the classic slasher flicks with my dad. I didn’t read comics till I was in my 20’s, I was very much a classic lit, nonfiction reader, I only wanted to read quality writing, which I never believed comics could offer until I picked up the right book to suck me in. I think there’s lots of untapped audience in the book worms who appreciate great writing but don’t know comics can offer that.
M: What was that book, that someone gave you?
L: Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis.
S: You know, I was going to guess Warren. Warren’s one of those creators whose managed to break down a lot of those barriers. And Neil Gaiman is another one; those guys are just 2 examples of how it can work.
L: I think that’s why Monocyte is doing so damned well; it’s something more intellectual, layered and complex.
S: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, when people come to my table at a convention and they just say “I didn’t know comics like this existed”. And obviously after 30 years of doing it that’s a painful thing to hear. How do we reach these people?
M: Well, I can tell you the book that got me reading comics when I was a kid was called Stray Toasters by Bill Sienkiewicz that came out in 1988. It’s still fairly unmatched as far as delving into someone’s crazy-ass psyche. For me, I picked this comic up and I realized that I wasn’t the only freak in the world. I grew up in Mississippi and it was a really rough time for me, I really didn’t fit into the tribe. A lot of people ask me about my favorite books and that book changed my life!
S: I definitely relate to what Menton said, a combination of music and comics. As a kid in the suburbs in Virginia, nobody was into the things I was into. It was through comic books and then music that I found out I wasn’t alone. Every once in a while I’ll get an email from somebody and they express that. If you can reach more people like that, that’s the best feeling in the world, that’s literally just giving back.
L: This is such a huge can of worms, but there’s been tons of public discussion of piracy and SOPA and the possible implications of that on comic creators. Steve, you are particularly out spoken on this subject in your social media outlets.
S: Oh, I can get rid of hundreds of followers with one comment. I was pretty disappointed in the comic industry as a whole for not speaking out against these really horrible bills, SOPA and PIPA. You know, just because you work for a corporation, you still have the first amendment behind you. But, the reluctance of comic creators to stand up for what they believe in, it was really disappointing. I’d rather not work for a company than live in fear. I’m not speaking out to make trouble, I’m speaking out because there’s things happening that frighten me in this country and in publishing.
Me and Neil Gaiman had a great twitter exchange where we had very different views about piracy. At the end of it what we discovered is it’s a different case for everybody. Some people benefit from piracy, some suffer from it. So, somewhere in the middle is the answer. But you’ve got to speak out about this stuff; if all you tweet are what books you have out and reviews of those books then you’re just a big fucking ad. I can think of at least 4 major creators that it’s a policy of theirs that they will not discuss their personal feelings or political views in any way, shape or form and the sole reason for that is because it will affect their sales. I think that is bullshit.
M: I’m not all that politically savvy, I just had a kid so I try to pay a little more attention to politics, but my main beef is religious. I stand the chance of really just offending people and I don’t want to offend people but I also don’t want there be any kind of doubt of where I stand.
L: Steve, I think I started paying way more attention to your tweets when I noticed you talking openly about being an atheist; as a reader and a fan I was impressed with that, it makes you seem like a real person, not just a name.
S: If we’re going to benefit from all this social networking, it seems letting people know who we are is a part of it. The thing about atheist, agnostic, general non-believers, people who just don’t fucking know, this is a lot of people. Millions of people who feel this way, so it’s a shame that it has to be such a stigma.
M: Have you ever read my facebook religious status? It says ‘scary and strange’. If you believe in something, I think that’s right for you, I don’t think anyone who’s a Buddhist or a Catholic is wrong. I’m not saying that I’m an Atheist or that I believe in God, my standpoint is, is it ok for us to socially support an organization that legitimately stands for the fact that they’re closer to god than you are? If there’s a sad, suicidal case, one of the places that they turn to is this organization that basically tells them ‘you’re a sinner, regardless of what you do, you’re always going to be one, but we’re not, so if you say sorry to us, we’ll say sorry to god for you’. That pisses me off, fundamentally, so badly. And I do think that artists and writers and performers should speak up about this stuff. I’m a stupid fucking painter, who cares what I’m saying, I’m not a politician, but if we’re not saying this stuff, then who’s going to? Everybody else is too scared to.
S: And just to clarify, I have absolutely no problem with people who have faith, I just don’t happen to have it. People around me do and I respect it, sometimes I even envy it. What I despise are the things that are done in the name of religion. Pick one: opposing gay marriage.
M: Look up the Council of Nicea. It was Constantine and Romans who put a bunch of books together, to control the populace, they were attempting to conquer. Constantine, on his death bed, was praying to Mithras, he was a pagan, not a Christian! And the book that they draw this stuff from, that you should stone gay people, etc, is literally a book written by Pagans to control Christians. Do a little bit of history on the stuff you say you believe in, and then we can talk about it. I just want to say, again, I have issues with organized religion, not with any one, particular belief or people who have faith. I would be mortified to offend people in that regard. To summarize, me and Steve will solve all these issues and more in Nosferatu Wars.
S: Oh shit, no pressure there.
L: Well, to wrap this up for you guys, I know that you both feel very strongly about supporting creator owned work; I wanted to give you a forum to say something to our readers about how creator owned comics happen and what we can do to help it survive and hopefully grow.
M: Let me go first, cause Steve’s going to be better at this. First off, the X-Men were originally a creator owned book. There isn’t a book out there that wasn’t created by somebody, and ‘creator owned’ has gotten a bad rap in the sense of meaning ‘less quality’. As far as people coming up with their own, individual ideas, honestly, that’s the kind of books I buy. I pull books that I’ve never heard of or seen.
The one big thing for me that people don’t know about is pre ordering. Pre ordering for creator owned work, that’s everything to us. If you see it on the shelf and buy it, that’s awesome, thank you so much, but if you pre order it, you’re saying to that publisher and to the industry, ‘these are the kind of books that I like’. The difference between pre ordering and buying a book off the shelf is gigantic. I was at a convention, at this point I’ve had some mild success, and about 6 artists were talking to me about how to make it in the business. They all wanted to make creator owned books. I asked all of them ‘what books do you guys buy and read?’ There was one of them, out of 6 that buys creator owned books, most of them were buying X-Men and Fantastic Four, etc. If you’re interested in making these books, you should at least be part of the industry supporting it. If just the people who wanted to make creator owned books went out and bought them, we’d have a fucking industry to make it in.
S: The pre order thing is so important because retailers need help in knowing what to order, it’s that simple. Anybody who looks at a previews catalog, you can only imagine having a budget and ordering from that. Readers need to tell retailers what they want.
My personal favorite thing is that creator owned gives comics an opportunity to be more of what they should be, which is not all super heroes. We can have Brubaker doing his crime stuff, I do horror, Mike Mignola doing horror, we’ve got people doing westerns, and whatever the fuck Monocyte is. We can expand what comics can be and get new readers. We’re an ever shrinking industry, we have to find new readers and I think creator owned is the way to do it.
M: It’s people like you, Melissa, and all the work that you do doesn’t go unnoticed by me or Kasra (Kasra Ghanbari, Monocyte writer), we really appreciate all the retweets and the posts. It’s people like you that are the industry. I just want to say thank you so much for all you do for people like us, it really makes it worth it.
S: That’s the community, the community that we need.
L: Thanks guys! It’s awesome to feel like when you connect with creators that you can make a difference, and you’re not just another number at the store, another sale.
S: You’re not; you’re putting food in our mouths! What Menton was saying is true, the community between creators and writers and fans is so important. We need less ‘boys club’, more community.
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