What’s SHOOT THE MESSENGER?
Well, AICN COMICS: SHOOT THE MESSENGER is your weekly one stop shop for comic book news that’s dropped in the previous week. Thanks to Newsarama, CBR, Wizard, etc. for reporting it as it breaks. Click on the links for the original stories. This column cuts the crap to run down all the vital information for those of you who don’t follow it as it comes in, and serves it all up with that special ingredient of @$$y goodness. It’s also the place for interviews, previews, and special reports.
And speaking of special reports, one of the Original @$$Holes, Vroom Socko, visited Portland State University last week to attend a special Dark Horse event. Let’s see what Vroom has to say.One of the things that fascinates me about comics as seen by the general public is the way some people will cling to the long outdated idea that the entire medium is inherently juvenile. (If I see another review for a bad movie that uses “comic book storytelling” as a pejorative I’m going to find the reviewer and beat them.) Along with that, one of my joys is seeing this idea crumble by ever increasing inches. No, I’m not talking about the half a billion box office for The Dark Knight, or the latest TV or movie writer to get signed by Marvel. No, the REAL relevant change in perception of comics comes in more interesting and subtle ways. Take Thursday, October 16th, for instance.
At an event that night on campus, Portland State University formally received a donation from Dark Horse comics of every single comic published in the company’s 22 year existence. As a part of the school library, the Dark Horse Archive will be available to students, as well as pop culture and historical researchers. While there are collegiate archives dedicated to comics, this is the first one in the United States dedicated to a single publisher which also contains the entirety of that publisher’s output.
Inches, hell! The perception of comics as kids stuff fell apart by a foot with this.
The highlight of the event last Thursday was a speech from Dark Horse founder Mike Richardson, the biggest man in comics. (I mean that literally; I’m six foot five, and he makes me look like Billy Barty.) The speech, which was recorded and will soon be available on the PSU library website, covered much of the history of comics, with much of the focus on the place of Dark Horse in that history. The most interest elements, for me at any rate, were Richardson’s thoughts about the future of comics. In particular, his analysis of the physical form of monthly comics, the function that dictated that form in the 1930’s, and why both the form and the content no longer fulfill that function today. Also of interest was Richardson’s take on the internet. While posting print comics online was a bust, creators making their own work in webcomics and then moving to print will be a success. But what else would you expect from the people who put PENNY ARCADE in print?
As for the value of the Archive itself, this is where those inches crumble into feet. For years now geeks like me have been saying that comics are a valuable, legitimate form of art and narrative. Publishers have been saying that. Writers and artists have been saying that. And now an academic institution, a major university, is saying that we’re right.
Click here to visit the PSU Library website.
Click here to read an interview with Mike Richardson about the Archive.
Click here to buy PENNY ARCADE: ATTACK OF THE BACON ROBOTS from Dark Horse. What, like you’ve never seen a shopping link on Ain’t It Cool before?
Vroom Socko (aka Aaron Button) has written for AICN Comics for seven years; writing reviews and reports about "comics that fell through the crack" in his TALES FROM THE CREVICE articles often found at the bottom of this column.
Ambush Bug Chats with
CITY OF DUST Writer Steve Niles
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. I had a chance to sit and chat with Steve Niles about his new CITY OF DUST miniseries, horror vs sci fi, screenwriting plans with John Carpenter, and tons of other stuff. I’ll clue you in to a little secret here at AICN. We usually do interviews via email since they are easier to transcribe, but because of Mr. Niles’ hectic schedule, he was only able to do this interview live. Now, I’ve done tons of interviews here at AICN, and a few with Mr. Niles, but believe it or not, this was my first actual live interview. Of course, the interview started out with massive problems. The computer transcribing device I installed into my computer went wonky, causing annoying feedback and reverb echoes on Mr. Niles’ end of the line, so we had to do this one the hard way with the old speaker phone and tape recorder. Despite the technical difficulties, Mr. Niles was a true gent and gave a really great interview. And here we go…
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): My apologies about getting off to a rocky start. It’s a new computer program for me.STEVE NILES (SN): Not a problem. Believe me, I wouldn’t have done any better with that stuff.
BUG: Very cool. Well, thanks a lot for taking the time out for talking to me about CITY OF DUST.SN: No problem. I think I’ve dropped you a line a couple of times and you guys have usually treated me really nice at AICN.
BUG: Yeah, I’m a big fan of your stuff. Usually, if it has your name on it, I pick it up and give it a shot.SN: Awww, thank you so much. It’s really cool. It cracks me up because I read Ain’t It Cool and Newsarama and places like that, I have to just look really quick and don’t glance down at the comments and get the hell out of there.
BUG: Yeah, they can be really brutal in the Talkbacks sometimes.SN: Yeah, man, they’ll go after your personal life.
BUG: Yeah, it’s not just the creators. They’ll sometimes go after the reviewers just as harshly.SN: I guess that’s part of the charm of it. In the past, other creators have gotten on there. And I’m sure other creators have gotten on there and I’m sure it was really entertaining. But I basically just steer clear of that. Didn’t Rob Zombie keep getting into arguments on there?
BUG: Yeah, I think it got pretty heavy back during the whole HALLOWEEN remake thing.SN: Yeah, I kept telling him. I was like, “Dude, don’t even read them. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.” But he goes straight in there and starts arguing. But what are you going to do. I fall into it once and a while too.
BUG: It happens.SN: I usually jump in when my friends are getting trashed.
BUG: Hah, yeah. So let’s talk about CITY OF DUST. I got a copy of it yesterday and read it for this interview. It’s a really great story. Do you want to tell us a little about it?SN: Sure, I’m curious about what you think because the reviews have been coming in shockingly good. And I’m in this situation where I’m writing five or six books a month and it’s always the ones you don’t expect…you know, that people respond to.
BUG: Can you give us a brief synopsis of what it’s all about?SN: Sure, I mean, really what it is is me taking on science fiction a little bit. There’s definitely a lot of horror there, but it’s about a world where the control mechanisms we have today, like religion and things like that are all taken away. And when religion is taken away, so is imagination. It’s a world where Tipper Gore won. Where anything that could possibly influence our little children into doing bad things has been outlawed. And that includes religion, and comic books, and anything that is not reality, basically. It’s a reality based world. And it focuses on this one character Phillip Khrome, who is a cop who has to enforce a lot of these laws. He handles a lot of murder cases and things like that and every once in a while he’s got to bust a guy for chanting curses, which is actually what they call prayer. But my favorite part of it is that we have a situation which is very much what we rely on now, where everyone has their iPhones and their ATM cards and all these things and man, when we have a power outage suddenly people are crippled. And this is a situation where the police rely on robots to do a lot of their detective work, to do DNA samples. They can open and close a case right there on the scene. As these bizarre events start to happen, the cops call Khrome specifically, who is the biggest company boy of them all, and is going to be forced to become a real cop and track down physical evidence when these machines fail him. And that’s an angle that doesn’t come out so much in the first issue, but it will definitely show up in the second and third issues.
BUG: Yeah, it definitely seems like that’s where it’s going by the end of the issue where—I don’t want to give too much away—but the little drones are analyzing this dead body and they can’t find any real reason why the body is dead or who the suspects are.SN: Yeah, because there’s no second party DNA. The machines are saying the guy was completely slaughtered by himself in his own apartment. So the technology is the problem. And then, it’s been hundreds of years since anyone’s done good old fashioned detective work. And that’s a really fun angle for me because one of the toughest things with doing anything like horror and with police stuff is…you know, Khrome is getting to do this for the first time. You know, if I did like a modern story about a cop who finds someone with two holes in the neck, everybody would be like “That’s stupid, we’ve seen it a millions of times.” But if you set it in a world where it’s impossible and it’s never been heard of, it gives it a whole new energy.
BUG: There’s a sense of Bradbury’s FARENHEIGHT 451 in there. A little 1984 Big Brother stuff going on. Books are outlawed. It’s really great to see that put into more of a BLADE RUNNER-type setting.SN: Exactly. They were all influences.
BUG: And then we have all of these horror elements just hinted at during this first issue, but given your reputation, you just know they are going to be showing up.SN: Yeah, that little monster ABC book is going to cause a lot of trouble.
BUG: Was there a book you read as a kid, as in CITY OF DUST where Phillip Khrome is cursed by a story read to him by his father as a child, that corrupted you into the writer you are today?SN: The only book that corrupted me is the book that got me reading which was I AM LEGEND. Up until then, everyone tried to get me to read the male JUDY BLUME books and HUCKLEBERRY FINN and I had no interest. I would pass out trying to read them. Then I got my hands on I AM LEGEND and I just devoured it. It just sort of lit a fuse. I was like, “I want to read more books like this.” Then I became a voracious reader.
BUG: It does seem like you do a lot of detective fiction with Cal McDonald, and you have DEAD SHE SAID at IDW, and even Batman over at DC. Now we have Phillip Khrome. What is it that draws you to write so many detective stories?SN: Just the fact that you have a character that is willing to throw himself into any situation instead of waiting for it to come to him. If I’m doing a horror story, a family is driving around and the horror comes to them and they have to try to escape it. The thing about detectives is that they’re the only guys that go out looking for trouble. It gives you a really unique set of tools to work with that I find really fun. I think in a lot of ways, my use of detectives is the way a lot of writers use superheroes.
BUG: Is there a lot of research involved in bringing these detectives to life?SN: I have cop friends that I play X-Box live with, actually.
BUG: Hahaha.SN: In the latest BATMAN: GOTHAM AFTER MIDNIGHT issue, I have a police funeral and I’ll go ask them about what clothes are worn and do they do the 21 gun salute for all areas of the police department. So if I feel like I have hit a wall and I don’t know something, I do enough research to at least fake my way through it. I do like to be accurate. I used to get a lot of letters because I had Cal shooting a .45 for a while, and I would get letters telling my, “Y’know, you might want to update that to a Glock.” I’ve got cop fans out there, so I listen to them. So I’ve familiarized myself a little more with firearms. So I’m not always giving them a .38 or a .45. You know, I don’t know anything about guns. But some of the readers do, so I have to be accurate.
BUG: How has it been working with Radical?SN: So far, so great. If it’s possible for someone to be over-enthusiastic, it’s these guys. I’m not complaining. Like I said, I’m getting reviews that I really haven’t seen since 30 DAYS OF NIGHT or FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND. Stuff from years ago. They are really out there selling it. And at the same time, they are pushing me really hard to make sure that the book is what they’re selling, that it’s up to quality. I honestly couldn’t be any happier.
BUG: They have a great track record so far with Bryan Singer on FREEDOM FORMULA, and all of these other directors attached to some of their other projects. It seems like as soon as their projects are out, they have these long-term multi-media plans. Has anything like that happened with CITY OF DUST yet?SN: It was really funny. It was one of those times when I glanced down to the comments. And it said, I think it was optioned two minutes after it was announced. I think something is happening with that. I just kind of leave that to Barry [Levine, Radical’s President/Publisher]. He wants to do the entertainment stuff. I am up to my eyeballs in what I’ve got to do trying to get my own films off the ground.
BUG: If you were to cast CITY OF DUST, would you go with Thomas Jane again?SN: I’d pretty much cast Tom in anything. I just think he’s just a great actor when it comes down to it. Everyone knows him from THE PUNISHER and this genre piece or that, but I thought he was just amazing in 61, when he played Mickey Mantle. Literally, I’d be hard pressed, especially since I do a lot of cop characters who are in their thirties…he fits. He just fits so many characters.
BUG: A lot of your books have been opted for film. When you’re writing these stories, do you take this into consideration? Does that influence the way you write?SN: I’m always just focused on the story. My way of thinking has always been, if it’s a good enough comic, it’ll be a good enough movie. Generally, I try not to get distracted. I try not to do things specifically thinking that it will be a movie. I’ve only done that once, with WAKE THE DEAD. Which, as I was writing it, I was like, “God, this is the way to do it!” I was definitely thinking about a movie as I was writing that one.
Most of the time, though, I just really try to put it out of my head because I love comics. I first and foremost want to make entertaining comics.