The man responsible for 30 Days of Night, easily one of the most brutal and terrifying incarnations of the now overused vampire myth (and nary a sparkle in sight) has returned with Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem, a thought-provoking exploration of a completely different, but all too familiar monster: humanity. Steve Niles does not pull his punches in Breath of Bones #1— a complicated, emotionally fraught tale of a young man growing up during World War II who, with the help of his grandfather, finds salvation through an unlikely source. The suffering he’s already encountered has nothing to do with monsters that lurk in the darkest corners of our imagination, yet there’s still a place in this tale for myth, and maybe even a little magic. We sat down with Niles to talk about man vs. monsters, and why he feels at home in the horror genre.
How would you describe Breath of Bones?
Steve Niles: Even though there are tons of monsters in the story, I hesitate to call it horror. It’s the story of a young boy, who faces losing everything he knows and loves and about how faith and family shows him a way out of a terrible situation. People will think the Golem is the monster but in this story, the monsters are human.
Where did you get the idea for it? What was the timeline, from inception to publication?
SN: I’ve been trying to come up with a Golem story for years. But the myth is extremely steeped in religion and I always hesitated to change too much. Years ago I did a Golem story within an issue of Criminal Macabre called “Feat of Clay.” In that story I had the creator of the Golem so thrilled he made a Golem come alive, he has a heart-attack and dies, leaving Cal to face a Golem with no master. But for Breath of Bones I wanted no comedy. I wanted something that reflected the myths and religious aspects without pounding us over the head with it. When I came up with a town of only children and the elderly (because all the men went to the front), things started to fall into place. I pitched the idea to my buddy Matt and together we expanded it into the story we have now and then I went off and wrote the scripts. We tried to pitch it as a film, but after the first pitch I said I just wanted to make a comic. Pitching can make you hate an idea so I wanted to write it before that happened.
The first issue of Breath of Bones suggests that humanity can be just as monstrous as anything that goes bump in the night. What drew you to exploring that idea, along with “real” monsters?
SN: Whenever people ask me what scares me I say “Real life” and I mean it. Humans have done, and are capable of, far worse horror than anything you and I can dream up. Look at the women held prisoner recently or how the Turkish government is telling us lies while beating their citizens in the streets. Everyday I hear about things and I am convinced humans are the true monsters. And with Breath of Bones, we have the Nazi’s. They are one of the best examples of evil on a large scale and what humans can become with the slightest push.
Was there a lot of research involved with setting the story during such a critical moment in human history?
SN: I made a deception when I started writing, that a certain amount of authenticity was important while others were not. This story is not history, so the town is a generic town and I never really even say which country it’s happening in. The reason for this is because I wanted to make it as open to everybody as possible. I think it makes it more relatable. I also made a decision not to focus on the Nazi’s too much. Too many so-called anti-Nazi films make heroes of them; dark heroes, but heroes nonetheless. In this book they are faceless drones.
Did you have Dave Wachter in mind as the artist for this story?
SN: I lucked out big time finding Dave, and I have Gabriel Hardman to thank for that. When I first started the project I asked Gabe to do it because I’ve been dying to do something with him, but he’s booked until doomsday so he said he had a guy. He sent me Dave’s art and it was love at first sight.
What is it about the horror genre that appeals to you as a writer?
SN: Horror and comedy appeal to me in the same way. You’re basically trying to trigger a reaction and it’s really fun to scare people and make them laugh. There was no traumatic event in my childhood or anything. I just love horror and all things dark and creepy. No clue why.
Do you find a particular format suits your ideas more than others (e.g. ongoing series, miniseries, novels, film) or does it vary from project to project?
SN: I’ve only done one ongoing series my whole life and that was Simon Dark at DC which ran for 18 issues before they shut us down. Everything else I’ve ever done has been 3-6 issue series. It’s sort of how I started out and I’ve been stuck there ever since.
Breath of Bones #1 is available today at your local comic book store.