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The Creeping Macabre - Part 2

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Noted horror comic writer Steve Niles sat down with Sam Moyerman to discuss the new DC series The Creeper as well as monster detective Cal McDonald and his other projects.

Part 1

BROKEN FRONTIER: Beyond Cal, the one other constant of all these books has been his ghoul sidekick Mo’lock.  What were some of the influences and inspirations for him?

STEVE NILES: The biggest inspiration for him comes from the old Cary Grant movie Arsenic and Old Lace.  There is an actor in the movie named Raymond Masse and he plays the evil brother.  In the movie Peter Lorre’s character, in order to hide the brother, continuously performs plastic surgery on him.  And since Lorre’s character is a drunk he accidentally makes Masse look like a character in the last movie he saw, which happened to be Frankenstein.  So the character of Mo’lock comes from that image of Raymond Masse with this weird makeup on. 

I loved the idea of these tall, thin lurkers that are not violent and don’t need anything.  They’re just the walking dead.  In Savage Membrane, I expanded a little bit on the origin by talking about how Mo’lock probably died in the first car accident.  And for some reason these ghouls die and they didn’t pass on.

BF: And in your stories most of these ghouls have very simple everyday jobs.  You portray them as taxi drivers and other positions like that.  Is that a comment on society or is it just a product of the narrative structure to get them in?

SN: It is a comment on society, but it is a comment on what we, as people, notice.  People are always telling me how “unrealistic” it is to have these dead people standing on street corners and going unnoticed, but then I ask them how many homeless people they walked past today?  How many of them did they actually really look at and take notice of?  What I tried to do is take the jobs like that, where people are ignored.  

People get in cabs and just bark their destination to the driver without even looking who is in the front seat.  Same thing with the UPS guy and the postal workers, these are people who are working their butts off for us and we don’t even know what they look like.  So, in that way it’s a comment.  I think it is a lot easier to slip things by people than they give credit for.

BF: The interaction between Mo’lock and Cal, would you classify that as a sort of twisted “straight man & stooge” comedy duo, between Cal and his sarcasm and wit and Mo’lock’s very even keeled, very straightforward and serious approach?

SN: There is some of that in there and I think that might be where we’ve started out from, but I think that it has grown into something more than that.  These guys are getting to know each other pretty well and realizing that they like each other and care about each other.  And nothing could piss Cal off more than that – not just caring for someone but having some touchy, feely ghoul around. 

Hopefully, it is a little more complex relationship than that, but the straight man is certainly one of the roles Mo’lock takes on.  He certainly has more common sense than Cal does.  So he is the voice of reason every once in a while, which is hysterical because he’s the dead guy.

BF: And, of course, as such he almost seems the physical embodiment of the perfect straight man since he doesn’t move that much.

SN: Exactly.  And that reminds me of another influence on Mo’lock.  A lot of his actions, like whenever you see Mo’lock in a room just standing in a corner or staring at a wall – that’s my cat [laughs].  They are the only animals I know that will just stand with their nose against the wall for 5 minutes.  So anytime you see Mo’lock doing those bizarre things, it’s probably something that I saw my cat do.

BF: [Laughing] I think that will forever change the way I see the character.

SN: I know.  No matter what, that is something I always try and do anymore.  No matter what Cal is doing in the foreground, I always try and keep Mo’lock doing something in the background.  He has this whole other agenda going on that has nothing to do with Cal at all.  Take a look through it and you’ll notice that a little more.

BF: Now, one thing that you have done with Cal in the last few mini-series is you’ve introduced a few women into his life.  However, in the recent Dark Horse one shot, some things have obviously happened to remove them, most likely occurring in the unpublished final 2 issues of Supernatural Freak Machine.  Is this just a side product of the bad timing of the last series getting pulled and getting some Cal stories out for Dark Horse?

SN: Yeah it is.  Obviously in the last 2 issues of Supernatural Freak Machine something happens and I was locked into that stuff happening.  But before we could get Kelly Jones back in to finish the last 2 issues I had to jump ahead to get the next book out. 

The decision to make those changes came from me looking at Supernatural Freak Machine and realizing that Cal had a girlfriend and another woman flirting with him and things just seemed to be going a little too right for him.  This is Cal McDonald after all; things just can’t work out for him.  I needed to make this period of comfort blow up in his face.

I am curious to see what people think about the resolutions there, because the reasons for his relationship with Sabrina [Cal’s girlfriend] ending are probably not quite what people would expect.  And obviously Lt. Brueger’s death is going to have some interesting repercussions for Cal’s world.

BF: You mentioned that Kelly Jones was the artist for the last miniseries and that Ben Templesmith drew the original miniseries. Ashley Wood is credited with the art inserts on the prose novels and Kyle Holtz is the new series artist. Has there been any concern on your side about going through so many artists and the different looks they put on the characters?  And do you find yourself writing differently for each artist you work with?

SN: I normally like to let the artists do their thing and put their own unique spins on the characters.  If you noticed, the looks have not been uniform all the way through, especially with Mo’lock.  He’s actually gotten so far from his original version, but right now I think we’re finally honing in on a look.  I always imagined him as an older man which is why I loved Ben Templesmith’s version so much.  And Kyle Holtz has picked up on that and ran with it.  Kyle has really gotten a firm hold on all the characters too.  If I wanted to put together a style guide for them I would use Kyle to put it together.  He’s got the right combination of the looks and clothes and attitudes for each of them.  And it is interesting to go back and look at all the different versions of Cal.  I think Ashley Wood in Guns, Drugs, and Monsters made him look like a boxer.

BF: Well, I think that the most glaring change was when Ben Templesmith left the character because the change from Ben Templesmith to anyone is very visible.

SN: True, and I really liked the way Ben drew the characters.  However, one of the problems with Ben was that he was absolutely great with the people and figures but somewhat lacking for the action parts.  And that’s the thing with working with multiple artists because you realize who is good at what and learn to play to each other’s strengths.  I felt absolutely spoiled working with Kelly Jones because I’ve been a fan of his for so long and we’re both huge horror fans. 

With Kyle Holtz, Eric Powell (creator of The Goon – ed.) has been trying to get me to work with Kyle for 10 years and we were never able to get together.  But then when we finally did we clicked so well we decided we had to do a lot of projects together.  And now Kyle is going to be drawing the ongoing series so that worked out really well.

BF: And providing the covers will be Tim Bradstreet with Thomas Jane “playing” Cal?

SN: Correct.  And we also just cast Mo’lock for the covers as well.  A buddy of ours, Christopher Nelson, who played Uma Thurman’s fiancé in Kill Bill, will be Mo’lock.  He was in a movie that Tom and I just produced [The Tripper starring David Arquette] and I looked up at him and he was about 6’8”, just huge with white hair and he had that kind of scary but boyish face.  So I just asked him “Hey, you want to be a ghoul?”  He liked the idea, so we put him and Tom in a garage with the Nova that Cal drives and it was a blast.  We put the Nova up on hydraulics; Tom put on his full Cal McDonald wardrobe; and Chris put on the black suit with the white shirt and slicked his hair back.  My friends Greg Nicatero and Howard Berger from KMB FX let me borrow a whole slew of monster props, body parts, and guns from their effects shops and we sat up all night just taking shots and shooting scenes.  I think we probably have enough for 6 years worth of covers.  It was just a real fun experience.

BF: You mention being part of that movie, and I know you have had your work optioned by studios – is there a Cal McDonald movie in the works anywhere?

SN: We actually sold the rights years ago to MGM and then they got sold.  Honestly, I’m not really sure where the rights are right now, but I do know that they will be reverting back to me pretty soon.  I spoke with Mike Richardson and we are still partners on this so hopefully we’ll be able to do something pretty soon.  Perhaps once 30 Days of Night (the famous IDW vampire series set in Alaska done with Ben Templesmith – ed.) is made it’ll be easier to get it out there.

Making Cal into a movie has always been problematic though because everyone wants to eliminate the drug angle, which doesn’t make much sense to me.  I mean, one of the books is titled Guns, Drugs, and Monsters!

BF: I think that is odd because even if the drug element were eliminated, it would still be highly unlikely that a Cal story could be anything less than ‘R’ rated anyway.

SN: I know!  To me the drugs are the least offensive part of the story.  It is the one thing that is actually treated as a negative.  The guy does not have a good life.  He’s not healthy; he has no friends, so I never understood that.  It isn’t as if I’m writing Cheech and Chong Meet the Monsters.  So hopefully we will someday find the right people who get the material and we’ll get a movie made.  God knows we have the material.  I’d love to start with Savage Membrane and just go from there.

BF: I do want to move off the Cal right now, but before we get to The Creeper you mentioned the 30 Days of Night movie.  Is there any news for fans of that series?

SN: Actually they are going to be starting shooting soon on that one.  Josh Hartnett is playing Eben and Melissa George (from Amytiville Horror – ed.) has been cast as Stella.  Everybody I’ve talked to seems to love her so I’m pretty psyched about it.

BF: And did you write the script for this?

SN: I wrote the first draft.  Then Stu Beatty came in and did another draft.  Then when David Slade came in he brought along Brian Nelson, who he worked with on Hard Candy, and Brian has done an excellent job with the script.

Tomorrow, our conversation with Steve Niles concludes as we shift focus to The Creeper. If you go to sleep and dare look under your bed, be wise and call on Cal McDonald for help. He knows how to handle monsters with big teeth...

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