Interview by Rob Caprilozzi
Continuing our week long Midnight Sons feature, we move on to another book and another writer. Today we speak with Nightstalkers writer, D.G. Chichester.
Horror News Network: How did you land the job as writer of The Nightstalkers?
D.G. Chichester: I’ve always loved horror. Growing up watching Chiller Theater, the midnight monster movie rerun show on the local TV channel. Stacking bookshelves heavy with retrospectives on Hammer Films and every new Stephen King novel. And of course horror comics! While I wasn’t old enough to have read the EC set in their original run, I was very aware of them. And did read the DC equivalents, like House of Mystery, with relish. (And a side of hot peppers and onions, for extra flavor.) When I got into comics professionally, and found myself working with the legendary Archie Goodwin – and knowing his connection with the outstanding Warren horror mags – I of course began annoying him with queries regarding launching a new title related to spooky stories. But Archie felt the market wasn’t right – and, because that legendary status was well-deserved, he was right. Fate, however, had other plans a short while later when we had the chance to meet with Clive Barker, and he expressed his enthusiasm for comics, and his desire to work with Archie. At that time, Clive had the Hellraiser and Nightbreed properties at his disposal as hot commodities – and Archie charged and trusted me with helping bring both to life, the first as a fairly fierce anthology series; and the latter as an adaptation and then later spin off of the movie. I was the original editor on each title, and then would go on to contribute stories to both.
I go into the history to set up that I was fairly well known in the Marvel halls at that time as having a high (some would say depraved) interest in the genre, and certainly a good track record as well. So when Marvel started conversations around a new line of horror-related comics – spinning off the phenom success of Ghost Rider at that time – I wasn’t handed the book, but I was certainly a natural in terms of consideration. It was put to me by the editor, Bobbie Chase, that they wanted to do something with these three characters – but they didn’t know what to do with them. So I went off and conceived that they could be more than simply vampire hunters, they could evolve their mandate into an uber-supernatural strike force with the name of Nightstalkers. This was a fairly lengthy written proposal, with descriptions of motivations, storylines, weaponry, etc. (Sadly lost in the great hard drive crash of 1999 – always have a backup, kids!) I caveated my proposal with the name being a bit close to Carl Kolchak’s turf, but no one on the editorial team knew what I was talking about! 😉 Anyway, among the proposals for this “team” – mine made the most impression and we were off to the graveyard dance.
Horror News Network: Were you a fan of Tomb of Dracula growing up?
D.G. Chichester: Sadly, I didn’t hang around the Tomb as much as I might have, or perhaps should have. As a kid, I was mostly interested in the DC Comics. Maybe because of my initials? 😉 Marvel was on my radar – and that familiarity helped a lot when I finally landed my job there. I was certainly aware of Tomb of Dracula, but the deeper and more involved storylines and character angst – things I’d later come to appreciate – didn’t sync up with my reading habits then. In my “shallow youth” period, I got my scare-kicks more from titles like Weird and Swamp Thing – and especially The Phantom Stranger.
Horror News Network: What was it like writing these characters that crossed over in other Midnight Sons books? Was it hard to keep track of what was going on?
D.G. Chichester: Keeping the Midnight Sons coordinated was never a hassle. All the writers got along really well, which meant there wasn’t a lot of “Seriously?” or even territorial attitude. (At least that I can remember!) If someone had an idea or a need, it was as simple as “I’m thinking this…” More often than not, that was met with not only a, “Sounds cool!” – but a ricochet into some new, better (darker) avenue. We were on the phone a lot, and we were geographically close enough that physical get togethers were easy arrangements for the bigger story conferences.
So much of the Midnight Sons “mythos” came out of the original gathering. Marvel had gotten into the idea of using these nice conference facilities to get writers, artists, editors out of their day-to-day environments and focus on new thinking and opportunities. It had been especially successful with the X and Spidey titles, so we leveraged it here. It was at least a full day long – maybe two – at this sprawling place in Westchester. I brought a backpack full of my supernatural tomes – heavily highlighted and dog-eared titles with names like “The Dictionary of Demons” – and we’d pass them around and find names and spells and conspiracies that got us going. That’s where the need for a “big bad” (to steal from Joss Whedon-speak) came from. We toyed with Mephisto, but wanted something new we could own. I’m pretty sure I was the one who tossed out the story of Lilith as Adam’s original wife, who had turned to Evil, and had become the devil’s mistress or wife or whatever, and had these heinous offspring called the lilin. Editor Bobbie Chase was a big fan of Maleficent, the evil queen from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty – so Bobbie enjoyed the idea a female villain. And with a nod to Bobbie being enamored of that look, we took Maleficent’s horned crown look as the visual inspiration to help create the high-forehead and imperious ‘tude thing that Lilith had going for her. Once that started to click, we all began to throw out ideas about the “why” of this particular grouping of the Midnight Sons – which led to the prophecy of “The Nine” as the only ones who could stop her. (And I remember us all getting excited that this “9” was kind of like the grouping of 9 in the Fellowship of the Ring – wonderfully geeky and full or ourselves in the best of ways!)
Horror News Network: Can you talk a bit about Hannibal King’s outfit change? That really made him look even more menacing.
D.G. Chichester: “Blame” – and by that I mean “credit” – the talented Ron Garney. There’s nothing he illustrates that doesn’t take on more import, more gravitas, more kick-ass. Any description I had in the plot, he ramped up. And that was in his “early” days. He’s only gotten more phenomenal. His new Daredevil is insanely killer – it hurts-so-good just to look at it. 😉
Horror News Network: What was it like working with Ron Garney on the book?
D.G. Chichester: Ron was truly the best of collaborators. Lots of great conversation, lots of laughs, the right kinds of giving me attitude to set ideas straight and steer them toward something better. I was phenomenally lucky in my comics career to team up with really top notch illustrators, and Ron is right up there. I wish we had more chance to riff off each other!
Horror News Network: Blade and Hannibal King were always at each other’s throats. Can you talk a bit about the team going at each other as much as they went after the supernatural?
D.G. Chichester: Certainly, the conflict of King’s vampirism and Blade’s zealotry for bloodsucker hunting “naturally” led my keyboard to antagonistic situations and dialogue. It’s fun to have tough guys go at each other, and there was no shortage of testosterone among those three to fuel the growly talk. Part of it felt like good character drama, to make the trio more multi-dimensional and not just “mission based” adventurers. But in retrospect, I think the level I ramped it up to may have been a mistake. It is possible to have too much of a good thing – or bad-ass attitude, for that matter. It sets the volume too high, for too long. Coupled with perhaps too much supernatural “wallow” – getting lost in sigils and ghoulish details – I worry that it was, in the end, an off-putting approach for audience-building.
Horror News Network: Let’s touch on your tribute to the death of Superman at the end of an issue. How did that come about?
D.G. Chichester: I love a good in joke or meta-reference as much as the next guy. In fact, more than many, and I could call out a host of them across my body of work. But wracking my aged brain, I can’t say I remember having any part in that at all; it almost strikes me as something added after the fact. It doesn’t read like me, and the art doesn’t really look like Ron. Pop culture wise, Supes death was of course a big deal at the time. So if we were big red S fans-to-the-extreme, I could see us wanting to give him an homage. But I can’t honestly see the connection. That said, it’s possible it was a request/mandate from editorial that I just don’t remember – wanting to pay respects to the Distinguished Competition, as it were, because there were lots of friendships that crossed companies. I wish I had something better on this one! 🙂
Horror News Network: One thing I wanted to touch on was the Blade movie. It seemed that your writing of the character in Nightstalkers played a big part of how the character talked in the film. Did you notice the same thing?
D.G. Chichester: Honestly, it has never occurred to me. I’d be delighted to find out that there was even a small influence. (As I can argue a bit in terms of the Daredevil costume choice at the end of Netflix’s excellent first season of that show.) But I would think it far more likely that the creators of the Blade movie saw the same attitude and potential in the character that I ran with, and tapped into the same rhythms for the film. I recall coming out of the movie – which I was lucky enough to see at a preview, because I was working on the “cybercomic” – and really digging it, thinking it incredibly “hardcore” in style and effect. (I haven’t watched it since then, so I have no idea how well it holds up… but I don’t think it gets enough credit for setting the stage for a lot of the great comic-inspired movies that followed.)
Horror News Network: I find it mind-boggling that Blade a Marvel character with three movies, and an animated series under his belt does not have an ongoing title. Why do you think that is?
D.G. Chichester: Without being inside the walls, it’s impossible to offer anything except HUGELY subjective conjecture. 1. Does a Blade series serve the corporate entity? Marvel has always been a tightly-wound universe, and many decisions were made on the basis of how a character or storyline could have influence: how is it going to sell more titles or create a certain type of fervor. With the enormous popularity of the Marvel movies, I would guess more so than ever. If there are limits on how many titles can make the cut in a given publishing cycle, has the company or a particular creator come forward with a smashing angle on Blade that can cut through the “clutter” and represent an angle that represents real breakout vision/potential? 2. Prejudice – race “lite”. This in NO WAY suggests that Marvel as a whole, or that any particular creators or editorial folks have this as an animus or an agenda. But when you look at the universe as a whole, there are a lot of disproportionately white faces. It often does take a commitment from a team or a singular creative voice/vision to bring forward an existing character of color, or (even more heavy lifting) to outright create a new one. (The late, marvelous Dwayne McDuffie was a famously powerful force for good in this manner, among his many other talents and achievements.) And when you’re going to do it, is it with a less mainstream character like Blade, or with an A-lister like Spidey, as in the retconning (or alterna-versing) of a Miles Morales into that mythology? 3. Prejudice – genre. Across the super-hero landscape, sci-fi and magic/mysticism are the clear favorites as fuel for stories. Horror-based characters need a certain type of advocate (maybe acolyte?) to be their champion. So a Blade, with his monster-mash roots, has to have someone(s) who are willing to invest in him for who he is, where he comes from, and strike the right balance between scary and super-powered.
Whatever you make of all that, whatever the “truth” may be – Blade is a terrific character and would be a great driver for either a monthly. Or, better yet, a series of series.
Horror News Network: Do you feel that we will ever see The Midnight Sons rise again?
D.G. Chichester: From the cheap seats here, I would think it pretty unlikely. It was ultimately a failure as a unifying theme. Part of that was some of the choices we made. There’s a term in software design, “feature creep”, where developers let more and more features get added to a program until it becomes unwieldy and loses its focus. The feature creep with Midnight Sons, to my mind after the fact, was the literal creepiness of the “dark corners of the Marvel Universe.” All of us who worked on the titles, at least from a creative end, were pretty big horror fans. But that level of dark enthusiasm can get you talking to yourself or a niche audience right quick. Nowadays, you can buy a Cthulhu plush at Hallmark. Back then, mention Lovecraft to the average reader and they might think you were talking romance. The success of Ghost Rider – which the Midnight Sons was completely born out of – was about a supernatural character who touched on the sinister, but was still predominately a super-hero. (It was only later, under the influence of the Midnight Sons environment, that Ghost Rider took on its really occult overtones. And as the Midnight Sons faltered, Ghost Rider smartly took the off ramp to try and find its way back to a wider audience.) Instead of following Ghost Rider’s initial, successful model, we (largely) dove deep into the primordial, insular ooze of sorcery and diabolism. And while we had great fun doing it – I think it’s clear not enough folks were interested in that, to that degree.
Today’s audience – when the geeks have won, and all manner of genre influence is active in a far a wider, wilder, weirder manner – might take it all in, in a different, better way. But even (especially) as a pure-play horror story, it needed more “normality” to ground it. You have to establish the natural for the supernatural to have its proper, unnerving effect. (Otherwise, like the “tough guy” talk in the earlier question, it’s all dialed up to 11 for so long it’s all just noise – either impenetrable or no longer having the desired “gotcha!” effect.)
There was a bigger “sin” regarding Midnight Sons, though, and that was that it was a very forced entity. We jump started the combination and interrelations of titles and incidents in a kind of declarative, “Because we say it is so!” – instead of working to build the strength of each and then finding the points of unification. (Look at the first exchange between Dr. Strange and Lilith – it’s like she’s always been on his radar. But the Sorcerer Supreme never mentioned her before? Granted, that happens a lot in comics. But that doesn’t make it a good device!)
As a creator and a comics fan, I’d say there’s a good rationale for another supernatural-based team-up group or association of titles – and possibly even featuring some of the same characters. But I would be hard pressed to consider that there’s enough equity in the legacy of “Midnight Sons” to put it under that label.
Horror News Network: What are you currently working on?
D.G. Chichester: Not a lot to speak on, in terms of comics properties. My “day job” is in advertising, and that takes up a good amount of time. From a creative point of view, there’s a selection of “new” nostalgia in the form of several Daredevil and SHIELD collections Marvel has finally released, showcasing my runs there. Publisher Boom Studios is putting together a collection of [REDACTED] that I’m VERY charged up about, and I’ll be contributing a new foreword or afterword to. I’ve written a nasty short about a dad who doesn’t appreciate his family, for a horror anthology from an indie publisher – but they’ve been holding on to it for so long I’m close to releasing it myself! On a completely separate creative front, I’ve been recording audiobooks, many for a thriller/horror writer named Bryan Cassiday. Those can be found by searching on D.G. Chichester on audible.com and iTunes.
Horror News Network: Where can fans find out more about you?
D.G. Chichester: My personal website, capitalistfiction.com, has a small section on my comics work, including links to some video interviews, some writing (proposals and links to some sample plots). There are also two very detailed interviews that Kuljit Mithra conducted on his excellent Daredevil site, manwithoutfear.com. I make mostly nonsensical observations on Twitter @dgchichester. And if someone really has a pressing question, they’re welcome to email me at dgc(at)capitalistfiction.com
Horror News Network: In closing, what would you like to say to horror fans that may have never had a chance to pick up The Nightstalkers?
D.G. Chichester: I tend to be very self-critical in these “years after the fact” interviews. Some pages are too wordy by far – writing for writing’s sake, which isn’t adding anything to the page, especially with Ron Garney bringing it to visual life. But there’s a underlying flair of thought-through supernatural goodness going on. Almost all of my storylines were born out of deep research into paranormal characters or mythology, which I think horror fans will enjoy discovering or recognizing. And I believe the fierce, robust quality of the characters and their escapades can be a unique way to experience the enthusiasm for the mysterious and eerie that I sought to bring to the title. If they choose to spend time with the boys from Borderline (the investigation firm the Nightstalkers used as a cover) – I hope they have a grand time!
Horror News Network: Thanks for your time, D.G!