This past summer, Dark Horse Comics published a three-part mini-series from Steve Niles and Dave Wachter, Breath of Bones: A Golem's Tale, which drew critical acclaim [Newsarama Note: You can read the Best Shots reviews of issues 1, 2, and 3 here]. For readers who missed out, Dark Horse plans to release the collected edition February 26, 2014. It tells the story of a Jewish community set in WWII-era Europe that is beset by Nazi forces, which then finds salvation in the mystical and monstrous golem of legend. Readers of Breath of Bones quickly discover that it's not the typical horror story from Niles. Instead, they'll find a deeply personal story of loss and what it takes to overcome true evil.
Newsarama recently spoke with Niles about how Breath of Bones came together and life in general.
Newsarama: Steve, thanks so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule. First and most importantly, I know many of your fans are aware of the terrible flooding of your home not that long ago. How are things going with getting life back in order?
Steve Niles: As I sit to type this up we are packing to move back to California. Thanks to the help of the comics, music and horror communities we can do this. It’s been a pretty horrible year. We moved to Texas only 9 months ago but in that time we’ve had relentless illness, dying pets and then the flood. That was the last straw. Luckily all we lost was stuff, lots of comics and magazines and books are gone, but nobody was hurt so we feel lucky. We are both (Monica and I) getting back to work now and getting caught up. I’m working on a new slate of creator-owned books and doing some TV work. I’ll be perfectly honest here, the outpouring of kindness from people eclipsed the flooding. I feel like a very lucky person.
Nrama: It seems that in spite of everything going on in your personal life, you've still kept busy as a writer. What are some of the projects you have in the works right now?
Niles: If I don’t write every day I feel like I lost a limb, so I always try to stay busy. I have been accused in the past of putting out too much so the last few years I’ve made an effort to only do a few. That said I am working on a whole new slate of creator-owned work. Monster & Madman has just been announced from IDW. I’m working with my new go-to artist Damien Worm. He and I have a lot going on right now including The October Faction. Wrightson and I just turned in issue 3 of Frankenstein Alive, Alive. And I still have 6 more issues of Ash & The Army of Darkness to do. I am also planning new Criminal Macabre and a new Golem series called Golems for Dark Horse. I have a lot brewing and some announcements coming. This year I’ll start doing a lot more books through Black Mask Comics.
Nrama: On February 26, 2014, you have the hardcover collected edition of Breath of Bones: A Golem's Tale coming out. Now, you are probably best known for your work in the horror genre, especially with 30 Days of Night. While there is a monstrous element to Breath of Bones with the golem, it's such a unique story from what many readers are encountering today - and something of a departure from your better known comics. I'm curious: How did you come up with the idea behind Breath of Bones: A Golem’s Tale?
Niles: I love all monsters but the Golem was one I just couldn’t crack. It is the one monster deeply steeped in Jewish mysticism and I wanted to do it right. I did a story called "Feat of Clay" years ago that was a Golem with no master story but I still felt like I hadn’t found the angle. I decided later that I would tell a Golem story as a fable about a small town of only elderly and children defending themselves against a Nazi invasion. That’s how Breath of Bones started. I like when I am able to tap into some emotion about my own father who I lost as a teen. We were fighting when he died, not speaking so I have a lot of unresolved issues and I put some of that into Noah. Matt Santoro who helped me create the story was a big help in this, too.
Nrama: From the first issue, I couldn't help but pick up on a sort of influence from Will Eisner especially his seminal A Contract With God trilogy in both the story and art. Were there any creators or works in particular that you found informing your creation of this story?
Niles: Eisner is a huge influence on me and Contract with God is my favorite so even though there was no intentional inspiration, it is definitely there. No single creator influenced Breath of Bones, but I did go back and look at a lot of older war comics to see how the stories were told.
Nrama: What was one (or some) of the biggest challenges you faced going into this project?
Niles: Stopping writing was the hardest part. Once I got into it and found the relationship between Noah and the Golem I didn’t want t to end. I also made a point of making sure the Nazis were treated as the monsters. If you’ll notice you never really see their eyes. This was intentional. I am tired of movies glamorizing Nazis. They are monsters and should be treated like monsters.
Nrama: How did Dave Wachter come on board for this project? What was it like working with him?
Niles: I found Dave by way of a recommendation from Gabe Hardman. Working with Dave was wonderful. He is the perfect example of why artists deserve co-creator credit. He brought so much to the table and I think it really shows in the work. So far not one WW2 buff has criticized anything for accuracy and all credit for that goes to Dave.
Nrama: I'm always curious about the creative choices creative teams make when telling their stories. What made you and Dave opt for a black and white story versus going for a full-color comic?
Niles: It’s very simple in this case. We all thought black & white lended itself to a period story than color would. I think we made the right call.
Nrama: Based on the reviews from at least one Newsarama reviewer, I'd have to agree with you there! Now, without spoiling the conclusion of the story, it seems like Noah’s story could have gone on. Why did you choose the 3-part mini-series format to tell this story?
Niles: I like self-contained stories. Too many comics are these long, drawn out soap operas. Noah has other stories and there are even more Golem stories in the works, but for this 3 issues felt exactly right.
Nrama: Any further plans for this series once the collected edition comes out at the end of February? What's next for you?
Niles: I am working on a new series for Dark Horse called Golems. It’s not a sequel to Breath of Bones; I think that would be pretty crass. I was so happy with the response to Breath of Bones I am trying to find ways to tap into that sort of emotional story again. We shall see.