After being around for almost a year, DC's digital-first comic series Adventures of Superman is winning rave reviews for its eclectic yet risk-taking stories by creators from a wide variety of creative corners.
Next in line for the weekly series comes another of this series' unexpected yet enticing line-ups, as horror writer Steve Niles gets his hands on Superman for a story coming out March 31st. Titled "Ghosts of Krypton," the one-issue story features art by Matthew Dow Smith.
Newsarama talked to Niles (30 Days of Night) and Smith (Doctor Who) about the project — and found out the gig for Niles was the result of a "hand-up" from DC Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee.
Newsarama: Steve, how did the opportunity to write a story for Adventures of Superman come about? And how did you come up with the story?
Steve Niles: Kind of a nice story actually. Last October my wife and I lost our home in a flood. To help us get back on our feet, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee offered me a ton of work and the Superman story was among them. So DC was a real superhero to us.
The story itself was something I've wanted to do for a long time. Superman is primarily known for his super strength but what if he came up against a force he couldn't punch his way out of?
Nrama: From the title (and your usual genre of choice), I assume this is a horror story?
Niles: It's a superhero ghost story.
Nrama: Those two words don't usually go together, and its even more unusual for Superman. Is it difficult to bring horror into a Superman story? Or does the juxtaposition of the "bright" hero with the "dark" world actually work well?
Niles: Horror, like comedy, works best when it's a surprise, and Superman going up against a supernatural foe is a surprise, so there were a lot of unique moments to go after. Even Superman is just a little boy when he's alone in the dark. The juxtaposition actually works really well.
Plus on this one, we had Jordie Bellaire doing colors. Jordie understands that horror stories should be colored differently than superhero stories, and she really added an extra layer of creepy.
Nrama: Was it at all challenging to write for this smaller sized digital format?
Niles: I like writing short stories, so aside from that, there are no hurdles created by digital. It's still words and pictures, and at the end of the day, that's the most important thing.
I was worried about getting everything into a small space, but thanks to Matt Smith's great art we got everything in.
Nrama: Matthew, do you approach digital projects any differently from comics you draw for paper?
Matthew Dow Smith: Digital comics and print comics are so incredibly similar, but there are differences, and I love trying to figure out ways to play around with layouts and little storytelling tricks to convey the story in the best way for whatever medium it's going to end up in. I mean, just designing a page that will work in landscape mode is a challenge for a guy like me. You have to lay out your panels in a completely different way just to make it all fit and flow well!
Nrama: What techniques did you use for this Adventures story? You're using Cintiq these days, aren't you?
Smith: Yeah, I switched over to working on a Cintiq a few months ago, so I do all my drawing on a computer now.
It's kind of social media's fault. I've gotten to know all these talented up-and-comers like Chris Samnee, Mitch Gerads, and Evan "Doc" Shaner, and to be honest, I was starting to feel a little threatened. Their art is amazing and the only way I could think of to compete was to really shake things up and go digital.
And it's been great, totally changed my entire approach to my art. I can use brushes now! Never could use an actual brush, but now I use digital brushes for almost everything.
Nrama: What's your approach to the character of Superman in particular? What do you think is different about him from other superheroes you've drawn, and how is that reflected in the way you portray him visually?
Smith: When I was a kid, I had this big book from the Smithsonian about comics, and it was filled with all of these great Superman stories drawn by Curt Swan, so whenever I think of the character, that's how he looks in my mind. So it was interesting to sit down and find my own way to draw him that felt modern, but was true to the way creators like Swan handled him.
He's just such an iconic character and you don't want to mess it up, but sometimes with characters this big, you have to just to focus on telling the story in front of you and not get caught up in the fact that you're drawing Superman.
But yeah, I put him in a couple of my favorite classic Superman poses. 'Cause, you know... I couldn't help myself.
Nrama: What's it like working on a script from Steve Niles?
Smith: I've been dying to work with Steve since I started in comics back in the early '90s, when he was doing lots of great, short horror stories for publishers like Fantaco and Eclipse, so I was thrilled — 20 years later — to finally get a chance to team up with him.
And this is a classic Steve story. We've got space, ghosts, zombies, and Superman. And those zombies? Yeah... they're space zombies. What more could an artist ask for?
It's a crazy blending of genres, when you stop and think about it, but that's what Steve does best. He takes things that you wouldn't think belong together and makes something unique and emotionally satisfying out of them.
Nrama: Anything else you both want to tell fans about your work on Adventures of Superman?
Niles: I really want to thank my editor on this one, Alex Antone. He really helped guide the story and he's a pleasure to work with.
Smith: It was such a thrill for me to get to draw this story, and I genuinely hope the fans enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed working on it.