It’s my favorite time of the year. Halloween is just around the corner, the air is getting cooler, it’s the perfect time of year to snuggle up in bed with a good book. But which book? That’s where I come in. Every day this month I’ll be suggesting a great horror comic series; some will be straight out tales of sheer terror, while others will be more subtle. We’ll have everything from vampires, zombies, werewolves, and witches, to stories of less defined horror. So join me for 31 Days of Horror Comics.
I feel it’s only right to start with the comic that reinvigorated the horror comic genre, put IDW on the map, and made Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith household names; 30 Days of Night. And thus begins Steve Niles week at 31 Days of Horror Comics.
After the glory days of horror comics in the 1950s, and the successful campaign by Fredric Wertham to get them all but eradicated, horror comics all but disappeared from shelves across the country. There were black & white horror magazines published by Marvel in the 1970s, but that was about it for quite a few decades other than EC reprints. Enter Niles and Templesmith.
Originally written as a movie pitch, Niles shopped around for about two years while actually trying to get his Cal Mcdonald tales Criminal Macabre made into a film, but it seems that everybody took a pass on both Criminal Macabre AND 30 Days of Night. That is until Niles’ friend, Ted Adams over at IDW, asked if he had any comic ideas for them. Niles and Templesmith were working on Hellspawn for Todd McFarlane at Image, and they wanted to work on something else together, so Niles sent Adams a list of ideas, and Ted liked 30 Days of Night. The rest is history.
It started out as a three issue mini-series following a group of vampires who venture to Barrow, Alaska where the sun goes down in November and doesn’t return for, you guessed it, 30 days. It’s an idea so simple that I, and Niles and Templesmith themselves, were surprised it hadn’t been done before. The location is based on a real city in Alaska where the sun stays hidden for a really long time, but not actually 30 days, Steve just liked the way that sounded. These vampires, led by Marlow Roderick, decide that this is the perfect place to feast without having to worry about that pesky ball of nuclear fusion in the sky turning them all into ash.
Niles and Templesmith reinvented vampires for this tale, leaving the romantic ideas of them put forth by authors like Anne Rice firmly behind. These vampires are terrifying, and nearly unstoppable. Add to that the crippling cold and blinding snow, and you’ve got yourself a perfect horror scenario.
Local Sheriff, Eben Olemaun, leads the townspeople in a counter-offensive, and the small town ends up victorious, though not without significant tragedies. I don’t want to venture too far into spoiler territory so I won’t describe much else of the plot, but the ending is as tragic as it is uplifting. The first mini is a rather quick read, being only three issues, and there could have been more character development but for the short length, but I don’t fault Niles for this. The story does deliver the scares though, and the gore which is gorgeously yet grotesquely rendered by Templesmith. Niles truly excels when it comes to dialog, especially in those more intimate moments, of which this series has many. Steve Niles put horror comics back on the map with a simple idea executed rather brilliantly for such a short story.
Let’s talk about Templesmith’s art on 30 Days of Night. In just three panels he sets the tone masterfully, giving Barrow the perfect balance of icy cold and dreadfully desolate. The backgrounds are starkly empty, which adds so much to the story, and the setting. Barrow is a living, breathing character under Templesmith’s brush, and you fear for it as much as any of the humans. His vampires are truly frightful; black glossy eyes and crimson mouths full of razors placed strikingly against snow white skin. His art is definitely not for everybody, but it is amazingly well suited for this series, and continues to evolve throughout his tenure on a few subsequent volumes. He has cut his own path in the comic industry, and become a fan-favorite artist of many, and this is where it really started.
The series most likely was thought to be a one-off, a three issue tryout of sorts, but it was incredibly well received and went on to spawn many sequels including Dark Days, Return to Barrow, Eben and Stella, and Red Snow, as well as winning Niles and Templesmith their first Eisner Awards. A whole host of comic creators have gone on to produce 30 Days of Night comics, including Dan Wickline, David Lapham, Josh Medor, Nat Jones, Kody Chamberlain, and Bill Sienkiewicz. The series even had a crossover with Niles’ other beloved creation, Criminal Macabre, in which Cal battled Eben in a fight that made sure one didn’t walk away.
30 Days of Night was turned into a feature film starring Josh Hartnett, and that spun off a direct-to-video sequel of its own. And that’s not even mentioning the series of prose novels. 30 Days of Night was a film that never happened, until it did, but not before becoming a powerhouse comic series for Niles, Templesmith, and IDW, reinventing what a horror comic could be. And it’s a damn good read for 31 Nights of Horror Comics.