Just in time for the Halloween season, Cal McDonald is back. Unfortunately his life isn’t exactly idyllic and the current spate of challenges ahead of him, despite the assistance of his undead allies, is taxing him physically and emotionally. He is going through some incredible upheavals in a place where the monsters seem to be gathering and he’s no doubt going to be right in the middle of it.
Creator/Writer Steve Niles even reveals that big changes are in for his protagonist:
Steve Niles: I’ve been writing Cal McDonald since 1986, but we keep doing these mini-series’ so I have no idea how many actual issues of Cal that have been put out.
Bryan D. Stroud: I noticed during my research that this is not a new character, but this new mini-series is just the latest chapter.
NILES: I’ve actually been writing him longer than anybody. I was 19 years old when I first starting writing him. I think I was 20 or 21 when I first got him published, so again I’m not even certain how many copies of Cal McDonald or Crime Macabre have been published at this point.
There are also three novels because I also write him in prose, so he’s not only not a new character, he’s a pretty well established character.
STROUD: Do I get any credit for following your Frankenstein, Alive! Alive!?
NILES: That’s published by IDW, but yes, you do. How could you not? That’s Bernie Wrightson. I’m only a small part of that equation, adding some words to that gorgeous art.
STROUD: What an opportunity. Having had the pleasure of speaking with Bernie a few times and knowing what a wonderful guy he is, it just has to be a thrill.
NILES: Oh, it is. The guy is my best friend and we’ve been collaborating for over 10 years now. Frankenstein, Alive! Alive! is our fifth series together. But the others were much lighter. Nothing of that caliber. One was published by Dark Horse called City of Others.
I’ve known Dark Horse and Mike Richardson since I was 19, too. That’s when I first started doing work for them.
STROUD: So Cal McDonald is back. What keeps bringing him back?
NILES: He’s just a great character. I grew up reading Big Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and I just love the old noir movies. When I first started doing Cal, actually he was sort of a Raymond Chandler rip-off and then I wanted to make him my own, so I added monsters. It was sort of a way to update the old noir genre. The sort of hard-drinking detective. I decided that Cal is a recovering alcoholic and recovering junkie and then throw in that he fights monsters. He sees monsters everywhere he looks.
This is 26 years of history and this latest one is that Cal has turned into the one thing he hates most, which is that he himself is a monster now. This arc is about him facing that and also discussing what exactly constitutes a monster. Niles isn’t necessarily just something that’s ugly.
STROUD: That’s an excellent twist and I took note of what I presume is allegorical with the dark wings. Is he now a fallen angel?
NILES: We don’t know. That’s the whole thing. He’s got himself into such a mess and it happens over a few different series’. He’s basically been absorbing everybody he’s been fighting for the last couple of arcs, so at this point he’s not even exactly sure what he is, which makes it even more aggravating for him.
I don’t really deal with Heaven and Hell too much in Criminal Macabre, but there is some aspect of that fallen angel or demon of some kind.
STROUD: He obviously carries quite a bit of baggage what with the mental scarring and some internal conflicts, which probably contribute to his being an interesting character.
NILES: You very rarely run across alcoholics and drug addicts who don’t have internal conflicts. The monster hunting in a lot of ways is a metaphor for the drug use. It’s the same kind of thing, just chasing demons.
STROUD: What is it about things that go bump in the night that keep you intrigued?
NILES: I just love ‘em. It’s one of those things I’ve never been able to explain. I enjoy the darker side of things. I enjoy scaring people when I can. It’s not anything I’ve ever understood as to why. I didn’t have an exceptionally traumatic life or anything. I just love horror as a way to express things.
STROUD: It looks like you have a great artist to interpret your script. Have you been pleased with the results?
NILES: Chris Mitten has been the Criminal Macabre artist for quite a while now and for a few years we used to jump around. I had a new artist it seems every two arcs, but Chris has been the one to settle in and stay for a while. I really like the look and it doesn’t look much like anything else in the stands, which is also something I really enjoy.
This is wonderful and Chris does a great job in coming up with nice, dark imagery, but at the same time it’s very entertaining and accessible.
STROUD: I thought I saw a few similarities with Chris’ work and Joe Kubert’s last TOR mini-series with the scratchy lines and some of the bizarre creatures.
NILES: That’s a wonderful compliment for Chris.
STROUD: I notice you’ve set the story in Los Angeles. Is it for easy reference since you live not far from the city?
NILES: Yes. When I first started writing Cal McDonald he lived and worked in Washington, D.C. where I lived and worked and then once I moved to L.A. I wrote a couple series with him still in D.C. and then I just realized I didn’t know D.C. that well any more. If you know Washington, D.C. at all, it’s changed tremendously in the last 20 years. So I found myself just always a step behind. So in the novel Guns, Drugs and Monsters I just had Cal hop on a plane and go out to L.A. He’s been here ever since.
STROUD: Without going into spoiler territory, what can the readers look forward to with this new Cal McDonald adventure?
NILES: Everything is going to change for Cal. There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve been teasing at for a long time, which is a war between the humans and monsters and what it actually means, and now all this horrible stuff that’s been happening to Cal is going to finally come to a head. When this series is over, Cal’s not going to be the same character as when it began.
STROUD: So we can look forward to future stories when this arc is complete?
NILES: Oh, definitely. I just can’t let the guy go. The stories just kind of write themselves. All I’ve got to do is follow him. In fact, I’ve already started on the next arc. I’m going to take a slightly different approach in the future, but as I said, he just keeps writing himself.
I’ll also soon be starting my first ongoing series called The October Faction. I’m very excited about that. That will be starting next month, though this one is published by IDW.
The first installment of this 4-part mini-series shows great things to come from a master storyteller fully in his element. Strap yourself in for this rocket ride.