Feature: Our Encounters with Evil & Other Stories Interviews 

Mignolaversity in 2022: Discussing “Our Encounters with Evil & Other Stories” with Warwick Johnson-Cadwell

By | December 13th, 2022
Posted in Interviews | % Comments

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Welcome to Mignolaversity, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated column for all things Mike Mignola. Since its December, we’re doing a series of retrospective interviews to say goodbye to 2022. If you missed yesterday’s, you can read it here.

Today we’re cartoonist Warwick Johnson-Cadwell about “The Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox,” a series he created with Mike Mignola. Mingola wrote the first book, “Mr. Higgins Comes Home,” and Johnson-Cadwell handled both the writing and the art for the next two, “Our Encounters with Evil” and “Falconspeare.” The three are collected together in a library edition, “Our Encounters with Evil & Other Stories,” which comes out in comic book stores tomorrow.

Before we begin, I should warn you that this interview assumes you have read the stories. There will be spoilers if you’re not up to date.

Cover by Mike Mignola
with Dave Stewart
Each new book of “The Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox” series has its own distinct identity. When you started work on “Our Encounters with Evil” and “Falconspeare,” was that something you consciously cultivated as you were discovering what those books were going to be?

Warwick Johnson-Cadwell: I think the books do have an individual identity, which sort of is and isn’t intentional. “Our Encounters with Evil” is an adventure book. I wanted to create some mileage in our relationship with the Professor and Mr. Knox. I loved the characters that we had made in “Mr. Higgins Comes Home.” Mike Mignola had brilliantly laid out these personalities in his script and I wanted to show a lot more about them (and introduce more too). The view into their world in this book was pretty widespread and overall has a boisterous adventurousness about it, I think.

“Falconspeare” gives us a more personal, more somber view of their world. Adventure continues and further characters are introduced, the world remains creepy and gruesome too, but this book has a calmer, somber feeling. Hopefully revealing more of the personalities of our heroes.

I’ve certainly enjoyed that, especially as the cast has expanded to add Ms. Mary Van Sloan in “Our Encounters with Evil” and James Falconspeare in “Falconspeare.” They mix up the group dynamics and take the stories to avenues Meinhardt and Knox probably wouldn’t wander into on their own. I’m curious, since you wrote the second and third books as well, how much of these characters do you discover by drawing them and how much by writing them?

Warwick: Drawing is first for me. Ideas are worked out on paper, sometimes instantly, but usually over time. I may hit on a character’s design with an idea of who they may be, but nothing is totally settled till I’ve drawn them a while and sort of found out who they are. But my main tool is drawing. Even when writing the books I draw out plans and ideas first (go through my own previous sketches too) to get the main story down before writing a fairly loose script. Then with that I’m happy to jump back into the thumbnails and layouts, which often ignore the first round of sketches and work from how the story has developed now it’s a loose script. Some concept artwork I have done for animation has used a process similar, drawing thoroughly ’round an idea before starting to write a script.

And you’ve hit on something there too. Adding new characters like Mary Van Sloane and James Falconspeare are great to steer the stories to new places. And that also serves to further our relationship and understanding of Meinhardt and Knox, I reckon.

In the sketchbook section for the library edition, you touched on this aspect a little while looking back at early designs for Meinhardt and Knox. As you said, “I’d imagine the adventures taking very different courses to our own dear Meinhardt.” This really speaks to how much of comics storytelling is in design.

Other directions our heroes' designs could have gone
From the sketchbook section of “Our Encounters with Evil & Other Stories”
Continued below

I wanted to talk to you in particular about “Falconspeare,” because the book has such an interesting construction. In some ways, the opening is reminiscent of ‘The Death of Lady Ruthven,’ which is this big action sequence used to reintroduce Meinhardt and Knox, while also introducing Mary Van Sloan and showing how she fits in with the group dynamic. By opening “Falconspeare” in a similar way and fulfilling a similar story function, you get to welcome readers back into this world with something that feels familiar, reminding us what we love about it before diving into the main body of the story.

Warwick: I suppose with both Mary Van Sloan and James Falconspeare they needed to be introduced, but it was important to show that they were new to us but not new to the Professor and Mr. Knox. I wanted to quite quickly establish the firm relationship with them all as a group, but Meinhardt and Knox are a definite double act. Van Sloan and Falconspeare will adventure solo to a great extent.

The task with Mary Van Sloan was knowing she’d appear in some stories in “Our Encounters with Evil” though be absent from others, which I felt would make her companionship with the others more natural. In “Falconspeare,” I needed to find a fairly clear sense of who he was and how close he was to the group, so them in hot action in their earlier days fit the bill.

That opening is completely transformed by the “Falconspeare” ending though, especially as it echoes certain action beats, but the emotions wrapped up in them are wildly different. A beat originally played for comedy, like blowing up the vampire, is repeated but it’s now happening to a friend.

Warwick: Yeah, my biggest worry with the story was how well I could make something more serious and emotional than before. The whole book goes to a darker place and because of this I needed to make sure our connection to the characters worked, so it didn’t just feel mean. I’m not a fan of the vampire battling their vampire nature. I reckon it’s their will that changes first of all which makes for a much less human and more relatable character. The vampires in ‘The Lost Duke of Kurtz’ are driven by hate―they don’t fight their vampire nature. We see the same in “Falconspeare” too.

I hope the opening sequence tells us a lot about their friendship and, knowing the book would get darker, I wanted it to be entertaining too, which is what we’re used to with these characters. But by having the end of the book echo the beginning, I hoped to get that sense that these guys do their work, they destroy vampires just as vampires destroy people. Whoever they may be in either case.

That was a particularly fascinating part of “Falconspeare” for me, the way you used vampires to explore people. Baron Fontin is a villain, but he doesn’t even have the excuse of being a vampire. And it so powerfully says who James Falconspeare is that he invites his friends to hear his testimony, trusting that they will kill him. It’s part of what makes this series so compelling. It can be as ridiculous at times, like with the fighting vampires in ‘Blackwater,’ but it can also be very tragic, like it was for Mr. Higgins and James Falconspeare. Do you find it a challenge to find the balance between these two elements?

Warwick: Very much so. It’s a massive challenge. But it’s a balance I enjoy working out and putting into my work. Mike Mignola perfectly presented it in his script of “Mr. Higgins Comes Home.” Really funny and also heartbreaking. We had talked about the “Sad Werewolf” character; they really are the unwilling monster, I suppose. Innocent (usually) characters transformed into monsters then more tragically back to people to face the horrors they’ve committed. I love fantasy and find it’s best when it’s rooted to something real. And drawing the way I do makes a tricky business to get right. I hope I get more right than wrong.

While reading the sketchbook section, I found it interesting that you draw each panel independently. Does this create any challenges for you as you compose a page? Does it mean you lock-in your layouts early on?

Continued below

Warwick: This wasn’t really something I’d done before “Mr. Higgins Comes Home.” I work with thumbs then rough layouts as is fairly normal I think.

For “Mr. Higgins Comes Home,” I had thumbnailed pages, usually one page at a scruffy 1 or 2 inch height, onto Mike’s script pages. For the others, it was while I was writing. I really wanted to lay down some rich pages here. I wanted to have a book that could be reread and provide something new each time if possible. Doing it this way meant I could fine tune the pages to the best effect. Zooming in or cropping, particularly cropping broad scenes to fit into panels, or other things like turning them off kilter (or straightening them). I do most of my working out on the page and this system meant I could continue to adjust things at a later stage. So my layouts bare the foundation of the page, but I had room to play. The challenge is mostly knowing when to stop.

Of course, I have to ask, is there a chance we’ll be seeing any more of Meinhardt and Knox in future?

Warwick: Well, as long as people are asking, I’m always hopeful. Drawing all these characters is a pleasure and every page or so brings more ideas. But I’ve gotten away with an awful lot so far. This library edition feels like an achievement I could not surpass. But then I thought the same of “Mr. Higgins Comes Home” a couple of books ago.

Join us tomorrow for our next retrospective interview, and don’t forget to pick up “Our Encounters with Evil & Other Stories.”

Cover by Mike Mignola
with Dave Stewart
Written by Mike Mignola and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Illustrated by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Colored by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Lettered by Clem Robins

Join monster hunters extraordinaire and jump into eerie and whimsical Victorian-style tales of monster hunters, vampires, and supernatural sleuths in this collection of stories that is equal parts chilling and charming.

In this three-part collection, Professor Meinhardt and his assistant Mr. Knox pursue the undead and Mr. Higgins’ tragic history; explore strange supernatural happenings with investigator Ms. Mary Van Sloan; and seek to uncover the truth of the prolific vampire slayer and one-time compatriot of theirs, James Falconspeare.

Collecting Mr. Higgins Comes Home, Our Encounters with Evil, and Falconspeare from Mike Mignola and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell’s iconic team-up.

//TAGS | Mignolaversity

Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on BlueSky.


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