They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If you already love something though and you are just waiting for it to be apart of your life again and every day you think why is it not back yet? Does that count? When you wake up in a cold sweat and think when is Steve Niles going to make more “Criminal Macabre?” Is that the true meaning of that quote? In the end this philosophical debut will have to wait because “Criminal Macabre” is back with “The Big Bleed Out.” Be still my fonder heart.
Steve Niles returns to world of Cal McDonald with artist Gyula Nemeth for another four issue noir horror detective driven mini-series from Dark Horse Comics. This time Cal is “ripped from his self-imposed retirement to resume his monster-killing career.” To learn more about the reluctant return of Cal and Steve’s return to the series we were able to talk to creators Steve Niles and Gyula Nemeth. They discuss their take on this new story arc and Cal, horror and noir in comics, and telling a solid 4 issue story in a larger narrative.
A huge thanks to Steve and Gyula for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find our conversation with the guys below. Be sure to look for “Criminal Macabre: The Big Bleed Out” in stores and available online this December 11th.
I know you have been writing Criminal Macabre for over twenty years now, Steve, so clearly Gyula would be the best person to summarize the series for anyone not familiar with what it is? Gyula maybe you can tell us what “The Big Bleed Out” is about if you know?
Gyula Nemeth: It is quite easy to describe the series. A lot of fun with noir, horror, pulp and monsters.
All really bad joke questions aside, why is this a series and character you find yourself coming back to? For Gyula, how is it coming on to a series with years of history? Why was this a project you were interested in?
Steve Niles: Cal is my touchstone, in some ways he’s closer to me than any other character I’ve written. He’s kind of a part of me, so it’s always fun to go back and see what he’s been up to.
GN: Well, of course it’s quite intimidating to draw characters that have been drawn by horror big guns like Christopher Mitten, Ben Templesmith or Kelley Jones, but I would never turn down a job where I can work with Steve and draw a lot of weird stuff. It was a whole lot of fun and tried my best to make some art that fit in the existing Criminal Macabre universe.
I think readers might see the name and wonder if this is something they can pick up if they missed prior stories in the series. Is this a title that new readers can jump in? How do you juggle writing to new readers and fans of the series?
SN: Oh yeah, Cal stories are easy to catch onto, no matter where you pick them up. Each story is usually a case he’s on, so the book is its own beginning to end, not a long ‘to be continued’ series of books where you have to read them all to know what happens. It’s always good to hear when someone gets one book and then is intrigued enough to go back and read earlier books.
Many Dark Horse series like Criminal Macabre follow the “mini-series that are single story arcs of larger narratives that then are often collected into larger arc collection” path of publishing. We obviously see this with a lot of the Mignola-verse or Goon and this series; Why do you think this style of publishing works?
SN: For Criminal Macabre, it’s a universe, sometimes you want to be part of something bigger when you’re reading books, or get to really know the characters, their back stories, their motives, and so forth. So, it’s a good thing for the diehard fans who love this kind of experience to kind of see the whole journey.
The character has seen a lot of great artists and now Gyula Németh is taking over duties on this mini. What does Gyula bring to the series? Gyula, what was your goal for this series?
SN: I met Gyula in London at a comic con, his table was next to mine. He had self-published “The Island of Dr. Moreau”, and I got to really look at his creatures and his style. He shows such an amazing use of stroke and detail, high contrast and expression. I just knew he would be perfect for a new Cal story.
GN: I really wanted to catch a modern gritty L.A. noir atmosphere, with details, some black spaces here and there and a lot of cinematic visuals. I hope it comes through.
Gyula, to build of that last question, with a character who has been drawn by many other artists what has your approach to Cal McDonald been?
GN: Some years had passed and Cal is a bit older now. He is less punk, more laid back maybe, more like a typical noir detective. Still with a crooked nose and a gloomy temperament. The main things about him have not changed.
Cal McDonald is one of the lovable unlovable types who is often reluctantly pushed along the journey. Where is Cal at a person versus where he was at say in “Big-Head?”
SN: On one level, Cal’s come a long way from who he was in Big-Head. He’s grown up a lot, maybe not taking the amount of drugs he used to, especially after he became a Ghoul for a while… but in some ways he’s all the more the same as ever. He’s still anti-technology, you’ll never see him on anything like social media or looking for people’s opinions and comments. He’s physical, more in the moment like he’s always been.
The series dabbles in the world of horror, “Macabre” is in the title. What is the approach to horror for the series both in terms of story and the look of the series? How do you best utilize the medium of comics for horror?
SN: It’s all about character. If you don’t care about characters then the scares won’t work.
In addition to horror, there is a good mix of noir style storytelling in the title. In the vein diagram of horror and noir where do you see them overlapping? How do you effectively mix those two?
SN: It’s really similar on some levels, horror and noir are not ‘happy’ stories, the characters are usually running from or towards something dark and mysterious – maybe within themselves or it could be simply they are running from a monster. By mixing the genres, maybe the character is the monster or a monstrous human. The two styles can blend really easily.
GN: To me the story is around 60% horror with a strong noir tone to it. Visually, both of them are very rewarding to work on and I really love the fact that Steve puts his monsters into classic noir settings, so I can draw fun creatures and fun environments at the same time. Imagine chatting zombies in the sewers of The Third Man and you got a typical Criminal Macabre scene.
What do you hope new readers take away from “The Big Bleed Out” and what do you hope returning fans of the series are able to take away?
SN: I get questions all the time of cons, when I’ll be writing Criminal Macabre – so I think more than anything, returning fans will be happy to see Cal and Mo’Lock again. I think new readers might like an old-school Noir Horror story.