Mr Higgins and his faithful companion, Mr Knox, are back once again, in an all-new hardback Our Encounters with Evil, traipsing through Europe’s darker rural regions on the hunt for vampires, werewolves and other supernatural spooks. Along for the ride in these three new stories is new character, Ms. Mary Van Sloan, who is as equally formidable with a wooden stake and a crucifix as her male counterparts. Out next Wednesday 13th November from Dark Horse, we caught up with British based writer/artist Warwick Johnson-Cadwell ahead of the new releases and has appearance at this year’s Thought Bubble as we discuss Mike Mignola’s hands-off approach, his own very British cinematic influences and, of course, much more.
Olly MacNamee: Professor J T Meinhard and Mr. Knox are back with us once again in a grand new graphic novel, Our Encounters With Evil, with a triple treat of supernatural stories. But this time, Warwick, you’re the boss, both writing and drawing these adventures. How does it feel to be in the driving seat?
Warwick Johnson-Cadwell: Very nervous. First time round Mike Mignola was writing. Not only a fantastic comic writer and a personal favourite but also a comic legend and hero of mine. The whole experience was incredible and unusual. Seeing the story and ideas appearing (at that stage) just for me was crazy! This time I am in the driving seat but I’m driving Mike’s car, so can’t afford to get a ticket or hit a lamp post.
OM: Was it at all daunting, what with you following in the narrative footsteps of Mike Mignola? Did he offer you any advice, guidance?
WJC: Not really, and I didn’t ask. It’s a lively comparison but he’s a bit like Crom, Conan’s god from the Robert E. Howard books. He puts you there, so don’t you dare ask favours from him after that. No, that is far too lively a comparison. What really is the case is that I have loved Mike’s stories for so long, read them over and over and been inspired by them, and that is where I’d find any answers to questions I might have. Also, these characters are original to these stories, so unlike the Hellboy universe I didn’t need to verify their histories or check that actions are in their true character paths. The whole process working with Mike and Dark Horse is such a pleasure and a privilege for me.
OM: Was it a case of too much fun and too many ideas to fit into Mr. Higgins Comes Home that spawned the idea of these sequel stories?
WJC: Every character there had so much about them, and while drawing each one I was thinking of what they could have been up to while I was putting them down on the page. Even the briefest background figure. But too many ideas will mess up a story. Trying to introduce too much or juggle too many elements is very tricky to get right. Better to save those ideas and give them the space they deserve in another story if circumstances are kind enough to permit.
OM: Now, in your new book Our Encounters With Evil, Meinhard and Knox are helped out by vampire hunter Ms. Mary Van Sloan, who certainly seems to know a thing or two about the undead beyond just killing them. How did she come about, given we meet this trio in the middle of a chase across the Carpathian Mountains, and we are given very little in the way of a backstory for this intriguing new character?
WJC: That chase is a little nod the the final scene of Dracula, where unfortunately Van Sloan takes the Quincy Morris role (not so seriously though). In a world filled with undead, vampires, werewolves, and the like, it follows that the Prof and Knox would not be the only vampire hunters around, and they aren’t. Mary Van Sloan is a vampire hunting companion of theirs, and a character that I love a lot. She came a little late in my plans, so features intermittently in this book, but I hope we see more of her in the future.
OM: It must have been great fun creating all of these different vampires and their backstories? They are very much traditional Eastern European vampires in the same, ahem, vein as Dracula, aren’t they?
WJC: Yes they are. And much more from the gothic horror literary tradition that got processed through cinema. I did start to investigate more widespread folklore on the subject and found that the variety and contradictions became pretty big, so baring some of these in mind I returned to the relatively safe anchor of the previous book and the gothic horror cinema tradition.
OM: While your style of art is somewhat reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s, what were your influences as you developed as an artist? Did working as an illustrator for children’s books have any effect on your style, I wonder?
WJC: This is always a difficult question to pin an answer down for. The best answer is everybody. I try all the time to look outward at what is being created, whether it’s illustration, design, craft, film, or video games. If something strikes me particularly I look at why it has a greater effect on me and try to see if I can use that in the way I draw. My drawing is the only way I draw, I don’t think of it as a style much so when I draw a mouse eating jam on toast for a children’s story, it’s the same drawing as when I render a vampire licking the blood out of an open neck hole with a missing head in a horror comic.
OM: Where did your own influences on the stories within the pages of Our Encounters With Evil come from? Other than Mike Mignola, of course. There’s a certain feeling of The Fearless Vampire Hunters at work here, especially in the first story in the book, “The Death of Lady Ruthven.”
WJC: Ah, that memorable sleigh ride at the end of The Fearless Vampire Hunters. And as I mentioned that chase was borrowed/homaged/pilfered from Dracula, too. Again, in Mr. Higgins Comes Home and this new book, we were thoroughly immersed in Hammer Horror and Universal Monster movies and our enjoyment of them. And as I turns out quite often, my misremembering of these films.
OM: As for the glorious rustic landscapes depicted throughout this book; where did you find references and/or inspiration in creating such an authentic mise-en-scene?
WJC: I used to draw mainly figures, and whatever background they had was second to that. More like a frame of the figures. Then, encouraged and envious of landscape sketch art, particularly artists drawing out and about, I tried it myself. I liked it a lot. That was a big part of Mr. Higgins for me and An Old Dark House, a book I printed a few years ago, was me getting to show that sort of art that I’ve been working in but unable to show at that stage. This has stuck with me since, and every time I’m out and about I’m scouting locations for incidents and images. My phone is full of images I’ve taken for reference then often forgotten about.
OM: Finally, then, Warwick, were there any stories that didn’t make the cut and could, maybe, see the light fo day–unlike your vampires–any time soon?
WJC: Loads, lots and lots. Every page in the book has an opportunity for a new story to start. Even talking about the stories as they are tends to conjure a germ of a new idea. Our Encounters With Evil does leave, not on a cliffhanger but certainly with the prospect of a new adventure.
OM: Many thanks, Warwick, and see you at Thought Bubble.
WJC: Great! See you there.