Cal McDonald, detective of the arcane, has been off the grid for more than two years, but he’ll reemerge on Free Comic Book Day for the first of many new, grim adventures, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics. Steve Niles’ antisocial hero, who first appeared in 1990 in an Arcane Comix anthology before hopping over to “Dark Horse Presents” before anchoring several miniseries under the “Criminal Macabre” title, will make his big return in Dark Horse’s “Criminal Macabre”/”Baltimore” flipbook, with both Cal and Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s hero Lord Baltimore starring in new tales. The twelve-page story will also mark “Wasteland” co-creator Christopher Mitten’s first issue as regular artist for “Criminal Macabre” and Michelle Madsen’s debut as series colorist. Then, July sees the release of Niles and Eric Powell co-written “Criminal Macabre/The Goon: When Freaks Collide,” again with art by Mitten and Madsen. Fall will see the one-shot “No Peace for Dead Men,” as well as the first of two “Criminal Macabre Omnibus” editions. CBR News caught up with Niles for a quick chat about his plans for Cal.
Niles will be appearing at Manhattan Beach’s Comic Bug on Free Comic Book Day, May 7, with Mike Mignola to sign the “Criminal Macabre”/”Baltimore” flip book. “Cal’s helping out an old literary monster who’s just about had it with being chased by the villagers,” Niles said of his half of the free comic, which is a complete Cal McDonald story. “I think that’s all the hints I need to give,” adding that new artist Christopher Mitten “is a dream come true” for the title.
“It’s a good introduction to Cal McDonald. In just a few pages you get an introduction to his world, his attitude. If you do end up liking what you see, you can definitely pick up more ‘Criminal Macabre’ comics or prose,” the writer continued. His own publishing imprint, Bloody Pulp Books, just released its first title, a prose volume titled “Cal McDonald: Detective Tales.” “It’s selling like hotcakes — for $5, you get 80 pages, two short stories, stickers, buttons. We’re doing it DIY, punk rock way.”
While Niles handles Cal’s prose adventures at Bloody Pulp, Dark Horse announced this week that it will be collecting the “Criminal Macabre” comics into two omnibus editions. “They’re going to be doing big, giant, monster collections of all the ‘Criminal Macabre’ stuff, and best of all, in there will be all of the odd little bits like ‘Hairball’ that originally printed out of order in ‘Dark Horse Presents,'” Niles said. “That’ll be colored and printed in order. IDW did it years ago, but it’s been really hard to find those for a long time. The other thing that’s going to finally appear in the omnibus is the entire ‘Supernatural Freak Machine’ story, including the missing 44 pages. That’s the two issues that got [published], plus the rest of the series.” The first volume hits stores in August.
In between the Free Comic Book Day offering and the first giant collection comes new, spectacularly violent material in the form of “Criminal Macabre/The Goon.” “It’s two guys who beat the shit out of everything, so now they get to beat the shit out of each other for a while,” Niles said of the story. “It was a blast. Me and Eric [Powell] have known each other for a really long time. Obviously, our tastes are aligned in a lot of ways. We really wanted to have our characters meet. It happened very naturally. Honestly, the hardest part of writing the crossover was getting them in the same place, because, you know, they live in very, very, very different worlds.”
Niles said that brainstorming with Powell “sounds like two drunk people fighting.” “We’re just like, ‘let’s do this, he’ll bash his head in, and monsters, and then this will happen…’ That’s the thing, me and Eric love what we do. We’ve wanted to work together for a really long time. I’d love to sit here and lie to you, say this was incredibly hard work, but it was awesome. I had a blast.”
Asked whether he and Powell checked over each other’s dialogue — Powell making sure the Goon sounds like Goon, Niles confirming Cal is Cal — Niles said that there was only one character he had difficulty nailing down. “I had the most trouble with Frankie.”
Looking further into the future, Niles did not want to reveal many details about the “No Peace for Dead Men” one-shot coming in the Fall, other than to say “it’s going to have some of the biggest surprises” and “it leads into Cal going into ‘Dark Horse Presents’ and a very fucked-up year.”