Writer Steve Niles may be best known in the comics industry for “30 Days of Night,” the story of a small Alaskan town that experiences 30 days of darkness and one winter vampires come to town and wreak some major havoc. But it’s the character of Cal McDonald that Niles created 16 years ago that he’s probably closest to.
Cal McDonald is a monster hunter. But he’s also a monster hunter with a pretty dark side filled with boozing and drug use. His fight may be righteous, but the life he lives isn’t. He lives and works hard and gets a lot of crap thrown at him. He’s had his ups and downs over the years and following a good spot of luck, Cal has some new and rather major challenges lying ahead for him.
This December, Cal returns to the pages of monthly comics in “Criminal Macabre: Two Red Eyes” with artist Kyle Hotz. Cal faces a brand new baddy. Well, brand new for him, but he’s an old school monster known the world over. CBR News caught up with Niles to see what he has in store for Cal, to get an exclusive look at pages from the new series and to go over a little of Cal’s history.
Steve, tell us about your latest Cal McDonald story, “Criminal Macabre: Two Red Eyes.”
I’m picking up where “Criminal Macabre: Feat of Clay” left off. Cal got a little comfortable there for a while – he had a girlfriend, he had friends on the police force and had a steady stream of work. What’s starting to happen now is, well, he got a little too comfortable and everything’s coming unhinged. Not only that, but now he’s facing a new threat, something that’s been building for a while, even all the way back to some of the early novels. He’s become such a successful monster hunter in America that he’s starting to capture the attention of some of the old world monsters. You’re playing in a whole different ball game when you’re talking about a vampire from Romania as opposed to one that’s been living in America for a few hundred years.
And the name of that vampire he’s caught the attention of is the legendary monster, Nosferatu.
It’s an interesting change you’ve made to the character. You’ve been throwing a lot at him over the years, gave him a little breather where life got a little rosier for Cal, but when things fall apart you don’t just throw any old monster at him, you throw the heavy hitters at him. Was that always the plan, to introduce the more historical creatures of the monster world in “Criminal Macabre?”
Definitely. Cal’s absolutely perfect for that. I’ve always wanted to do that kind of stuff. Not only to try and reinvent them, but I really love those monsters and I want to throw them at Cal.
What’s your take on Nosferatu for this series?
Well, he has no regard for human life at all. There’s nothing romantic about him. He’s not out to seduce anybody. He’s out for blood and you better not get in his way. He’s an out-and-out bad guy who uses humans for food. He’s coming to kill Cal. Sure, he has a few other things he’d like to take care of while he’s in the States, but his main focus is getting rid of Cal once and for all.
But, now, Cal has a whole slew of new enemies. As has yet to be revealed, at the end of “Supernatural Freak Machine,” Cal has gone from having friends at the LAPD to now having enemies. Powerful enemies who are going to tear down his life.
“Supernatural Freak Machine” was a five issue mini-series that saw release of three issues thus far. Now it’s being offered as a graphic novel through Dark Horse and that story will be fully told when it’s released in January. Where are things on that book right now?
Kelly Jones has the script for what would have been issue #4 and I’m tweaking the script for what would have been issue #5. There will be roughly 44 new pages on top of the original three issues that people saw from IDW. It’ll all be put together in one trade.
With this extra time you got on “Supernatural Freak Machine,” how much did you change those final two scripts, if at all?
Not too much. If anything, I added a little something to just the ending to connect it up a little better with “Feat of Clay.” I’ve noticed that comic fans know the continuity of my characters better than I do and they keep calling me out on stuff! So, this was a unique opportunity for me to make sure that everything goes together nicely. One thing about Cal that I’ve always been proud of is that you can read the novels or the short stories and the comic books and they all link together.
Let’s get into a little bit of Cal’s history. It all began in an early anthology you published called “Daughters of Fly in My Eye,” right?
Right. John J. Muth did the cover and it had the first Cal McDonald story ever told called “Big Head.” The second comic, which was run in “Dark Horse Presents,” was a story called “Hairball.” In the beginning of “Hairball,” he’s just finished fighting the monster from “Big Head.” There’s another connection in that the first novel, “Savage Membrane,” Cal directly connects with that first “Big Head” story.
So, it was “Big Head” first in “Daughters of Fly in My Eye,” then “Hairball,” and from there, strangely enough, I went directly to the novel, “Savage Membrane.”
How has Cal evolved over the years?
He’s become a little more serious. When I first started out I was thinking more along the lines of something more humorous. Then, when I got into writing “Savage Membrane,” I realized the real potential for the drama of the character and what a conflicted character he really was – a monster hunter whose only friend was a monster.
What originally got me into Cal was I was just trying to imitate writers like Dashel Hammond and Raymond Chandler. I was trying to write hard boiled stuff and everything I wrote was just so derivative. I couldn’t figure out a way to do that hard boiled thing and have it exist in today’s world. So, then I started drawing in monsters and brought in the idea that not only is Cal a drunk, but he also has a pretty bad drug habit. From there I found I stumbled on a modern pulp/noir thing. It’s been one of those things that, as you write it, certain things pop up that people react to. When Cal first started, Molock, the ghoul character, was just an incidental character and now he’s his partner and best friend, for that matter. We get to see a lot more of that in “Two Red Eyes.”
What’s interesting about “Two Red Eyes” is Cal faces multiple horrors in this book. Not only does he face Nosferatu, but he also faces a short period of sobriety and all the reality that comes with that.
And having everybody turn against him.
Let’s call it three major horrors he has to deal with!
Yeah, he’s in such a shit storm this time around, it’s unbelievable. It’s one of those things where he got a little too comfortable, he let his guard down and now it’s come back to bite him in the ass.
The sobriety angle is an interesting one for you to explore and necessary as part of the story since Cal winds up in the hospital. It’s not like he can be drinking while in a hospital bed!
Yeah, he’s finally been injured bad enough that he can’t get his hands on any drugs.
But does this moment of sobriety signify a change in direction for Cal? Might Cal spend some time “on the wagon” for a while?
Let’s see how long it lasts. I think he has it in him. The point is that when he was happy, when he had a girlfriend, when he had a life going, that was the time to try and figure out being sober. But, when the entire world is trying to shoot at you, kill you and take a dump on your head all at the same time, it’s a bit tougher to accomplish. He’s not the strongest character in the world in that way. Plus, he’s so damned enthusiastic about his drug use! [laughs] Nobody’s convinced him yet it’s going to kill him and how can you when he survives being attacked by 40 foot monsters? He kind of looks at it like his Kevlar vest. I’m going to see where it winds up. Event wise I know exactly where Cal is going to be, but I don’t always know how he’ll react to things and I like to see his story grow as I write it.
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