Warwick Johnson-Callwell’s and Mike Mignola’s original Dark Horse Comics graphic novel Mr. Higgins Comes Home entertained many classic monster and horror comic fans with its combination of humor and chills, punctuated by Johnson-Callwell’s unique art style.
Johnson-Callwell returns to his intrepid explorers this November with a three story anthology entitled Our Encounters with Evil and we asked him a series of questions about the new book and his love of all things that go bump in the night.
Horror News Network: This is your second story featuring the professor and Mr. Knox. What have you learned about writing and illustrating them since the last adventure?
Warwick Johnson-Callwell: I think I’ve learned a lot, no great revelations but much more in terms of what sort of fellas these are, and the way they relate to one another. In the first book, Mr. Higgins Comes Home, Mike Mignola wrote the story and I was introduced to these characters that way. I felt I instantly recognized them, as we both share a great affection for gothic horror cinema particular with Hammer Horror. When writing them in this second book I got to better know the dry and academic Professor and his diligent assistant, and enjoyed trying them out in new locations.
HNN: Aside from the title characters, Madam Van Sloan always plays a key part in many of the adventures. What does she bring to the table in terms of the stories?
Johnson-Callwell: Mary Van Sloan came a little late to this party. I had already worked out the majority of the stories in this book when she presented herself, and in the final story her absence is key in fact. I’m not sure I’m particularly keen on the almost superhuman abilities of some vampire-hunting characters in today’s movies and stories; it somehow makes the monsters a little less imposing. The Professor and Mr. Knox are not bumbling or inept, but their success has relied as much on good fortune as their skills so far. Van Sloan brings a physical capability that we’ve not yet seen. So in short, she brings action.
HNN: In the notes section of the graphic novel, you mention wanting to bring “something different to the cauldron” when it comes to a classic horror story. What do you mean when you say this?
Johnson-Callwell: I love horror cinema; there’s a lot of it and a lot to love. Lots of it’s great and lots of it isn’t but there’s almost always some spark or idea that strikes a chord. We are relying a lot on stereotypical characters and disturbing events in these books to one extent or another. So what I wanted to try to make sure was that there are enough surprises, new ideas or at least left turns instead of right, to make the stories feel somewhat refreshing to read.
HNN: How would you describe your art style for those unfamiliar with your previous work?
Johnson-Callwell: Ooh, that’s tricky. My style has developed as I’ve learned lessons or made choices all my life. I find it very hard to change my style (though easier if I change media), as I only really draw this one way. I’ve been influenced by all sorts of creators one way or another, but Mike Mignola is right up there, as is Mick McMahon. Then someone like Richard Scarry jumps in and many others follow. It’s scruffy and energetic, not particularly realistic though that doesn’t seem to stop me agonising over getting a hand “just right” or an object like a rifle “correct.”
HNN: Do you have a favorite out of the three stories in the collection? How would you describe each of them?
Johnson-Callwell: I don’t really. I think I do and go on about how one is better, like Siegfried (the third story) for example, then realize all the bits I loved from the others and change my mind.
As a reader/viewer I think of the monsters first: this one’s a vampire one, that one’s a werewolf one, etc. and that’s how I start with these stories, but there are a few differences. These three are told from differing points of view, the first being something if a case file form our heroes. The second is an encounter where a story is revealed to them, and the third is narrated by a villainous third party altogether.
HNN: You deal with classic monsters in interesting new ways. How do you walk the line and balance the expected traits with unexpected ones?
Johnson-Callwell: Much of that comes from walking the classic line and then trying a turn here or there. Perhaps often where you’ve been watching some crummy old horror movie that has a lot of potential you imagine how things could be done differently. It’s a fun exercise. You couldn’t do it with The Thing or Bride of Frankenstein; they’re too good. But Hammer’s Legend of Werewolf . . . ?
HNN: Our Encounters with Evil ends with an intriguing epilogue. What’s next for the team of explorers?
Johnson-Callwell: Lots more of the same, I hope! The supernatural menaces out there are legion, so much to investigate all around the world. And still a lot to learn about how these characters got to be where they are. I think there is plenty of scope for short stories collected, but also for fuller volumes that can accommodate more intriguing encounters, like that of James Falconspeare.
Our Encounters With Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox is currently available at finer comic book and book stores everywhere.