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31 Days of Halloween

“Find a middle ground between reality and imagination”: Warwick Johnson-Cadwell on his Dark Horse horror OGN

‘Our Encounters with Evil’ has a long title, but even more horrors.

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Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

There’s something quite unnerving about a great Mike Mignola cover and story. That goes doubly true for a recent gem, Mr. Higgins Comes Home, a joint effort with artist Warwick Johnson-Cadwell. It’s a big reason why the new sequel, written and drawn by Johnson-Cadwell (with a cover by Mignola), is so wildly anticipated.

Titled Our Encounters with Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox, the new collection follows Professor J.T. Meinhardt and Mr. Knox in their pursuit of ne’er-do-well creatures of the night. They pursue vampires, werewolves, and other horrors alongside vampire hunter Ms. Mary Van Sloan.

I had the change to ask Johnson-Cadwell a few questions about the upcoming book to prepare for this new horror delight.

AiPT!: Hi, Warwick, first and foremost, congratulations on this sequel to Mr. Higgins Comes Home!  That came out in October 2017, and now Our Encounters with Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox comes out November 13th. How long has this sequel been percolating?

Warwick Johnson-Cadwell: Thank you David, it’s a great pleasure to return to these characters. This book has been percolating since Mike Mignola very first introduced me to the Professor and Mr. Knox back in 2016. We meet them in Mr. Higgins Comes Home where they are experienced vampire hunters. All the while I was designing them and drawing them, all I was thinking was what sort of things these guys had been up to in their career beforehand. This book shows us what sort of thing that was.

AiPT!: Can you tell me a few of your horror influences? What do you like?

WJC: Mike Mignola, of course! I love the classics and classic monsters, and probably more importantly I love how they get reinterpreted over time, particularly Universal’s monsters and Hammer horror. I love seeing the various changes that get added to revisit old ideas, Dracula’s fangs for one. I should add that in some cases making the stories much more gruesome helps too. John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly are both big inspirations, too.

AiPT!: I understand Mike Mignola wrote the story for Mr. Higgins Comes Home, but you’re doing it all for this sequel. Has this changed your process at all?

WJC: Yes, it made the art a more challenging process I found. Working to Mike’s script was great, I like his writing a lot. I found this time around I was thinking maybe I could change this or that in the script while I was working on the art. It was better to treat the script as a done deal and not be tempted to go back and alter it. Though one tip I picked up working with Mike was to return to the actual dialogue after the art was done and see if a phrase or sound effect could be adjusted to suit better. I learned a lot writing this book and look forward to doing another.

Unlettered page from Our Encounters with Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox.

AiPT!: I’ve had a look at the sequel and I have to say I’m enamored by the almost dutch-angle the panels take at times. The horizon can sometimes tilt from one panel to the next and it creates a great sense of unease and energy. Can you talk a bit about your approach to layout and camera positioning?

WJC: Thanks again, I’m happy to hear you like it. I’m a great big film fan and love how that medium is manipulated to tell stories, whether sets are made to artificially force perspective or lighting is dramatically added. I love camera changes too, and transitions. I get a lot from Sergio Leone, Akira Kurosawa, Tarantino, and Sam Raimi, and try to translate what I see in their films into my drawings as best I can. Bringing that into comics narrative form is so interesting.

Unlettered page from Our Encounters with Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox.

AiPT!: The sound effects in this book are out-of-this-world good, from a layered “nooo” to a well-placed “bonk.” Are these written into the script or added later? How do you get sounds right in comics?

WJC: Ha! Thank you, I love making up the sound effects, there’s so much they bring to the story. Most of the noises come from the drawing table. It’s surprising how much action and dialogue gets narrated or loudly performed while putting the lines down on the page. I just have to remember to listen out and grab it when it happens, the graphic quality of the sound effects. It’s a normally invisible layer that we can put into the art, which creates a whole new set of design elements to play with. I’m often thinking about how to design pages with much more relationship between the text and the image, but some of the best sounds just pop out while sketching. Then there is the work of Clem Robins, too. He lettered both of these books, including some of the sound effects. I’m so happy with the way his skills transform the pages.

AiPT!: When you approach monster design, what are you thinking about? What makes a good monster?

WJC: I need to find a good middle ground between reality and imagination. I think that if monsters are too alien and crazy, then they need something “normal” or realistic to connect with. A human fly will look pretty grisly in their natural form, but dressed in a suit, shoes, and overcoat, we get to read a bit more into the creature; are their shoes tied? Are their clothes clean and pressed or do they have their trousers on backward? These details could be comical if the human fly wasn’t trying to suck your brains out. And putting fairly human physical or personality traits on a monster works well, particularly as some human traits can be fairly monstrous too.

AiPT!: The title is like a story in itself. Did you gravitate toward it immediately or were there working titles?

WJC: What I wanted with the title was something quite dry and academic. These guys are deep in a crazy world of monsters, but they treat it in a very down-to-earth fashion; it’s all normal to them. This book is a peek at the routines of these heroes, and the stories are journal entries giving us a window into their wild encounters (although the last story of the three turns things around as it’s entries from another character’s journal altogether).

Unlettered page from Our Encounters with Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox.

AiPT!: What is it about the horror/fantasy genre that is so timeless for you?

WJC: The horror/fantasy genre gives people the chance to experience feelings like discomfort, anxiety, helplessness, and disgust without the consequences that make these feelings unwanted in real life. The physical feelings watching a great creepy movie are often good ones, like exhilaration or excitement (though you may be watching the movie peeping through your fingers), and it’s a way to exercise (not exorcise) those emotions. Also, when you realise the Bog Monster reminds you of your boss or that Evil Professor looks and sounds like that teacher you never liked, then it’s a great source of comfort and amusement too.

Purchase Our Encounters with Evil: Adventures of Professor J.T. Meinhardt and His Assistant Mr. Knox wherever comics are sold November 13. Or, get it in bookstores November 26.

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