Guns, Drugs And Monsters: Steve Niles’ ‘Criminal Macabre’ [20-Page Preview]
On sale now is Criminal Macabre Omnibus volume 1, a handsome new volume from Dark Horse collecting the early issues of the series by Steve Niles, Ben Templesmith and Kelly Jones. Criminal Macabre tells the variously dark and depraved stories of Cal McDonald, a hard-drinking, hard-drugging private eye in a version of Los Angeles that’s brimming with every form of supernatural irritation from vampires to zombies and everything in between.
Tales of McDonald have been published as one-shots, miniseries and assorted paperback editions, but Dark Horse’s new omnibus makes it easier than ever to catch up on the adventures of this singularly weird Steve Niles creation, which he told ComicsAlliance originates in the 1980s and refuses to go away. More from Niles plus a 20-page preview of the Criminal Macabre Omnibus after the cut.
Niles began creating what would become a thematic companion to such Dark Horse franchises as The Goon and Hellboy all the way back int he 1980s, as a traditional true crime character. “I wanted to write just like Raymond Chandler,” Niles told CA. “I even made Cal an alcoholic but when I realized how cliche it was, I made him a drug addict and updated his look and, as the final thing, I added this whole horror element to it. But Cal started very much as a straight up nod to Raymond Chandler.”
McDonald first appeared in comic book form in the early 1990s in various indie titles, including issues of the original Dark Horse Presents. Niles has even written Cal McDonald novels, which are of course in canon with all the comic book adventures. Asked why he keeps returning to the misanthropic detective, Niles confessed he wasn’t sure. “I wish I knew exactly why he’s stuck with me for so long! I really like him. Cal says and does things I wish I could do. Of all the things I’ve written, [Criminal Macabre] is the only one that has stuck around this long. He’s a really fun character to write. He’s got this world view that makes you want to go out there and attack anything.”
That world view can be characterized as “annoyed.” Like many of us, Cal McDonald is fed up with living in a world where vampires, werewolves, zombies and other supernatural creatures are so ubiquitous. In Cal’s case, the hazard is real, and the way he deals with them — a way that readers of The Goon and Hellboy would appreciate — is what makes Criminal Macabre a funnier read than one might expect.
“While a lot of stories talk about the menace of monsters and vampires, Cal is really annoyed by them,” Niles explained. “He really can’t stand them. A lot of the humor comes out in how stupid and ridiculous they are. For example, vampires in the Cal world take themselves very seriously. The frilly shirts and everything.”
Dark Horse’s new Criminal Macabre Omnibus contains material that is nearly ten-years-old. Looking at it now, Niles remains pleased with the work. “I think it holds up pretty good,” he said. “I’m not one of those people who reads their own stuff, I just can’t. I think [the artwork] looks great. I’m really curious to see what people think of it. I do think anybody who lies pulp and crime and horror and a little bit of comedy, this is perfect for you.”
A Criminal Macabre film is presently in development at Universal Pictures and is being produced by Dark Horse’s Mike Richardson. Previous to the film project, Niles was in talks with 30 Days of Night director David Slade about adapting Criminal Macabre for television. In those discussions, Slade described the book thusly: Guns, drugs and monsters. “I think that really sums Criminal Macabre,” Niles said.