People often tell others to put the past behind them, but some things just can be forgotten. And in the upcoming graphic novel Criminal Macabre: Iron Spirits, one haunted veteran needs Cal to help fix the past. Announced last weekend at Emerald City Comic Con, Criminal Macabre: Iron Spirits is the latest in a long line of stories about Steve Niles’ occult detective Cal McDonald rooting out and stirring up all manner of monster, ghost and ghoul. In it, Cal is pulled into experimental military program mothballed decades ago that left U.S. soldiers, scarred, broken and sometimes dead. Reminscient of the fabled MKULTRA program that tested LSD on soldiers and nearly all walks of society, the experiments in Iron Spirits carry an even more appalling air.
Joining Niles on this new Cal McDonald adventure is artist Scott Morse. Given Morse’s style he’s a surprising addition to the dark and twisted Criminal Macabre series, but after his collaboration with Niles on last year’s the two knew they wanted to keep the partnership going. And in this unique collaboration, Morse drew the OGN not from a comics script but a prose story Niles wrote, giving Morse free range as a comics storyteller to break the story down as he saw fit.
Newsarama spoke to Niles over the weekend about this new story and to share this unique partnership with Morse.
Newsarama: There’s a lot to talk about, Steve, but start at the beginning. At Emerald City Comic Con you said this was about an underground military base with some ghosts in its closet, literally. What is Criminal Macabre: Iron Spirits about?
Steve Niles: Well, to tell would be to spoil and I don't want to do that.
Nrama: Can you tell us about this military base and why a rebel like Cal would go snooping around there?
Niles: I suppose the most obvious thing about the base is a metaphor for allowing terrible things to happen right under our noses and not fight back. Cal is a fighter and sometimes the monsters aren't the big ugly things with fangs.
Nrama: For those that haven’t read the Cal McDonald Criminal Macabre series before, how would you explain just who Cal is?
Niles: He's your basic good-hearted, cranky, junkie Detective who recently joined the world of the undead.
Nrama: Seeing Scott Morse’s name on this really pushes the boundaries of what people think a Criminal Macabre story could look like. How did you and Scott hook up for this?
Niles: Scott and I have collaborated a lot over the last few years and we've definitely established a language between us. For Scott and I have worked just about every way a writer and artist can work except maybe full script. He's drawn 11 page comics from a single sentence I've emailed over and he's sent me completed pages with a vague sense of internal monologue but very specific action and I'll just write to his pages. I have complete trust in Morse so handing him a prose story to create an original graphic novel makes sense.
Nrama: You’re putting this out as an OGN, but not just a standard one but its in a special format. What can you tell us about that?
Niles: It's a gigantic book of horrors like Scott and I did for at last years Trickster. It's what they call a "Board Book”, hardcover but not unlike a children's book. It's a large thick format. It kind of fits Cal. I like to think he could bash a zombies head in with a copy of Iron Spirit because, you know, Cal's not what you'd call "a reader".