Cal McDonald the star of Criminal Macabre created by Steve Niles first appeared in the story ‘Big Head’ in a self published comic, a while later he appeared again in ‘Darkhorse presents’ an anthology before disappearing from the comics landscape. Sometime later new publisher IDW published ‘Savage Membrane’ a novel featuring Cal McDonald, which was not only a hit but caught the eye of Dark Horse main man Mike Richardson, who liked the character and the idea of comics set in the same world. The rest as they say is history.
Since then Cal has featured in several Criminal Macabre limited series comics from Dark Horse . Unlike the majority of characters to feature in comics, McDonald has featured in several novels too, Savage Membrane being the first and also Guns, Drugs & Monsters and Dial M For Monster.
McDonald is an occult detective take on the archetypal ‘anti-hero’. Inspired by the Private Eye’s of Hardboiled crime fiction and John Constantine from Vertigo’s acclaimed ‘Hellblazer’ amongst other influences with the stories blending horror and crime. McDonald has seen and done pretty much everything in his eventful career and has numerous vices including a love of pain killers and a drink problem.
The world he inhabits is just like the everyday world with one big difference, it’s rife with the supernatural. Vampires, demons, werewolves and more besides and when he’s not dealing with those he has to handle bent cops and crooked politicians.
McDonald deals with the cases nobody else will touch in the shadows of Los Angeles. His relationship with the police is tenuous at best. Cal isn’t alone in this world though, his right hand man is Mo’lock.
Mo’lock is dead and also a ghoul.
As well as acting as muscle, ghouls can take a lot of punishment, Mo’lock is Cal’s connection to the ghoul community. This community lives in the shadows of Los Angeles and in numerous other cities. Despite their fearsome appearance the ghouls just want to be left alone, in return for Cal’s help in certain circumstances, being one of few humans who knows of their existence, they provide assistance as long it doesn’t reveal them to the public at large or law enforcement.
It’s this element of Criminal Macabre that really shows Niles’ talent for both characters and world building. Mo’lock and Cal, are the ultimate odd couple. Cal has a dishevelled appearance which usually includes an injury from his latest venture, whilst Mo’lock ironically for a dead man often looks far more distinguished and has the look of an older gent in a suit jacket. This difference in appearance is a visual cue for their bizarre quasi-father figure son dynamic of sorts as Mo’lock often stops Cal completely succombing to his numerous addictions, gives advice and also has a talent for dry wit.
Mo’lock has a position of standing in the ghoul community and McDonald is seen as a protector of ghoulkind. This prompted dozens of the undead to migrate to Los Angeles. Not all within the community share this view though and schisms play their part in some stories.
Alongside their strength and ability to heal from most injuries Ghouls can move through shadows, a different take of a sort on teleportation. This is not only great from a narrative point of view, opening up the story, but also results in some great images Mo’lock casually appearing inside the cell in which Cal is incarcerated being one.
Whilst Steve Niles has written all the Criminal Macabre stories, a variety of artists have worked on the title from Ben Templesmith’s atmospheric work on the first limited series whilst other artists include Kelley Jones, Kyle Hotz, Nick Stahal, Christopher Mitten and more . The likeness of actor Tom Jane ( a big fan of the comic) also features as McDonald on several covers by Tim Bradstreet.