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Warwick Johnson-Cadwell on the head-popping and horrors in 'Falconspeare'

Comic Books

Warwick Johnson-Cadwell on the head-popping and horrors in ‘Falconspeare’

The Victorian mystery saga arrived on shelves this week.

Falconspeare is a new original graphic novel featuring three creations of Mike Mignola and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell’s: Professor J.T. Meinhardt, Mr. Knox, and Ms. Mary Van Sloan. Written and drawn by Johnson-Cadwell, the series is an eerie Victorian-style mystery that delves into horror and humor with plenty of charming twists.

Just two years ago, I spoke to Johnson-Cadwell about  Mr. Higgins Comes Home, which also featured Professor J.T. Meinhardt and Mr. Knox in their pursuit of ne’er-do-well creatures of the night. In Falconspeare, monster hunters extraordinaire Professor Meinhardt, Mr. Knox, and Ms. Van Sloan have teamed up to slay spooks and investigate the uncanny. Along the way, though, a new question must be answered: What happened to their friend and vampire slayer extraordinaire, James Falconspeare?

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In anticipation of Falconspeare’s release this week (January 12), Johnson-Cadwell answered a few questions about the graphic novel, working within the realm of monsters, and much more.

Warwick Johnson-Cadwell on the head-popping and horrors in 'Falconspeare'AIPT: A few heads pop off in Falconspeare, what is it about a head popping off that you adore drawing so much?

Warwick Johnson-Cadwell: Ha Ha! It’s pretty dramatic, and to be honest, quite fun to draw. Vampire lore does dictate that it’s a pretty solid solution to defeating those guys, but there’s always room for a surprise or two. The stake and hammer do take a back seat in this book in favour of the long knife.

AIPT: For fans who are unaware of Falconspeare, what’s the elevator pitch you’d give as you fall from a high ledge and only have 5 seconds to spare?

WJC: Professor Meinhardt, Mr. Knox, and Ms. Mary Van Sloan track down a lost companion after receiving a mysterious message or warning, only to uncover a terrible truth at the end of their journEEEEEYYYYYYYY!!!!!!

AIPT: I really love your treatment of backgrounds, from the bricks of a sewer to the wallpaper of a red room. There’s almost something therapeutic about how you draw backgrounds. What goes into designing these environments?

WJC: Thank you! I used to only really draw figures for years, and backgrounds were something I’d add to fill in the gaps. Pretty daft, really. Then I started to treat the environment as a character of sorts, and that’s when things really changed. Decorating the Red Room helped me lay out the character of its evil occupant, whether with the walls or the furniture or the diabolic nick-nacks he has knocking about.

The sewer was a different thing. I tend not to try to work tightly with perspective, as it can mess with the storytelling. As it’s not a “real” place, not even a 3D model, I can adapt the scenery to fit the mood or action to better present the story. The sewer also had a lot of circles in its sequence. I felt that it helped give that “chapter” its own little identity.

Falconspeare

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: Were there any inspirations for the towns and look of the locations be it in real life or fiction?

WJC: These books all draw very heavily from the Hammer Horror and Universal Monsters tradition. It’s not wholly accurate, but from the gooey pot of my memories of them, and they are constructed from there. But I do love to root through reference of all sorts to help sell the scene.

I don’t think there’s a place in this story that could be identified particularly from life, but there’ll be a door or arch or staircase that matches a photo somewhere. The grandfather clock at Dolentin’s is modified from a friend’s cupboard. I remember the tomb in the opening scene being a nightmare to stage. I thought paper models might be the way forward, but as usual, I just drew my way around it.

AIPT: I asked you in 2019 about sound effects, and the incredible work by Clem Robins, but I must ask you again, is there a favorite sound effect in Falconspeare?

WJC: Oh man! I love the sound effects. There’s a bunch of DONKs and SHUNKs, a GLOP and a PUNK. A number of DROPs too, which is more of a stage direction than a sound effect. Letterer Clem Robins’s work is so good, I’m privileged to have him working on these books.

Warwick Johnson-Cadwell Falconspeare

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: There is a particularly bloody scene with a robed man, how did you pull off this effect? I’ve never seen it before!

WJC: That poor fella, he kind of had one job to do and then he wasn’t needed after that. So his time was up. I do most of my thinking on the page. In my head these are moving sequences or feelings, not images at all. My original plan for him was something a bit more theatrical in terms of how I could practically show his demise. Then I remembered there is no props budget here, no need to make this practical at all. I could just go for it.

AIPT: Are there any comics you’re reading now?

WJC: I’m reading Mike Mignola’s The Amazing Screw On Head. I read that very often. His new comic Acheron is brilliant. John Allison’s Steeple is another current favourite, and Jim Rugg’s Street Angel. My Tomb Of Dracula Collection from Marvel is surviving well, too. Constantly read and reread, the poor thing is knackered.

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