Our Encounters With Evil and Other StoriesOur Encounters With Evil and Other Stories

Writers: Mike Mignola and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Art and Colors: Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Letters: Clem Robins
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

I have learned not to think little of any one’s belief, no matter how strange it be. I have tried to keep an open mind; and it is not the ordinary things of life that could close it, but the strange things, the extraordinary things, the things that make one doubt if they be mad or sane. –Dracula, Bram Stoker

A swaggering hunter of vampire-hunters lays out his intentions to set a lethal trap; an unexpected missive from an elusive adventurer sets in motion an investigation into the Black Docks Biter; mad Mr. Higgins waits forgotten in a cell, haunted by the events of a night many years past and an unmovable curse he has been unable to escape since; Professor Reinhardt and Mr. Knox are abreast of events and on hand to pursue any and all paranormal misadventures to their often violent end. Rollicking and swashbuckling, adventure ensues for the well-intentioned but dunderheaded duo who propel Mike Mignola and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell’s three tales of Victorian occult adventure in Our Encounters with Evil and Other Stories.

Fizzing with enthusiasm and stylistic nods to much vampire related media –- a subterranean crypt pays homage to Todd Browning’s 1931 Dracula, while certain character designs borrow from the gold-spilled decadence of Gustav Klimt –- Our Encounters with Evil will be familiar ground for any reader already acquainted with Mignola’s work. That the man, having seemingly populated an entire comics universe with monsters, aliens, homunculi, and bureaucracies for their investigation, has yet more of the macabre and supernatural to offer seems itself an almost preternatural event, but as someone who has always enjoyed Mignola’s knack for decisive and propulsive narratives, I am loathe to question the source of his imagination, be it from an infernal source or no. Our Encounters with Evil makes abundant use of the genre trappings one expects to see; European locals, aristocratic vampires, little soul searching in its morally certain protagonists. Mignola’s ability to draw out the humanity and humour in the infernal antagonists gives each tale a welcome and added flavour, particularly his propensity to expand vampire society past shadow haunting and bloodletting.

In one memorable instance Count Golga throws a lavish society ball to celebrate Walpurgis Night and the most esteemed of vampires attend the diabolic celebration. Due credit to Johnson-Cadwell whose imaginative and tongue-in-cheek designs and period costuming add humour, character, and imaginative flare to every gathering. Vampires in these tales are individuals, with their own preferred coiffeur, and while all have a taste for blood, some prefer a simpler and more discrete existence, then the entitled aristocracy. Indeed, class struggle against old money that refuses to die is a enjoyable motif run through stories, even if the source of Professor Reinhardt and Mr. Knox’s considerable comfort is never expanded upon. Mignola is a deft enough storyteller to know what is necessary to a story and these stories are all drum tight.

Johnson-Cadwell’s charismatic style jettisons the realistic and uniform rendering of space and perspective for an off-kilter and often mesmeric reading experience that brilliantly conveys motion and action. Elevating the already fast clip of Mignola’s story beats Johnson-Cadwell’s imagery pushes the storytelling full tilt as Reinhardt and Knox lean down spiralling castle corridors and vaulted ceilings list above them like the sails of windblown ships. Mignola and Johnson-Cadwell work brilliantly together, each seeming to understand the others strengths, and while others who have drawn Mignola’s scripts may have failed to convey the sense of impact and action Mignola himself creates when covering both writing and visuals, Johnson-Cadwell not only captures the essence of the stories –- the playful genre trappings, the sparsely and spaciously-paneled actions sequences –- but also manages to infuse the story with his own distinctive energies.

The style here is dynamic enough to effectively capture the impact of both a small domestic gesture, a group of friends hurriedly clearing a table of a tea pot, cups, and saucers, as well as the moment a flaming horse drawn carriage launches from the courtyard of a haunted castle with the propulsive force of a rocket ship. The point here is not the technical rendering of the contents of the imagery –- that the reader recognises the image representing the teapot and the carriage –- but rather that the tonal quality of the drawing is consistent enough for both moments to belong in the same world and yet elastic enough for each moment to feel fully expressed in its rendering. It seems clear both Mignola and Johnson-Cadwell are making hay and the stories possess an energy and fun that is infectious. Indeed, Johnson-Caldwell’s knack for comedic payoff gives the book a lot of its charm, in one memorable instance choosing to pull back as Reinhardt and Knox go hell for leather with the stakes and the violence conveyed in a little sfx beside them that reads STAB STAB STAB. A special mention here to Tuphold, who steals every panel he is contained within, and whose comedic presence is a boon.

Our Encounters With Evil and Other Stories

If there is a fault to be found in the book it is perhaps in the trifling dimensions of the stories, but even the minor tales here are artfully-enough rendered to justify themselves, and one gets the sense that as time goes on Professor Reinhardt and Mr. Knox will hopefully get themselves into a variety of further scrapes and jams, and that each instalment will add to the mystique and prestige of their oeuvre, as is often the case with intrepid duos of the popular mediums. I’d personally hope that the charismatic and tragic James Falconspeare might also receive some further attention, given the gravitas and dignity of his character in the collections final tale.

Our Encounters with Evil and Other Stories is a charming and gleefully macabre collection of tales that retool familiar genre conventions to create memorable and idiosyncratic capers. There are thrills, spills, and laughs aplenty, and rest assured there is enough wonton evil in the world to spur Professor Reinhardt and Mr. Knox to ride out into the darker corners of Europe and perhaps beyond in search of the agents of Satan to bring to the damned their particular brand of Victorian justice.

Verdict: BUY

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