Exclusive Interview | Drew Edward Johnson on Midnight Society: The Black Lake

For the last 21 years, Drew Edward Johnson has worked in the comic book industry as an artist, with memorable stints on Star Wars X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, The Authority, G.I. Joe, and The Shield, his current gig for Archie Comics’ Dark Circle Comics.

Last year, Johnson ventured into the realm of creator owned comics with Midnight Society: The Black Lake; which is also Johnson’s debut as a writer. Dark Horse Comics published the Midnight Society miniseries and the recently released trade paperback that collects the entire story.

Midnight Society: The Black Lake also serves as an introduction to Matilda Finn, a secret agent who is sent on a rescue mission to Scotland’s Loch Ness, where something supernatural is afoot. Fortunately, Matilda isn’t entirely human herself, which makes her uniquely qualified for the challenges ahead.

CraveOnline caught up with Johnson earlier this week to discuss the origins of Midnight Society, the background of the story, and his future plans for the title.

CraveOnline: Tell us about the genesis of this project. What was the idea that sparked the series?

Drew Edward Johnson: I started kicking around ideas for a creator-owned project that I thought I’d like to try writing for myself in 2005, shortly after I moved to Los Angeles from Portland. I’d had some characters in mind for several years, and so I began to seriously consider what to do with ’em. Midnight Society was the story that grew around those characters. The more I started working on it though, the larger the content of that story became, and the next thing I knew, I had a fairly long, but at least, finite story.

When I looked at what the structure of the product had become, I realized I was biting off too large a piece of creative pie for my first solo writing project. I stopped and considered which single character I could do a smaller feature story with, and what piece of the larger story might make a more practical starting point for the over-all series. Matilda Finn was that character, and The Black Lake spun from that.

The idea for Matilda, as a character sparked one night when I was up late drawing an issue of DC’s weekly series, 52, and my wife was watching The Little Mermaid nearby. I looked up from my page and had this random thought, “I can’t think of any ass-kicking mermaids off the top of my head.” That evolved into a mental challenge that night as I worked, and Matilda sprang to life soon after.

How long have you been working on Midnight Society?

I started drawing character sketches and writing down ideas in 2005, but several of the characters have been rattling around in my head since the late ’90’s. It’s been interesting to see how they are adapting and growing as I work on them now in 2016.

For people who haven’t read the miniseries, how would you describe the Midnight Society?

The first story arc is called The Black Lake. This four issue series introduces two well known British Adventurers, Arcturus Finn and Professor Kevin Kaycee in what turns out to be the final journey of their long friendship. The two men are faced with an ethical dilemma that breaks their partnership.

Many years later, Arcturus Finn, retired from the hero’s life, is the head of the mysterious covert agency, MI-Omega. Kevin Kaycee, however, is still out in the field, working as England’s premiere Crypto-Zoologist. When Kaycee disappears under Loch Ness while searching for the legendary Monster, Finn cannot help but intervene for his old friend one last time.

MI: Omega agent Matilda Finn is dispatched on a frantic search and rescue mission with a team of military specialists to look for any sign of the missing Professor’s boat and crew. As Matilda and the rescue team set out on Loch Ness, they have no idea of the horror that awaits them. However, Matilda Finn is no ordinary agent, and there’s going to be one hell of a fight under the black lake.

Within the context of the story, what is the Midnight Society?

When Arcturus Finn met with British Parliament to form MI:Omega, he proved the existence of an unseen society that exists along side our own, what he dubbed a “Midnight Society” of the collected creatures of myth. MI: Omega’s stated mission was to extend a welcoming hand to that Midnight Society, to help these creatures assimilate into modern human society so that they may stand with us in the light of day.

What can you share with us about Matilda Finn?

Matilda washed up on a beach about a decade ago, and has lived as a functioning amnesiac ever since. To her mind, she’s a ten year old adult, building her identity as she lives each day. She buries herself in her work as an agent in an attempt to move forward in her life. Her grasp on her own humanity is becoming increasingly tenuous, though, as she carries out her missions for MI: Omega.

Did she choose her name or was it chosen for her?

Arcturus Finn and a field team from MI: Omega found that amnesiac woman on that beach and brought her to safety. It was Arcturus that named her Matilda and gave her his last name. They continue to search for clues to her past together, and Arcturus has come to view Matilda as a daughter.

Tell us about the other leading characters of Midnight Society.

There are quite a few that haven’t been revealed in The Black Lake, which serves as an introduction to the world of Midnight Society. We’ll see many more introduced in the follow-up story arc, The Great Dane, which takes place in both Europe and The United States.

In The Black Lake, our main characters are Matilda Finn, Arcturus Finn, and Professor Kevin Kaycee, along with Billy Wetherell, but we also see short appearances by The Boogeyman, now known as Michael Ludy, and the Amazon lawyer, Andromache. There are also some other antagonistic characters featured in scenes through out the story arc. I don’t want to reveal too many of the details yet, but each one of these characters is a seed planted for later growth in the progressing Midnight Society stories. The Black Lake is full of images and story info that will develop later. This is not just an unimportant mini-series, there are moments in this story that will ripple through all up-coming story arcs.

Have you been a fan of the Loch Ness Monster mythology? Do you have a favorite take on Nessie?

When I was young, I saw the classic Loch Ness episode of In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy. It was eerie, and thoroughly intrigued me. I’ve wanted to create a story around Loch Ness and it’s monster for many years.

Did you ever travel to see Loch Ness in person?

Not yet, though I would love to some day. I was fortunate enough in my research for this story to have friends both in the US and in Europe that have been there, and they were kind enough to share their experiences with me in detail. I also spent a good amount of time researching the location, the general area, and it’s police on the internet.

When working on your book, do you write the script ahead of time or work from an outline?

I work out the plot for each series in a loose outline first, then go to script. I like to be able to see the whole picture first, and fine tune it into focus as I write the actual script. When drawing from my own script, I sometimes find scenes that might not work visually on the page as well as I thought, and re-work it in my layouts. It’s interesting to take a second look at my scripts though artistic eyes.

Does your artistic approach differ on this book?

The Black Lake is shot directly from my pencils, which we did both because my pencils were so finished, and to save money. In the future, I’d prefer to ink it myself, or to draw it digitally, the way I’m working now on The Shield over at Archie’s Dark Circle Comics.

Do you have a favorite moment from the first miniseries?

The splash page of Arcturus’ office in issue one was a breakthrough moment in the story for me, so I’m fond of it. The idea just popped into my head as I was working on page layouts, and wasn’t part of the original scene. It was such a random idea, and I almost laughed it off. Then after some thought, I realized that I wanted to set a tone of wonder, and imagination in this series.

Any outrageous notion was up for serious consideration. I wanted to show the readers something amazing could be hidden in such a mundane place as an office in a sleepy old building. I ended up re-writing the entire headquarters scene, and then it affected and further defined much of Arcturus’ backstory, including the opening scene in issue one. The page also relates the complex nature of Arcturus’ relationship with Matilda in one image, which was a happy accident.

How far into the next Midnight Society story are you?

I’ve written plot for five issues so far. I’ve been on a hiatus for a bit, though, while working on art for The Shield.

And when do you plan to put that out?

I don’t know yet—We’re early in the process, and there’s no finished pitch ready to take to Dark Horse at this point. I expect to be back to work on the plots for the next series in a month or two, and we’ll get the ball rolling from there. I’m missing the world of Midnight Society and can’t wait to get back to crafting it.

Any closing thoughts for potential readers of Midnight Society?

I would really just thank them for trying a new creator-owned property. It’s really difficult to launch an unknown commodity into the ocean of comics that are available these days. I’m very grateful to readers that took a chance picking up the original issues and to new readers that may pick up our trade collection.

It’s a wonderful thing for a creator who has spent many years drawing other people’s characters and stories to get to expand their artistic horizons, and put their own ideas to the test. An artist spends years with ideas rattling around in their head. To be able to take the leap and fully realize those ideas is as fantastic a journey as one’s own characters may ever take.

Photo Credits: Art by Drew Edward Johnson, Colors by Daniele Rudon