Welcome to Mignolaversity, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated column for all things Mike Mignola. Since it’s December, we’re doing a series of retrospective interviews to say goodbye to 2022. And to kick it off, we’re looking back even further, to 2021. (What can I say? I was feeling extra nostalgic.) We’re discussing “Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens” with writer Christopher Golden and artist Bridgit Connell, as well as the “Tales from the Outerverse” short stories. So make sure you’re up to date because there will be many spoilers ahead. And if you stick around to the end, we might also be talking about something coming in 2023. . .
It’s been a while since we’ve visited the Outerverse, but 2021 was a huge year with both “Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens” and “Tales from the Outerverse” coming out, at times even in the same month. ‘The Witch Queens’ in particular was a huge book, especially as it expanded the cast of characters. Christopher, it shows a lot of faith in Bridgit that you trusted her with all this. And Bridgit, it must’ve been such a monumental task to reintroduce fan favourites, introduce new characters, and flesh out a whole era.
The old characters were very fun to design, both how I personally interpret the previous artists’ style and then jumping them a bit through time. And the new characters—oh my goodness they’re fun. I’m so so excited as we jump into newer stories with Sofia’s crew. A lot of exploring the interpersonal relationships and seeing their strengths and weaknesses as a team. Taking on such a big battle in the first arc was a challenge and cool to see everything play out in such an epic way, but these adventures coming up are also a bit more intimate, which I love.
Christopher Golden: Honestly, in retrospect, we probably should have started with a quieter story and built up to ‘The Witch Queens’—not because of Bridgit’s skills (I had total faith in her ability to handle it all), but because it was such a huge story. But the minute I sat down to think about what a Lady Baltimore story would be like, it just felt natural not to give it a slow build. Baltimore was probably the only person in her life who never underestimated her, and of course by the time this story started, she has already gathered around her a team of allies who know her worth and her ability.
Mike and I had established that the world of “Baltimore” and the world of “Joe Golem” were the same world—the threads were there for those who were paying attention—but “Lady Baltimore” was the book in which the Outerverse truly came together. We wanted a period where all of these stories and characters could play out in the same place at the same time. There were new characters and existing characters, but also new versions of existing characters (like Crina Cojacaru). Simultaneously, Peter Bergting was working on the three other Outerverse titles that combined as “Tales from the Outerverse,” and we could do the “quieter,” more intimate stories there. Though I do think we managed to get some great character stuff into “Lady Baltimore,” too.
That you certainly did. The highlight for me was the relationship between Sofia and Imogen. Considering the dark place she was in at the end of “Baltimore: The Red Kingdom,” it was satisfying to see that she’s letting herself live, not just exist. And it was a powerful way to separate Sofia from Baltimore. He was fighting against evil, and Sofia is too, but she’s also fighting for something.Continued below
Christopher: Baltimore was fighting evil out of a combination of vengeance and obligation, with the hope that when it was over, he would die. He felt as though he had nothing to live for. Sofia wants to live, and though she has gathered people around her in the same way Baltimore did, they are more than comrades to her. They are her people, her family. Falling in love with Imogen surprised her and continues to surprise her, but it makes her feel alive, and that’s what she is fighting for—that feeling, not only for herself, but for all of us to have that feeling.
Looking at the sketchbook from the hardcover when it came out earlier this year, it was fascinating to see how both of you approached costuming, trying to be practical in terms of function, but also to visually show world building, to demonstrate character, and even breaking down a costume’s evolution so that it reflects a character arc. It really hits home home much work goes into a comic before even the first panel is drawn.
Bridgit: I appreciate that! Honestly I was a little embarrassed how much of my babbling they kept in the back of the book with my sketches! I get so excited and included way more ideas or explanations than people should even care about, but I’m glad it was fascinating, haha! But honestly, it was only because I was having so much fun getting a chance to dive into the world, and I’m still so grateful to be playing in the sandbox. I had a ton of fun designing the covens of witches—I like to be able to create root systems for things we see in the future, and the lore is something that can be added to.
And a character that gets special treatment in regards to fashion and environment is Imogen. Imogen is a refuge for Sofia, emotionally and magically, so she tends to be surrounded by light or random flowers in an otherwise grayish world.
Christopher: Bridgit contributed enormously to the look of the witches and to my thought process about them. I had a hierarchy in place and concepts about Ur-witches and their offspring and then more ordinary witchcraft practitioners, but Bridgit came in with sketches of a variety of types of witches in that middle part of the hierarchy, witches who had specialized in certain types of magic the way a doctor might specialize, and what they might look like as a result. With Imogen in particular, it was such fun for me to see where she wanted to take it.
My inspiration for Imogen was the Golden Age Hollywood actress Dorothy Dandridge, and that information sent Bridgit off into a great direction of finding exactly the right clothes for Imogen. So while so much goes into the plot and choreography and characters in these stories, you’re absolutely right to say that there is also a ton of thought being put into design and mythology building and who the characters are, often in ways that the reader will never know, but that we know.
Alongside the Ur-witches, ‘The Witch Queens’ brought back some old villains, Madame Blavatsky and Adolf Hitler. I suppose it was too much to hope Hilter was done for in “Baltimore: The Curse Bells” (set in 1916) especially after Nazis started showing up in “Joe Golem: The Outer Dark” (in 1967). In this case, both characters are real people, but this is a heavily fictionalized version of them in an alternate history. How do you approach writing and drawing characters like this, especially when we’re still dealing with Nazi ideology today?
Christopher: As focused as I am in my real life on speaking against fascism in all its forms, I gave little to no thought to how presenting the Nazis in our fictional world might echo our 21st century lives. In this alternate reality, Hitler died back during the events of “Baltimore: The Curse Bells,” but he was a powerful occultist and magician. What we see in “Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens” is that he still endures as an evil spirit, a ghost whose magic gives him some semblance of tangibility and a lingering presence in the world. While he was not there physically to rise to power in Germany and whip up the circumstances that led to the Nazis rise to power and the creation of the Third Reich, and of course the Second World War, it’s likely he influenced those whose actions led to similar events occurring in this world. The Hitler we present here is an extrapolation from the one we did in “Baltimore,” and the approach to that evil fucker was to use as much real, biographical information as we could for his backstory, to rely on his real life interest in the occult and weave our story through that. We took the same approach to Blavatsky, to take her real life (or as real as we could find, given what an enigmatic figure she was) and introduce other events that sent her off on the path to becoming the character we have now.
Bridgit: In regards to drawing them, the panels feel like they have a bit more of a bite due to their relevance. I wish these moments could be more nostalgic than they are.
Madame Blavatsky and Hitler came re-designed thanks to some stellar work by Ben, so I tried not to stray too far from that. Drawing Blavatsky all sopping with blood and blubbery was really fun, I hope there is more of that form of her in the future. Villains at their core being selfish creatures, it was fun drawing them bickering amongst each other, such as the snarky power plays between her and Tanith.
And of all the things I’ve had to draw, monsters, floating giant eyeballs. . . I think working late at night staring at reference photos of Hitler and his dead eyes was the most haunting. Glad I didn’t have to do much of that. . . I’m grateful for Ben’s warlock redesign of Hitler, a bit more departed from the real man, and I used this reference the most.
Thankfully, we also saw the return of some heroes: Crina Cojacaru, Josef the Golem / Joe Golem, and even Lord Henry Baltimore himself. And Crina and Josef even got their own “Tales from the Outerverse” stories. In the case of Crina, what we’d seen of her in “Joe Golem: Occult Detective” was really an origin of sorts, so seeing more of her was really like seeing her fully for the first time, discovering the character in her entirety.
Bridgit: I really hope we see more of Crina. That armor. . . ! So fun to draw a sort of armored saint on the battlefield. . . in the 1940s!
Christopher: We do have plans to see her again. I love the way we introduced her in “Joe Golem: Occult Detective,” in those flashbacks to her friendship with Josef the Golem when she was a child. In my mind it was sort of like the classic meeting of the Frankenstein monster and the little girl that he drowns, but with a very different outcome. The Golem inspired her. A lot of thought went into the creation of Cojacaru.
Aside from the current stories Bridgit and I are doing with “Lady Baltimore,” the Outerverse is having a quiet period, certainly as compared to last year. The reason for that is a combination of how busy we’ve all been. Peter Bergting is now drawing “Frankenstein: New World” for the Hellboy Universe, and he’s also going to be doing something else not yet announced. And Bridgit has been busy in a different way. The whole Outerverse team made a conscious decision to slow the whole thing down for a while. Bridgit and her husband Justin welcomed baby Clover into the world and though we do have big plans for the future, we wanted to make sure Bridgit never felt pressured to work during the new mom era, which is always both so joyful and so challenging. Fortunately for me, it coincided with an incredibly busy period on other projects, so it worked out for everyone. But our priority was to make sure Bridgit knew the job wasn’t going anywhere. We’re just getting going on plans for the next era.Continued below
It’s fantastic to hear about the team being so supportive like that.
Regarding Josef, it was a surprise to find him awake in 1938. In part, it’s exciting―we get to see him with Crina again―but it’s also sad because we know he’ll eventually go back to sleep, and what becomes of him at the end of “Joe Golem: Occult Detective.” What’s it like exploring a character in such a non-linear fashion?
Christopher: Don’t be sad for Josef. He becomes himself again at the end of “Joe Golem: Occult Detective,” and there’s no telling what will happen down the line. We’ve got several periods in which he was active and we could tell stories in any of them. There’s his original incarnation, which lasted a very long time. Then there’s his WW2 era, and there’s the post-1975 era, which has not been explored at all. While writing the novel, it was necessary to imagine a lot of his past, and then in doing the original comics run, so much more of it came to light when crafting the flashback sequences. The more of that we did, the more interesting he became, but honestly it was in writing the scenes with Crina in the past that really enlightened us about what kind of character the original Josef could be.
The return of Lord Baltimore is huge. All through his own series, he felt cursed to chase down Haigus and then the Red King. He did it so that he could end his anguish and finally die, which was how “Baltimore” ended. But that’s not the Lord Baltimore that’s come back. This is a man that’s gained purpose in death. His deathlessness is no longer a curse, and he returns into the fold willingly.
In life, he was a decent man, a gentleman with little knowledge of how dark the world could be. After the events on the battlefield that caused him to lose his leg, and his encounter with Haigus, and then the murder of his family, including his wife Elowen, whom he loved beyond reason, he became in essence a walking dead man. He felt as if he had already died, that he was damned. When he finally did physically die, that felt like his reward for the battle he’d waged on behalf of humanity. A heavenly rest. Throughout all the period where he seemed a walking dead man, the only person who really got through to the man he had once been was Sofia. She became his confidante, with whom he could feel as if he still had a bit of his humanity. He ended up marrying her out of a platonic love, still desiring death but wanting to give her security after he died, so he made sure she would become Lady Baltimore and inherit all that came with that. I would say it’s not really correct to say he’s “returned to the fold.” In the afterlife, he kept an eye on Sofia, and though he’s earned his rest, he wants to help her. He’s beyond harm now, as far as he knows, but he will still intervene at times when he feels it must be done.
The cast grew enormously with “Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens.” We got to slow down a bit and spend time with Imogen in ‘Imogen of the Wyrding Way,’ but knowing the Outerverse as I do and the way it tends to return to supporting characters and flesh them out, I can’t help but wonder if we might get to explore Josephine and Einar further in the future. It’s something that’s kind of built into the foundations of the Outerverse, going all the way back to the original Baltimore novel where we had chapters exploring encounters with the supernatural from the point of view of Childress, Aischros, and Dr. Rose. These side stories that flesh out characters often end up being my favorites.Continued below
Christopher: You will definitely see Einar and Josephine again, although Josephine much more. She gets a bit of a showcase coming up. “Lady Baltimore” story will include some of the supporting cast, but not all of them the way we did in ‘The Witch Queens.’ And it’s certainly my hope that we will continue to spotlight members of the cast in the future.
Bridgit: Just hang in there! Haha!! I don’t know how much I can say, but there is a really beautiful story element intertwined in a story Chris and I are working on at the moment, all about a character or two on Sofia’s crew. The thing I love about these next tales is that they are much more intimate with these characters. Also, on working with Chris, it truly is amazing how he leads the story down different paths. For this one story, he asked me what I wanted to draw. I gave him one word. Then he wrote the script immediately, incorporating a truly poetic, heart-wrenching character arc in another kickass adventure. It really is astounding how quickly his mind creates the puzzle pieces and puts them together. I’m learning so much from him and Mike.
Well, let’s talk about the first of these smaller character-focused stories you’ll be tackling next year, beginning this March with a one-shot, “Lady Baltimore: The Dream of Ikelos.”
Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Illustrated by Bridgit Connell
Colored by Michelle Madsen
Lettered by Clem Robins
On sale March 29, 2023
Full color, 32 pages
Lady Sofia Baltimore, accompanied by an array of formidable companions, continues her war against the Nazis in an occult alternate Outerverse. High in the frozen Italian alps, a mercenary sorcerer has revealed a dangerous magical artifact. German forces will use it to obliterate Allied forces who stand against them. . . unless Sofia and Imogen can take possession of it first.
Horror genius writing team Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden reunite, with stellar art by Bridgit Connell and colors by Michelle Madsen in a brand-new one-shot story!
I have to say, it’s great to see Imogen and Sofia together and I’m looking forward to exploring their relationship further.
Bridgit: This story is all about Sofia and Imogen. Their feelings, how they work together, their strengths, their weaknesses, the present, the past, how much they freaking hate Nazis. Also, just. . . a hella ton of rats. I can say that, right? A LOT of rats.
Christopher: The Sofia and Imogen love story is probably my favorite thing about this series. It came organically while we were making plans for the original “Lady Baltimore” launch and creating these other characters. Bridgit loves them, too. The one page of artwork that I’ve bought from this series so far is the page where we see them kiss for the first time. I wanted it very quiet and very real and human, and Bridgit did that beautifully. The Dream of Ikelos is inspired in many ways by my love of the film Where Eagles Dare, with Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton. Anyone who’s seen that film and reads this comic will recognize it right away. It’s a classic WW2 film and just felt right. The story, of course, is completely different. It’s about stopping a cynical occultist from letting the Nazis have something that could be a devastating weapon in this magical war. I won’t say more than that, except that Bridgit’s made the whole thing gorgeous, of course.
It’s also great to see Abigail Larson back for more covers. Her run on ‘The Witch Queens’ was spectacular, especially issue #3. What’s the team’s process like with covers?
Christopher: I’m not involved in that process at all, except to comment when Katii O’Brien sends Abigail’s sketches in the planning stages. But yes, her work has been so stunning for these comics and I’m so glad she’s sticking with us.
Bridgit: I loved that issue #3 cover!!! She is so damn good. I am glad she’s sticking with us, I can’t wait to see what she does for the stories to come, too. So wickedly elegant and badass at the same time.Continued below
I think she gets to see enough of the story to pull elements from for these covers. I know she had a beautiful location in mind for this cover and used that since it’s similar to the one in the story, and she pulled Imogen’s big fluffy coat and Sofia’s look from the issue. And. . . some of those rats, too.
I hope you enjoyed this interview. We’ve still got four more retrospectives, so join us again tomorrow.