Welcome to Mignolaversity, Multiversity Comics’ dedicated column for all things Mike Mignola. Since we’re coming up on the twentieth anniversary of Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy: The Bones of Giants novel, and since it’s getting adapted to comics with Matt Smith on art, I wanted to take an opportunity to look back and the story and explore this new incarnation. As each new issue of “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” comes out, we’ll be chatting with the creators. This time we’re talking to Christopher Golden, focusing on the original prose novel and the challenges of adapting it to comics.
In case you missed it, we also chatted with Christopher Golden and Matt Smith back in August. It’s more of an introductory piece, if you haven’t yet read “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” #1. This new interview, however, assumes you’ve read the issue, so there will be spoilers.
Christopher Golden: This honestly wasn’t a project I ever expected and was entirely driven by Matt Smith’s desire to do this story as a comic book. He mentioned to Mike that he wanted to draw it, Mike said let’s do it, and we did it. But you’re right in that it was a very different process. With the Outerverse stuff it was very open. I selected the bits of Baltimore that made sense to drop into the ongoing story. And I talked to Mike when it came to Joe Golem and we decided it made sense to just straight up adapt the novel. But with Hellboy: The Bones of Giants, it was more of a question of structure. What was the best way to present this to an audience? I’m sure if it had been strictly up to me and Matt Smith, it would have been twice the length so that we could really give him pages and pages to draw Hellboy fighting creatures out of Norse mythology with Mjollnir, but I think we found a good balance. To fit the four issue, eighty page structure, I definitely had to cut out some things—the Bond-movie opening, for instance, and a lot of secondary stuff with Abe and Pernilla—but all of the vital elements are there. I went through the novel and created a through-line to make sure. In the end, I think I only cut one scene that made Matt sad to lose, and that was really the most important part, since this was really all about just having fun.
I feel like a big part of the changes are not just adapting prose to comics, but adapting for entirely different readers. Comics readers are very familiar with Hellboy, even if they’ve never read his stories before, but back in 2001 there wasn’t even a Hellboy film yet, so book readers could’ve easily been discovering him for the first time.
CG: I don’t think the movie’s existence has anything to do with that, really. I think ‘The Bones of Giants’ #1 could be someone’s introduction to Hellboy and you get what you need to know in order to enjoy the story. That should always be the goal, that any one-shot or first issue be accessible for new readers.
A big part of The Bones of Giants’ plot revolves around Thor’s personality bleeding into Hellboy. In prose, this mental conflict emerges as the reader steps inside Hellboy’s headspace. But the comic is much more external. While planning, did you have a few ideas about how you might approach this problem, and what is it about the final solutions that you feel make them work?Continued below
CG: Given the length of the adaptation, it was impossible to really get into the nuances of this in the same way I did in the novel, but the important elements of it carry over—especially since we get a couple of great flashbacks to Ragnarok in this series. We know that Hellboy is connected to the spirit of Thor in a very tangible way and that he’s maybe more aggressive than usual because of it. That was enough—and it allowed me to get Matt Smith to draw Thor fighting the Midgard Serpent, among other things! All through writing this adaptation, I kept thinking “Ooh, yeah. Got to make sure Matt gets to draw this image.” So much fun.
Fun definitely seems to be the guiding principle for the adaptation, and it shows in the final comic. For me, one of the clearest memories I have of the novel was the way Abe and Hellboy interacted—we got to see them as friends on a case together, something we haven’t really seen much in the comics. I was very pleased when I read the comic adaptation and discovered this element hadn’t been trimmed. This isn’t something necessary for the plot per se, but it’s such a crucial element for the tone of the story. You mentioned keeping certain things in there for Matt, but I’m curious, what were the things you kept in there for you?
Yeah, I’d definitely read that. Ratatosk deserves his own story after he met such an unpleasant end in “Hellboy: Darkness Calls.”
I have to ask about Hellboy’s hoodie in the first issue. It was such an interesting detail, because all through most of the issue Hellboy’s just wearing his usual clothes, so we know he isn’t wearing it because of the cold. It’s to cover his horns, to at least appear from a distance or in a crowd like a regular person. The novel made a point of exploring the friction between Hellboy and Professor Aickman and his daughter, something the comic doesn’t have much space for, but with this one visual, we get just enough so that it still has a definite presence. It was such an efficient and elegant storytelling device.
Matt Smith: This is not for me to reply to, and apologies for barging in, but if it’s helpful I remember some of the discussion about the hoodie. The idea was that Hellboy and Abe would be somewhat disguised in those scenes. We talked about hats, I think, and how they would fit over Hellboy’s head and how weird it might look. I think I have sketches somewhere of him wearing a hat.
CG: Matt is 100% right. They were supposed to be somewhat incognito in that scene. Matt experimented with hats but there was just no way to put a hat on Hellboy without making it just look silly. And not silly in a way that would be fun or help tell the story. So we stuck with the hoodie.Continued below
Since I have both of you here, as a fan of the original novel, I just wanted to say I love how much you managed to squeeze into those final pages. There’s the big stuff, of course, like the visual callbacks to ‘King Vold,’ and Ratatosk showing up. But then there are other things like the way Hellboy was sleeping. There was a whole bit in the novel about how uncomfortable Hellboy was in that bed, and Christopher’s prose brought it to such vivid life, it has lived in my head rent free ever since. It’s quite a thing to suddenly see it with my own two eyes, like it had been plucked right out of my brain. I’m looking forward to seeing what else you’ve got ahead for us.
CG: Yeah, that was something I definitely wanted to keep. It was easier to get the little things into the first two issues than it was once things get really crazy with Utgard and the giants. It was a constant weighing of what elements I really liked in the novel, what needed to be in the comic in order to tell the story, and what things I knew Matt would be very sad to leave out. There’s a moment in the first issue when they’re fighting svartalves and you get to see Abe be fairly dashing, and I love that. If I had a chance to write an Abe miniseries it would be set in this same era, and it would be very different from the sort of morose wandering Abe of later years.
I’d love to see that. ’80s Abe is a very different kind of character.
MS: I’m not sure if this is even anything useful to say, but I found myself really enjoying drawing Abe in this series. I’d always liked his character since discovering the series back with “Hellboy: Wake the Devil” (I came in a little late) but never felt any burning desire to draw him. I got pretty attached through this one. I’m with you, Mark. I really want to read Chris’s Abe story.
To ramble on, I also liked trying to get these moments like Hellboy in his tragically undersized bed to read. Sure, I loved drawing elves and Jormungand but one of the things I love about Hellboy in general is that he’s coming up against the creatures of mythology but he lives in our world. Part of the fun is that transition from one of these scenarios to another. It’s totally different from say, Tolkien, where all the characters are immersed in that world and you expect to round a corner and find a talking squirrel or an elf. It’d be a noteworthy day if you didn’t.
And finally, here’s a look at the development of “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” #1, page 19:
We’ll have another installment of Adapting Giants soon. Look for it next month after “Hellboy: The Bones of Giants” #2 comes out on December 1.
Written by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola
Illustrated by Matt Smith
Colored by Chris O’Halloran
Lettered by Clem Robins
Acting as an involuntary vessel for the Norse god Thor, Hellboy and his ragtag team pursue the ancient evil that’s been unleashed on the world. But even the might of Mjollnir and the aid of mythological beings may not be enough to prevent the destruction that is to come.