Last month we had a chat with Laurence Campbell about his cover work for the “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth” omnibus editions. We actually discussed a great deal more, but we couldn’t share it because we talked quite a bit about “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” and its big reveal. Thankfully, the trade paperback collection of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know—Messiah” came out today, so we don’t need to worry about spoilers anymore. If you haven’t read “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know—Messiah” yet, you should get on that before reading this interview.
In this piece, Campbell takes us on a tour of his work on ‘Messiah.’ We’re also joined by Sebastián Fiumara, who’s working on the second arc of “The Devil You Know,” to discuss the future of the series.
Laurence, you joined “B.P.R.D.” around the middle of the “Hell on Earth” cycle as a guest artist for the ‘Wasteland’ arc. By the time “Hell on Earth” ended, you’d shouldered the huge ten-issue finale, drawing some of the series’ most iconic moments. You’ve even drawn the covers for the “Hell on Earth” omnibuses. My point is, your impact on the “Hell on Earth” era has been seismic.
Laurence: Looking back I guess you can say I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a fair bit of “Hell on Earth.” To be honest though, when I was working on ‘Wasteland,’ I just focused on that job in hand, trying my best to understand the characters, getting to know how they feel and how they move and act. It was while I was drawing that storyline I was offered “Sledgehammer: Lightning War” and it really developed from there. Scott was always there giving me fair warning what was next and frankly I couldn’t be happier.
When drawing the ten-issue finale of “Hell on Earth,” I knew some of the things that would happen but not all, so reading those scripts for the first time was an eye opener to say at least.
I can only imagine. Of course, “The Devil You Know” cycle is an entirely new era for “B.P.R.D.,” taking the series in a whole new direction. Unlike with “Hell on Earth” you aren’t joining in the middle; you’re right here at the beginning. As an artist, how did you approach defining this new era? How did you express the similarities and differences between “The Devil You Know” and the previous cycles, “Hell on Earth” and “Plague of Frogs”?
Laurence: I was offered the final cycle while still drawing the ten-issue finale of “Hell on Earth”—I’m guessing this must be around two–two and half years ago now. I spoke with Scott over the phone and he gave me the plot points of the final cycle. I came away with my mind blown and super excited. Of course, I’ve had to keep it to my myself for that amount of time which was a blessing and a curse.
I would say the biggest difference working on “The Devil You Know” is collaborating with Scott Allie instead of John Arcudi. This came as a big surprise to me, but I understand and respect why John felt it was time to go. Scott is perfect to take over “B.P.R.D.” He knows the world inside out and can connect all the threads from “Abe Sapien” which, of course, he wrote.
The thing which excites me the most with “The Devil You Know” is that “B.P.R.D.” has always been planned to be told over three cycles, so things will be tied up and we are now heading towards the finale.
As we’re getting towards the end, a lot of separate story threads are starting to pull together. What’s it been like for you to unify all these separate pieces like bringing in Abe from the “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible” cycle, Ashley Strode, who’s largely existed in stand-alone “B.P.R.D.” arcs, and the Osiris Club who we’ve only really seen in “Hellboy”? Especially in terms of your visuals, you seem to slightly shift your style when referencing specific stories, to conjure up what another artist did, but you don’t do so in a way that’s direct mimicry.Continued below
Laurence: With characters like Ashley Strode it’s pretty simple—she’s a well-designed character so her haircut, freckles, outfit, and flaming sword are all icons to recognize her by. So as long as you draw some or all of those any drawing style will do.
The Osiris Club as you mentioned has mainly been within “Hellboy.” Here the setting and mood is important, certain characters and clothing also play a role. I feel as long as you respect these you can draw in your own style. I would say it’s a balance between respecting what has been done in the past, making sure the reader picks up the cues, and making sure you draw in your own style rather than just trying to draw in a weaker version of someone else’s style.
There are a number of times in “B.P.R.D.” I’ve been asked to reflect certain scenes as either flashbacks or to give a feel of a certain moment which has happened before. I like this, there’s a circular feel to the story as a whole. It makes the whole three cycles connect.
Part of making those three cycles connect is getting the old gang back together again. After all, at the end of “Hell on Earth,” there weren’t many left standing. In ‘Messiah’ you brought Abe back to the pages of “B.P.R.D.” after he’d been away for over seventy issues. His reunion with Liz is a big deal, and I thought it was beautifully handled. I love that we got to spend an entire issue with those two characters just talking to each other. Abe and Liz have always had a brother and sister sort of relationship, and it’s heartening to see that still there. We get to see Liz more open than she’s been since the beginning of the “Plague of Frogs” cycle. Could you tell us about the development of this issue? Was there anything in particular you focused on in the dynamic between Liz and Abe? And did you find yourself looking back at a lot of older issues to prepare for it?
Laurence: Yes, it was great to see the old gang back together again. It felt good drawing them all. The scene you mention where Liz and Abe talk in the evening on the carrier is one of my favorite moments of ‘Messiah.’ I think this is where pretty much all the credit goes to Scott. As I mentioned before he really knows his stuff when it comes to Abe and Liz. A lot has happened since Abe went AWOL, so they both had a lot to catch up on. There was also some tension which had to be addressed and worked out. There’s a panel of two coffee cups one hot the other cold as Abe walks off. I love that image—again, straight from Scott’s script. I also enjoyed the reflections shots as they look out on the world.
Body language was very important for this issue as most of the time it’s just them talking. Again, this was mentioned in the script and I just acted it out in my head.
As for reference, I’m always looking back looking at old issues. One of the things I like is that moments in the past matter and can be brought up in the future.
And more and more that seems to be the case. After all, the villains for this piece are a demon that decided to stay on Earth back in 1709 and a pair of Nazis left over from World War II. They spent much of their time traveling in ‘Messiah,’ but in the finale issue there was a scene in New York with hordes of people waiting for them, cheering their arrival, even reaching out and touching them as if to expect a blessing of some sort. We’re talking about a demon and a pair of Nazis here. This was a skin-crawlingly creepy sequence and you drew the hell out of it.
Laurence: The scene you’re talking about is towards the end of ‘Messiah.’ It’s almost the point when Varvara shows her hand. She builds up a following during the book; they see her as a savior in some way. I remember in the script, Scott stating people are excited, joyous, almost going crazy upon seeing Varvara. With Von Klempt and Kroenen, I sense they go where the power is. When they get treated like heroes and are flocked by people, yeah, that’s pretty screwed up. In drawing the scene, I was frankly thinking about the cult of the celebrity and extremism.Continued below
As you can see from the thumbnails, the pages are pretty much worked out at this rough stage. I send these layouts to Katii and Scott where they both give me their thoughts. Scott usually gives me really helpful viewpoints at this stage.
I then draw up the pencil version of the pages. These are looser than I would do if I wasn’t inking myself. Again these are sent to Katii and Scott before I finally ink the pages. With Page 15, panels 2–4 I tried to reflect some sort of symmetry with the imagery of Varvara now and as the demon form.
Before we discuss that final page, there was another scene I wanted to address. The opening scene of #5 with Kate and Bruno in the graveyard, though hardly essential to the plot, was critical to the tone of this piece, and a reminder that death has a permanent effect in the Hellboy Universe, even if the dead don’t always stay dead. There’s also that element of having to visualize the romantic notion Kate has of graveyards. How did you approach this particular challenge? What were your goals in bringing this scene to life?
Laurence: When I read the script for issue #5, the opening scene really stood out to me. Scott’s done a great job here.
I love the way it first throws you, seeing Kate in the first panel before turning the page and everything comes crashing down. To be honest, the whole scene came pretty much straight away. The only thing which was a little tricky was Kate’s smile. I didn’t want her to be overly happy as they are in a graveyard, but at the same time I wanted her to be thoughtful, happy, and in love. Funny, every time I draw Kate I have a sense of calm and that everything will be all right. The change of season and Dave’s coloring all helped with the scene as well.
I read that scene as a promise. While death isn’t always permanent in the Hellboy Universe, it’s never meaningless. Something is always lost that can’t come back. After all, the comic ends with Hellboy on the last page, and comic readers are so used to seeing heroes die and come back again, it’s easy to be cynical or even numb to it. Yes, Hellboy’s back, but that doesn’t mean the ethos that’s driven the series all these years has been thrown out. This scene has nothing to do with plot of the rest of the issue, but the mood of it hangs over everything that follows.
Laurence: I want to be careful about giving too much away, but with Hellboy back it certainly doesn’t mean that everything will be OK. People have been lost and changed since Hellboy has been gone. To me Hellboy is not a typical superhero, although there is certainly a sense of mythology, history and destiny to his character.
So, let’s talk about Hellboy coming back. I gotta ask, how long have you known about this? How did that discussion play out?
Laurence: I got a phone call from Scott about 3 years ago, asking if I’d be interested in continuing to draw “B.P.R.D.” Then over the phone Scott outlined the whole plan of bringing Hellboy back and the conclusion of “B.P.R.D.” I remember putting the phone down and then coming downstairs to eat my dinner with the family, everything was the same but entirely different! The only way I can describe my emotional state visually is like when Doctor Who changes from one Doctor into the next and you get a blast of energy out of every extremity. I’ve had to keep this secret to myself for a long while, which has been tough but important as it was vital it was a complete surprise.
So, how’d it feel to finally put that moment to the page and have it out there now?Continued below
Laurence: Although I knew I would be drawing the page of Hellboy’s return I was focused on drawing the rest of the issue until I actually had to draw the page. I’ve not drawn Hellboy too many times before and he’s a tricky character to get right, so with this in mind it was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I loved that the issue came out and people were totally surprised and the online community didn’t spoil it for readers. That’s a really tricky thing to do these days. Feels good to say Hellboy is back and in the B.P.R.D.
These big story cycles are always a bit of a relay marathon. Laurence, you started “The Devil You Know,” but for the next arc the baton passed to Sebastián Fiumara. Sebastián, this is your first time working on “B.P.R.D.,” but you’ve already had quite a bit of experience in the Hellboy Universe having previously worked on “Lobster Johnson” and on the “Dark and Terrible” cycle of “Abe Sapien.” What’s it like to step onto “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know”? What sets it apart from your “Abe Sapien” work?
Sebastián Fiumara: Well, first of all, “Abe Sapien” was a solo book. Even if there were stories like ‘A Darkness So Great’ that included various lead characters, the supporting cast was usually regular people. Abe took most of the focus all the time; it was his story. And as it was such a long run, I had the chance to study and develop Abe throughout the issues, getting to know him better, finding out how to draw him, etc.
“B.P.R.D.,” being a team book, has a big cast with all major characters. The story is about all of them together. So this time it is a much faster process; there is not much room for getting to know any one character in particular because there are too many. And all deserve the same focus. It’s quite a challenge, really.
The other big difference is now I’m following Laurence’s lead. Back in “Abe Sapien” I was sharing the book with my brother, Max. We also shared the studio so we were together all the time talking about every aspect of the book, designing characters, establishing locations, etc… Every decision was made between the two of us. On “B.P.R.D.” I had the opportunity to design some stuff for the story, but mostly I just have to follow what Laurence has been doing for the last couple of years. I’m a huge fan of his work and now I can take a closer look at what he does. It’s great to see his process.
Laurence: That’s very kind, Seba. Thank you. I couldn’t be happier working with you on “B.P.R.D.” I loved what you did with “Abe Sapien.” One thing I would say with this new arc is that I get to draw Abe, which is something I’ve not done before, so I’ve also been looking closer at what you have done. I found it really interesting how Abe developed over the time in his own book.
Sebastián: Yes, it was really good Max and I had all that time to develop him. And now it’s awesome to see your take on Abe too. What I think is great about working in the same book with another artist is that I can get new ideas on how to approach things. Every time I saw Max drawing a character I’d designed first, it’d help to wake up new ideas in my head, see things that I didn’t see before, and explore new ones to add to the concept. Now seeing you drawing Abe or the B.P.R.D. helicarrier or any other character, it’s the same. Differents points of view coming together makes the process a lot more interesting for me.
Sebastián, you obviously worked very closely with Max on “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible” since you were sharing a studio. Is that sort of close collaboration something you’re continuing as you work with Laurence? Do the two of you have discussions about characters, designs, and plot developments, or do you primarily look at each other’s finished pages and go from there?Continued below
Sebastián: Yes, it’s more like we see each other’s work this time. We don’t have the luxury of sharing the studio! Also, it is Laurence’s book. He has been shaping this world for a very long time now. Every character is already established, so I adapt to what he’s built. There are cases like Agent Stazz Hansen, for example—Scott and I introduced her in Abe Sapien a couple of years ago, but now on “B.P.R.D.” she has evolved. So I update her look to match with her more mature design.
Another case: there is a particular setting for the story that will be seen first in my arc, so I had to design it. I didn’t want to step in Laurence’s way of doing things, so I was very careful sketching this place. I sent him my notes to see if he could work from there or if he would want to add or change anything. But in general, I just try to play with this world the way he plays with it to keep the feeling of the book. I think our styles complement each other well enough to make this possible.
Laurence: I’ve been lucky enough to see the pages Seba has been sending in and they’re great. I think it’s fair to say we bounce off each other, which is exciting.
The second arc of “B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” begins next month, and will continue monthly with no further breaks between arcs.
“B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know” #6
Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Illustrated by Sebastián Fiumara
Color by Dave Stewart
On sale May 9
Hellboy is back on Earth, and the B.P.R.D. struggles to understand his unwillingness to hunt the demon threatening to turn the earth into a literal Hell.