Welcome to Mignolaversity Debrief, our column where we explore the latest stories from Mike Mignola. This time we’re discussing “Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness” #2 with writer Chris Roberson and artist Christopher Mitten. If you missed last month’s debrief, you can find it here.
“Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness” is your third major project working together; you previously worked on “Rise of the Black Flame” and “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon.” Chris Roberson, you’ve worked with Mitten more than any other artist on the Hellboy Universe books. Could you tell us how your collaborations have evolved? How did Christopher Mitten come aboard ‘The Reign of Darkness?’
Chris Roberson: You know, it hadn’t occurred to me before now that I’ve worked with Christopher more than any other artist on these books, but you’re absolutely right! He was the first and only artist that we had in mind for “Rise of the Black Flame” when Mignola and I first started discussing that story, and like everything else that we’ve done together it was written with him in mind, playing to his strengths as much as possible. When we first started talking about the story that became ‘The Reign of Darkness,’ we already had Christopher in mind to draw it. I always know that Christopher is going to be able to capture the feeling of different historical eras and settings, and his layout and staging choices are always fantastic.
Christopher Mitten: I’m not sure I knew that, either, but, yeah… At the end of this series, Chris and I will have done fifteen issues and one short story together. I truly enjoy working with him; he’s just a natural and confident storyteller, so to be able to get in there with him, wander around in these worlds for a bit, is always a lot of fun for me.
Although, right before each of our arcs, be it “Rise of the Black Flame” or “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon” or, now, “Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness,” I’m kind of terrified by the setting, wondering if I’m going to be able to make it work or not. But that’s the challenge and that’s the fun. As soon as I start drawing, though, all the nerves fall away. I relax and begin finding all these wonderful little period details and designs to latch onto and really start having a great time, of zeroing in and getting my feel for the place. And always—always!—by the time the last issue is finished I’m sad I have to let it all go, that my time in this place with these characters has ended.
Again, a testament to Chris and how well he tells these tales.
Of course, I couldn’t help but notice Monk’s Head on the opening page, the tavern where the Silver Lantern Club will one day set up shop. This is a strange element of this series—we know where Sir Edward Grey eventually ends up, and we know some key points along the way. It must be fun pulling these little pieces Mignola’s shown us only glimpses of and bringing them to life.
Chris R.: Why yes, that location does look familiar, doesn’t it…? But as I’ve mentioned before, when I first started working on “Witchfinder” we worked up a big overarching timeline about the key phases of Sir Edward’s career, and how we would be exploring each of them in each of the miniseries. And where things are heading is territory that we’ve been talking about exploring from the very beginning.
And at last Sarah Jewell meets Sir Edward Grey! What a wonderful moment this was. Could you tell us how this scene took shape? When you first imagined Sarah and Edward meeting, what was that scene like? And what elements survived into this final version?Continued below
Chris R.: When Mignola and I first talked about the character who would ultimately become Sarah Jewell, there was a particular scene that we both landed on that crystallized both her personality and her relationship with Sir Edward in my head. But ironically this is NOT that moment, as we ended up bringing her onstage a little earlier than we’d originally planned, in large part because I love the character and got impatient about working her into the story. That scene we originally discussed will be in another story in the not too distant future, but ultimately I decided that it wouldn’t be the best way to introduce the character, anyway. And it made more sense to introduce Sarah more as a rival investigator at the outset, with a little bit of friction and conflict between them, and allow that relationship to develop over time.
Christopher Mitten, you got to establish Grey and Jewell’s relationship for readers in “Rise of the Black Flame” and ‘The Great Blizzard.’ Was there anything in particular you tried to focus on in their first meeting here?
Christopher M.: I love Sarah. Always have. Even before I drew her, when I was reading Chris’s script for the first issue of “Rise of the Black Flame” and she pops up in the hotel, she just took the spotlight in such an immediate way I knew I was going to enjoy my time with her. She arrived ready for the spotlight and with stories to tell. There’s a lot of deep and genuine affection for Sarah from the whole creative team, but how could there not be? When I found out she was going to be a part of this story, I couldn’t have been happier.
I don’t think I consciously approached this first meeting with anything particular in mind. These two, Edward and Sarah, are so clearly drawn in their personalities, it was really just enough to let it play out naturally. I simply had to get out of my own way and not overthink it.
I appreciated how Sarah Jewell called into question the motives of Sir Edward and his colleagues… not something Ed immediately takes on board, but we get to see that some of her words sunk in and have taken root in his mind. I’m eager to see what they grow into. There’s a nice moment Mitten captured where we can see a glimpse of actual self reflection from Sir Edward.
Chris R.: Yeah, I definitely wanted to start with Sir Edward a little cocky and extremely confident that he is right about everything at the outset, and then introduce Sarah to point out that maybe he doesn’t have all of the answers, after all. And a lot of that criticism grew out of the research I did into the reactions to the Ripper murders at the time, when well-respected members of society suggested things like, since someone was killing prostitutes then the obvious solution was simply to arrest all of the prostitutes, problem solved. Beyond the sensationalist reportage of the murder victims and their grisly remains, there often wasn’t a lot of concern expressed over the well-being of other potential victims.
Christopher M.: It’s a nice beat. It’s quiet. The weight of the situation, the uncertainty of it… I love these moments, these asides. Again, it’s just a matter of Chris’s intuitive writing, me staying out of my head, and letting the acting come naturally.
Sir Edward also takes another step toward his future as a warlock, when he uses the supernatural to keep muggers at bay. It’s not the first time he’s used this sort of thing to get out of a tough spot, but what surprised me here was the absence of self loathing either before or after. It is a talisman from a Saint and not a witch, but even still, I can’t help but notice how much more comfortable he’s become with crossing this line.
Chris R.: Sir Edward’s evolving relationship to the occult and supernatural was definitely something that we’ve been playing around the edges of for a while now. He’d used the Lipu dagger in “Abe Sapien: The Drowning,” and Kim Newman and Maura McHugh had given him that althane in ‘The Mysteries of Unland,’ so at the outset I knew that this was an aspect of the character that would change over time. But since a couple of years had passed since the end of ‘The Gates of Heaven’ where we show him acquiring the Lipu dagger for the first time, I thought this was a good opportunity to show that Sir Edward’s attitudes have continued to shift in the interim.Continued below
Plus Christopher Mitten did an excellent job with those horrific visions. I assume you had fun designing these?
Christopher M.: Absolutely! Stuff like this is basically dead-center of my wheelhouse. The weirder and more fantastic, the better. It’s always a treat to cut loose and draw critters and monsters otherworldly whatnots. And Michelle Madsen, as she always does, made it all look great.
Check back with us next month for more Mignolaversity Debriefs on “Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness” #3, “Frankenstein Undone” #1, and the 2019 “Hellboy Winter Special.” You can find Chris Roberson on Twitter (except when he’s avoiding spoilers for a new book, movie, or TV show), and you can find Christopher Mitten on Twitter, though I recommend Instagram if you want to see more of his art.