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” #4 with writer Chris Roberson, artist Christopher Mitten, and colorist Michelle Madsen. If you missed our previous debriefs, here are links to #1, #2, and #3.
“Witchfinder: The Reign of Darkness,” unlike the other “Witchfinder” arcs, is a rather drawn out affair. The other arcs have largely wrapped up in a matter of days (‘City of the Dead’ was weeks), but this mystery has kept Sir Edward busy for months. I have to point out how much I liked the time jump at the beginning of this issue, because the art really made me feel the passage of time—we can see it written all over Sir Edward’s face. The poor guy looks exhausted by the end of January.
Chris Roberson: We have Mitten to thank for that! In early drafts of the script there were more signposts in the text about how much time was passing, but in the end I thought it was better to let the art convey the lion’s share of that. So there were a lot of references in the panel descriptions to Sir Edward looking “increasingly haggard” and stuff like that, which Christopher pulled off beautifully!
Christopher Mitten: It’s basically just the progression of how I look as the day goes on and the coffee stops working its particular brand of sorcery.
Pages like this, panels like these, are so fun; Chris writes these beats beautifully which, in turn, makes my job a breeze. Even in thumbnails, these scenes tend to crystalize for me pretty quickly, so by the time I get to pencils and inks it’s already a fairly lived-in sequence; I can just kind of relax and draw.
Michelle, there’s this interesting thing going on with the colors with Proserpine Home where it has to function as a safe place for women to better themselves… but not really. So the colors very bright and seemingly welcoming, but at the same time the walls are this sickly green. There’s a line in this issue when Mrs. Hibbet says, “…Off to your rooms and safely tucked in beds, poppets,” and the line is so sickly sweet, treating these grown women like children, and I feel like you took the feeling of that dialogue and wrote it on the walls in color.
She even does moments where she shifts the color on the wall, becoming more intense leading up to the moment when Mrs. Hibbet commands the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra to murder innocent women in their beds.
Michelle Madsen: My thought was Grey’s home is colored very neutral and masculine, so I wanted the Proserpine Home to contrast that palette, but still stay somewhat historically accurate. But yes, I twisted the greens a bit so it didn’t feel too welcoming.
CR: What’s really interesting about that to me is that in Victorian England green wallpaper WAS “sickly,” literally. The pigment used to create the most popular shade of green used in Victorian homes contained arsenic, which caused no end of household poisoning. By the time of this story the danger was fairly well known and the shade had largely fallen out of favor, if I recall correctly, but it would definitely have had unhealthy associations for the women living there!
CM: Michelle’s work is always so wonderful, and has been throughout the series, but it’s all those little things that, when I see the pages for the first time—the patterns here, the snowfall in the alley fight in issue #3, the way she handles the gas lamps and candlelight, to name a few examples off the top of my head—just make me smile big, goofy smiles.
We worked together for years on “Criminal Macabre” with Steve Niles, and there’s something really comforting about knowing who’ll be handling the color art; I can loosen up a bit—I know my work is in the hands of someone I trust and respect, but then I can also kind of lean into that, to make sure there’s plenty of room for her to dig in and play. The best work always comes from when everybody’s enjoying themselves and has some latitude to do what they do, to put their personal stamp on it.Continued below
MM: I really do enjoy myself on these books, and working with Chris Mitten is always a treat for me. I could work on “Witchfiner” forever and be a very happy colorist!
CR: We talked about it extensively when we were coming up with the germ of an idea that eventually grew into this story, and the main thing that we both agreed on was that we wanted to avoid doing the expected. It couldn’t just be a guy with a knife running around cutting up women, even if it was for some nefarious supernatural end. That story has been done before… heck, Mike himself has done that story before… so we wanted to find another direction to go in. It wasn’t until doing WAY too much research on the period, and seeing the kinds of responses that appeared in the newspapers of the day from polite members of society talking about the Ripper murders, that we hit on the idea that the problem was much bigger than just one guy, to begin with.
There’s already a “Witchfinder” omnibus out there collecting the first three volumes, and I don’t think anyone familiar with Dark Horse’s publishing strategy for Hellboy Universe omnibuses would be surprised that there’s going to be a second collecting volumes four to six. These two omnibuses will cover Sir Edward’s career as an agent of the Queen from 1879 to 1889, so when ‘The Reign of Darkness’ ends next month, you’re quite literally closing the book on this era of Sir Edward’s life.
CR: This story does mark the end of this period of Sir Edward’s life. After this point, he isn’t Queen Victoria’s “Witchfinder” any more! But we haven’t seen the last of him, or of Sarah Jewell for that matter. They’ve both got their work cut out for them!
Indeed. Hopefully we’ll be able to talk about what’s next soon. . .