2017 is quickly drawing to a close. ’Tis the season for retrospective articles! For Mignolaversity that means a four-part interview with Mike Mignola and a handful of his collaborators who were generous enough to give their time during the season when time is most a luxury. (Thank you all!) We’ll be running these pieces throughout the week.
With “Hellboy in Hell” ending in 2016, it’s been a quiet year for the “Hellboy” series. Though the stories were few, the ones that we did get were something truly special. The original graphic novel “Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea,” which came out April this year, is a book that’s been in the works for a long time.
‘I threw in that one panel in “Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury” so that we could get Gary Gianni to do a graphic novel,’ admitted Mike Mignola. ‘That ghost ship story, which I never had a plot for, that was never gonna get told until Gary said, “OK, fine, I’ll do a “Hellboy” graphic novel.” The one guy that I knew would get excited about a ghost ship and would be crazy enough to do a book that takes place on a ship is Gary. It just took years for him to come around and say he would do it.’
Gianni was more than just the artist on this project—“Into the Silent Sea” marks one of the rare occasions when Mignola worked with a co-writer on a “Hellboy” title.
‘Originally I said, “Hey, write and plot the whole thing,” and he was really hesitant about plotting it, so just off the top of my head, I just came up with a rough plot,’ explained Mignola. ‘I kind of gave him a skeleton and let him flesh it out. It was fun to dialogue the book because Gary did everything, including the Hellboy dialogue, and then I just went back and tweaked it so Hellboy would sound like Hellboy and then when you got the history—the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra stuff, which Gary was blurry on—he gave me the right beats for it, I just had to go in and touch up that language. That was a real fun collaboration that I haven’t done in a really long time.’
In the final sequence of the book, hordes of sea monsters attack the ghost ship in a sequence illustrated in stunning detail. My mind boggles at the work that has gone into it, but Gianni embraced it. ‘When Mike describes a scene he has in mind, it’s difficult not to be swept up in in his grand imagery, the poetry, the absurdity, the agony and the ecstasy,’ he said. ‘So, how could you not want to throw all your energy into creating that vision and match the enthusiasm of the storyteller? It took some time to gather reference together but it paid off in the end.
‘I had a model ship which allowed me to imagine a tangible space for the action to occur. As for the monsters, I referred to nature, as most artists will. There are some weird things deep down below in the sea.’
The work didn’t stop when “Into the Silent Sea” was done. In September, Gianni and Flesk Publishing launched a Kickstarter campaign for a Studio Edition of the book. As the name implies, this book is as close as you can get to visiting the artist’s studio and getting a personal guide through the work. The book will feature thumbnails, preliminary pencils, the final inked pages, and the script, complete with commentary from Gianni himself.Continued below
Mignola was all too happy to give his seal of approval. ‘They were nice enough to ask me and I just said, “It’s Gary’s book and he can do whatever he wants.” I said yes because I think an artist should be able to do whatever they want with their work and also because I want a copy of it,’ said Mignola with a laugh. ‘That’s my involvement. Completely self serving. “I want it so, yes, please, go make that.”’
Mignola was not surprised the project grew to such a scale. ‘With almost every project of Gary’s since I’ve known him, it started out as one thing and snowballed into some gigantic project,’ he said. ‘Fleskes is famous for doing these really in-depth, beautiful art books. There was a book he did on Gary (The Prince Valiant Page) and it kind of started off like a convention sketchbook and it ended up being a beautiful hardback book that covers everything from old movies and photo references Gary uses. It’s just such a beautiful book on an artist.’
Expect to see the “Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea” Studio Edition in March.
‘Chris was just itching to do one,’ said Mignola. ‘In the past, every book seemed to come about because there was one particular writer that wanted to write a “Hellboy” story. Chris knows a bunch of horror writers, I know a bunch of horror writers, and there came a time when we realised we had a lot of writers that we really liked that were fans of Hellboy that hadn’t written a “Hellboy” story, so we did it again.’
‘I just realized how damn long it had been since we’d done one, and how many great writers I knew would love to write a “Hellboy” prose story but never had,’ added Golden. ‘That was what prompted the rule for this book, that none of the contributors could have ever written Hellboy in prose form before. Horror, fantasy, mystery writers… so many writers love comics, and Hellboy in particular. It’s always so much fun to see what they come up with. Honestly, it was a labor of love for me.’
And so that’s how Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors came to being. Illustrated by Mike Mignola, the book features stories from sixteen authors including Seanan McGuire, Chelsea Cain, and Jonathan Maberry. Chris Roberson, who has been busy writing so many Hellboy Universe comics lately, also joined in with “The Other Side of Summer.”
‘Back when I was first brought on to work on these books, I was asked to write the afterword to the “B.P.R.D.: 1946–1948” omnibus, and I included a parenthetic aside that read “I’m still hoping to get a glimpse of awkward teenage Hellboy circa 1950 or so at some point, too, if only in a brief flashback,” recalled Roberson. ‘Then editor Scott Allie suggested that I cut that line, saying “You’re the guy who’s gonna do this.” So it was in the back of my mind for a while. Then when Christopher Golden invited me to do a short story for the new prose anthology, I realized it would be the perfect opportunity to visit that time in Hellboy’s life, and the idea of him developing this platonic quasi-summer-fling with a super smart girl who was deeply into girl detective stories was the natural result. But the meat of the story grew out of researching the town where the B.P.R.D. headquarters was located in these years, and realizing that the first witch trials in America were held in Fairfield and the surrounding area. And when I realized that Arthur Miller had been writing The Crucible that year, the whole thing came into focus.’Continued below
As to whether we’d ever meet Ginny, the super smart girl deeply into detective stories, in the comics, Roberson was unambiguous.
‘Most definitely. And soon.’
Which raises an interesting question: are the prose works canon?
‘It’s certainly canon in my head,’ said Roberson of “The Other Side of Summer,” ‘and sooner or later we’ll be seeing a glimpse of that moment in Hellboy’s life on the comic page in a brief flashback.’
‘Obviously, as the guy that is writing in-continuity stuff, when he did his story we were like, “Oh yeah, let’s keep that. That’s in the comic,” agreed Mignola.
‘Aside from my three novels (The Lost Army, The Bones of Giants, and The Dragon Pool), the only “Hellboy” prose I’m aware of being officially a part of the continuity are stories written by Chris Roberson and Rio Youers (“The Promised Smile”),’ added Golden.
As for the other prose material, Mignola said, ‘My feeling is they are [canon] if you want them to be. It would just be a nightmare trying to fit all these things into continuity and I don’t want to tie our writers’ hands. So as long as they’re not writing the movie version of Hellboy, as long as they’re not having things happen that just aren’t Hellboy-ish, I want to give writers as much freedom as possible to do what they do and I’m sure some stories read much more like the comic book version of Hellboy than others.’
‘The stuff that’s in continuity is the stuff Mike says is in continuity,’ said Golden. ‘If he hasn’t explicitly said it, I don’t consider it continuity. But yeah, of course, as a reader if you want to consider something a part of the continuity because you enjoyed it, then unofficially, have a blast.’
If you really want to dive into out-of-continuity content, this year Hellboy joined NetherRealm Studios’ Injustice 2 lineup. If you’ve played the game, you may recognize the artwork of “Baltimore” artist Peter Bergting in the Hellboy end screens.
‘Scott basically told me to do it, and I was happy to,’ said Bergting of his involvement. ‘I love drawing Hellboy and it’s been over fifteen years since we worked on the Hellboy Sourcebook and I first got in touch with Chris [Golden]. Haven’t drawn Hellboy since. Except for doodles.’
‘I try to stay away from computer games but this one was hard to say no to,’ continued Bergting. ‘[NetherRealm Studios] were great. They knew what they wanted and I knew what to deliver. I’ve been doing stuff like this for years for other games companies, but a bit under the radar. We also ran a web design company for a couple of years and I did tons of animations for that. But after that I mostly worked on AAA titles like Just Cause, designing weapons and vehicles and doing some in game graphics here and there.’
I asked Bergting if we were likely to see him drawing Hellboy again, but he was non-committal. ‘That’s really not up to me,’ he said, ‘but I bet that there’s a list with hundreds of artists who are way better than me me just waiting for that call. Hell, just stepping into the same shoes as Ben [Stenbeck] is scary enough.’
When discussing how the book came together, Mignola said, ‘When I wrapped up “Hellboy in Hell,” the plan was to take a year off and just paint (except for working on “Koshchei the Deathless”) and I really kind of left everything in other hands. The one surprise that popped up was Adam Hughes wanting to do a “Hellboy” story. That was the one place where I had to dig around for a “Hellboy” story, let alone a winter special. [I had to] come up with a specific Christmas-type story. Fortunately, I did remember that I had plotted this Hellboy/Krampus story for “Hellboy in Hell,” so that was just a matter of remembering what I was gonna do, and then setting it in a specific time and on Earth, instead of the Hell stuff.’Continued below
“Hellboy: Krampusnacht” will be coming out this Wednesday. I’ve been lucky enough to read it, and I assure you, it’s something special.