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.
“B.P.R.D.” has been running for quite some time. In fact, it had its fifteenth anniversary early this year. In those years we’ve seen the series through the “Plague of Frogs” cycle, the “Hell on Earth” cycle, and this year the third and final cycle began, “The Devil You Know.” It’s still early days for this title, with the first arc wrapping up next month, and Mignola is tight-lipped about where the series may go.
He was more forthcoming about the process on the book though.
‘Scott [Allie] and I got together for a couple of intense days plotting “The Devil You Know” because that’s a pretty important “B.P.R.D.” thing,’ said Mignola, ‘and it’s something we had been discussing—this big last giant cycle, we had been discussing it for years—so it wasn’t a one where I could just say, “Yeah, just do whatever you want.” A lot of things have built to this one, so I had to take a real active hand with Scott plotting that.
‘So much of that stuff is stuff Scott and I had been talking about day-in/day-out for that last five years. It was very clear that Scott was gonna write it. We know where we are: we’re rolling off of “Abe Sapien” and we’re going into the wrap-up, so we’re looking at all the things that we’ve started and how they all come together and stuff like that. But the bulk of that was conversations stretched over a number of years and then these couple of days being just the two of us sitting there, banging it back and forth. And we really plotted that thing―I think we pretty much broke it down scene by scene.’
‘We’d been talking about some of it for ten or twenty years,’ added Scott Allie. ‘And because we did those couple of days of plotting a while ago now, I was able to use the end of “Abe Sapien” to set up or just remind readers about some things we’d be doing in “The Devil You Know.”’
One of the big developments in the series is the resurrection of the long-dormant vampire apocalypse plotline first introduced in 2010’s “Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead.”
‘That was something I don’t believe Scott and I discussed,’ mused Mignola. ‘It was an idea Scott and I really liked. The danger of working with Scott is I’ve been telling him stuff for [over twenty years]. I’ve been making up so much stuff and some of it he really likes and some of it we just never got around to doing anything with. The vampire thing, I had made up a whole lot of stuff about the backstory with those vampires, which we still haven’t gotten. But I just figure, well, that’s something we’ll just never get around to.’
‘At one point Abe Sapien was going to be longer, and there would’ve been a story dedicated to vampires,’ explained Allie. ‘We accelerated “Abe Sapien” to end concurrent with “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth,” and the vampire plot was one of the casualties. While we don’t think every single idea from twenty plus years of “Hellboy” needs to be neatly resolved, I wanted to give the vampire thing a little attention here. I love what Mike created there.’
‘As tight as we plotted “The Devil You Know,” there was still room for Scott to go in and bring his own stuff to it,’ said Mignola. ‘I never want to just dictate a plot and say, “Here, just write this down.” I came up with the major beats and the way certain threads would connect up―or rather I should say he and I came up with that stuff together―but there was still plenty of room for him to bring other stuff. I mean, there’s just so much stuff that we’d made up and so many storylines that we’d started in the twenty-some-odd years, no matter what we do, we’re gonna end up with people saying, “Yeah, but you never got back to this and you never got back to that. Whatever happened to this guy?” There’s only so much you can do when you’ve got this gigantic, sprawling, [universe].’Continued below
For Allie, “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” was his chance to play with a larger cast of characters than he had in the “Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible” cycle.
‘It was a luxury to be able to dive so deep into one character,’ said Allie, ‘but I spent so much of that series thinking about the people with whom Abe has strong ties—or some animosity, as in the case of Fenix. Fenix echoes through “Dark and Terrible,” having shot Abe, so getting them in the same room now is fun. But the most appealing part was being able to get Abe and Liz together again. There’s a richness there that I hope comes through.’
The series has been a tricky balance for Allie, though. It has literally decades of story to wrap up, while still being its own story.
The first arc of “B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know” concludes January 3. The arc is drawn by Laurence Campbell, continuing his run on the series begun in the “Hell on Earth” cycle.
This year “Hellboy and B.P.R.D.” writer Chris Roberson wrapped up the “1954” series with the two-issue “Ghost Moon” arc, and kicked off “1955” with the “Secret Nature” one-shot and the three-issue “Occult Intelligence” arc. Both “Ghost Moon” and “Occult Intelligence” were drawn by Hellboy Universe newcomer Brian Churilla. For the first time, the series has a returning artist.
‘I’ve been an admirer of Brian’s work for years, and it’s been an absolute joy getting to collaborate with him on these books,’ said Roberson. ‘He puts so much care and attention into staging each scene, and there’s always a lot of life and movement in his figures. And he does such a great job with monsters, that I know that if the script calls for a “giant mutated albatross” or whatever, that Brian is going to deliver the goods.’
‘As much as possible, I’d like to reuse the same people. I want to keep that certain familiarity,’ said Mignola. ‘In this day and age, we’re in a world where most people seem want to work doing completely their own thing, which I can’t fault anybody for, or they want to work for Marvel and DC. I’m thrilled that we can get people maybe in between other jobs to do an arc here or an arc there. I’d love to see more from [Paolo] Rivera (artist of “Beyond the Fences,” and next year’s “Burning Season”) and [Brian] Churilla, but these guys have other things. Hopefully we get these guys to come back once in a while, but at the same time we’re always looking for new people. Even just doing the books that we’ve got planned, we’re still occasionally having to keep our eyes open for other artists.
Mignola was quick to praise his co-writer. ‘This is the beauty of having Chris there, who’s this real shot in the arm, who comes in the way John [Arcudi] came in and quickly developed some of his own characters. Chris is doing the same thing. He’s basically the architect now of how all those things connect up and he’s in the perfect position to do it where he’s doing “Witchfinder” and “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” You’ve got a big gap of time where you can introduce characters in one place and have them play out someplace else. It’s fantastic and I trust him and everything he’s told me he’s planning is great.’Continued below
‘The majority of the stories start as conversations, and that’s how they tend to develop, too,’ said Roberson. ‘In the case of something like “The Visitor: How & Why He Stayed,” the project had its genesis over a long lunch and then developed over a series of phone calls and long email threads between me and Mike. And I’ve developed a process with our editors where we spend a lot of time in the outlining phase before we even start thinking about moving on to scripts, and in some cases we spend months working out the outline before we have the story in shape. Of course, there are rare cases where everything lines up out of the gate, as with the “Secret Nature” one-shot, which I think started out as a fifteen minute long conversation I had with Mike, and then Scott and Katii had signed off on the outline I put together that same week, and the script went through maybe one revision pass before it was handed off to Shawn Martinbrough to draw.’
‘There’s a story that’s coming up relatively soon that he and I talked over quite a bit because it did involve something I had come up with for Hellboy,’ added Mignola, ‘but for the most part, like with John, we discuss where things are going and then I get out of his way and let him do it the way he wants to do it.’
One major plotline this year has been the emerging Occult Cold War between the Russian Special Sciences Service (S.S.S.), the British Special Intelligence Directorate (S.I.D.), the B.P.R.D., and now another branch of the American government, the Center for Defense Research and Development (C.D.R.D.), and perhaps even the remains of the Nazi Sonnenrad Society. Clearly, big things are planned.
‘Mike and I had been talking about the idea of other governments having their own answer to the B.P.R.D. during the Cold War era, which is what inspired the UK’s Special Intelligence Directorate,’ explained Roberson. ‘And the Center for Defense Research and Development was introduced way back in the pages of “B.P.R.D.: The Dead,” though I think it was only referred to by that name in one panel. So rolling into the Cold War years I knew that we had all of these different agencies with their own agendas, and it raised the question, Did Bruttenholm know about all of this? And if he did, when did he find out and what did he do about it? Those questions are beginning to be asked in “1955,” and in “1956” and forward we’ll be exploring the answers, and seeing what shakes out as a result.’
‘The unfortunate things is, we have so much ground to cover in one year within five or six issues,’ lamented Mignola. ‘You could do twenty-five issues about certain years. “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” is really about picking a certain couple of places, a couple of storylines. [We can’t do] “1964 A” and “1964 B.” It’s something we haven’t run up against yet, but we’ll see.’
‘It is a challenge,’ agreed Roberson, ‘as it means that there isn’t room for a lot of the interpersonal stuff that you normally get to do in an ongoing series, and we end up doing a sort of highlight reel of what happens to all of these different characters in any given year. And it can be tricky to build threats over time, knowing that there are often going to be long gaps in the calendar between where we leave off in one miniseries and where we pick up in the next. But we’re experimenting with different ways of approaching it. For “1956” we’re structuring a five-issue arc in a way that hasn’t really been used on these books before, that will hopefully allow us to explore some new territory.’
Mignola recalled a fan that asked him about a particular reference to 1954 and Hellboy coming across a vampire cat in Japan. ‘He wrote me a note saying, “Are we finally gonna see that story?” and I was like, “Oops, I think we already missed it,”’ he laughed. ‘Not that we couldn’t go back and do more stories, but right now there’s still so much ground to cover and we have a pretty finite number of people working on this stuff.’Continued below
‘Yeah, it’s a temptation that I have actively resisted,’ said Roberson. ‘In some cases, those references suggest interesting stories that are worth exploring, but in other instances we’d be devoting valuable real estate on the page to stories that readers would basically already know. In outlining “1957,” for example, there was one throwaway reference that I knew we had to dig more deeply into, and another that I realized would just be twenty-two pages of story to get to an ending that the reader would already know.’
That and the series has such a large cast and each character needs to have their moment, a problem Mignola is intimately familiar with from working on some of the early “Hellboy” stories.
‘It was fun to do “Hellboy: Wake the Devil” where I was involving a large cast of characters in different locations, and I was happy with “Wake the Devil,”’ said Mignolla. ‘It’s all over the map, it’s crazy, it’s high energy… And it’s kinda something like that in “Hellboy: Conqueror Worm,” but in a more contained space, where I’d separated characters and brought ’em back together, but having done them and how they worked out, I just wouldn’t want to ever do that again. If I’ve done it once and I happy with the way I did it, then I’ll do something different next time.
And Roberson agrees. ‘One thing that we’ve talked about from the beginning is the idea that we could do stories that just featured Hellboy on his own in “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” or we could do stories with other B.P.R.D. agents while Hellboy was off doing something else,’ he said. ‘We haven’t had the opportunity to do those kinds of stories yet, but we will be very, very soon…’
“Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1955” concludes February 21 with “Burning Season,” a one-shot story with artist Paolo Rivera.