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    Mignolaversity: Ahead in 2015 – B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth

    By | January 6th, 2015
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    And we’re back. Welcome to Mignolaversity in 2015. Oh, what a year this is going to be! The are some very big things in store… But of course, if we were to tell you about them, Dark Horse would have us all executed. So in the interest of self preservation, in December we interviewed the only people that have immunity from such measures: Mike Mignola and his fellow writers and artists. That turned out to be quite a lot of people, so this will be the second of five parts.

    If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

    B.P.R.D. HELL ON EARTH

    One of the big things that separates the Plague of Frogs cycle of stories from Hell on Earth is expanding roles of its regular agents, the grunts of the B.P.R.D. Over time this has become a more and more prominent part of the series with the regular agents not just supporting the special talents taskforce, but stepping up into leading roles in smaller arcs, and lately even in the bigger five-issue arcs. Agents like Carla Giarocco, Rebecca Gervesh, Agent Nichols, and Agent Enos.

    The main team. Seven of them are just regular agents.

    “It’s always easier (for me, anyway) to really explore characters that I’ve created,” said B.P.R.D. writer, John Arcudi. “I can go crazy and don’t feel the need to ask permission about what I can or can’t do with them. Mike and Scott are great about that; they let me tell the story that needs to be told, that I can tell best, rather than worry about how “relatable” the characters might be, or whether or not they’ll have all their limbs at the story’s end. That is even (more or less) true with Abe or Liz or Kate, but with Enos and Giarocco and Nichols I feel more comfortable telling their story. So while Liz and Johann and Kate have plenty to do, a lot of the nuts and bolts can be “tightened,” so to speak, with these characters we’re talking about.”

    Agent Enos, who had previously been a background character, stepped into the foreground in last year’s The Broken Equation and he is again in the lead with Flesh and Stone. He could prove to be problematic for the Bureau though, as it appears he’s a part of the cult that sprung up after Abe Sapien visited the Salton Sea.

    Enos drawing the Abe Ichthys.

    “I honestly see Enos as a regular guy — a regular guy trying to get by in this world,” said Arcudi. “Maybe his faith isn’t in line with what readers might expect a “hero’s” faith would be in this situation, but it feels real to me that he would be dubious about the success of the B.P.R.D.’s mission. I mean, look around. Who wouldn’t be? So I kinda feel like he’s just a grunt trying to get by. What decisions he makes based on his world view may conflict with the others, but if everybody agreed about everything in this book… where’s the fun in that?”

    Agent Ted Howards, a formerly regular agent that has since become something stranger, has also stepped into the lead in this arc, the first since his introduction in The Abyss of Time.

    “Scott [Allie] wrote his first story,” said Arcudi of Howards, “but he’s such a fun character, and his arc is so vital to the future of the book, he’s easy to play with.”

    With Howards, Arcudi also gets another character along for the ride, Gall Dennar, Howards’ counterpart in the far-flung past of the Hellboy universe, giving Arcudi a whole other world to play with.

    “It’s fun, but it’s also necessary because Howards talks so little in the 21st century narrative. Therefore, it’s tough to do much exposition with him,” said Arcudi. “But that prehistoric timeline can get that done for you. And then you get woolly mammoths and stuff, too!”

    “I was really excited about that direction,” said Flesh and Stone artist James Harren. “I know Mike and John wanted to explore the shamanic aspect of the universe and it was a joy spear-heading that with Agent Howards. That Abyss of Time two-parter that I did with Mike and Scott was so strange and fun. With this arc he’ll have come a long way as a character.”

    Continued below

    In the first part of Flesh and Stone, Iosif Nichayko, head of Russia’s Special Sciences Service, returned for the first time since getting disemboweled in The Reign of the Black Flame. The character returned with a new suit designed by James Harren.

    “I took quite a few passes at Iosif’s new design,” said Harren. “I think part of me wanted it to be a step down, technologically speaking. I wanted him to be encumbered by his unnaturally long life. Like it’s not getting any easier for him. But with that in mind I went all kinds of directions.”

    Iosif's new suit design by James Harren.
    From King of Fear.

    This new suit has a few similarities to suits of armour worn by B.P.R.D. agents in a future glimpsed by Liz Sherman back in 2010’s B.P.R.D.: King of Fear.

    “If they reflect the Bureau’s future design that Guy did that was a happy accident on my part,” admits Harren. “And probably foresight on Scott, John and Mike’s part for pushing me in that direction.”

    “Iosif is — for me — a great character. He sees things as they are,” said John Arcudi. “I sorta see him like Gandhi — wait, hold on. Don’t stop reading. Do you know that Gandhi quote: “Nothing you do as an individual matters, but it is vitally important you do it anyway.” Something like that, right? That’s Iosif. He’s going to go out there and kill Marsten to avenge his friend’s death, he’s gonna keep fighting any way he can, but he’s also not stupid.”

    Iosif's new suit.

    The friend he’s talking about his Johann Kraus, the pair of them both separated from humanity by their “deaths,” living in suits, unable to touch the world around them. Iosif has even referred to Johann as his brother on occasion.

    “Love’s a pretty important part of life, but the climate in our book makes much exploration of that difficult,” said Arcudi. “We did it a bit with Bruno and Kate, and that relationship failed because of that climate. Iosif and Johann, they are actually children of tragedy, and of supernatural forces, so their love, their brotherhood, can survive and succeed in a ravaged world where both are soldiers against the “bad guys.” Yes, they both are stumbling in their private lives, but their friendship is intact. Now certainly Iosif has stronger feelings about it than Johann, but that’s only because Iosif has a body, has some flimsy but tangible attachment to the physical world. Whether or not his heart beats, he has one. Johann is a bit more unreadable, a bit more self obsessed.”

    That’s something readers will be getting a look at in the next arc, Nowhere, Nothing, Never, an arc focused on Johann and his development. He’s been mostly in the background since Russia and The Long Death, both arcs that explored his greatest strengths and weaknesses. Nowhere, Nothing, Never will dig deeper than ever before.

    Johann Kraus.
    “I think his ostensible “immortality” kinda strips him of all his inhibitions. That is, he still seems all proper to his friends and such, but his reactions are so much more impulsive and unfiltered. It makes him more like a child, and in that regard it makes him more human, in a paradoxical way,” said Arcudi. “The world is ending and his own “life” is a kind of in question. I think he wants to know who he really is, and maybe even he’s wondering what he can do?”

    Nowhere, Nothing, Never will be a five-issue arc with art by Peter Snejbjerg who has previous worked on Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: A Cold Day in Hell, and an Johann-focused one-shot chapter of B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs which featured the ectoplasmic man being haunted by dead frog monsters cut off from their afterlife. He and Arcudi also worked on an original graphic novel, A god Somewhere (which was awesome), so the two working together on a longer arc is going to be something special.

    “Peter’s the best! I love working with him, of course! Who wouldn’t?” said Arcudi. “His storytelling’s better than just about anybody’s in the business, and I love his facility with flat values in his artwork. Some artists are good for this or that genre, but Peter can do them all perfectly. I know that just sounds like a blabbering rave, but what did you expect? He kills!”

    Continued below

    And he’s going to need all that skill. The difficulty with Johann has always been his complete lack of a face, forcing artists to come up with other ways to make him expressive.

    “He, yeah… it can get a bit tricky, but who doesn’t like a challenge?” said Peter Snejbjerg. “I think his original costume or shell was a bit easier to deal with, because it was easier to do a cartoonish version of — you could cheat a lot with the shape of the bubble head, the reflections and so forth. But part of it is also to just trust that the story will tell itself, and be open for the irony that arises from reaction panels that feature a blank space.”

    Peter Snejbjerg's take on Johann from B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #4.
    Laurence Campbell's Grind cover.

    And then there’s Laurence Campbell on covers. Last year he stepped into the role of cover artist for B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, a role he’ll be continuing in for the rest of the series’ run (with perhaps one exception).

    “It was a real privilege to be asked and it was slightly nerve racking following Mike Mignola, but I really enjoyed doing them,” said Campbell. “Covers appeal to my graphic sensibilities.”

    They certainly do. His covers last year were exceptional, especially his cover for the one-shot Grind.

    “Working on the Grind cover was really good fun,” said Campbell. “The idea came really quickly. I was lucky enough to be able to read the script and Tyler had already drawn the issue which helped. I love that issue. It’s the type of story that really appeals to me. Tyler [Crook] did a great job on the art. It’s also probably my favourite cover I’ve drawn so far.”

    For Nowhere, Nothing, Never he’s planned a series of covers focusing on Johann.

    “I can’t really go into too much detail about the covers to Nowhere, Nothing, Never,” said Campbell. “I noticed the link with Johann having gone through three major changes and this was something I wanted to focus on. I also wanted to give a surreal/creepiness to the covers which I hope I captured. Johann is a fascinating character.”

    Nowhere, Nothing, Never kicks off in April. You’ll be able to see the first cover in the solicitations when they come out later this month (Update: Actually, it’s just gone up at CBR). And the next issue of Flesh and Stone comes out January 21.

    Out January 21.

    //TAGS | Mignolaversity

    Mark Tweedale

    Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, and The Damned Speakeasy. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.

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