Writers. Colleagues. Friends. Collaborators. Infrequent three-way callers. Ball busters.
All of those terms relate to the trio of Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Scott Allie, the three headed brainchild behind the Mignolaverse for Dark Horse Comics. When the Mignolaveristy team of Daivd and Brian got the three of them on the phone together, there were lots of hints, insights, love for their artists, and jokes being dropped every couple of seconds. The conversation took about an hour, and we still feel like we only scratched the surface.
We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed conducting it.
When you’re developing B.P.R.D. stories and plans, what is each of your roles, and how do they change between crafting individual issues and overall architecture?
Scott Allie: Can we just answer yes to that one?[Laughter]
SA: There’s a lot of flexibility back and forth and a lot of two way conversations. Sometimes Mike and John are talking; sometimes me and John are talking. You only probably get the three of us together or on the phone only a handful of times a year.
Like right now!
SA: Yeah, we better work some shit out.[Laughter]
SA: But yeah, I’d say there’s a lot of flexibility in it. There aren’t set roles like “this is what the editor does” or “this is what Mike, as the creator of the property does,” and “this is what John does.” There’s a lot of back and forth and a lot of ideas getting turned around. And I think Mike and I, in a lot of ways, try and stay out of John’s way as much as possible.
John Arcudi: I’d go along with that.
Mike Mignola: Lately, it seems to be that Scott and John talk about what the book is doing, or where it is going, and the Scott and I will talk and Scott will tell me where the book is going, and then I’ll call John and say “I hear you’re doing all this stuff” and we talk about future stuff. So there’s this strange thing where I’m coming in on the end on stuff, and then John and I will talk about stuff that will affect the book for the next ten years, but in really vague terms. Lately, it seems like John and I are just laughing about how many great artists we have on our book and how very, very lucky we are.
JA: And none of us are really working at all. You should really call Max and Sebastian and James Harren and Laurence Campbell because they are really the ones driving it at this point.
SA: Yeah, there are certain aspects of it when Mike chimes in with a stronger hand, like what all the Lovecraft demons and monsters are all about — that’s really Mike’s thing. And there was one thing, and I’m not going to say what it was, but it was a pretty huge detail that John came up with recently, and both Mike and I were really excited about, and it wasn’t a big mythological thing. It was this very undercurrent and semantics thing that makes a lot of sense, and Mike and I were taken by surprise by that stuff and get really excited.
I was thinking about this recently because there are a lot of different ways to do groups of books in comics, and you hear at some of the other publishers [about] edicts being handed down by editorial, or outlines being handed down from editorial management through editorial to writers, and the writers getting frustrated and being disenfranchised in what they’re writing. I was thinking about this in relation to how we do things at B.P.R.D., or in the whole family of Mignola books, and for the most part, everything is coming from the three of us (there are a couple other writers involved), and I think there is a lot of trust and camaraderie and nobody’s dictating anything. Mike doesn’t dictate, I don’t dictate, John doesn’t either. No one’s laying down the law. Ideas come together, people gets excited, we respect each other. Ultimately, it comes down to whoever has to write the script is the one responsible for that story.
If we were just treating the writer like a wrist, so to speak, just someone who is just typing up the words, we’d probably get some pretty crappy comics, and we’d go through writers pretty quickly because they’d lose motivation. Even when we do bring in someone else, like when Cameron Stewart writes something or the twins (Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba) write something, we try and find a corner of the world that they can work on that is separate enough where they can have some autonomy, because they aren’t as dialed into everything the three of us are working on.
It wouldn’t make sense to give one of them, say, an Abe Sapien story, because they’d have to really come up to speed on what we’ve going on, but when you give them a vampire or an Ashley Strode, you can let them run off in their own direction and we only have to manage certain parts of it to make it fit.
JA: In other words, yes.[Laughter]
Our next question stems from that. With so many moving parts involved, like in-demand artists such as James Harren, Max Fiumara, the twins and Jason Latour, how broadly does the production schedule often differ from the release schedule? Is the “main” story always set in stone, and then other arcs arranged around that, or is the schedule more elastic than following one set formula?
SA: When, one thing is that there is no “main” story, it is all the main story. It’s not like we’re doing this thing with Tyler (Crook) and everything else dances around it. You said “moving parts,” and the whole friggin’ thing is moving parts.
MM: And all the parts are moving at different speeds!
SA: The thing is that we really respect our artists, and one of the things we have to respect that is their wildly different production speeds. I feel like one of the things I’ve learned to do really well between what we do and the Buffy books is how to have these weird schedules, where often you’re completing whole miniseries before the previous one is halfway done. And it’s crazy making!
The thing we’re doing with Peter Snejbjerg, you know, he was available, so we did this two issue story with him which I believe was completed before we finished the five issue story that proceeded it, which causes a lot of weird stuff. I know it’s at least kind of a drag for John, because he’s writing stuff wildly out of order.
JA: The funny thing about that is, yes, initially, when we were doing that it was, as Scott can tell you, he wasn’t guessing, it was a pain in the ass![Laughter]
JA: But the funny thing about it was that it ended up solving some problems. This is going to sound crazy, but if you can possibly finish the fifth issue of a five issue arc, and you know all the little details that you want to…not just the sort of big sort of Chekhovian, first act, gun shit, but all the little details you wanted to telegraph, if you could possibly do that, you could actually solve a lot of your problems.
Now, I couldn’t actually do that, but I was writing this story that was coming after this five issue arc, so I was able to telegraph a lot of things that were going to happen, and I also had a better idea of all the little details that had to be in place for that story. So while that made me more detail oriented, it sort of solved a lot of problems. It was in interesting experience.
SA: I don’t think we overdo it with foreshadowing, but in terms of laying pieces on the table that will be important later, its really easy to do that if you’re working out of order like this. It probably causes other problems when setting things up; it’s a mixed bag for sure.
The whole reason to do it the way we do it is so that we can work with the artists we want to worth with, whether it is guys who are on exclusive (contracts with other publishers) and have a small window and you’re like, “OK, we’re going to have a script ready when you are,” and that might mean John having to write issue #112 before #102.
We now know that the main B.P.R.D. tales will be contained in the ongoing. Are one-shots/minis now the sole territory of issues set in the past?
SA: Maybe? For the most part, probably. If it’s called B.P.R.D., mostly that is the case. It would be stupid to set firm rules because we’re going to do what we’re going to do. The reason that we want to pull the current B.P.R.D. story into a single straight line is that it’s hard for readers and retailers to keep on top of what’s coming out, and what order to read it in. So yeah, current B.P.R.D. stories will just be happening in the main title, but certainly something could come up where we want to do something different.
We know you all love bringing different artists into work with, like bringing Cameron Stewart back for Exorcism or Ba and Moon for Vampire. How much of the expansion of the B.P.R.D. universe is because you’re looking to tell fun stories in the universe with creators you like, and how much is because you’re looking to build the periphery of this world? For example, you did “Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain” with Peter (Snejbjerg), and it was a great little story, but we didn’t think it would have anything to do with anything, and then Iosif…
MM: Neither did we![Laughter]
SA: Stuff like that just happens. But, it is way more the former, you said “how much of it is wanting to tell a cool story and work with a creator that you’re excited about,” and that really is 99% of what we’re doing. We very seldom say “you need to tell a story about this character.” Do we ever really do that?
MM: Well, I’m always doing that![Laughter]
MM: I’m always writing stuff I want to do, or characters we need to evolve, or time periods we haven’t dealt with, so I’m constantly writing that stuff, but usually it just winds up on a shelf. And then, when you find an artist you want to work with, it’s a matter of “oh, is he right for one of a million things on my shelf” or does he create a situation where you go, “oh, I hadn’t thought of it, but he’d be great for this.” We can only do that so much though, because we don’t want to put ten issues out a month. But if I had my way, and a couple other writers who could read my mind, we could put out a lot more books because there is so much ground to cover. But, we don’t want to expand and bring in writers, and it’s been a long time since we’ve been out there really pounding the pavement for artists. We’ve got kind of a wonderful group of guys — I mean, we’re always looking — but we have our hands full just keeping these guys supplied with books.
JA: We’re plotted out well into 2014, which suggests that we’ve got a real handle on the direction of the book, at least until 2014. But to answer your question, it’s sort of fluid and it goes both ways. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but we never want to do something just for the reason of working with an artist. If we had an idea, like Mike said, if we have an idea, we try and make that work with an artist.
MM: What’s interesting , and I think John certainly knows this from working at Marvel and DC, I can’t think of that many books we’ve put out or, off the top of my head I can’t think of any books, that were written not knowing who the artist would be. There were a couple of places where things had to change at the last minute, but the beauty of keeping this stuff really fluid is that, to a certain extent, you’re tailoring your story to your artists.
SA: Yeah, there have been a lot of stories that only exist because we really wanted to see something with this particular artist, and we tried to come up with the right thing, and a lot of the times we enter into something with a particular artist, sort of assuming it’s a one-off or maybe we’ll just do this one thing, and it goes really well, and we find ourselves kind of full time with him.
I mean, I don’t know, when we first pulled Max Fiumara in, it was just for the O’Donnell one shot, and I don’t know that we knew we’d be doing as much with him as we’re going to be doing with him, but he’s another guy that we want to keep him as busy as possible. We’re also lucky that, sometimes, we get a guy to do one job with us, and we love working with them, and they’re also, apparently, happy working with us. There have been a number of guys that we’ve kind of figured “well, we’d do one thing with them, and hopefully it works really well,” and they kind of surprise us by saying “well, I’d just love to do books with you guys,” and we make it work.
Well, whichever of you guys brought in James Harren is a saint.
SA: That’s John, mostly.
MM: Yeah, that’s John.
JA: And I think anyone can tell you that I’m insane.
No, I said a “saint.”
JA: Oh well, no one will tell you that!
SA: No one![Laughter]
SA: James is incredible, and you can expect a lot more from us with him.
James just launched a new process blog, which is pretty incredible.
JA: “The Bog,” right? It’s been fun watching him do that. That’s with Ryan Ottley, right?
Ryan Ottley, who does “Invincible.”
SA: Oh, yeah.[Silence]
JA: We can’t get him.[Laughter]
We were talking about the one shots and the minis that you bring creators in to flesh out those ideas — do those projects often start out as their own little enterprise but then get sucked into the main orbit of B.P.R.D.?
SA: It is amazing how often that happens. You brought up “Abyssal Plain” awhile ago, and no one knew how significant that was going to be.
JA: I guess by the time I finished the second issue, I knew I wanted to use Iosef again, and I was really happy with the way Peter drew him. It was supposed to be this little character piece, but there was something about the character of the dead guy that I found really interesting and I wanted to reuse him. And he wound up being really important!
When you look at it, and correct me if I’m wrong, and you think “well, what else could we have done?” When it’s all said and done, it looked like this is the way it had to go, this character had to be there. I don’t know if its some weird synergy or luck or whatever
MM: It’s also what keeps this stuff organic. People are always asking “how far do you have this mapped out?” and you can’t really map… I, personally, can’t map this stuff out too far, because it becomes too rigid in what will happen to the characters. Other characters just overwhelm us and take on a life of their own, and other characters you really want to go left, but they go right. “No matter what I do, this guy is going over here.” And I think…
SA: I think there’s a really nice mix of a long term plan with tons of flexibility. Because, there are a lot of things you’ve known Mike, and things you’ve known for a long time, and some of that changes and some of that stays the same. But then plenty of stuff comes out of nowhere, and I think one of the things that’s always been great with the stuff that Mike was doing on his own, and then continued when John came on board, is that a lot of stuff gets thrown at the wall, and then some of it sticks, because Iosef isn’t the only character introduced in that series, but he’s the one that stuck around. Varvara’s another one where we always knew there was a lot to the character, but one of the things about Varvara is that artists love drawing her so much, and some artists do such a great job with her, that she keeps getting a little bit more play, because she’s just cool. That’s cool great when that’s motivating you, that’s great when you’re doing more with something just because it works, not because you have to. Yeah, Varvara’s really great, and the way that her recent role in current stories has gone along with what we’re doing in 1948, it’s sort of a coincidence that John has now taken advantage of.
MM: What’s also really exciting about doing things in the past, the far past, the distance past, World War II past, that impact what’s going on now. So we’re able to work both ends of the string at the same time. I don’t think it would work if we had a couple more writers working on this thing, because it would just be too complicated and it would collapse.
JA: If we had a couple more writers, it would get more rigid. You’d have to have everyone sort of step in the right place at the right time, or it would be a clusterfuck.
SA: I think it would be equally problematic if there was one dictatorial author behind it too, or if Mike was saying “It’s important that the ideas are mine,” or if Mike was coming in not paying attention to everything and then came in with the rule of law, it would never work as fluidly as it does.
MM: The beauty is that when I’m not paying attention I’m completely not paying attention. Sometimes I’ll get a phone call and someone will say “do you know that this is going on?” and I’ll say “is my name still going out on this book that I have no idea what’s going on in it?”
SA: One thing I love is that you’ll ask John a question, and John’s done this to both me and Mike, you’ll ask him a question and he’ll say “Oh no, just wait, you’ll see.” And it’s like, “oh, so that’s how this works?”[Laughter]
JA: Well that doesn’t happen all the time.
SA: You’re right, it’s only happened a couple of times but I do think it speaks volumes about how we’re doing what we do.
JA: It speaks volumes because nobody’s like “no, tell me now.”
MM: We know how futile it would be do to that![Laughter]
JA: Only because I don’t know what I’m doing until I get there!
Jumping into “B.P.R.D.” #101, one thing that really stood out was towards the beginning when Kroenen shared with Kurtz, “I’m not worried anymore, Leopold. The end is all that matters. I see that now. I am only part of something bigger, and whatever part I play is sufficient for me.” The interesting thing is, to me, that he seems to be the only one aware of how things just seem to be out of his control. For better or worse, the perception of both the good and the bad sides in B.P.R.D. is that they’re in control, but the reality is much different. How important is that to this book?
SA: That’s an interesting question.
JA: That’s a great question.
SA: It’s an great observation about Kroenen, and I think ego in the face of these like big, destiny shaping storylines is part of the fabric. Rasputin is such a great story, about a guy who just kept thinking he could control this force that was so much bigger than him, and he was no slouch, and Hellboy can just ignore it, everyone thinks they can control this. I think that’s a theme of Mike’s work, where you’ve got all these larger than life villains, and heroes, who think they can control this big cosmic juggernaut and nobody can.
MM: They either get squashed by it, or they get involved into something they didn’t see coming. It’s that Lovecraftian idea that the universe is so big, and for the most part, it doesn’t give a shit about you. If you wake it up…the worst thing is when you have that villain that says “now I’ve got the power!” and at best its funneling through you, and it’s not going to be very good for you.[Laughter]
MM: The good guys just have to stall stuff until the bad guy blows himself up or the universe blows him up. The good guys just have to survive and just kind of keep things running.
JA: It feels more real to me, which may sound goofy when talking about fish-men and ghosts and flight suits, but it does, it feels like the sense of powerlessness or frustration that most people feel in their lives everyday.[Silence]
JA: I always end these questions on a downer.[Laughter]
There’s one scene in #101 that found Kate is sitting with Abe, and Johann comes in and is apologetic about what he did, and they all seem sort of lost, and this really does seem like the darkest time for the B.P.R.D..
JA: It is.
It’s funny, I was just re-reading ‘The Black Flame’ for the site the other day, and my initial response was: “this feels so optimistic!”[Laughter]
‘The Black Flame’ is not an optimistic story, but compared to where everything is now, it seemed almost sunny.
JA: It is the darkest time, and I’m glad someone recognizes that. This is where things are going to go really badly for everybody.
MM: There’s that expression “it’s always darkest before the dawn,” well, dawn is a long way off, and I don’t like the shape of it when it shows up![Laughter]
JA: That’s not to say that there won’t be victories coming hereafter, but you think of the victories that people had during the course of World War 2. I mean, until the end those victories were still just the battles that were won, but the Nazis are still here, and we’re still fucked.
MM: And when you finally win, it is a different world. And that is the thing that separates us, and I’ve said this a million times, from most of the other stuff out there. We can never go back to square one. No one has to survive in their regular form because we’re making movies or selling underwear, or whatever it is. Everything is subject to change, and the world is so damaged that it is clear that we can never fix it up.
There is not that clean-up crew to come in after the Fantastic Four kills the monster and says “now we’ll rebuild all the buildings and fly the continents back to where they’re supposed to be.” We don’t have that.
SA: Yeah, one of the things we’ve been talking about lately is trying to get a really accurate idea for ourselves of just how bad regular life is right now for people in this world.[Laughter]
SA: Like, are there pockets of people that are pretty much living normal lives? Or towns that are pretty much functioning? After what happens in #101, there is going to be less and less of that actually happening.
JA: And that will be much more clear in #102.
SA: Yeah, definitely.
We’re still not even sure who came back. It’s the Black Flame, but it was supposed to be Rasputin. It’s funny, there’s actually a discussion going on in our comments about who it actually was. So I guess we’ll find it in #102.
MM: I was surprised by that because I saw something online where someone said “I never expected Rasputin shaped like The Black Flame.” I actually had to call John about that.[Laughter]
JA: That’s the first I’m hearing about it.
SA: When I was looking at the lettered colors, I realized we really don’t spell it out. The reason why exactly what happened here happened is the fate of Rasputin’s soul has been discussed in epilogues across a bunch of different publishing’s.
So we haven’t reminded people of that. I think…
JA: Someone had to remind me though, but that’s another story.
MM: The last time we saw Rasputin’s soul, which is in an acorn, it dropped in-between the roots of trees and saw a panel of fire with an acorn going into it. And it’s one panel in one three book giant arc from a few years ago. I’m just amazed that the audience doesn’t remember “oh wait a minute, the acorn fell into fire which probably means hell!”[Laughter]
MM: Not landing in the giant chandelier in space.[Laughter]
SA: We need the Watcher to show up and explain.[Laughter]
That would be perfect! Please!
JA: That’s the one thing this universe is missing is a Mignolaverse Watcher.
MM: I think we have one, we just haven’t named him yet. But he’s coming soon. I don’t know if we’re going to be using him for that or his head is going to be that big.[Laughter]
To us, “B.P.R.D.” is all about the characters. While the core of the book has always been about the core of Johann, Abe and Kate, we’ve seen a lot of focus on peripheral characters like Devon, Fenix and Giarocco recently. Why now? With the expanded scope and scale of the story, was it just necessary to bulk up the cast a little bit?
JA: We knew we were going in a different direction with Abe, right? With Abe out of the core group, I didn’t want someone to necessarily be the Abe analogue, but we decided we should bring some human characters in because…it ties into something I said a little earlier, how does this thing affect everyday life? Getting a little closer to the point, how does it affect every day humans? Humans who have kids, for instance, like Giarocco who has a son. And what it would do to her life and that sort of thing. This was the right time to explore because things were going to so bad.
And don’t be so sure that those core characters are going to be out of the mix as this thing develops. But I just felt that, I think we all felt this…I think Mike was the one who suggested this sort of direction, to add more human characters.
MM: I never wanted them to be the X-Men. I never wanted to add more supernatural characters or more superpowered kind of characters. Mostly because I can’t think of any other ones I like. So we’re kind of still running with, other than Johann who came in the first B.P.R.D. series, those core characters go back to the beginning of Hellboy.
There was a brief period where I made up my superhero team, and you know, I just haven’t come up with anymore. John came up with the Fenix character when we said, “maybe we’ll need another interesting character with some sort of interesting ability.” But it’s not like…god knows how many mutants there are at Marvel. There are 60,000 different X-Men books.
JA: We didn’t want to make Abe and Johann and Liz less special than we had to. Obviously Iosif…but Iosif, I don’t know if anyone really looks at him and says “this is the craziest character” because it did grow sort of organically out of another story. And what is his special power? He’s undead?[Laughter]
JA: And Daimio, someone who was undead but it turned out he had something else going on, but for the most part he was just a hard ass Marine captain. We just didn’t want to make Abe and Johann and Liz less special. Any less special than we absolutely had to.
It’s not as if human characters haven’t been showing up since the very beginning. I know a lot of them died in the Hellboy stories, but they were there, you know? And we just decided they weren’t going to die as quickly.[Laughter]
SA: The organization was always mostly regular humans. It’s just we have these small focused stories where we needed a few characters, so you send your demon and your fish guy to go check things out.[Laughter]
It’s kind of like in “The Pickens County Horror,” you had the two vampire stories that featured Agent Vaughn and Agent Peters, where it was entirely focused on them. It was a great story, and it makes you think because you have someone like Giarocco who shows up in “The Long Death” and has a conversation with Johann about her son and then she keeps playing off, and is a big part of “The Return of the Master” and will be in “Cold Day in Hell,” you’re always interested to see where these things and characters will go and continue to flow to.
SA: Just like with artists, we try out human characters and they stick and grow into different things. There’s a name you’re going to hear before too much longer. I think he’s a general. This guy named Shenk. I don’t know if he’s going to be a big, significant character, but he’s going to pop up a couple times in a couple different stories, and maybe he’ll wind up having a major role. I don’t know, John might have a specific plan for him but he won’t tell me.[Laughter]
JA: Again, because I don’t know.[Laughter]
So much is happening right now in the modern times, but we’re also getting a ton of work set in the past with Lobster Johnson, “1948” and the upcoming “Sledgehammer.” Why is now the time to delve further into the past?
SA: Because we have some artists that just kick ass on the older stuff. That’s kind of it with LoJo. We love Lobster Johnson and could do a ton of stories with him but…
SA: What’s that?
I said Tonci Zonjic. I just get really excited because he’s awesome.
JA: That’s it. That’s the main reason.
SA: Us too.
JA: We actually had planned to start…so you say, why all this now? Well, at least part of the answer to this question is coincidence. We had actually planned for…anyone who doesn’t want me to talk about this, stop me now…we had planned to do a Lobster Johnson series earlier. But we just kept running into…you know, I wrote the first two issues of The Burning Hand literally years before Tonci started on it.
We just kept running into problems. Scheduling with me, scheduling with other artists and stuff, but, by good fortune I guess, we ran into Tonci. Holy shit, you know?
JA: He’s one of those guys where I write a script and I send it to Tonci, and it comes back and I’m like “that’s right.”
A lot of artists, you’re like, “yeah, okay.” But with Tonci, it’s not like he transposes my ideas directly, he improved upon them. It’s like that’s the way it was supposed to look.
MM: Visually, he’s perfect for the 30’s. He’s got that thing. Which a lot of guys don’t have, so when you’re doing these kind of books, you mention that “Sledgehammer” thing, I saw when I first saw…what’s his name…
MM: Yeah, Latour, when I first saw his stuff, there was just this authority to his stuff that I saw, I thought “I bet this guy could pull off World War II.” A lot of guys, especially the superhero guys, they can’t draw people in pants.[Laughter]
You can’t draw those helmets. You want the guy who has that kind of authority who can sell that time period. Like Max Fiumara on “1948.” We realized really early on that Max can do anything. His characters look like characters from the 40’s. The hairstyles and the way their clothes fit. It just feels like the 1940’s. Not everyone has that facility.
JA: Or will do the research. Tonci…I don’t know about Max, but I assume so…but Tonci thrives and loves to get into the research on this stuff. Does that improve his facility? Probably. But what that really means is that’s his mindset…his facility for drawing has everything to do with his love for that period. As far as I can tell, any period we would ask him to draw.
SA: But it really seems like he lives in the 30’s. It’s incredible how he can make it feel like it’s a time machine.
But yeah, the 1948 stuff…”1948″ was a book we knew we wanted to do eventually. But I don’t remember if there was an outline or a real solid plan until we told Max. With the Twins doing “Vampire,” the deal with that was just we had, after 1947, we had just had an open agreement that someday they would pick up the story of Simon Anders. The character that went through a lot of trauma in “1947.” We knew we loved their writing, so we knew we wanted them to touch on that when they had the time to.
It’s just kind of weird that it worked out that Vampire comes out a month after “1948.” It’s perfect because Max happened when he did and the Twins became available when they did.
MM: When John first came up with the idea for “1948,” I just assumed that the character of Simon Anders was going to be dealt with, or be thrown into one or two panels just to remind people he exists, just sitting around looking sad.[Laughter]
MM: John was able to find a back and forth with what the Twins were doing to set it up a little more, that’s just a bonus. But that’s a bit of this stuff kind of working organically. The exciting thing about the Twins is they experiment. I had an idea of where we wanted to start this thing, but when I turned that over to them, I said this character to go anywhere, we had no plans with him, at no point does he have to dovetail back into the book. So you guys can run with this character into whatever you want to. But I want them to feel like that’s their character that they can come back and play with. Because when they finish this five-issue thing, I’d love for them to come back in a year or whenever their schedule is available and pick this character up again and take him further or wherever.
Same with Cameron Stewart…the Ashley Strode character, she’s yours, the direction she goes in is entirely up to Cameron.
Well, I hope he brings her back because I love Ashley Strode. Between her and Varvara, I might start a petition to have her in every comic.
SA: With Varvara that may happen.[Laughter]
SA: The thing with Ashley is her story does take place in the current day that we’re so busy screwing up the world, that whenever Cameron and I talk about doing more stuff with Ashley, I kind of have to update him with “if you wait that much longer there isn’t going to be much more world to deal with.”[Laughter]
MM: That’s why we need a map. We need to know if she’s on the road, where she’s going.[Laughter]
SA: There’s one place in particular that…Cameron was like, well if I did a story here…and I was like “yeah, you might not want to do a story there.”[Laughter]
I jokingly suggested a question to Brian asking why “Varvara is the greatest character in the history of comics?” I am a crazy huge fan of that character. I was excited to read 1948 and then see her in The Return of the Master also. My cup runneth over with Varvara opportunities, which is great.
JA: She’s a lot of fun to write, except her dialogue drives me crazy. I feel like killing Josh Dysart for writing her so well in “1946” and “1947.”[Laughter]
JA: Getting that Russian sound and stuff…it drives me crazy. But I’m doing my best.
MM: That’s a character I never expected to go beyond that little bit. Then you start dealing with Russia, you think, “where would she be?” Of course!
In a weird glass serving dish.
SA: The way John is using her in 1948 in connection with Bruttenholm is so much fun. It’s definitely one of the funnest things about that book.
So many artists have just done an extraordinary job with her.
JA: They love her! They LOVE her. Last time I saw…she wasn’t going to play such a big role in 1948, but I saw the pencils for the first issue of “1948” and I thought, “I have to write more scenes for her.”
Transitioning into B.P.R.D. and Hellboy together, at one time, they were clearly part of the same shared universe, they still are, but it wouldn’t have been all that surprising to see characters from one pop up in the other. Now, with Hellboy in Hell becoming something else entirely, will the ramifications of one be felt in the other?
MM: Yes. In the book Peter Snjebjerg has done that hasn’t come out yet…
SA: He finished it a year ago.
MM: You see a little bit of what’s going on in Hell. But, it’s hard to do a crossover. You’re pretty much in different locations. But definitely some shit goes on in Hell as a result of Hellboy going there, which will affect the way supernatural powers work, which for the most part isn’t a major issue. But you’ll see it in Abe Sapien…stuff that’s going to happen. You’ll see it in Peter’s book. But for the most part, they are kind of separate worlds.
SA: They are connected, but there is relatively little visible overlap because of how separated they are. There’s some stuff. Some of the little tiny things that Mike’s talking about is when message boards go bananas when one guy makes the connection and says, “look, this and this right here…look how they work together.” It’s the kind of thing you could miss if you’re not reading all of the titles and pretty carefully.
MM: If someone made a phone call to Hell, they might find that the guy who used to answer the phone isn’t answering the phone anymore.[Laughter]
After this question, we’ll switch to Hellboy, so we don’t want to hold you up John if you don’t want to stick around to talk Hellboy.
JA: I’ll probably stick around because Mike never tells me anything about what’s going on.[Laughter]
MM: I tell him everything but he gets bored to death hearing about it.[Laughter]
JA: Well, you tell me the little bits but I never know the whole arc. I’ll probably just stay on so I can figure out what the hell is going on.[Laughter]
2012 was the Year of Monsters for B.P.R.D. If 2013 was the year of one word, what would it be?[Silence] [Silence]
MM: Well, clearly none of us have thought about it at all.[Laughter]
SA: Yeah, I don’t know. Year of Monsters was just a cover promo.
MM: It’s always the year of monsters!
SA: The phrase I like that our PR guy came up with was “it’s all going to hell in 2012.” And it was. It was definitely all going to Hell. Now, just everybody is in Hell. Hellboy is literally in Hell, but the situation on Earth is so…after the current storyline, after “The Return of the Master,” now it really is Hell on Earth.
MM: I don’t want to give out much about “Hellboy in Hell,” but Hellboy’s Hell looks a lot better than Earth.[Laughter]
MM: Earth is Hell, and Hell is just sad.
Yeah, you can watch A Christmas Carol performed by puppets in Hell. That sounds a lot nicer than most of the stuff going on in “B.P.R.D.”
MM: That’s right. If that was in “B.P.R.D.,” it’d be performed by 80-foot giants who are doing it with like…human skeletons on strings.[Laughter]
MM: Which is cool.
SA: We may have to do that. Dark Horse is trying to corner the puppet show market.[Laughter]
MM: 2013, the Year of Puppets.
One of the questions we have is you have B.P.R.D. and Hellboy is you have these two existing in the same world. There are clear distinctions on how the stories are told though. B.P.R.D. stories tend to be more linear, whereas Hellboy stories, especially “Hellboy in Hell” #1, are very esoteric and feels like you are reading a fable. A modern fable. Which was incredible. What is it about Hellboy that brings out the surrealists in you?
MM: I don’t know if its Hellboy or just my interests in the way I write. I think maybe the difference is between an artist writing and a real writer writing (laughter). I’m entirely…especially when I’m writing for myself…I’m writing to pictures I want to make.
It’s my interest has a tendency to drift in that type of direction. The “Hellboy in Hell” stuff…I want it to be that odd. He isn’t alive anymore. It’s not like I just moved him to another planet. I moved him to a place where anything can happen. Even now, in the fourth issue, it’s still pretty rigid because I haven’t completely relaxed into the strangeness of this world.
SA: It doesn’t look rigid to anyone else. Mike talks about how stiff and rigid this is, but it’s not going to look that way to anyone else. It sounds like you guys have read the first issue?
SA: Mike’s in such a weird place with this thing. I think compared to any other comic, it looks anything but rigid.
MM: Compared to Richard Corben’s “Conqueror Worm” it’s pretty rigid.[Laughter]
SA: Richard is letting it all hang out.
MM: The beauty for me is as an artist doing this book; it’s not meant to ever start to make more sense.[Laughter]
MM: I mean, it makes sense. The first four issues make more sense than what comes later. The first four issues are kind of settling him in, and to a certain extent, seeing what this world is like and then drifting off into that world. It’s meant to become more and more abstract, until I dare anyone to keep buying it.[Laughter]
SA: That will be our 2014 marketing slogan.
“We dare you.”
MM: We might be able to get “B.P.R.D.” to sell more, but I am pretty sure we can get Hellboy to sell less.[Laughter]
That kind of perfectly transitions into my next question. It’s tied into what Scott wrote in Hellmail for Hellboy in Hell #1. Scott writes, “it’s going to get really weird. It’s important to pay attention because Mike does not always spell things out for you.” I’m just curious, how deep down the rabbit hole are you guys really going to take us?
SA: He’s nuts![Laughter]
SA: I can’t remember if it’s the first or second issue, where something significant happens and Mike handles it so obliquely that even he realized, “oh, people might miss that. So I’m going to go back in a subsequent issue to help make it make a little more sense and less vague.”
I thought, “cool, that’s alright. That works.” So then I read the scene that makes the earlier scene make more sense, and I think, “great, people will still miss this.”
It’s so…Hellboy is so much like a dream. Mike always wanted Hellboy to kind of read…not literally like a dream, but his aesthetics and his whole vision sort of go down that road. By taking him off the planet and getting him away from the B.P.R.D. and never having to draw a car again, he’d be able to make it real.
It’s like watching Eraserhead with a demon walking around…or a lot of demons, because we’re in Hell.[Laughter]
MM: I don’t know if there is a bottom to this particular rabbit hole. And I sure as hell don’t know how you’d climb out of this rabbit hole, so I’m just going to keep going down.
Setting the story in Hell is a pretty audacious chapter for this character. Was this always part of the long term plan, or at some point, did it just become apparent that the most exciting thing to do was to kill Hellboy?
MM: I think I always knew. I’ve always been more comfortable drawing a fantasy location than the real world. Especially when I did stories like when Hellboy was in Japan. It was a pain in the ass drawing Japan. I didn’t know anything about Japan, I didn’t know what a door looked like in a Japanese house.
I knew I wanted to get him…out of the world really early on. Before I did the Japan story. I always set a benchmark that puts us in a more fantasy kind of location. I don’t know when it occurred to me that he should go to Hell, but certainly that’s when Hell became my fantasy world. My world where I could draw whatever I want.
I think after I did “The Amazing Screw-On Head,” I realized I like doing a book where I completely make up the world. Which is why this Hell world will, in some ways, resemble the Amazing Screw-On Head world. Because that’s kind of the world…I don’t want to say the world I want to live in, but it’s definitely the world I see in my head. Stop me if I start sounding really insane.[Laughter]
MM: I just wanted to make a world that only I could draw. It is a problem if I decide, “oh, I’m going to get Duncan Fegredo to draw Hellboy in Hell” because I wouldn’t know how to describe what my Hell looks like, whereas I kind of know what’s around the corner. But I wouldn’t know how to explain it to someone else.