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    Skelton’s Crew’s B.P.R.D. Artifact Archive [Interview]

    By | March 14th, 2014
    Posted in Interviews | % Comments
    Logo by Mark Tweedale

    Israel Skelton (photographed by Shane Leonard).
    Hellboy has always approached his job at the B.P.R.D. like a tradesman, and what good would any tradesman be without the tools of his trade? For a B.P.R.D. agent those tools can vary from a humble iron horse shoe, holy water blessed by an obscure order of monks, or Vulcan-50 grenades capable of “taking the top of a god damn mountain” (and as Hellboy learnt in Prague, they should never be used near buildings).

    Last year some of these artifacts started to make their way out of the pages of Hellboy and onto the shelves of fans. This was all thanks to the artistry of Skelton Crew Studios, a team of artists working on high-quality scale replicas for Locke & Key, Mouse Guard, CHEW, and of course, the Hellboy universe. I’ll be looking at some of these artifacts and the roles in the stories they featured in below, but first I’d like to share with you an interview with the head of Skelton Crew Studios, Israel Skelton.

    The Bog Roosh's Nail.
    First up, I just wanted you to say a little bit about the concept behind these pieces, because it’s not like you’re making miniatures here. These are in 1:1 scale, and they come in this packaging that feels like you’ve reached right into the comic book and pulled these artifacts from the Bureau’s archives out into the real world. It’s not just an object, there’s an experience there.

    Israel Skelton: Thanks for the kind words, and that was exactly the idea. When Mike and I were first talking about the line, we both had the same ideas on how the Artifact Archive should look and feel and wanted the replica to transcend and extend into the packaging as well. I wanted to bring some of Mike’s art to life, and if I could bring a little bit of the Mignolaverse to life as well, why not.

    I will say it’s pretty fun hammering out all the little details, like figuring out where Trevor Bruttenholm was in the early ’60s, or when Thomas Manning joined the B.P.R.D., but I always worry that I’ll get something wrong. Good thing Mike is awesome and proofreads everything. He’s been great to work with.

    Cornelius Agrippa's Charm.
    Yeah, I know that feeling. I always think I’m going to make a huge oversight in my Hell Notes stuff (and I have, a few times now).

    So you write the catalog tags for the pieces? Because I was reading one for Agrippa’s Charm to prepare for this interview, and I couldn’t help but crack a grin. Dr Howard Eaton (from B.P.R.D.: 1946) “borrowed” the charm from Vatican City. I can only imagine how the timid Dr Eaton would have faired at something like that. And you know, it’s nice that you throw in these things that reference the minutiae of this sprawling universe. I mean, Eaton was only in one miniseries and an eight-page short.

    IS: Pouring through the source material and trying to make sure all the pieces line up is the best part. A lot of this stuff is happening just off screen if you will. We already knew that the charm was “on loan” from the Vatican, but we didn’t know when it was acquired, or by whom. That’s where I come in and add those little pieces. I’m a huge fan of Mike’s universe and to be able to fill in the tiny cracks is such an extreme honor. That being said, I’m not a writer, and Mike has been integral in polishing up the descriptions.

    As far as Eaton goes, he was a museum curator with an interest in the occult before joining the B.P.R.D. and had several missions in Europe with Bruttenholm as the war was coming to a close. He was a natural fit to locate and “borrow” a small piece from the Vatican’s war ravaged archives. I know no one will probably check, but I even made sure that the dates were right for Allied occupation of Italy.

    My favorite part of the packaging for that piece is the Sign Out Log. You’ll notice that Ben Daimio checked the charm out of the archive to try to quell the jaguar spirit, but when it didn’t work, he returned it. Abe then checked it out to put in his field kit when he led a search party to locate the Daimio, and the Daryl the Wendigo. Good thinking, Abe.

    Continued below

    Bishop Zrinyi's Silver Button and the Elf Shot.

    There’s four pieces out at the moment; the Bog Roosh’s Nail, Agrippa’s Charm, Bishop Zrinyi’s Button, and the Elf Shot that hit Alice Monaghan. And you’ll be unveiling some new pieces on Hellboy Day; Vasilisa’s Comb, Mohlomi’s Bell, and the Ogdru Jahad Amulet, I believe.

    IS: As for upcoming pieces, we plan to debut Vasilisa’s Comb [from Hellboy: Darkness Calls] and the Ogdru Jahad amulet from Hellboy: The Island on Hellboy Day this month. We have many, many more pieces planned for the future. The line is just getting started.

    Early Thadrethes frog design.

    I saw on Twitter you posted an early version of the little frog sculptures from B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess. It’s pretty cool to see these pieces come together.

    Your approach for each series you work on is distinctly different. I mean, what works for the keys of Locke & Key wouldn’t work for the artifacts of Hellboy. Did it take long to figure out what that style was for this line?

    IS: What a complement, man, thanks. That’s what we strive for. We want each line to reflect the look and feel of the book or books that they’re based on and make sure the artist’s style doesn’t get lost in that transition from two to three dimensions on its way to becoming a tangible object.

    Early concept.
    As far as the style for the Artifact Archive, in my early conversations with Mike about the line, he made one comment that I’ll never forget. He said he had seen other pieces based on his art and they looked too “Flintstone-y.” I told him that I didn’t think we’d have that problem and he’s really dug everything we’ve ran by him thus far. I will say that I can see how that can happen, though. As a sculptor, you want to be faithful to the control art, but being too faithful to stylized art can be dangerous. These pieces have to look real.

    Thanks for the kind words about the frog, too. That was sculpted by Jamie Macfarlane and he did a killer job. We just got the initial test castings back for that and I’m not one to toot our own horn, but people are going to really dig ’em.

    Early prototypes of the Nail, the Button, and the Elf Shot.

    Like it was pulled right out of the comic.
    To me Mike Mignola’s drawings feel very much like they’re carved out of stone. There’s all these uneven surfaces and little nicks in them. So it’s really cool seeing that sort of detail in your pieces too. It gives them real authenticity.

    IS: Thanks, man. We work with some really talented guys, Jamie Macfarlane, Tim Arp, and John Thompson to name a couple, and we’re all huge Hellboy fans.

    OK, I’m not going to ask you to pick a favorite from the pieces (that would be too cruel). Instead, let’s say you can make only one more artifact from the Hellboy universe. What object would that be and why? And I know this is tough question, because I tried to answer this myself and could only narrow it down to three. (Thankfully you’re already working on Mohlomi’s Bell, otherwise it would’ve been four.)

    IS: That is a tough question, but I think it would be Ualac trapped in amber. I know that may be a little obscure, but I have a few things on my bench right now that fans should really dig and were previously on my “I have to build this” list. Maybe your three are lurking around the shop, we’ll have to see.

    The thought never crossed my mind that Ualac could be an artifact, but that would make a really awesome one. Something really unique, actually. And just like that I’m back up to four again.

    IS: It’s been such an honor to collaborate with Mike and get a chance to work in his Hellboy/B.P.R.D. universe – I can’t imagine a creator who wouldn’t feel that way.

    We’re hoping 2014 is a great year for the Artifact Archive line and the other books we work with – Locke & Key, CHEW, and Mouse Guard. We’re also sitting on killer news of two more licenses we’ve signed and plan to announce in the coming months. I’m a lucky, lucky, busy guy.

    Continued below

    The B.P.R.D. Artifacts Archive.

    You can check out more of the Skelton Crew Studio’s work on their website, and you can follow Israel Skelton on his Twitter, @SkeltonCrew. And keep your eyes peeled for the reveal of Vasilisa’s Comb and the Ogdru Jahad Amulet on Hellboy Day.

    The Bog Roosh’s Nail

    This item appeared in Hellboy: The Third Wish. It was given by the Bog Roosh to three mermaids, so that they could capture Hellboy and bring him to her. The nail allowed Hellboy to breathe water, but it also kept him prisoner in the Bog Roosh’s den. It could only be removed by the hand of the Bog Roosh. Fortunately for Hellboy when the Bog Roosh was killed, her role was passed on, and the new Bog Roosh didn’t need any convincing to set him free.

    Bishop Zrinyi’s Silver Button

    I think these pictures say it all.

    Cornelius Agrippa’s Charm

    This item appeared in Hellboy: The Corpse. Hellboy was sent by the B.P.R.D. to get a stolen baby (Alice Monaghan) back the Irish fairies, but with fairies you have to play by their rules, which meant lugging a corpse around to various graveyards.

    When it looked like Hellboy was easily going to complete his task, Gruagach the changeling awoke Grom the War Pig and set him on Hellboy. With Agrippa’s Charm held tightly in his fist, each punch diminished Grom in size, until he finally gave up and fled.

    On another occasion Hellboy used this charm to beat up a giant vampire cat in Kyoto.

    Elf Shot

    In the Dane Hills of Leicestershire there stood an oak tree. Beneath it lived Black Annis, a cannibal hag that would snatch away children and eat them, and hang their skins in the boughs of the tree. But she wasn’t always this way. Once she had been a goddess, and her people brought her gifts. In time they abandoned her, and those ungrateful fairies became like wild beasts.

    On October 3, 1962, Hellboy found Black Annis and killed her. Her death was remembered. Nearly half a century later, in Hellboy: The Wild Hunt, Hellboy and his companion, Alice Monaghan, were ambushed by Black Annis’s beastly people, wanting revenge for the golden blood he had spilled. They were not able to kill Hellboy, but one of their poisoned shots found Alice.

    Vasilisa’s Comb

    Vasilisa’s mother died when she was very young, and her father remarried a woman with daughters of her own. Her new mother would threaten to beat her if her chores weren’t done, but Vasilisa’s real mother had left her a doll which would help her. Vasilisa’s step-mother became more and more frustrated until she decided to send Vasilisa to the house of the cannibal witch, the Baba Yaga, to fetch fire for their stove. Surely she would be finally rid of her new daughter.

    But Vasilisa was not too curious, and she had her doll to protect her. Finally, the Baba Yaga let her go with one of the skulls full of fire from her fence. When Vasilisa returned home, the fire burned up Vasilisa’s step-mother and step-sisters. Vasilisa kept the doll with her all her life, and when she was old and grey, the doll came to her death bed with two gifts, a blue handkerchief and a little comb.

    In Hellboy: Darkness Calls Hellboy came across the spirit of the doll in Vasilisa’s form, and she passed the gifts on to Hellboy to combat Koshchei the Deathless. When the blue handkerchief touched the ground it became a flood of water, and where the comb touched the ground a forest sprung up, growing through Koshchei as it went.

    Ogdru Jahad Amulet

    This amulet appeared in Hellboy: The Island, worn by an Ogdru priest that had been killed by the Spanish Inquisition. However, the amulet’s history is far longer than that. It is connected to native Americans that had kept a record of the true history of the world on three golden tablets, written in the language of the first people. Further connections to Mesoamerican civilisations have been explored in Hellboy versus the Aztec Mummy and Abe Sapien: The Shape of Things to Come, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see an amulet like this again in a future story.

    Continued below

    Mohlomi’s Bell

    This bell was given to Hellboy by the the witchdoctor Mohlomi as protection. Hellboy lost it to the ocean depths when he was attacked by mermaids (see Hellboy: The Third Wish). The bell was swallowed by a whale, the oldest living creature in the world, and should never have been seen again.

    More than two years later, when Hellboy died in Hellboy: The Island, Hellboy spoke to Mohlomi on the plains beyond life. When he appologized for losing Mohlomi’s bell, the old witchdocter presented it to him anew. Hellboy awoke from death with Mohlomi’s bell clutched in his right hand, and from it he drew strength to fight back against the Ogdru priest that had been resurrected in a body woven from his own blood.

    Thadrethes Frog

    When B.P.R.D. Agent Elizabeth Sherman was kidnapped by Memnan Saa and the Chutt, she was used to combat frog monsters, channeling the Vril power inside her to create dragons. To contain her and to focus her energy, a Chutt monk had created little frog statues that levitated in a circle around her. The statues were destroyed when Liz broke free of Memnan Saa’s control, each one shattered and burst into flame.

    Ualac’s Amber Prison

    It seems Ualac’s lot in life to remain imprisoned. In 964, Ualac pretended to be the Devil, in a gambit that ended with his head on an anvil being beaten repeatedly by a blacksmith’s hammer. He was then sealed in a box with holy symbols on it, and there he stayed for until 1998, when he was released by two rather foolish Satanists.

    Ualac was bound into the service of Igor Bromhead, and together they ensnared Ualac’s cousin, Hellboy. Ualac took the Crown of the Apocalypse from his cousin’s head, and in the process became “Anung Un Rama,” freeing Hellboy who had previously been bound by that name. So yet again, Ualac got the crap beaten out of him, this time by Hellboy’s stone hand. In desperation, Ualac called out to Astaroth for aid (ignoring his own advice that his favors come at too high a cost) and though he was saved from further beatings, he found himself again imprisoned for another thousand years.


    //TAGS | 20 Years of Hellboy | 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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