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Mignolaversity: A Salute to John Arcudi’s “B.P.R.D.”

By | November 15th, 2016
Posted in Columns | 4 Comments

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Tomorrow John Arcudi’s twelve-year run on “B.P.R.D.” comes to an end. 118 issues and four short stories; it’s been a hell of a journey. I spoke to many of John’s fellow Mignolaverse creators, and I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response I got. All were eager to sing his praise.

(Artist on various arcs of “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth,” and “Sledgehammer 44: Lightning War”)

“Killing Ground” / “The Long Death”

“B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground,” art by Guy Davis

Twelve years of writing one title, which is so rare these days in comics, is something to be respected from the start. So to be asked my favourite moments is a tough job, especially with the type of quality from the back catalogue. The stories to me have always flowed from one to another, the characters developing all the way, each character having their own personal journey within the team. With so many stories to look back on, so I went with what really hit me at the time, and that was the tragic story of Damio with “Killing Ground” and “The Long Death.” A powerful story with everyone on top of their game.

The thing with “B.P.R.D.” to me is that it captures the feeling of when I was first starting out reading comics. When someone died I was really worried. When a member left I was wondering what would happen to the team. Well, sadly I got older and realised within comics that most are on a repeat cycle. But “B.P.R.D.” is not like that. It captures my youth and reminds me of comics I used to read but with complex, intricate, and gripping stories.

“B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death,” art by James Harren

Working with John

A small thing I’ll miss with John on “B.P.R.D.” is his replies from some of the pages I sent it. The swearing made me laugh.

John and I first started talking around 2011 with an interest in working together, I had known John’s work on some issues of “B.P.R.D.” followed by “A god Somewhere,” and later I realised he wrote a run on “Doom Patrol,” all of which I loved. Time passed and I later had the chance to work one of John’s scripts on “B.P.R.D.” with thanks to John, Mike and Scott. Since then I’ve had a blast—who doesn’t want to draw monsters in the Hellboy Universe? But what I really want to say is how much I’ve enjoyed working on John’s scripts.

“B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Wasteland” layouts by Laurence Campbell

When they first arrive in my inbox I read them as a fan first before going to thumbnails. I love his pacing, the quieter moments and then the big powerful imagery. John makes my life easy, his words are like images as soon as I read them. The development of the characters is wonderful, something you won’t really read these days. You care for them, and they’ve all developed as I’ve been on the title. Not only that, but John has sparked my love for older comics and also artists outside of the field of comics for inspiration. Constantly looking and pushing it. I call John the artist’s writer as he knows the strength of every artist he works with.

So thanks, John—it’s been a blast. If you’ve never picked up “B.P.R.D.” you really are missing out. Now John is working on “Rumble” with James Harren and Dave Stewart, which I can’t recommend enough, and has a new title coming out called “Dead Inside” with art by Toni Fejzula, along with still writing “Lobster Johnson.”

Thanks, John. You’re a star. I’m guessing you’ll gonna hate this post, but like I said we all need something positive in our lives.

(Artist on “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: An Unmarked Grave,” and various “Hellboy” miniseries and OGNs)

Rather than pick and choose favourite moments, and there are so many, I think John’s greatest achievements lay in grounding the various mythologies that Mike created, making them gel with real, feeling, fleshed-out characters, yet never losing that sense of wonder or more latterly shock and awe. It might be Mike Mignola’s world but John Arcudi allows us to live in it. Bravo, John!

Continued below

“B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: An Unmarked Grave,” art by Duncan Fegredo

(Artist on “B.P.R.D.: 1948,” “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell,” and the “Abe Sapien Dark and Terrible” cycle)

“B.P.R.D.: 1948”

I love the way John writes the characters. He plants seeds that you cannot see very easily, and then these characters, who have always had a certain attitude, unexpectedly change and it feels completely natural, although it’s shocking.

The most interesting thing for me in “1948” was to work on the Professor. I knew the general idea of the whole story, I had the scripts, but I never knew (until I got the last one) how it was all going to end. But I knew it was his journey, and I was psyched to work on him and to decide which was going to be his attitude at the beginning and how I would develop and transform it little by little with specific shots and body language. And John was super cool about my approach and gave me plenty of opportunities to show that.

“B.P.R.D.: 1948,” art by Max Fiumara

I enjoyed a lot working on Simon Anders with John. That guy, you would never know what’s on his mind, he just acts. You would think he’s crazy, or that he’s having a really bad time, but you get the chance to interpret that; John doesn’t describe it for you. And I had the chance to make him look haunting. Simon himself would think he’s a psycho, but you can’t quite say that’s what’s happening.

The relationship between characters is extraordinary. I love in “1948” the relationship between the Professor and Anna Rieu: how good they were as partners, the link they had during the investigations, and how at the end they lost that connection. It’s so heartbreaking—and you can see that on Trevor’s face, he doesn’t argue about it, he knows the connection is lost. He’s just heartbroken.

“B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess”

When I first started working on the Mignolaverse, I had read all the “B.P.R.D.” stories up to that moment. All that reading was a fulfilling experience. Every character had something unique to it, each one was a puzzle. And what I enjoyed the most were those moments that felt like something wrong was going on. I remember getting quite nervous reading when Johann was running with the magical knife in “The Black Goddess,” feeling upset with Johann’s strange behavior, questioning if he wasn’t as good a guy as I thought he was—killing Memnan Saa’s monk. It was a great reading not knowing if Johann could come back to normal or if his behavior would change him for good.

“B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess,” art by Guy Davis

(Artist on “Lobster Johnson: A Scent of Lotus” and the “Abe Sapien Dark and Terrible” cycle)

“B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground”

Reading about Daimio was awesome in every issue. Not only because of what he became but also by the way he affected the rest of the crew. For sure he is one of John’s biggest legacies. The character you always want to know more about. Always. And what makes him even more memorable and special is that Daimio never came back. Thank you, John, for that.

“B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death,” art by James Harren

“B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine”

One of my favorite “B.P.R.D.” arcs John wrote was “The Universal Machine,” especially the backstory where Liz, Johann, Abe and Daimio share their stories and coffee, sitting in the kitchen. I love the way John put this kind of intimacy into a bigger tale. I think this is what I enjoy the most of his “B.P.R.D.” No matter what the team is dealing with, the characters get to you. If nothing happens, you still want to read how these guys feel.

“B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine,” art by Guy Davis

I had a short, but grateful experience working with John on “Lobster Johnson.” To collaborate on one of his scripts is so easy, but also thrilling. He lays out everything so simply for the artist—we just do whatever he asks and we know the storytelling will be effective—while he gives us room to play with the characters and the story too. Any reader would probably notice this with every artist he collaborated with on “B.P.R.D.” because the story just works.

Continued below

(Artist on various arcs of “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth,” and “Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest”)

Picking a favorite moment from this series is tough. It’s one of my favorite comics and the Arcudi / Guy Davis run remains one of my favorite runs. Of anything. I started reading because I was a close follower of whatever Guy drew. Arcudi’s writing on the series cemented him as one of my favorite writers in comics. I realized later as a professional how lucky we are as readers to have two creative forces that dangerous, that fertile, working together on a project that didn’t just work well, but worked for that long. It’s a rare and precious thing, and I’m really grateful for it.

“B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground”

I think my favorite arc on “B.P.R.D.” was “Killing Ground.” That felt like the culmination of something Guy and John had been working toward for a long time. It’s a master class on long form storytelling where seeds planted in former arcs flower in ways that will make you gasp out loud, ‘Have they been planning this the whole time?!’ The fight between Johann in his jacked test tube body and the Were-Jaguar is an exhilarating piece of comics.

“B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground,” art by Guy Davis

I read that trade paperback on a slow day working behind a register when I was eighteen or nineteen. I had just graduated high school (barely) and I was playing the pre-twenties, lost and confused, adrift young soul shtick to the hilt. There’s a cliffhanger at the end of that trade that left me stunned, and a little pissed. I was dying to know what the hell was going to happen to Daimio! I was ringing up customers with a thousand yard stare. In a twist of fortune that I refuse to examine too closely so as not to jinx myself for being so damned lucky, I got to draw Daimio’s fate in “B.P.R.D.: The Long Death.” It was to this day my favorite experience as a professional, and my favorite story I’ve told as a cartoonist. I’m grateful to Mike, John, Scott (and whatever Gods I fell into favor with) for giving me that insane gig… and basically a career.

(Artist on “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Broken Equation”)

“B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls”

For me, the defining “B.P.R.D.” story was the H.G. Wells / Jules Verne mash-up, “Garden of Souls”. That story was so perfectly ‘weird.’ When you have an arc that features secret societies, Victorian cyborgs, eel-birds, mysteriously engineered supermen with the capability of being soul capacitors, and a fucking living mummy… what’s not to love! However, all that weirdness would probably all fall apart if not for the inspired writing that is truly the soul of this tale. John gave readers two truly amazing and intimate stories: the first, of Abe Sapien and self-discovery; and the second, the intriguing and tragic journey of Panya (the aforementioned living mummy). I have to add, on this arc in particular, John’s writing with Guy Davis’s artwork, compliment each other so incredibly well… I simply love it.

“B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls,” art by Guy Davis

(Writer on various arcs of “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.,” “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Exorcist,” “Witchfinder: City of the Dead,” and “Rise of the Black Flame”)

“B.P.R.D.: The Dead”

One of the things I’ve always loved most about John’s writing is the way he skillfully reveals characters’ personalities through their reactions and relationships. Ben Daimio’s interactions with Roger the homunculus beginning in “B.P.R.D.: The Dead” and continuing for the next few volumes are solid gold, and remain some of my favorite moments in John’s run on the book. A particular favorite is a scene that happens early on, when Roger arrives for duty wearing pants like Daimio ordered, and the results are more unsettling than Roger parading around wearing absolutely nothing at all. So much is conveyed in those few panels: Roger trying so hard to please, and Daimio’s world-weary acceptance that this is just the way things are going to be. It is also, I hasten to add, completely hilarious.

Continued below

“B.P.R.D.: The Dead,” art by Guy Davis

(Artist on “B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man,” “Frankenstein Underground,” and various arcs of “Witchfinder” and “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953”)

“B.P.R.D. Plague of Frogs – Volume 3” (omnibus edition)

I’ve been a fan of John’s work since I first read that “Terminator” comic he wrote in 1990—I was a huge fan of his work on “The Mask” and “Aliens”—so when it was announced that he would be writing “B.P.R.D.” I was onboard from the start.

For me the big stand out moment in John’s “B.P.R.D.” work is the entire run from “The Universal Machine” through “Garden of Souls” to the last page of “Killing Ground.” Those three books seem to get better with every page, until you arrive at that final splash page at the end of “Killing Ground.” Which, to this day, is one of my favourite moments in any comic I’ve read. Not only can he write the hell out of ferocious monsters doing awesome monster stuff, he has a real gift for writing human characters. Another one of my favourite moments is from the end of [the first issue] of “Killing Ground.” Abe Sapien is writing a letter while the view shifts across various members of the team. Johann is in his brand new physical body lying in bed surrounded by junk food and porn. Both hilarious and poignant.

“B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground,” art by Guy Davis

(Artist on “B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Modern Prometheus”)

I’ll have to be honest here, I haven’t read more than a few issues from “B.P.R.D.,” but I have read what he’s done for “Lobster Johnson” and “Sledgehammer 44,” as well as John’s personal projects (“Rumble,” “The Creep,” “A god Somewhere”) and I’ve truly enjoy them all. I’d like to say more and praise some specific things that I’ve loved about these titles, but we’re here to talk about “B.P.R.D.,” so let’s not ramble.

Luckily (and thanks to the folks at Dark Horse), I got the chance to work with him in issues #133 and #134 of “B.P.R.D.,” featuring Sledgehammer. I got a lot of compliments for these two issues, people saying they love the storytelling, the pace, or little narrative details here and there… and I’ve let it slide. I took the compliments and let people think I’m awesome. The truth is I did exactly what the script said. I didn’t need to change a thing, because everything was there, and it worked great. John’s visual storytelling was perfect.

“B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Modern Prometheus,” art by Julián Totino Tedesco

So, John, thanks for making me look good. And more importantly, thanks for always being great to me.

(Ongoing artist for “Lobster Johnson”)

Throwing darts at a cake (or I’ll stick with pictures after this, don’t worry)

Picking a good moment out of John’s “B.P.R.D.” run is like throwing a dart at a cake the size of a football field.

Yet, for a comic so filled with perfect lines and funny, crushing, human moments (which often don’t even include humans), the greatest thing about it is actually the big picture. I had the luck of Dark Horse sending me the first eight or so books all at once, and reading those over a weekend was and remains one of the best comics experiences I’ve had.

This big picture part is very hard to convey. Think of how the entire house smells like cake when you make one (full disclosure: I am making a literal cake right now) and that delicious scent lingers long after the cake itself is gone. Even neighbours notice. Unlike all those ‘it really gets good in season five’ situations, every single issue of “B.P.R.D.” is the best comics you can get.

If I have to, I’ll throw a couple of darts at the cake:

“B.P.R.D.: The Dead”

“B.P.R.D.: The Dead,” art by Guy Davis

Johann fixes the instrument panels—John gives Guy and Dave enough room here for those panels—and turning them all on, a simple message appears in white type: VORSICHT, JOHANN.

Continued below

‘Ja, “beware,” only beware of what?’ he responds. Those few panels kill me. It’s a tiny moment but here I am, describing it eight years later.

“B.P.R.D.: The Dead,” art by Guy Davis

A few pages earlier, Daimio turns a corner and runs into a giant machine that has appeared in the hallway. Guy should get a medal for that panel, but I’d bet you anything John’s description of that panel was also exciting and fun. His scripts are really damn funny. It’s all in there.

“B.P.R.D. The Black Flame”

“B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame,” art by Guy Davis

The Black Flame sitting over unconscious Abe, saying ‘I think I made a mistake,’—a sad, frightening moment. Even before we all knew where it’d lead, we all had a terrible sinking feeling, knowing something irreversible happened. And since it’s John, we’re sitting there filled with empathy—for the Black Flame! I’ll just wait here until you read up to that point and past it…

The Black Flame! (Right?)

Maybe this is where the metaphor breaks down (and my cake over here sets off the fire alarm), but I’m sticking to it, damn it all, because it’s just goofy enough to make me not cry thinking how the cake is reaching the end. Luckily for all of us, this cake is packed into nice big hardcovers that will make you laugh and cry and describe it to other people using terrible metaphors. Throw your own darts and see where they land. Then try to stop reading. It’s impossible. Who doesn’t like cake?

And who makes better cakes than John Arcudi?

(P.S., I sure hope he isn’t hypoglycemic because that would put a big dent in getting the sentiment across here… but he’d be the first to tell me not to worry so much, so we’re all stuck with the cake thing.)

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//TAGS | Mignolaversity

Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. 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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