Several months back, B.P.R.D. agent and resident fish-man Abe Sapien emerged from a deep coma and promptly went renegade. The agent fled the Bureau headquarters in Colorado and has struck out on his own in Dark Horse Comics’ ongoing “Abe Sapien” series written by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Scott Allie.
Since branching out on his own, and heading up his own monthly titles, Abe has been traveling. He’s searching for something — something related to his own past, perhaps, and to the impending doom wracking the planet. Along with the continuation of Abe’s journey and the influence of Mayan prophecy, readers will soon begin to see intermittent flashback issues, illuminating as yet unexplored periods of Abe’s pre-B.P.R.D. life. The first of these flashbacks arrives in issue #8 of the ongoing series written by Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie with art by Michael Avon Oeming. Comic Book Resources spoke with Allie and Oeming about Abe’s journey so far, as well as what’s in store in the book’s future.
When Comic Book Resources last spoke with Allie about his work on “Abe Sapien,” the writer described it as something akin to “The Fugitive” — episodic stories of a man on the run, pursued by conspiratorial forces as he attempts to ferret out his own past. While that analogy still rings true, it’s become clear that “Abe Sapien” is not simply a series of episodic adventures. Abe’s journey lends insight into the events taking place in the broader B.P.R.D. universe.
“The number one thing [Mike] Mignola and I wanted when we decided to do this book was to show a ground level view of the end of the world, in contrast to the global military view we’re getting in ‘B.P.R.D.,'” said Allie. “This is a supernatural apocalypse, and we want it to feel supernatural in a very classical way, so the stories will veer in that direction more than they do in ‘B.P.R.D..’ We’ll also be exploring Abe’s possibly very important role in the end of the world. This recent Salton Sea story, something John [Arcudi] had been planning to write for a long time, fit into this series as a sort of early chapter, getting things rolling and defining Abe’s problem. Our understanding of what’s happening in the world will be made whole between the two books, ‘B.P.R.D.’ and ‘Abe Sapien.'”
As Abe makes his journey, he’s coming face to face with the death and destruction the B.P.R.D. is fighting. He’s also, for better or for worse, rushing headlong toward confronting his own past, hoping to distance himself from the possibility that he himself is somehow linked to the rise of the demonic forces plaguing the earth.
“A bunch of people think [Abe]’s somehow responsible for what’s happening,” said Allie. “Unlike Hellboy, Abe expressed a lot of curiosity about his past, and sought out the secrets of his origins. However, recent events are putting him somewhat in a state of denial. He’s not inquisitive in the open-minded vein of a scientist — he’s seeking to disprove someone else’s hypothesis, but the fact is, that hypothesis may be true. He’s not open to that possibility, whereas the last time he looked into his origins he didn’t carry a big prejudice with him — I don’t know what it is about Abe, but there’s always been an attachment to him for the readers. He’s a fish guy, and now he looks weirder than ever, but readers relate to him in ways they can’t even relate to Hellboy. He’s always seemed a little down to earth, a little more like a regular guy, and I think there’s a sensitivity and an introspectiveness implied in his character that readers always gravitate to. But the reason he’s the guy to get this ground level view of things is that he’s more personally invested in it than anyone else, thanks to this whole notion that he’s connected to what’s happening.”
To this point, Abe’s journey has found him stowing away on a freight train with a group of rail-hoppers, seeking asylum in a church of plague-mutated parishioners and, most recently, camping on the shores of the Salton Sea where he found himself exalted by a small band of self-proclaimed pilgrims of the New Order. The next leg of his journey will send him eastward in a two-part story by Allie and Sebastian Fiumara, followed by Oeming’s flashback issue.
“[Abe] didn’t find any answers in the Salton Sea, and so he’s going to wander,” said Allie. “His wandering takes him east. He’s not really sure yet what’s drawing him east, except an unwillingness to go back to the B.P.R.D.. The next arc… Abe learns a little about Mayan mythology, and how their idea of apocalypse does and does not line up with what he knows about current events. Mayan mythology is pretty colorful and fun, but a big part of what this two-parter is about is Abe trying to understand change. Changing people, a changing world. Change has not always been kind, or easy, for Abe.”
“Mike [Oeming]’s doing issue #8, which is a flashback. Every issue of the modern day story, the ‘Hell on Earth’ parallel in “Abe,” will be drawn by the Fiumara Twins [Sebastian & Max]. We want to break that forward moving story up a little bit with some meaningful flashback stories. Up until now, all Abe Sapien comics were set in the past, the way the occasional Hellboy story like ‘Hellboy in Mexico’ is. Abe was an active agent from the late ’70s through 2001, before the launch of the ‘B.P.R.D.’ series, when he became a real headline character. So there’s a lot of room for flashback stories set during those times. Mike’s doing this first one, and it connects to the Mayan mythology Abe learns about in “Abe Sapien” #6 and #7 — it just took place like thirty years ago. The idea for the story was actually Oeming’s. Well, the kernel of it. He suggested a setting that seemed extremely appropriate for Abe, I saw a way to tie it into some stuff coming up in the series, and Mignola and I shaped it into a story.”
In the early planning stages, Allie viewed the flashback stories as simply a chance to write for some artists he admired, without interrupting up the aesthetic of the primary storyline. However, he soon saw the rich storytelling potential the flashback issues could provide.
“Once I got into this one with Mike, I realized that it was a great opportunity for some other stuff,” Allie told CBR News. “There’s so much room to do flashback stories with Abe. To date he’s only appeared in a handful of stories between 1978 and 2001 when B.P.R.D. started. These are a way to remind readers what Abe’s life was like before ‘Plague of Frogs.’ It’s a way to flesh out his history in ways that will be meaningful for current events. It’s sort of a way to retcon in a good way — not changing past continuity, but adding to it in places that haven’t been explored before.”
Oeming, for his part, is thrilled at the chance to return to the world of the B.P.R.D.
“I was honored enough to do one of the earlier ‘B.P.R.D.’ stories with Miles Gunter, ‘The Soul of Venice,’ so it was great, almost ten years later to return to ‘Abe,'” said Oeming. “I’m obviously a big Mignola fan so this is some of the most fun I can have drawing a comic, and it’s great to get to work with Scott as a writer — I get to let my Mignola influence go a little crazier, although I’m using much more brush than I thought I would at first, so the style is still coming out very me. In [Oeming’s creator-owned series,] ‘The Victories,’ I don’t really have to think or be conscious of how I’m drawing, I just let it happen. But here I’m serving two other parties, Scott and Mike — and, well, also the fans, so I put much more thought into this than ‘The Victories.’
“Creator owned books like ‘Victories’ or ‘Powers,’ I can go right into on an instinctual level, only having to step back and really think objectively here and there — I’ve built those worlds from the ground up,” continued Oeming. “Abe isn’t mine, it’s part of a pre-existing universe, so I want it to feel equally mine but fit perfectly within the feel of the Mignolaverse, not just in style, but storytelling and mood.”
While much of Abe’s journey is a solitary one, several other characters will be making recurring appearances. Perhaps most notable is the sinister Gustav Srobl, the 19th century occultist who is now shadowing Abe’s journey.
“Strobl is curious about Abe’s story in a different way,” said Allie. “All Strobl cares about is maintaining the power he thought he was entitled to thanks to the deal he made with hell. Now that hell is out of business, for the most part, thanks to events in ‘Hellboy in Hell,’ Strobl is disenfranchised. But he’s not willing to lie down and die, so he has a much more honest, in some ways, curiosity about the end of the world, and what’s happening. He wants to learn the truth no matter what, because it’s the only way for him to get the power he thinks he deserves.”
The events of “Abe Sapien” won’t be self-contained, but, just as events in “Hellboy in Hell” have led to repercussions in “Abe Sapien,” so too will Abe’s actions affect the events of “B.P.R.D.,” which will have new recruit Fenix following in Abe’s footsteps to the Salton Sea in “Lake of Fire.” While the main storyline continues, weaving in and out of influence with the rest of the B.P.R.D. universe, Abe’s flashbacks offer an opportunity to explore the weird history of our favorite fish-man.
“Scott and I talked about Abe stories,” said Oeming. “Did it need to involve water? Isn’t that too obvious? But then again, he’s a fish, why send him to investigate a desert? I love esoteric stuff, it’s one of the reasons I love ‘Hellboy.’ ‘Victories’ is full of weird esoteric stuff that leans more towards the conspiracy side of things, but I’m a big fan of the Mayans, ‘Ancient Aliens’ and forgotten pre-Adamic worlds. I read about how the Mayans had beliefs that the other world was a literal place in these underwater sink holes. There were even temples that were under the water, either flooded or they swam through the water to build them, there are quite a few ‘National Geographic’ articles and YouTube channels about it. That was it, Scott immediately saw the hook into the ‘Hellboy’ universe and he went for it.”
“Abe Sapien” #8 by Mignola, Allie and Oeming is on sale in December.