Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s acclaimed “Beasts of Burden” is set to return with a very special guest star. Dark Horse will publish a “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy” one-shot crossover, in which the magic-wielding pets of Burden Hill meet up with with Mike Mignola’s demonic hero. The one-shot, which does not yet have a release date, will be written by Dorkin with painted art by Thompson, with covers by Thompson and Mignola. A hardcover of the first Eisner-nominated “Beasts of Burden” miniseries – plus the earlier Eisner-winning short stories – is due out in July. CBR News caught up with Thompson and editor Scott Allie at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo to discuss the crossover, and, soon after, Dorkin offered his own thoughts on “Beasts/Hellboy” by phone.
Dorkin and Thompson’s four-legged heroes debuted in Dark Horse’s “Book of Hauntings,” “Book of Witchcraft,” and “Book of the Dead” anthologies before receiving their own four-issue series last year. The dogs and cats, who can talk and practice magic but are otherwise not anthropomorphized, are charged with protecting the town of Burden Hill from ghosts, frog demons, and other mystical threats. Despite the cuteness of the characters as portrayed through Thompson’s art, they deal with problems as animals would, and there is a not-insignificant level of bloodshed and violence.
Dorkin joked that, when Allie mentioned the possibility of a crossover with Hellboy, “I was disappointed, because I was really pulling for Batman.” “He’d make much more sense. He sells a lot more comics than Hellboy does. I had to Google what Hellboy was, after we heard about this. Mike, uh, I don’t know how to pronounce his last name; he had this idea that our book could help his out a little bit. Because apparently his book is struggling. And, you know, our book launched out of the gate with Mark Millar numbers – meaning that I’m lying about them. So, you know, he begged Scott to do this crossover. Jill and I said, what the hell, let’s give this kid a break.
“I was pretty knocked out,” Dorkin said, turning off his characteristic humor for a more truthful answer. “Obviously, [this was] not something I expected, and it was very flattering, and also something I was not sure would make sense. I gave it some thought – we were both obviously interested in the idea, for various reasons, some creative, some pragmatic. I’m a big Hellboy fan. I was pretty overwhelmed. Mike just basically gave us his blessing to use the character. That means a lot to us. And hopefully we’ll do right by everybody – by his character, by his readers, and by our readers. Make it a neat comic book worth three bucks. Still trying to work Batman in there, though – apparently I have to get permission from DC or something?”
Allie told CBR that the idea for the project came up in the course of his regular discussions with Mignola. “We’re generally on the phone for an hour every day, we talk about all the books we’re working on and things. I think we were talking about another crossover idea that was a bad idea that somebody was pitching us. And for Mike, most crossovers don’t make sense for 90 different reasons, either because the characters don’t belong together or because they’re too similar or they’re too different,” Allie said. “And he said, ‘You know what we should do a crossover with?’ It was literally as simple as that; ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do something with Jill and Evan?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes.’ As he’s talking, I’m kind of wondering, what would Mike actually do on it, because he’s really busy, he’s really spread thin. The stories that he works on are usually stories that hes had in his head for ten years before he ends up doing them.” Mignola eventually said that he wanted the crossover to essentially be like an issue of “Beasts of Burden,” with Hellboy guest-starring in it.
Thompson said that her reaction to the idea should be obvious. “If someone calls you up and says, ‘Do you want to do a “Beasts of Burden/Hellboy” crossover,’ you go, ‘Duh, yeah!'”
She added that Hellboy and the animals of Burden Hill work well together because, if their worlds aren’t exactly similar, the sets of characters do tend to share a certain perspective. “Magicky stuff happens in both places, and none of them seems surprised by it really anymore,” Thompson said. “So they see a devil guy and they go, ‘Hm, now what?’ And Hellboy’s like, ‘Hm, talking dogs.’ There you go.”
Allie said, however, that readers should not worry too much about the implications of a shared universe between Hellboy and “Beasts” – and neither should the creators. “When we first sprung it on these guys as a possibility, I think they were both into it, but Evan’s Marvel zombie brain kicks in and he goes, ‘Well, does that mean the B.P.R.D. exists in the same world as “Beasts?” What are the ramifications of this?’ No ramifications. It’s just a comic, it’s just fun. But for a minute there, he was really worried about it because of how it would affect the reality. Man, let’s not think like that.”
Dorkin, for his part, told CBR, “I don’t know what Jill or Scott may have said, but they were probably lying.”
If there were a persistent continuity, Dorkin has a few amusing ideas. “I’m going to have the German ghost inhabit Pugs for a while, so Pugs can go around goose-stepping and yelling things out like a Nazi. A Mengele-type,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I really do like the idea of a pug running around the woods shouting like a German lunatic.”
Thompson, for her part, took the simple and pragmatic approach toward thinking on how Hellboy winds up in Burden Hill, chalking it up to “your obvious suspension of disbelief that happens because you’re reading comics.” “To me, it’s like the children’s logic. You say, ‘Once upon a time, there was an elephant made of marshmallows.’ And the kids will go, ‘Ok.’ And then you tell the story that happens that way. So to me, that’s what this story is like. Once upon a time, there were these dogs who could talk. And there was this guy named Hellboy. And they ran into each other one day. And this is what they did. And then they went home. The end.”
However, the crossover will be in continuity for Dorkin and Thompson’s “Beasts” series when all is said an done. “For all intents and purposes, it will be issue 5 of our series,” Dorkin said. “Mike told us to feel free writing it as Hellboy guest-starring in our book. I think he’s going to be very disappointed when I kill Hellboy off and reveal that everything that you know about Hellboy is wrong, that he’s fated to be a deli owner in Baltimore. Nothing to do with any Beast of the Apocalypse stuff. Just gonna be slicing pastrami and stuff, then pass away from cancer. And I’m bringing Roger the Homunculus back. I think that’s my right because I like the character, and I’m an aggrieved fanboy who thinks he knows better than the creator of the character.”
“Unlike a lot of crossovers, this will be significant to the ‘Beasts’ world,” Allie said. “With the way the first miniseries ends, it’s time to heat things up and start affecting the town and start making things change. Hellboy’s presence will be a catalyst for what happens next.”
Thompson added, “How can you overlook a devil-looking guy comes to town? That’s going to mean something for somebody.”
Though neither of the creators or Allie were willing to reveal much of the plot, Dorkin was happy to spin a few “What If” stories on the fly. “We’re going to basically put our animals over Hellboy, to use a wrestling term. He’s going to have to job. Because, like any crossover, they have to fight. That eats up pages and is very easy to do; writers love that,” Dorkin said. “They’ll see each other, then they’ll mistake each other for Galactus or something – Ra’s al Ghul – and then they’ll fight. And Hellboy of course will lose, because it’s our book, and it’ll just be very sad. And Roger the Homunculus will come back, because that, to me, is the point of the book.
“The truth is, Hellboy beats the living crap out of [the animals] in about four panels, and our book is canceled because they’re all dead. The rest of the book is just like pastoral scenes of the hills and Hellboy eating paprika chicken at a restaurant.”
In all seriousness, though – or as close as he was going to get to it – Dorkin did note the mismatch of strength between Hellboy and the animals. “Hellboy just overpowers our characters, so the trick is to give everybody something to do to contribute,” he said. “Because it’s sort of like the Little Rascals teaming up with Wolverine. The Little Rascals are cute and all, and they build little fire engines that roll down hills, but when it comes to an actual fight I’m going to have to come up with ways for our characters to not seem superfluous. But I’ve been able to make that trick work so far. They are animals, they have no hands; in this issue, they’ll have an adult supervisor with a big right hand of doom. And a gun. It will be violent.”
Visually, Thompson noted that there are some challenges relating to the scale of the characters, with the large-statured Hellboy interacting with dogs and cats. “We discussed that at length. I mentioned that to Evan and we’re actually using that as part of the story itself,” she said. “One of the images that I drew on the cover is Hellboy carrying Pugs around, and he’s kind of like a little baby and his hands and his feet are up. It’ll be very like John Woo’s ‘Hard Boiled,’ where he carries around this baby. Pugs is kind of going to be like Paris Hilton’s little Teacup dog. I’m really looking forward to it, I love Hellboy so much. Both Evan and I want to keep a Hellboy-ish, Mignola-esque feel to it. I won’t be changing my style of drawing at all, and Evan, I don’t think he can pare it down…”
Allie, laughing, interjected “Yeah, we’re not going have those great silent sequences from Evan!”
“But he keeps that type of impact, and I’m interested to see him do that,” Thompson continued. “It is this mystical, religious impact that you have. You see the scene, you see the monster, the problem, whatever, and you have time to drink it in before everybody reacts. And our guys will react in a very different way. I see Hellboy standing there, something bad happens, and his only word will be ‘Crap.’ And then all the dogs will be running around his legs like, ‘Woof woof woof woof woof!’ From the knee down, there’s like a million [bits of] dialogue, and only one up top.”
As with the previous “Goon/Hellboy” crossover written and illustrated by Eric Powell, Mignola will have a final pass on Hellboy’s dialogue. “However right Evan gets it, and Evan and I have talked a lot about how he wants to do it, but inevitably, and for the good of the whole thing, Mike will come in and do his thing and make sure that it sounds like him,” Allie said. “[Evan will] write a full script with Hellboy’s dialogue knowing that Mike might come in and throw it all out, or he might come in and say, you know, in that panel Hellboy doesn’t need to say anything, and jettison a 35-word word ballon. But in other places he’d say, ‘he wouldn’t say “Crap” here, he’d say “Goddamn.”‘”
“It’ll be good,” Dorkin said. “Jill paints beautiful stuff, and Mike has a great character he’s letting us use to walk our dogs around for a while. It’ll be ‘Hellboy and Beasts of Burden’s Excellent Adventure,’ I hope. I wish we had more than 22 pages, though, because I’m going to try to use it to introduce the thousands of people who have never read our book before that might give it a shot because they like Hellboy, and the twelve people that read our book who have never read Hellboy, to let them know who these characters are. Between Mike and I, we will keep them in character, and Jill paints beautifully and she’s painted Hellboy before in the ‘Weird Tales’ book. Mike seems to trust us, and everybody seems to think it will be cool, and I hope we live up to it.”
“Like everything else,” Thompson added, “we’re trying to tell a good story but also touch your heart, and it’s stuff that chokes me and Evan up. Every time we do a new issue of ‘Beasts of Burden,’ we’re trying to make you cry! We’re trying to break your heart. It should be a really fun adventure, and it has consequences – it moves our characters forward, our fellas, and you learn more about the town and the history of the town, and why things are happening the way they are.”