Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be showing pages that are either scary or are part of “scary” issues (as scary as a comic can be, of course), because it’s October! Today’s page is from Hellboy: Wake the Devil #3, which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated August 1996. This scan is from Hellboy: Library Edition volume 1, which was published in May 2008. Enjoy!
“Wake the Devil” is the second Hellboy mini-series, and the first that Mignola scripted, so it’s interesting to see how he does things. Obviously, when you’re reading early Hellboy, you’re probably there for Mignola’s art, but the stories are pretty darned cool. This page isn’t the scariest, but it’s still pretty eerie.
Mignola weirdly gives us a definition of the Witches of Thessaly in the first panel. I write “weirdly” because within the context of the story, we probably get enough about the witches that we don’t need the encyclopedia entry. Is this an example of a relatively neophyte writer not trusting himself? Mignola hadn’t written much prior to this; maybe he felt that he really needed to get in who the witches are. I’m not sure, but it doesn’t get the page off to a rousing start. Mignola then re-establishes where Hellboy is in Panel 2 before we get the semi-splash of Panel 3, where our hero lets us know that he’s not happy. The writing on the page is almost incidental, because it tells us almost nothing important – again, it’s nice to know who the witches are, but in the context of the story, not terribly necessary … at least to the level of detail of that first panel. Oh well.
Mignola’s artwork is probably an acquired taste, because it’s certainly not like a lot of artists’, but it’s definitely strong on this page. The statue on the first page is a typical Mignola pose – he’s very good at making stone look alive, and the woman in the first panel, who moves our eyes to Panel 2, looks unbelievably sad. This has as much to do with the shading as the drawing – she has no eyeballs and her lips are almost non-existent, but Mignola’s (or colorist James Sinclair’s) blacks deepen her eyes and turn her mouth into a pout. Mignola’s castle in Panel 2 is straight from Central Casting (you can cast a castle, right?), but he is still able to move our eyes, because the higher tower is on the right, so our eyes move slowly up to the peak, and then the sound effects drag us down to Panel 3. This not only helps us “read” the page, but it implies that Hellboy is physically deep in the castle’s bowels … which he is. Without showing us where Hellboy is, the page set-up helps place him. Panel 3 is nicely designed, too – the sound effects stop right by Hellboy’s pistol blast, so we can see the hand holding the gun clearly even though it’s a black mass surrounded by other black masses. When our eye stops there, we’re at the central image of the page, and we can see the bird-witches clearly. The one that Hellboy is shooting is angled to the left, so our eye is drawn to the one on the left, where we see that it has breasts, which is certainly odd. Of course, it’s not a real bird, which is why the breasts exist. This visual clue is one reason why Mignola’s textbook definition of the witches might be overkill. Hellboy himself is shrouded – we can’t even see his head, but Mignola and Sinclair make sure we see his giant “hell hand” – that’s a key part of the Hellboy mystique, so if you’re happening to pick this issue up without knowing much about the character, that stands out. His tail and the word balloons point us toward the right, where we see the silhouette of the bird before moving on to the next page. In any Hellboy comic, there’s going to be a lot of black, but Sinclair’s use of yellow is very nice, because yellow eyes are always creepy! Mignola doesn’t do much with the background, but the jumbled rock and the bone imply that we’re deep in the earth. It’s never a bad thing to suggest things and let the readers use their imaginations!
Will we see scarier pages from Mignola and Hellboy? Only tomorrow can say for sure! Until then, don’t be shy to check out the archives!