It’s been 20 years since Mike Mignola’s red-skinned, doom-fisted, cigar-chomping hero Hellboy first busted his way into comic shops, and outside that titanic accomplishment, there’s also a whole world of characters and comics now a part of Dark Horse’s “Mignolaverse.”
Perhaps no one understands the ways Hellboy’s world has grown better than John Arcudi who for the past decade has been an integral collaborator with Mignola — scripting many of the Hellboy spinoff series including over 100 issues of comics related to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. At the heart of that work is the Arcudi-led “B.P.R.D.” ongoing series currently exploring the devastating landscape of “Hell On Earth” with the war for New York City story “Reign of the Black Flame.”
To look back over all his work with Mignola and artists from Guy Davis to Tyler Crook, CBR News spoke with Arcudi about his tour of duty in the world of Hellboy. Below, the writer explains his history with the characters as a reader first, shares what elements and ideas from Mignola’s early work have most impacted his “B.P.R.D.” scripts, teases how “Reign of the Black Flame” presents a turning point for Liz Sherman and company and celebrates his place in 20 years of creator-owned work.
CBR News: John, I wanted to start at the beginning of Hellboy, from your perspective. While you didn’t start collaborating with Mike until about ten years later, you were definitely doing a lot of work for Dark Horse around the time “Seed of Destruction” debuted. I wondered if you could tell me your memory of Mike’s work as a reader back then. What stood out to you in the early Hellboy stories?
John Arcudi: I loved it right off. I was already a fan of Mike’s art at that point and was really happy to see him do something that was all his own. “Wolves of Saint August,” though, was where I really got on-board. That’s when Mike started writing his own stuff, and it felt a lot more natural, a lot more weird and spooky. I hope I can get away with saying this now, but I was surprised by how good a writer Mike was.
And what was your relationship with Mike then? Did you know each other through Dark Horse or through comics in general, or did you become acquainted after you’d read some of those original stories?
Mike and I met at a convention in Portland in 1992 and — along with a few other folks — we spent a lot of time together talking comics one night. I was incredibly flattered that he asked me questions about writing. We would see each other here and there at shows, and over time, we ended up becoming friends.
Did you ever respond to the world of Hellboy and the BPRD with a writer’s mind back then? I mean, did it ever occur to you, “This is a world that fits my interests,” or, “This is something I’d like to play in?”
Never occurred to me even once. When somebody is doing something well, I just enjoy it. I have no desire to muck with what they’re doing successfully. I just want be entertained. Eventually, as the landscape changed and Mike and I talked more about where some of the characters were ending up, it seemed more doable.
Of course, “The Dead” was the book that solidified the trio of you, Mike and Guy Davis, who truly took BPRD out into being its own pillar of the universe. What sticks with you the most of that collaboration as it wound through the War of the Frogs story cycle? Even though BPRD was already a series of minis when you came on, are there aspects of its longevity that have surprised you?
The collaboration changed with every series, so I couldn’t say any one aspect of it stuck with me. Sometimes Mike and I worked out a plot, sometimes he did his thing, I did mine, and sometimes I came up with plots on my own. But the longevity, yeah, it has surprised me. You feel really gratified when readers stay with you, and are committed to a long term story. It really is a lucky position to be in.
I wanted to talk with you some about the characters, because there are certainly members of the BPRD that you have taken under your purview while Mike has taken others along with him. Who, for you, forms the spine of the BPRD in a sense, and how do you continue to “divvy up the pie” with Mike, Scott and the other writers?
I guess Johann, Liz and Kate are the real “spine” of the BPRD now, for me. Mike and Scott have Abe (for now…) and that’s as it should be. He has his own history to explore. But the BPRD has a huge task ahead of it, and as readers will see very soon, Johann, Liz and Kate (and Howards, Carla, Feniz, Nichols, Devon, et al) are up to it.
I’ve always felt that while Hellboy and his adventures occupy more of the fantastical or mythical side of this universe, the BPRD stories focus much more on the human element in the world. Is that something that’s become a conscious goal of yours over the years? Or are there ways in which you think the two series and their specific focuses speak to each other as they’ve both moved along in time?
Not a conscious goal, really. That’s just the way I write. That’s why (I assume) Mike and Scott asked me to work on BPRD in the first place: to bring a different tone to the HB Universe. No point in having two identical books out there, right? And it seems readers have reacted well. They like seeing both sides; the magical stuff I just can’t do that Mike does so well, and my more nuts-and-bolts approach. They complement each other, don’t they? At least, I hope so.
One of the critical things that has made the Mignolaverse such a unique space in comics is the fact that the world honestly changes as the stories move along. What about Mike’s initial vision for Hellboy do you think has morphed into that kind of massive storytelling idea? And has that aspect of change grown more liberating or more challenging as the world has fallen apart?
Boy, I couldn’t answer for Mike on the first part of that question; you’d have to ask him. And challenging is good. It gives you a point on the wall to push off from, so my feeling is, challenging and liberating (at least in this case) are the same thing.
The current BPRD story, “The Reign of the Black Flame,” seems to be tying together a bunch of long-running threads in the series from Liz’s return to duty to the rebirth of the Black Flame as a villain. It almost feels like an ending to a lot of things you’ve been building for a long time. Does this story serve as a turning point in any way for the entire “Hell On Earth” cycle?
In a way, it does, yes. It really puts a lot of pieces on the board that are going to be instrumental in taking us to the next phase in the “big picture” BPRD story. Not so much an ending as a kind of beginning, if that doesn’t sound too stupid or vague.
So what does the future hold? Obviously, “BPRD” and “Hellboy In Hell” have had slight connections as the year has gone on, but do you ever see those books connecting back up as Mike works his own magic alongside your series?
Another question for Mike — and I’m not even sure he’ll want to answer it!
Keep checking in with CBR for more inside looks at the world of Hellboy as we continue to celebrate the character’s 20th anniversary.