Earlier this month at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo, Mike Mignola had plenty of news to talk about on top of his already hefty run of upcoming Dark Horse projects. Aside from the previously announced “Hellboy: The Storm” miniseries, the cartoonist dropped word of a new collection of material under his “Amazing Screw-On Head” banner as well as the details of the August-shipping “Baltimore: The Plague Ships” miniseries based on his and writer Christopher Golden’s 2007 novel “Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire.”
As Mignola explained at the convention, “If you’ve read the book, there’s a hole in the middle of the book where the character takes off after the man who ruined his life, and that’s where the comic picks up. There’s this giant chunk of years from the middle of the novel that hopefully this series of miniseries will fill in the blank for.”
However, when CBR News spoke with Mignola about the new miniseries co-written with Golden and drawn by Ben Stenbeck, Mignola explained the comic would be much more than a “fill-in-the-blanks” story and would in fact help expand the world of vampire-hunting Lord Henry Baltimore to be its own distinct universe. “To go back to the novel, that was something I was looking to do as a comic, and I was never going to get around to it,” Mignola told CBR. “And Chris adhered very close to my original idea for the comic. He’s a very logical writer even though he writes about the supernatural. He approached that in a very logical way, and he always said that ‘Baltimore’ gave him an excuse to write something that didn’t make any sense. It’s my folklore/fairy tale mentality. Certain things just happen. I can’t really explain to you how or why they happen. It’s just that in my head, they make a certain kind of sense. It’s my own internal, fairy tale logic.”
The novel introduced Lord Baltimore, a British noble who accidentally angers an ancient vampire known as the Red King. As the bloodsucker raises legions of the undead to kill Baltimore’s family and in turn twists the fate of World War I, his actions set forth a bitter rivalry with Baltimore chasing the Red King and his kind across the years for vengeance.
“We went back and forth about how we would do the comic,” Mignola said. “I can’t really say with this first one whose plot this was. I think we batted it back and forth enough that we kind of both take ownership of that story. The beauty and the surprise of what’s going on with the Baltimore stuff -Â which is definitely a separate universe from Hellboy though it’s meant to be a coherent universe – is that we start in the ‘real world’ with my version of World War I that’s not a fantasy world. It’s World War I if things fell apart halfway through the war. Then the novel jumps ahead ten years, and by the end of the novel, we focus so much on the Baltimore character and these other supporting characters that Chris and I realized we never saw what happened to that world. We saw that world begin to fall apart, and then we focused on the characters at the end. So we never saw how that world evolved.
“Once we started doing the Baltimore comic, we started realizing, ‘We’ve got a whole world to create,'” Mignola added. “Kind of like how with ‘B.P.R.D.’ we found the structure of the world altering, we really had to do that with ‘Baltimore’ because we were saying, ‘Suddenly, the plague hit, and World War I stops mid stride,’ but it’s also this kind of steampunk World War I. There’s a lot of fun stuff we’re able to trot out. We’re showing how the world collapses, but we’re also showing how in our version of World War I, there were armadas of submarines. It really embraces that whole steampunk feel so of course there would have been armies of zeppelins and Jules Verne-esque submarine battles and things like that. This first miniseries feels like the tip of the iceberg.”
Mignola promised his “Plague Ships” story would be the first such series to expand upon the Baltimore world, and that sea battles off the French Riviera driven by the undead would be only the first piece of the larger picture to be seen. In fact, Mignola and Golden truly view their creation as a chance to recreate the world from the ground up in a way that’s best suited to comics. “Unfortunately, I think one of the problems with comics these days is that they’re pitches for movies or TV shows,” the artist said. “A lot of people are thinking smaller because their goal is to get a movie made, and also what they’re looking at is TV shows and movies. I can’t imagine anything more boring than comics about guys getting in and out of cars and talking on cell phones. And yet, that’s what I keep seeing in comics. I can’t imagine anybody wanting to read that stuff. I grew up on Jack Kirby’s ‘Fantastic Four’ so I’ve got a much bigger world view as far as what comics should be. And I’m not saying one’s wrong and one’s right. I’m just saying that that’s the approach I come from. I’m not looking at it and saying, ‘Wait a minute…we have a budget restraint.’ There is no budget, so do all this crazy stuff.”
“Baltimore: The Plague Ships” #1 hits comic shops in August. Check back to CBR later this week for more on Hellboy’s world with our “To Hellboy And Back” column.