Dark Horse is currently prepping “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” — a new thread in the massive publishing plan for the Mignola-verse, whose first arc will be co-written by Mignola and John Arcudi and illustrated by Alex Maleev. The series takes place in the early 1950s when a very young Hellboy grew up enough to finally become an active agent in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. That heretofore uncovered era of the Hellboy timeline makes the series different from the ongoing “B.P.R.D.” and “Hellboy In Hell” series, but that’s just one of many new elements brought to the book.
CBR News spoke with Mignola about the upcoming comic, exploring how “Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” has been years in the making, why he’s taking a more central role in writing this series, what Maleev brings to the table as a new artist and how this book will impact the future of his own Hellboy arc.
CBR News: Mike, you’ve said in the past that one of the reasons Hellboy went off on his own was that you weren’t as interested in making him one player in a team book as much as you were making him a solo star. What led to this more team-oriented book for the character?
Mike Mignola: Well, I think the comment I’ve made before is that after the first and second “Hellboy” miniseries, I realized that Hellboy was taking over the book. There was just no room for Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and those other characters that would become the spinoff “B.P.R.D.” book. But the fact that Hellboy was an agent was always part of his history. And I’ve done stories set in the past where he’s teamed with one or two other agents. What really led to this book was that we did the “B.P.R.D. 1946,” “1947” and “1948” books, and we started to see baby Hellboy growing up and interacting with these agents. It just seemed like such a perfect next step to jump up a couple of years with an older Hellboy — though still young and inexperienced — with these guys who a couple of years earlier were the cool kids or the big kids to him. You saw a little bit of that even when I did “The Midnight Circus,” where he’s sitting there and listening in to the agents as they talk about that stuff, and he so much wants to be one of those guys. So he ends up growing up quickly within a couple of years so that these guys who have been patting him on the head are now in a position where they’re taking him out into the field.
The best accident — well, it was kind of an accident, but the best move I made with Hellboy was jumping over a couple of years in his development. He appears on earth in 1944, and then we pick up his story in the first miniseries around 1994. So there’s this 50-year gap where I’ve been able to drop in all these little short stories, but those have more or less just been teasers. There’s so much of his life and experience that’s wide open. And when we did “The Hellboy Companion” I wrote a brief overview of some of the things he did in that period. But now to be actually able to go and start at what is sort of the beginning — the beginning of him being an active agent — and letting the years progress through these books where we’ll go through 1953, ’54, ’55 and so on — it’s not an ongoing series like “B.P.R.D.” or a monthly book, but every five or six issues will cover a year. It’s not everything that happens in that year. Sometimes it’ll be one story, and sometimes it’ll be two or three stories that are plopped into that year, but overall we’ll be able to see his evolution.
This is a team book and will have a whole range of agents involved, but how much of the cast is people we’ve seen before versus entirely new players?
There are two characters that have appeared before: Archie, who was pretty prominent when John created him in “B.P.R.D. 1948” and a guy name Stegner who’s in both “’47” and “’48.” I think both of them also appear in the issue of “B.P.R.D.” where there’s a flashback to them in 1949. And while we’ve had all those ’40s books, we’ve also got something up that shows you a little bit more of little Hellboy in 1949. All those things set the stage for doing this book.
But I also created a couple of new characters. The beauty of this new series is that I want to link it with what we’ve done before, but it’s also a great opportunity to start growing and introducing a whole new batch of characters. Because we are quite a few years away from Liz, Abe and even some of the people I’ve teamed Hellboy with over the years like the female agent who was Hellboy’s partner for a while that’s been in a few of the short stories. That takes place in the ’90s, so I don’t think she’s even been born when this book takes place.
The idea was to create a whole new universe of characters and to do it without creating super powered characters. There may be some slight stuff in there with abilities, but I don’t want to introduce a new kind of superhero team. I want to keep it pretty human with the exception of Hellboy. The challenge with doing these kinds of books is that if you do anything too spectacular, you get people asking “Wouldn’t the characters today be commenting on this?” I always say that you can’t have Galactus show up in 1955 and then never mention it again. Otherwise, people would go, “Remember when that guy showed up to eat the planet?” The beauty of this book is that it keeps things relatively small in that Hellboy short story way.
Oftentimes when you launch a series set in the past of the Mignola-verse, you do so with an eye on how its revelations will impact the stories currently running in “B.P.R.D.” and “Hellboy In Hell.” I get the impression that you’ve been thinking about doing this new book for a while, so was there a specific reason why now was the moment it had to arrive?
Not really. It wasn’t really timed to coincide with anything. We have been talking about it for a long time. John [Arcudi] has been busy, and the original idea was that he would completely do this other than me doing what I usually do for co-plotting, which is a couple of phone calls. But John’s been so busy, and we felt like with the 20th anniversary it was a great time to announce this project so I decided that if John doesn’t have time, I’ll go ahead and write the plots. John will still come back and script, but it’s kind of a role reversal where I’m picking John’s brain while he’s doing the phone call co-plotting. And I’m doing some scripting, but it’s mostly me doing the kind of plots I generally write for other people. Since I am using characters that John created, I wanted to make sure the book ends up back in his lap so he can create the personalities for these characters.
And I’m not sure if John’s ever written Hellboy, but he’s definitely never scripted a book where Hellboy is this prominent a character. Is that different for you to hand over some of that responsibility when you’ve held him so close for so long?
Yeah. I assume I will always be tweaking Hellboy’s dialogue. But John being John, I’m sure he’ll get a good handle on Hellboy relatively soon. This does mean that I do pay more attention to the scripts in the future because I do know Hellboy’s voice. John has now written young Hellboy a few times like in “1948” and this other short bit that takes place in ’49. We have had a lot of discussions about this particular character Archie that Hellboy has a very specific relationship with. Hellboy is my character, but John’s put him in situations that really define this period of his life. So I’m constantly calling John to ask, “How would Hellboy and Archie act here?” It’s very strange when these reversals happen and take characters that used to be mine and have me asking John, “Would he say this, or would he say that?”
Alex Maleev is joining the book and the whole universe for the first time. He has a more photorealistic style than some of your other collaborators have had. Was that choice intentional because of some of the demands of the period?
Not really. I mean, I knew we wanted somebody who could do period. Even though this is not the Civil War, it’s still the ’50s. You want someone who can give it that level of detail and attention, but we were just looking for somebody really good. We threw out a bunch of names, and again because we’ve been talking about this book for years, we threw out a number of people who based on their schedules or how Marvel tends to suck guys up and put them under contract. Alex was a guy where we’ve always loved his work, and in some ways just like with Duncan Fegredo, I just never thought we’d be able to get him. But [editori-in-chief] Scott Allie went after him, and I was thrilled when he came back and said, “He’ll do it.” I was also like, “I’ll believe it when I see pages” just because I never thought Marvel would let him get away. But it was great that we got him.
We haven’t really discussed this, but I think the plan will be that we’ll have different artists on the book as it goes on. But I do love what Alex is doing. I’ve seen most of the first issue of the book, and it’s really beautiful. He does do things differently than I do, and so it’s been interesting writing for him. I’ve had to adjust the way I’d write for him from they way I write for Duncan or for someone like Ben Stenbeck. But it’s great stuff.
There’s little we know about the overall story of the book at this point, but one key piece of the announcement was that this firs arc will take Hellboy and the team to Brazil — a country and even a part of the world you haven’t played with much in this universe. What was the story or even the mythological attraction there that provided the springboard for this series?
There is a reason for that. I had a one-sentence idea for this series that I came up with when I first pitched the series to John Arcudi. I can’t tell you what that is, because that one sentence would give too much of the plot away. But it was always about South America for certain reasons that will be clear when you read the book. The other great thing about this line of books is the idea that Hellboy has been every place. So the idea of going in and putting him in all these different locations based on what I want to write, what John wants to write and what the artists want to draw allows us to explore the mythologies and in some cases the political things going on in the world from the ’50s into the ’60s. I’ve done Europe. I’m not saying we won’t do Europe again. But for now, this is a chance for us to explore some new places.
And I assume that as this all comes together, work on “Hellboy In Hell” continues at its own pace?
Yeah. Unfortunately there’s this book and another new miniseries that I’m writing right now. It’s unfortunate that I’m trying to do them both at the same time because it isn’t leaving me any time to write and draw “Hellboy In Hell.” For the next couple months, all my focus is going to be on getting these two series caught up, and then in the fall/winter I’m really looking forward to really focusing on “Hellboy In Hell.” I’ve started the next issue, and that’s a two-issue story. I’m not sure when it’ll come out, but I want to make sure those two come out on consecutive months. The next story after that is also two-issues, so I’d love to have a nice, uninterrupted chunk of time where I can bang out several of those comics.
I have been trying to cut back on my writing for other people. This is just — I wont’ say it’s a bad patch, but it’s a major distraction from “Hellboy In Hell.” But it’s fun to do.
I’m sure all the 20th Anniversary of Hellboy happenings didn’t help either.
Yeah, that wasn’t so much a hurdle, but it was weird. It got more attention than I ever expected, and I certainly did more interviews than I’d ever done. I keep saying, “I don’t want to do anymore interviews!” When he turns 25, I’ll do interviews again. [Laughs] But until then, I’ve said all I can say. But that said, this book is a major new wrinkle for the whole Hellboy world, and I’m thrilled I can finally talk about it. I know talking to you and some other people over the past few years, I’ve probably teased it. “Well, he’s in Hell, and we’re doing all this weird stuff, but there are going to be other stories that take place in Hellboy’s past!” So I’ve been hinting about this book, but I wanted to let Dark Horse save it so we could make a real announcement about it.
“Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.” begins in December from Dark Horse Comics.