For a creation originally built upon a team concept, Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse Hellboy Universe can be a lonely place. And that’s a good thing for readers.
Aside from the archetypal red-horned hero who left the B.P.R.D. for his own fairy tale-tinged adventures, many of Hellboy’s allies have found themselves walking the road towards solo stories, including his former right hand fishman Abe Sapien. This June 30, Sapien’s long career with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense has even more adventures unearthed with the two-issue miniseries “Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain” which focuses on Abe’s early career encounter with an ancient relic buried in a sunken Soviet U-Boat.
For a first look at the creation of the series, Mike Mignola returns to CBR for a new installment of our regular interview series, TO HELLBOY AND BACK! This time out, the writer/artist behind the entire Hellboy franchise delves into what makes Abe Sapien the character he is today as opposed to the timid creature that appeared in the original Hellboy stories and goes further into how he and writer John Arcudi’s collaboration has worked on the B.P.R.D. stories. Plus, Mignola and Dark Horse share an exclusive first look at Dave Johnson’s cover to the second issue of “The Abyssal Plain” as well as issue #1 interior pages from Peter Snejbjerg.
CBR News: With Abe Sapien, you’ve got a character who has changed so much from his earliest appearances where now he’s almost an action hero.Mike Mignola: Abe, his pendulum swings back and forth. Unlike Hellboy who seemed like he was well adjusted until fairly recently, Abe has had -Â because he’s been around longer than any of the other characters – this longer arc to his life. That’s why it’s great John is doing these short stories that take place early in his career so little-by-little we can see more of that arc. He is kind of Hellboy’s sidekick in some stories, and now in ‘B.P.R.D.’ he’s become the lead guy.
So when it comes to the characters, what role do you take in shaping their bigger arcs over the course of all the series?
Fortunately for me, John is the guy who’s making most of those decisions for where that character goes. The whole B.P.R.D. thing was interesting. Once, Hellboy had dominated the whole Hellboy comic, and there was no room for these other characters. I said to John, “Listen, I need you to take ownership of these other characters. I will make suggestions or discuss things, and there’s certain ideas about where this character’s been or where they’re going to go, but you need to feel comfortable evolving those characters in the direction you want to evolve them.” So most of my input in the B.P.R.D. is in terms of what happens to the world and these real broad strokes kinds of things. But how that affects the characters and what those characters turn into is more and more up to John.
It’s very strange when I have to write one of these characters in a flashback or something, and I have to call up John and go, “Would Abe Sapien do this or that?” It’s kind of funny.
In the case of something like the two-issue “Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain” series, where John takes the character stuff in his hands, are you saying, “I’ve got this idea involving Soviet U-Boats” and other high concept fuel?
“The Abyssal Plain” was 99% John. We’d said, “It’d be great if we do enough of these Abe short stories to show the evolution of the character.” But the basic plot was John’s, and when he told me the plot, I’m not sure he had it being the Russians, but either way, once we started talking about it, I realized that we don’t know much about the Russians in the Hellboy universe other than the stuff that was in “B.P.R.D. 1946.” So I said, “It’s be great if this was not only a great stand alone story but if we’d also get to see a bit more of what the Soviet Union is like in the Hellboy Universe.” So there are references to things that will flesh out the history of the Hellboy Universe that much more.
And like everything, we put a little bit on the map with this story, and suddenly we’re going, “Wow! Now the Russians are really interesting, and we’re finding our they were working on this and that.” I don’t want to get into it, but there was a lot of stuff that suddenly had to do with the Russians. It’s like you poke a hole in a dam. As soon as you make that hole, the water starts to come through, and you’re going, “Crap! Sooner or later, we’ve got to let that in!” So it’s not a little throwaway story. It’s another piece of the puzzle of that world.
The stories in the Hellboy Universe tend to oscillate between a kind of science fiction or more modern, technical kind of genre hook and the very old, fantasy-inspired story hooks that you’d find in some dusty book from before the printing press was invented.
I think more and more, the divide is that the mechanical is much more John’s thing. I’ve thrown a lot of that out there too -Â because we’ve both played with this stuff -Â but the more gothic, mythical, fairy tale stuff is very much my domain. John’s done some stuff with it, but it’s not his specialty. So “B.P.R.D.” can continue with what “Hellboy” originally was with the Lovecraft stuff and the Nazi supervillain kind of stuff or Fu Manchu kind of characters where “Hellboy” has careened into a folklore, fairy tale direction.
SPOTLIGHT ON…ABE SAPIEN
Originally introduced as something of a man of mystery but now much more a man of action (and regret), Abe Sapien is one of the lynchpin heroes of the Hellboy Universe. Discovered in stasis in 1978 in the basement laboratory of an old hospital, Abe gained his name from a note attached to his stasis chamber reading “April 14, 1865” -Â the exact date of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
Over the years, Sapien became an invaluable member of the B.P.R.D. team and, as Mignola explained above, oftened served as a sidekick of sorts for Hellboy. That all changed in 2004 when a near-death experience brought to his memory a name: Langdon Everett Caul. Investigation into the 19th Century Rhode Island native led Abe to understand that Caul was the man who he once was, though he no longer feels any connection to that kind of humanity.
“He’s also gone through this whole thing of ‘You’re a kind of creature’ to ‘Oh, you were a human being…so what are you? You’re kind of a creature, but you were a human being 100 years ago,'” Mignola explained. “Do you recapture being a human being, or do events remind you that you’re not human? He’s really a complicated character. And again, like everybody else from the book, he’s meant to evolve. If he’s one thing for a certain number of books, he doesn’t have to stay in that role.”
His role certainly has changed as recent years have seen Abe transforms from side player to gung-ho leader of many of the B.P.R.D.’s field missions, however the true story of his past remains somewhat elusive. Whether the full story of what happened to Caul can change who Abe is or not may be seen in upcoming issues of “B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth.”