by  in Comic News Comment

In a comics marketplace where DC and Marvel fire shots across each others bows over which event comic is built on the most important and lasting story beats, another collection of shared universe comics has steadily, almost quietly, built up a number of epic events in recent years: Mike Mignola’s corner of Dark Horse Comics featuring the creator’s Hellboy and B.P.R.D. characters. It’s almost appropriate how the stories of the Hell-born hero’s battle to overcome witched in the recent “Wild Hunt” series and of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense’s growing war with the ancient evil of the Frog Men and the Black Flame have come together outside the spotlight of most comics fans and commenters. As Hellboy’s world is built on the darkest, most unsettling myths and monsters in history, the line’s ability to creep up and shock readers with its tone and impressive size should come as no surprise.

With more and more Hellboy-themed comics on tap for 2010, CBR is proud to present the first installment of TO HELLBOY AND BACK – a new series of interviews with Mignola and the minds behind his comic creations which, over the coming weeks, will help reintroduce fans to the world and its characters as well as announce all-new projects featuring the big red bruiser, his allies at the B.P.R.D. and much, much more.

This week, the cartoonist behind the entire universe gets the ball rolling by explaining how he and his collaborators have built the action adventure universe of Hellboy over the course of many years, what mythological cornerstones have grown to be the foundation of his work and what dark, desperate themes come to light in both Mignola’s ongoing series of “Hellboy” minis with artist Duncan Fegredo as well as on the similarly serialized “B.P.R.D.” comics with co-writer John Arcudi and artist Guy Davis. Plus, Dark Horse has provided CBR with an EXCLUSIVE preview of April 14’s “B.P.R.D.: King of Fear” #4 – the long-awaited turning point chapter for the B.P.R.D. cast and their war with the Frogs.

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CBR News: When I was reading up to get ready for this call, I looked at the two most recent “B.P.R.D.” volumes and thought, “Volumes ten and eleven? It can’t be that many, can it?” While the whole Hellboy universe has been around for many years at this point, these stories do seem to accrue quickly with more and more volumes and more and more story piling up. Does the universe and its books sitting on your shelf look bigger than they feel sometimes?

Mike Mignola: It feels…as big as it is. With “B.P.R.D.,” the beauty of it is that I don’t do the bulk of the writing, and Guy Davis is not only fantastic, but he’s super fast. So we’re able to have pretty much a monthly book out there. “Hellboy” has been around longer, but it goes slower, so they’re almost neck-in-neck in terms of books, but “B.P.R.D.” has already pulled ahead of it.

In the most recent stories the whole history of King Thoth and the Hyperborian Age and the Golden People has played a roll in establishing a lot of ideas to be used by either “Hellboy” or “B.P.R.D.” but even there it feels like you take your time to retell the origins of that mythology in each book, and then there’s so many details there that the same Thoth story can have very different implications for each comic series in and of itself.

The trickiest thing about that – and thank God there’s only two writers – but it’s making sure we keep track of certain events. The reason why we did that “Hellboy Companion” a few years ago was because it’s mostly a tool for John Arcudi and I to know when certain things had happened to give us a framework to tell stories in. But we increasingly add to the Hyperborian history or the Victorian era stuff. We’re constantly having to check and say, “Wait…was this guy here, or was he here? Was he in prison that year?” It’s a little tricky, but the world is small enough that we can keep a pretty tight rein on that stuff.

With things like the Hyperborian stuff, the more we do, the bigger it gets. As opposed to “We’ve almost told the whole history of that thing,” you’ve just got to add one little reference so you can go, “Oh look! There’s 5,000 years of history that we just made a one-sentence reference to!” [Laughs] In my mind, as soon as I figure out that stuff, I want to find a way to get it into the book. From there it’s just a case of “Okay, I want to cover this piece of Hyperborian history. Where do I put it?” And actually, I just started coming up with a Hellboy story two days ago where I said, “It’s kind of this and that, but it’s also an excuse to go in and flesh out a bit more Hyperborian history.” But then you get to the point where you think, “If Hellboy finds out this, will that affect other stories?” I can’t have Hellboy discover something in 1957 and then later they don’t know anything about it. As this thing gets bigger, you’ve got to go back and read the books every once in a while to see what you’re doing. But it’s fun! It’s a good problem to have.

It seems like something you’d have to be worried about is including this grand mythological tapestry without having it feel like some boring info dump.

Well, that’s the thing. In a way, I kind of hurry to get a lot of stuff out there, but I’m not in such a hurry that I’m going to dump everything out in one place. I kind of did it in the Hellboy trade “Strange Places.” That was coming off the movie, and since certain things were revealed in the movie, I wanted to put out “my” version of that. I wanted the whole Ogdru Jahad and the Lovecraftian entities – I wanted to get my version of that in print, because it wasn’t like the film version. So I did maybe go overboard with a big history dump in that story, but I’m not trying to shove it down everybody’s throat all at once.

As Mignola explained, with more and more dire events assaulting the members of the B.P.R.D., the cast for the world of Hellboy has grown by leaps and bounds, which is why with each new TO HELLBOY AND BACK interview, CBR will present a creator-driven bio of the main players in the world. Up this week is the B.P.R.D.’s resident medium – the disembodied German psychic Johann Krauss.

While many fans familiar with the Hellboy movies may recognize Krauss’ form as the ectoplasmic man in the “plastic bubble suit,” in the comics Johann actually appeared after Hellboy had left the B.P.R.D. making the medium one of the foundational figures in giving the “B.P.R.D.” miniseries its own voice. And though Krauss may be without a human body, the character remains one of the most human and empathetic characters on the team. His connection to the world of the dead left Krauss (who was born in Germany in 1946 but lost his body in 2002 after a massive psychic event hit while he was in the middle of a seance) open to connecting with all kinds of people. At first, Krauss found a friend in teammate Roger the Homunculus, but when Roger died in battle, it caused a massive hit to Johann’s faith in the team and their field leader Captain Ben Daimio.

Later, after the evens of the “Garden of Souls” series gave Krauss a new body to inhabit, the medium fell hard into the world of physical sensation and pleasure, pulling himself back from the brink just in time to be “killed” again by Daimio who was possessed by the spirit of a Jaguar god. “I think for Johann the biggest thing is that he got a taste for what it feels like to be human again,” Mignola explained of the character’s current state of mind. “In my view, he was kind of content. He’d made his peace with being ectoplasm in a plastic suit, but once he got – and John and Guy did a great job with this – to be very, very human and start making up for lost time and rediscovering all those sensory experiences…when you take that away from a guy, he’s not going to be content being gas in a bag.”

What that means for the future of “B.P.R.D.” remains unclear, though Krauss has been stocking away information and a magical dagger all seemingly meant to bring him into conflict with Daimio should the Captain resurface. “My roll with ‘B.P.R.D.’ more and more has been to throw big story ideas in there, like Zeus chucking lightning bolts at a village,” Mignola explained of how the stories come togther. “John’s the one who’s down in the village trying to piece together the human lives these bolts are destroying. So, John’s done wonderful things with the characters. I’ll come up with, “Let’s do this!” and then John will figure out how that affects these particular characters.”

Check back with CBR next week for more of TO HELLBOY AND BACK, including a look at May’s “Hellboy in Mexico” project.