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EXCLUSIVE: Mignola, Arcudi & Allie Unveil “B.P.R.D.” Post-#100

by  in Comic News Comment
EXCLUSIVE: Mignola, Arcudi & Allie Unveil “B.P.R.D.” Post-#100

If readers were caught by surprise by the realization that Dark Horse’s “B.P.R.D.” series of titles had reach 100 published issues, they shouldn’t feel bad. It caught the creators by surprise, too.

But even as the publisher prepares to renumber the various series so that from October 31’s “Return of the Master” #3 (AKA “B.P.R.D.” #100) on, series creator Mike Mignola, writer John Arcudi and Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie have a massive plan for where things go from here. And the trio behind the B.P.R.D. have revealed the details of many stories to come to CBR News.

Starting in January with the James Harren-drawn “Abyss of Time” story, the B.P.R.D.’s adventures will focus on solo adventures after “Return of the Master’s” shocking conclusion. This means that the modern day “Hell On Earth” story cycle will continue through “Abyss” and into March’s “Cold Day In Hell” as drawn by Peter Snejbjerg and May’s “Wasteland” drawn by Lawrence Campbell, with each arc focusing on a different aspect of the wider B.P.R.D. organization as it fights the Ogdru-Hem. Meanwhile, the creators will also continue to dig up stories of the past including more “Lobster Johnson” adventures drawn by Tonci Zonjic, the March-shipping “B.P.R.D. Vampire” co-written and drawn by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon which will follow from the current “1948” series and finally “Sledgehammer ’44,” which will be drawn by Jason Latour and focus on a piece of World War II machinery long held in Mignola’s pocket.

With all these incoming twists and turns for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, CBR spoke with Mignola, Arcudi and Allie about the changes wrought by the 100th issue and “Return of the Master.” Below, the trio explain how the current arc may be the biggest B.P.R.D. story to date, assure fans they haven’t forgotten about Abe Sapien even as they introduce many new cast members, hint where the twisting tentacles of the Ogdru-Hem will next strike and explain why Mignola feels most at home in the past.

CBR News: Gentlemen, I wanted to start with a congratulations on “B.P.R.D.” #100. That was a surprise to hear about, even though I’ve seen the continuous numbering on the inside covers add up over the years. When did you realize that you’d actually built up this many stories, and did it change your conception of the books at all?

Mike Mignola: I think if any of us had realized, we wouldn’t have let #100 be in the middle of a story! [Laughter]

John Arcudi: Yeah, it kind of snuck up on us.

Scott Allie: I think it was Dan, the assistant editor on the book, who pointed it out to me a while ago and was like, “We’ve got to do something special for this issue.” We were talking about a variant cover for the issue at first, but we went with something different and change it to #100. We had talked about doing something artificial or more tacked on, but this change seemed best.

Mignola: I think the whole thing is that “B.P.R.D.” is so story driven, we didn’t want to make it a big, artificial event. It was just like, “Oh look! We’ve been here this long!” I certainly never thought we’d get to #100. It’s nice.

Arcudi: There’s a vote of confidence! [Laughter]

Allie: “I never thought we’d make it.” — Mike Mignola

Arcudi: That’s the quote you should stick in the headline.

Mignola: I mean, I’d never been on a book for more than four or five issues.

Arcudi: Yeah, I know what you mean. Believe me, I’ve had bad luck elsewhere.

Allie: If we’d thought about it sooner, it would have been easier to make this a big thing because issue #4 of this “Return of the Master” arc, which is now #101, and issue #102 are both pretty big turning points in the series. Pretty big things happen.

Mignola: Yeah, we missed it by just this much! [Laughter]

Allie: But “Return of the Master” is, I think, the biggest arc we’ve done at least since “King of Fear.” And probably those two are the biggest stories “B.P.R.D.” has ever had.

Arcudi: I think probably the turning point and what happens in “Return of the Master” is bigger.

Allie: As I was getting ready to dial into this call, I thought, “Is it the biggest? Well, Liz kind of cracked the earth in half in ‘King of Fear’ so maybe that’s bigger, but it’s definitely

Mignola: In terms of global implication, I think “Return of the Master” is the biggest complete game-changer we’ve got going.

Arcudi: In terms of the overall narrative, this story has put a big fucking piece on the chessboard that narratively creates a conflict that didn’t exist even in “King of Fear.” Now we’ve got a face.

Allie: With “King of Fear,” it was a big, big, big conclusion to everything that had come before, but with “Return of the Master,” everything that had looked so bad all this year in terms of what was going on in the world is going to deteriorate rapidly after #101.

It reminds me of when the Black Flame first showed up — that scene in the boardroom where he’s so convinced of his power, but really at that point we didn’t know he was so small compared to the larger picture. Are we at a similar turning point in the “Hell On Earth” era that we were there for the War of the Frogs?

Mignola: That idea of people not being in control — that’s the constant theme of “B.P.R.D.” People are trying to gain control, and you just can’t control what’s going on so efforts to gain control only make things worse.

Arcudi: The one thing about the B.P.R.D. and the Hellboy universe in general is that it more reflects the realities of life than other comic books. Most other comic books at some point have a moment like in the old Marvels where the hero goes, “This is just too much for me.” But then at some point they’ll regain control. That’s not what’s going on with our books at all. Don’t get me wrong. The heroes are still heroic in spite of not having control, but that’s really what heroism is.

Allie: And villains don’t tend to really have control either. Everybody’s got plans. Everybody’s got theories about what happens next, and I think time after time, nobody’s ever quite right.

Mignola: My feeling is that the universe is too big. Anybody saying, “I’ve got the formula. I can make this thing do what I want!” Well…I’m sorry, but it’s just too big. It’s like a guy trying to control the fucking ocean. No, no. The ocean is going to do what it wants.

Allie: Memnan Saa, the big villain throughout Guys Davis’ whole run on the book, thought he had all the answers, thought he was carefully laying everything in place. If he was a Marvel villain, he would have been in more control until the good guys came along and punched him. But for us, it was like Memnan Saa’s own plans were as destructive to him as anything else was.

Mignola: In the Hellboy world, if the good guys stay out of the bad guy’s way long enough, sure there’s a chance he’ll destroy the world. But there’s also a better than average chance he’s going to destroy himself too. Of course, you’ve kind of got to stop him from destroying the world before he destroys himself.

Arcudi: Or at least try.

Allie: And mostly they do that. Mostly.

Well, humanity isn’t quite done for yet. So let’s look forward to what future it has. The next series up will be “The Abyss of Time” drawn by James Harren and starting in January. The notes I have on that series seem like it pulls the story in a whole different direction.

Allie: “The Abyss of Time” follows immediately after “Return of the Master,” but “Return of the Master” is this huge, sprawling story where giant things happen. So the way this works is “Abyss of Time” actually takes place before the conclusion of “Return of the Master,” but it is the next two-issue story to come.

What are the mythological building blocks playing into that front of the fight there? The solicits mention that the Ogdru-Hem’s history and the Hyperborian Age ideas come back here. And what really strikes me as the difference between the Hellboy narrative and “B.P.R.D.” is that the former is very much grounded in the European mythology/folklore stuff at this point while the latter oscillates between more military/spy/Nazi stuff and the elder gods angle. Does the next few stories shift focus back to that Ogdru-Hem dread for a while?

Mignola: The Ogdru-Hem have been around in kind of everything. That’s the basic term of the god monsters buried in the earth, and they effect everything, but now we’ve got one standing up in the Salton Sea blowing gas into the air. So that threat has been escalating. But it’s kind of been kicking along behind everything else that’s going on except for “Hellboy” which pretty much has dipped off into a different mythology now.

Allie: Yeah, the Ogdru-Hem have been around since real early in “Hellboy” when Mike talked about the Ogdru-Hem buried in the earth and sea and scattered through the heavens. We’d gotten a glimpse of them in “Hellboy” and through “B.P.R.D.” over the years, but now they’re popping up one-by-one in different places. The way that “Abyss of Time” plays into that is weird because it follows in a way from the “Pickens County Horror” and Professor O’Donnell one-shots we did. There, Mike and I were just trying to do some side horror stories that weren’t as tied to the main characters of “B.P.R.D.” as everything that John’s been doing is.

But “Abyss of Time” wound up being different in how it connects to the Hyperborian stuff and the Ogdru-Hem. We started it thinking of it as this little side story that didn’t have anything to do with today in the world, but they way the three of us brainstorm, even when you come up with an idea that feels separate, two months later you come back to it and it’s inextricably tied in with everything else.

Mignola: Yeah. “Abyss of Time” introduces a wrinkle that I think is going to play out for a long time in the regular “B.P.R.D.” series.

Arcudi: In spite of the fact that “Abyss of Time” takes place before the end of “Return of the Master,” I pick up on it pretty quickly in the “B.P.R.D.” arcs, particularly “Wasteland” [a story planned for May] which is a story about a mission gone wrong. It’s like everything in the B.P.R.D.! [Laughs] But this mission was initiated by the characters in “Abyss of Time” indirectly. So it was weird. It was supposed to be something separate, but as we talked about it, it made sense to make it more important. And not that you have to read both. You can read “Abyss of Time” on its own or “Wasteland” without having read the other, but we like it to all feel like part of the same universe. We want it to all strangely connect like things to in real life. I keep saying that, don’t I?

Allie: “B.P.R.D.” is basically just like real life. [Laughter] But one of the things that was fun about “Abyss of Time” was that when it was done, I thought, “Okay, that’s done.” But then when we realized how it connected to the bigger picture, and I started getting scripts from John for “Wasteland,” I thought, “Oh, this is how ‘Abyss of Time’ really ends. This is how the story I wrote really wraps up.” And that was awesome.

Mignola: This is one of the advantages of there being only three writers on this stuff — or two and a half if you count me as a half. Maybe I’m a full third, I don’t know. But with only three of us, it’s relatively easy to coordinate these kinds of things. If you’re the Marvel Universe and there’s 50,000 guys, you can go, “Well, I hate what this guy is doing, so I’ll undo it over here.” We don’t have that. John’s got his thing. Scott’s got his thing. I’ve got my thing. And they all kind of overlap, and it’s easy to coordinate between the three of us.

Allie: It’s fun, and we can bounce things off each other, and we’ve been doing this for so long that we can have all the same reference points. I feel like some of what’s happened with these characters will read pretty seamlessly even as characters bounce between things I’m doing and things John’s doing and whatever Mike is doing.

Mignola: The trick is to make it seem like we had this stuff planned out a long time ago.

Arcudi: Shut up, Mike! We do! We’ve known it all along! [Laughter]

Mignola: I can say “most of it.” Most of it we’ve had planned out, and you can tell.

One thing I know that’s planned is “Cold Day in Hell” with art by Peter Snejbjerg, which publishes between “Abyss of Time” and “Wasteland.” If those two books are connected and centered in Chicago from the look of it, “Cold Day In Hell” continues the story threads that have centered in Russia and these bat monsters. What can you tell us about what cast members will take leads in which series?

Allie: Well, “Abyss of Time” is all characters you haven’t seen before. I don’t think we even check in with established characters there. It’s all new people. And then “Cold Day,” John…

Arcudi: Yeah. Since things have become so fractured — this is where it sounds like we know what we’re doing — after “Return of the Master,” we split the main characters up into shorter arcs for a while. The larger arc picks back up after “Wasteland,” but “Cold Day” focuses on Giarocco is in Russia because of events from the end of “Return of the Master.” We focus mostly on her and Josif trying to save a small town from a problem that happens after that story. There’s a big blizzard with an Ogdru-Hem and all that, but they’re also there because this small town has some bad mojo going on that could effect Josif Ochenko’s hold on the Special Services.

Then we jump back in time during “Wasteland” to the end of “Return of the Master” where this big cataclysm happens. We focus there on Johann and Nichols and Gervish. Between those two stories, we also check in a bit with what’s happening back at B.P.R.D. headquarters regarding Abe Sapien and Kate. So the main focus of “Cold Day” is Giarocco and Josif while the main focus of “Wasteland” is Johann and these new characters of Nichols and Gervish who we met in “The Long Death.” But we also check in on the headquarters which will take us through to the next thing. It’s a lot, I know.

Well, when you get to 100 issues, I think it’s understandable to have a lot of balls in the air between these various stories and series. Do you try and write them all in publishing order? Chronological order?

Allie: Let me say something about the artists relative to that. We’re juggling a lot of artists, and the three of us are just overjoyed with the artists we’ve got. Every time pages come in by e-mail, the three of us as well as my assistant Dan are copied, and we see this stuff from the variety of amazing artists, and we’re just overwhelmed. All the different guys we’ve got going for us work on very different schedules, and one thing I work hard on is making sure that we can get the artists we want for the story we want and give a guy the timeline we want things done on. Sometimes that means that even a guy who’s a really fast artist will have to juggle it around a Marvel job or whatever it is. So John has to write this stuff wildly out of order. You can’t imagine how out of order some of this stuff is written to keep the artists moving the way they’ve got to move.

And I think that kind of creates some creative opportunities, though John may disagree with me. For example, John had already written the second issue of “Cold Day In Hell” before he’d turned in the end of “Return of the Master.” That can be crazy and really chaotic, but it also can mean you know what you’re writing towards. With “Return of the Master,” he knew exactly where he was going to get to when it was done. So some of the order of this stuff gets crazy, and I think that makes it very hard for John, but he writes outlines way in advance. We have outlines that take us through 2014 at this point. It’s just that the schedule for the artists can sometimes be counterintuitive.

Arcudi: Yeah. It creates a lot of opportunities for errors, but that’s Scott’s job so I don’t have to worry about that part. [Laughter] But Scott is right. It does surprise me how this can create opportunities for creative tension that you can’t get by going in order. It’s not just what Scott mentioned, but there are also these intangibles and opportunities to try something a bit different. I didn’t anticipate that, but it’s made for some pretty decent scripts.

Allie: Definitely. I think you’ve made the most of it, and I think you’ve done things you might not have done. The “B.P.R.D. Devil’s Engine & Long Death” trade paperback is about to come out, and in the sketchbook section of that, you get a little insight into what we’re talking about here. We’ve been talking about Giarocco, who’s an increasingly important character on the team, and working on stories about her somewhat out of order. She gets really badly beat up in “The Long Death.” She gets kind of exploded in that book. So James was drawing her in that series, but Tyler [Crooks] was going to have to draw her afterward, and Snjebjerg was having to draw here in “Cold Day In Hell.” So both Peter and Tyler needed to know what Giarocco would look like with her scars and damage after James did what he did to her. So we had this whole out of sequence design system going on with James giving us a grid of where her wounds would be — what she’d look like immediately after the explosion and what she’d look like when she healed up. That had to be done before James had even drawn the explosion.

So there’s all these things where mostly Mike, John and I have to plan ahead, but also the artists have to get on it so the next guy in the rotation has all the info he needs to draw his comic.

Let’s shift gears a minute and talk about the series that take place in the past. They’re a bit removed from the thrust of the main narrative, and while I get the feeling that Mike defers to John in all things with the modern day, but he also take more interest in the series in the past. We’ve got “Sledgehammer ’44” with art by Jason Latour on tap for March. The marketing copy tags this as “Mike Mignola’s version of Iron Man.” How does that specific kind of thing build up, and does it connect to the present in ways we might not see?

Mignola: I think it’s kind of fair to say that John is moving things forward while I’m stuck in the past. [Laughs] There’s so much history that is underdeveloped, and when I look at this giant chunk of time, I go, “Gee, we’ve got nothing going on in World War II. Lobster Johnson died before World War II, and the B.P.R.D./Hellboy stuff started at the end of World War II. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had something going on during the war?” So I had created the prototype for this character in the first Lobster Johnson series — “The Iron Prometheus” — and back when we did that, I’d already done a design for a second generation of the V.E.S. suit. I’d had the design since way back then, and I always knew there would be a second version of the character, but it was just laying on the mental shelf waiting for the right artist to come along.

That’s a big part of the game for our stuff. I’ve got a lot of different projects. We just need to find the right artist and the right timing. Here, we had Jason Latour come along, and I said, “I bet that guy would do a great World War II book.” And that’s how that happened.

Well, isn’t that an awful lot like Tonci Zonjic coming along and making the long-awaited “Lobster Johnson” series a reality?

Allie: Yeah, I think it’s a lot that we find the guy and then find the job for them. With Tonci, we couldn’t have done better than him drawing “Lobster Johnson.” John put him on our radar, and we were so excited because Lobster Johnson was such a natural fit. We’re excited to do as much with him as we can. He’s doing more “Jake Ellis” material at Image right now, but then he’ll be coming back for more “Lobster Johnson.”

And I want to mention John Severin in relation to the “Sledgehammer ’44” series too. He worked with Arcudi on the “Witchfinder” series, and that was an example where we said, “What can we do with John Severin?” So Mike and John came up with this idea where we could put Edward Grey into a Western since we knew he’d spent some time in America. Mike had that framework of Edward Grey that when it came time to do a Western, the only Western we could do in the B.P.R.D. universe would be sending Ed Grey to Utah. After “Witchfinder,” we wanted to do more with Severin. It was so exciting to have those pages coming in, and we said, “We’ve done a Western. Let’s do a World War II thing. Well, what could that be?” And one World War II thing we can and eventually will do is the further adventures of Trevor Bruttenholm running around Europe and fighting monsters. But Mike had the Iron Prometheus — which we used to refer to as “his Iron Man” — for a while. In fact, I think we hid that V.E.S. suit early on in the B.P.R.D. series.

Arcudi: Yeah, it was in the first one I did — “The Dead.”

Allie: Yeah! It was the first thing John ever did, and it just took us this long to get to it. We were going to do it with Severin, and then we were looking for more to do with Jason after he drew “The Pickens County Horror.” So we weren’t so much looking for a World War II guy as we had a guy already and just had to get him the right story. I think that happens a lot.

Mignola: When Severin doing “Sledgehammer” — which I’d actually forgotten about until just now — didn’t come together, it’s not like we went, “Oh no! Now we need an artist this week to draw this book!” it just goes back on the shelf because it’s not needed. It just waits for the right artist. Lobster Johnson is a case like that too where a lot of guys just can’t hit the specifics of the time period. Doing a book about the ’30s isn’t something anyone can do. You need someone who can really give it that period feel. Fortunately, a lot of the artists we’re working with these days can draw anything. The “B.P.R.D. 1948” book is a prime example of just having an artist who can draw anything.

Allie: Yeah. “48” was another book that we knew we wanted to do but we didn’t know who would do it. There were names attached at different times including at one point way back where Guy Davis was going to draw it. There were a lot of different ideas along the way, but then Max Fiumara came into our orbit, and we loved his stuff so much that John took the initial idea and rebuilt the story specifics around what Max proved he could do. We’ve got so many artists that are so great with monsters, and Max is one of the best at making monsters.

Arcudi: They’re freaky, man. [Laughter] They’re freaky in ways that some of the better monster artists can’t pull off. And he can do a lot more on top of that.

Allie: He can draw the hell out of a game of pool, which not a lot of artists can make work.

Mignola: And this is 1948, and Max can draw a woman who looks like she’s from 1948. I’m one of those artists who can draw one standard woman, and I have to put her in the shadows because it’s not my strong suit. You’d never get the period feel off of me, but Max has the right hair and the way the clothes fit. It’s just great.

The last incoming series is “B.P.R.D.: Vampire” by Mike and Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon. The idea of expanding what vampires are in the B.P.R.D. world has been talked about for a while, though I get the impression that vamps aren’t Johns favorite thing to write about.

Arcudi: Who told you that? [Laughter] I guess they interest Mike and Scott more than they interest me. Let’s put it that way.

Mignola: That’s a safe thing to say.

Allie: The funny thing about that is that with “Pickens County Horror,” we put a bunch of vampire stuff on the table, and we didn’t over explain it, which is Mike’s big thing. “Never explain too much.” So now when you get to the “Vampire” series that the twins are doing, you’re not going to learn a whole lot more. Right, Mike?

Mignola: I don’t think so. What I’ve had to do is that when the twins and I started talking about this book, I wrote up for them a bunch of background/Hellboy universe stuff on vampires. It included the origins of vampires, and I don’t remember any of it now, though it must be on my computer somewhere.

Allie: Yeah, it’s written down.

Mignola: So I wrote a bunch of that shit up, and I’ve had to do that at various points along the way — writing histories of this character and how they relate to that guy so we have some frame of reference. But the beauty of the vampire book — “B.P.R.D. Vampire” being a title I always liked — was that we wanted to work with the twins again and we had this very interesting character from “1947” named Simon who’s got these two vampire women stuck inside his head. And I just wanted to see where that character would go. I had no plans for where he’d go. I had plans for how he’d start going, but nothing for where he’d end up. I knew the twins wanted to write some stuff, and I thought their “Daytripper” book was fantastic, so I said, “Why not just give this character to them?” I said, “Here’s an idea for how it would related to Bruttenholm and the B.P.R.D., but where you end up with the character is up to you.” I just wanted to follow a character who’s losing his humanity and drifting into a totally supernatural world.

Allie: And Simon was just one of these guys without a spotlight on him. But then at the end of “1947” some things happened to him that make him a much more special character by the end. He winds up being a big part of “1948.” So Mike and Joshua Dysart had written him “1947,” John wrote him in “1948,” and now the twins are taking him for vampire. It’s another one of those stories where we had to manage this character and have him make sense across all these different writers. I think we did a great job even though the twins and John didn’t communicate a ton — certainly not the way that the three of us do. But enough information went back and forth that there’s this nice flow through “1948” into “Vampire.” And in “Vampire” things just go crazy.

Arcudi: I read the first issue of “Vampire,” and the opening sequence? Holy shit.

Mignola: Oh yeah! It was everything I could have hoped for and more. Amazing.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed the Lobster Johnson interior art to Kevin Nowlan. The art is by Sebastian Fiumara.

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