In his decades on our realm of existence, Hellboy has faced countless challenges, including extra-dimensional monsters, going to Hell, and actual, literal Nazis. Now, Mike Mignola‘s fan-favorite creation faces a new challenge: small children who really want this autograph.
In “Hellboy and the BPRD 1953: Beyond the Fences,” Hellboy is a celebrity and a curiosity in 1950s suburban America. He’s used to fighting beasts from beyond, certainly, but his own alien nature is driven home more than usual as the man with the giant stone hand strides among the picket fences and manicured lawns of mid-century America in Chris Roberson and Paolo Rivera‘s new miniseries.
CBR News: You’re placing Hellboy in unfamiliar territory in “Hellboy and the BPRD 1953 – Beyond the Fences,” obviously, but beyond the obvious “fish out of water” hook, how would you sum up your story?
Chris Roberson: BPRD agents Jacob Stegner, Susan Xiang and Hellboy take a trip to suburbia and discover that everything is not as simple and mundane as the white picket fences and neatly mowed yards would suggest.
Paolo Rivera: Hellboy’s a kid trapped in a demon’s body, but he’s been isolated from other children for most of his life. This might be his only chance to see how a “normal” child might grow up.
One of the things I wanted to address early on was the question of how Hellboy is perceived by the public at this point in his career. We know from past stories that he’s been on the cover of “Life Magazine,” for example, but what did everyday people think about him?
Roberson: Our entire story takes places in a few square blocks in a small southern California suburban community over the course of a couple of days, but there are seeds of much bigger stories planted along the way. By the end of this three issue arc, we will get glimpses of several very, very big stories coming somewhere over the horizon.
Rivera: It’s very much of a particular time and place. And while the Earth may not be shattered, the devastation will be real, especially for a suburban community that is just starting to grow and thrive.
The BPRD universe is huge. Without giving too much away, what elements you’re going to be drawing from? Are any familiar characters or themes going to be popping up?
Roberson: I’ve been an avid fan of the Mignolaverse from day one, and one of my favorite aspects about this job is getting to dig around in that big universe and find interesting connections that haven’t yet been explored. There are mentions of a few familiar characters and bigger themes, but we’re also introducing a number of new characters that are going to be really important going forward.
Rivera: There’s a double-page spread in the first issue with a host of creatures that will be familiar to B.P.R.D. readers.
How does the time period inform the creation of the book? What kind of research or the like did you do to make 1953 work as a setting?
Roberson: The time period plays a huge part in the kind of story that we set out to tell. This is the early days of the Cold War, after all, and that simmering tension between the US and the Soviet Union acts as a kind of background radiation that runs throughout the story, but isn’t touched on overtly. As for researching the setting, I’m a history buff anyway, but I had a blast digging a little deeper into the period to look for additional texture that we could add.
Rivera: For me, lots of Google image search. Chris was kind enough to include many key visual references directly in the script, which is always helpful to artists. To help me with period dress, I bought “Everyday Fashions of the Fifties,” a book I’d been eyeing for a while. (I already owned the Thirties and Forties.) It was also the perfect excuse to add another 1/6 scale weapon, the M3 “Grease Gun,” to my sizable (yet tiny) arsenal.
How do you reconcile the actual, real historical timeline with the fictional BPRD timeline? Are there any continuity snarls that you have to work around?
Roberson: As much as anything, I look at the real history of the period as a kind of guide, but not something that we’re limited by. It provides some interesting suggestions about where stories might go, but we’re free to fudge things if necessary to make things work.
The monster that shows up in the second issue seems very distinctive. Are there any monsters from pop culture that inspired you when writing this? Anything from 1950s creature features or the like that influenced what we see on the page?
Roberson: We were primarily inspired by the monster movies of the 1950s, of course, and when Mike Mignola and I were originally discussing the plot we referenced a lot of the films as touchstones. (And just let me point out how incredibly amazing and absolutely bonkers Paolo Rivera’s design for the thing is!)
But I didn’t realize until the book was nearly finished that I probably had Clifford the Big Red Dog in the back of my head, too…
â€¨Rivera: When it comes to novel monsters, Mignola is the standard, so I was just trying to keep up. My first try was fairly conventional, but I got the encouragement to push it further and that made all the difference.
I noticed the bit about Hellboy as a public figure. How is he perceived by people at this point? Do they see him as a celebrity? A curiosity? A symbol of American paranormal power? All of it?
Roberson: Mostly as a celebrity, and a little bit as a curiosity, I think. We have a bit early on in the first issue of the arc with a bunch of kids asking for Hellboy’s autograph, like he was a famous baseball player or something along those lines.
How do you guys collaborate? All scripts are different, all processes of combining words and pictures are different. How do you guys do it?
Roberson: The stories start as conversations between me, Mignola, and Scott Allie, and then I go off and flesh out an outline. The outline gets batted back and forth for a while until everyone is happy with the shape of it, then I work up a full script. Then the script goes to the artist, Paolo Rivera in this case, to start doing character and monster designs and the like, and then we’re off to the races.
Could you elaborate on what the “additional texture” from the 1950s was? Are we talking about stray newspaper headline, people’s clothes, titles on movie marquees? Anything that astute readers could hunt for?
Roberson: It’s everything from the clothing that people are wearing to the cars that are parked on the street to the kinds of guns that the BPRD agents are carrying. We tried as much as possible to get everything period appropriate.
You mentioned Mignola’s involvement. What is his role in putting together a book like this?
Roberson: As I said, Mike is involved from the beginning in discussing what kinds of stories might be worth telling, and then helps shape things as we move from outline to script, and then has a lot of input into the design and the final art itself.
“Hellboy and the BPRD 1953: Beyond the Fences” is on sale now.
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