Without a doubt, Dark Horse Comics clearly made the most of celebrating 20 years of Hellboy in 2014. But ask Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie, the celebration is far from over. As he details in this exclusive discussion with CBR News, Dark Horse has teamed with Hero Initiative on the "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 100 Project" (with the proceeds going to help that great organization), to be released later this year.
That remains only a fraction of fun in store for the Mignolaverse in 2015. Allie reflects upon the resounding anniversary success and plans to build upon that momentum in a variety of ways. He also points to the vast amount of talent that makes the Dark Horse/Mignola line so engaging, starting with Mike Mignola, of course. 2015 will be a year where Mignola is writing more Mignolaverse, much to Allie's delight, including "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952" as well as the highly anticipated "Frankenstein Underground." On top of all that, Mignola is in the midst of drawing a "Hellboy in Hell" two-part story.
Allie keeps himself quite busy, in addition to his myriad editorial responsibilities, as the co-writer of the "Abe Sapien" ongoing series. The current five-issue "A Darkness So Great" arc, as Allie explains, allows him to indulge his love of 1970s horror films. The story's locale in the South Texas/Gulf area also gives the art team of twins Max and Sebastian Fiumara some great storytelling opportunities.
Finally, Allie details 2015 ideas and creators drawn upon in the upcoming "Lobster Johnson" series of one shots.
CBR News: Upon reflection, what were some of the highlights in the 20 Years of Hellboy celebration?
Scott Allie: Seeing the 20th Anniversary hit the New York Times list. An event we did at Things from Another World with [colorist] Dave Stewart and ["B.P.R.D." artist] Tyler Crook and someone in a Hellboy costume. Ending the year with "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952" #1 being our best-selling book. But really, the most fun this year was feeling the artists across all our titles really coming together as a team, contributing to this one big story together. These books evolved a lot over the years. There was a time when all of Hellboy was phone calls and Fed Ex packages between me and Mignola. For years. That's what Hellboy was for me from 1994 to about 2002. And gradually it turned into a small tight family with Mike, John Arcudi, Guy Davis, Dave Stewart, and me. There were other guys chipping in, but mainly it was us. And I figured it'd be that forever. And when Guy left, and it stopped being that, we were shook up; we didn't know how we'd do it differently. But I love how we're doing it now. I love having this team of Laurence Campbell, Tyler Crook, Max and Sebastian Fiumara, Ben Stenbeck, James Harren, Tonci Zonjic, and guest-stars like Alex Maleev, Peter Snejbjerg, Kevin Nowlan, Kim Newman and Maura McHugh, Cameron Stewart, Fabio Moon and Gabriel BÃ¡ -- this is an incredible team to be a part of, to try to coordinate. So it's a sort of a career highlight to see where we are today -- literally today, on Hellboy's 70th birthday.
There is so much to love about the first issue of "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1952" -- for instance I appreciate the attention to details like one of the B.P.R.D. complaining about the quality (or lack thereof) of shocks on the truck they ride down a road in Brazilian village at one point. Or how a young Hellboy is just glad to be outside, taking in the smell of pine trees while on a mission. Are those Mignola or Arcudi nuances, or a little of both?
I think one of those is Mike and one is John, but on this title in particular you can't tell. Usually John actually writes the scripts, but on "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.," Mike wrote Marvel-style scripts -- actually very specific compared to what we think of as Marvel-style -- and John has added the dialogue. This is different from how they normally collaborate, but they're both great at making this fantastical world feel very real through that kind of relatable detail.
Have you been pleased by the response to "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952" #1?
Yeah, it's been terrific. The response to the story and to the art has been great. The goal with this book was to see Hellboy in classic form -- if "Hellboy in Hell" is the weirdest incarnation of Hellboy as a comic, "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D." takes the character back to the roots, as a great occult action-adventure book with strong horror elements.
What are you most enjoying about editing "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D." so far?
When Mike writes a script, we spend a lot of time talking through it before he actually types it up. We talk it through over and over, him trying out new bits until he has it all worked out. So that's been fun. Between this and "Frankenstein" he's been writing a lot more. I expect that to slow down after this, because he really has to focus on "Hellboy in Hell."
Am I right in understanding you have seen some of Mignola's new two-part "Hellboy in Hell" story -- any idea when it might get solicited?
Yeah, he's inked the first of the two issues, and he's got a number of pages done for the second issue. I have an idea when we'll solicit, but we want to wait 'til it's done. I don't like Mike having to rush, having deadlines hanging over his head for story pages. Mike works himself pretty hard to get stuff right. Look at the collection of "Strange Places." He drew the first issue of the Island a few different times -- penciled and inked a lot of pages which he shelved. He has to get it just right, and sometimes that leaves a lot of stuff in the waste basket, but you can't do that with a release date breathing down your neck.
Did it take some convincing for you to think Mignola setting "Frankenstein Underground" in the Mignolaverse would work? Or were you sold on the concept from the start?
Well, the trick there was that when we did "Hellboy: House of the Living Dead," we didn't know that the Frankenstein monster in that story was actually Victor Frankenstein's creation. Mike has had generic artificial men throughout the Hellboy books, including Roger the Homunculus. So when he wrote "House of the Living Dead" for Richard Corben, that was just another monster. Along the way, he decided that it was the real thing. And with all the chaos in "House of the Living Dead," the Frankenstein monster escapes. Mike always leaves a lot of loose threads in his stories -- he ties up the right ones, and he leaves others loose, either to return to later, or not ... You never know. When he decided to pull on the Frankenstein thread, to bring a new story to the character, I was happy as hell. "Frankenstein" is one of my favorite novels, it was a real formative book for me. So having Mike really do his take on the character, get in deep with the monster, makes me extremely happy. No convincing necessary.
Sometimes people say that the Hellboy books are so complex, they're hard to know where to start. "Frankenstein Underground" works great, because everyone already knows the monster. His connection to Hellboy isn't an important part of the story. "Frankenstein Underground" is an incredible glimpse into our monstrous world through the most familiar -- but to me still most compelling -- monster of them all.
Are readers going to learn more about the overall Hellboy/B.P.R.D. world in "Frankenstein Underground?"
Yeah, that was the surprise. When Mike first talked about doing this, it was just gonna be an action sequence, a monster romp. That was the aspect of the story Mike talked about at first. And I thought that's all it was going to be. And all of that is in there, but this is what happens with Mike's stuff -- the story starts out being more one thing than the other -- more action, or more ponderous and meditative. And as he works on it, as we talk it over on the phone, I think he gets impatient -- if it's all action, he gets worried he'll look like an idiot; and if it's all big-picture stuff, or real thoughtful stuff, he gets worried about looking pretentious. And so over the course of writing it, you get more balance -- more contrast, really. The action stays, but it's balanced by real smart stuff. Or the smart stuff that he started out thinking about stays, but he finds way to boost the action. So Frankenstein was going to be a monster yarn, a rip snorter, but the more he kept talking about it, I realized, 'Holy shit, this is going to tap into mysteries of the Hellboy universe in a more head on way than he's almost ever done.'
The mysteries of this world will always be important, and you'll never have all of the answers handed to you. But we're nearing the end. As Mike said in an interview a couple years ago, in a line I loved, "We're breaking things that can't be fixed." And it's true. The world is heading toward darker and darker times. The story will come to an end, and as we near that, Mike more and more is compelled -- and is compelling me and John -- to reveal some things. And "Frankenstein Underground" does some of that.
Do I understand correctly that in 2015 "B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth" will have plenty of developments to please fans of Johann Kraus?
Yeah, there are big things coming for him. Johann has always had a little trouble relating to the troops, but he's a leader, he's in charge of a lot of men who put their lives in his hands. But he hasn't literally had skin in the game for years -- he's a disembodied ghost. That's why he has trouble relating. That's going to get ugly for him this year, and it's going to lead to some changes for him. These characters are fluid, they're not figures of status quo like a lot of comics characters.
Your "Abe Sapien" series is in the midst of a five-part arc, not to judge a book by its cover, but I love the five smaller boxes of art that are featured in each cover. Can you discuss the thinking on this great graphic design element?
I'm a big fan of horror movies from the 1970s and early 1980s. Not so much the slasher movies that we remember the eighties for. There was a theme in some of those posters with insets like that, which I've always loved. "The Poseidon Adventure" poster had this, but a lot of other ones did as well. I dug up a bunch of those, ran it by (artist) Max Fiumara, and he was into it. The supporting cast is very important in this arc, "A Darkness So Great." The covers were an homage to those old movie posters, which is part of why the logo is across the bottom. That was Max's idea. Another big homage is on the first page of the first issue, issue #18.
What interested you in setting this current arc in the South Texas/Gulf area of the United States?
Mike and I had mapped out Abe's basic journey early on. I wanted to move him through the desert, which is terrible territory for him, toward the water. The Gulf is the first time he's around the water since leaving the Salton Sea -- so really the first time he's around good water at all. I always knew this story would be set in the Texas Gulf, and then "True Detective" and that writer's novel "Galveston" got me and the Fiumara twins real interested in the location. Being so close to that Mexican border, which has a pretty violent history, added to the sense of danger. We also get into some voodoo stuff in this arc. I wanted to be near Haiti, but I didn't want to do Louisiana, which felt sort of on the nose. All these factors contributed to the story.
You know, there's also an outtake that informed the location, which I sort of forgot about. One Saturday night I had a really unsettling dream. It was about the ocean, and I knew it was the Gulf Coast somehow. It featured some really amazing apocalyptic visuals, which I wanted to include in this story. Almost as soon as I woke up that Sunday morning I called Dave Stewart to talk to him about it. He said that Mike had just posted something on Facebook about a dream he'd had the night before, something about the end of the world. That seemed like a significant coincidence. I let things like that decide things for me ... So I started doing drawings, I talked to Dave about how we'd make it look in the book. But when it came time to outline this story, there was no room for the thing I wanted to do. I had a very specific opening for "Abe" #18 that was going to use this imagery, and none of it made it into the book.
Given your long-term success as a veteran editor and writer, industry pundits know well enough to note who you tap to draw your stories, as those folks are always creators worthy of note. Can you talk about what makes Max Fiumara and SebastiÃ¡n Fiumara artists that you are eager to have on your stories?
Oh, my god, they're the greatest. They're amazing storytellers. The thing I love about them sharing the "Abe" series is that they have certain shared aesthetics, but they don't imitate each other at all. I am not a fan of house styles. Early on, when we started using other artists on Mignola books, our first instinct, mine and Mike's, was to use artists who drew like Mike. A lot of guys imitate Mike. I know of guys who draw with Mike's books open on their drafting tables -- I mean if they're drawing "Transformers" or "Superboy," they're gonna have Mignola books open to swipe from. I don't want that. I want guys who can do some of what Mike does in terms of action and drama and mood, but not people who try to draw fingernails like he does. Sometimes you wind up with artists who have strong similarities -- Gabriel Ba, Duncan Fegredo. But those guys arrive at their styles honestly. They don't copy Mike, they got there for some of the same reasons Mike got where he did. Max and Seba -- two identical twins -- each have certain similarities with Mike, but they're not the same similarities. Max has some of the weird shaping and anatomy stuff Mike does, but Seba doesn't do that.
When I started working with these guys, I told them, anything they wanna draw, tell me, I'll try to work it in. They gave me the usual response: We just want to draw good stories. I said I'd do my best, "But seriously, if you like drawing horses, tell me, I'll work in horses." I visited them in Argentina for Eduardo Risso's big convention, and I hammered them with this request -- tell me what you want to draw! And after spending a few days together, they knew I meant it. Now they pitch me scenes, they pitch me all sorts of stuff. This has made it the best collaboration I've ever had. I love it.
What is it that about that makes the string of Lobster Johnson one-shots that resonates with readers? Can you tease what kind of "Lobster Johnson" story Toni Fejzula will be drawing in 2015?
Well, John is telling a big story in "Lobster Johnson" ("LoJo") -- not a world-ending story like in B.P.R.D., but a big one that spans all these different stories. But as a truly classic pulp figure, "LoJo" works great in standalone stories. And Arcudi is a genius at doing both -- building a big story through one offs. When we got Tonci Zonjic doing "LoJo," it was like the character was created for this artist. However, Tonci takes a little while on these books, so we bring in other artists to fill the time between. Sebastian Fiumara's thing for us was a "LoJo" two-parter. So while Tonci is already well into his next bigger "LoJo" story, we have some other people lined up for one shots, starting with Toni Fejzula. Arcudi had recommended Toni to me a while back, which led to Toni doing Rucka's book "Veil." I loved working with Toni, so it made sense to pair him with John for one of these one shots. This is classic noir stuff, a femme fatale, a heist, a very complicated ruse that LoJo has to penetrate, and a valuable objet d'art at the heart of the mystery.
In the "not sure what we should be more giddy about" department, how enthused are you to see Dark Horse team with Hero Initiative on the "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 100 Project" (with the proceeds going to support Hero)? First off, I am pleased that Dark Horse is getting behind the initiative. But secondly, I am curious what kind of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. we'll see given variety of styles involved, including Fred Hembeck, Gabriel Hardman, Chrissie Zullo and Emi Lenox (just to name a few).
Yeah, well, quite timely, with what's happening with Norm Breyfogle. Nothing to be giddy about there. But John Arcudi and Hero director Jim McLauchlin are pals, and they were talking about doing something together. Mike and I wanted to be a part of it. I'd never done anything for Hero, so it was an honor to have the chance. We actually started this conversation a long time ago. Almost a year and a half ago. We delayed doing anything because we knew we had this book coming, and we knew this would be the biggest book in the Mignolaverse since "Hellboy in Hell," so it made sense to wait. Jim is doing all the work, though. That guy is passionate and tireless when it comes to helping these guys who pioneered the industry we're a part of. He's showing us the pieces, but I don't even know for sure who all he's got lined up. It's not too hard to convince people to draw Hellboy, especially with a reason as good as Hero.
The new year seems to have a lot of great creative opportunities for the Mignolaverse team, but what are you personally most enthused to unleash from your bag of storytelling tricks in 2015?
"Frankenstein" is exciting because it's new, and it's Mike doing things he hasn't done before. Ben Stenbeck is doing his best work ever there. I have an issue of "Abe" coming in May with one of my all-time greatest art heroes, so that's big for me. There'll be more "Hellboy in Hell," and we'll get into more "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D." Biggest of all, maybe, "B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth" is drawing toward a climax bigger than I think anyone saw coming. Honestly, we surprised ourselves when plotting it out. There's one thing coming that, when it was first suggested, the response between the three of us -- Mike, John, me -- was, "We can't do that!" And the next day we were saying, "We have to do that!" Knowing what we have coming in 2015 and 2016 makes me very confident that we'll continue upping our game steadily, and with the way Mike works, I know we'll have stuff that'll keep me on my toes even further out.
The mysteries of this world will always be important, and you'll never have all of the answers handed to you. But we're nearing the end. As Mike said in an interview a couple years ago, in a line I loved, "We're breaking things that can't be fixed." And it's true. The world is heading toward darker and darker times. The story will come to an end, and as we near that, Mike more and more is compelled -- and is compelling me and John -- to reveal some things. 2015 is the year that we really begin to crack Mike's world wide open. Answers start coming. And "Frankenstein Underground" does some of that.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Dark Horse Comics' Mignolaverse titles.