Have you ever received an unexpected gift that made you instantly happy? That's how I felt in late April when Dark Horse announced Itty Bitty Hellboy, a five-issue all-ages miniseries by Art Baltazar and Franco (known for their Eisner Award-winning run on DC's Tiny Titans and, more recently, Superman Family Adventures). Ahead of the comic's debut on Wednesday, I spoke with Art and Franco about their fun-loving Aw Yeah-ification of the Mike Mignola/Hellboy universe.
Tim O'Shea: How hard was it to settle on the Itty Bitty Hellboy title?
Franco: That was pretty easy. Artie takes all the credit for that one. What title would best encapsulate what we wanted to do with the character than make him itty bitty!
Art Baltazar: Yes! We went through a few different adjectives before “Itty Bitty” won our hearts.
In planning the characters, were there any members of the Hellboy cast that proved more challenging to give the Aw Yeah-ification treatment than the others?
Franco: Once we got Hellboy down, everything else kind of fell into place. Stories started coming, and that really helps you develop what the characters are going to be like. For example, with Roger, we know what that thing he's wearing is, but from an itty-bitty standpoint you look at that and say "Is that his underwear?" and when you elicit a laugh you know that's what you go with.
Art: The Baba Yaga rocks, too. We kind of created a little love story between her and Roger. I loved getting into all the Mignola-verse. These characters have so much untapped potential!
Did you pitch this idea to Dark Horse, or did they seek you two out?
Franco: They came to us, and we are so flattered -- knocked over even when the offer was made. Elisabeth Allie will forever have my gratitude.
Art: Elisabeth Allie is a big fan of ours. She interviewed us a bunch of times during our Tiny Titans run. She’s awesome! Also, Mike Mignola’s wife and daughter are big fan of ours, too. Once they saw we were available, the emails started flurrying!
At least one of you is the parent of young children. How important is it to you to create stories that you know your kids will enjoy? Do you ever beta test comedy bits with your kids?
Franco: We both have kids, but for me it's not really about catering to them. I really am shooting for all ages. I think if it's funny, then it's funny, whether you're a kid or an adult.
Art: My kids will hold up a comic and ask, “Did you make this one?” If I say no, they put it down and pick up the next one and the next one until I say yes. They like to read the comics I make. It’s like having my own test audience.
Can both of you single out your favorite comedic moment from the first issue?
Franco: We already talked about Roger's underwear, right? That always gets a big laugh from me. There are so many crazy moments that happen from issue to issue. That's like trying to pick your favorite kid out of a brood of 100.
Art: Hellboy shaking the box made me laugh.
Comedy seems difficult to execute in comics.
Franco: I think it's hard for people to do because they try too hard. I think if you wrote what is funny for you rather than try to guess what is funny to others it is much easier. Plus If you have a naturally funny guy like Art to bounce things off it's real easy!
Art: Yeah, man, for me it feels natural. It’s the way I draw and make comics. I don’t really think about it. I just let it all go on the page. Cartoonists are a different breed. It’s in the blood. Funny is funny, and cartoonists are awesome.
Do you hope that while gaining the interest of Dark Horse fans who may have missed out on your DC all-ages work, Itty Bitty Hellboy may also draw more readers to your equally fun all-ages Aw Yeah! Comics series?
Franco: We hope so. I think a lot of people have played off our books for being too cutesy or for kids, but fans have found that if you give the books a chance there really is something the for everyone, and they find that the humor reaches them as well. I can't tell you how many converted fans we've had come up to us at conventions or appearances and tell us they were turned on to one of our books through someone else, or they purchased the book for their kids and were reading to them or happen to just browse through it and start giggling. There is no better feeling in the world than when that happens!
Art: AW YEAH MAN! That would rock! Everything we do feels like the same universe to me. All awesome and all AW YEAH UNIVERSE! Kids draw our characters together in their sketches they give us. Action Cat and Robin and Hellboy and Krypto and Patrick the Wolf Boy together in the same drawing!
You two are also very interested in getting kids interested in creating comics. Care to detail your recent experience teaching Denver kids how to make comics?
Art: That is an initiative that we started in our Comic book store, Aw Yeah Comics located in beautiful downtown Skokie, Illinois. We invite all kids to come into our store and draw comics with us. We set up tables, buy juice boxes and crayons and paper and sit around all day making comics with kids. People ask us if we teach them how to do it and we say yes if that is what they want, but most kids can just do it. It's a great day of fun and drawing with real comic professionals and a community building thing. We have gotten so much positive reaction that it continues to grow and we hope to make this a national event on par with Free Comic Book Day. Kids love comic books and once they get it they want to read so it's a no-brainer.