Mike Mignola gets back to the drawing board with Abe Sapien, Hellboy and BPRD
This summer sees the publication of three comics, each of which introduce new story arcs set within the ever-expanding fictional universe of creator Mike Mignola’s hell-spawned supernatural sleuth. Those titles are Hellboy: The Storm, Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain and BPRD: Hell on Earth – New World. Originally dreamed up by Mignola back in 1994 as a horror/humour/adventure strip inspired by B-grade monster movies, pulp fiction and supernatural folklore, Hellboy has become an award-winning, bestselling multimedia franchise.
Alongside the core ten volumes of collected Hellboy comics, there are 13 more of BPRD (the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy’s place of work), one for BPRD co-worker Abe Sapien, another two featuring Victorian and postwar sleuths Edward Grey and Lobster Johnson, plus a handful of Hellboy prose novels and numerous other books related to the movies, which Mignola designed with director Guillermo del Toro. Despite the rapid expansion of the Hellboy universe, however, Mignola has managed to maintain its continuity, mainly by being involved in every facet of it. ‘I have a really good grasp of the underlying mythology and history,’ Mignola says, ‘but it was never my intention to expand this thing. However, certain characters take on a life of their own and they demand their own books. I realised I couldn’t keep expanding and writing all of them, so I found other writers and artists to work with. But I’ve used a very small stable of them, so that it doesn’t become a big, sprawling industry and I’m very happy it all still makes sense.’
One question does raise its head, though: has Mignola taken on too much? His collaborations on the comics and movies have all been fruitful, but working on so many projects has kept him away from illustration, his original way into comics and the thing at which he excels. Apart from the odd story, comic and book covers and merchandising material, Mignola hasn’t illustrated Hellboy since the 2006 collection Strange Places.’I really enjoy collaborating,’ says Mignola, ‘so it’s been very easy to spend years without drawing my own comics. But I don’t want to be just a writer; I want to get back to drawing the comic. And this place we are with Hellboy, wrapping up the storyline, is the natural place for me to step back in, although I’ll continue to co-write everything else. I’ve known for years what this next period of Hellboy will be. It will be a brand new chapter. The Storm will be an ending of everything we’ve read about Hellboy up until now. It’s going to be a clean slate when I jump in.’
That’s great news for fans who have missed Mignola’s striking visual storytelling style, which comics legend Alan Moore described as ‘German expressionism meets Jack Kirby’. We’ll have to wait a while, though, for Mignola to complete the current six-part Hellboy story arc and to finish his design work on del Toro’s two-part adaptation of The Hobbit. Meantime, we can look forward to a reminder of Mignola’s idiosyncratic illustration style in a forthcoming collection of his enjoyably bonkers non-Hellboy related adventure strip, The Amazing Screw-On Head. Due to be published in September, Mignola describes it as, ‘My favourite thing I’ve ever done.’
Abe Sapien: The Abyssal Plain is out on Wed 30 Jun; Hellboy: The Storm is out on Wed 7 Jul; BPRD: Hell on Earth – New World is out in Aug. All comics are published by Dark Horse.