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skritchMike Mignola has a story that he tells in interviews and things all the time, that when he first read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. For me, that same moment came when I read Mike Mignola’s work on Hellboy. Which is just one of the reasons that he is, was, and probably always will be who I want to be when I grow up.

I’d always loved monsters and ghosts and robots and weird stuff, ever since I was a little kid. Literally for as long as I can remember, in fact. It was always inevitable that I was going to write about monsters in one form or another. It’s not that Hellboy made me love monsters, it just showed me exactly how I loved them, the whats and the whys and the wherefores (which are really just whys again, but hey).

Most of the people reading this probably already know all of this. I’ve certainly made no secret of it. My first book is dedicated to Mike, and really, if there are any subsequent books, then they just as easily probably all could be, too. I bring it all back up because today is his birthday. I guess we normally reserve birthday celebration posts for more distant heroes; ones who have already passed on, or who we don’t have much direct contact with. And I’ll admit that it feels a little weird to write this about someone who could potentially come and read it. But I don’t have any bigger inspiration than Mike Mignola, and it seemed a shame to let his birthday pass without marking it in some way.

So today, go imbibe some great Mignola art and storytelling. It’s not like you need an excuse. If you’re having trouble deciding what to read, I recommend picking up a copy of The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects. It’s my personal favorite, so far.

You know I’ve been busy when it takes me over a week to post about this:

Hellboy in Hell, as anyone reading this probably already knows, marks Mike Mignola’s first time drawing Hellboy in way too long. It also marks an entirely new chapter in Hellboy’s existence as a character, and one that I’ve been very excited about since it was first announced. There’ll be some mild spoilers, so read at your own risk.

I like Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. and Baltimore and everything else, but so far my favorite of anything I’ve seen Mignola ever do is the Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects book. The big star of that book for most people is the reprint of Amazing Screw-On Head, but the best stuff for me is the more recent stuff that Mignola drew to fill out the rest of the book. There’s a couple of reasons for that. One, it’s Mignola completely unfettered. It’s pure imagination, distilled onto the page, and nobody does that better than Mignola. Two, though he claims to be rusty, Mignola’s art has really jumped up a notch in recent years, and he’s at his best in stories like “The Witch and her Soul” and “The Prisoner of Mars.” The exciting thing about Hellboy in Hell is that, not only is Mignola back on art duties, but both of those things that made the Amazing Screw-On Head book so magical are largely true here, too. Though still telling the larger, interconnected story of Hellboy and his mythos, the move to send Hellboy to Mignola’s version of hell has freed Mignola from the constraints of a story set in the (increasingly complex) real world of the ongoing B.P.R.D. comics, and gives him free rein to pour his imagination directly onto the page again, both in storytelling and in art.

As a result, Hellboy in Hell #1 is probably the most abstract Hellboy comic to date. There’s a fantastic transition in which Hellboy’s heart becomes Hellboy himself. There’s the panel referenced on the regular cover, which may be among the most striking Hellboy panels I’ve seen. Hellboy in Hell #1 is also about as close to what I think of as “pure Mignola” as anything you’ll find. There’s what appears to be a visual nod to Goya, and there’s a fight sequence that’s more Kirby than anything Mignola’s done in a while. There’s weird leaning Victorian houses and portraits of random people, and of course there’s a puppet version of A Christmas Carol, which actually provides some tantalizing hints of the structure of this first Hellboy in Hell story arc. 

Really, the only problem with Hellboy in Hell #1 is that it feels too short. Not that it’s any shorter than normal, it isn’t, but it’s something I feel like I’ve been waiting so long for that I want it all right now. I think this first story arc is one that will benefit from multiple readings over time, and I’m really looking forward to reading the whole thing again when it’s collected into a trade.

Happy Halloween, one and all! I’ve been at work all day, and I’m going to a party this evening, so I’ll keep this short, but it wouldn’t be right to let Halloween go by and not say something. So I’ll give you some seasonally appropriate links.

For starters, however you feel about Trick ‘r Treat, there’s really no more seasonally appropriate movie around. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend giving it a look, and if you have, there are a plethora of short films from the same director produced by FearNET that are available on YouTube. There’s also the original animated short film that started the whole shebang off, which you can see right here:

If you’ve already seen Trick ‘r Treat, or are otherwise looking for more stuff to watch this most ghoulish of seasons, the Onion AV Club is doing their annual 24 Hours of Horror movie marathon list, this time with the great Joe Dante. And while you’re at it, you can also check out last year’s list with Edgar Wright. One of these years, I’ll do up my own list, but this year won’t be that year.

(I haven’t actually gotten to read all of Dante’s list yet, but I’m looking forward to finishing it up soon. And I think I own most of those movies, so if I was insane I could actually do the marathon!)

Maybe the most exciting thing to happen so far today, though, for me and anyone else who is unhealthily obsessed with the work of Mike Mignola, is that Dark Horse released a free 119-page digital sampler of a bunch of their horror titles, including a new Baltimore story, B.P.R.D. 1948, and, best of all, a new preview of Hellboy in Hell!

That’s pretty much it for me. Have a safe and happy Halloween, and I’ll see you back here in November for the start of my Hitchcock marathon, and more of the same. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a drawing that artist Chris Sanders (of Lilo & Stitch and How to Train Your Dragon, among others) shared on his Facebook, and that has become my new favorite Halloween drawing of the moment.

It’s no surprise that any new Hellboy book is a big deal for me, so I was very excited to get my copy of Hellboy: House of the Living Dead last night. I wrote up the following review, which is copied from my Goodreads account:

Normally I’m not a fan of what I think of as “gimmick” stories. All too often, the gimmick is all they have going for them. In less capable hands, the stand-alone “Hellboy in Mexico” one-shot comic could have been one of those gimmick stories, but instead it became one of my very favorite Hellboy stories to date. Instead of just resting on the concept of Hellboy teaming up with luchadors to fight vampires, Mignola invested the book with a surprising amount of pathos. So when I heard that there was going to be a follow-up graphic novel, I was ecstatic, and when I heard that it was going to be a nod to Universal’s “monster rally” pictures, I was doubly so. And House of the Living Dead doesn’t disappoint.

As an homage to the Universal monster rally films it is almost beat-for-beat perfect, including the weird tendency of those films to wall off each monster’s story from the others, and a late-in-the-comic gag about the suddenness and ease of Dracula’s death in each of the Universal House of … movies. It also manages to be a pretty good homage to classic Mexican horror cinema, and really does feel sort of like what might have happened had there been a Mexican version of House of Frankenstein, only now with added Hellboy.

Once again, the art chores play to Corben’s strengths, with lots of ruined buildings, brambles, and other weird stuff. Several panels are as good as any he’s ever done, including the one that was wisely chosen for the back matter of the book, and his gawky, awkward, slope-shouldered Frankenstein’s monster is very effective.

House of the Living Dead isn’t quite as poignant as “Hellboy in Mexico,” but it comes close, especially near the end. There’s a really spectacular moment between Hellboy and the monster in a bar, and the last pages are a nice foreshadowing of the forthcoming Hellboy in Hell storyline, a way to bridge these older stories with what’s happening in current Hellboy continuity.

It’s no secret that Mignola can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes, but he’s really struck a rich vein with these stories of Hellboy’s “lost weekend” in Mexico, so I’m really glad to know that we’ve got more of them to look forward to, including at least one short one drawn by Mignola himself!

I avoided talking about this for awhile, in order to avoid spoilers, but I think we’re past that time now. It’s been reported by major news outlets, it’s plastered up all over the Internet, there’s a big banner at Dark Horse.com, the comic has been out for a week now, and I’ve even seen a cake commemorating the event. Hellboy is dead.

The death of a major character has never carried much weight in comics. In comics, people die all the time, and everyone always makes a big fuss, and then they’re back again before you know it. Even the death of Superman some years ago, which made the national news, was overturned in relatively short order. I remember when I was a kid there was a joke amongst comic fans that the only person who ever stayed dead in comics was Bucky, and last I knew he’d actually been dusted off recently and brought back as the Winter Soldier.

In the wake of the announcement of Hellboy’s demise, I saw a lot of people reacting the way that they would in response to the deaths of one of these characters, the kind who are always back again shortly. But Mike Mignola’s Hellboy has never been a normal comic. We’ve lost major characters in it before, so we have some idea of what to expect here. As Mignola himself says, when people die in his comics, they just get more interesting. Rasputin died at the end of Seed of Destruction, the first Hellboy mini-series, and he stuck around to bedevil Hellboy as a ghost for a long time to come.

But there’s something else that Mignola always says about his comics, which is that when they break stuff in them, it stays broken. This isn’t some kind of publicity stunt death, and it’s not something some other writing is going to ret-con or overturn in a few months or even a few years. Hellboy is dead, yes. And he’s not gone, no. But he is changed. That’s what death is, in the Hellboy comics. It’s a change. And once things change, the status quo is never restored.

But we don’t really have to speculate too much on what this means for the future of Hellboy. We’ve already been told. It’s right there in the title. Hellboy in Hell, coming in 2012.” There was never any illusion that this was The End. For some time, Mignola has been saying that he’s going to be returning to regular art duties on Hellboy once this arc with Duncan Fegredo was done. Now we just have a little bit better idea what those drawing duties are going to entail.

So what is Hellboy in Hell going to be like? The best explanation I’ve seen from the horse’s mouth is here, but really, even that tells us only a little. If I had to guess, I’d say we’re looking at a somewhat more surreal, dreamlike series of Hellboy stories. I once said of The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects that the stories in it felt like “pure Mignola,” unfiltered by the needs of an ongoing comic franchise. I think Hellboy in Hell will skew more toward that “pure Mignola” aesthetic. Mignola has called it his “semi-retirement” book, and says that it’ll “drift him off into this Hellboy inside my head, just rattling through all the images I want to draw and all the stories that I’ve collected over the years that I want to do.”

I’ve seen a lot of people worried, but I’m not. Mike Mignola is my favorite creator, full stop, and I trust him pretty implicitly by this point. Whatever he does, whatever direction he goes, I’m sure it’s going to be cool, and I’m even more sure that it’s going to be inspiring. And if what we’ve got in store is more “pure Mignola,” well, that’s even better.

So, Hellboy is dead, long live Hellboy!

I had a surprisingly good Free Comic Book Day yesterday. I made it out to Elite, where I was surprised to see Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, which is always a pleasure. I wish I’d known they were gonna be there, I’d have planned for more time out.

I picked up the Baltimore/Criminal Macabre issue, as well as the Mouse Guard/Dark Crystal issue. I also picked up while I was out a copy of the latest issue of Rue Morgue, which has an artist’s tribute to Vincent Price, including work from Mike Mignola, Belle Dee, and Gary Pullin, among others. Really awesome.

Then, because the optometrist had unexpectedly gotten my glasses in that morning, I went out with Jay to see Thor. The short review is that I really liked it, and don’t have any relevant complaints. It did everything I wanted a Thor movie to do, short of having some Jack Kirby-style trolls, but I guess frost giants, some kind of Kothoga-like monster, and the Destroyer will have to suffice.

In the evening, Grace and I went out to The Steel Show, where we were able to catch a couple of acts, notably John McKenna and the Blue Sea Fishermen’s Union, featuring the husband of one of my wife’s coworkers on drums. Unfortunately, we had to turn in before we could catch most of the rest of the show, but what we heard was pretty fun, and hopefully we’ll be able to make it out for something like that again soon.

All in all, it was a really pleasant day, though I spent less of it at home than I had anticipated. Today gets to try to make up for that, because I’ve got a lot of writing to do, and there are old movies sitting on my shelf just begging to be watched.

The four day weekend is now behind us. Ours was good. We both did and didn’t do very much, which is about the way I’d have had it if I could have it any way I wanted.

Thanksgiving was nice. We had dinner with Jay’s folks, and it was good to see them again. We cleaned up on the Black Friday sales, pretty much, acquiring a whole bunch of exciting books and getting the entire series of Xena on DVD for Grace. (Well, mostly for Grace.) One of the highlights of the books I got include a nice hardcover of Richard Corben adapting Lovecraft stories. I also got a chance to read the new Hellboy one-shot, Double Feature of Evil. It was enjoyable. I loved the framing device with the old haunted cinema, and I loved that there was a nod to one of my favorite Lovecraft stories in there. But I don’t think it was quite up to the same quality as the last few Corben/Mignola team-ups I’ve read (especially “Hellboy in Mexico”).

We did some other stuff, too, but a big chunk of our weekend was occupied with re-watching the entire extended trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films. And while it was a fun adventure to undertake, I found that the movies didn’t hold the same magic for me they once did. They’re certainly still big, impressive films, and there’s definitely stuff to love in them, but on balance, well, I didn’t like them as much anymore. (Fellowship mostly gets a pass, and it was always my favorite anyway.)

There was more shopping, more movies, more hanging out and talking, and lots of other stuff over the long weekend. The best part was getting some time to decompress and just be with Grace. With as hectic as November has been so far, a weekend together largely bereft of any real plans was mostly just bliss.

Hope everyone else had a good Thanksgiving if you celebrate it, and a good few days either way.