Gary Gianni discusses his new Hellboy graphic novel, co-written by Mike Mignola.
Hellboy lives! Although Mike Mignola brought his iconic character’s chronological story to an end with last year’s conclusion to Hellboy in Hell, the stone-fisted demon hunter has not yet disappeared from comic pages. Hellboy’s fictional career was long, with adventures spanning most of the 20th century, leaving some continuity holes for Mignola and his assorted collaborators to plug in more stories. This month sees the release of another such story, the original graphic novel Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea. Co-written by Mignola and illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Gary Gianni, the story is set during the period of years Hellboy spent wandering the sea alone (longtime fans will recognize this as the period between The Island and Darkness Calls stories).
In an interview with EW, Gianni discussed his approach to Hellboy and why the character still feels as resonant as ever. Check that out below, along with a preview of Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea, which hits comic shops this week and bookstores next month.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like working with Mike Mignola on his most iconic character?
GARY GIANNI: I’ve known Mike for a long time, so Mike is very aware of what I can do and the temperament of my work, and I think that’s probably why he asked me to do this particular little sideshow in Hellboy’s timeline. It’s something he’s asked me about a few times, but I’ve been involved in other things, and now this window opened. It went pretty smoothly. I think there’s a certain amount of trust on both sides for something like this. Of course, Mike isn’t going to just turn over his creation to somebody he doesn’t feel comfortable with. On my part or other artists who work with Mike, you have to realize this isn’t yours. You’re allowed to play with the train set, but I was always open to his suggestions and comments. I wanted to do something that pleased both of us.
How does your take on Hellboy and his world differ from Mike’s?
I see him as a pulpy character more than a horror icon. He’s been described as an occult detective, and I can almost hear the voiceover and the Chandler and Hammett spin on the back alleys and the heavy drinking and the forlorn love life. The interesting thing about the story I did with Mike was taking the character and dropping him into a whole different time period. A bit of that noir luster is removed, because now we’re talking about mid-19th century here.
Last year, Mike talked about Hellboy as the character he could plug into any kind of story, from occult Nazi pulp to Celtic myths. What were your influences for this story?
Hellboy does stride across a very broad stage, which makes it great fodder for an artist to develop these environments. For this particular story, which is a standalone story, even the reader who’s not at all familiar with Hellboy can find it accessible and a good read. I think we were looking at some things we loved. We’ve always loved the Moby Dick Melville story, but we liked it filtered through Ray Bradbury’s adaptation for the 1953 film, which is pretty far removed from what Herman Melville had done. I’ve always had sort of a love for the sea. I’m not sure where that comes from, being a landlocked Chicagoan, but Mike had written a timeline where Hellboy was lost at sea at some point a few years ago and left a bookmark there going, “One of these days I want Gary to fill this in with his take on ships and sailors and the classic phantom ship story.” You see that quite often in literature. There’s the Flying Dutchman and the Mary Celeste — there’s always some sort of phantom vehicle. In a lot of the old Gothic stories, there are these great ships that come along and sweep up the characters. So there was Melville, William Hope Hodgson, and even Lovecraft comes into the mix by the end of the story. It’s the fun of the Hellboy character; you can mash up all of these things. You can take them all, and if you can mix this cocktail right, you’ll have this great pastiche. It gives us a chance to play with all this stuff that we love.
There’s even poetry. Mike does have a poetic element in a lot of his stories, where there are blossoms and leaves falling across great spans of churchyards and so forth. That kind of stuff removes it from some of the more base horror and puts it more into a romantic genre. That’s another thing about Hellboy, the romance. I don’t just mean the love life, but the romantic hero. I think that idea is also a subtext to Hellboy because we do reference Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” There’s that influence as well.
Hellboy spends most of the story tied up to a mast, and he’s coming off a story where he was held captive by mermaids. Why does he get restrained so easily?
It’s part of the conflict, I think. It gives him a certain vulnerability that perhaps allows other characters within these stories to take center stage for a while. At times, Hellboy is a witness, he bears witness, even in this story. I don’t want to say he’s a passive character, but in the sense that he is bearing witness to the foolhardiness of other characters. There’s a judgment or a moral to these stories that Hellboy is witnessing. In the case of this story, he’s along for the ride, so to speak, and he helps decide the outcome. You’ll notice that so many of Mike’s stories have sort of melancholy endings to them. This particular story has all the classic conventions that make a good Hellboy story.
Hellboy’s story is technically over; we know the ending, so why do you think he remains so resonant and keeps fueling new stories?
I think he’s a character much in the vein of someone like Sherlock Holmes, for example. You have the classic Doyle “canon” of those 50 stories, but 100 years later, we’ve had how many reboots and pastiches? The fascination with a character like Sherlock Holmes or even Batman, they seem to speak to every new generation, and they may be tweaked or looked at in another light, but it’s a fascination that I think works on a really primal level. It’s a little too mysterious for me to unravel.
Is there any single element or scene of the comic you enjoyed the most?
Another aspect of Hellboy’s stories that I really like is the heart. There’s always a warmth, something there that I think touches us on a poignant level. I think the little boy and the dog in this thing really help give it that sense of terra firma. That was an area I really liked helping to develop, the kid and the dog, and I think they round out the story nicely. Aside from all the monsters and the action, I like the subtlety of the story.