Ten Essential October Comics: ‘Hellboy’

A long-running series full of myths, monsters and madmen is the latest Essential Comics – for October, or any other time of the year.

5. Hellboy by Mike Mignola and others

The first thing that struck me about the Hellboy comics was the art. Mike Mignola has a style that is truly unique, something that you can spot and instantly recognize who it belongs to. The Hammer horror films are a big touchstone for me, and looking at Mignola’s artwork is like seeing that Hammer essence distilled in comic book form – the deep shadows, the crumbling old-world architecture, the gothic spires and columns and crosses, the iconic monsters.  It’s a visual feast.

Fortunately, Mignola is able to match his artistic chops with his writing ability. In Hellboy he’s created one of the great heroes, a working-class Joe who goes about his job with blue-collar attitude. It’s just that, his job is investigating paranormal disturbances and fighting demons. Oh, and he looks like a demon himself, what with the horns and the tail, and the cloven hooves, and the gigantic fist. Appearances and origin aside (he was born – or brought forth – as a result of Nazi experiments into the occult) he’s likeable and relateable, just another guy busting his ass to get the job done in time to enjoy a cold one at the end of the day.

It could easily have settled into a rut of Hellboy-versus-monster-of-the-month, enjoyed a sizeable run and then faded into obscurity, but Mignola had more in mind for his creation. A lot more. Even now, years and years removed from his debut and scores of issues, spin-offs and mini-series later, we’re just now getting a full sense of what Mignola has in store. Mignola has slowly worked in elements of folklore and legends from all over the world, building a unique tapestry that owns its influences while retaining its own identity. He and publisher Dark Horse Comics have been very smart in the way they’ve cultivated the property, allowing characters to spin off in their own books which are part of the larger story, but can stand on their own as well. Mignola works at his own pace, following the mini-series format to avoid the burnout of sustaining a monthly schedule. He’s also begun to invite trusted artists and writers in, letting them make their own contributions while making sure everything serves his overall vision.

Hellboy is a difficult world to jump in the middle of, but Dark Horse has kept the early stuff easily accessible. And, unlike the multi-series crossover events that are all the rage these days, it’s not necessary to read everything Hellboy-related in order to understand the big picture; that being said, there’s no reason not to explore all the nooks and crannies that are out there. It’s all good, rich stuff, and well worth your time.

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