When Hell comes to Earth, sometimes one comic series isn't enough to catalogue all of the action. Dark Horse's ongoing "B.P.R.D." series, which has always run as a series of miniseries, will double-up during several months throughout the spring, adding the talented stable of artists to the rotation. "B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth: The Long Death" is a three-issue miniseries illustrated by James Harren launching in February, following the currently-running "Russia" storyline in the ongoing. Launching in March and running two issues is "B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Pickens County Horror," with art by Jason Latour; in May, ongoing series artist Tyler Crook returns for the three-issue "The Devil's Engine," and later that month, Max Fiumara illustrates the one-shot "The Transformation of J.H. O'Donnell." Finally, in June, Cameron Stewart writes and illustrates "B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth: Exorcism."
"B.P.R.D.," short for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, spun out of the pages of creator Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" in 2002 when the demonic hero left the agency in pursuit of solo adventures and quests. The "Hell on Earth" era began last year following the conclusion of the mega-arc focused on the subterranean frog people, a throughline which dated back to Hellboy's early adventures. As the subtitle itself might indicate, things only got worse for agents Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and the rest, as unchecked supernatural forces began wreaking havoc worldwide.
Comic Book Resources spoke with Harren, Latour, Crook, and Fiumara to discuss their contributions to the expanding B.P.R.D. universe.
James Harren leads off the latest big "B.P.R.D." push at Dark Horse, so CBR News asked him whether there was some degree of coordination between the artists, and what it means to join the Bureau at this point in the series' history. "There's been a bit of back and forth on some character designs, and I even got to help create a few new faces. The world is big enough now that I don't think we'll be stepping on each other's toes, though," Harren said. "As far as how it feels; I wouldn't want to be anywhere else! It's great to be in a place that doesn't just encourage, but demands that you embrace your weird. The other guys working on 'B.P.R.D.' titles are some talented SOBs and it's thrilling and humbling to work alongside them. Not to mention that we're all following Guy Davis, the artist with more cartooning clout than just about anyone. We've all got our work cut out for us."
Regarding the story of "The Long Death," Harren said, "It's rough." "John and Mike beat the crap out of their characters. It's very much an extension of 'The Killing Ground,' one of my personal favorites, and will feature one of my favorite B.P.R.D. monsters," Harren said. "It's also obscenely violent."
Harren has worked in the B.P.R.D. universe before with the recent "Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest" miniseries, and said that getting a shot at the whole team feels "too good to be true!" "The B.P.R.D. has been among my favorite comics since I was seventeen. So I'm still a bit euphoric about the whole thing," Harren said.
Serving as one of the core, three-issue "B.P.R.D." series, "The Long Death" focuses on some of the Bureau's major players while fleshing out its more recent additions. "We get to see a bit more of Agent Giarocco, who I really enjoy drawing," Harren said. "Strong females are fun to draw (not the creepy She-Hulk kind of strong). There's a lot of Johann. And I don't think I could ever get tired of drawing him. That faceless dome has made me re-think my whole approach to body language. Getting Johann to emote through gesture alone has been an awesome challenge."
Asked about designing and illustrating monsters for the B.P.R.D.'s intense "Hell on Earth" world, Harren said he did get to stretch his wings. "There's something at the beginning that they let me go nuts on. Issue two has one of my favorite monster moments in any script I've ever read," Harren said. "The rest are appearances from Guy's amazingly epic run. I hope I do them justice!"
Jason Latour, the second artist in the rotation, said that he has long been familiar with the world of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.. "I became aware of Mike Mignola's work when I was about eleven years old and I've been a huge fan ever since," Latour told CBR, "so to get a chance to be a part of this universe on any level is just unimaginably surreal to me. There are very few comics lines where you feel like you've got a chance to be a part of something that could go down as a benchmark for the era but I think this is one of them. That's very humbling and also something I take very seriously even in a supporting role."
Latour told CBR that his two-issue miniseries, "The Pickens County Horror," features B.P.R.D. agents Vaughn and Peters, whose mission is to "investigate a strange fog in the South Carolina foothills." "Of course, like any good B.P.R.D. mission there are twists and turns and they soon find themselves pitted against a conspiracy that could affect (infect?) the entire world," he said. "It really brings to the surface a threat that's been lying in wait for some time and is a story that I think attentive B.P.R.D. readers will appreciate."
If the leads' names don't sound familiar, it's because they are new to this arc. "Vaughn has appeared previously in a short story called 'Casualties' as a bit player," Latour said. "Here he's in the spotlight. So we're mostly building these two characters from scratch. I get a real kick out of building new things. I did get to draw Hellboy a couple of times, which was another comic book dream come true."
"The Pickens County Horror" takes the B.P.R.D. into Southern Gothic territory, which suits Latour just fine. "Well, I'm from North Carolina, and the story itself is set in the South Carolina foothills, which is an area I know a bit about. I'd long wanted to play with that area, and when I suggested it as a potential setting, Mike Mignola and Scott Allie were kind enough to run with it," Latour said. "I'm also a big fan of the Southern Gothic 'genre' as it were and outside of 'Scalped' or what Mignola and Corben did on 'Crooked Man' you just don't see much of it in comics, much less done well. That stuff is in my bones and I think it's got a lot of potency for so many kinds of great stories, so I jump at any chance I get to put a new spin on it, this being one of those instances."
Latour did have the chance to design some new monsters for the series, "but saying too much would spoil it." "It starts at hillbilly vampire clans and gets wildly strange and slimey from there," he added.
Like Latour and Harren, Max Fiumara has enjoyed the chance to play in the universe that Mignola has created. "Being part of 'B.P.R.D.' is amazing," Fiumara said. "I adore 'Hellboy' and have always read it, but for God knows what reason, until recently I hadn’t made the jump to 'B.P.R.D.;' but now I love the book, I think it’s impossible not to fall for these characters: they are so diverse, dark and mysterious. It’s the kind of book that I enjoy as a reader and as an artist at the same time. It’s pretty exciting!"
Fiumara's one-shot, written by Dark Horse editor Scott Allie with Mignola, follows the early career of Professor O'Donnell, an enigmatic recurring character thrust into the spotlight for the first time. "Throughout the issues of 'B.P.R.D.' we’ve been seeing that this guy is not only a genius but also a bit crazy, it’s been a mystery so far, and here we get to tell the story of the origin of his madness," Fiumara said. "Hellboy, of course, plays a part in the story, and this means trouble. It’s a pretty dark story."
The "The Transformation of J. H. O’Donnell" artist said that the shadowy subject matter plays directly to his strengths as an artist. "Dark stuff always appeals to me, as I love playing with shadows and atmospheric scenarios. There is a lot of creepy stuff here, and a lot of room to play abstract, which is really great for me," Fiumara said. This affinity for darker material might be counterintuitive, given that much of Fiumara's recent work has been on superhero titles, including "Amazing Spider-Man." He said though that working on "B.P.R.D." does not require much in the way of shifting gears, "only increasing the amount of inks, as I make use of a lot of plain blacks."
Fiumara noted that, in addition to the darker tone, "Hellboy’s stories have a very distinctive pace." "Having said that, I cannot point out this characteristic way of telling the story in the script, but I can tell you this is one of those good creepy stories, and these characters and their hellish tales feel so natural and in some way, real to me that it is very easy for me to see how to approach the storytelling, as I see it in my head," he said.
"Every kind of tale has its own pace for me. The important thing is that when you read it, you can experience what happens in these worlds in the best possible way."
Returning to the main series with the five-issue story "The Devil's Engine," Tyler Crook now has several "B.P.R.D." series under his belt since taking over from Guy Davis as ongoing artist. Crook said the experience thus far "has been really good." "I just finished drawing the last issue of 'Russia' last week. So far this year, I've drawn more than 150 B.P.R.D. pages! It's a great team to work with and everyone has been really supportive and helpful," Crook said.
Asked about highlights from the 150 pages, Crook said, "'Russia' #5 has been really fun." "There are a lot of big reveals that I knew were coming but as soon as it came time to draw them I was like 'Woah! I get to draw that for real?!'"
For May-debuting "The Devil's Engine," Crook said, there will be significant moments both large and small. "I'm looking forward to drawing some pretty epic explosions, but more than that I'm looking forward to drawing Devon," Crook said. "He's a character who seems to feel like he's out of his depth and often over-reacts. I think that'll be fun to draw. And Duncan's covers look amazing!"
Given that "Russia" has yet to conclude and the Harren-illustrated "Long Death" is still to come before "The Devil's Engine" revs up, Crook was not able to divulge too many details about the story he's working on. "I can tell you that Devon went out to find Fenix and ends up getting a lot more than he expected," he said. "And we will get to see more about how the world is going to hell and how people are dealing with it."
Crook told CBR that he finds a lot to like in Fenix, the precognitive character who debuted in the "Gods" miniseries, and Devon, an established B.P.R.D. agent who has recently clashed with his colleagues. "I like all these characters because they are struggling to figure out who they really are and what they should be doing," he said. "And Fenix is neat because her roll in all of this is still pretty mysterious but we are going to be learning a lot more about her soon."
The next issue of "B.P.R.D.," "B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth: Russia" #4, is on sale December 21, and that series concludes with #5 in January. "The Long Death," illustrated by Harren and marking the beginning of ramped-up titles for 2012, launches February 15.