John Arcudi has been hard at work fleshing out the B.P.R.D. "Hell on Earth" mega-arc with creator and collaborator Mike Mignola, and this August will see the publication of the first issue of "B.P.R.D. - Hell On Earth: The Return of the Master," the next stage in the supernatural threat-based organization's unfolding epic. Comic Book Resources spoke with Arcudi and Mignola about the direction and inspiration currently guiding the B.P.R.D. and what the future holds for one of publisher Dark Horse Comics' main properties.
"Return of the Master," for which Arcudi and Mignola are joined by artist Tyler Crook, picks up right after the current story-arc, "The Devil's Engine," and follows the B.P.R.D. gang to the Scottish highlands in a hunt for a paranormal cult bent on world destruction, while diabolical corporation Zinco unleashes their master plan.
"We set up the Zinco mission in 'The Devils' Engine,'" Arcudi told CBR. "Zinco will then have to carry it out in 'Return of the Master.' Just as the title would have you believe, it's a pretty big deal."
Arcudi, who has been the main B.P.R.D. writer for years, building upon the mythology of Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe, describes the working relationship between himself and Mignola as a fluid, shifting exchange. "Mike's given me this map that I'm following and for the most part he and Dark Horse leave the itinerary up to me," Arcudi said. "[Mignola] and Scott [Allie, Editor] let me tell my stories my way, which is something I've rarely enjoyed elsewhere. They get my best work as a result, and they make me feel invested in the characters. The only real challenge is that when I talk with Mike, he's always got so many ideas, and tweaks, and gooses that always work. You feel a little intimidated by that."
"My involvement is mostly in the kind of really big, global event kind of stuff," Mignola said. "The way we ended 'Plague of Frogs' with the creatures exploding underground was my idea of how to set the stage for this poisoning of the Earth, and that's now snowballing into something else. My main involvement was 'Let's make these big creatures' who got up from the Salton Sea. I didn't position them in the Salton Sea, but I said 'Let's have a big monster stand up, and we can use that as a defining characteristic of the global change coming...As John clearly takes over these characters, who they are and what they do, my focus stays out of his hair except to say, 'Ultimately, let's reference this or that.'"
While the over-arching B.P.R.D. storyline hinges on a potential Apocalypse-scale disaster, Arcudi consistently grounds the various miniseries and one-shots in the interpersonal relationships between characters, these days focusing on the tensions between Fenix and the B.P.R.D. team.
"Bringing Fenix back to B.P.R.D. HQ had to be difficult, given her history with Devon and Abe, but also because this world is so much more difficult to navigate," Arcudi explained. "They couldn't just hop on a plane. And it's important to not forget that she's a teenage girl. They're difficult to begin with, as is their right and duty, but you toss one in with a bunch of adults, and she's just not going to fit in. And I'm not talking about the cliché 'in-fighting' you see in every team comic ever made since the '60s. I really mean she's not going to fit in. Nobody should expect her to act like an adult. As for her assault on Abe, while that was significant to the future of the B.P.R.D. storyline, that action is also emblematic of Fenix's alienation -- as people will see."
In crafting the character of Fenix, Arcudi has drawn largely on his own memories of adolescence. "It's pretty easy for me to remember what it was like to be an out-of-control teenager," he said, offering a sole caveat. "I'm a guy and I can't really expect my experience to mirror hers. Getting outside yourself (or in this case, myself) to research, and listen, to get that voice just right, is pretty vital. That's the struggle."
"Return of the Master" also picks up a few threads from the previous mini, "Hell on Earth: Russia," in which Iosif, the Director of Russian B.P.R.D. mirror organization, the S.S.S., demonstrates a definitive "shoot-first" policy in confronting potential threats, a policy Arcudi argues may not be so bad in B.P.R.D.'s world. "Things have gone to hell, after all," Arcudi explains. "Whether or not Kate, Tom Manning and Johann agree with me remains to be seen, but it's fair to say that the collaboration between the S.S.S. and B.P.R.D. will see its share of tensions and disagreements. The fact is, they need each other now, but in my experience circumstances of that nature only create further conflict, not less."
Tyler Crooks continues his work on the B.P.R.D., having taken over Guy Davis' role as the franchise's main artist in 2011. "Because of Guy [Davis] leaving, we needed a guy who could take over soon. We were in a bit of a time crunch. Fortunately, I'd seen Tyler's stuff a few months before at a show, and I absolutely loved it. I showed it to John and to Scott [Allie], and we all loved it. But we didn't know what exactly to do with this guy," Mignola said. "But he was so good at people and character that when it came time to replace Guy, I knew he could do the character stuff that defines what John does in the scripts. It's not like we saw him and said, 'This is the best creature guy on Earth.' I mean, Tyler's very good with that stuff, but it wasn't the main attraction. Even Guy, as great as he is with creatures, had the appeal from the beginning that he could draw anything. He could draw real people. And especially on the main 'B.P.R.D.' stuff, having people who can draw real characters is essential. I can bounce ideas back and forth with them on monster designs. That's relatively easy. But a guy who can give these characters real personalities, that's what's important. And Tyler had that."
Despite his obvious happiness with Crooks' work, Mignola does have one lamentation over the manner in which the young artist joined his and Arcudi's B.P.R.D. team. "Poor Tyler. We were looking to bring him in on an arc here or a short story there, and then suddenly it's 'Tyler, would you mind taking over the entire book?' And he did great! I think he started great, but his stuff has gotten better and better. And you can tell that he's making these characters his."
For his part, Arcudi is quick to point out that it was not skill alone that has fed Crooks success with the books, but also determination. "I don't think it would surprise anybody to know that Tyler had a daunting task taking over from Guy Davis," Arcudi said. "On top of that, we have a very specific way of working, which some folks find a bit rough. The fact that he didn't run screaming after getting the 3rd round of notes on his layouts says a lot about him."
And Arcudi, Mignola and Crooks aren't the only creators with B.P.R.D. irons in the fire. Eisner Award-winning artist Cameron Stewart has his own one-shot hitting in June, "B.P.R.D. - Hell on Earth: Exorcism," which he both wrote and illustrated.
""We're doing some books now that are taking characters John wasn't going to do anything with and that I wasn't doing anything with and saying, 'What if we turned them over to a guy who wants to write and draw his own stuff?'" Mignola said of the genesis of the one-off story. "I had an idea of where to start with Ashley Strode, this character who had appeared in one issue of a comic John wrote. She was a nice character with not a lot of baggage. She just had a lot of presence. So we said, 'Cam wants to do a girl character? Why don't we give him this one and bring in another character that no one's doing anything with?' I gave him an idea of where he could start, but then I said, 'Cam, do whatever you want with her.' He and I banged ideas back and forth for the first two-issue story, and beyond that I told him that whenever he wants to come back, that character is his to develop in any direction he wants to take her in. I wanted him to feel this is a character he could do something with.
"We've done this with another character, too -- someone else who showed up in one of the 'B.P.R.D.' books that John had no plans for and neither did I, so we gave some guys a place to start with the character and let them go with it." Mignola continued. "It's a fun experiment. The principal characters like Abe and everybody are divided up between John and I, but here are so many guys who show up in a story and don't get killed off. It makes you go, 'What's this guy doing when they walk out of this story and into this world?' There's so much going on with this global event that it's nice to be able to follow these other characters and see more of the world."