In the pages of Dark Horse's "B.P.R.D." ongoing series, the reality of the Hellboy world's "Hell On Earth" status quo has turned the once governmental research bureau into a fully fledged army fighting to save the world. And as "B.P.R.D." marches on alongside titles like "Abe Sapien," "Lobster Johnson" and "Hellboy In Hell," creator Mike Mignola and Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie are working with an army of artists to keep the creepy-yet-human stories coming every month.
This week sees the release of "B.P.R.D." #107 -- the first chapter of the three-part "Wasteland" arc by regular series writer John Arcudi and artist Laurence Campbell. Meanwhile, Dark Horse revealed to CBR that "American Vampire" artist Rafael Albuquerque joins the book as cover artist with issue #110 for an arc called "Lake of Fire" which will see the return of longtime cast member Liz Sherman.
Mignola and Allie spoke about their overall plans for "B.P.R.D." and the entire Hellboy line with a particular focus on how artists like Campbell, James Harren and Sebastian Fiumara are keeping the visuals of the comics together as the world of the story continues to fall apart.
"When Guy [Davis] moved one, we set things up with Tyler [Crooks] and gradually started pulling in different guys, and we found that we had a wealth of guys we were excited to work with," Allie explained. "All of us believe in writing to the artists, so John is the most flexible at this point in terms of changing the plans based on who's going to be drawing. We plan pretty far out, so it's never a matter of 'Whoa, I've got a script due this week, and I just found out who's drawing it!' And he plans his stories accordingly. If he says, 'I've got this one story that needs to hit next, and it's a James Harren story' then we do a lot of fancy footwork to figure out if James can do a five-issue arc at that time. We do what it takes to make this work."
"'B.P.R.D.' has such a wide range, and it's our only monthly book," Mignola said of the overall visual identity of the line. "The idea is to have enough artists to keep that schedule but also -- especially in the last year or so -- 'This artists would be great for this kind of story, and that artists would be great for that story.' The Abe series really focuses on one guy while in 'B.P.R.D.' we say 'Let's tell this kind of story for this particular artist.' It's nice to have a large roster of artists to work with. It's just Scott's nightmare of keeping those schedules possible."
That roster extension includes the cover artists as Albuquerque comes in for a run to highlight the series next major phase. Mignola acknowledged that one of the biggest personal benefits of this practice is that he's not drawing every cover to every Hellboy-related comic anymore. "Oh, that's the nicest," laughed the artist. "The beauty of 'B.P.R.D.' once I let go of doing covers is that we were then able to put some amazing people on covers for specific arcs. Ryan Sook did some great stuff. Dave Johnson has come in. And we'll be able to bring different guys through there. I'm a graphic guy, so I'm always looking for a design sense and not just a pretty picture guy. I tend to look for a symbolist and not just 'Oh, here's a cool shot of a guy punching a monster in the head.' I want something a little more about the theme of the story. That's something Dave Johnson does so well. His covers are really smart as opposed to a pretty rendering."
On the interior side, both creator and editor praise Campbell's interiors for "Wasteland" even though the British artist brings a decidedly different flair to the proceedings than "B.P.R.D." artists past. "I think you're absolutely right that Laurence is different from what you've come to expect from the Mignola books, but Sebastian is different as well," Allie said. "One of the things that I'm liking about what those guys are doing is that now that we're actually destroying the world, it's nice to have guys whose stuff looks recognizably like our world. Laurence and Sebastian do stuff that's very grounded – more grounded than we've maybe looked in the past. They make it look real in a way that leaves a different impression than the very stylized guys who can amp the volume up so high. James Harren's action is so out of control and over the top and his monsters are so fantastic that John, Mike and I talk about how weird the effect is to alternate away from that. We love having James doing a big story after Laurence does one but involving the same characters. Those characters are going to look pretty different as drawn by these different artists, but they'll be written the same thanks to John."
"The biggest question with a guy like Laurence was 'He's so grounded in realism, is that going to work with the monster stuff?'" Mignola recalled. "You always have to have both of those elements working. Sometimes a guy who is such a realist has a hard time making the monster stuff up, but as soon as we saw him draw his first monster in this story...I wouldn't say we were breathing a sigh of relief, but we were really exciting that he'd pulled off the unreal so convincingly. James is a guy who will bend the real world so it's really fantastic, but Laurence is able to ground the fantastic monsters in his realism. Everything has to meet in the middle."
"I'll admit that I had some reservations at first because Laurence's stuff is so real, but in his first issue he did two things that we all were ecstatic about," said Allie of this week's story that sees Johann Krauss, Agent Nichols and other members of the team track down a lost B.P.R.D. squad in the ruins of Chicago. "When you first see an Ogdru Hem that Laurence designed in a back-and-forth with Mike that he then had to pull off in a certain number of panels, it looked amazing. It's like it was as big as it was supposed to be. It looked otherworldly and horrific, and he did it all on the right scale. Then at the very end of the issue, there was a sequence that he made legitimately horrifying and really subtle. So he pulled off the big stuff and the atmospheric stuff, and that really covers all the stuff we need."
As for the future of "B.P.R.D.," all involved said that the reconnecting of the teams in Russia and the U.S., the plans of the Black Flame and the return of long absent characters are plot points culled from Arcudi's brain. "Parts of the Black Flame are really John, and parts of it start with [Mike]," Allie explained as Mignola added, "I think John and I have started to have more discussions about what shouldn't happen. I don't know where things are going to go except that they'll probably get worse. John is so invested in what he's doing that when I talk to him, it's mostly about 'Have you thought about doing this over here?' So we've discussed more about the Black Flame, but these are so much his characters that most of the time, I just ask him questions. That's something I learned from Scott as an editor. Scott doesn't tell me what to do or tell me what he thinks I should do. He questions things I'm planning to do. That's my approach with John. I'll just ask questions and maybe make very subtle suggestions for things, but mostly I'm just curious as to what he's got planned."
"There's so much stuff that John's doing that's changing the world in the regular title, and there are so many characters that have been off the radar who are going to come back in," Allie said. "I think what's happening in 'B.P.R.D.' is going to be bigger and more consequential then we've ever seen -- even though we just got through some pretty big things in 'Return of the Master.' John and everybody have been shaking things up in a big way, but the next couple of arcs are the coolest things yet, I think. The 'Lake of Fire' arc coming up after 'Wasteland' puts Liz back on the map, and that's a big thing. And John's just changing some characters where we're going to see the consequences of this stuff pretty soon.
"You talk about how John really shows the human impact of this stuff and how this world changes people, but I think he does an amazing job balancing this big, earth-shattering events with little moments that make it incredible person. The things that he and Laurence do in 'Wasteland' bring some heartbreaking moments, and it makes you believe the world is ending around these characters."
Meanwhile, Mignola and Allie themselves are working to grow the supernatural side of Hellboy's world with their own respective scripts for "Hellboy In Hell" and "Abe Sapien" which ship regularly if not monthly. "John is so much the driving force behind this destruction of the world and how it impacts regular human beings that he tends to shy away from the more traditional occult stuff," Mignola said. "That's why when we first started talking about 'Abe,' Scott and I discussed it as a nice opportunity to talk about some of the stuff John wasn't doing. Rather than trying to force John to do stuff that's not his favorite, Scott's focus like mine becomes the supernatural, folk lore-ish kind of stuff."
Allie recalled the birth of the current approach to series, saying, "When we did those five one and two-issue stories with Mike and I last year, the idea was 'Let's show the B.P.R.D. doing some old school supernatural stuff.' That was fun, and it was something we needed in the line...One of the things that distinguishes 'Abe' from 'B.P.R.D.' is that you just have this one character who doesn't have any of the means that the B.P.R.D. has. He's just one guy traveling across the American Southwest meeting people and trying to figure out how small towns work in the situation we've created. That's interesting logistically for me. If Abe's walking around and he goes to the next town, what's he going to eat? How does he deal with burning cars everywhere? This is about him interacting with the man on the street, and it's fun in contrast to the B.P.R.D. where you have a lot of heavy artillery."
"Clearly, my book is the easiest because everybody's already dead, it's small and quiet and kind of meditative," laughed Mignola. "I think it shows the range of these books that you have everything from 1930s pulp adventure stuff to the big ideas about what's going on in the world now to my very odd, floaty, supernatural afterworld book."
"The thing I really enjoy that's fun and challenging is the little ways all these books are still connected," Allie said. "There's a Lobster Johnson two-parter coming up soon that Sebastian is drawing and John is writing, and it has little connections to what's going on today in 'B.P.R.D.' And keeping track of what's going on in 'Hellboy In Hell' gives little nods to what's going on in 'Abe' or 'B.P.R.D.' The 'Cold Day In Hell' story that John just did with Peter Snejbjerg has that. It's reacting to what's going on in Hell. We're not doing crossovers that you've got to read as a traditional crossover, but this is all one reality, and these books impact each other."
Mignola agreed. "The thing I'm most proud of and excited about is that for 20 years we've been building this world and these inter-related stories and this whole universe without ever running into a situation where we've had to go, 'Oh crap! We've written ourselves into a corner here!' It covers such a wide range of stories, but it still all works together very comfortably."
"B.P.R.D." #107 is in stores this Wednesday from Dark Horse.