As part of our ongoing series looking inside Dark Horse Comics' so-called Mignola-verse -- created by Mike Mignola and starring Hellboy, Abe Sapien, the B.P.R.D. and more – we're bringing you exclusive reveals from comics and conversations with the creative teams behind the books.
The end of the Mignola-verse is coming, but it's not quite "nigh." Last week we spoke with Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie to offer an overview of the publisher's interconnected world, and to preview what each title had in store.
But now it's time to give up the ghost on B.P.R.D. #130, with Mike Mignola and John Arcudi.
It's not that issue marks the death of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, which was introduced 21 years ago and got its own book 13 years ago. But it is the beginning of the end of the book's second major arc, which will lead into the final, and third, arc. The issue also highlights the rising tribulations within the group of the body-less, ectoplasmic agent Johann Kraus.
In the following interview, Mignola and Arcudi discuss why #130 is an important issue and a good one with which to jump on board. Also, they talk about how this team book is different from others out there, their decade-long collaboration and how "the end" is on its way -- but may still be years from now. After the interview, stick around for our exclusive look at the first five pages from #130.
What is the state of the Mignola-verse right now?
Mike Mignola: As far as I know, and John is much more there for all specific questions, we are rolling into the climax of the second arc of B.P.R.D.
John Arcudi: This issue is kind of a launching point of that climax.
MM: Which is big!
Everyone was at Emerald City Comicon a few weeks back, and some media coverage took away the message of the end of this universe ...
MM: We hit that one a little hard on that panel. This is years down the road. When I say we're going into the end of the second arc, there's a whole big third arc beyond. Even this climax is pretty long.
JA: The climax itself is almost a year long. It is a big, big story. This issue is the springboard for that, developing sort of where Johann is when he enters that big arc.
So, we're years, plural, away?
MM: Yeah. We're more than a year away from the end of the second arc, and that third arc? We haven't really figured out how long that is, but it's fair to say it's as long as "Plague of Frogs." We're a year away from the two-thirds mark. Where the stuff came from on that panel is everyone is really excited because we know where it's going, which was not always the case. And we're in a place where a lot of pieces start fitting together.
How do you think the B.P.R.D. has evolved over the years?
MM: It went from being on the sidelines in Hellboy to being the spine of the entire universe. So Hellboy is kind of marginal. Everything appears to be a spinoff of B.P.R.D., where it started as a spinoff from Hellboy. I look at this as the big bits that's carrying the bulk of the story. So that's a lot of pressure on John. It's the important one!
JA: By virtue of it coming out more often, it requires us to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep the continuity going.
Where is Johann right now, and what can you preview for his character?
JA: He's a guy who has always been struggling to hold on to his humanity. Even when he thinks he's a little closer, he doesn't realize how far away he is -- until he's directly confronted with it by the other people in his group. As a leader, he's pretty good, but as a fellow combatant, he has deficiencies as a human being. He is a ghost in a bag, and his inability to re-attach himself to human feelings and emotions is what he's being confronted in this arc. This leads to a much bigger crisis of faith down the line.
MM: In the ongoing process of torturing and destroying all of our characters! We're really mean to them. John is particularly mean to them.
Is John meaner than you ever were, Mike?
MM: I guess I've done some stuff, but compared to B.P.R.D., Hellboy is on vacation. I killed him and he's having problems of his own, but I'd rather go with Hellboy than them. He is in a much nicer neighborhood! But I'm going to make up for that later.
Why is this a good jumping-on point for this series?
JA: Since it launches us into the last big climax, it's kind of a reboot. We don't have to worry a lot about any continuity in the past -- as it relates to Johann, even -- because we cover that in three issues. And there's a lot of recapping that covers what's happened and where we're going, and moves it forward.
MM: It is kind of hard to say, "Here is a whole new beginning" or "Here's a place for brand-new readers" when you aren't telling one story. When you look at the Hellboy, B.P.R.D. stuff, it's really all one story. I do think it's easy to come on board at various points, but you'll be aware of how much history there is, but you won't be lost. It is no different than the Marvel Universe stuff when I was reading that in the '70s. You jumped on, and found it really cool, but if you looked backwards, you could see where things came from. But you weren't lost. And all these things work in arcs; we're always thinking of trade paperbacks. At any point you can jump on at the beginning of these arcs, and you're in a starting place. Every five issues, three issues, two issues, in terms of storyline, you have a fresh place to jump on board.
What do you think separates this team book from others?
MM: John Arcudi, our secret weapon!
JA: That's a tough one to answer, because I can't say I've kept up with other team books. What I can say is, the only thing I'm interested in is to tell good stories. I don't serve this or that character so much as the reader. We're not trying to pump this character or that above others. We just want to tell good stories, and if a character goes through permanent change -- such as death -- we don't have a problem with that. Mike and I have talked in the past, and felt bad we didn't do more with this or that character, but then that would have been just more of the same. Not that that's what Marvel or DC team books do, but that's not what we wanted. We didn't want to tell more of the same with one character. When they reach that breaking point, that's it. But it's not always death, as you'll see with Johann.
MM: When I think of the team books, I think of The Avengers or whatever the hell DC's got that's like The Avengers. Even though we have supernatural characters like Johann, we're largely dealing with a cast of human beings. You have the ability to develop interesting human characters who -- because they're in a gigantic situation -- don't always survive it. Despite what we're dealing with plotwise, we're dealing with what happens when you throw human beings into these situations -- as opposed to a parade of guys who can hit each other with buildings. And it's not meant to go on forever. It is going someplace, and not rebooting or restarting or getting us back to square one where they fixed Batman's spine or Superman is alive again. The whole thing is going someplace.
JA: And it's not coming back.
Talk about your relationship, and how it has changed? You've been working together since, what, 2004?
MM: I don't know. It feels like it has been forever, in the best possible way. I can't imagine my life before John Arcudi! At the beginning, the first story we plotted, we plotted over lunch. I miss being able to do that because of geography. I was shoving these characters on John, but to write these characters, he had to make them his. More and more of my job has become somebody who just checks in or periodically has conversations of "Where's this guy going, where's that guy going?" We've agreed on where things are going, and more and more, it's up to John to get them there. At this point, I don't even know why my name is on the book, because we've agreed on the direction, but I very seldom come in and add anything.
JA: Thank you, Mike.
MM: I didn't say it was a good thing! I was squeezed out! [laughs] No. The less I have to do with the book, the better it is. I think my distance is my biggest contribution.
JA: As I said, it comes out more often. And the more I worked on it, the more ideas I got about what I wanted to do with this or that character. Knowing where we were going, I had a lot of latitude to get us there.
MM: When John and I first talked about doing stuff, me asking to do B.P.R.D. came out of John complaining about things he couldn't do for another publisher. Everything they weren't letting him do, I said I wished he'd do for us. I think, at various points, it seemed like John was afraid he'd be reined in or redirected. I was like, "No, you're here; we're going to let you do your stuff." It has been the beauty of only three writers on this book -- and for the most part, it was two writers and an editor -- since 2004. We've been able to come up with, together, the direction of this book. I didn't know exactly where things were going. I had a vague idea, but we've been able to discover together. You can do that when you're two or three people together, and not a board room. It has been really organic.
JA: No other publisher would let me do what I'm doing on B.P.R.D., which is tell a big, big story.
MM: We've been able to evolve these characters and this world in a way more other publishers haven't been able to do because we're not restarting or tripping over ourselves. Part of that is we've been doing 20 years as opposed to Marvel or DC's 75 years. But I remember reading Marvel in the 1970s where the continuity still made sense. The huge advantage we've add is it has always only been a couple of us putting this together. Heaven forbid, if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had been able to steer the Marvel stuff for any length of time, could they? It was a different mindset. You weren't thinking of telling one giant story, but we've managed to do that.
Is that why you can literally close the book on this? When the end does come, does this one giant story you've all been able to craft, allow you the satisfaction of closing this and walking away?
MM: Yeah, I think so. There's nothing better than knowing where the thing is going but not being so tied to it. We talk about the third arc, and know where it's going, and kind of have an idea how it's going to get there. We have this cast of characters, and have to move them around. At the same time, you always need to leave enough room for this to evolve. If you plot the whole thing, it gets stale. You can't choke the thing off; you have to let the blood flow.