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Between Darkness and Hell

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Last week, Hellboy fans finally saw the journey of their favorite character continue with Hellboy: Darkness Calls. The new Dark Horse mini-series also featured the debut of new Hellboy artist Duncan Fegredo, who becomes the first illustrator to bring Hellboy to life in his regular adventures.

Since Mike Mignola was too busy with various Hellboy projects—including the franchise’s second film—there was no way he could get the story moving on without delaying it till 2050. Enter Fegredo, a skilled artist who, as last week’s Darkness Calls #1 showed, has put some grit into Hellboy’s world by meshing classic Mignola elements with his own unique twist.

BF spoke to the artist about what’s in store for Hellboy in Darkness Calls, and what it’s like to work with the master…

BROKEN FRONTIER: Hellboy fans will remember that you got the nod to pencil Hellboy: Darkness Calls following Lee Bermejo’s exit. What was your ‘recruitment process’ like?

DUNCAN FEGREDO: It was simple really; Scott Allie emailed and said he wanted to discuss a possible project, wanting to know my availability. He called, said the magic word “Hellboy” and I freaked out!

Scott explained about the parting of ways with Lee and how Glenn Murakami had suggested to Mike that I would be suitable—I should mention here that although I’d very briefly met Glen years before at San Diego Comic-Con it was purely so that I could be fan like and pronounce my love of his work, I certainly didn’t know him, so thanks again Glen!

Anyway, I was in fact halfway through inking the first of a six part series for Vertigo, great story, great writer, but it wasn’t Hellboy... so after careful consideration I bowed out of the project. And that’s it really.

BF: Since you’re so enamored with Hellboy as a character, I’m sure it didn’t take you a long time to get into his head or his world?

DF: You’d think so but it really did take a while. A example of the sort of problem I had to solve would be that of Igor Bromhead in the first issue. The way Mike had drawn Igor he was often reduced to abstraction, very graphic shapes, he looked great, full of character and a strong graphic design.

But I couldn’t draw Bromhead like that as it simply didn’t fit with the way I draw naturally, what I had to do was kind of realise that character in three dimensions, still retain the sense of that character and then simplify him back down so that it felt right with my style- but still retaining the qualities imbued by Mike.

BF: In terms of working with Mike Mignola, how does your relationship work? As someone who’s used to pencil every Hellboy panel himself and is quite the perfectionist at that, does he present you with a rigid plot outline that you have to stick by, or is there a lot of creative freedom on your end?

DF: It seems to be working very well actually. Mike writes his script as plot, indicates the gist of the dialogue and often includes a small thumbnail to suggest layout and sometimes composition. Sometimes Mike is very specific as to what he wants with regard to how panels relate to each other and that’s fine. 

If I’ve changed something and it’s not working for Mike he’ll let me know and explain why; and that’s the difference, in the past I’ve been asked for editorial changes that seem completely arbitrary, simply change for the sake of change. If mike wants adjustments he has full justification and that’s fine, this is his baby after all.

That said I have done alternative layouts, added panels, as I usually do and Mike has been happy with that as I’ll tackle things in a different way simply because we have different approaches to storytelling, but for the most part I’ll go with Mike’s layouts… if it isn’t broke, why fix it?

Did the process also work the other way around? Like, while discussing panels and layouts, were there any changes made off of ideas you’ve had?

BF: Aside from your own reliance on blacks, something Mike also does obviously, did you tweak your style in any way to fit in more closely with the look and feel he has established over the course of the last 13 years?

DF: I’ve been reading Hellboy from the beginning and there a number of things Mike does with that contribute to the whole atmosphere and feel of Hellboy. The last thing I would want as a fan is for that to change- that said, as an artist Mike has evolved and there have been subtle shifts in both the art and how Mike employs his art to the best effect.

Click to enlargeI wanted to try and ensure that the transition from Mike’s work on The Island to my work on this series was not too jarring, without resorting to a weak pastiche. I’m trying to walk a line; I want the book to feel like Hellboy whilst keeping my own identity. I did something similar in Marvel Monsters: Good Monsters, I tried to capture the feel of Jack Kirby  nd marry it to my own storytelling, I think it was reasonably successful but I’m far happier with my work on Darkness Calls.

BF: Were you inspired by Mike’s work while shaping your own style—as an artist I mean, even prior to starting work on Hellboy?

DF: Absolutely, Mike’s Hellboy is canon, it’s the source. I found myself gaining a new, deeper appreciation of Mike’s work as a result; I’m still blown away by everything he has done.

BF: When your involvement in Darkness Calls was first announced, the series was supposed to ship in early November of 2006. What caused the six-month delay?

DF: Life stuff for a start, moving house and setting up a new studio. Beyond that it has taken time to get into character, solve art style stuff etc. I’m putting a lot into this, it matters to me that Mike is happy with this book.

BF: Apart from Mike, someone who’s also been very involved with anything and everything Hellboy is editor Scott Allie. What are some of the tips and tricks he’s given you?

DF: Scott has been very good at giving me notes on pace and mood; he notices if I’m overplaying  a moment or if something is slightly off beat. I guess that Scott has worked with Mike long enough to gain a good understanding of Mike’s intentions.

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BF: As far as the story goes, the solicitation for the first issue is brief, but very teaser-heavy: “Witches all across the world seek out Hellboy, but this time, they're not just after revenge.” What are these witches after then?

DF: You’re going to have to wait to read it, why would I blow the story?

BF: Apart from this flock of witches, are there any other key story points?

DF: Yes, plenty! You expect me to tell you? No way!

BF: Hmmph, ok. [Laughs] Now that issue #1 is out, there must be something you can say about the continuation of the mini-series, right? [Crosses fingers]

DF: Weeeellll…. Expect weirdness? No? At some point I can guarantee something goes BOOM!? No? Okay, I will say that in issue two there’s a scene in a church and I feel that at that moment my work takes a leap forward. It’s a fabulous scene with some creepy stuff going on, I mean pivotal for Hellboy and maybe myself too… and now I’m shutting up again!

BF: How much will this series affect Hellboy as a character? Where are you and Mike putting him when this series is over?

DF: Hellboy has been travelling down a twisting path with misleading branches that all lead to strange places and it’s just going to get stranger. Big changes are ahead and yep, I’m not saying what they are! I will say that Mike has revealed some of the details of the bigger picture, it’s mind blowing stuff, really. You know, as a fan myself, getting a new script is the best thing ever.

BF: And, following Darkness Calls, are you in the fold for more Hellboy?

DF: Yes, two more series, in fact as long as Mike wants me to draw Hellboy I’m there. What else would I want to do?

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BF: Looking at the Hellboy timeline, are these series natural progressions from where Darkness Calls end? And, do they already have a working title?

DF: No working titles as far as I know but I’m sure Mike has titles in mind, I just don’t ask. I spoke to Mike a few days ago and he was outlining a few events, casually expanding my mind, and then he mentioned a new character… now he’d mentioned this character before, but now he was asking if I wanted to know their identity and I was kind of torn—I mean hell yes!

I wanted to know but at the same time I don’t; see, I don’t get to pick up the new issue anymore, but I do get to read new scripts… I just don’t want to spoil my original excitement as a fan.

Hellboy: Darknes Calls #1 is in stores now. The second issue is scheduled to go on sale on May 30.

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