Welcome friends, this week at The Banana Stand I would like to discuss the roster of talented artists that have worked in the Mignolaverse, and why I think it’s an amazing achievement in modern comics. For those not in the know, the Mignolaverse is comprised of Hellboy, BPRD, Lobster Johnson, Baltimore, Witchfinder, Sledgehammer 44′, and Abe Sapien. The umbrella term “Mignolaverse” was coined to refer to the books Mignola himself has created. They all exist in a shared universe with the exception of Baltimore, that is a creation of Mignola and author Christopher Golden, and exists in it’s own world. In my opinion this universe rivals any other in comics, and is one of–if not THE–greatest accomplishments in the post-Silver Age era of comic books. The ability of Mignola, editor Scott Allie, and everyone else involved in this corner of comics to coordinate such a feat is a marvelous thing.
The list of artists who’ve helped to craft this universe is pretty amazing, so to provide the proper perspective I’m just going to list names: Mike Mignola–of course, Guy Davis, Richard Corben, Peter Snejbjerg, Paul Azaceta, Tyler Crook, Duncan Fegredo, Ben Stenbeck, Cameron Stewart, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, James Harren, Jason Latour, Tonci Zonjic, Max and Sebastian Fiumara, Ryan Sook, Michael Avon Oeming, Jason Shawn Alexander, P. Craig Russell, John Severin, Karl Moline, Kevin Nowlan, Jason Armstrong, and Laurence Campbell. I think that’s everyone, so if I missed any, mea culpa. Just rattling off names like that doesn’t do them much justice, but that is one hell of a list. If you aren’t familiar with all of these names I encourage you to seek them out, and discover some beautiful artwork you’ve been missing out on. Most of these guys have just done guest spots on issues or arcs here and there, but a few like Davis, Fegredo, Crook, and Stenbeck have had pretty sizable runs. A lot of these names I was completely unfamiliar with until I saw their work in a Mignolaverse book, I now count quite a few of them among my favorites, and will follow them as they move onto other projects. The common things these guys all have in common is a brilliant sense of visual storytelling, and a firm handle on the nuts and bolts of sequential art. Being chosen by Mignola–one of the best ever–is no small feat, and I’m sure all of these guys were stoked when they got the call. Stylistically there is an incredible amount of variation amongst this list, but Mignola and editor Scott Allie do a fantastic job pairing artists with material that plays to their strengths, and the books are proof that these two know exactly what they’re doing. Whether it’s Guy Davis’ imaginative creature design for BPRD, Tonci Zonjic’s pulped-out style on Lobster Johnson, or Duncan Fegredo’s hauntingly detailed scenery on Hellboy, all of these artist shine bright when working in this universe.
I find it fascinating that this approach to the art in an ever-growing universe has worked so well. Sure it’s not that much different then what the bigger publishers do, but generally with creator owned properties there is an established aesthetic that is adhered to. It seems like the opposite is true for the Mignolaverse, and that is especially apparent within the last few years. For a long time Mignola was the sole artist on Hellboy, and Guy Davis did all the issues of BPRD after the initial few short stories. Now days, even though Tyler Crook is the mainstay for BPRD, a slew of other guys have stepped in to provide interiors for different story arcs; it has turned the book into a artistic jam session, which in my opinion, has really boosted the books creative energy. I LOVE the style and work Tyler Crook puts in when he is on the book, but I think that the mixture of styles for different storylines accentuates the tone and mood of each individual arc, in a way that keeping the same art just can’t provide.
A perfect example is the most recent storyline, The Reign of The Black Flame, it was a bombastic and epic story with high intensity destruction, and the fact that James Harren drew it, elevated the art to match the incredible stakes of the story. Likewise, a few arcs back Cameron Stewart was guesting for an Ashley Strode-centric Exorcism, where his polished and animated aesthetic brought an exuberance to Agent Strode; who as a newcomer was still working to prove her value to the bureau and us readers. I could go on with more examples, but I think you get the point. The artwork is a very important part of the story’s appeal, and the right choices in that department can really go a long way toward establishing a universe and it’s atmosphere. They’ve done such a superb job for so long that now I don’t even get upset when a new artist is announced for the next story or project, because I trust that Mignola and Allie are just going to introduce me to a new favorite.
These days creator owned properties are a huge part of the comic book market, and I love that, but I think the Mignolaverse line of books has done something that may never be achieved again. The fact that there are six different titles, all created for the same universe of books, with compelling and ongoing stories that show no signs of slowing down is unparalleled in modern comics. The creation of so many complex and engaging characters that will stand the test of time is a pretty amazing feat this day and age, and the fact that they are tied together in an established and singular mythology is something to be lauded. The fact that all these amazing artists, under the strategic guidance of Mignola and Allie, have contributed some of the best pages in comics in this relatively small corner of the comic book world, is something that I feel more fans should know about and experience.
I have a friend who I frequently lend comics to, when we started this exchange he was into a lot of different stuff, including Spawn, Batman, and other super books. After I had him borrow the first few Hellboy trades he specifically requested only books from the Mignolaverse till he had devoured all that I had. I asked what happened to spark this decision, and why he didn’t want other stuff. He simply stated that after reading Hellboy and BPRD he didn’t know if he even liked the other stuff anymore, and that what he thought was good comics, just weren’t even on the same level. Now of course he still borrows other books besides Mignolaverse stuff, but his standards have been raised, and comics have a new benchmark to rise to if they want to impress him is all. I hope that even if people reading this don’t agree with everything I’ve said, that it’s because they’ve at least given the Mignolaverse a try and it wasn’t for them. I can understand and respect that opinion, even if it’s wrong 🙂
For some excellent insight, and frankly more intelligent arguments regarding the amazing quality of stories and artwork in the Mignolaverse check out the Eisner nominated Multiversitycomics David, Brian, and Mark do an amazing job of analyzing and covering everything Mignola over there–if you check it out, tell them who sent you in the comments 🙂
I hope this article did more than just allow me to declare my love for this line of books, and that at least some of you enjoyed reading it and are considering pulling the trigger and jumping into this amazing universe. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, even if you think I did a bad job, just list the reasons why 🙂 Thanks for reading and I’ll see you back here next week I hope, as I discuss something else I think is cool in the world of comics.
I wish I had some better send off, maybe I’ll try to come up with something cool like, You heard it here first; off the record, on the QT, and very HUSH, HUSH 😉