Hellboy has always taken inspiration from pulp horror and sci-fi ideas, so when it was announced that Big Red's creator Mike Mignola was teaming up with fan favorite artist Duncan Fegredo for Giant Robot Hellboy, the idea just made sense. It's Hellboy! He's controlling a big mecha suit! And he's beating the stuffing out of any kaiju that get in his way.
The three-issue miniseries, which launches on October 25 through Dark Horse Comics, marks Duncan Fegredo's return to drawing Hellboy after a few years' absence. He was the series' regular artist between 2007 and 2011, ably taking on the tough challenge of following up Mignola on his own book. Since then he's remained a regular part of the expanded Hellboy universe, most recently drawing 2019's Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: Beast of Vargu one-shot.
We spoke to the artist to find out more about the terrific new series, his own love of monster movies, and how his work on the character has developed and "relaxed" over the years.
Newsarama: Congratulations on a hugely fun comic! How would you sum up Giant Robot Hellboy to readers in a sentence or two?
Duncan Fegredo: Hellboy awakes to the shock of being housed in an outsized metal body on an unknown island with equally oversized and angry inhabitants. Can he escape the island? Can he even learn to walk in time to try?
The comic has such an irresistible premise and obviously calls back to classic giant monster/kaiju movies. Did you look to those films for inspiration with the art? Which ones?
For me, creature movies will always mean Ray Harryhausen and his stop motion animated creations. As a kid during the long summer break I would await the inevitable TV screening of Jason and the Argonauts. They showed it every year, and every year I would devour it. This was a decade before video tape, so the only way to watch something was if it was on television or at the cinema. It never disappointed.
My favorite moments were the giant statue of Talos creaking to life and the incredible skeleton fight. I'm sure you can see the connection I had with those skeletons. I had that very scene in mind when I drew the skeleton army in Hellboy: Darkness Calls. The same is true of Talos, those scenes showed me how something that size and weight should move, and how to compose the image to get that sense of scale. Come to think of it, that applies to the scene of Poseidon rising from the depths as well, that definitely influenced many of the scenes in Giant Robot Hellboy.
More recently I was a huge fan of Gareth Edwards' first movie, Monsters. The way he placed alien creatures in the real world was so naturalistic, it was wonderful. I'm not suggesting that Giant Robot Hellboy is naturalistic, but if I have managed to evoke any of that sense of wonder for readers I'll be happy.
You have a long history of drawing this character. As an artist, what appeals to you the most about Hellboy and his world?
There's a scene at the beginning of Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury where Hellboy and Alice are wandering the streets of an imaginary town in England. It's all very normal and Hellboy just fits in, a bright red half demon with filed down horns, very matter of factly walking around with his girlfriend and nobody raises an eyebrow. I really like that. It's a comic and you can get away with it in a way that's harder than in a film.
Part of it is how you draw Hellboy, you normalize him by the way he stands, the way he reacts, it grounds him. And that is Hellboy in all of his stories, he is the normal, grounded center to the story, we relate to him, feel his hurts. And if Hellboy is the center then he grounds you and the story, however crazy the events that surround him. I used an example that I drew but obviously Mike has done this from the beginning and it is magical.
How do you feel your take on the character has evolved over time?
I think I gradually relaxed into Hellboy, learned not to overact, and to play the quiet beats. One of Mike's earliest notes was to think of Hellboy as an old man, underplay his reactions. Initially I had him acting quite broadly, overly theatrical, it didn't fit his character. I could do that with the very young Hellboy in The Midnight Circus. It was so much to draw this ball of energy, not so good for old man Hellboy. Of course Giant Robot Hellboy takes place in the '60s so I got to draw him a little younger, brushed up his sideburns!
Did this particular book provide any new challenges for you as an artist?
There are always new challenges if you don't want to find yourself reusing the same bag of tricks. It's hard not to fall into the trap of repeating yourself, but if it gets boring for you then it probably applies to the reader as well.
I think the real challenge of this book was to emphasize the size of both the robot and creatures, which wasn't always easy because there are very few landmarks around for scale comparison. That said, I'm glad that Mike was sympathetic enough to not make me draw these things trading blows in a cityscape!
How does it feel to be working with Mike Mignola on a Hellboy comic again?
It just feels right! We've been doing this for a few years now, and while there has been a bit of a gap, once I recalled how to do comics again, and accepted the reality of how much work they take, it just feels natural.
How does your collaboration work?
I'm sure our collaborations work as they do for most creatives. Mike would call and run a story past me, while I listen and make encouraging noises. Mike probably doesn't hear them because by then he is in the zone and the story is growing more elaborate on the fly. A few days later and the script is in my email along with any character and location notes Mike feels are important. I read the script, trying not to make notes in the margins but I always do. The story is already playing out in my mind as I read, some of those things I'll want to shake but I can't, regardless of how hard I know it will be to draw. Better to go with it, gut reaction.
With Giant Robot Hellboy I made thumbnails for all three issues before penciling the actual pages, I tried to nail most of the location, character and creature designs along the way. The thumbnails had enough detail that I could send them to Mike in 4-6 page chunks and he would give feedback on them as needed. Then I just had to draw pencils and ink them. It's surprising how like the initial thumbnails some of the final pages are.
Is there a single moment from the new book that you're the most excited for readers to see?
I would have said the robot's first appearance but I guess that is already out there in previews… (See the gallery above - ed.)
There are several, all of which surprised me when I stepped back from the finished page, and if I can surprise myself then I'd rather the reader discover those moments for themselves. It would have been quicker to type SPOILERS wouldn't it?
Giant Robot Hellboy #1 is published by Dark Horse Comics on October 25.
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