The Hellboy Universe continues to expand with Castle Full of Blackbirds, a four-issue limited series co-written by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and award-winning novelist Angela (A.G.) Slatter, drawn by Valeria Burzo, colored by Michelle Madsen, and lettered by Clem Robins. The series is a direct sequel to Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: The Return of Effie Kolb (opens in new tab), and this time, Sara May Blackburn is in the narrative spotlight.
Castle Full of Blackbirds follows Sara May to New York as she attempts to track down Miss Brook at the Linton School for Girls. She quickly discovers that the questions she has for Miss Brook about her burgeoning magical powers don't have simple answers, and her education at the school will involve more than "reading, writing, and 'rithmetic."
Dark Horse Comics will release Castle Full of Blackbirds on a monthly schedule starting in September. Ahead of the first issue, Newsarama spoke with Slatter via e-mail about her comic book writing debut, her particular love for the Hellboy Universe, and what readers can expect for Sara May Blackburn.
Newsarama readers also get to see new pages from issue #1 below.
Samantha Puc for Newsarama: What's your personal history with Hellboy?
Angela Slatter: I've always loved comics, and for a while (a really long while) it was all 2000 AD. I'd probably stopped reading them so much when I started writing myself but then gradually got back into them.
I've been reading Hellboy for about 10 years now (which, yeah, makes me a baby in Hellboy Universe years), but I've been madly catching up and running out of shelf space as the collection grows. Mike and I have known each other on social media since about 2009 and ended up chatting about storytelling and fairy and folk tales. I love what he does with these old tales, how he embeds them in a modern world and makes the barriers between the past, present and the otherworldly just disappear.
The Hellboy comics make it feel like you can step from the real world into another realm, have tea with Alice now she's inherited Mab's crown, or that a path to Hell could open up in your living room floor.(opens in new tab)
Nrama: For you, how is writing a comic different from writing prose?
Slatter: I'm a very visual writer, so it's been a kind of a dream realizing that the artwork can do a lot of the heavy lifting for your storytelling, but then it also meant that I had to think a lot more clearly about how I described things for Valeria so that I wasn't just rambling. I had to think about where things sit in the frame, how many panels I could reasonably expect to go on the page, working out whether what I was asking was unreasonable or not.
I'm lucky in that I was a short story writer before I became a novelist, and that taught me a lot about using an economy of words to get my tales across, and I'm also an editor, so I'm pretty good at being ruthless about what to cut. Plus, dialogue is one of my favorite things to write, and that helps a lot in being able to make sure dialogue shows character and conflict and moves the plot along.
Nrama: What do readers need to know going into this four-issue limited series? Is it "beginner friendly" for new Hellboy readers?
Slatter: Castle Full of Blackbirds follows Sara May Blackburn who helped Hellboy out in The Return of Effie Kolb. There are some of Hellboy's old nemeses in here in a slightly different role because it's Sara’s story and she's got a different arc. She's headed off to New York to find the Linton School for Girls and hopefully a place to belong.
Ideally, a reader will have read The Return of Effie Kolb to get the gist of Sara May's beginnings, but I really wanted new readers to be able to come to this story and feel they knew what was going on for Sara – and then to go and read the rest of the Hellboy Universe because they wanted to!
Nrama: Without giving away too much, what has been your favorite moment in writing this series so far?
Slatter: Oh, man! Unfair question! BUT: There's a moment in issue #3 where one of Hellboy's major antagonists turns up in Sara's quest as part of one of her 'special lessons' and I was so stoked to write that scene, and then to bring in two other old 'pals' to help Sara out of a jam.
They've all got their own agenda, of course, but it was so much fun getting them all together. You know when someone says, 'So, which characters would you invite to a dream dinner party?' This is probably mine – but held in a cemetery.
Nrama: Who are your biggest fantasy and horror influences?
Slatter: It's kind of a really broad church, from the old school stuff by Mary Shelley and Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Sheridan Le Fanu, and M.R. James to Stephen King, Tanith Lee, Anne Rice, Shirley Jackson, Sarah Langan, Linda Addison, Jeffrey Ford, Neil Gaiman, Kaaron Warren, Richard Laymon, Clive Barker, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Marjorie Liu, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Angela Carter, Margo Lanagan, Dean Koontz, Stephen Graham Jones, and Josh Malerman. Not a complete list, obviously! But I think you learn something from everyone you read.
Nrama: What do you hope readers take away from Castle Full of Blackbirds?
Slatter: Well, firstly I really just want them to enjoy the story and Sara's arc – watching her come into her own as a person and as a fledgling witch. But also hopefully they'll relate to some of the ideas about the value of found families and self-reliance. And have a fair bit of curiosity about the witches of the Hellboy Universe and where they – and Sara – might go in future.
Nrama: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Slatter: Just that I've had such a ball playing in the Hellboy Universe and I hope readers love the story as much as I’ve loved writing it!
Castle Full of Blackbirds #1 will be available September 14.
The Hellboy 'Mignolaverse' is one of the best non-Marvel/DC superhero universes of all time.