You may know artist Matt Smith from past projects like Folklords, Lake of Fire, and a non-licensed, DIY Star Wars comic. But in 2019, Smith joined the universe of famed artist Mike Mignola (hereto referred to as the “Mignolaverse”) with the entertaining Long Night at Goloski Station. Now, he’s back in the fray by uniting with Mignola and co-writer Christopher Golden for Hellboy: The Bones of Giants.
An adaptation of the 2001 prose novel, the series sees Hellboy and Abe Sapien dispatched to Sweden to investigate “a startling discovery” — which just may involve Norse mythology, a world-ending threat, and Thor’s hammer. If you’re a long-time Hellboy fan, the four-part series hits all the right beats. However, even new fans will find something to love about this myth-driven adventure.
Ahead of issue #1 debuting this week (November 3), we caught up with Smith via email, where we discussed his entry into the Mignolaverse, his love of Norse stories/mythos, working with Mignola, and much, much more.
AIPT: How would you describe the sort of visual look or “feel” of this title? Were there any specific inspirations or influences?
Matt Smith: The hope for me was that it would feel like a classic Hellboy story. I didn’t want to intentionally try to ape Mike’s style, but Mike is one of the artists who most influenced my approach to comics even well before I was ever invited to work on Hellboy. That influence is dyed into the wool. As far as inspirations go, there are quite a few, and more than it would make sense to name here. Peter Bergting comes immediately to mind, as do Ben Stenbeck and Duncan Fegredo.
Peter and Duncan are both artists whose work I was a fan of before they worked in the Mignolaverse, and Ben I discovered with the series Baltimore. Peter’s Domovoi is one of my top five favorite graphic novels. All these artists capture the feel of Mignolaverse material, fitting perfectly into the world, while maintaining their own distinct look. That’s majorly inspirational and something I aspire to.
AIPT: This is your second Hellboy Universe book (after 2019’s Long Night at Goloski Station). How has your understanding or perception of this rich world changed?
MS: I’m not sure anything has changed, I’m still trying to draw a Hellboy book that I’d want to read as a Hellboy fan. I know why I fell in love with Hellboy, and my hope is to capture anything I can of that vibe.
AIPT: Building off that last question, did you change anything in how you approach creating and/or drawing for Hellboy?
MS: The main thing for me has been trying to loosen up. When drawing things like Lake of Fire or Folklords, I was defining the look of it since no one else had previously. The trick with working on Hellboy is that I want it to feel like a Hellboy book while not radically changing the way I work. I’ve had more success in some areas than others, but I know that I feel a lot more comfortable with him at this point, and my hope is that it works for other Hellboy readers.
AIPT: Do you have a favorite element or aspect of Hellboy and the world around him?
MS: Oh boy. First thought off the top of my head is the way he interacts with the supernatural. This is a basic element of the character, and the charm never wears off. It’s a pretty unique aspect of the series. He can still be surprised to find a talking squirrel at his window, but it’s also really not so out of the ordinary. He’s of two worlds, and he reacts like someone as such, often having an understated response equal to any of the great characters of the Icelandic sagas.
AIPT: How much insight/guidance does Mike Mignola give to the art style and look considering how this whole character and universe is his “baby”?
MS: It’s fundamental. I make an effort to not be too derivative, as I think that would result in a stiffness which would be a disservice to the book. I tried to approach this project as I would any book, but it’s impossible to not be thinking about Mike’s work the entire time. Nor would I want to. I want this to feel like a Hellboy book that hooked me. Mike’s work was already a major influence on my first book, Barbarian Lord. It’s not something I would to or could move away from. I also regularly read through Duncan’s trilogy of books while working on this, as Duncan has a unique way of interpreting Hellboy that is incredible and hugely influential to me.
AIPT: Is it ever scary or intimidating to work in this universe considering how beloved it is and just how deep it truly runs?
MS: For sure. Absolutely. But none of that comes from Mike or Dark Horse. It’s one of those things you try to put out of mind, because it can only trip you up. Like anything, you try to focus on respecting what has been done and not on getting caught up in your own personal static.
AIPT: This book plays around a lot with Norse mythology. What about these figures and stories is interesting, and what did you try to reference or tap into?
MS: I’ve been a fan of Norse mythology for a long time. That interest was primed by Walt Simonson when I was a little kid, and later stoked by the Swedish band Bathory in my teens. Since then, the material has been a constant. I have countless references to tap into––favorite books, films, and albums. It’s all blended in there like the countless Cadbury mini eggs I’ve eaten in my lifetime, which have given shape to my current form. But in seriousness, [cowriter] Christopher Golden was adamant from the start that we go to the Norse mythological source materials for the look. That means a red-haired Thor in a cart pulled by goats (though we didn’t have room for the cart and goats), and I was fully onboard with that.
AIPT: Your artistic collaborators also include colors from Chris O’Halloran and letters by Clem Robins. What is the collaborative process between you three?
MS: I didn’t have direct communication with Clem, but was in regular contact with Chris. Chris and I had worked on Folklords together, and that collaborative experience was solid. It can be tricky when you’re both putting your best efforts into a single image––clear communication and a bit of humor goes a long way. Chris is great at what he does, is a real professional to work with, and is also pretty damn funny. That’s an A+ in my book. This is not to take anything away from the importance of great lettering, and Clem did top-notch work as he always does. It’s just been my experience that direct collaboration between colorist and line artist can be especially key for a book to work.
AIPT: Are there any unique challenges and/or obstacles as an artist when adapting a 20-plus-year-old novel?
MS: I don’t know if I’d say it presented any challenges or obstacles. The fact that I got the book when it came out and have re-read it many times was a leg up, if anything. I’d pictured these scenes many times. Of course, having a fluid picture in your mind while you are reading is different than trying to capture it in hard lines, but the book was already floating around up here in my head before I got started. [Points to current bed-headed head.]
AIPT: Without spoiling too much, what can we expect from the rest of the story in terms of visuals or things you’re trying to do artistically?
MS: Well, it gets bigger. The whole story is wide-screen, for lack of a better term––mountainous landscapes and enormous creatures. Although we get some very small ones coming up in issue #2, and they are no less vicious for that. That was the challenge of this series for me, and hopefully one that was met––giving a sense of the bigness but not at the expense of the smaller moments, which are often the most important.
AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?
MS: I’d say if you like Hellboy or Norse mythology, you’ll find something to dig here for sure. If you like both, I think you’re in for a hell of a story.
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