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Rob Williams on building Hellboy lore and more in 'Swords of Hyperborea'

Comic Books

Rob Williams on building Hellboy lore and more in ‘Swords of Hyperborea’

An exciting new chapter involving badass swords and history galore.

What if you could track the history of an object of great power used to shape the actual world? That’s exactly what happens as the new miniseries Swords of Hyperborea monitors that most magical weapon as it moves throughout the universe of the B.P.R.D/Hellboy.

Co-written by Mike Mignola and Rob Williams, and drawn by Laurence Campbell, the story follows those former wielders of the sword, expertly adding and expanding its lore within the Hellboy universe. Dark Horse Comics has had an excellent track record with new series that only grow the world of Hellboy (see titles like Bones of Giants), and this series is certainly no different.

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Before issue #1 hit shelves this week (January 12), we spoke to co-writer Williams. In addition to talking about the story for the debut — focused on the era when Captain Ted Howards held the sword — Williams also talked about using history within the series and writing compelling heroes, among other tidbits.

Swords of Hyperborea Rob Williams

Courtesy of Dark Horse.

AIPT: Tell us about how your collaboration with Mike Mignola, how did the idea behind Swords of Hyperborea begin?

Rob Williams: Laurence Campbell had been discussing a Gall Dennar barbarian story with Mike Mignola and the Hellboy editorial team. Then Laurence, if I remember right, had the idea of doing a series where we followed the sword of Hyperborea through history and saw its various sword-wielders. Laurence and I are friends and had just done Old Haunts together for AWA. I’d had a meeting with Katii O’Brien, the Hellboy editor, at the New York Comic Con where we’d discussed my maybe doing some B.P.R.D. stories. I’m not sure if Katii suggested me to Laurence to write Sword of Hyperborea, or vice versa. Then it was some Zoom calls with Mike, who had a plot spine for a Gall Dennar story we could build out from. It’s all been very collaborative, this process.

AIPT: For the historian, what cultures do you touch on in the series?

RW: In issue #1 you’ll see the events at the end of the B.P.R.D. series, which is the end of the world for humanity, in one sense. Then we travel many thousands of years into the past to the end of the Hyperborean age, which is all barbarians and wooly mammoths and strange cults and spirit creatures, all with deep roots in the Hellboy saga. Issue #2 takes place against the backdrop of World War I in Europe, largely in Belgium, where we meet a new character named Graf Ling De Gotha. She is a German noblewoman of Asian heritage, having been adopted in her youth. Issue #3 takes place in the early days of World War II and focuses on a hedonistic and destructive deep-sea diver named Viktor Olssen, and issue #4 moves to America in the 1950s, where we meet an African-American blues guitarist named “One-Leg” Elijah Bone. All of them are sword-bearers, for a time…

AIPT: The Hyperborean sword is as much a character as anything — evident with the extreme close-ups of the sword itself. Did writing this series make you think of intimate objects differently in real life?

RW: Not really. Although the thing that interested us is that you see the sword in London in Mignola’s Witchfinder series, set in the late 19th century. Then the next time you see it, it’s in a cultist temple in Chicago in the B.P.R.D. books. So, how did it get there? Who held it along the way? I guess that’s true of any historical artifact. They’ve touched so many lives on their journeys.

Swords of Hyperborea

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: Howards is the main protagonist in the opening issue, how did you get into his headspace?

RW: To answer your question, I don’t shave, and I hit things with objects. And I try to think how I’d feel if I was transported thousands of years into the past, so far away from the woman I loved, knowing that I die in the future, and that humanity is fated to burn. And then I make a cup of coffee and have a biscuit.

AIPT: Laurence Campbell has an incredible photorealistic look to his art, is there a specific page that went above and beyond your expectations?

RW: I don’t know about one page, per se. I think Laurence is a fantastic storyteller. He’s a master at creating mood and he really puts you in the heart of the character when they’re going through this heavy stuff. We wanted Gall Dennar’s quest to find where the sword came from in #1 to be truly epic, with the type of imagery that Terrence Malick might create. So, those pages where Laurence draws Gall walking through rain, across lava fields, fighting Pterodactyls is all grand, heroic imagery, taking you to another world. But just as important are those moments where you can see Gall’s heartache. Laurence draws that equally brilliantly.

Swords of Hyperborea Rob Williams

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: If there’s one feeling or emotion you’d like to evoke with Swords of Hyperborea, what would it be?

RW: I can’t choose one emotion. If we’re doing our jobs right, you’re going to feel the hopes and tragedies of these characters, and we’re hoping to thrill you with some horror and action. That’s very much the core of the Mignolaverse.

AIPT: When working within the incredible mythical world of the Hellboy universe, is there a specific monster that’s your favorite? And a follow-up, is there a beastie you haven’t yet used you’d like to?

RW: I just re-read Darkness Falls. I forget his name, but there’s a grumpy little Russian house spirit who chucks furniture at Hellboy when he enters the cottage. He’s great, and funny. I sort of related to him. I could write him very happily.

In terms of beasties I’d like to use? Erm… I don’t know. The Wendigo/Daryl that Mike, John Arcudi, and Guy Davis created in B.P.R.D. sticks in the memory. That was just heartbreaking and terrifying. That said, it was so well done that I don’t think I’d want to touch it. Better to come up with new ones, probably.

AIPT: Are there any comics you’re reading now?

RW: I got the Hellboy library editions as Christmas presents. They’re beautifully packaged, so I’ve been enjoying re-reading them. Oh, and I got the Geiger collection for Christmas, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. That’s enjoyable, and it looks great.

Swords of Hyperborea Rob Williams

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

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