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Picks of the Trade: Hellboy: The First 20 Years

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First and foremost, this is not The Art of Hellboy: Volume 2, so let’s just clear that up right now.  If you don’t know what I just said, Google it and then buy it because the art book is crazy cool with tons of early Hellboy stuff by the man himself. So, with that said, I guess the question is, “What is the Hellboy: The First 20 Years hardcover all about?” Well, Billy, let me tell you. This collection is about celebrating 20 great years with one of the greatest characters ever created, by one of the greatest creators to ever pick up a pencil.

Original Hellboy Concept.

Original Hellboy Concept.

For the most part, this collection looks at the very beginnings of Hellboy from Mignola’s giant, hairy demon-guy with wings from 1991 to the Hellboy we know and love from the cover of Seed of Destruction in 1993. We get a look at some inks of some of the best covers as well as thumbnails and paintings by Mignola—all of which are incredibly awesome and will be something that I personally drool over for hours on end. One of the coolest things is looking at the first, true image of Hellboy and flipping to the stuff towards the end; it shows Mignola’s growth as an artist and even some subtle differences in Hellboy himself. For me, he looks smaller than he did when he first came out. Maybe because the 90s was all about the huge muscle-heads, or maybe that was just Mignola’s original vision for the character, who can really say?

Personally, I like the Hellboy we have now. He’s slimmer, sure, but you know he can still pack a hell of a punch with that big right hook of his—literally and figuratively.  There’s tons of great B.P.R.D. and Lobster Johnson pieces as well which are all fantastic and more drool worthy pieces than one can count as well as the newly created, and awesome, Sledgehammer, but we all know that we picked this collection up for Big Red. And believe you me there is plenty of awesome covers and sketches of Big Red. So much so that trying to cover them all here would take forever and you might lose interest around the 60th or so. So, suffice it to say that yes this is a collection you should pick up. It’s all Mignola and Hellboy in their glory and it will undoubtedly go great in any collection, even if it’s the first of which to say “Hellboy” on the spine.

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This collection of Mignola art and ideas and sketches really and truly blows me away. It’s a great sampling and look at the 20 year evolution of Hellboy, and it’s a reminder of just why I love this character. In honor of Hellboy Day, on March 22nd, I’m going to break the mold of Picks of the Trade a bit here and simply talk about what Hellboy and Mike Mignola mean to me. For those that don’t know me, Mignola is my favorite creator (writer/artist) and Hellboy is my favorite character who happens to be part of my favorite universe, better known as the Mignolaverse (or Hellboy Universe, but I like Mignolaverse). Considering all the great characters and creators and universes out there, I’d say that’s a pretty damn strong statement to make.

When Hellboy was introduced to the world, I was on my way out of the comic world. For one reason or another, it wasn’t doing it for me and shortly after a certain Venom series I was on to other, louder hobbies like guitars and bands. As a matter of fact, back in the early to mid 90s I probably couldn’t even tell you what a Dark Horse was, so needless to say I missed out big time. Thankfully when I got back into comics, I had a fantastic shop guy who pointed me to Hellboy and basically just demanded that I read it and read it I did. After the first two trades I was hooked like you wouldn’t believe. I quickly traded up to the larger, sexier library editions, and I believe at the time there were four out, which I basically ended up blowing through in a matter of days. After that it was the first three B.P.R.D omnibus editions, and various trades like Lobster Johnson, Witchfinder and 1946/1947.

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Since then, of course, I’ve read all six library editions a few times, and own all the omnibus editions of B.P.R.D. as well as two pieces that I’m particularly proud of and have framed on my wall: Hellboy #1 and the first appearance of Hellboy as we know him in John Byrne’s Next Men. The point, really, is that I can’t get enough Hellboy. Mignola’s gruff, tough character who really doesn’t say too much just, ironically enough, speaks to me in ways I can’t describe. He’s a character that I would follow until Mignola decided it was time to stop and even then I’d still be re-reading my collections over and over again because there’s just no way I could tire of him.

I love how Mignola incorporates myths and folklore into the Mignolaverse, and I love how easy they seem to fit. Even something as odd as the Baba Yaga, a Russian tale from the mid-1700s, or the elements of Lovecraftian horror that are just so seamlessly placed into one universe. It’s the kind of stuff you read from Mignola’s perspective and how he incorporates it that makes you want to go and learn about the original folktale or myth, just to see the roots of the Hellboy story you just read. I also love the style of short stories here and there that tie into the overall story and direction Mignola is taking Hellboy. There’s no crazy 12 part stories; it’s all bite sized and easy to sit down and read a few stories here and there. I mean, it’s kind of impossible to just read a few and not want to devour whatever collection you have in your hands, but you get the idea.

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Really and truly: I love Hellboy. It’s something that I can, and will after all this talk about it, re-read again and again. I love all the side stories and side characters and side series. I love that one piece of seemingly unimportant information from some random issues is then turned into a huge revelation dozens of issues later. I love the limitless possibilities with this character and I love that we’re back to having the man himself, Mike Mignola, drawing his stories now that he’s in Hell—even if that means I have to wait a significant amount of time between issues.

I love the collection of memories in The First 20 Years hardcover. And, really, that’s what it’s all about. It’s fantastic for those that remember these covers and images, and want to reminisce, and it’s a great look at what’s to come for those that might not have read anything yet. It’s a celebration of art, characters, memories, stories and, of course, the legendary Mike Mignola. So thanks, Mike, for creating Hellboy, giving us 20 great years and here’s to many, many more years to come.

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