Friday, July 29, 2005

Hellboy: The Island

I'm feelin' ya, Hellboy.

There are some bands whose lyrics I will piece out and relish: Wilco, The Streets, Springsteen. And then there are others where I'm quite blissfully unaware of the text, focusing on the music and the voice is just another instrument: R.E.M., Van Morrison, Tom Waits.

I'm starting to think that Mike Mignola is comics' Tom Waits. At least for me. I've missed years of Hellboy, but I don't think my understanding of The Island would be a jot better if I had read every issue. My eyes glaze over almost any speech bubble that doesn't point to Hellboy himself. It all becomes a bit like a Lovecraftian version of Star Trek tech-speak: "But as Sadu-Hem was reborn out of the blood at Gorinium, so Urgo-Hem was reborn here out of my blood" sounds to me like "Reroute the flux inverters through the warp zeta beam, and channel it through the di-frambulators." I'm perfectly content to accept that the characters understand what they're talking about, and that the details aren't that important. A second and third read makes things clearer, but the bulk of issue 2 is spent explaining the backstory of Hellboy's right hand, and left me with no new information. I came in thinking it was "of ancient and powerful origin, shrouded in the mists of time", and left thinking pretty much the same. I learned some detail, but nothing that seems to actually matter in any way.

As long as Mignola's drawing, though, I don't much care if it all makes sense. I'm generally attracted to writing in comics more than the art, but Mignola could illustrate a grocery list and fascinate me. I'd easily plunk down my $2.99 for Mike Mignola Illustrates The Phone Book, and I'd probably plunk down $5.99 if there was no text at all. His pages all lay out so beautifully, the odd extreme closeups of objects punctuating the page like a drumbeat. It's an incredible sense of pace that creates an effect unlike anything else in comics, and he's a master at leading you though the page and controlling what you see and when you see it. His monsters are legendary, and even when his visual storytelling fails (as in the fight at the end of the first issue) the images themselves are so powerful, they work. His art tells the story with or without the words attached, so the fact they they fall apart at times is perfectly acceptable. This is Mignola's last artwork on Hellboy for a while, though. I'm interested to see if the series can withstand other artists, with Mignola on writing and layout chores. The fact he's doing the layouts is important, as I think it's his command of the page that really makes him unique.

Comics are the great collaborative artform. where the disciplines of writing and art come together. The best comics balance both halves, and create a complete synergy. But just like not every great musician need be a brilliant lyricist, sometimes it's ok to just hum along to comics. And Hellboy's a hell of a catchy tune.



zilla said...

i'm a huge hellboy/migs fan myself. there's a interview in the latest Wizard w/ Migs and he spends some time talking about the fact that HB has been in a bit of a lull over the last year and that he's hardcore into bringing him back to the shelves (w/ a number of new mini's and an animated cartoon on CN, etc.). i had no idea that mignola might be giving up the pencils though - is that true? that would be a shame - he's one of my favorite writers AND artists.

PS is "the island" worth picking up?

Mark Fossen said...

Yeah, in order to get Hellboy to come out more regularly, other artists will be working on it. He'll script and do layouts.

Upcoming artists include Richard Corben and Lee Bermejo.

I liked the Island just for the art. But the story is a bit ... confusing and uneventful.