Of all the creepy characters in Dark Horse’s catalog, there are few characters that are less intended for consumption by kids than Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. I mean, when you’re the hard drinking, cigar chomping, ill mannered spawn of Satan, it doesn’t exactly scream family friendly. Fortunately for families looking to expose their kids to the horrors of Hell, there’s a convenient solution. Announced today at C2E2, Dark Horse Comics is teaming up with Aw Yeah Comics’ Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani for the brand new all-ages mini-series, Itty Bitty Hellboy. Similar in style to their Eisner-award winning Teen Titans adaptation, Tiny Titans, the dynamic duo has a knack for taking adult fare and making it palatable for readers of all ages to enjoy. In a press release, Dark Horse sheds some light on the debut issue:
“A ghost named Rasputin has been spotted. And Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. are going to find out what’s he up to. Who is Hellboy, anyway? Why does he have such a big hand, and what is it used for? Who’s weirder, he or his friends? What is the B.P.R.D.? And what does chicken soup have to do with all of it? All this and more will be answered in the debut issue, where BIG things happen to Itty Bitty Hellboy!”
Sounds cool, huh? We thought so too. While Itty Bitty Hellboy doesn’t drop until August 28th, we wanted to shed some light on how they’ll transform Hellboy from the brimstone behemoth we know to a diminutive demon, so I caught up with Aw Yeah Comics’ Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, who talked about how the project came about.
Nerdist: So, tell us about Itty Bitty Hellboy. Is this the Muppet Babies version of Hellboy? What can we expect?
Mike Mignola: You know, I really don’t know. I guess that’s the closes thing I can think of. I’ve only seen a little bit of it. I gave them free reign to do whatever they want to do, so to say that it’s the Muppet Babies equivalent… I’m not as up on Muppet Babies as I once was… it’s pretty much the entire Hellboy cast of characters. It reminds me a bit of the old Charlie Brown stuff, actually.
Art Baltazar: [laughs] It’s more like what we did with Tiny Titans. It’s more similar to Peanuts, Charlie Brown, y’know?
Franco Aureliani: It’s exactly like the Hellboy, you know, except he’s itty bitty.
AB: He’s still full of mischief; he’s a little menace. He likes to have a good time. In the first one, I don’t want to say he likes to fight, but he’s got a slight aggression issue.
N: What was the impetus behind the project? How did you guys get involved?
MM: I know next to nothing about it except that I know their work in passing. Scott Allie, the editor, came to me with this. He loves these guys, he showed me some stuff and, most importantly, my wife said, “Oh, you have to do that.” So, that’s why we’re doing it.
AB: We were launching our Kickstarter, and we got funded in like seven hours or less than eight hours and we’d had a Kickstarter for an all-ages comics series, Aw Yeah Comics, about our characters Action Cat and Adventure Bug. Scot Alie from Dark Horse Comics was watching us and I guess they were talking with Mike at the time. Mike told them he’d really like to have something child-appropriate at his table. A lot of kids know Hellboy from the movies and cartoons, and he felt weird giving them a Hellboy comic. He’d tell parents, “This might not be appropriate.” So, he told Scott and Elizabeth that he really wanted to make something for kids that he could feel good giving to them. We got an e-mail and Mike Mignola’s blessing and that was it – we just exploded on the scene. We’ve both been Hellboy fans since it first came out in Dark Horse Legend comics. We’ve seen all the movies and cartoons. I hate to say the words “no-brainer,” but it really was. [laughs] That’s a true story right there.
MM: Certainly, we didn’t go looking for it, but when Scott brought it to me, that was something I thought of. I’ve done a lot of signings where I have little kids show up. And yeah, I think some of the Hellboy stories are fine for little kids, but when something becomes a movie, more people are aware of it. None of it’s geared towards little kids, and some of it wouldn’t be appropriate. We did this book that looked like it’d be appropriate for them, Hellboy Jr. by Bill Wray. And I’ve never been involved in anything that is so much not for little kids, so we have this thing out there that looks like a kids comic that should have a big warning reading “NOT FOR KIDS” on it. There isn’t a lot of all-ages stuff out there, and you want kids to read comics so they grow up to read more comics. I think the beauty of Franco and Art’s stuff is that it appeals to older readers, too. It’s funny, refreshing, and kind of a nice thing for regular people too.
N: Yeah, it certainly seems like it’d have the crossover appeal of a title like, say, Adventure Time.
MM: Yeah, or My Little Pony, a phenomenon which I am thankfully not too familiar with. [laughs] Apparently that’s reaching a whole audience that I can’t believe it was originally intended for. It’s kind of a fun little oddity that fortunately I have nothing to do with. I can just relax and let the guys do their thing.
FA: Mike represents everything that’s so cool about independent comics. He committed to a character and made something amazing out of it. We’re just starting to put our own characters out there, so to get a call from someone like him and have him say, “Hey, do you want to play in my backyard for a while?” We’re like, “YEAH! I want to come over.”
AB: Yeah, he set the standard for comic creators. You want to be like Mike Mignola.
N: That’s too cool. With something like Hellboy, you don’t necessarily consider it family-friendly. Did it prove difficult adapting it for an all-ages audience?
MM: It’s so much not my kind of thing, it’s not what I do. I wouldn’t begin to know how to tell them what to do or not do. If you’re going to let guys do their thing, then you get out of their way and let them do their thing. If anything comes up that the editor’s nervous about, he’ll bring it to me. Otherwise, I’m content to let them do what they do best.
AB: Me and Franco, for us, it’s natural. We can take anything and think about it and come up with stuff. Because we know the characters, it was easier. They fell into place for us. The hardest thing to do for me was designing the characters because Mignola has such a unique style that’s his own. He creates characters so he can draw them and I must have drawn Itty Bitty Hellboy at least forty times before I found the right look. It was really bothering me. At first, I had the hands sawed off, then I had them really long, and then I had different haircuts on him. I took all day to draw the one character. Then, Abe Sapien came easier and the rest were real easy. I had to figure out what Mignola does and how he draws, which was the most challenging thing for me. I’ve got to keep working at it. Whew, that was a long answer. [laughs]
N: No, it’s pretty interesting, actually. Mignola does have a very distinct style, so drawing the “kiddie version” of it doesn’t necessarily seem like it’d come easily.
AB: I ask a lot of cartoonists when they try to draw Charlie Brown or the Cat in the Hat and they all say it’s hard to do. For such simple designs, it provides a real challenge. Trying to draw Donald Duck or Daffy Duck as a kid, that was a real challenge. Drawing other people’s characters can be really difficult, to make them look right. Like their character, but in your style? It’s a challenge, but it worked out well I think.
N: So, is this an ongoing series? How many issues can we expect?
AB: Right now, we have a 3 issue mini-series, so if the fans love it, we’ll give them more.
FA: I’m counting on it. [laughs]
N: See? That’s the kind of unbridled enthusiasm and confidence we need in this industry.
AB: Yeah, it’s tough because in comics you need to have a plan. You can write an 80 issue series, but what if by the time you get to the end, there’s only a 100 people buying it? You need to plan ahead. Sorry to get all business-y on you. [laughs]
N: Nothing wrong with some real world wisdom. Apart from this project, what else is coming down the pipeline for you guys?
AB: We have our stuff from DC Comics, The Green Team, in the New 52 universe. It’s not an all-age title, though. We’re really excited that we’re launching Aw Yeah Comics, our own comic, at C2E2 this weekend. It features Action Cat and Adventure Bug, our store mascots. It’s kind of like we’re going back to our self-publishing days, except now it’s in color. We have our own comic shop called Aw Yeah Comics, so we’re trying to create a mini-empire where we have our store, our comics, and we get to work on Hellboy, so it’s pretty cool.
N: Yeah, it sounds pretty sweet to me.
AB: I never imagined growing up that this was something I could do for a career. Superman Family Adventures comes out on Wednesday and people are tweeting, texting and telling me how much they like it. Plus we have Itty Bitty Hellboy and Aw Yeah Comics, so it’s weird to have that conversation all in one week.
FA: This week was like the perfect storm if there ever was one. We just finished Superman Family Adventures. We’re starting Green Team, we’ve got Hellboy and Aw Yeah Comics. How many creators get to do this many cool things in the span of one weekend?
N: Most folks have to spread that out over time, so good on you guys.
AB: It’s really exciting, but soon enough we’ll take a breather, get a sandwich then get back to work, y’know? It’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait.
N: Words to live by.
And, now, without further ado, feast your eyes on this first piece of promo art.