Interview with Chris Roberson, author of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.
This week, we were lucky enough to get just a couple minutes with the unrealistically talented, and beautifully bearded Chris Roberson, current author of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., as well as the architect of the iZombie universe, and genuinely prolific writer of wonderful books. This is of course on the eve of the release of our newest addition to the Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. series, 1956. The Occult Cold War is starting to get so hot we’ve had reports of issues spontaneously combusting!
Pull up a digital or floppy copy of 1956, and enjoy a few choice questions from the master of Hellboy time tales, Chris Roberson:
Mr. Roberson, thank you for joining us at Mignolaverse.com. Before I ask anything, I'd like to say that all of us are intensely enjoying your work on Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., and we're very happy to see this story continue for many years to come. Also, in case you hadn't heard, iZombie is a big favorite of the Hellboy Book Club Podcast, although they probably won't see your Mignolaverse contributions for at least a year in their reading order.
Thanks very much for that! It’s funny because, even though it likely isn’t very obvious in the finished product, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. were a big influence on the way that iZombie was written. Not so much in terms of the tone or even the kinds of stories that we told, but in the way that we introduced new characters and worked in their backstories, which was very much inspired by the stuff that Mignola and John Arcudi and others had done in the Mignolaverse over the years.
You've only been with the Mignolaverse about three years, which I imagine as a writer feel a lot longer than those of us on the other side of the page, but you've already contributed so much. How did it feel to join such a long and winding series? Was there a particular character you were interested in writing before you started?
It’s actually been just a bit over four years since I first started working on the books (we usually work with pretty long lead times!), and the first character that I got to write was actually the one that I was most excited to write to begin with: Sir Edward Grey. I’ve always been a fan of occult detectives and of stories set in the Victorian era in general, so a Victorian-era occult detective was very much in my wheelhouse. I’ve been an enormous fan of the Hellboy books from the time that the first issue of Seed Of Destiny hit the shelves, but the Witchfinder stories have always had a special place in my heart.
Our writer Danny is such a Witchfinder fan he's currently working on a tattoo of Mr. Grey, and he'd kill me if I didn't ask you about some of that. You also seem to be the go-to author of pre-modern Mignolaverse material these days. Do you intensely research those subjects before writing, or is that a subject you're already steeped in? It seems that City of the Dead may have been influenced by the Highgate Vampire Hunt, so are there more historical happenings you'd like to weave in?
It’s a little bit of both, to be honest. I minored in history in college and have remained obsessed by it ever since, and have always had a particular fascination with Victorian England, which I think you could argue is very much the beginning of the modern era in many ways. So going into a story like City of the Dead I already know a fair amount about the setting and era, and have a general sense of how the story could play out. But then I do a great deal of research, which inevitably shapes and reforms the story in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. But there are always little bits of interesting historical trivia that don’t end up fitting in, and end up on the cutting room floor.
The current series has a huge focus on fan-favorite Varvara, and we'd love to know more about her and how you write her. Are there any specific character quirks you tried to highlight or strengthen with her? Your character work is always quite interesting, including the likes of Mr. Silk and his eating habits in Witchfinder, but Varvara is such an unusual being it seems like you could do almost anything as her author. Do you enjoy that kind of freedom, or is there an element of analysis paralysis?
With Mr. Silk it was just a question of noticing early on that Ben Stenbeck had drawn him eating a piece of cake in just about every scene that the character was in, and so I decided that would be something we’d carry forward. But Varvara’s personality is considerably more nuanced and complicated, and can’t be summed up simply by her tastes in snacks. With her, the tension is between who she presents herself to be—this adorable little girl in pigtails—and who she really is—an incredibly powerful demon from hell. So she can be bubbly and playful at times, but always very mercurial, and when her mood swings it tends to end up in very dark places.
The Hellboy stories draws from a lot of the fringe conjecture surrounding the Nazi occult. Do you think there are any conspiracy theories that are too implausible to fit into that universe? Perhaps the time and gravity manipulating Wonder Waffle, 'Die Glocke'? Is there something you want to include, but you feel it's just too out there?
I had to look up Die Glocke, that’s a new one on me! A lot of the time I end up going back to Morning Of The Magicians by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, which was originally published in France in the 1960s and when I found in a mass market paperback translated edition when I was still in college. It’s kind of the taproot for a lot of those conspiracy theories about the Vril Society and Nazi flying saucers and all of that stuff. But ultimately it’s less whether something is plausible or not, and more whether it fits in tonally with Hellboy and his world. And there have been rare times when Mike or our editors have had to rein me in when I suggested an idea that needed a bit of tweaking before it was a good fit.
We're all still recovering from depression following the announcement of the end of the B.P.R.D. series next year. How do you feel about being the writer of the primary book going forward? Does driving the Mignolaverse feel different from any of your previous work?
Honestly, I’m still just happy to be part of the team. As I’ve often said, I was an enormous fan of Mike’s in general and of the Hellboy books in particular since the beginning, and would reread the full run of Hellboy, B.P.R.D., and the various spin-offs every year or two. To be given the opportunity to help contribute to that body of work, and to explore the kinds of questions that always occurred to me as a reader, is just an enormous thrill. And, I’ll admit, more than a little intimidating at times. Because if I’m writing something that I’ve created, it’s like driving my own car, and if I drive it into a ditch I’ve only got myself to blame. But this is more like Mike has given me the keys to HIS car to drive, and he’s sitting in the passenger seat, and the last thing I want to do is crash into something!
I'm literally positive that I speak for all our readers, and every fan of the Mignolaverse when I say that we can't wait to see what you do next. Thank you so much for all of your work, and we wish you many many more to come. Would you like to leave us with any kind of juicy cliffhanger tease?
Well, I can’t say too much without spoiling things, but we have a couple of new projects in the works, including a particularly odd one that Mike and I have been talking about for ages, featuring contributions from one artist who is new to the Mignolaverse and another artist who knocked it out of the park the last time they drew something set in Hellboy’s world.
or explore Mr. Roberson’s other contributions to the Mignolaverse, such as Witchfinder: Gates of Heaven, Rasputin: Voice of the Dragon, The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed, or any of his previous Hellboy and other related works.