Interview: Scott Allie Discusses the Mignolaverse, Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and more!
Since first appearing in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 in 1993 and his own series in 1994, Mike Mignola‘s Hellboy has entertained weaving a comic universe unlike any other. It blends the best of constantly being accessible for new readers, it also has layered on a mythos that’s clear, fun, and entertaining. The Mignolaverse (as its been dubbed) has impressively done all of this through different series, with different creators, presenting a unified universe, look, and very clear voice.
With today’s launch of the latest entry to the Mignolaverse, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., we got to talk to Scott Allie, Dark Horse Editor in Chief (and Mignolaverse editor) who also has the distinction of writing Abe Sapien, one of the many entertaining comics that makes up Mignola’s world.
We talk to him about his job and what it entails, writing Abe Sapien, and how they’re able to create such a connected universe. Find out all of that and more below!
Graphic Policy: As the Mignolaverse editor and Dark Horse Editor in Chief, what are your day to day tasks for those not familiar with that type of job.
Scott Allie: As Editor in Chief, I attend a lot of meetings, big and small, where we make plans, make decisions about what the company is doing. I work closely with marketing. Any given day, I’m in a couple meetings with a room full of people, I’m in a couple informal meetings with Mike Richardson, Randy Stradley, and/or our VP of Marketing Matt Parkinson. A closed door meeting with Sierra Hahn, another of our editors, is pretty much a daily thing. I’ll also have one-on-ones with individual editors talking about their books—either what they need to do, or what they need help on from other departments, usually marketing or production.
As an editor with my own books, I spend some time hiding in a nearby coffee shop reading and writing. I spend an hour a day on the phone with Mignola, maybe a couple other phone calls with John Arcudi, colorist Dave Stewart, or one of the artists. And because Portland is so flush with comics creators, I have a lot of breakfast or lunch meetings. The other day I had a breakfast with one writer scheduled too closely to a lunch with a writer/artist, and I wound up like Greg Brady in that one episode where he was juggling dates.
This is what I get paid to do …
GP: How did you come into that job?
SA: Right out of college, a hundred years ago, I moved out to Portland looking to do anything in publishing. I tried the want ads, and the one call that yielded an interview was with Dark Horse, but I didn’t get it. I went door to door to every publisher in downtown Portland looking for work. I finally got something with Glimmer Train Press, a local literary magazine. I worked there for a while, honing my skills, and saving up. After I left there I started self-publishing comics, pushing them at regional conventions, and thereby getting to know the staff at Dark Horse. Before long they needed a new assistant editor, and I got the job—the most entry-level position they had. That was twenty years and a couple months ago. I very gradually made my way up the food chain to the EiC position—although I got to edit the Mignola books almost right away.
GP: A thing that’s stood out is that the Mignolaverse has been one expansive universe with each series, volume, and story adding to the mythology. How much of the universe is actually planned out?
SA: It’s a very complex mix … there are things you see us doing that look like we must’ve planned, but which weren’t, and there’s things we planned out fifteen years ago that are still not apparent to readers yet. And sometimes plans change. The other day Mike and I were talking about this one character that we’ve done a little bit with, not a tremendous amount, and Mike started talking about how he could have a book of his own. The more we talked about it, the more excited I found myself getting. The whole time I’m thinking, Who could write it? Mike’s too busy with Hellboy in Hell, he’s not gonna want to write it himself. But this is something only he could write, and it’s too good an idea not to do. Finally we came around to the question, and he said, Oh yeah, I have to write this myself. Unplanned, but it will pay off things that have been set up in a couple different books. It’ll look, I think, like something we’d always meant to do.
The beauty of it is that it all stems from Mike—the big plans—and he has an incredible memory. He doesn’t write much down. I’ve started writing it down, but he has the most encyclopedic knowledge of our world, and it’s all just in his head. Things change a little over time, through the process of figuring it out and refining it. I think the special thing here, about these books, is that there has always been a bigger picture we were working toward, and I think that’s been evident in the stories all along. I think what’s unique in Mike’s comics is that we’ve expanded this creator owned world into something fairly vast, but it’s remained one story the whole time. There’s no richer world in all of comics that’s maintained this focus, this singular vision.
GP: There also seems to be an emphasis to allow folks to pick up any series, volume, or story arc, and be able to understand it as a self-contained story, and it also adds a lot for long time fans. What are the challenges to make that happen?
SA: We aim for that, although it’s a tough balance. The interconnectedness is deep. We want it to be accessible. We work to make sure someone won’t pick up a book and be totally confused. Like the new volume of Witchfinder coming out soon. Written by Kim Newman, that book stands to reach a lot of people who should read Mike’s work, but never have. So I think the book works really well on its own, though someone just reading that one won’t realize the deep connections the main character, Ed Grey, has to Hellboy, and they might be confused by the cameo in the epilogue. But if they like it enough, hopefully they’ll read the other Witchfinders, and that will lead them to know more about Hellboy and Abe Sapien, etc. Kim’s book does tell a complete story, though, as much as any Bond movie does, and that’s what we strive for.
GP: You also write Abe Sapien. Do you have an editor that edits that for you? Or do you edit it yourself?
SA: I edit myself. Shantel, who does all the Mignola books with me, goes over my scripts and outlines. All the outlines and some of the scripts have input from Mignola, so the general direction is always part of the bigger Hellboy plan. But some of my bigger heroes are Archie Goodwin, Harvey Kurtzman, and Al Feldstein—so I think there’s a good tradition of writers helming their own books. One of the cool things with Abe Sapien, which I’ve never had before, is how much the artists and I bounce things back and forth. A lot of the ideas in the books come from them, and a lot of times I’ll rewrite stuff because of how they want to do it. Working with the Fiumara twins is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, so I do everything I can to keep them motivated, to give them a sense of ownership over the story.
GP: As a writer, what does being an editor help you with?
SA: An editor has to think about the big picture, the whole book. It’s something I love about working with Mike, something I appreciated working with Kurt Busiek. They think about the whole thing, the schedule, the way it will be collected, the color, the letters, how it will be promoted—less of that latter part with Mike. But an editor has to think about all of that, from the moment he’s hiring people through editing the scripts; so having a writer think about those things is positive. Thinking about the books in those terms is good in a writer, and good in an editor.
GP: Do you enjoy one role more than the other?
SA: Well, that’s the thing … When people ask me what the difference between editor and writer is, for me personally, I always say I don’t think of them as separate jobs, but as different points on a spectrum. You’re engaged in the story to varying degrees, but you’re thinking about the same sort of things. If I’m editing a Sergio Aragones book, I have almost no involvement in the creative end of the book. Or Eric Powell’s The Goon. On a Mignola book, even one Mike writes, I’m much more dialed in to the creative heart of the book, and steering that. Mike’s the boss, but I’m there with him. For me, most books fall somewhere between that Powell involvement or that Mignola involvement. Criminal Macabre is closer to The Goon. Oeming’s The Victories is closer to Hellboy, and Abe is on the other side of Hellboy, because there isn’t another writer. But it’s not an entirely different thing—it’s not apples and oranges.
GP: There’s numerous series, with a new one starting taking on Hellboy’s early years. Do the various writers work together to tie things together and know what each other are doing with their own series?
SA: Mike and John and I work very closely together. We’re very looped into what each other is doing. Less so, say Kim Newman and Maura McHugh on Witchfinder, or Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon on Vampire. What we do there is we identify a safe corner for them to work in where they can kind of do their thing. They don’t want to move into the clubhouse with Mike and John and I, they have other stuff to worry about in their lives. Not that they’re not welcome, just that I don’t think they’d want the burden of membership, the tattoos and such. So we identify places where they can go, do their thing, and we can convey to them the things they do need to worry about. Like in Vampire, the thing Ba and Moon did, it ties into the overall vampire mythology of Mike’s world, which we had to talk about a lot. But they could do whatever they wanted with their characters, who only tie in a little to the bigger world. With Kim and Maura, it was pretty easy for them to become experts on Ed Grey, the main character; beyond that, they were making up their own thing. But then when the thing they made up started showing some similarities to certain key parts of Mike’s mythology, we all had to compare notes and decide, Do we lean into the similarity, or steer clear. They were onboard to lean in, so we talked real specifically about how it would and wouldn’t tie in, and it worked out pretty painlessly. They didn’t have to get the tattoos.
GP: What input does Mike Mignola have with all of this?
SA: As much as possible, much as he wants. With the Witchfinder thing in particular, Mike read the outline but wasn’t reading the individual scripts. In the outline, the similarities weren’t apparent; when the later scripts came in, I noted the similarity, talked to Mike, we agreed we should figure out how to work it out, and then he was on all the emails with Kim and Maura where we figured out how to handle it.
Mike is always involved in deciding where the story is going. He’s most involved when we’re talking about anything that brushes up against Hellboy, anything that has to do with the bigger mythology—the Hell stuff or the Lovecraftian stuff—and the bigger arcs of the central characters. John and I have a lot of leeway on other things, but Mike’s most deeply involved when that stuff comes up. There are some stories that start as his idea, like B.P.R.D. #124, or the first three issues of Abe Sapien, that Mike spells out and one of us writes. Hellboy & the B.P.R.D. is a rare case where Mike came up with the story, wrote the scripts that Alex drew from, but then John came in and added the dialogue, Marvel style. I say Marvel style on the dialogue, in that John added it after it was drawn—but the scripts we gave Alex were hardly plot-style scripts. Those usually have a paragraph—or a sentence—per page of the comic. Mike’s “plot-style” scripts usually have pretty long paragraphs for every panel. That’s what Alex worked from on Hellboy & the B.P.R.D.
Then there’s monster designs—even if Mike is somewhat removed from a given arc, once it’s time to design a monster, he’s right there. Generally we’ll get the interior artist on the book to do some sketches. John and I might give notes, but often Mike will come back and redraw the sketch. There’s certain things about how Mike designs monsters that are really all him. So usually the interior guy throws an idea on the table, Mike revises it, but it almost never ends there. We always want the interior guy to do one more drawing, to put his spin on it, so he’s not just aping Mike.
GP: What else do you have coming up as editor or writer?
SA: Abe Sapien is the only thing I’m writing until it’s done. The Goon is a big push for us right now—Occasion of Revenge is just wrapping up and it’s back for four issues with Once Upon A Hard Time in February. I’m working with a group of editors and writers on Fire and Stone, a big series that ties Prometheus to Aliens and Predator. Kelly Sue DeConnick wrote the comic that wraps that whole thing up, also in February. I’m doing deluxe editions of all David Mack’s Kabuki series. I usually wouldn’t handle a reprint program, but it’s Kabuki, so it’s an honor to do it. One of the biggest things I have going on in 2015 is Fight Club 2—I’m working with Chuck Palahniuk on the sequel to his novel, which he chose to do as a comic. I’ve been at this twenty years, and I’m fairly confident, shall we say, in my work and my accomplishments. But once in a while a project comes along that it is truly humbling to be a part of. Being able to have that experience really keeps the job fun and fresh. Like the new book Mignola cooked up the other day while we were on the phone—not every idea we kick around gets me that excited, but the fact that I can still get this pumped tells me I’m a long way from being jaded.