Sunday, January 25, 2009

The first (Comic) Book Club meeting has come and gone

and I am really thrilled with how it went. Really. It was a lot of fun getting 13 intelligent people together to discuss a graphic novel we'd all read. No one talked over anyone else and everyone respected everyone else's points... I do not believe I have ever had a discussion centered around comics like that before. Beautiful!

As you know (if you have been keeping up with posts as of about 5 days ago) our first book was Hellboy vol. 1: "Seed of Destruction." I promised that I would share some thoughts on the book if I felt so inclined, and I do. I reckon I will make this a monthly fixture, actually... it will be a good record of some of the ground covered in (Comic) Book Club (and if you're wondering if I simply must put the word comic in parentheses like that every time I talk about the club... yes, I must).

So first off: I liked this book a lot. I had never read anything Hellboy before; I saw the movie a little while after it came out and I don't recall being too impressed. I wasn't sure what I'd think of the comic but it had been something I'd always wanted to try. Turns out that was a good instinct, because "Seed of Destruction" was a really pleasing read.

Let me talk about what I think the book does right. First of all, the art is fantastic, and probably the #1 reason people are drawn to Hellboy. Mignola's style is an interesting mix of Jack Kirby and Frank Miller (in a nutshell: it loves both geometry and shadows) and there really is no one else who does work like it. My only experience with Mignola before was on the atrocious Cosmic Oddysey from DC... there, the art was the only thing that made the story even worth glimpsing at, and Mignola set loose on his creator-owned stuff is so much better than Mignola otherwise.

Another very cool thing about this book is how its story is a humongous mash-up, a Frankenstein's monster of both genre and story. When I read it I noticed how it incorporated a ton of different genres--besides the "horror" it classifies itself, there is superhero, sci-fi, and mystery to name a few. A few of the folks at the club pointed out another merging that I had missed--namely, that Mignola loves to incorporate all sorts of different mythologies as well as historical figures into his Hellboy universe.

And what's great about that universe is that all of these seemingly discordant things casually exist with each other and it's not even an issue. In the first pages of "Seed of Destruction" there is a super-hero lounging around with some soldiers, wearing a coat and drinking tea. That's all we see of the cape-and-cowl set in this book but it's enough to let us know that it's there, alongside monsters from Hell and real Russian mystics and myths both Lovecraftian and Mesopotamian.

The effect of this is that Mignola creates an incredibly rich universe just begging to be developed; "Seed of Destruction" itself has a fairly straightforward plot but there are so many elements within it that leave doors wide open for other stories, and I think this is the magic of it. We discussed at the club whether it was artistically or economically motivated--or perhaps both--but Mignola shrewdly teases us with details about Hellboy's world time and again, ensuring that Hellboy stories can--and probably should--be told forever. Indeed I don't think I've ever read a first volume of anything, except maybe Neil Gaiman's Sandman, so open to possibilities of where the series could go. I get the feeling that, rather than create a character or a comic, Mignola set out to create a brand, a universe... hell, there could be a Hellboy comics company that would support books of all genres. I'm not sure that such a decision would be sound financially, but there definitely is room for it in Mignola's sand-box.

What I didn't like about the book? Almost nothing. My friend/logo designer Marc brought up, and I agree, that perhaps some of Hellboy's narration is a little repetitive; Marc postulated that this is probably the scripting influence of John Byrne, who helped Mignola out on this first volume. Given that some of Hellboy's monologue can skew a bit towards sounding like Wolverine, I will agree with that assessment.

In final summation, Hellboy vol. 1 was awesome. I am almost certainly going to read vol. 2 soon, but how soon is not certain, as February's book (chosen by me) shall be Watchmen, just in time for the movie... get ready guys...

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