What Long-Running Comic Hasn’t Lost You? Thoughts on Hellboy Upon His 12th Collection

I noticed this week that Dark Horse was releasing The Storm and the Fury, the 12th volume of Hellboy by Mike Mignola.

That got me thinking. Although creator-owned, I find that this long-running title has rubbed me the wrong way the same way a corporate-owned superhero franchise does lately. I can’t keep up with the history, especially with spinoff miniseries and another sister title, BPRD. I no longer feel like I know the characters or what they want or are trying to accomplish.

This particular volume falls into another corporate comic trap, that of using death to sell books. Yes, the lead character meets his end in here, although there are always flashback stories (and that way Mignola and his increasing numbers of contributors can use Nazis more easily). That brings up another point: as the book becomes longer-running, it’s rarer to see Mignola’s contributions.

Maybe I’m trying to make more out of this than simply realizing that I’m no longer interested in these characters and their never-ending adventures. I get the feeling that this has become a brand instead of a story — or an excuse to draw cool monster fights. Good for Mignola to have this kind of established property and the success that goes with it. There’s no reason he should be chained to the same character for decades, and if other people want to get paid to play with it, good for them, too.

But I do wonder: is it possible for a comic to keep running for years, regardless of who owns it, and keep the magic it once had for its readers?

17 Responses to “What Long-Running Comic Hasn’t Lost You? Thoughts on Hellboy Upon His 12th Collection”

  1. Thad Says:

    I’ve always really preferred the quirky little 8-page folklore stories over the overarching narrative.

    I’ve been disappointed with Mignola’s rarer contributions, too.

  2. Ralf Haring Says:

    I don’t think it’s a question that properties that switch creative teams frequently can engage readers for years/decades. That’s what Marvel and DC do. The tougher prospect is for a single creative vision to sustain itself over such a long time. You’ve got the simultaneous problems of creative fatigue and audience fatigue (and that due to the series being too familiar or undergoing too radical a change).

    I would have said Hellboy. :-) Mignola’s been doing the series for about 18(!) years with a heavier production schedule, an additional series, and other collaborators for about 10.

    Usagi Yojimbo has been going for 25!

    I think Larsen has stopped publishing Savage Dragon, but Walking Dead and Invincible have been going for 9 years. Many similar long-running series just tend to appear less and less frequently, slowly frittering away their audiences as people forget about them. Powers and Astro City are probably like that.

  3. Dave Says:

    Savage Dragon is still going; issue #178 came out in early February. And Larsen is still doing it.

  4. Jim Perreault Says:

    Fables is one that has lasted for a while, with a singular vision.

  5. James Schee Says:

    I can’t really name a CO series that’s kept my interest. Most of my favorite CO series have beginnings, middle and endings.

    While I don’t personally care for it, I guess Finder might count for this. It has been around a while, has numerous trades, and its fans seem as happy with it now as when they started.

  6. Rob Barrett Says:

    Considering that the last three Hellboy miniseries have been my favorites since Wake the Devil (heresy: Duncan Fregedo draws a better Hellboy book than Mike Mignola), I’d say that it is possible, Johanna. And the character death in Hellboy is precisely the sort of death we should have in comics: whatever happens to Hellboy now, he’s changed for all time. Because he’s creator-owned (and because the success of the BPRD sideline takes the pressure off of Big Red to pay all of Mignola’s bills), Hellboy is going to stay dead. Roger the golem has stayed dead for years (occasional flashback tale aside), and so have nearly all of the other Mignola creations that have died.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Ralf, you said “properties that switch creative teams frequently can engage readers for years/decades” — but they’re rarely the same group of readers. As those properties take new approaches or directions, some readers join, others (who perhaps liked the previous) leave. I’m wondering if one reader can stay entertained over years of a property. I suppose I’m really talking about how hiatuses can be beneficial, to prevent creative exhaustion.

    Usagi Yojimbo is a great counter-example, by the way. Best I can tell, Stan Sakai is doing the same thing he’s always done, so if you liked the beginning, you should like it now. I would argue, in contrast, Hellboy is not what it used to be.

    Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder’s been around for about 14 years, yes, and it’s true, it’s better than it’s ever been.

    I wasn’t saying that I suspected Hellboy would return from the dead, Rob — although if anyone would, who better than a literal demon? — but that using death as a sales pitch is tacky and that his death on one level doesn’t matter since the series uses so many flashbacks. I’m glad you’re still enjoying the series.

  8. Johnny Bacardi Says:

    I’m kinda leaning your way, though I still remain interested in Hellboy. Not so much the B.P.R.D., which is beginning to just get too darn far up its own rear end a la X-Files. I’ve even begun to skip some of the myriads of miniseries, because very little actually happens in them and that whole end of the world frog thing has become very tiresome.

    One long-running series I’m enjoying right now as much as I ever have is Hellblazer- Milligan’s writing some sharp stuff on that title, at the art is always up to the task. His Constantine-lite in JL Dark, though, leaves me cold. Odd, huh!

  9. Middenway Says:

    I’m curious as to your reading habits on the series, as it makes it difficult to comment on your statements. For example, when you say, “I can’t keep up with the history, especially with spinoff miniseries and another sister title, BPRD. I no longer feel like I know the characters or what they want or are trying to accomplish,” I can’t help but wonder if you’re reading the story in order and every part. After all, this is one big story. You wouldn’t jump ahead a few chapters of a book, or read chapters in a jumbled order, and expect to make sense of it. If you have been away from the series for any length of time, the only way to continue reading is to pick up where you left off. And I’m not sure that you’ve been doing that.

    Then there are other odd comments like, “I get the feeling that this has become a brand instead of a story — or an excuse to draw cool monster fights.” I’m sorry, but I have to take issue with this comment, as nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, Hellboy started off as a comic about monster fights, but as time went on it became about story, especially in BPRD. The stories have become more and more driven by character over time, and less and less space is dedicated to monster fights. Read the 8-page story “Seattle” and you’ll see what I mean. They actually skip the monster fight completely and focus on the characters in the aftermath. Of course, the character stuff doesn’t make much sense if you’ve been skipping bits…

    Mike Mignola’s universe is a demanding one, and not for casual readers. It hasn’t been for a long time, however Dark Horse may try to spin each new arc as a “jumping on point”. The only jumping on point is right at the beginning.

    As for your comment that
    “This particular volume falls into another corporate comic trap, that of using death to sell books,” that just leaves me baffled. So, characters aren’t allowed to die now? Hellboy’s death has been a long time coming. Anyone that’s been reading for the last ten years knew it was coming, we just weren’t expecting it to happen this soon. He is dead for good. Mike Mignola will be drawing the next series, “Hellboy in Hell” (that’s right, he’s back as the ongoing artist… he only left for one arc after all) and it will be one long ongoing series until the end. Yes, the series is working towards an actual end. This is not a story designed to go on forever.

    Anyway my point is simply this, most of what you’ve written indicates you were only ever casually interested in Hellboy in the first place, in which case the comic was never meant for you in the first place. But that doesn’t make it like a corporate-owned superhero franchise. If it were, I certainly wouldn’t be reading it.

  10. Mentor's Camper Says:

    Interesting. Just a few weeks ago I was reading a critic at CBR saying almost the opposite thing, that one of the things she enjoyed about Hellboy was that it was easy to jump on just about anywhere and get into it without having to worry about catching up on past stories. She even compared it to Waid’s Daredevil. I just recently bought the trade for Daredevil but haven’t read it yet, so I can’t say how they compare one way or the other. And I haven’t read Hellboy in years. But I read it religiously for probably it’s first 4 years.

    I think the film turned me off. I really hated both films on every possible level.

  11. Middenway Says:

    Sorry, just read your comment above and I see what you mean about Hellboy’s death. The marketing of it was tacky.

  12. Johanna Says:

    Middenway, your longer comment is useful advice, but if it’s all one big story, then shouldn’t it be clearer to the reader that that’s the case? If it’s necessary to read everything to understand it, then it’s a bit disingenuous of the publisher to put out what looks like stand-alone miniseries, titled and numbered as such. I agree, this is not for casual readers, and you’re right, I’m not willing to make the commitment to become a devoted one.

  13. Ralf Haring Says:

    I think the Hellboy and BPRD stories’ cohesiveness are inversely proportional. Hellboy is much more prone to self-contained, monster-of-the-week X-Files, stories. Only two of the last five collections were advancing the ongoing Hellboy story while the others were collections of short stories set at various points in time. BPRD’s last five collections were the other way around, with one collection of short stories and one set entirely in a flashback to the 1940s. The much greater frequency of the BPRD stories does mean there is ultimately more “ongoing plot” material coming out than not.

  14. Middenway Says:

    I agree that Dark Horses marketing is a big part of the problem. With Hellboy at least they’re starting to make a change so that the ongoing story will come out as regular issue while the standalone stories will make their debuts as Original Graphic Novels. I don’t know if this is a great idea though, as I think casual readers would be more likely to pick up a standard issue than an OGN. It seems like they’ve got it backwards.

    If you look on the inner cover of the books, they have an ongoing numbering (I believe BPRD is approaching its 100th issue soon), but it’s very discreet. BPRD more than Hellboy is really difficult to get into unless you start at the beginning. Like you said, it’s hard to get the motivations of the characters, especially when so much of that element depends (for example) on recognising an object in a character’s drawer from a story that came out four years ago.

    I have to agree with you in regards to Dark Horse’s marketing. They seem to relentlessly pretend the series is something its not.

  15. john Says:

    I’m still following Hellblazer, Finder, A Distant Soil and Usago Yojimbo. I was happy to finally read the ending of Omaha the Cat Dancer after almost 25 years too…

    There are some long-running European series I follow, but only since their first English translations, so I guess that they don’t really count in the same sense as those US titles above.

    I have followed Asterix since the mid-70s though, when Asterix and Tintin books were the only comics my small-town library here in New Zealand actually had (OTOH, they did have all 12 of the Doctor Dolittle books and an enormous number of books by Enid Blyton :-) ).
    The other long running titles I’ve been following – for 35 years – is 2000AD. and the Judge Dredd Megazine – for 21 years – although both titles are anthologies, so technically the only story within them that I’ve been following all that time is Judge Dredd, although Strontium Dog runs a close second (at only 34 years).

    The only other media I’ve followed from a young age is Star Trek, although the I gave up on Star Trek comics years ago after Wildstorm got the license and put out some rather aggressively mediocre stuff with ghastly 90s art.

  16. Johanna Says:

    Omaha Book 8 came out? I thought that was still delayed. But I love your list of all those great long-running comics.

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