Edgar Allen Poe once expounded that, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world,” an appropriately creepy, unnerving and confusing belief for the doom prophet who turned live burials and alcoholism into a literary tradition. But looking at the watercolor paintings of comic icon and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, the connection between death and beauty has never been more profound.
Mignola retired from drawing his gothic gamechanger last June with the release of Hellboy in Hell #10, opting to spend a year painting. And painted he has. These seven images embrace a solemness that defined the final phase of his comic. The story of a reluctant demon who fights against his prophecy to obliterate humanity, the Hellboy mythos proper peaked in carnage; Hellboy slaughters a host of marauding giants in The Wild Hunt before being impaled by a dragon in The Fury storyline, sending him to the underworld.
The ten issues that followed in Hellboy in Hell offer a denouement to one of the most striking horror epics in all media, let alone comics. The storyline breathed with melancholy and space as Mignola carved spartan landscapes into the afterlife that looked more like abandoned European towns than hellfire torture expos. Even the bulk of the plot—Hellboy murdering members of his infernal family—is framed in hazy, dream-like flashbacks, complementing a theme of rest and reflection on what has come to pass, both for the character and for Mignola.
These new, title-less paintings take that sense of catharsis and isolation to new extremes…or, no extreme, as it were. The characters—vampires, skeletons, ghouls, mummies or any combination thereof—resemble the various side characters from Hellboy in Hell instead of any new, brazen protagonist. They’re the members of the Greek Chorus, tertiary players like Doctors Chatrian and Erckmann from the series. Only the most obscure hints of individuality mark these personas. One dapper skeleton wears what appears to be a starred military medal, while another (or possibly the same) sits in front of in-flight playing cards, a common ornament for Mignola.
The colors and environments embrace decay and a desaturated stillness, a huge shift from the high-contrast work of long-time Mignola colorist Dave Stewart. Then again, there’s no crimson demon to cut the murk with electric reds. Derelict columns, washes of sepia-toned leaves and a thick-as-leather mist drape around the central figures. They’re evocative windows that peer into a new phase of Mignola’s inimitable style, and just as effective as any of his comics.