As this blog as much as the many BILLY shelves in my living room stacked with DVDs and Blu-rays can confirm, these days my main media are probably film and TV. However, when I was young, and well into my 20s, I was very much a librophile first and foremost, which is also what determined much of my education and my early professional path. And while he wasn’t there when I got started on a lifelong love of books pretty much as soon as I learned how to read, Stephen King was probably the first writer I obsessed over.
I don’t know when I last read one of King’s novels, but it’s definitely been at least ten years. I don’t much feel the need to return to his world, to visit our old haunts in Castle Rock and Derry. Although it may sound arrogant or pretentious, I’d say I’ve outgrown him – but, and perhaps more importantly, I’d also say that I grew up as a reader in the company of Stephen King.
I like Mike Mignola’s Hellboy – both the comic and the character. I like the audacity of having a character called “Hellboy”, because most people wouldn’t dare… They’d be afraid of looking silly. Mignola doesn’t seem to be afraid of that. In fact, he embraces the silliness that is in the concept, and he turns it into an asset – by making Hellboy a fascinatingly human character. One that struggles with the knowledge that he’s the key to the Apocalypse, but by and large Hellboy is more concerned with things like pancakes.
Mignola loves his mythology, folklore and the supernatural – but he’s not infatuated with it, to the point where he can laugh about it. To Hellboy, agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, the supernatural is mainly an annoyance: daemons with ancient grudges, monstrous creatures, insane immortal monks and hags in huts on chicken legs are all in a day’s work for the guy, and one gets the feeling that he’d rather sit down and have a beer with most of the goblins and ghouls he encounters… but no, they choose to misbehave, so it’s clobberin’ time. Because if you sit around twiddling your thumbs, before you know it, some wolf decides it’s about time to gobble down the moon, and all that jazz.
Yesterday I got the latest Hellboy collection, The Troll Witch and other stories. It’s entertaining, but like all of the short story collections it lacks the punch of a sustained narrative. It doesn’t show us any new sides of the big red guy with the filed-down horns. Instead, it sometimes feels a bit like an indulgence by Mignola. It’s like he’s recently read about this cool character from Malay folklore, so he does a little vignette: Hellboy meets (and fights) the Penanggalan. However, even if the story was just about Hellboy sitting around, reading the funny pages and watching TV, I’d read it – because I’ve fallen in love with Mignola’s expressionistic, woodcut-like drawings. They may take some getting used to, but I find they add both to the humour and to the ominous and eerie elements. But enough talk – more pamcakes!