Hellboy's Pal ABE SAPIEN Hits Year Two, Continues to Evolve
CREDIT: Dark Horse Comics
Abe Sapien was once considered the strange one in a team – and a world – full of normalcy; now, the world is just as strange as him. After being on the run from the B.P.R.D. and his origins for the past year, Abe is now turning to confront his fears – and confront his part in the world becoming “Hell on Earth.” In June’s Abe Sapien #13, we saw Abe take up with a shellshocked woman named Grace in order to prove his own humanity in the face of mounting evidence he has something to do with the monsters vandalizing the world who happen to look like him.
Series writers Mike Mignola and Scott Allie have done much to make this far different from the globe-spanning adventures of B.P.R.D., instead putting Abe in the backwoods and backroads of America learning first-hand how the apocalypse affects everything. It’s one-part Stephen King, one-part H.P. Lovecraft, all told in the world Mignola created. Newsarama talked with Allie about the events of Abe Sapien #13, as well as the series so far and the dark future, and the new path, Abe is setting himself upon.
Newsarama: Abe Sapien #13 came out this month, and we’ve found Abe with a new traveling companion – the woman he saved in the previous issue, who we now know as Grace. Since Abe’s coma he hasn’t been too much of a people person, so why is he with Grace?
Scott Allie: Abe has been on the run for the entire series, and he’s met some people he bonded with but has, in those instances, had to keep moving, and that kept him from forging real relationships. Abe has been looking to redeem and prove himself not the monster people think he is, and when he rescued Grace in Abe Sapien #12 it became an opportunity for redemption. He’s pouring all of his energy into protecting her, and is sort of letting her prove his worth.
Abe and Grace will be traveling together for a while, and they’re both going to be getting different things out of it. Grace has been through a traumatic experience, and needs the stability and Abe benefits from providing that. That’s the basis of their companionship.
Nrama: You’d think in any duo with Abe being part of it, he’d be the unusual one – but Grace carries a lot of problems in her head. What makes her so important for you and Mike in this story?
Allie: Well, the biggest thing with Grace is that readers saw in issue #12 what she’s been through, but Abe didn’t; he only saw the tail end… and she doesn’t want to talk about it. The biggest wrinkle for her is Abe wanting to know what makes her tick, and her wanting to be private about that. The way Abe attempts to deal with it is that he becomes Mr. Overshare; hoping that if he talks about what’s going on with him, it can bring her out in turn. The good thing about that, narratively, is that for the most part Abe hasn’t talked openly about what he’s been through and having Grace there offers him a chance to do that. Readers of the Abe Sapien series are wondering what he's really up to, and Grace provides someone to pour his heart out to. Maybe it’s not something she wants to hear or participate in, but that’s what he’s doing.
Nrama: Although the B.P.R.D. has their own book, they recently popped up again as they keep Abe on their radar as much as they can. What’s their story, moving forward here?
Allie: The B.P.R.D. are dealing with a world-wide crisis, and globetrotting to fight monster problems. Kate wants Abe back in the fold, as she feels comfortable fighting alongside him, but thinks that if he’s on the run then it’s futile to send even more people out to get him. But when Abe’s events in Arizona popped up back on their radar, Kate was able to deduce where he might be heading. Kate doesn’t have a lot of resources to devote to a manhunt, but given this little piece of information enough to send a small team out to get him. This storyline will pick up in a few issues.
Nrama: I really enjoy how the calamity of the “Hell on Earth” events haven’t just created one big bad, but twisted the earth so there’s all variety of events – like with the Healer and the family with the son in issue #13, or the deranged man in #12. How would you describe the tenor of these threats Abe faces as he tries to prove he’s not the portent for the apocalypse?
Allie: That was the point of doing the series; these smaller, but still intriguing threats. Originally the story of Abe splitting off from the team was only going to be a short arc; he would run away to Colorado, do what he did in the Salton Sea, and then come home. But what Mike and I kind of discovered in B.P.R.D – Hell On Earth: Pickens County Horror and B.P.R.D. – Hell On Earth: The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell was that John Arcudi is focused on these huge, apocalyptic world-ending scenarios with Liz Sherman and helicarriers; these massive shows of force against world-ending Cthulhu kind of threats. It’s what we love about the B.P.R.D. book; it’s become this king of giant, militaristic superhero book, but it doesn’t leave us to do the kind of personal, “man on the street”-type horror stories Mike and I also love.
So the idea of Abe on the run, on his own, and the shit he runs into the middle of Texas, for example, it gave us a chance to do dark, bleak, personal horror series. I love writing one-shots and two-part stories that pay off sooner rather than later, and it’s cool to have a monthly series like Abe Sapien that allows that type of storytelling and faces different issues than the big picture world of B.P.R.D.
I love the way Max and Sebastian Fiumarabring these kinds of environments to life in a personal way. When they draw these pages, you see Abe walking in the towns and the deserts in a very specific, very relatable way rather than a Helicarrier flying over it all. Abe Sapien gives you a really concrete, sometimes even meticulous, sense of what these small towns and countrysides are like when the world ends all around it. I’ve just turned in the script for Abe Sapien #18 and it takes place in Texas, and Max and Sebastian are making the Texas Gulf Coast come alive and feel real. And the horror they draw feels very specific to the place and the monster (or monsters) of the situation. So we just feel like Abe Sapien is another monthly look at the world it shares with B.P.R.D.
Nrama: B.P.R.D. offers the macro view, and Abe Sapien offers the micro view so to speak. My next question touches on Abe’s tenure at the B.P.R.D., and the friends he made – specifically Hellboy. With Hellboy dead and buried, Abe has fell into the spot of being an unusual-looking person people feel uneasy being around; for Abe it’s because of his transformation coinciding, and appearing similar, to the creatures from “Hell on Earth.” Abe’s carried that from the outset of this series, and now that you’re thirteen issues in – and just finished writing #18 – how has his thoughts on this evolved?
Allie: When Abe first left, his goal was to run down to the Salton Sea and deal with the Ogdru Hem monster there the way he dealt with monsters in the past. When he got to the Salton Sea and found the monster gone, it changed his plans. Through that, and the issues so far of Abe Sapien, he’s found that his former approach – to find a monster, fight it, and use that to show he’s a “good guy – isn’t paying off for him anymore. Now, at this point, after Abe Sapien #12 and going into #13 and #14, he’s decided that he has to really deal with the his past and the changes he’s gone through. A couple of years ago in B.P.R.D., he went to a small town in Texas and met a young psychic named Fenix; Fenix took one look at him, recognized him as a threat to mankind's existence, and shot him, and gave him wounds that should have killed Abe. But instead he went into a coma and was transformed; he was a bizarre guy before it, but this new event transformed him into an even more bizarre creature. Clearly he has something to do with the frog monsters and the apocalypse, but he fought that for a time. But now Abe is going back to that Texas town, where his most recent transformations began, and is going to find out why this town turned him into this.
I can say that he will go there, and will find some answers, but it doesn’t really satisfy him and pushes him to continue on his journey. The Abe Sapien series going forward will be about Abe confronting his own past more directly; he’s scared as to what he’ll find, but he’s also more focused on protecting Grace than anything else. Ultimately, this series will feature Abe digging through various parts of his own past in the kind of detail he has never done before.
Nrama: In the thirteen issues that have come out so far, you and Mike have really found a groove in a sort of post-apocalyptic story ripe with American folklore, real and made up. Do you feel like you and the Fiumara brothers have hit your stride yet? If it’s not new anymore, what is that feeling replaced with?
Allie: Well, the twins live in Argentina. I was lucky to go to Eduardo Risso's convention there recently, and I spent most of the week hanging out with them. Usually when I work with international creators, I don’t talk to them a lot; but with Max and Sebastian, I’ve run up Dark Horse’s bill talking to them by phone but it’s been a necessary part of the process – and has been fantastic. They kick in a lot of ideas, and we bounce it all between Mike, the twins and I. And I’ve come to learn what kind of stories they want to tell, and where the fun is for them.
What I’ve always loved about comics is collaboration. For Abe Sapien, I have my ideas, Mike will throw in a lot of stuff at me, and the twins will throw in things as well; it keeps it fresh in a whole different way. Sebastian might, for example, say he wants to see Abe and a wolf fight, so we’ll figure out a way to make that happen. And sometimes they might send me photographs they’ve found or taken themselves, and we’ll see about incorporating that into the larger story. It’s exciting, because it adds different things into the mix; it’s different than what I would bring to the story on my own, and builds it up to be something better.
In the past I’ve been very strict with my scripts, but I really tried to back off when working with Sebastian and Max because they are smart storytellers on their own. There’s certain things I backed off to give them room to breathe and create, and we also talk about the script and the story on the phone to come up with a better, final product.
Nrama:Coming up next is July’s #14, and I’m told Hellboy will be a part of it. What can you say about that story and the continuation of Abe’s travels with Grace?
Allie: Part of it is that Abe is not comfortable with the fact Hellboy is dead. Abe found out about Hellboy’s death right as this story started, but never really believed it. A few issues ago someone in Arizona mentioned Hellboy’s death, and Abe told him, in effect, “don’t believe everything you read.” He’s been in denial of the fact because it happened while he was in a coma. Hellboy hangs over his head in a lot of big ways, and the interaction between Abe and Hellboy in #14 has him facing some uncomfortable facts. I’ll give it away that when Hellboy appears in Abe Sapien #14 isn’t fully real, but Abe sees it because he can’t really figure out what’s going on in the world without Hellboy being there to provide context.
Abe Sapien #14 is about both Abe and Grace coming to terms with the tragedy of their own lives and facing some facts. They deal with this through dreams or visions, and the appearance of characters from their past, such as Hellboy in Abe’s instance, forces them to deal with it – or try to. The interaction with Hellboy and Abe was really fun to write, and I think Max did a beautiful job with the issue.
Nrama: Looking even further ahead, August’s Abe Sapien #15 promises a flashback to simpler times for Abe, so to speak, with a story from his tenure on B.P.R.D. What can you say about that story?
Allie: The main thing that spurred this issue was doing these fill-in issues with other artists to buy time for the Fiumara twins to catch up. It’s set earlier in Abe’s life, before “Hell on Earth.” It’s a more recent flashback than others, and I lined up Juan Ferrayra, the artist on Colder, and wanted to take advantage of the great work he can do on Lovecraftian stuff. This specific period also offered a chance to throw Roger into it; Roger died in 2005, but he’s a character many fans miss. He’s really dead, so the only way to see him is in flashbacks. I think Juan did a great job, and he plays with scary imagery. It takes place during the period when Abe is trying to present himself as a normal man, and wears a regular person’s clothes, like he did back during the Civil War. It was really dishonest for him, and was very short-lived.
Nrama: Last question, speaking more broadly – now that you’re into the second year of Abe Sapien – what can readers expect in the next dozen issues in the big picture?
Allie: The second year will show Abe looking at his problems and his past more honestly and attempting to deal with them head-on. In both #13 and #14 a character calls Abe out on not facing his problems head-on, and tells him he needs to start. As we enter the second year, that’s where he’s going. Its hard for him, but he’ll be surrounded by people who will call him on his crap – making it harder for him to be in denial. He’ll come to terms with the fact that there is some connection between him and what is going on in the world, and he wants to figure it out after running away from it for so long.