Artist DUNCAN FEGREDO - The Right Hand of HELLBOY

DUNCAN FEGREDO: Right Hand of HELLBOY

Duncan Fegredo at work

In the world of Hellboy, the stony hand that Hellboy uses to clobber opponents is called the “Right Hand of Doom”. For cartoonist and creator Mike Mignola, his right-hand man for doing Hellboy these days could be considered Duncan Fegredo.

Fegredo, who began working with Mignola back in 2007 on Hellboy: Darkness Calls, was the first artist besides Mignola himself to draw a Hellboy mini-series. And as the years passed, Fegredo has continued to document the red devil’s stories in several subsequent mini-series with more on the way. For the forty-five year old British artist, this is the longest time he’s remained on one project and quite possibly one of his most fulfilling.

Fegredo first came to the attention of the comics world at-large working with writer Grant Morrison on the DC/Vertigo series Kid Eternity. He quickly became a house artist for the Vertigo imprint, working on series such as Enigma, Shade the Changing Man, Girl and Lucifer before branching out into more comedic work with writer/director Kevin Smith on several original stories of his characters Jay & Silent Bob.

Through it all, Fegredo has shown a remarkable talent for understanding diverse characters and genres, going from comedy to horror to superheroes and back, without sacrificing his own unique style. Newsarama spoke with the artist recently to talk about his work – both how it started, where it went and what comes next…

Newsarama: Let’s start with an easy one, Duncan. What are you working on today?

Duncan Fegredo: Would you be surprised if I said Hellboy? I'm known for doing mini-series and one shots, its unlike me to be associated with a character for any period of time so to be still working on Hellboy should give you some idea how much I like the book.

Nrama: It does. You started working on the character with Hellboy: Darkness Calls, which was the first Hellboy mini that Mike Mignola didn’t draw himself. What’s it been like to work with Mike and taking over the art for him?

Fegredo: Quite a learning curve, for both of us really. It's not just a question of adapting the way I draw to capture the feel of Hellboy and his world either but rather how I put those drawings together to tell the story. Mike has a very distinctive way of telling a story, of putting images together to build a mood and tempo, my natural inclinations tend to be somewhat more over the top with wilder camera moves if you like.

I think that came from a lot of the work I used to do for Vertigo, where I'd try to add some sense of movement and pace to what would often otherwise be talking heads. Nothing wrong with talking heads of course but I suppose I didn't want the art to feel, well redundant...

Anyway, it didn't take long to discover those wilder camera moves didn't really fit with what Mike wanted and were actually at odds with scenes that Mike had already thumbnailed.

Mike's initial scripts for Hellboy: Darkness Calls were a combination of plot and thumbnail, I'd work up a rough layout based on that thumbnail, and get feedback from Mike and Scott [Allie, editor]... it must have been fairly perplexing to get these layouts from me that kind of resembled what he wanted but all these little differences, extra panels, slightly higher or lower angles... I was adjusting the pacing as I was used to doing on previous projects, I don't think I even realized what I was doing! A couple of years back I did a panel with Mike hosted by our mutual friend Peter Doherty, it largely turned into looking at Mike's original thumbnails and then my layouts and finished art whilst Mike described how I changed everything, it was hilarious and embarrassing in equal measure!

Nrama: [laughs]

Fegredo: So yeah, everything runs much smoother now, I've tamed the wilder aspects of my storytelling and Mike does far fewer thumbnails. There are still hiccups along the way but that's only to be expected.

Nrama: You’ve worked on a myriad of titles, from big corporate comics at Marvel and DC to work at Fleetway and 2000AD. Is it different to work on a book where your collaborator, Mike in this instance, is the creator – and not just two people doing work-for-hire?

Fegredo: If I'm doing my job right it all comes down to trying to tell and enhance the story ,whatever the story, to the best of my abilities. I was completely invested in the work I did with Peter Milligan on so-called creator owned books at Vertigo, no less so on Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob. The differences often come down to the temperament of the company behind the book...

The key differences with Hellboy are that I was firstly a longtime fan of both Mike and Hellboy, that was quite difficult at first as I held a certain reverence to the book , that very much affected the way I drew the book. It wasn't something Mike asked of me but as reader of Hellboy I felt I had to maintain a certain feel that permeated the series, a lot of that came down to trying to meld aspects of Mike's work to my own whilst still maintaining my own identity. Or making a rod for my own back.... I didn't want to be the guy who ruined Hellboy although I'm sure that to some people that already happened, well I can't help that so I feel if Mike is happy with the work, that's enough.

The other key difference is that whereas in the past I may have had requests to make changes to the artwork, its just one of those things you expect to happen. For the most part you just get on with it but at times it feels completely arbitrary, no real rationale behind it. On the other hand if Mike isn't happy with the way I've handled something I know it's because he has a specific reason, it's not just random. I trust Mike as a consummate storyteller.

Nrama: Speaking of that '"reverence" you have for the book, I found an interesting 2001 interview with you over at SequentialTart.com where you said at the time "I love Hellboy, but I don't want to see me draw it, only Mike Mignola!" That was well before you landed on Hellboy, so without throwing that in your face – why did you sign up initially – and now that you've got two Hellboy mini-series under your belt, are you more at peace with drawing Mike's character?

Fegredo: I'm amazed that hasn't come back to bite me in the ass before now! Yeah, I said that then and I still feel it now really, I'd love to be reading all-Mignola Hellboy, all the time. But that wasn't going to happen whether I agreed to draw Hellboy or not. I figured that maybe I would screw it up less than somebody else, if that makes any sense? I just felt that previous takes on Hellboy by other artists had been rather less than successful, that wasn't the Hellboy I wanted to read as a fan. I only stopped to consider what I'd taken on after I'd said yes.... specifically about 4 o'clock in the morning when I woke in a panic wondering what the heel I thought I was doing?! But I couldn't say no, simple as that.

Nrama: You just finished your second Hellboy mini-series, The Wild Hunt, in the fall of 2009… and Dark Horse just announced your third collaboration, entitled Hellboy: The Storm The Fury. Have you talked to Mike about what it’ll be about?

Fegredo: It always happens the same way, at the beginning of each story we talk for a couple of hours.... well I say we talk ,what I mean is Mike describes in detail the unfolding events and I intermittently I say "wow!" or "blimey!" The amazing thing I can hear him still connecting the dots and enhancing the story as he tells it, it's like he's watching the events unfold and noticing something new... it's the closest I get to reading the Hellboy now, it's great but a hell of a lot to take in in one sitting. So, yes, the storm is brewing, it follows directly from The Wild Hunt and things are... well, it's Hellboy.

Nrama: Seeing as how this is the longest you've worked on a single book in your career, do you have any other projects underway?

Fegredo: No, Hellboy is quite enough, thanks.

Nrama A couple years back you worked with Sean Phillips on an art book. How was that experience for you, and do you plan on doing any more books like that?

Fegredo: Intersections was great fun, an excuse to paint and draw purely for the fun of painting and drawing. The book came about after a post-convention discussion over beer and curry, we both fancied putting out sketchbooks for conventions but wanted to do something different to the norm, no company-owned costume characters for a start. A few days later a package arrived in the mail, a small Moleskin sketchbook adorned with the collaged title Intersections, Sean's opening salvo. From there we passed the book back and forth in the mail, drawing or painting a response to each other's art. There is a narrative or a challenge to each piece, not in an obvious sense but it is there... it was quite exciting opening the package to see what Sean had drawn, to work out how I was going to respond... there was also something quite liberating about working in that book, it allowed me to make art in ways I wouldn't have considered had it been for a cover for instance. I'd love to do more work like that but there are no plans at the moment.

Nrama: Digging back into the archives a bit here…. but while preparing for this interview, I was reminded of a great mini you did years back called Girl with Peter Milligan for Vertigo. I know I’m showing my fan colors here, but what’s your recollection of that – and any chance that’d be collected someday by DC?

Fegredo: I'm glad you liked Girl, at the time it seemed that nobody really appreciated it as it was largely overlooked in favor of Kill Your Boyfriend by Grant Morrison and Phil Bond- not that I disliked KYB, it was a great book but then so was Girl! Okay, I'm biased, I'm very fond of all my collaborations with Pete Milligan, he has a very individual voice coupled with a very bleak sense of humor that I think brought out the best in me and I felt I had to make the characters I drew give a matching performance to Peter's sharp dialogue. Girl was a fairly bleak reflection of many quarters of the UK at that time, high unemployment, limited options and imaginations all around and a desperate hope that all could be solved by the National Lottery... actually, not a lot has changed, it's just as relevant now. Bleak but darkly humorous.

Alas Girl has suffered the fate of most of my Vertigo collaborations with Peter and has remained uncollected despite a few near misses.... I've given up asking when Girl or Face will be reissued, it's rather disappointing.

Nrama: Going back even further then…. you graduated with a degree in illustration from Leeds Polytechnic – where I learn your final project was a series of 30 pen/ink illustrations based on John Milton’s B>Paradise Lost. I know it’s been a while since those days, but that really seems like a precursor to real comics for you. Can you tell us about that project?

Fegredo: In my second year at Leeds Poly I'd gotten back into comics, up until that point the only comic I still read was 2000 AD; Halo Jones and Zenith in particular kept me hooked. By chance I came across an issue of Daredevil on a newsstand, I bought it on impulse and found I couldn't stop rereading it. The weird thing was that the reason I picked it up was not that it attracted me but because I thought it had an awful cover! It was the Pariah issue of the "Born Again" storyline, and it didn't take me long to realize that far from being awful, David Mazzuchelli was a genius.

Anyway, I got hooked back into comics and spent that year trying to do comics without any real direction. It was because of that my tutor threw me the challenge of illustrating John Milton's Paradise Lost for my major final year project. Probably the biggest challenge was reading the text on my own and trying to gain an understanding of what the hell it was about, no pun intended. I did have comics at the back of my mind though and tried to incorporate recurring symbols and motifs into the art so that when viewed as a whole it might be possible to glean some sense of progression. .. madness really. Oh yes, I also drew all these fallen angels as giant robots, I dubbed it "Transformers in Hell"!

I showed the early stages of the work to artists and publishers at my first comic convention in London, got a lot of great feedback and it definitely paved my way into comics.

Nrama: Did you know then you wanted a career in comics?

Fegredo: Yes, that or a general illustrator, science fiction covers preferably. Of course at that time (1987) it seemed that magazines were dropping the use of artwork in favor of photography so I doubt that would have worked out anyway, whereas comics were booming. In fact I'd already wanted to draw comics as a kid, first for Disney, then Marvel... I guess the desire was always there.

Nrama: Looking over the course of your career, you seem to frequently collaborate with writer Peter Milligan. Why would you say that is – good collaborations, good friendship, or just editors who keep putting you together?

Fegredo: I think I worked well with Peter after we were put together by Art Young for Enigma. I'm far from proud of my early work on that book but I worked hard to improve, to live up to what I could tell was an amazing work by Peter. Editors would also visualize us together too which means it must have been a combination that worked I suppose.

Nrama: Speaking of Enigma, earlier in your career you received an Eisner nomination for your cover work on that title as well as Lucifer and Shade The Changing Man. For those, you employed watercolor and acrylic paint, while also doing some digital work as well. Could you see yourself doing more of that, whether it is colors or perhaps a painted book?

Fegredo: I love painting and I'd definitely do more, for my own pleasure if not for publication. That was the great thing about the Intersections book, it was an excuse to play with paint! As for a painted book, I doubt it. Maybe painted in grayscale and digitally colored...

...never say never I guess.

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