Today sees the release of Hellboy: Into The Silent Sea, a special hardcover comic that tells the events of what happened after Hellboy: The Island. It’s an eerie story of ghost ships and isolation set in the vastness of the ocean.
The book sees the reunion of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola with artist Gary Gianni (Prince Valiant, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms) who is no stranger to working with great writers like George R.R. Martin and Ray Bradbury. Fans will remember the artist work on Hellboy backups, The Monstermen Mysteries. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Gary for the book’s release, his background as an artist, and about something else fans will enjoy.
COMICS BEAT: You graduated from the Chicago Academy of Fine Art in the 70’s, what were you studying as an artist and who were your influences?
GARY GIANNI: I was interested in learning how to draw the human figure because I wanted to be a comicbook artist. A school that could boast Walt Disney and Hal Foster as alumni members certainly should have had something to teach regarding cartooning and figure drawing. Unfortunately, the school was on hard times and a shadow of its’ 1920’s glory days. Nevertheless, there were some inspiring drawing teachers who introduced me to classical artists. One of the instructors, Howard Mueller, insisted I could learn everything concerned with creating a pen-line illustration by studying Rembrandt’s etching “Christ healing the sick.” As with most art students, it began to dawn on me there were 500 years of art history to which to learn from. The value of an art school is underscored by the camaraderie of like minds. I became life- long friends with some of my teachers. I also had great student friends, guys like Geof Darrow and Scott Gustafson, who continue to influence me to this day.
I ‘d like to add that, once out of school, newspaper and magazine illustration became my stock in trade. I didn’t draw a comic until about 15 years into my professional career.
CB: It’s been a while since you’ve done The Monstermen Mysteries backup features for the Mignolaverse. How did you come to be the artist on Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea?
GG: Mike liked the MonsterMen series and we’ve kept in touch over the last 20 odd years and have a similar taste in books and movies. We also crack each other up, that’s very important when you’re doing this sort of stuff. (If I may shamefully plug my own work, Dark Horse is rereleasing a collection of the MonsterMen Mysteries this summer.)
As most HB fans know, Hellboy alludes to the time he was lost at sea in “The Storm and the Fury.” Mike tells me he specifically bookmarked this incident with the idea of me eventually drawing the adventure. And… here we are.
CB: Your early comics looked a bit more traditional in comparison to later works in projects like A Song of Ice and Fire and this Hellboy book, in particular, has the same exquisite heavy line work as some of your more recent projects yet, it feels unique. What do you feel an equally traveled colorist such as Dave Stewart brought to your work here?
GG: Dave Stewart has the uncanny ability to sympathize his color palette and technique with each artist he works with. In this case, I didn’t have a clue about how to color the HB art. I stared at those black and white pen lines for 10 months. As you point out, the line art is heavily rendered. Adding color could have been gratuitous and, with no direction from me, poor Dave was on his own. However, some years ago, he colored one of the MonsterMen stories, and it turned out great. I trust his instincts and I’m delighted with his work on “Into the Silent Sea.”
CB: There’s so much of this story that’s told through visuals over dialogue or narration. At what point in collaborating with Mike Mignola was that decision made?
GG: That, in and of itself is difficult to explain, especially without some visual diagrams. Arguably, the best storytelling in comics generally comes from one creator who is writing AND drawing. Pictures and text are coming from one mind, capable of tightly integrating these two different disciplines. When two guys are working together, there needs to be an organic ebb and flow. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee are a good example of that practice. I can’t explain it other than describing it as a Vulcan mind probe where two brains become one. Does that make any sense?
COMICS BEAT: You’ve illustrated the works of some of very influential writers: Ray Bradbury, Robert Louis Stevenson, and George R.R. Martin just to name a few. As an artist, what’s the most important thing you do when illustrating the inner thoughts of an author’s words?
GARY GIANNI: Well… the short answer is: see above response. But to take the idea a little further, the illustrator needs to understand the author’s intent. At the same time, there needs to be a personal connection to the material.
If, in a horror story, H.P. Lovecraft takes great pains to suggest some “half-glimpsed monstrosity”, he might be ill-served by an illustrator who brilliantly renders the horror. On the other hand, most fantasy artists love to draw monsters, myself included. The writer/artist collaboration becomes a delicate balancing act based on taste and style.
CB: What’s next for you?
GG: There’s the release of the MonsterMen Stories coming out from Dark Horse mid- summer. A collection of my 8 years of drawing the Prince Valiant newspaper strips is coming out from Flesk Publishing in the fall. I’m currently working on a project that, at this time, the details might be too much for the general public to be subjected to…
CB: Now I’m beyond intrigued. Hellboy: Into The Silent Sea is in comic stores now and hits bookstores May 2, 2017. Don’t be afraid to add this gorgeous book to your collection.