It’s hard to picture a world where I don’t tune into the CW to watch Rose McIver bring Chris Roberson’s iZombie to life on the small screen. The book, which the show is based on, has the distinction of being the first Vertigo property to show the mainstream audience appeal many of the imprint’s stories have. To many, including myself, Vertigo holds most of the best material DC Comics ever published. What some may not have realized is the man who co-created iZombie isn’t off doing a different creator owned series. Instead, he’s bringing his prowess for story to characters in Mike Mignola’s sacred Hellboy Universe. We caught up with Chris Roberson as he’s about to uncover a mystery in Rise of The Black Flame while also launching the victorian zombie adventure Witchfinder: City of the Dead.
COMICS BEAT: You’re no stranger to collaborating with the top writers and artists in the industry, but most of your career as a writer has been spent developing your own properties. Was there any kind of culture shock about how Mike Mignola works or writing in an already established universe when scripting Rise of the Black Flame, Witchfinder, or Hellboy & The BPRD 1953?
CHRIS ROBERTSON: It came pretty naturally to me, actually. I’ve been an enormous fan of Mike’s work for ages, and have followed the exploits of Hellboy and company since I bought the first issue of Seed Of Destruction the week it was released. So when Scott Allie gave me the opportunity to pitch a Witchfinder miniseries to him and Mike a couple of years ago, I jumped at the chance. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that things like my Witchfinder miniseries and Rise Of The Black Flame are exactly the kinds of stories that I’d be doing on my own if I had the chance, but I’m lucky enough to set them in that established universe and make use of all of that fantastic backstory and mythology.
CB: I’ve heard you described by others as “a writer’s writer” because you incorporate many sensibilities of writing novels in your comics. Besides the obvious of having an artist, what do you see as the differences in writing for each and do you prefer working in one over the other?
CR: Comics were definitely my first love. I’ve always said that comics were my first language, and that when I started writing novels and short stories that I had to translate my thoughts from comics into prose. I still write prose from time to time (I’ve got a novel coming out in October from Night Shade Books, in fact, called FIREWALK), but the majority of ideas that I have for stories tend to work best as comics.
CB: Jumping into the upcoming mini-series from Dark Horse Comics; Rise of the Black Flame touches on one of the remaining mysteries of the Hellboy Universe. What can fans expect to learn about Black Flame that they didn’t know going in?
CR: Well, we’ve seen several characters who go by the name “Black Flame” in BPRD and elsewhere, and we’ve gotten lots of cryptic explanations about what the “black flame” energy itself really is. So I was interested in going back a bit and tracing just where this stuff comes from and what it does. And the opportunity to do a Sax Rohmer-esque adventure in the jungles of Siam with Chris Mitten was just too enticing to pass up!
CB: The other mini-series being launched deals with something you’re very familiar with, the undead. What was your pitch to Mignola and Dark Horse for Witchfinder: City of the Dead?
CR: In the first miniseries, In The Service Of Angels, Sir Edward had his hands full dealing with one monster running around in the streets of London, so I figured we’d toss a whole bunch of them at him and see what happens. In addition, I thought it would be a great opportunity to start connecting some of the dots between Sir Edward’s Victorian London and some of the other bits of backstory and mythology that Mignola and his collaborators have introduced over the years.
CB: Witchfinder’s lead, Sir Edward Grey, isn’t the most notable character from the pages of Hellboy so what about him pushed you into creating this story?
CR: Sir Edward Grey is actually my favorite character in Hellboy’s world! I’m a fan of Victorian London as a setting, and I’ve always loved occult detective types. And though we know how his career started and how it came to an end, there are decades of stuff in between that we can explore.
CB: Both series have great teams on them with celebrated names like Dave Stewart and Ben Stenbeck, but what’s the collaboration been like with Christopher Mitten, whose making his Mignolaverse debut with Rise of the Black Flame?
CR: Mitten has been an absolute joy to work with. He’s just so enthusiastic about the project, and I think it shows in every page that he’d drawn. He does such a fantastic job capturing the setting and the era, and the “acting” of his characters on the page is phenomenal. It really has been a delight seeing the pages come in for each new issue.
CB: What’s the comic future for Chris Roberson like; more books in the Hellboy universe perhaps? Or a creator owned comic of some kind?
CR: At the moment I’m happily writing a LOT of stuff set in Hellboy’s world, much of which hasn’t been announced yet. I’ve got a couple of other projects in early development stages, but in the meantime I feel incredibly lucky to be contributing to the ongoing Mignolaverse!
COMICS BEAT: We can’t wait to hear more about it, but in the meantime fans of the Hellboy universe can pick up Rise of the Black Flame when it launches September 7th and Witchfinder: City of the Dead when it lands in stores August 31st.