CLOSE

The 25 Best Comics and Graphic Novels of 2015

Every week, I write about the most interesting new comics, webcomics, and graphic novels. It’s now that time again to round up the ones I consider the best and most interesting of the year. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and recommend others in the comments below. 

25. The Omega Men

By Tom King, Barnaby Bagenda, Jose Marzan Jr. and Romulo Farjado Jr.
DC Comics

When DC Comics released sneak previews of this year’s new books, one that got a lot of attention was The Omega Men. The scene, made to look like a glitchy terrorist video, showed Green Lantern Kyle Rayner seemingly being beheaded by a group whose name bears the title of the comic. Eventually, this scene turned out to not be what it appeared, and it’s twists like this that make The Omega Men such an engaging read.

Writer Tom King is a former counter-terrorism officer for the CIA and he uses that experience to craft a story about insurgencies and religion set in the deep cosmos of the DC Universe. This has been a breakout year in comics for King, with not only this series but Grayson, The Sheriff of Babylon, and The Vision all receiving worthy acclaim. Critical praise doesn't always equal sales, however, and DC announced a premature cancelation of this 12-issue series until a vocal fan base rose up and demanded a stay of execution.

24. Sexcastle

By Kyle Starks
Image Comics

Sexcastle is one of the funniest books of the year and absolutely essential for anyone who grew up on ‘80s action films. It plays with every trope you can remember from that era, and sets its hero, Shane Sexcastle (an amalgam of Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze, and David Carradine), against a cast of tough guys that look much like ‘80s mainstays Sylvester Stallone, Mr. T, Steven Seagal, and others.

23. Roller Girl

By Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books

There’s been an increase in the number of high-quality graphic novels aimed at tween-age girls since Raina Telgemeier proved to publishers that this audience was out there with her bestselling graphic novels Smile and Sisters. Victoria Jamieson’s first graphic novel, Roller Girl, is a welcome addition that at first may seem to be more niche than Telgemeier’s work. Roller derbies have been growing in popularity in recent years and seem to have a lot of crossover appeal with comics, but Jamieson’s story about a young girl who decides to pursue her newfound interest while drifting apart from her best friend is a pretty universal story about discovering who you are and what really makes you tick.

22. Wuvable Oaf

By Ed Luce
Fantagraphics

While the mainstream comics industry has made great strides this year to be more LGBT-inclusive, indie comics continue to show them how it's done with a wide array of comics coming from the web and various indie publishers. Still, you won’t find many out there that are quite like Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf. This is a book that is proud and confident in its depiction of a gay subculture that's made up of thrash metal, professional wrestling, and cats. Oaf is a shy, gentle “bear” who sells toy animals stuffed with his own body hair. When he falls for the diminutive Eiffel, the lead singer of the metal band The Ejaculoids, we get a sweet, hilarious, and surprising story of dating in a fictional version of San Francisco.

21. Girl in Dior

By Annie Goetzinger
NBM Publishing

Girl in Dior is perhaps the most beautiful book released this year. Written and drawn by French illustrator and costume designer Annie Goetzinger, it tells the true story of fashion designer Christian Dior’s rise to fame when he introduced his so-called “New Look” to an unsuspecting but welcoming public in 1947. Goetzinger fictionalizes the biography slightly by inserting her own character, a reporter-turned-model named Clara, to act as our eyes into this world of color that revolutionized the drab post-War fashion of that era. Goetzinger’s beautiful drawings of Dior’s models dressed in elegant and flowing gowns are resplendent. Girl in Dior made its English language debut this year after winning the prestigious Grand Prix Bd Boum award when it was first released in France in 2014.

20. Pope Hats #4

By Ethan Rilly
AdHouse Books

Ethan Rilly is one of the best cartoonists out there, and too many people aren’t aware of his work. His award-winning comic series Pope Hats often goes at least a year between issues, making him less visible in an increasingly social media-driven market. Still, the quality of his storytelling and production is something we don’t see enough of in “floppy” format comics.

While previous issues of Pope Hats focused on telling the story of a young woman named Frances balancing career and life, issue four breaks from that format to compile a bunch of short stories unrelated to the previous narrative. These little slices are without true beginnings or endings, and the highlight is probably “The Nest,” which is about parents dealing with the return from college of their teenage daughter who appears to be suffering from a nervous breakdown.

19. Zero

By Ales Kot, Jordie Bellaire and various
Image Comics

Zero starts off as a compelling political-espionage comic set in the near future about a highly competent agent named Edward Zero. Then come the aliens. Then Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs show up. And then things really start to get trippy.

Each issue of Zero is drawn by a different artist, with Jordie Bellaire serving as the regular colorist to provide some visual continuity. This works really well, as each chapter acts as a stand-alone piece of a larger story. Besides the mind-bending weirdness and violence, Zero has some of the most genuinely heartbreaking character moments I’ve read in any comic this year.

18. Frontier # 7: SexCoven

By Jillian Tamaki
Youth in Decline

Indie comics anthology Frontier hit the (indie) big time this year with contributions from comics stars Michael DeForge and Jillian Tamaki. Frontier showcases up-and-coming talent by giving them an entire issue to show their stuff. In issue #7, Jillian Tamaki’s “SexCoven” tells in a documentary-style approach the story of an mp3 file that only teenagers can hear.

Tamaki is the artist behind last year’s award-winning This One Summer, and has had a great follow-up year with the print collection of her webcomic SuperMutant Magic Academy (a book that could easily be on this list as well) and this issue of Frontier, which shows her mastery of page design and layered, thematic storytelling.

17. Batgirl

By Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr
DC Comics

There is probably no more important or influential comic that DC has put out this year than Batgirl. When the new creative team of Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr took over in late 2014, their lighter, more fun approach to the title was a breath of fresh air among the increasingly dark and brutal superhero comics the company has been putting out.

Aimed at a female audience that DC never seemed to make comics for, the success of this title sparked an awakening for the publisher, leading to a new initiative in 2015 to introduce more books of a similar ilk (see Black Canary, Prez). The more “cartoony” visual style of this comic is also something DC has shied away from in the past, but it works great for this character. They took a chance by giving unknown young artist Babs Tarr a shot on this book, and she is now well on her way to becoming a superstar.

16. The Eternaut

By Héctor Germán Oesterhel and Francisco Solano Lopez
Fantagraphics

The Eternaut is revered in Argentina, but until Fantagraphics brought an elegantly designed hardcover collection to Stateside bookstores this year, it had been virtually unknown in North America. Originally serialized in Buenos Aires newspaper Hora Cero from 1957 to 1959, The Eternaut begins when a mysterious snowfall kills everyone it touches, and a group of friends smart enough to keep safe inside find that they may be among the last people alive in their city.

The backstory of The Eternaut is just as gripping as the comic. Both writer Héctor Germán Oesterhel and artist Francisco Solano Lopez were forced into hiding from the military powers that ran Argentina at the time because of leftist works like The Eternaut. Lopez escaped to Spain, but Oesterhel, who also wrote a biography of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevera, was never seen again.

15. The Fade Out

By Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips
Image Comics

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's first book of their unprecedented carte blanche publishing deal with Image Comics seems like the sum of everything they’ve done since their hit series Criminal. The creative team gives us a noir story full of morally compromised characters, femme fatales and, of course, murder. Set around a troubled 1948 film production that is halted when its leading lady turns up dead, The Fade Out explores the seediness of the movie business and the pathos behind the types of films that inspired Brubaker and Philips’s entire body of work.

14. Black River

By Josh Simmons
Fantagraphics

Nihilistic apocalyptic comics were a-dime-a-dozen this year thanks, probably, to the success of The Walking Dead, but Josh Simmons’s Black River makes everything else seem like all-ages fluff. This short graphic novel follows a group of women (and one man) across a devastated countryside in search of a town they learned of from a found diary. Along the way they do some things that sound fun on the surface (taking a drug called “Gumdrops," having sex, and even going to a comedy club), but everything is imbued with Simmons’s sense of absurdist depravity and unsettling horror.

13. Joan Cornellà’s Comics

By Joan Cornellà

If you have friends on Facebook with a twisted sense of humor, then you’ve probably seen them share one of Joan Cornellà’s comics. His wordless one-page strips took social media by storm this year, with 2.8 million people liking his Facebook page (so far). The Spanish cartoonist is not afraid to be disturbing and gory, nor does he shy away from controversial topics. Sometimes you have to spend a little time on each one to get what he’s doing, and sometimes you laugh even when you don’t want to. This year, Fantagraphics released a hardcover collection of some of his comics called Mox Nox.

12. The Story of My Tits

By Jennifer Hayden
Top Shelf

Jennifer Hayden’s frank and quirky memoir about breast cancer begins by painting a portrait of her lifelong relationship with her own breasts. It isn’t until the last third of the book that we see Hayden get her first mammogram, but along the way we see how the specter of cancer hangs over her and how it affects the women in her life. It’s not easy to make a book about the death of family members and her own brush with mortality something enjoyable and fun to read, but Hayden's sense of humor and clever cartooning does just that. It is an impressive debut.

11. The Multiversity

By Grant Morrison and various
DC Comics

The top slot on my list from last year went to an issue of Grant Morrison’s mini-series The Multiversity. The series as a whole, now collected by DC Comics in a large hardcover deluxe edition, is in many ways the epitome of the Grant Morrison superhero comic. Layered with subtext and references to forgotten comics of old, these are crammed with unbelievably cool ideas and are about as meta as a comic can get.

As the existence of the multiverse faces an unstoppable threat, Morrison checks in on various parallel DC universes, like one in which Superman was adopted by Hitler and another where the spoiled grown children of the Justice League avoid paparazzi and party like a bunch of super-powered Kardashians. Each is so good that you wish he’d write stories about them forever.

10. Deep Dark Fears

By Fran Krause
Ten Speed Press

Fran Krause had a great idea a few years back: encourage readers to anonymously submit their deepest, darkest fears and he would turn them into a comic strip. Deep Dark Fears instantly became a popular Tumblr comic, and now Krause has compiled them into a hardcover. It’s a fine example of how, deep down, we’re all scared to death of the same stupid stuff.

9. Step Aside, Pops

By Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly

Kate Beaton is arguably the best cartoonist of the past decade, and maybe the greatest to come out of the webcomic scene so far. Her wildly popular webcomic Hark! A Vagrant is known for its smart and cheeky retellings of moments from history and literature, but she branches out into other areas as well, such as autobio, parodies of vintage book covers, and even superheroes. Her new collection, Step Aside, Pops, showcases this variety of material and has some of her funniest moments to date. (Her belligerent, fed-up Wonder Woman and her intrepid Lois Lane who doesn’t have time for Superman’s secret identity shenanigans are great.) Rest assured, this collection also has strips about Chopin, Wuthering Heights, and Civil Rights activist Ida B. Wells among many other subjects.

8. Star Wars/ Darth Vader

By Jason Aaron, John Cassady, Laura Martin, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Justin Ponsor, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larocca
Marvel Comics

It seems like all media in 2015 has been mobilized to get us excited for December’s release of the new Star Wars film. In comics, we saw Marvel launch their new Star Wars line, spearheaded by two ongoing titles: Star Wars and Darth Vader. By putting superstar creators like Jason Aaron, John Cassady, Stuart Immonen, Kieron Gillen, and Salvador Larocca on the books and working with input from Lucasfilm, these are the first Star Wars comics that truly feel like they belong in the franchise, and the promise from Lucasfilm that they are “in canon” makes them seem essential.

Both stories take place immediately after the events of Episode IV, and there are some great fanboy moments like a battle between Luke Skywalker and Boba Fett, and a meeting between Vader and Jabba the Hutt. Still, there are some new character developments that will truly take you by surprise.

7. Two Brothers

By Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon
Dark Horse Comics

Twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are used to collaborating closely on comics, and with Two Brothers, Moon writes while Bá draws. Their subject matter is the antagonistic relationship between twins whose conflicts tear their entire family apart. Adapted from Milton Hatoum’s The Brothers, one of the most popular novels in Brazil, it is Moon and Bá’s most sophisticated and mature work to date. Bá’s stylized lines and fluid sense of storytelling capture the setting of mid-century Manaus, where the dark, sexy, and tragic conflict bubbles up in a city where two rivers (one dark and one light) converge.

6. Borb

By Jason Little
Uncivilized Books

Borb tells the story of a down-on-his-luck homeless man, playing it for laughs by using the punchline format of a newspaper comic strip. That may seem insensitive and offensive, but Jason Little is aiming for a visceral reaction from his readers. By presenting his story in a style derived from classic Depression era strips like Little Orphan Annie, Little calls to mind the lovable, hapless hobo archetype of that period, but pairs it with the horrific situations that real homeless people actually experience today. While it will make you laugh at times, it is sure to disturb you even more.

5. Killing and Dying

By Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly 

Adrian Tomine rose to prominence in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s at a very early age with his contemplative short stories about troubled 20- and 30-somethings. Now in his early 40s, Tomine's work has taken on the wisdom of middle age. In his latest collection of stories, Killing and Dying, we even see him reaching out of his comfort zone a little. The opening story, “Hortisculpture,” is formatted like a newspaper strip and examines the risks of making art by telling the story of a landscaper who puts his career on the line to pursue his passion of making unsightly horticultural sculptures.

This sublime collection of stories showcases his immaculate drawing and perfectly realized characters, like the self-conscious teenager who decides to try stand-up comedy or the young woman continuously plagued by her uncanny resemblance to an online porn star

4.Southern Bastards

By Jason Aaron and Jason Latour
Image Comics

Southern Bastards seems to begin as a “southern fried” crime comic about a guy with a big stick ready to kick some ass, but then, a few issues in, it takes a shockingly unexpected turn and becomes a larger story about family, football, and southern life. Created by two good ol' boys themselves, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour, the comic steps carefully between honoring, poking fun at, and eviscerating the culture the creators grew up around. The two Jasons have had a big year outside of this book—Aaron as the writer of Marvel’s Star Wars and the excellent new female Thor comic, and Latour as the writer of the surprise hit Spider-Gwen—but Southern Bastards may become their biggest success yet.

3. Nanjing: The Burning City

By Ethan Young
Dark Horse Comics

Cartoonist Ethan Young seemed to come out of nowhere this year with this brilliant and accomplished fictional graphic novel about two Chinese soldiers trying to escape the fallen city of Nanjing during the second Sino-Japanese war. Along the way they are confronted by the atrocities committed by the conquering Japanese soldiers, some of the most horrific committed in the history of modern warfare. It is a war that is not depicted often in Western media, and Young, who is the son of Chinese immigrants, pours a lot of emotion into it. His bold brushwork and dramatic chiaroscuro lighting evoke some of the great creators of wartime comics like Harvey Kurtzman and Joe Kubert, and this story stands right up there with the best war comics of all time.

2. March Book Two

By Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Top Shelf

Like any great trilogy, the middle volume of Congressman John Lewis’s graphic novel memoir March is where things get grim and hope seems almost out of reach. Working with congressional aide and writer Andrew Aydin and the award-winning artist Nate Powell, Lewis tells his story of being a key figure in the Civil Rights movement. Reading it at this moment in post-Ferguson America gives the comic an even sharper relevance. Where book one focuses on Lewis’s childhood and ends with his first experiences as an activist, this volume sees him become a leader of the movement, participating in many forms of non-violent protest.

As Lewis and others non-aggressively attempt to ride buses and go to movie theaters in segregated areas of the South, they are met with extreme and shocking violence not only from the KKK, but from average white citizens as well. It is a vivid and disturbing depiction of an ugly time in American history. Lewis frames his story with flashes forward to President Obama’s inauguration in 2008 which is meant to show how far we’ve come, but it can’t help but also remind readers of how today’s divisiveness is an extension of yesterday’s struggle.

1. Sacred Heart

By Liz Suburbia
Fantagraphics

The amazing thing about Liz Suburbia’s webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Sacred Heart is how the underlying plot just creeps up on you. At first, it seems to be a series of vignettes about high school parties, drinking, sex, and adolescent angst, but then kids start showing up dead and no one seems too preoccupied by it. The landscape starts to become littered with decadent graffiti, and you begin to notice the total absence of adults anywhere in the story. It’s a mystery that intrigues the reader much more than the characters within the story itself.

When Fantagraphics picked up Suburbia’s webcomic, she redrew the entire 300+ pages to make it a more consistent reading experience, and it was worth the effort. Her drawings are bold and confident and her characters are full of life and unique personality.

Honorable Mentions

It’s so hard to narrow down a list like this, so here are a few more comics I thought were pretty amazing:

Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler
93-year-old manga master Shigeru Mizuki passed away just weeks after the English translation release of this biography of Adolf Hitler, told from a rare, non-Western viewpoint.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Webcomic veteran Ryan North and newcomer Erica Henderson bring the humor and self-referential sensibilities of the Internet to Marvel Comics in one of the few true all-ages comics in the publisher’s lineup.

Our Expanding Universe
Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison was a seminal graphic novel for 20-somethings in the 1990s, and his latest is made for those same readers, who are now parents in their 40s.

The Divine
Twin brothers Tomer and Asaf Hanuka tell a fictionalized account of the two twelve-year-old boys who led an army of guerrillas in Myanmar.

Kaijumax
A prison comedy about Kaijus in a remote island Supermax. What more do you need to know?

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Welcome Productions, YouTube
arrow
Comics
8 Things You Might Not Know About Ziggy
Welcome Productions, YouTube
Welcome Productions, YouTube

Devoid of pants or much of a personality, cartoonist Tom Wilson’s Ziggy has been prompting pleasant chuckles out of readers since he first appeared in newspapers in 1971. The bulbous-nosed little unfortunate has, against the odds, become a highly recognizable character, extensively merchandised on everything from greeting cards to pencil erasers. Before the inevitable big-budget CGI reboot happens, check out some facts about Ziggy's history, why fans were upset when he once spoke, and the bittersweet origin of his distinctive name.

1. HE WAS ORIGINALLY AN ELEVATOR OPERATOR.

Ziggy had a circuitous route to the comics pages. The character was first created by American Greetings executive Tom Wilson in the 1960s. (Wilson would later have a hand in creating the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.) Doodling an elevator operator who commented on the mundane events inside his small world, when Wilson first tried to sell it as a comic strip, there were no takers. When he resurrected the character for a 1969 American Greetings humor book, When You’re Not Around, the odd little man intrigued the wife of a Universal Press Syndicate executive. By 1971, Wilson and Ziggy were in 15 newspapers, a number that would eventually reach over 500. 

2. THE NAME “ZIGGY” WAS CHOSEN VERY DELIBERATELY.

Ziggy is often depicted as beleaguered and exasperated at the various obstacles life puts in front of him, from faulty ATMs to soured relationships. (He prefers to socialize with animals.) Wilson gave him the name “Ziggy” because the letter “Z” comes last in the alphabet and Wilson thought that was a proper position for his character, who often came last in life. (Another story has Wilson hearing the name from a colleague’s barber and remembering it.) In one strip, Ziggy is seen waiting for a rescue after a flood—but the responders are going in alphabetical order. In 1974, Wilson told a reporter that his full name is “Zigfried.”

3. WILSON TRAINED HIS SON TO DRAW HIM.

When Wilson died in 2011, his heir apparent was already selected. His son, Tom Wilson Jr., had been drawing the strip since 1987. Long before that, the elder Wilson would sit with his son at a table, draw Ziggy in a precarious position—a safe plummeting toward him from above, for example—and then instruct his son to draw a way out of the jam. Ziggy, Tom Jr. later said, was like his “successful little brother.”

4. HE WAS ENGINEERED TO BE LOVABLE.

Despite his general haplessness, Ziggy often draws sympathy and affection from readers. Wilson felt his large, circular nose and rotund body engendered feelings of warmth and told his son to go easy on his line drawing work. “Let’s keep Ziggy round and lovable,” the artist said. Ziggy also breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to readers, a technique Wilson felt further strengthened the feeling of companionship.

5. HE WOUND UP PAINTED ON THE SIDE OF A WATER TOWER.

For years, locals in Strongsville, Ohio have craned their necks to take in a curious sight: Ziggy appears on the side of one of their water towers. Wilson was from Cleveland, and when he heard a local sports team had painted the character up there in 1975, he offered to render a better portrait. Firefighters lifted him on a crane and allowed him to paint Ziggy next to the school’s mustang mascot. When the Cleveland Water Department threatened to cover him as part of a new paint job, residents signed a petition to prevent them from going through with the plan.

6. HE HAD HIS OWN BOARD GAME.

There was no limit to the kind of Ziggy product tie-ins hitting stores, including shirts, calendars, and mugs. But 1977’s A Day with Ziggy might be the most memorable. Players assumed the role of the put-upon blob, trying to avoid landing on a space that would worsen Ziggy’s day.

7. HE MET GENE SHALIT.

Ziggy first popped up in cartoon form in 1981, when he “appeared” in a segment with Today film critic Gene Shalit. Strangely, readers wrote in expressing disapproval of the spot, noting that Ziggy's voice didn’t mesh with what they had imagined he might sound like.

8. HE WON AN EMMY.

Ziggy made the jump to animation in 1982 with the ABC primetime special Ziggy’s Gift. Written by Wilson, it afforded Ziggy fans a closer look at the character’s daily life, including his sparsely-furnished apartment and a gig dressing as Santa for the holidays. At Wilson’s insistence, the character didn’t speak to avoid another Shalit situation. The special won an Emmy in 1983. Ziggy still wasn’t wearing any pants.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Columbia Pictures
arrow
entertainment
12 Burning Facts About Hellboy
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Two decades before he would become a two-time Oscar-winner for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro set out to make a movie about his favorite superhero: a big red demon with a big gun and a heart of gold. It took years to finally get the film off the ground, but in 2004 Hellboy finally made it to theaters, adding another piece to the beloved supernatural filmography that’s made del Toro a favorite among genre fans for a quarter of a century.

Though it never rose to the box office heights of The Avengers, and it never reached the end of its planned trilogy, Hellboy remains one of the most imaginative, thrilling superhero films of the 21st century. From early script changes to an accidentally deleted scene, here are 12 facts about how it was made.

1. HELLBOY WAS GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S FAVORITE SUPERHERO WELL BEFORE HE MADE THE MOVIE. 

Guillermo del Toro grew up with comic books, noting that he was flipping through them before he even knew how to read the words. That childhood fondness for the medium stayed with him into adulthood, and by the time he’d reached his early 30s he’d not only discovered the work of Mike Mignola, but began to consider the Hellboy creator one of his great comic book visual influences alongside legends like Will Eisner, Bernie Wrightson, and Richard Corben.

“Mignola, in my later years, already as a young adult, fascinated me with his use of light and shadow, with his amazing bold line work, but also with the way he gave birth to my favorite superhero in my adult years, which is Hellboy,” del Toro said during the recording of the Hellboy Director’s Cut commentary track.

When del Toro and Mignola finally met during the making of Hellboy, they bonded over a mutual love of folklore and pulp fiction, becoming fast friends and collaborators. 

2. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT FEATURED INTERVIEWS WITH HELLBOY WITNESSES.

In the world of the film, Hellboy is viewed as an urban legend and tabloid story, not unlike Bigfoot. The film’s opening credits underline this with blurry photos, grainy videos, and newspaper headlines meant to depict widespread eyewitness accounts of the creature. Agent Myers (Rupert Evans) further emphasizes this point when he exclaims “He’s real!” upon meeting Hellboy for the first time. 

According to del Toro, this idea was initially supposed to play out in a much more overt way through the film’s screenplay. In early drafts, parts of the film’s story were told through eyewitness interviews with characters claiming to have seen Hellboy.

“So people would be saying ‘I saw Hellboy over here. I saw him jump,’ and a kid saying, ‘I saw him on the rooftop.’ Now everybody does it, but back then it was 1997, '98, and I thought that was a great idea,” del Toro said. “That was the first thing we cut out of the shooting schedule because [the studio executives] didn’t understand it.”

3. IT COULD HAVE BEEN MADE MUCH SOONER.

Though Hellboy’s live-action debut occurred relatively early in the 21st century’s superhero movie boom, he could have been more of a comic book trailblazer than he turned out to be. According to del Toro, if it weren't for reluctant studio executives, the film could have come out as early as 1998, making it a contemporary of Blade rather than Spider-Man 2.

“The one thing that particularly infuriates me is that this movie could have been made in 1998,” del Toro said, noting that the film would have then pre-dated X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), and even The Matrix (1999). At the time, though, many studio executives considered the comic book movie label “almost an insult,” and so Hellboy kept getting pushed back. In between the time it could have been made and the time it was actually released, del Toro made his comic book movie debut with another dark superhero film, Blade II, in 2002.

4. DEL TORO WROTE HIS OWN CHARACTER BIOGRAPHIES.

By the time Hellboy hit theaters, creator Mike Mignola had already been building his own mythology and supporting cast around the character for a full decade. While the film is a loose adaptation of the first major story arc of the comic, “Seed of Destruction,” del Toro couldn’t help adding his own touches to everyone’s backstory. Even before he began work on the script, del Toro wrote out detailed character biographies for each major player in the Hellboy story, which were then included on the eventual Director’s Cut DVD release.

A particularly amusing example from these backstories: The fictionalized version of historical figure Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) is said to have disliked “greasy food,” and while he really did die in 1916, he was resurrected in 1936 when Nazi occultists mixed his stolen ashes with the blood of the innocent.

5. HE ALSO ADDED THE LOVE STORY.

Long before his fantasy romance The Shape of Water earned him two Academy Awards, del Toro was imagining tales of unusual creatures falling in love with human women, and Hellboy was one of them. The romance between the title character (Ron Perlman) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) didn’t exist in Mignola’s original comics, where Sherman’s stronger connection was (ironically, given The Shape of Water’s subject matter) with the aquatic creature Abe Sapien (who is played by The Shape of Water's Amphibian Man, Doug Jones). Latching onto a particular moment in the comics in which Hellboy is enraged by the thought of Liz’s death, del Toro envisioned a story in which his demonic hero could fall in love with a pyrokinetic woman, and was particularly enticed by the image of that woman engulfed in flames kissing a fireproof creature. That particular storytelling decision made del Toro’s Hellboy significantly different from Mignola’s, who modeled the character after his father, but the creator ultimately allowed the departure in the final film.

6. RASPUTIN WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO LOSE HIS EYES.

In several sequences throughout the film, the character of Rasputin wears a pair of small sunglasses, even in scenes set at night. This was not done simply to make him look cooler (del Toro recalls comparisons made to The Matrix), but because del Toro originally planned to take away the character’s eyes. In the film’s opening sequence, Rasputin is sucked into the very portal that baby Hellboy is drawn out of, causing him to vanish from Earth for decades until he’s resurrected in the present day. Del Toro wanted the portal to create a “cosmic eye-gouging” effect that would rip the character’s eyes out of his head, but it simply didn’t work in a PG-13 film.

“I thought the eye-gouging, the cosmic eye-gouging, was not graphic enough for people to get the point,” del Toro said.

So, the shot of Rasputin losing his eyes was cut from the theatrical release, but restored for the director’s cut, along with a deleted scene in which the character is given a set of glass eyes.

7. LABYRINTHS ARE A RECURRING THEME IN THE FILM.

Del Toro is a director known for his keen attention to detail. As a result, various recurring visual themes appear in all of his films. For Hellboy, he focused on the idea that “a man is made a man by the choices he makes,” and while the film’s story conveys that as Hellboy must choose between the ideologies of Rasputin and Professor Broom, he also sought to convey it through visual metaphor. To do this, del Toro settled on the recurring motif of the labyrinth. It first appears as part of the opening credits sequence, when the entire logo becomes a kind of maze, then reappears as Ilsa (Bridget Hodson) and Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) weave through mountainous terrain to find Rasputin’s resurrection site. To bookend the metaphor, Rasputin’s mausoleum in Moscow also functions as a kind of labyrinth. Even the metal gates leading to the BPRD’s headquarters resemble the lines of a maze.

8. ONE SCENE WAS ACCIDENTALLY DELETED BY SEVERAL PROJECTIONISTS.

While several scenes from del Toro’s Director’s Cut were left out of the theatrical release, even the version of Hellboy shown in theaters wasn’t always complete. As del Toro later recalled, some “careless” projectionists in “dozens” of theaters accidentally removed one key sequence from the film’s final act as they were assembling the reels. At the end of the scene in which Liz activates her fire powers to burn the Sammael creatures away, a rock flies directly at the camera lens, creating a brief blackout. That scene is supposed to be followed by a shot of an unconscious Myers waking up on the ground to find Ilsa and Rasputin standing over him. The blackout confused some projectionists into skipping over the scene of Myers waking up, so some theatrical audiences were taken directly to the scene that followed, in which Myers has already been captured and chained up. According to del Toro, he set up an email contact form for moviegoers to report this misstep and got numerous replies, though the studio was not able to correct all of the errors.

9. IT FEATURES MANY FREQUENT DEL TORO COLLABORATORS.

Beginning with Cronos (1993), del Toro has built a large and diverse company of frequent collaborators, many of whom continue to work with him to this day. Several of these collaborators contributed to Hellboy, both in front of and behind the camera, including actors Ron Perlman (Cronos, Pacific Rim, Blade II) and Doug Jones (Mimic, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and more), composer Marco Beltrami (Mimic, Blade II), and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim and more).

10. IT SUFFERED BACKLASH BECAUSE THE WORD “HELL” IS IN THE TITLE.

During the Director’s Cut commentary for Hellboy, del Toro praised the film’s marketing team for finding ways to sell the film to the public, noting that it wasn’t always easy to attract audiences to a film called Hellboy. Some theaters refused to show the movie, while others retitled it Helloboy in an effort to calm potentially offended patrons. The problem was exacerbated by the presence of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which opened a few weeks earlier and remained a big box office draw during the Easter holiday.

“Especially on Easter, some theaters mysteriously dropped the movie when it was still making money,” del Toro recalled.

11. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE FIRST FILM IN A TRILOGY.

Hellboy opened on April 2, 2004 to strong reviews and a box office return good enough to merit a sequel. Just weeks after the first film hit theaters, Hellboy II was a go, with del Toro, Perlman, Blair, and Jones returning. With the knowledge that he would get to continue the story, del Toro envisioned a superhero fantasy trilogy, which moved closer to becoming a reality when Hellboy II: The Golden Army opened in 2008 to more critical acclaim. As time passed, though, a third film began to seem increasingly unlikely, with Perlman in particular noting that the epic scope of del Toro’s plans could be too taxing on the budget as well as Perlman’s own physical health. After years of holding out hope that the trilogy could be completed, del Toro finally announced in 2017 that all plans for Hellboy 3 had been scrapped.

12. BUT A REBOOT IS IN THE WORKS.

Del Toro might not get to finish his version of the Hellboy story, but that doesn’t mean Big Red won’t hit the big screen again. In May 2017, just months after del Toro announced an end to his version of the tale, Mignola revealed that the character would be rebooted as part of a new film franchise. Directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent) and starring David Harbour (Stranger Things) in the title role, the new Hellboy film is set to hit theaters on January 11, 2019.

Additional Sources:
Hellboy: The Director’s Cut special features (2004)
Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities (2013)

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios