Settle In For A Spooky Yuletide – Adam Hughes Talks Hellboy: Krampusnacht

by Hannah Means Shannon

Comics readers are treated to a remarkable book this week with seasonal flavor, a collaboration between two creators who have already left an unmistakable impact on comics, Mike Mignola and Adam Hughes. When first announced, the combination was not one which fans might have anticipated, but the idea of Hellboy’s world drawn by Hughes piqued reader curiosity greatly, and only the more so, the closer we’ve gotten to the holiday-time release of Hellboy: Krampusnacht from Dark Horse.

The story is set in 1975, in Austria, long before many of the cataclysmic events that readers are familiar with in the Mignolaverse, and featuring a relatively young Hellboy, still finding his way among the often sinister inhabitants of the less-than-human world often hiding in plain view. Meeting the famed creature known as The Krampus, hailing from Germanic lore, takes Hellboy, and readers, through quite a dark and haunting experience, and though you may have heard of The Krampus, this story is anything but predictable. It’ll move you with its beauty and chill your heart with its truths. It’s a perfect seasonal offering from two creators at the peak of their craftsmanship.

We’re delighted to have Adam Hughes on the site today to talk about Krampusnacht.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I may be just a particularly crazy fan of horror blending with the holidays, but a Hellboy Krampus story is a pretty great gift for me, and I know many people who would feel the same way. How did you come to work on a Hellboy Krampus story, in particular, and what was your reaction to the subject matter?

Adam Hughes: I was wrapping up Betty & Veronica and I decided to take Hellboy creator Mike Mignola up on his SDCC 2016 offer of collaborating on something.  Last Christmas, he said he had this unused Hellboy in Hell Christmas/Krampus idea, so he wrote it up for me.  I was thrilled to be doing a Hellboy Christmas comic. Mike is keeping alive the grand tradition of spooky yuletime tales. There must always be ghost stories at Christmas.

HMS: Regarding the settings in this story—a church, a wood, a small home in Austria in the snow—how far different are they from settings you usually work with, and were there any particular stylistic decisions you made to help give them the “feel” of being part of Hellboy’s world?

AH: Well, I usually get asked draw lighter fare: humor, pinups, and such. This was my first horror comic since Blood of Dracula back in the 80s, and a welcome return it was.  Stylistically, I used a lot more heavy blacks than normal. At least, I thought I did when I was drawing it. When I colored it, I kept going “Why didn’t I fill this in, make it moodier?!?” I also had to dial down my natural impulse to make everything funnier.

HMS: There’s a strong visual and thematic focus on Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doom in this story from both you and Mike Mignola, I feel, and in some panels it’s very prominent, contrasting with the delicacy of a wine glass or the size of a child. What kind of visual associations do you think his hand has, and what were you going for as an artist drawing it in relation to Hellboy’s environment?

AH: Hunh! That was unintentional. The story takes place almost 20 years before Hellboy meets Rasputin and starts to question the meaning of the big hand. There’s no significance to the hand at this point in his life. In 1975, he’s just a sort supernatural plumber. I guess I drew it prominently because that’s his signature? I mean, the Right Hand of Doom holding the wine glass was just a story necessity: he needed a free hand to pull the postcard out of his pocket, and I had to decide which is easier for the giant stone hand to do.

But when you work on a character, you are sorta forced into thinking of otherwise useless questions. Like: Is Hellboy left- or right-handed?

HMS: The obvious and big question I have to ask is—What different traits and features did you sift through regarding the traditional appearance of the Krampus before deciding on essential qualities for this story and a final design? I know there are some back up features for readers to get a window on this in the comic…

AH: I tried to use as many of the legendary Krampus traits as I could fit in–the chains, the long tongue, the cloven hooves. In some legends, Krampus apparently has one cloven hoof and one human foot. Mike nixed that, feeling is would be distracting. I agree.

But the classic Krampus look on many of the vintage postcards is a bit tame by today’s standards, created before horror REALLY became its own sort of storytelling medium. I had to make Krampus as scary as I could for today’s audiences.

HMS: Can you walk us through the color scheme for this comic and the tone and feeling you were focused on for the major scenes? I noticed a really interesting tone of green that is both seasonal and otherworldly at the same time, for instance.

AH: I’m a giant fan of using color as a storytelling tool, and I envy the color artists that do it well. At first, I gave each scene its own color theme, so that if there were any jumps to different scenes, you’d knew you’re in a new place or when you’d returned.

The color theme of a scene was dictated by traditional tropes. Outdoor with snow? Blue.  Friendly fire-lit room,  orange and brown. The blue/teal theme was Krampus’ signature color, a sort of eerie faerie or corpse-light. I tried to use it only when he shows up.

HMS: I think this story presents a surprisingly human Hellboy for all the talk of Hellish origins that comes up. His “acting” in terms of facial expressions and reactions, and even his not-so-all-powerful struggling during fight scenes, really bring this home. Was this your intention as an artist? Or was it more tied to the theme of the story, where Hellboy is there to have a very human reaction to the Krampus’ deeds?

AH: Hunh! I don’t THINK I humanized Hellboy any more than he already is under any other artist’s pencil. I’ve always felt that was the underlying charm of the character: He’s a monster with the demeanor of the guy from Animal Control they send to get that racoon out of your trash. Just a regular Joe.

HMS: Can you talk a little bit about your approach to getting to draw other members of the BPRD for this book, and what qualities you wanted to visually bring out in them?

AH: I wish I’d gotten to draw them more than I did! Hellboy is such a Mignola character, I was always unsure of how to draw him. The other characters were a welcome respite from my anxieties.

Trevor is the all-knowing father figure at this point in Hellboy’s life, and a vital part.  Many forget that Trevor died in the first issue in which he appeared. All Trevor’s gravitas is from flashbacks and those Hellboy “monster of the week” short stories, with few exceptions.  So I tried to make Trevor look like the Dad Who Has All the Answers.

Liz was tough because she’s 13 in this one-shot.  That’s a tough age to portray.  The only thing tougher than going thru puberty is DRAWING someone going through puberty.

Thanks very much to Adam Hughes for his candid and detailed answers to our questions!

Hellboy: Krampusnacht arrives in comic shops this Wednesday, December 20th, 2017, and it is a visual delight as well as interesting addition to Hellboy canon. Time to cozy up by the fire for some Yuletide terror.