The Rise Of An Immortal Warrior – Ben Stenbeck On Koshchei The Deathless

by Hannah Means Shannon

Villains from the Hellboy Universe are taking center stage in 2017 and 2018 with their own series from Dark Horse. First up was Rasputin, whose title series also features the young Professor Bruttenholm, but our second foray features Koshchei the Deathless, whose nature is far more nebulous, and his status as a kind hit man and middle man in the power struggles of the Hellboy Universe make him fascinating.
A supernatural soldier who seemingly cannot die, Koshchei is one of the few beings to have ever seriously wounded Hellboy, and that alone makes him a likely candidate for wider storytelling, and that’s most definitely what we get here, in a series written by Mike Mignola, drawn by Ben Stenbeck, and colored by Dave Stewart. For fans, this first issue is a hugely satisfying read, since we get a very detailed account of Koshchei’s origins as a soldier and later a soldier of fortune, and the start of an explanation of just how he comes to be under the thumb of the Baba Yaga. But there’s still a great deal more to come in this six part series.
Artist Ben Stenbeck has worked a great deal in the Hellboy Universe, and has a unique way of channeling Mignola’s original designs for characters, landscapes, palaces, and strange beings, while infusing them with a level of warmth and emotion all his own. There’s a dynamism in his work that not only makes the Hellboy fan feel at home in Stenbeck’s comics, but excited to see what revelations he has in store.
Ben Stenbeck joins us for a quick Q&A about Koshchei the Deathless today.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Having worked a great deal within the Hellboy Universe, was there any further tweaks to style you felt necessary to work on this story? If not, how would you describe the process of getting used to working in the Hellboy U as an artist?
Ben Stenbeck: Not really, not for this book. But I’m always trying to tweak my stuff anyway. Mostly just trying to get better at drawing and storytelling. Some people still seem to think there’s a house style on the Mignola books, but there isn’t. There’s just a certain approach to storytelling that everyone shares.

HMS: Like a lot of Mignola’s stories, this one moves around in places and in times. What sort of different landscapes and architecture did you have to brush up on for this epic story?
BS: That’s one of the parts I like most about this stuff, not knowing anything about medieval Russia, and doing a lot of research and creating this sort of fantasy Russia. There’s a lot of different environments in this, from the dragon’s castle to medieval villages and old ruins. Its all a lot of fun to draw.

HMS: Without getting too spoilery, you get to draw one of the few panels in Hellboy history where he is actually fully injured, though this is a return to a moment we knew about. Still, any particular thoughts on how dramatic to make that moment or how vulnerable to present a character like Hellboy?
BS: Well to be honest all I did with that scene was try to redraw something Duncan Fegredo had already drawn. Which is a big enough challenge on its own. Just in the first issue I had to do my version of things drawn by Duncan, Guy Davis, and Mignola, and try and make it all look like it came from me, so I hope I pulled it off.

HMS: Koshchei is a really interesting and weird character, so a great choice for a series, but the ambiguity between whether he’s bad or good is part of the story. Did you have any thoughts about how to present him visually at different parts of the story, sometimes as more heroic, sometimes as more horrifying, to keep that balance?
BS: Yeah, you see him at different points in the story, and he changes a lot emotionally, but also his outfits [change]. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a character with so many costume changes, and each costume is representative of big changes in his life and his outlook.

HMS: What made you want to work on a story about whether a being will be a “monster or man”? What excites you most about this series?
BS: I didn’t have to think about it too hard, as soon as my editor said “Koshchei” I was over the moon to get to work on it. While I was working on this, it dawned on me that this is all the stuff I was drawing as a kid, dragons and swords and fun stuff like that. So drawing this series has been a dream come true.

Big thanks to Ben Stenbeck for finding the time to talk to us about this new series.
The first issue of Koshchei the Deathless is currently in shops. Issue #2 is slated to arrive on February 7th, 2018

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