Mike Mignola Graphic Novels

Mike Mignola is most well known as the creator of the Hellboy series, which I find a little too silly for me. However, I really admire the artist that partners with him on the inside pages (Mignola himself illustrates most of the covers and I like his style, too). So, I was interested in checking out some of his non-Hellboy work. I previously read, hugely enjoyed, and reviewed Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships here, and just recently remembered to track down the now-released sequels.

Book CoverBaltimore Volume 2: The Curse Bells

This volume goes a bit darker than the previous one, exploring how men can become monsters themselves through their obsessions. I found it gripping, but not exactly pleasant to read. What I did enjoy, though, was that the story expands more on the alternate history of this world, confirming that it is set just barely post-WWI, with foreshadowing of WWII. It also has vampire nuns.

Book CoverBaltimore Volume 3: A Passing Stranger and Other Stories

I was a little hesitant over this one because short stories can go either way, but I really liked it. Mignola uses the shorts to really focus on the characters themselves. We get backstory on two main villains from both previous volumes, and quite a nice look at Baltimore’s struggle to stay moral in his own obsessive quest. It made some of the ickiness from volume 2 more palatable.

Book CoverThe Amazing Screw-on Head and Other Curious Objects

This book is very odd. I believe it is really just Mignola playing around with stories and drawings that he knows won’t hold up to a full graphic novel treatment, but he is so successful that the publisher figured fans would probably be entertained. I would agree, too, that this is probably just for the true fans that want a comprehensive collection of Mignola’s works. The titular Amazing Screw-On Head is literally a sentient head that can be screwed onto a variety of mechanical bodies and does sort of vague battle in service of President Lincoln. Even the backpage blurb didn’t seem quite what to make of it: “If you read only one comic about severed robot heads fighting…I dunno, some damn thing or the other at Abraham Lincoln’s behest, that comic should be The Amazing Screw-On Head.” —Comic Book Resources.

I will say that my favorite vignette in the collection was The Magician and the Snake, written by Mignola’s seven-year-old daughter. It was no less cohesive a story than the rest, and had a very charming description of love and friendship that continues even after death. So, I guess what I am saying is I can take or leave Mike Mignola on this book, but I quite recommend Katie Mignola.

Book CoverWitchFinder: In the Service of Angels

Mignola is back to what I like best: supernatural period pieces. WitchFinder features Sir Edward Grey, recently knighted by Queen Victoria for hush-hush deeds done in service of the crown. In this volume, though, he is tracking a demon brought out of the excavation of an ancient Egyptian tomb and made corporeal in London.

It has a similar feel to Baltimore, though a different historical period and Grey is different enough in character (not quite as hardened and still able to be smitten by a comely medium) that it is not simply a retread. The illustrations are lovely, as usual, and the story interesting, but the pacing was a bit slow. It ends a bit abruptly with only partial resolution, and though there is a second volume out, I’m not sure I’m going to follow up with it. (Except, that upon further research, i.e. amazon description, the second volume takes place in the American West and I love a wild west story.)

—Anna

Baltimore; Or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire

by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola

Book Cover: Baltimore; Or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the VampireI heard about this “illustrated novel” when I read Baltimore: The Plague Ships during my comic book glut a few weeks ago. I wasn’t quite sure what an illustrated novel was, but figured that since I liked illustrations and novels, it was probably for me. Also, while I enjoy comic books, I actually like novels better, so I figured that if I really liked Baltimore the comic book, I was going to love Baltimore the novel. You’ve probably already figured out from this lead-up that I did not.

There were a couple of issues, and I think the main one is that there is a reason that comic books/graphic novels and novels are two distinct mediums. They have significantly different narrative structures, and it is the rare author who can work in both (even more kudos to Neil Gaiman, then). In graphic novel Baltimore, the art and text worked together seamlessly and each provided content that the other lacked.

In illustrated novel Baltimore, the illustrations were small, simple black-and-white woodcut-style illustrations that kind of floated in the text on every few pages. I had imagined that they would be full color, full page reproductions of paintings, something even more impressive than the art in the graphic novel, something to distinguish it from the graphic novel and justify having a medium called an illustrated novel. (Thinking it over, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children better matches my idea of the definition.)

I can’t be entirely impartial on the written content because it was in a style that I find particularly difficult to read: characters telling stories. The majority of the novel consisted of three friends of Lord Baltimore sitting in a pub, telling stories about themselves and their relationship to Baltimore, while waiting for him to meet them. Sometimes, while telling stories about their past, their past self would then tell a story! It all got very convoluted, and that kind of flashback narrative lacks a sense of action and urgency to me.

It read like almost the opposite of a graphic novel, which has to be mostly action-oriented in order to support engaging illustrations. This came as a bit of a shock to me, but in retrospect, it kind of makes sense. For a dedicating author of comic books and graphic novels to try his hand at writing a full-length novel, the author must want to try something different, to write something that couldn’t be supported in a comic book structure.

Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola’s effort feels like what it probably is: an amateur attempt at an unaccustomed medium. They didn’t know a whole lot about writing novels, but they knew that novels were different than comic books, so they wrote something as different as possible.

—Anna