Hellboy: The First 20 Years is the spiritual successor to The Art of Hellboy, but Mike Mignola is quick to point out that that wasn’t the... well, point. It’s a catchall of some of his favorite pieces from the last twenty years, and like any artist, his more recent work is the work that he favors. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; the man is a living legend, and if he only wants to put in drawings of things that he scribbled on a toilet paper roll before family dinner during Thanksgiving of 2012, I’d still probably buy it. And treasure it. This book feels like it should have been one of those books of perforated oversized posters that you could tear out and put on your wall, because each piece (with a few exceptions) is a splash page or a poster or a cover. They’re all visually gorgeous, and I want to wallpaper my whole apartment with them. Basically everything gets a whole page devoted to it, unless it’s a page from a sequential work, and there are even some of Mignola’s paintings, which I’d never seen before. He also goes into his process for painting, which sounds incredibly difficult to my untrained hand.
I wish the book was organized a little differently; there’s a foreword and an introduction, then it just dives straight into 150 pages of unlabeled drawings. Some of them are instantly recognizable, like covers from Hellboy trades, or from the Hellboy in Hell series as of now. Some of them need no introduction, like the paintings and the posters for different cons around the country. In a perfect world, there would be a small subtitle under each piece, saying what it was, where it was from, etc. A citation, if you will. Instead, there’s an index at the back on two different pages. It’s concise, but it also sort of makes you feel like you’re reading Infinite Jest, where you have a question about something you’re reading in the text, and you have to flip back to the footnotes, and then flip back to the book itself... It’s fine, it’s just a little tedious for something that could have been solved by scaling down the image size by a quarter of an inch.
The size of the book itself is solid. There’s enough pieces that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything from the Mignolaverse, and there’s not too many so that you get overwhelmed and you can’t appreciate each piece on its own merits. It’s also slightly oversized. Not quite the size of the Guillermo del Toro notebook that came out recently, but pretty big. A classy coffee table size for those of you who run an exceedingly classy household, like I do.
If you’re a fan of Mike Mignola’s style, you’re not going to find many surprises. Hellboy is turning 20, and he got the book equivalent of a cake with twenty candles in it, shaped like a two and a zero. It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be a good add for your collection if you’re into that sort of thing, but it’s not a good jumping on point. It is surprisingly affordable though, so if you’re on the fence, I say go for it, and enjoy it. Happy birthday, Red!
Writer/Artist/Creator: Mike Mignola Colorist: Dave Stewart Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $19.99 Release Date: 3/19/14