If you’re not familiar with the Hero Initiative, I can think of no better way to get acquainted with their mission and take in some breathtaking art than this print edition of The Hellboy 100 Project. Bascially, the Hero Initiative is, according to this volume “the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic book artists and craftsmen in need.” In essence, when comics pros, who are traditionally career freelancers, get sick, or get hurt, the Hero Initiative is the safety net for them to get them the help they need. The 100 Project is one of the Hero Initiative’s major fundraisers. They pick one title (previous examples include The Ultimate Spider-Man), and get 100 sketch covers; they send these sketch covers to 100 prominent artists who donate their time and energy to create a cover which the Hero Initiative auctions off to raise money. This time around, they chose Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. - 1952 #1, and the results are, as you can imagine, pretty stellar.
The book itself is a hardcover collection with a brief description of the Hero Initiative, the 100 Project, and the impetus to make Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. a 100 Project title. After that, it is a series of full page renderings of the covers people turned in for the project. The covers range from the cartoony (Fred Hembeck, Art Baltazar, Chris Giarrusso, Tony Fleecs) to the atmospheric (Paolo Rivera, Bill Sienkiewicz, Doug Wheatley) to pieces by established Mignolaverse pros (Fabio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Sebastián and Max Fiumara). Essentially this book boils down to “Hey, have you ever wanted to see some of your favorite creators go nuts on Hellboy? BOY ARE YOU IN LUCK!” These illustrations are lush and would be a welcome addition to anyone’s art collection, and I hope they raked in a ton of money for the Hero Initiative.
My biggest issue with the book is the format. The book itself is 8” x 10”, which if I’m recalling correctly, is the size of a regular comic book cover; however, the covers themselves are scaled down to make room for the artists’ names. I’m okay with this arrangement--the proportions are maintained, all is well. All the covers that are just front covers are laid out beautifully--the scans are clear, the artist is prominently credited on the page, the colors pop. But when they get to the wraparound covers, rather than displaying them as double page spreads, they flip them 90 degrees to fit on one page. It’s surely a cost-saving measure, as now they’re including something like 50 fewer pages in the book, but I don’t think the people who are buying this book are concerned about keeping the price super down. It’s an art book--I’ve seen people pay $190 for an oversize version of Final Incal, and Final Incal isn’t even that good. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker, but it cheapens the book, and reduces the art unfairly.
This is a volume that will appeal more to the diehard Hellboy fan than the casual reader. Rather than seeing the Mignola-esque styles that have been popular around the Hellboy books for awhile, you get a variety of artists who do away with the spot blacks and expressionism and go for a more traditional style--it’s basically a book full of opportunities for you to go, “Oh, shit, I wish this person was drawing Hellboy in a monthly” (I maintain that Jeff Lemire illustrating a Hellboy graphic novel will be a crowning achievement for Mignola, Lemire, and Comics in general). It’s a good one to have to flip through, and the proceeds all go to a good cause. You could certainly do worse in prestige pieces for your bookshelf.
The Hellboy 100 Project Artists: Various Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $24.99/$12.99 Release Date: 9/23/15 Format: Artbook, Hardcover/Softcover; Print/Digital