Common ancestors on the family tree
One final similarity that’s worth touching upon is the influence on Hellboy and Dylan Dog from the classic horror comics of the 1950s and 1960s, namely E.C. Comics and Warren Comics.
“What set E.C. apart from the other comic-book houses was the sly sophistication of its stories, the supreme quality of product, and that macabre, twisted sense of humor…oh, and the fact the stories were incredibly—often delightfully—gruesome, gory, and downright gutsy”, writes Jon B. Cooke in his introduction to Warren Comics’ Creepy: Volume One. “Warren horror mags (which came roughly ten years later) were more than a pastiche of a defunct comics line. The writing and art were less dense than their ‘50s inspiration, made crisper visually perhaps due to the stark black-and-white presentation, and the quality of drawing was often sublime”.
All of these elements are at work in Hellboy and Dylan Dog, and it’s interesting to note how each turns them in different directions. Hellboy takes the macabre elements and the humour, but adds significant influence from Jack Kirby and Frank Frazetta, among the other forebears mentioned earlier. By comparison, Dylan Dog seems more of a direct descendent of E.C. and Warren, bent and reshaped by a love of horror films and the pop cultural elements discussed earlier.
E.C. artist Graham Ingels seems to haunt several of the faces in the Dark Horse reprints. Ingels “specialized in faces that were like Daumier caricatures from hell”, as Skal writes in The Monster Show, and was dubbed “‘Mr. Horror’ himself” by E.C. Comics chief Bill Gaines (described in Foul Play: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics). Ingels’ work resonates strongly in Dylan Dog, especially in the story “Johnny Freak”, described earlier.
Another way to describe it could be with reference to the infamous Grand Guignol theatre. As Skal explains it in The Monster Show, the method of the original Grand Guignol theatre could be another early ancestor of Hellboy and Dylan Dog:
“The Grand Guignol intensified the emotional impact of its programs through a deliberate strategy of the douche ecossaise—a “Scotch” shower of alternating emotional temperatures, i.e. rapid shifts between humour and horror”.
Skal also draws comparisons between horror comics and Hans Holbein’s Dance of Death woodcuts.
“Social satire was a strong component of the classical Dance of Death, and was prominent in the horror comics as well”, he writes.
Another icon of horror, Stephen King sums up the effect of the horror comics in his book Danse Macabre: “Those horror comics of the fifties still sum up for me the epitome of horror, that emotion of fear that underlies terror, an emotion which is slightly less fine, because it is not entirely of mind”.
That visceral emotion, “not entirely of mind” seems to be at the heart of Hellboy and Dylan Dog. It’s in the brilliant artwork of both comics, in their use of pastiche and synthesis of their influences, and in the stories they tell.