Hellboy's "seamless gestalt"
Hellboy’s “seamless gestalt”
Similar to Dylan Dog, Hellboy features standalone stories, but there’s a greater emphasis on the grander story than in Dylan Dog, and the Lovecraftian universe created by Mignola: the sacred, mystical, and ancient land of Hyperborea, and its relationship to events in our world.
Dylan may be the son of the Devil, and his parental relationships can be called complicated at best. Same goes for Hellboy: with the help of a demon, a young witch conceived a child, delivered decades later in hell, who is summoned to Earth by Rasputin (not dead, and working for the Nazis), and then taken by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development (with funding by the U.S. government), and given the name Hellboy, where he learns of his destiny to become the Beast of the Apocalypse.
“[A] careful reading of Hellboy reflects in part the history of American comics, and the pulp heroes that preceded them”, writes Stephen Weiner in Hellboy: The Companion. “In the pages of Hellboy, Mignola as created a seamless gestalt of old pulp novels and classic comics, folklore and myth, fine art and fantasy art.”
In his exploration of the Hellboy comics, Weiner elaborates on other literary, visual art and comic book forebears of Hellboy, including Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta, N.C. Wyeth, and various characters from mythology and folklore. Mignola contributes a short chapter, too, where he cites the “‘big three’ of the golden ages (1920s and 30s) of Weird Tales magazine”: Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, among others.
Dylan Dog touchstone Robert Bloch (Dylan’s father figure throughout the series is a police colleague named “Inspector Bloch”) refers to Hellboy’s highbrow aspirations in his introduction to Seed of Destruction, and this can be applied accurately to Dylan Dog as well:
“Hellboy is a brilliant example of how to elevate the comic of the future to a higher literary level while achieving a higher pitch of excitement,” Bloch writes. “Its story line combines traditional concepts with modern frames of reference, the whole being swept along by a virtuoso treatment of dazzling artistic effects.”
A common stereotype portrays Americans as brash and unsubtle, with Europeans being more cerebral and sophisticated (albeit fragile), and some of this comes into play when comparing Hellboy and Dylan Dog.
“Hellboy’s response to danger is decidedly American—a wisecrack followed by a powerhouse right”, writes Weiner.
Along with the nods to Ernst Lubitsch and Neil Simon mentioned earlier, Sclavi also seems to enjoy Dylan’s apparent inappropriateness as a hero. He has no special powers, doesn’t appear to be exceptionally smart or deductive, and among other traits, Dylan’s various phobias (everything from claustrophobia to fear of bats) often hamper his progress.
“Basically, he doesn’t even seem to be the right type for a comic strip hero,” Sclavi says. “My stories are never comforting because the horror never finishes. It always starts all over again”.
So, if Hellboy is the all-American, indestructible demon with the Right Hand of Doom, then Dylan Dog is his handsome, eccentric, phobic (and horny) European cousin, with a penchant for the clarinet.
D-Dog and H-Boy at the movies
Another common trait shared by Hellboy and Dylan Dog is their transformation from comic book to big screen. Hellboy’s incarnations in two hit films by Guillermo del Toro are well-known. Dylan Dog has two forays into feature films: the first remains a cult classic, and the second is beginning to rev up its hype machine, with a release planned for next year.
Dylan Dog the comic lives off of its references to film, and with Italy’s tradition of horror movies, it must have seemed like a natural fit. In many ways, the film Cemetery Man represents an accurate representation of the comic’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as a near cosmic alignment of opportunities.
His name may have been inspired by Dylan Thomas and Mickey Spillane, but the comic character’s face was drawn from the actor Rupert Everett. Guess who plays the main character in the movie.
“Rupert Everett didn’t know that there was a successful comic book featuring his face”, says director Michele Soavi in an interview featured on the Cemetery Man DVD. “Once he got a script on the table, he was very enthusiastic.”
Called the “savior of Italian horror” (on the DVD, at least), Soavi credits three infamous filmmakers as his teachers: Joe D’Amato, Dario Argento, and Terry Gilliam. He also cited Sergio Leone as an inspiration, and there are echoes of all of these filmmakers in Cemetery Man (and once noticed, they seem more apparent in the comic book too).
Under the original title Dellamorte Dellamore (a play on words that could be literally translated as “of death, of love”), Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, caretaker of the cemetery in an Italian town named Buffalore. The film is not a Dylan Dog comic per se, being based instead on a novel written by Sclavi, but everyone involved (and the fans) saw it as the first Dylan Dog movie.
Along with Everett, who looked and dressed exactly as Dylan Dog, there are countless common elements: movie references, zombies, the goofy/absurd sidekick (here named Gnaghi, described by Sclavi as “a degraded version of Fedor Dostoevskij’s (sic) ‘Idiot’”), a near obsession with sex, and reams of broad, black humor.
A smash hit in Italy, the film tanked in North America, building a reputation instead as a cult favorite since its release and distribution in 1994-through-1996. There was talk of a remake shortly after the film’s initial release, when Everett gained more fame in the U.S., but that faded. Now, 15 years later, there’s a new film, and this time it’s an official Dylan Dog story.
Dead of Night features Superman‘s Brandon Routh as Dylan Dog, and “it pays plenty of homage to the comic,” says one of its stars. Early photos from the production make it difficult to asses, and the storyline that includes “a Gap for zombies where they can buy new skin and new eyeballs and so you get to see a little bit of the vanity of the zombies” doesn’t seem especially connected to any of the Dylan Dog comics in the Dark Horse reprints. However the movie turns out, if a big-budget Dylan Dog movie prompts more reprints/translation of the original comic, then that would be a success.