By Christine Caprilozzi
Scott Allie Talks Abe Sapien
Last year when a new “Abe Sapien” series was announced, fans of what I call “Mignolaverse” were positively giddy to say the least. Abe has always been a fan favorite. Needless to say, expectations were pretty high. However, Scott Allie, along with Abe’s creator, Mike Mignola, and team have managed to exceed those expectations making “Abe Sapien” one of the most captivating and well written horror comics out. I recently caught up with Scott Allie to discuss the series to date.
Horror News Network: A lot of the focus in this series, especially issue #12, is how others perceive Abe. With everything that has happened in the BPRD Universe Abe “looks” as if he is one of the enemies. Can you talk a bit about the prejudice the lead character has to endure?
Scott Allie: Abe’s fought to save humanity from monsters for years, but as those monsters more and more sort of resemble him, he’s having to deal with something Hellboy never had to deal with. Yeah, Hellboy looks like a demon from hell, but there have never been a lot of demons running around Mignola’s world. Lately there have been a lot of frog-men running around, and people have seen very clearly how their own neighbors can get turned into these bloodthirsty things. So they look at Abe askance, to say the least. What he has going for him is that right before all this started, the B.P.R.D. got this international recognition for the events at the end of the Plague of Frogs saga, and Abe got quite a bit of good publicity. But that doesn’t stop some strangers from looking at him as a very likely threat, and even a number of people at the Bureau. What’s going to come to be just as distasteful to Abe is that some people who see a connection between him and the changes in the world will take a different perspective on it—that is, that they’ll look to gain some advantage by being connected to him. That’s even scarier for him than the people who fear him.
Horror News Network: With that being said, Abe has always been a “turn the other cheek” type of character. Are there any plans for his patience to start to wear thin and the nature of his character change?
Scott Allie: Some of that happens pretty soon. In #11, Abe failed to save a small town from a zombie attack. He knew something bad was coming, he knew something was up, but he couldn’t figure it out, or get anyone to work with him. Everyone died, every last person. He’s reeling from that, and it’s going to affect his judgment. That, and the people he meets in issue #12 are going to lead him to approaching this end of the world business a bit differently.
Horror News Network: Abe Sapien has always been a popular character in “Mignolaverse.” Did you feel any pressure when first taking on the series?
Scott Allie: Oh, god, yeah. I love these characters, I love Mike’s world. I feel confident that I know the characters as well as anyone but Mike, after all these years. Mike and I had a pretty good blue print for this series from the get go. I’m really confident about where it’s going. But yeah, there’s a certain pressure. I’ve been lucky enough to have a hand in guiding some amazing characters. Conan, Hellboy, Buffy … sometimes I’ve done it by the side of the creator of the character, and sometimes not. You know, I had this great conversation once with Gahan Wilson … I was asking him about some of the old pulp writers he got to know later in their lives, like Manly Wade Wellman. And it led to us talking about how Lovecraft passed a certain torch to those guys, and they passed it to guys like Gahan, and you try to pass it on to the next generation, so that they discover this sort of work, and then they follow it backward through the generations to Poe and even further back. And Gahan told me, “And now you’re carrying that torch.” To have Gahan say that to me … if you could frame a moment—if you could BRONZE a moment, that’d be the one for me. So it is with that sense of foreboding that I look at working on Mignola’s stuff …
Horror News Network: One of the most amazing things about this book is the creative team behind it. Can you talk a bit about what it’s been like to work with Mike Mignola, as well as Max Fiumara and Dave Stewart? What is the creative process like?
Scott Allie: Well, man, you’re asking me to talk about my collaborators … this may take a minute. Dave is one of my best friends, has been for a long time, and it’s a friendship borne in work. Pickled in whiskey, but borne in work. And largely borne in our work with Mike—back in the old days, when Mike lived in Portland, we’d all go to Dave’s house and sit in front of the computer for like ten hours at a stretch going panel by panel through an issue of Hellboy. Well before Mike left town, we no longer needed to do that anymore, but the degree to which we all picked through the work together, in those years, informed so much of how Dave and I work to this day. So there are no boundaries in how we can discuss the work, which is so valuable. My working relationship with Dave is one of the best things about this job.
Max I’ve known a much shorter time. Max, without fail, takes on challenges, gets more inventive than I asked, and delivers perfectly. With #12, I really pushed him, I rolled out a lot of ideas about how to tell this story in a unique way, and then he came up with these other wrinkles. It was his idea to do three different art styles for the different tracks of the narrative. There were a lot of places where I just asked him to convey a feeling or something, and he took that vague direction and made it concrete. I’ve learned not to ask for certain things in scripts. Not to leave the artist an artist with some foggy notion that sounded good to me but I couldn’t figure out how to dramatize or visualize. Max has spoiled me, and I seldom worry about asking a lot of him. Sorry, Max. With both him and Seba, I feel very lucky, and I love that we bounce ideas around, they tell me weird things they want to draw, and we find ways to make them really fit the story. It’s a fun collaboration.
What’s it like working with Mike? I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t working with Mike. There’s so much to say about this experience, but one of the things I’m feeling most acutely about it lately is just what a great balancing act he’s done, or we’ve done, of maintaining this singular, focused vision for the Mignolaverse, through so many titles, so many years, so many artists and writers, and it’s still all one story. That’s the amazing thing. Mike has given so much of us so much rope, and yet he’s managed to make sure that the vision has stayed true, and there aren’t chapters you sort of have to forget about for the rest of it to make sense. No one else has built something like this in comics. There’s never been a collaborative world like this that’s maintained a vision for so long. Even when you have one person doing everything, it often doesn’t add up as well as the Mignolaverse does—and I don’t think he keeps notes. It’s all in his head. And it keeps coming. It’s amazing. Arcudi and I have talked about that a lot—what we wouldn’t give to be the font of story ideas that Mike is.
Horror News Network: One aspect of the series, which I personally l like, is the consistent balance between story and action. It keeps the reader drawn in. How do you maintain that?
Scott Allie: Well, bottom line, the action has to perpetuate the story, so action is story, story is action. That goes for anything you’re gonna do in comics. It’s a visual medium, blah blah blah, so whether it’s fisticuffs or not, characters need to be doing things, there needs to be physical business of some sort, and that action needs to be the story. But maybe what is slightly more true or unique to Mike and his aesthetic, which I love and try to maintain, is this high contrast narrative chiaroscuro … It’s a quality of Mike’s stuff, not just in how he draws, that he loves contrast. If things are getting too serious, he throws in something lighthearted and maybe ridiculous. If the action has hit a high pitch, he’ll shift gears in the other direction. And his tendency to hit those extremes, the high contrast, is one of the defining qualities of his work, which makes the stuff as compelling as it is.
Horror News Network: This series has been really great at showing a very introspective Abe, where will his journey take him next?
Scott Allie: In the short term, issues #12-15 are oneshot stories, including a flashback to the days when Roger was alive. You saw #12 already, and one of the people he met there will really change the nature of his travels. He’s seen some of the ways people’s faith is changed by what’s happening in the world, and that will continue to be a strong element of the series—the trade paperback that’ll kick off with #12 is called Sacred Places. Dealing with other people’s faith will get a lot weirder for him in the short term. Abe’s a character who changes, and he’ll continue to change, and he’ll come to understand himself better than ever. He’ll get some of the real answers of the Hellboy universe. His own journey in this series will transport him physically and spiritually … and transform him, as well.
Horror News Network: Thanks Scott!
“Abe Sapien” #12 hits stores May 14!