Available now, "Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea" ($14.99, Dark Horse Comics) is another entertaining graphic novel from the fertile mind of Mike Mignola about his most famous creation. But the true star might be the co-writer and artist, Gary Gianni.
Gianni is probably known best for "MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories," a collection he wrote and drew, featuring zombie cowboys, pirate squids and other exotic creatures. Obviously, Gianni's writing tastes suit him for the Hellboy universe, as does his art, rendered in painstaking line work that brings to mind the metal-plate etching, wood engraving and lithography techniques of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"It's a matter of dipping a steel pen tip into an ink bottle and carefully creating fine lines on paper," Gianni said in an interview. "The finished effect is closer to an etching than a woodcut. The drawback being there's not much room for color to be added."
The effect takes time; Gianni said it took him almost a year to create the art for "Silent Sea." "People are surprised to hear my other tool is an electric ink line eraser," he said. "I seem to erase more lines than I create. Don't know how that happens!"
The effect is immersive, dragging the reader's mind into a time before photos and film re-created reality for us. But the story is well worth it as well, for regular Hellboy readers and newbies. It takes place after "Hellboy: The Island," a turning point in the Hellboy saga, but new readers needn't worry about that. All one needs to know is revealed on the first page: Hellboy is on an island of wrecked ships, and tries to get off it in a rowboat.
Mignola and Gianni immediately set the mood with quotes from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Thomas Haynes Bayly's "The Pilot." Clearly, this is not going to be a happy story.
Our red-skinned hero is captured by the "Rebecca," a 19th-century sailing vessel that is not of this world; it skims along without a single sail on its three masts. But the crew seems blithely unaware of this fact. They go about the usual duties of their station, while the captain schemes to sell Hellboy to a freak show or circus at a port we can be pretty sure the ship will never see.
Gianni's art, while definitely one of a kind, may remind one of pioneering artists of the early 20th century such as Lynd Ward or Frans Masereel. More recent touchstones might include the late Bernie Wrightson or Michael Kaluta.
In the end, though, "Silent Sea" is a true collaboration between Mignola and Gianni.
"We discussed the general idea over the phone, he wrote an outline, I added stuff, he added more stuff," Gianni said of the process.
"It was organic and seamless. Readers will be hard pressed to find where one of us stops and the other begins. Mike liked my 'MonsterMen' stories, which appeared as a backup series in his early Hellboy comics, and we have a lot of similar tastes in books and movies. The project fell into place naturally from there."