‘Surely there should be more legs?’: Mick McMahon’s Hellboy cover process
As dangerous as it’s proved in the past, I’m refining another theory. Comics fans are divided into two schools: those who like expressionist comic artists, and those who like realist art. Were your tastes decided by what comics you were exposed to first? Or did you start off liking one school, and develop into a love of the other?
I can see a pattern emerging through my comics-reading history where I start off as a kid loving the Kirby reprints I’m first exposed to, grew up loving Mick McMahon’s work in 2000AD and came back to comics as an adult under the spell of Mike Mignola. In my time, I’ve admired the work of realists like Neal Adams, Brian Bolland and Bryan Hitch, but it’s the work of those three expressionists that I always return to.
So imagine the pleasure I got seeing McMahon sharing his process for a cover for Dark Horse Presents #32. The January solicitations had passed me by, but that issue really is one for the old -chool 2000AD fans — the collaboration between Mignola and McMahon is joined by a new strip by Brendan McCarthy, “The Deleted.” Now that I think about it, a collaboration between McMahon and Mignola has a fairly inevitable feeling about it. No two comic artists have ever sought to refine their styles so much, constantly paring their work down in a pursuit of minimalism.
McMahon’s blog entry details the stages of commissioning a cover: offering your editor a choice of roughs, and then taking the chosen design to completion via pencils, inks, and finally colored by the great Dave Stewart, which will always make someone’s work look like official Hellboy product. I love the second rejected rough, featuring the zombie conquistadors menacing the reader. The final design includes something of that, with the foreground zombie spotting the reader, matching their gaze, and lurching directly at us. His blog always shows a nice line in modesty and self-deprecation — this image runs under the heading “Surely there should be more legs?”
Here in the United Kingdom, McMahon is regarded as something of a genius, and as the definitive 2000AD artist. It’s always good to see new work by the man, and especially good to see it coming from an American publisher. It must be something of a burden, being regarded as “an artist’s artist,” while your peers (Bolland, Gibbons, Kevin O’Neill), all full of praise for his work, go on to more popular successes. McMahon’s limited exposure in the United States includes one bona fide lost classic, Marvel/Epic’s The Last American, from 1990. Seek it out. Maybe working with Mignola can give the man a whole new head of steam, just as it did for Richard Corben.