A conversation with “Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon” co-writer Chris Roberson.
Dark Horse Comics has been producing quality horror and crime comics for ages. Many of those comics have fallen within the Hellboy universe and are some of the best. It’s also a universe that’s been going strong for ages now and has real ramifications as it never cheats readers with over-the-top events or deaths for the sake of sales.
This week, Dark Horse Comics is producing a new prequel series titled Rasputin: The Voice or the Dragon, which focuses on Trevor Bruttenholm, the man who took Hellboy in as a baby, and Rasputin, the man who helped bring Hellboy into our world. This story reveals how Bruttenholm was involved in the occult and supernatural long before he laid eyes on Hellboy, though, and aims to flesh out an interesting World War II-centric story.
We had a chance to have a conversation with co-writer Chris Roberson about the new series, which ended up being a delightful read.
AiPT!: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions! I understand this is the version of Rasputin that Mike Mignola introduced in Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, and has been a character of great interest in comics and film alike. What makes Rasputin interesting to you?
Chris Roberson: Though he’s only appeared a handful of times before, this version of Rasputin played a key role in Hellboy’s life, in particular, in bringing him to Earth in the first place. But before now we haven’t really explored what he was up to during the war years, what he was up to with the Nazi occult bureau, and whether the Allies ever suspected that he was the one calling the shots from behind the scenes.
AiPT!: What made you fall in love with comics?
Roberson: Comics were my first language, I guess you could say. Comics instilled in me a love of reading and story at an early age, and even though I would later expand my diet to include a lot of prose novels and short stories, I never stopped reading comics. And though I’ve done a lot of work in prose in the course of my career, I tend to think in terms of comic book storytelling, and I’m at my most comfortable working in the medium. And I really enjoy the collaborative nature of this kind of comic, and getting to work with Mike Mignola and artists like Christopher Mitten never gets old!
AiPT!: Works like this must require so much research since it’s set during World War II at a very specific time. Do you have charts or other ways to track the historical elements while you plot and write?
Roberson: I’m a history buff, and a project like this is a perfect opportunity to do a lot of research, which is always my favorite part of the job. But I tend to use the things I dig up in the course of my research as starting places for stories, rather than trying to find a way to work a particular historical tidbit into a story as I go along. If anything, though, I turned up far more interesting stuff than I could ever use, but thankfully I had Mike Mignola on hand to help me figure out which ones made for the most interesting story, and which just didn’t fit.
AiPT!: Working within the Hellboy universe must be a delight. Do you suppose there could be an endless number of Trevor Bruttenholm stories to tell?
Roberson: One of the things I’ve always found most intriguing about Trevor Bruttenholm is that he was an old man when we first met him (who then died almost immediately, of course), and while we’ve seen a bit about what he was doing in the post-war years in the pages of BPRD and elsewhere, there are still big chunks of his backstory that are so far unexplored. So this is a perfect opportunity to backtrack to an earlier point in his life, when he hadn’t yet gained all of the experiences that turned him into the man we know, and see how he got there.
AiPT!: What do history junkies have to look forward to with this work?
Roberson: We’ve approached this very much as a “secret history” story, slotting the fantastical adventures of our characters in and around real historical moments. So our story begins with a young Trevor Bruttenholm working in signals intelligence at Bletchley Park in the early days of WWII, where he intercepts a Nazi communique that suggests to him that the Germans are meddling with occult matters, which kicks off an investigation that takes him deep behind enemy lines in Occupied France.
AiPT!: Are there any Hellboy or historical books you would recommend readers pick up before reading this story (to get every ounce of entertainment and enjoyment out of it of course!)?
Roberson: We built this story to be completely standalone, so that a reader who has no familiarity with Hellboy or his world would be able to pick it up and dive right in. So anyone with a basic understanding that WWII happened and who was fighting on either side of the conflict should be good to go!
AiPT!: It appears Trevor Bruttenholm spends his free time doing detective work and getting himself into trouble. What is your favorite method of procrastination and relaxation?
Roberson: As I’ve said, I’m a history buff and enjoy researching, and so I sometimes have a tendency to get pretty far in the weeds digging into background material. Fortunately, I have deadlines and bills to pay, so I never stray too far. But in my downtime, I read a lot (I’m in the midst of rereading all of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels at the moment), watch period piece murder mysteries, cartoons, and history and science documentaries, and play the occasional video game (I’m counting the days until Star Wars: Battlefront II is released!) or tabletop role-playing game (Dungeons & Dragons occupies a fair bit of mental real estate these days). Basically, I’ve filled my life with all of the things that I was obsessed with in middle school, and I can’t complain.
You can purchase Rasputin: The Voice of the Dragon #1 at your local comic shop November 15, or on Amazon right now.