“ZombieWorld, the Worm Champion” – By Mike Mignola & Pat (…)

Strange phenomena shake the museum of a small town in New England from its torpor. Where is stored the 42,000 year old sarcophagus of the priest of an ancient forgotten cult. The fate of humanity seems settled in advance by an evil pact made between the latter and the gods of the antediluvian Hyperborean age.

Can the course of this fatal fate be reversed by Major Damson and his small team of paranormal specialists? They who will find themselves confronted with the awakening of the necromancer and his summoning of a procession of zombies of his ilk, supernatural monsters and giant worms.

This ZombieWorlda classic horror and fantasy story, dates back to 1997. It foreshadows the strong revival of the genre sparked by Robert Kirkman. As a reminder, after some stammering and a first appearance of Hellboy in its current appearance in Next Men of John Byrne, Mike Mignola transforms him into the protagonist of his own series, initially based on a script by the cartoonist and co-screenwriter of Uncanny X-Men. The adventures of the red demon are truly initiated with The Seeds of Destruction (Seeds of Destruction1994).

"ZombieWorld, the Worm Champion" – By Mike Mignola & Pat Mc Eown – 404 Editions
“The Cycle of Swords” T. 2, the world of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola
© 1991 Zenda

Mike Mignola is then crowned by a new prestige, due to his adaptation with Howard Chaykinat the beginning of the 1990s and which has since been a milestone, from Cycle of Swords of Fritz Leiber. Like John Byrne, Frank Miller and other authors who were very popular at the time, he turned to Dark Horserecently created (1986).

The publishing house of Mike Richardsona bookseller and distributor of comic books of Milwaukie (near Portland, Oregon), attracted these big names by offering them the possibility of retaining the rights to their creations (creator owning). On the other hand, DC Comics or Marvel, like their main counterparts, refused to do so for decades.

Apart from operating very popular media franchises (Alien, buffy, predator, The Mask, Star Warsetc.), the process worked well for Dark Horse — [littéralement Cheval noir ou sombre], the name designating in English the surprising winner of a race. Since this self-proclaimed outsider or unexpected challenger has now finally become the third publisher of comic books in the USA. However, this resulted in its recent acquisition by a Scandinavian video game and entertainment firm, Embrace (2021).

A page from “Grendel: Warchild”
© 1993 Matt Wagner, Pat McEown & Dark Horse

During a convention in Victoria, British Columbia, Mike Mignola had met the English-speaking Montrealer Patrick “Pat” McEowna Canadian, like J.Byrne however British by birth. Pat McEown was recently honored at the Eisner Awards with Matt Wagner for the miniseries Grendel: Warchild (Grendel: The Child Warrior), another popular title from Dark Horse. When he launches with Mike Mignola in the beginning of what had for ambition, at the beginning, to be at least a new mini-series.

“Zombies…”, cover by Mike Mignola of the first VF edition, taken up in the gallery at the end of the new 2022 edition
© 1998 Mike Mignola, Pat McEown & L’Écho des Savanes/Albin Michel

In French, the three episodes produced in the end were published by Albin Michel, shortly after the original American edition (Dark Horse, 1997), under the title Zombies, the Master of Worms (1998). First conceived in black and white, it was colorized for reissue in 2005. For almost twenty-five years, this story had therefore not been the subject of a republication in VF. It’s done today at 404 Editions, in superior quality.

The graphic treatment chosen at the time by Pat McEown was rather surprising, contrasting with that of Mike Mignola, with more radical contrasts between black and white. The father of the red cambion speaks in an afterword of a hand drawing Herge. Because this is the most obvious reference for an American when it comes to a clear line.

The hybrid graphic style under influence(s) developed by Pat McEown, in its colorized version
© 2022 (2005) Mike Mignola, Pat McEown & 404 Editions

Pat McEown, still in the afterword (see the commented sketchbook), provides more details about his models. He cites first yves chaland. He additionally mentions the New York illustrator and designer Steve(n) Guarnaccia and especially, Roy Crane (Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy, Buz Sawyer).

Cover of “Buz Sawyer” T. 1 in VF
© 1983 Roy Crane & Futuropolis

This key draftsman led in the 1920s-30s to the decisive transition between the original dominant register of comic strips for humorous purposes — whose designation comics preserves the memory — and theadventure strip more realistic. The role of incessant experimenter of Roy Crane, as well as essential relay influencing several American graphic schools, that with the dark line of Mike Mignola included, earned him the admiration of the best designers across the Atlantic.

In the first pages, here in black and white, Pat McEown adopts a darker line, experimenting with an even more varied mixture of influences (“Dungeons & Dragons” illustrators, Richard Corben, Mœbius!)
© 1997 Mike Mignola, Pat McEown & Dark Horse

As for the basic arguments of the frame of ZombieWorldthey mix up old recipes from magazine stories pulp of the 1920s and 30s and comic books horror films from the 1950s-60s (EC Comics, etc.).

Mayonnaise takes thanks to the apocalyptic stake, brought crescendo, which Mike Mignola managed to confer on him. Even if, without a doubt, such a narrative spring owes much to HP Lovecraft. And its scope is maximized by an end left open, paradoxically by accident, due to an unforeseen interruption after only three episodes.

A great latitude was left to the draftsman, according to a scriptwriting method, Stan Leeas practiced at Marvel in the 1960s. Thus, Pat McEown explains what was his part in the development of the character design characters, the attribution of their respective names or the definition of their personalities.

It will be noted that this team of investigators specializing in the paranormal is reminiscent of that of the slayers of the crimes of the Doc Savage from the publisher Street & Smith. Borrowings from publications pulp of yesteryear are cultivated in abundance. Apart from the nods to Robert E. Howard and to his Hyborian Age (fictitious) or the presence of nightmarish creatures again of Lovcraftian inspiration, Pat Mc Eown also quotes directly Clark Ashton Smith.

Less present later in the comic strip, Pat McEown nevertheless stands out in “Hair Shirt”
© 2010 Patrick McEown & Gallimard (coll. Bayou)

Better, the real interest of this story lies more in what it allows us to take full measure of their resonance on Mike Mignola’s work as a narrator, at this time still in the process of being set up. In this, ZombieWorld constitutes an essential link, if not a missing piece so far for part of the French-speaking public, to a good understanding of the extended universe of Hellboy. Because this comic strip reveals itself to be constitutive of its elaboration.

“Hellboy and the BPRD 1952-1954” (cover)
© 2021 Mike Mignola, miscellaneous & Dark Horse

Clearly, Major Damson and his aides left their mark in shaping one of its cornerstones, the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Office of Paranormal Research and Advocacy). Certainly, this was already mentioned in 1994, at the beginning of the adventures of Hellboy, supposed to take place in 1944, against Nazi occultists.

But, within the Hellboyverse, this secret organization and its shock troop were only to fully play their role once the red demon was presented as having become resigned. Thus came the specific stories featuring the other members of the BPRD, published from the beginning of the 2000s.

After the defining interlude of ZombieWorld therefore, this flagship franchise of the comics independent was to take a decisive flight at this time. So much so that it will know many variations, including cinematographic, alternating the less good or the best, with Guillermo del Toro and his notorious teratological obsession.

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“ZombieWorld, the Worm Champion” – By Mike Mignola & Pat (…)