"The holiday season is full of cherished traditions: gatherings with family and friends, exchanging gifts, and, for discerning readers, the publication of the annual Hellboy Winter Special. This year, ahead of the winter solstice, Dark Horse Comics will publish the Hellboy Winter Special: The Yule Cat one-shot, written and illustrated by Barbarian Lord creator and acclaimed cartoonist Matt Smith, colored by Chris O’Halloran, lettered by Clem Robins, and featuring a variant cover by legendary Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. The special one-shot is inspired by the stories of Jólakötturinn, the ferocious Yule Cat of Icelandic folklore, who is said to come down from the mountains, on the prowl for people who have not received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve."
In Hellboy Winter Special: The Yule Cat, Hellboy travels to Reykjavik, "where children are disappearing and a giant beast has been spotted…could it be the infamous Yule Cat of Icelandic lore?" Now available from Dark Horse Comics, we caught up with Matt Smith, who told us all about his experience working on the new winter special!
What has been your relationship with Hellboy over the years and what led to you working on Hellboy Winter Special: The Yule Cat?
It started with the one-shot, Long Night at Goloski Station and then was followed by two series, Hellboy: The Bones of Giants and Hellboy in Love. What led to The Yule Cat was some preparation I did in advance of Goloski Station. There was a bit of time between Mike contacting me and getting the script. I thought I’d prepare by sketching some Hellboy pages, drumming up a loose idea of sending Hellboy to Iceland. The thinking here was that I’d be forced into drawing Hellboy in ways I might normally not think of. Instead of drawing Hellboy heads or him standing there, he’d be talking to people or small within a landscape. I think I had 4 or 5 opening pages, which are pretty close to the printed comic, and a fairly different ending. I showed these to Mike and he surprised me by saying something like “finish that up and we’ll run it somewhere.” It took some years to get back to it, but here we are.
What was your inspiration for The Yule Cat story and why this story important to you?
That’d be Iceland, the country in general. The Yule Cat came after wanting something a little more specific to the place than other creatures and legends that came to mind. The Sagas of the Icelanders really sank into my skin when I discovered them in the early 2000s and I’ve had them on the brain since then really. The landscape, history, and folklore is incredibly rich for stories and somewhere Hellboy would end up eventually. It was pretty hard to pick one idea for the issue, but it’s also hard to go wrong with a giant cat. If I had my way, there’d be a Hellboy in Iceland collection, covering everything from trolls to outlaw ghosts running around in necropants–all drawn by the collection of amazing artists working on the Mignolaverse these days. Santa, are you reading this?
With both The Yule Cat and some of your other work, there's a tie back to Iceland and its folklore. Why do you find Icelandic folklore so fascinating?
There are more general bits of Scandinavian history and folklore I’ve enjoyed since I was a kid. Directly with books on mythology or indirectly through the likes of Tolkien and Howard– vikings and trolls, wizards up in Lapland sending snowstorms. It wasn’t until I came on the Icelandic Sagas that I really zeroed in on Iceland. I just love them. The direct, unvarnished tone of the language, the “unremarkable” inclusion of the otherworldly in everyday life, beautifully constructed stories of an unstable society trying to get a handle on cyclical violence. Also, ghosts and trolls. Anywhere with that high a ratio of ghost/troll action is a very good place for me.
Being able to add to the world of Hellboy must be incredible for someone who loves the character and world as much as you. Can you speak to your experience leading this one-shot as both the writer and illustrator, while working in partnership with Chris O'Halloran, Clem Robins, and Mike Mignola?
Wow, yeah. On discovering Hellboy in the mid late 90’s, I was all-in. It had been a long time since I cared about a character to the degree that I’d try to stay on top of when things were coming out and get them the day of release. I think it’s probably this way with most Hellboy fans. I don’t run into many lukewarm ones. If this stuff is for you then it’s really for you. Getting contacted by Mike to work in his world then, well that was something else. And now getting to add even a tiny bit to Hellboy’s huge story feels like a big thing to me. As far as Clem and Chris go, I am very lucky. With Clem, whatever thoughts I have for lettering, he always exceeds them. I’ve been with Chris since Folklords and then through both Hellboy series I’ve worked on and have always been really happy to work with him, but he knocked it out of the park this time–capturing the cold, winter mood I was hoping for. Again, I count myself lucky working with these guys.
Are you able to tease any other upcoming projects that our readers should keep on their radar?
Other than some stuff I can’t talk about just yet, I’ve been putting together a Barbarian Lord collection for sometime next year. Barbarian Lord is my direct tribute to the Icelandic Sagas (along with He-Man and Conan) and after an initial graphic novel release, I made a handful of self-published short story issues I brought around to local cons. I’m gathering those up, finishing an incomplete story and adding a bit of brand new stuff. Full of talking birds, lost swords and grim, poetry-spouting barbarians. It’s a totally self-indulgent affair that I make for myself. As rewarding as collaboration can be, I’ve found I have to put in some time with personal projects now and then to keep energized for the freelance long game. File under self-care (with trolls). If other people dig this type of thing then that’s also cool.