- Hellboy’s World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins by Scott Bukatman
by Scott Bukatman. University of California Press.
2016. $60 hardcover; $19.92 paper; $18.92 e-book. 280pages.
Before settling in to read Scott Bukatman’s Hellboy’s World: Comics and Monsters on the Margins, I took time—perhaps a little too much time—to admire the glorious, and gloriously reproduced, images contained within it. And, having now read the book, I don’t think Scott Bukatman would have minded that digression at all.
Hellboy’s World is a lovely object. The soft-touch matte cover feels luxurious in the hand, much like actual Hellboy trades. Its roughly A5 pamphlet size makes it easy to hold, and it is crammed with full-color images, which often take up double-page spreads. Congratulations to the editorial folks at the University of California Press who supported the inclusion of so many images, and of course to Mike Mignola, who allowed his artwork to appear so profusely throughout the text. Other academic publishers should take note.
It is fitting to open this review with a description of the material book itself, as this is a central aspect of Bukatman’s treatise. Hellboy’s World is at its heart a book about “bookishness” (“codicological consciousness”) and is concerned with the “changing status” of books in an increasingly digitized world.1 Bukatman argues that comic books—in their form, materiality, and marginality—are just as monstrous, or [End Page 160] disruptive, as the characters appearing within the pages of a Hellboy comic book. Bukatman is interested here in exploring the raw power of words, images, books, and reading. Descriptions denoting Bukatman’s, Mignola’s (“undeniably, a book guy”), and Hellboy’s bibliophilia abound.2 Mignola even says that his parting gift to Hellboy may well be to leave him in a library. In so doing, Bukatman—consciously or not, and not unproblematically—sets about privileging the book, and comic book, as material object. This motif recurs throughout the entire text.
Hellboy’s World is not an intimidating book in either its materiality or its content. And to start with, it is perhaps easier to say what Hellboy’s World is not. It is not an extensive critical study of Hellboy or a close, detailed textual analysis. Similarly, it is not a treatise on comics form and functionalism. It is not an aca-fan’s account of a beloved fan object (critical and/or celebratory), or even an auteur study. But it does contain elements of all, and much like Hellboy himself, Bukatman’s analysis—when we do see it—certainly packs a punch. What we are offered here is a lovingly written insight not only into the makings of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy but also into the adventure of reading it, of entering into Hellboy’s world. As Bukatman himself states, “Beyond celebrating Hellboy . . . the real purpose of Hellboy’s World is to open up new ways of understanding the experience of reading comics, using the work of Mike Mignola as its primary case study.”3
Bukatman opens his discussion with an evocation of an act of reading—Walter Benjamin’s “One-Way Street”—returning to its images and ideas time and again.4 Bukatman adeptly uses this account to draw out the themes he wishes to pursue: the power of books as material objects; the affective pleasure of reading, and the reciprocal relations between reader and text; the play—or as he imagines it, the “adventure”—of reading, and in this case, of reading Hellboy comic books. Bukatman draws from an extensive, yet perhaps not surprising, range of sources and media approaches. Alongside interspersed details from a clearly relished meeting with Mignola, we are exposed to theories and ideas from the worlds of painting and sculpture, film, children’s books, graphic design, and medieval manuscripts. For all this, however, this is not an overly theoretical book, and Bukatman manages throughout to balance fannish lightness and theoretical shade.
Hellboy’s World is divided into five chapters: the first two are concerned with Mignola’s characterization and world building, with...