The Sleeping and the Dead is classic Hellboy and I’m not just referring to the time period in which the adventure unfolds. Hellboy works because Mike Mignola adheres to a traditional storytelling paradigm. The Sleeping and the Dead could have been related over brandy and a fire crackling in the hearth of a village pub.
Hellboy investigates the sleeping sickness that manifests at a Suffolk inn. He finds a vampire visitor. Taking care of the bloodsucker is rather easy for an expert monster hunter like Big Red, but unforeseen circumstances force Hellboy to engage in a longer foray.
When I heard Scott Hampton would be illustrating this previously undisclosed Hellboy escapade, I harbored a few doubts. Hampton’s artwork is somewhat antithetical to Mignola’s images. Whereas Mignola operates with sharp angles and crisp, consuming shadows, Hampton harnesses softness and sensuality with charcoals fading to grays. However, Hampton’s work is as always remarkable.
Hampton’s depiction of the ghostly pale vampire shifting from ethereal maid to bone white bat must be singled out as the final beautiful gasp of the dark fantastic for 2010. It came as a surprise to me that regular colorist Dave Stewart plied his trade for The Sleeping and the Dead. That’s because it looks as though Hampton himself painted the entirety. Stewart mutes his vivid hues to mimic the choices of the artist. As a result, you can mistake the final product as a pure Scott Hampton watercolor.
Hellboy’s visual design presents even greater unexpected delights. Hampton employs Mignola’s original model as a skeleton on which to hang a more organic musculature. He rounds Big Red’s angles ever so slightly and creates the illusion of an underlying bone structure, yet Hellboy is clearly one of the weirdest things that Hampton has drawn. He’s alien to the lush worlds that Hampton created and because Hellboy stands out his oddness reminds readers of Mignola’s themes.
Mignola crafts a backdrop that’s as chilly as the keen of a banshee and then he tosses a spanner into the folk tale. That spanner is Hellboy and he stands out like a proverbial thumb, bright red from the impact, and stubbornly colloquial to contrast the surrounding poetry.