The adventures of Lord Henry Baltimore head in a new direction this spring as the latest miniseries, ‘The Cult of the Red King’, will be the first story arc to take place beyond the time frame of the original Baltimore novel, co-written by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden.
Baltimore tells the story of a man on a mission to kill the Red King and free post-war Europe from the plague of vampires he set upon it. The protagonist has fought his way through bloody battlefields, ruined plague ships, exploding Zeppelins, and submarine graveyards on the hunt for the one creature who has become his obsession.
Now, with ‘The Cult of the Red King’ due to come out from Dark Horse Comics on May 4, and the original Baltimore illustrated novel coming out in softcover for the first time in July, co-author Christopher Golden joins us to discuss the origin of the character, his time collaborating with Mike Mignola, and what the future holds for Lord Baltimore.
How did you and Mike come to work together on Baltimore, and why did you choose to begin with an illustrated novel instead of a comic?
We’re very different people, but we have a certain shared viewpoint and our frames of reference and interests overlap a lot. Eventually I suggested to him that he do prose back-up stories in Hellboy, like Marvel used to include in their black-and-white horror magazines in the seventies, and he said, “I suppose you want to write them.” Of course I did!
I sent him my first novel, Of Saints and Shadows, and pretty soon plans were made for me to write the first ever Hellboy novel, The Lost Army. We’ve been friends ever since, and worked together on a lot of different projects over the years.
For a long time, whenever we’d talk, he’d bring up what he called his “vampire graphic novel.” That went on for ages, until one day he called me and said he realized he’d never get around to drawing it and did I want to write it as a novel, with him doing profuse illustrations for the book. Of course I did, and together we fashioned an outline for it and that became the novel Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, which will be released in paperback for the first time in May.
The best thing about working with Mike is that there’s a certain sense of liberty that comes along with it, the idea that not everything has to have an explanation, that things can happen because they do. That a shadow-bird can emerge from the skull of a dead vampire and that’s just the way it is. I like that very much.
That illustrated novel’s alternate title, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, comes from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Steadfast Tin Soldier. What was the connection between this tale and Baltimore?
Ah, well, you really ought to read it to understand. The Steadfast Tin Soldier is a story that Baltimore read over and over when he was a little boy and was quite ill. Both plot-wise and thematically, it deeply informs the events of his life as told in the novel.
After the novel was released, you and Mignola turned to comics to release a few Baltimore mini-series. What was your motivation for that, and why use the comic-book medium this time?
In the novel, there is a period of some years during which Baltimore is out hunting vampires and combating the supernatural, and the reader learns nothing of what happens to him in that time except that it is transformative.
We’d always talked in a very general way about doing a sequel to the novel, but also about doing comics, and that if we were going to do comics they would fill in some of that gap time, which is what we did with the first four volumes of the series. In volume five, ‘The Apostle and the Witch of Harju’, we shift the series from being mainly a solo tale to what is essentially a team book.
This new Baltimore series, ‘The Cult of the Red King’, is the first storyline to take place after the events of the original novel. Had you always known that you wanted to take the story this far, or was it something you arrived at after completing the earlier adventures?
Volume five built the new status quo, putting all of the pieces in place for us to move into what was always the second part of the plan: the “sequel”.
When we wrote the novel, we had certain ideas about what might be in a sequel, but over the years we’ve been doing the comics the elements of the story-that-comes-after-the-novel have changed dramatically. We didn’t really have an idea of how long we might go on, how many arcs or issues we might do. Really, we could have told these stories forever.
But one day, while I was just idly thinking about the series, I started to jot down some notes about what would happen in volume six – what became The Cult of the Red King – and then I knew how and when it would all have to end.
I called Mike and told him what I had in mind, which characters would have to die and what would become of Baltimore, how many volumes were remaining, and he responded more positively to that than to almost anything else I’ve ever come up with. It just felt right. We’ve been building to something all along, and suddenly we knew how that something would unfold and just how much it would all hurt.
What would you say separates Lord Baltimore from other vampire hunters we see in comics and movies?
Baltimore’s not a hero, he’s a pawn. First he was a doomed man – a cursed, grim bastard just out for vengeance. Now he’s just as doomed, damned really, because he understands that through no real fault of his own he has been chosen by whatever Higher Power there might be to stand against the evil of the Red King, the god before gods.
It’s not a responsibility he wants – once he had his vengeance, he only wanted to die – but now that he sees that he cannot die until he has fulfilled his purpose (and maybe not even then), he has set himself to the task.
He’s a darker character (but with a greater purpose and a grimmer fate) than any vampire hunter I can remember, and his story is much bigger than just killing vampires. We’re barely seeing vampires in the story any more, partly because he’s killed so many of the strongest and oldest of them.
How far out do you see the adventures of Lord Baltimore continuing? Do you think you will do many more miniseries after this one, or is a final ending in sight?
I’ve said all I can on that score. You’ll just have to keep reading!