The Evolution of the design of Abe Sapien


Its really an ape.

Its an ape actually.

Hellboy is a comic and character created, owned, written and the originally illustrated by Mike Mignola and distributed through the company Darkhorse. The book revolves around the titular Hellboy, a demon summoned by the mad monk Rasputin for the Nazi’s in order to-

Ok, for your information, I do realize how this sounds.

However, he is saved by the paranormal expert Professor Bruttenholm (pronounced broom), and is raised as a normal human child. He’s a normal guy tapped in a monsters body (think Die Hard’s John McClain with horns) with a destiny (to destroy the world, and all that jazz) he doesn’t want.

However what I want to talk about today is a supporting character, Abraham Sapien, Abe for short. Abe is mysterious Half-man, half-fish creature found in a suspended animation tube underneath a Washington state hospital in the mid sixties.

What I want to discuss today is the evolution of Abe as a character in the series and into the spinoff series BPRD, the government organization Hellboy and Abe work at. If we look at how Mingnola originally drew Abe, we can see several similarities to Hellboy, both in body type and in costume. While Abe is shorter and slightly slimmer than Hellboy, he still has the same stocky torso and thick limbs. Costume wise he wears the same shorts and harness, with the same aversion to shirts.

The backstory here is...long

Mingnola's version of Abe.

This illustrates the largest problem with Abe’s character during the early issues, he basically Hellboy, except he swims. However two important events took place for the series, the two Hellboy movies and the previously mentioned BPRD.

Doug Jones as Abe in "Hellboy"

While it came later, lets look at the movies first. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro and released in 2004, the movie reinvents Abe with psychic powers as well as a more humorous personality. He is played by the almost continuously disguised by make up effects Doug Jones. The comedic aspect fits well with the rest of the movie, which focused on the lighter side of the material (as long as the lovcraftian horrors). Beyond developing Abe a unique personality, he also gets a new character design. The fish aspects have been played up, web fingers, fish like eyes, and etc. However the most important aspect is the “psychic” element. It gives Abe a distinct ability other then “the guy who swims” and creates new opportunities for the character.

One of the few images where he doesn't have a cigar

Abe by Guy Davis

However this version of Abe would stay squarely in the film world. He evolved in a completely different way in the comics, one that did not evolve any new powers. Instead, he changed by be given a new set of responsibilities as a character. In Conquer Worm, the fifth volume of Hellboy, Hellboy leaves the BPRD leaves due to personal reasons. This event leads to the launch of BPRD, which focuses on the team Hellboy left behind. This makes Abe a leader character as opposed to the follower he was before. I should also mention the original artist of the series, who drew the book for ten years. Davis’ art style was completely different then Mingnola’s as was his interpretation of Abe. He made Abe significantly slimmer, and a more militaristic costume, which fit well into his leader role. Personally, Davis’ Abe has always been my favorite version of Abe, a serene looking, but troubled character who hides his emotions.

Abe is interesting to me because he shows multiple ways how to evolve a character design. Whether it be adding new abilities or new responsibilities.


About scb1553

I am currently a Graphic Design student studying at ULL. The point of this blog is to examine design decisions of things I like.
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