Matt Smith Breaks Down Hellboy’s Holiday Showdown with the Yule Cat
Dark Horse Comics is treating readers to another special holiday gift with the release of the annual Hellboy Winter Special. This year’s edition, titled Hellboy Winter Special: The Yule Cat, is a one-shot written and illustrated by acclaimed cartoonist Matt Smith, with colors by Chris O’Halloran and lettering by Clem Robins. The special issue features a beautiful variant cover created by the legendary Hellboy creator himself, Mike Mignola.
Inspired by the Icelandic folklore surrounding Jólakötturinn, the fearsome Yule Cat, the one-shot is set in Iceland. It takes place in 1990, just before the events of Hellboy: Bones of Giants, where Hellboy, ever aware of the wrath of the ancient Norse giants, encounters a new and peculiar threat – a giant, child-eating cat.
For the first time in Hellboy’s 30+ year publication history, he embarks on a captivating adventure in Iceland. As children go missing and reports of a massive creature spread throughout Reykjavik, Hellboy sets out to investigate. Could it be that the notorious Yule Cat of Icelandic lore has made its presence known?
Matt Smith, the talented creator of Barbarian Lord, brings Iceland’s rich mythology to life in this holiday-themed story. Smith joined us to talk about the upcoming winter special arriving at your favorite local comic shop on December 6, 2023. Check out the full interview below:
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me for Geek Network, Matt. Let’s start with your origin story! How did you start in comics? How did you go from your first-ever comic page to the beloved series?
MS: Thank you! I think the short answer to that question is I got an email from Mike some years back asking if I’d want to work on a one-shot Hellboy issue featuring an old werewolf hunter. This turned out to be Long Night at Goloski Station. The longer answer is that years back I started up a comic in my free time that would cram in everything I loved.
An antidote to a long run of freelance work completely unrelated to my interests. The result was a tribute to the Icelandic Sagas with heavy inspiration from He-man, Conan, Bone, and of course Hellboy. This was Barbarian Lord. The way I think it went down is that Dan Brereton (Nocturnals) saw it online and asked if he could send some of the books to his friends. One of these friends was Walt Simonson, who very kindly mentioned reading it online and I think that’s where Mike would have heard of it and how I would have eventually gotten that email.
There were some other projects I worked on in between, but I think that’s how it went down. I’m still kind of stunned about it all. To get that email from Dan in the first place was really something. I love the Nocturnals. And now we’ve eaten pizza together and talked about monster movies. I’m putting a Conan story record in the mail for him later today. Surprise, Dan!
This being your first Hellboy Winter Special, how absolutely stoked are you to put out such a book?
MS: It’s pretty exciting. A little daunting, maybe, but yeah, great. I’ve been a fan of Hellboy since Wake the Devil #1 came out and have been with it since. On one hand, it’s 20 pages. No big deal. A tiny sliver in Hellboy’s epic story. But by the same token, it is a point in his life. Late December of 1990. So to me, it feels like a big thing, to be given the green light by Mike to put that point on the Hellboy map and make a Hellboy story I’d want to read, hopefully that any Hellboy fan would.
Where did The Yule Cat storyline come from?
MS: It would be a little time between getting that initial email from Mike and getting the script for Goloski Station but I figured I could still prepare for it by sketching Hellboy. For some reason, instead of focusing on Hellboy in various poses, which probably would have been smart, I started working out a loose story. This became a half dozen of sketched comic pages of Hellboy meeting a folklorist in Reykjavik and confronting the cat.
I didn’t write a script but sketched in the dialogue as I went. It turned out to be a fun way to make sure I tried drawing him at different angles and sizes by placing him in scenes and having him interact with other characters. Later I showed Mike these sketched pages and he surprised me by saying I should finish it up and some home could be found for it.
Not only are you the writer, but the artist AND cover artist. I assume you’re an absolute mad lad and a glutton for punishment but what drove you to take that much creative control over nearly the whole book (shout out to Chris O’Halloran for the amazing colors)?
MS: Ha! I’ve been known to eat frozen food directly out of my freezer in a horrific mixture of laziness and dental abuse, so, guilty as charged I guess. I’ve been lucky to be part of a few great collaborations at this point, including working with Christopher Golden on a pair of Hellboy series. I learned a lot from these experiences and they’ve been invaluable. I hope to have more of them. It was definitely cool to have to opportunity to write for myself again, though.
I would guess most comic creators had a point when they were handling everything for a story even if it goes way back to their first crayon-scrawled efforts. It takes more time, of course, but can be seriously rewarding. Like anything else you might try, you also find renewed respect for people who do it well. This segues nicely into Chris O’Halloran. Having had a go at coloring my own comics in the past, I’ve a heavy respect for great colorists.
I’m really glad he was available for this one. He gave it the exact look I was hoping for. And now I hear he’s working with Peter Bergting, absolutely one of my favorite artists, on Mortal Terror, written by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. You know that’s going to rule.
With the book being a one-shot, how much pressure was there to put the WHOLE story into a nice and tidy package? Were any plot points sacrificed for the sake of the book as a whole? Any sacrificed plot points we might see in future books?
MS: Well, when the idea was first brought up to take those sketched pages and make something of them, it was for a shorter story. Possibly to run as part of a winter issue or at one point as a bonus short in the back of The Bones of Giants as it does have a connection there. Later it became a full issue and so I gained space to work in some new ideas I am pretty happy about.
There wasn’t a lot of cutting, really. There was an earlier draft of the story and plot points were removed/changed, some of which I liked but ended up liking the new ones more. I mean, there’s a ton of great Hellboy stories that could be told in Iceland alone. Picking one was the hard part. Look up Necropants if you’re not already familiar!
Where can people find your work, and get updates on future projects?
MS: I’m fairly active as Barbarian Lord on Instagram and have a rarely updated website http://matt-illustrations.com/.
Finally, what didn’t I ask? What do you think people should know about The Yule Cat, you as an individual, or you as a creative force?
MS: They should also know the Yule Cat is big and if it wants to eat you, which it might, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. You might as well just say to yourself, in the few frenzied and horrible moments you have before the darkness closes in, “I got to see the Yule Cat,” and be good with it, knowing you’re one of relative few. There’s only one Yule Cat after all. It’s a way better ending than walking into an open manhole because you’re reading your phone or something.
I’m realizing now you probably meant the issue. Ha. I stand by what I wrote, though.
As for me, I just like fun stories, whether they are in comic, movie, or music form. Sometimes I get motivated to make one or help make one. There are a few right now in various stages. Time is always the main issue. Eating frozen food out of the freezer saves time.
Do I know Sabrina? Sabrina…Sabrina….Oh, you mean her? Yeahh. She’s wild. Homegirl throws solo dance parties in her bedroom. She writes like nobody’s reading…because they aren’t (yet). She is an award winning baker, and has seen every episode of every season of ALL the Star Treks, and Stargates except Stargate Universe because it wasn’t right. Perpetual teenager. 4’11 of sass and sarcasm. She’s obsessed with cats. Single if you can believe it. All around nerd, and just too weird for her own good. AND SHE’S PROUD OF IT?