The pandemic has been a lot of things for a lot of people, a lot of them bad to varying degrees. Every so often though you do hear about good things people have found within the mess that has been the past two years. People have found new hobbies, taken time to follow new passions, and changed career paths. They’ve found new ways to maintain relationships and cherished the ones they had more. A 2021 Pew research poll found that some appreciated the “mandatory relaxation” and slowdown of life that the pandemic brought on. While the positives by no means outweighed the negatives, it was good to see that they were at least there.
In a way I have the pandemic to thank for getting this book into my hands. Hellboy artist Mike Mignola has been winding down the character for a while and has been toying with a number of small projects. One of them has been a “pandemic sketchbook”, a publication of drawings he did primarily for fun and sent out via Twitter to his followers. It was – and continues to be – just a lot of fun, random stuff: life sketches, skulls with fish, a lizard in a tuxedo. Sales of the book though ended up raising over half a million dollars for pandemic victims. One of the sketches, titled “radio spaceman”, really caught on. Fans started asking for stories about the character, and while Mignola had no plans or ideas for stories, they started to come to him anyway.
In an interview with Polygon, he said that there was no intention to try and come up with a new character or concept. He said “I just happened to do one of those drawings and wrote ‘Radio Spaceman’ on it. It was kind of like when I made up Hellboy: There was no thought that went into it, I just thought, ‘Oh, these are a funny two words to put together.’ “
This should tell you something about this comic. It is, first and foremost, fun. Its weird 50’s low budget sci-fi aesthetic is felt on every page, from the Spaceman’s goofy space suit to the engineers with light bulbs on their heads to the damsel in distress shouting “Radio Spaceman!” when she catches sight of her rescuer. The nods to old serials like Buck Rogers and Commando Cody are everywhere, as is Mignola’s quirky style. And to borrow a meme, it’s got everything: space vampires, bears with lasers, an alien temple to a frog god.
While Mignola didn’t do the interior art for the two issue series, he collaborated very closely with artist Greg Hinkle and long-time collaborator Dave Stewart. Hinkle took the odd character and ran with it, keeping it odd by offering no explanations for anything and keeping the dialogue to a bare minimum. Yet it’s precisely that oddity and weirdness that draw you in to the writing. It is, to quote Mignola again, “just a parade of fun things”. In that way it’s the polar opposite of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men run. There’s no sense of grand design or long-term plans, no history shattering revelations, not even its own alphabet. Heck this is a two issue series, which again makes it feel like an old serial where you’re left with a cliffhanger that will somehow get all wrapped up next time.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t even plan on getting this comic when I picked it up. I had hoped to get my run of Immortal X-Men started but found it, and several other issues I was planning on, already out at my local shop. So while perusing the shelves I saw this obvious Mike Mignola cover of a floating skull in a retro spacesuit with lots of wires and tubes and thought “well THAT looks like fun!”.
I can be a massive overplanner at times. It comes from my fear of making a mistake or doing the wrong thing. Yet I find that I have the most fun when I’m rolling with whatever creative idea is being tossed at me. In the game I GM for my son, what I enjoy most is when my players use their creativity to do something that may not be logical or wise but is most definitely cool. In those cases, I toss my painstakingly crafted backstory to the side and let the parade of fun things roll.
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