Hellboy's first appearance has been up for discussion for years, especially since last year's sale of a rare pamphlet for $5,000 and the discovery of an early Hellboy appearance not previously known to exist. Since then, I’ve frequently gotten the question “What’s Hellboy’s real first appearance?” I thought it was finally time to do a breakdown of all early published images of this character.
It all starts in 1991, when there was a small comic convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. At this convention, attendees were given a pamphlet – “Great Salt Lake Comic Convention '91". In this pamphlet, every artist that attended was given a short biography with an image of an iconic character they were known for at that time. Page 12 is Mike Mignola's. Back then Mignola was known for his work on Batman, Cosmic Odyssey, and Rocket Raccoon, but to the left of his bio we have a never-before-seen character. This new character looked like a demon, with four horns (two are horn stumps), wings, and a tail. While this vaguely resembles the lovable monster we know today, this devilish-looking creature wore a belt buckle with the words "Hell Boy."
The next time we see a similar-looking character is on the cover of an Italian book called Dime Press #4, published in May/June 1993. (The book is dated May of 1993, but according to the company, it didn't make print until June.) For those unaware, Dime Press is an independent Italian Fanzine published through Bonelli Studios. By this time, Mike has refined the original creature "Hell Boy," we saw a few years earlier. This newer version has two horn stumps, a tail, and has a right hand that looks like it was made from stone. This hand would stay, and later become known as the "Right Hand of Doom." We also get a glimpse of a symbol on his chest that resembles the B.P.R.D logo. This version of the character was colored gray instead of his classic red.
Fun Fact: The original cover art was never meant to be published. In February of 1993, Mignola attended an exhibition in Italy. At this exhibition was a dinner for artists, writers, and members of Bonelli Studios. Italian artist Nicolo Mari was also an attendee at this dinner. At some point that evening, Mari and Mignola did a collaboration and drew the image we know today. This would then be gifted to the host of the event as a thank you present. To Mignola's surprise, months later, it became a published cover.
Now we get to San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993). From this convention comic we get a four-page black and white story called "Hellboy: World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator." We finally see the modern-looking Hellboy we know today. Two horn stubs, a stone right hand, a tail, and now the iconic trench coat.
Lastly, we have John Byrne's Next Men #21 (December 1993). This depicts a red Hellboy on the cover, along with him being shown on multiple interior pages. This is the first time we see Hellboy in color in a story.
Now that we have all four book appearances in order, what is the controversy? According to Mike Mignola, the pamphlet appearance is the earliest version of Hellboy, and the first time the name was used. Mike has always enjoyed drawing monsters, and when asked to draw something for the pamphlet, this is what came to mind. When he finished the drawing there was a blank space on the belt buckle, and he thought the name "Hell Boy" would fit perfectly and was just a hilarious name for the character. Though many Hellboy fans, along with Mike, consider this the first appearance of Hellboy there is also dissent as he doesn’t resemble our Hellboy of today. This brings us to Dime Press #4. Here we have a modern-looking gray Hellboy on the cover of a book that he isn't in. Many comic collectors considered this a prototype, and since he isn't depicted in the book, this appearance shouldn't count. Now we get to the appearance that most seem to accept as his first full appearance: San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 has Hellboy on four pages; he has the modern look we recognize today, he has dialog, and by the title, we know who he is. All major grading companies agree that this is Hellboy's first full appearance. Lastly, some collectors will argue that Next Men #21 is his actual full first appearance, since this is the first time we see him in color. Most have written this off as a second appearance but agree it’s his first appearance in color. CGC and CBCS agree with the majority and note their labels as such. We've seen similar controversy with other books in the past, and it always comes down to what people consider an appearance, cameo, or ad.
Now that we have the 4 most prominent books out of the way, let’s shake some things up and fast-forward to a week after the 1991 pamphlet sale in 2019. With that breaking news, Topher over at CBSI (Comic Book Speculation and Investing) broke the news of a new 1st appearance of Hellboy in John Byrne's Next Men #14 (April 1993). In this issue, there is a panel with a red poster in the background depicting Hellboy. We can see a bust of Hellboy with the name being spelled out. This was very controversial right out of the gate, but the news around it seems to have fizzled out over time. While it is technically the first red-colored Hellboy anyone knows of, and the first time Hellboy is shown in a comic book, it's obscure and barely an image that few collectors recognize. That being said, it’s still a part of Hellboy’s history and a fun nod to the upcoming project Byrne and Mignola would do in months to come.
This brings us to our last two published images that aren't books. The first is the 1993 Freedonia Funnyworks 10th Anniversary card set (May/June 1993). This is another modern-looking Hellboy with two horn stubs, a stone right hand, and a tail. He even has a vulture on his shoulder as a callback to the 1991 pamphlet drawing. Since we can’t confirm the release date currently, it may predate Dime Press #4. The other image is from the first Hellboy promo poster. This is a more refined take on the card image, but this time, Hellboy dons the famous trenchcoat for the first time and is colored correctly. This image was released sometime in the summer (June or July) of 1993, predating Next Men #21 by several months.
So here we are: seven first appearances for Hellboy. So what’s his true first? It's a tricky question and will always be hard to decide. You can argue valid points on all of them depending on where you draw the line or what rules you follow. For you, does it come down to a character being on more than one panel, having dialog, an origin story, being named, having interactions with other characters, being their final version, their first published image, etc.? Also, who has the authority to dictate the ruling? Is it the grading company, the publisher, the creator, or the market? To me, the “True First” appearance will always be the pamphlet. Although it’s a prototype/pinup, it’s the first time we see a version of Hellboy, and the image the creator says is first. However, ultimately, you, the community, will decide Hellboy's fate.
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