Writer and artist Matt Smith spoke with us about some of his inspirations behind Dark Horse Comics’ upcoming Hellboy Winter Special: The Yule Cat, and told us about some of his connections to the land of fire and ice!

About the issue (from Dark Horse):
Hellboy travels to Reykjavik, where children are disappearing and a giant beast has been spotted . . . could it be the infamous Yule Cat of Icelandic lore?

Fan-favorite Hellboy artist Matt Smith writes and draws this chilling wintery one-shot!

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MONKEYS FIGHTING ROBOTS: I actually just moved to Reykjavik about 4 months ago. So opening this issue and seeing Hallgrimskirkja with the statue of Leif Erikson out the front was amazing. I’ve been past it a hundred times, the design of the church is so cool. I have a couple of questions about that:

A. What did research look like for getting the panels set in Reykjavik just right? Did you visit or was it mostly online work?

MATT SMITH: First off, I am seriously jealous and when can I visit? Ha. Secondly, I’ll take
that as a good sign that you think they look right! I went over a few years back and took some ungodly amount of photos. At the time I thought I might get some landscape reference for an Icelandic Saga adaptation I’m hoping to do someday and didn’t know I’d be getting to Hellboy in the city first!

B. Do you have any connection to Iceland? You definitely seem to know it well!

SMITH: It started over a fascination with the Sagas. Later, I felt more connected by getting there and taking in the scenery, seeing some of the places the Sagas were set, visiting (I think) every Saga related museum and also meeting a fellow Hellboy fan there who’s become a great friend.

MFR: The Yule Cat was actually a folk story I heard when I first arrived, along with the 13 or so “Santas” or Christmas trolls that make visits to your house in the advent season. They make a brief appearance in this story too. It was subtle but I loved it. The Yule Cat – or jölakötturinn – eats children who don’t get new clothes for Christmas. I think if I didn’t live here, I would assume it was something made up for the story. What attracted you to a story like this?

SMITH: I knew I wanted to set the story in Iceland. After that it was a matter of finding a reason for [Hellboy] to be there. The Yule Cat is specifically Icelandic and also it’s a giant cat, which is hard to pass up on. I did play with the folklore a bit. I wanted for Hellboy to have a version of the Yule Cat specific to his world. I also like stories that give you the “grim reality” behind the fables and children’s stories so this leaned a bit in that direction.

Troll Hunter comes to mind immediately. Through the work of the title character you find out which aspects of troll lore and children’s tales hold true in the real troll world of the film. Also, films like The Thirteenth Warrior and Beowulf and Grendel, both giving you a take on the “actual events” that led to the epic poem. I especially liked a scene in Beowulf and Grendel, seeing one of Beowulf’s crew working out the poem on the trip home, depicting the first oral telling of the story to be retold and revised for 500 years or so before being written down.

MFR: How do you feel the Yule Cat compares to other folk stories around Christmas time? Are there any others you’d like to adapt or see adapted for future Winter Specials?

SMITH: The Yule Cat of children’s stories is a lot of fun. It’s a giant, menacing, animal. Who doesn’t love those? Ghost stories are a classic for Christmas time. Icelandic ghosts from the Sagas are a very particular kind of ghost and there are some fantastic — and hilarious — stories about getting rid of them. Not that things need to stay in Iceland, but they could. Maybe they should. Shouldn’t they? Let me stop you right there, yes. Absolutely they should.

MFR: Norse mythology has always been a part of the DNA of Hellboy stories. You also drew The Bones of Giants, another Norse-infused Hellboy story. How did researching these stories affect you? How did it affect your art?

SMITH: Well, the credit goes to Mike and to Christopher Golden there. Their interest and
research led to Bones of Giants. I will say that I’ve been a fan of Norse Mythology since only the All-father remembers and is territory I’d imagined for a long time. When the opportunity came up to work with both it and Hellboy, I was very much ready. I suppose it affected my art in just that I was offered an assignment I didn’t even know I could hope for. “I can draw a Hellboy series and there will be elves and dwarves?”

MFR: There’s this wonderful interplay between the ancient myths of the Aesir – the Norse gods – and the modern day folk stories that parents tell their children (I love the moment of the little girl warning Hellboy to wear new clothes). Myths affect the stories we tell today. What’s your favorite myth, of any mythology?

SMITH: Oh boy. Someone asked me for my favorite film earlier today and no matter how many times you get asked that, it never gets easier. It’s like a favorite song. There’s one that suits you for one mood or works on different levels at different points in your life. I’ve spent the most time with Norse mythology but the thing that set it all off were the Greek myths.

I had this book as a little kid and I’d read and reread it. This was a first exposure to a set of related myths and I got pretty lost in it. The idea of a world existing with these gods, heroes, and monsters was absorbing. I imagine half-mortal characters like Heracles and Perseus set me up for taking to Hellboy as strongly as I did. Sure, it was the incredible art spooky vibes that hooked me but then those classic mythological echoes sealed the deal. So, is this me not really answering your question? I would if I could.

Thanks again to Matt Smith for taking the time to chat with us. If you like spooky Christmas folktales and giant cats, you definitely don’t want to miss this amazing one-shot. Hellboy Winter Special: The Yule Cat is in comic book shops today and it’s simply dripping with festive scares!

Zac Owens
Zac Owens
I'm a world traveler. I've lived in Australia, Canada, Tanzania, Kenya, and the United States. I studied theology in Switzerland and did humanitarian work in Egypt. I first got into the medium through DC Comics, but now I read everything under the sun. Some of my favorite works include HELLBOY, FRIDAY, ON A SUNBEAM and THE GOON. I currently live in Reykjavik, Iceland. That is, until my Green Lantern ring comes in...