A List for 2009 – The Troll Witch

Mike Mignola has been creating something remarkable with his Hellboy series of comics for over a decade now.  For me, his short The Troll Witch is a perfect ten-page distillation of what makes Hellboy so special.  I read it for the first time this year, in the compilation of shorts The Troll Witch and Others, which is the 8th compiled volume in the Hellboy series.  But even if you’ve never read any Hellboy, you can read The Troll Witch itself on Dark Horse’s website, where they’re using it as a sampler for the wider volume.  You don’t need to have read any of the other volumes to enjoy it, as it stands alone perfectly (although I would of course recommend reading the rest regardless).

I love Hellboy because it synthesises folklore with old-fashioned adventure and an over-arching theme that champions free thought and feeling whatever the cost.  The Troll Witch contains all the usual humour and beautiful artwork.  If you’ve not seen Mignola’s art before, you’re in for a treat.  He uses dense areas of black ink as a kind of horror pop art.  You’ll see for yourself.

The Troll Witch is based on a Norwegian fairy story, presumably Tatterhood, which D. L. Ashliman has a version of on his fantastic site.  Mignola’s account of it has a sad, splendid feel, thanks mostly to the dignified but melancholy witch of the title, who relates the fairy tale back to Hellboy.  Hellboy, meanwhile, simply smokes a cigarette and contemplates the story.  And that’s that.  A little masterpiece of composition.