In a story that’s been years in the making, writer-artist Matt Smith is bringing this year’s Hellboy Winter Special to Iceland. Focused on the Yule Cat, a folktale that Icelanders have told stories about since the 1800s, Smith fully utilizes this novel yuletide monster in the new special, which is due out on December 6 from Dark Horse Comics.

Hellboy is clearly no slouch when it comes to fighting monsters, especially when it comes to the annual Winter Special. Still, something as beastly as the Yule Cat could be too much even for him (likely given the wily, unpredictable nature of a massive snow cat). Ultimately, though, it makes for a fun one-shot, especially because the Yule Cat is so underrepresented in modern pop culture/media.

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To get a better understanding of this compelling holiday tale, I got to ask Smith a few questions. We dug into the folklore of the Yule Cat, discussed his thoughts on Hellboy history, and I even asked him who would win in a fight: Krampus or Yule Cat. You just might be surprised by his answer!

AIPT: To start, how long has the Winter Special been in the works? I’m always fascinated when I learn holiday specials that feel so icy and cold are sometimes created in the dead heat of summer!

Matt Smith: It’s been in the works for a few years. It started out not being for an issue at all but as a way to prepare for my first Hellboy outing, Long Night at Goloski Station. So that goes back to at least early 2019. Mike had contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in working on a Hellboy short and I was so quick to say yes, I hadn’t thought about whether I could actually pull it off.

To calm my nerves, I drummed up a loose story idea and started sketching pages, roughing in loose dialogue as I went. It was a fun way to see if I could place Hellboy in scenes and in action. When I showed these to Mike, he surprised me by saying something along the lines of, “Finish that up, and let’s run it somewhere.” It then sat on the back burner, as shortly after I got to work with him and Christopher Golden on Bones of Giants and Hellboy in Love, but I never forgot about it.

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: Hellboy history is vast. Did it take some work to figure out that 1990 was the right time to set this story?

MS: The story connects to Bones of Giants, so my first thought was to place it in the immediate winter following, which would have been 1989.  A quick look-up reminded me that’s when the events of A Christmas Underground take place. I could have ended the issue with him getting a call to head to England but I liked the idea better of giving it its own year.

1990 was close enough to me to feel like the events of Bones could still resonate in Hellboy’s life and the world up north. I don’t state it explicitly in the book, but why is the Yule Cat of Folklore back in action, stalking the countryside and streets of Reykjavik? Could it have something to do with forces unleashed in Sweden in 1988? I don’t think it’s necessary for the story to say it concretely one way or another, only the cat knows for sure.

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: The Yule Cat is largely unknown to Americans, at least ones I know. Have you wanted to use this myth in a story for a while?

MS: Iceland, more specifically the old “Family Sagas,” have been at the heart of my working in comics from the start. Barbarian Lord was meant to be a tribute to the grim, unvarnished tone of them and I just love the history, folklore, and of course the landscapes of the country in general. It seemed natural that Hellboy would find his way there at some point.

Given the fantastic range of its history and folklore, there were all sorts of stories he could get into in Iceland, but I had to settle on one—mostly. (I found a way to bring in a couple more elements)  You really can’t go wrong with a giant cat, though. I think that’s universally appealing/horrifying.

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: The special ties into a few Hellboy stories. Were these always intended to be touched upon or added as you started outlining things?

MS: The connection to Bones of Giants was central from the start when it was just a sketching exercise that no one was going to see. When Mike first saw the sketch pages and thought maybe they could run in a collection of some kind, his one concern was it referenced Bones of Giants, the novel, which hadn’t been adapted to comics yet. The world of Hellboy comics exists in itself and doesn’t tend to directly reference events told in other forms of media. The solution would have been some kind of text preface to the short story. Luckily, the way things turned out, I got to work on the Bones adaptation before coming back around to the Yule Cat story. The other connections came after sitting down to work out a script and figure out where it sat in Hellboy’s life.

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: Was there anything you found surprising when recreating Iceland locations?

MS: Well, I had all these sweeping Icelandic vistas in mind but then also decided to have it snowing during the story. I really wanted the wintery feeling to come through. I quickly realized these were a little contradictory, given visibility in bad weather, but tried to work out a compromise. Chris O’Halloran gets the credit for making it work, his colors on this are unbelievably good. Thank you, Chris. For Reykjavik, I tried my best to set it back in 1990.

I’d know changes in Boston from 1990 to 2023 and so I hoped not to get it overly wrong. For one thing, I found a nice group of Icelanders online to ask about certain kinds of streetlights and what year they came into the city. Does this stuff really affect a story? I don’t know, but I feel like a bit of due diligence is warranted.

Courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

AIPT: As an expert on the Yule Cat, who would win in a fight, Krampus or Yule Cat?

MS: Ha! Krampus is a tough fella and a real mean piece of work, I’ll give him that. But a big cat is an evolutionarily honed apex predator and doesn’t have time to scare and punish. It hunts, and it eats. There is little doubt in my mind how that would all go down. One thing for absolute sure, Hellboy is lucky they didn’t team up for some kind of nightmare Skeletor/Panthor scenario.

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 Writer and artist Matt Smith unpacks Hellboy’s latest adventure investigating the Yule Cat.  Read More