Mike Mignola Interview
by Tom Fassbender
Mike Mignola pencilled his first mini-series, Rocket Raccoon, for Marvel Comics in 1985. From there he briefly worked on The Hulk and Alpha Flight before moving on to his acclaimed work on DC's Cosmic Odyssey and Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, Epic's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and Topps' Bram Stoker's Dracula -- all in addition to innumerable cover illustrations. Then, in 1994, he released Hellboy: Seed of Destruction through Legend (Dark Horse Comics' high-end creator-owned imprint), and it rapidly became a runaway hit. Beginning this June, Mignola and Dark Horse pull out all the stops with Hellboy: The Lost Army (an illustrated novel), the Hellboy: Wake the Devil trade-paperback collection, Hellboy: Almost Colossus (a new miniseries), the Ghost/Hellboy trade paperback, a Hellboy lighter, and a Hellboy baseball cap. Tom Fassbender recently spoke with Mignola about all this and a Hell of a lot of other stuff.
Tom Fassbender: In June you're releasing Hellboy: The Lost Army, which is an illustrated novel written by Christopher Golden, the author of Of Saints and Shadows. This is the first time since Seed of Destruction -- which was scripted by John Byrne -- that you've handed the writing reigns over to someone other than yourself. Why?
Mike Mignola: Chris approached me about writing a Hellboy novel -- I'm really in awe of people who write books; I can put the words into people's mouths, but I can't write a novel -- and he really wanted to write this novel. Everyone around me warned me I was going to hate it; I'd go crazy since I'm such a control freak about Hellboy stuff, but it was actually a pretty good experience.
TF: Did you have any say over what went into the plot?
MM: Initially Chris ran a plot past me and I thought it sounded fine. As he was writing it, I read it in chunks, and at the very beginning I made a few dialogue corrections. It's such a different discipline from writing a comic that I had to really look at it as a whole different animal . . . he's got Hellboy thinking about things and talking about his sex life. It's so alien to what I'm dealing with.
TF: Sex life, huh?
MM: Yeah . . . Chris gave him a relationship with an archaeologist for a couple of years during the '80s.
TF: Does it bother you that someone else is creating a background for your character?
MM: No. I don't mind at all that people may read this and accept it as part of the Hellboy universe. A lot of it is material I'll never deal with -- it takes place in the '80s, which I'm not dealing with. I never would have gotten around to giving him a sex life. It dealt with a lot of stuff that Chris and I talked about but I never put down on paper because I don't want to spend a lot of time dwelling on how Hellboy reacts to society and how society reacts to Hellboy; I have no interest in that kind of stuff -- and Chris does. But Chris didn't make up anything about Hellboy that he didn't run past me first.
TF: Will you be using the characters from this story in any way in the future?
MM: I'm not sure. Chris has talked to me about using this archaeologist again in a Hellboy series, and maybe I would. Part of me kind of doesn't ever want to touch on her again, even though he's given me permission to use her. I've got more than enough of my own characters I'd rather develop and use first.
TF: The illustrations you've done for The Lost Army are in black-and-white. Will they be in the Albrecht Dürer etching style you sometimes use in Hellboy?
MM: No. The Dürer stuff I did was just me copying Albrecht Dürer in a few cases and doing them as design pieces. The illustrations in The Lost Army are done very much in the style I usually use when I draw Hellboy, although I wanted the illustrations to be unlike comic-book splash pages. I wanted them to be more decoration than actual storytelling.
TF: Shortly after The Lost Army comes out, the Wake the Devil collection will be released. Will there be any new material in this?
MM: Yeah. I added a new epilogue . . . that whole miniseries was so weird . . . [laughs]
TF: [laughs] Isn't that the point of Hellboy?
MM: Yeah . . . but the whole miniseries was out of control from almost day one. First it changed a little bit, then it changed a little more, and when I got to the mid-point of issue four it changed entirely. The last issue-and-a-half were re-done on the fly, and it had a totally different ending than I originally intended. It's a very weird ending -- and I kind of like it, but I've had a lot of people tell me they didn't know what the hell was going on there. It just seemed kind of unfinished.
TF: Doesn't Almost Colossus, the new two-issue miniseries you're releasing in June, have its roots in Wake the Devil?
MM: Yes it does. It's a story about the Czege homunculus that was introduced in Wake the Devil. It's a story I've always wanted to do -- in fact it pre-dates Wake the Devil, although it stands nicely on its own.
TF: You're also releasing the collected edition of the Ghost/Hellboy two-issue series in June . . .
MM: Right. That was a fun experiment, but it's not something I would do again. I was writing the Ghost character and I just didn't have an understanding of her -- it was a real stretch.
TF: One of the new items coming out in June is the official Hellboy Zippo® lighter. What kind of image is on it?
MM: I had just done this illustration of Hellboy in a tuxedo smoking a cigar when the lighter idea was mentioned. It just seemed to fit.
TF: I'll say. Any chance that Hellboy will be using this item on one of his future investigations?
MM: I can't see him using a lighter of himself -- he'd use some busted-up old lighter.
TF: I noticed Hellboy was having a smoke in The Iron Shoes. Where did he pick up this habit?
MM: He was raised in the '40s and '50s -- everybody was smoking then. He was around "American GIs -- he would have been smoking, probably when he was like two. He's since stopped smoking, but The Corpse and The Iron Shoes took place in the period where he smoked.
TF: So he's kicked the habit?
MM: He might start again because he looks pretty good smoking.
TF: There's also a Hellboy logo baseball cap coming out. Is this something that Hellboy would endorse?
MM: Hellboy feels very much the same way I feel about it. "Okay. If you think people really want this, I'll say `yes' to it, but I wouldn't wear one." People have been saying that I should do a hat since day one.
TF: I guess it would be difficult for Hellboy to wear a hat.
MM: My whole gag with cutting Hellboy's horns off was so that he could wear a hat, but those things stick out so far that he still can't wear a hat. It's better for navigating doorways, though.
TF: With the exception of the climax of Wake the Devil, his horns are always short. Does he have to shave them?
MM: He has to keep them filed. In Wake the Devil, I had him grow his horns out specifically so people would know what the hell those things were. I still get people talking about "Hellboy's goggles."
TF: What kind of music does Hellboy listen to?
MM: He's a big Tom Waits fan. He reads Steinbeck and listens to Tom Waits.
TF: Hellboy is the "world's greatest paranormal investigator," yet most of his cases are solved by beating his new-found foes into submission. How much does he actually know about the occult?
MM: That's something Chris and I discussed for The Lost Army. Hellboy isn't stupid, but he doesn't study. He can take so much damage, he can go into a situation, not know how to deal with it, get his ass kicked for sixteen hours, and then he can correct the problem. He'd be dead in an hour if he was a regular guy.
TF: Will you be introducing other non-human characters like Hellboy and Abraham Sapien that are in the employ of the BPRD?
MM: Well, anything's possible. Basically, I like drawing the monsters. I'll throw in humans occasionally -- I need to have some humans in there -- but mostly I like doing stories about these monsters. Monsters fighting other monsters.
TF: I remember one letter that appeared in Wake the Devil #1 from a member of the Church of Satan decrying the fact that you "overlooked" Anton LaVey (the founder of the Church of Satan) as an influence. Do you get much of this sort of criticism?
MM: That's the only thing I've gotten even remotely like that. My letters have all been extremely normal.
TF: What about the other side of things. Do you get much from the religious right?
MM: I've gotten a few from the religious right because, somewhere we responded somehow saying, "We haven't gotten any response from the religious right." And we got a couple of letters from guys saying, "Hi. I'm a right-wing Catholic and I like Hellboy."
TF: The X-Files was arguably the impetus for the current popularity of all things strange and occult. Although Hellboy's first appearance pre-dates the X-Files, do you think the popularity of the X-Files has had any effect on Hellboy's popularity?
MM: I don't know . . . It makes sense, but I have nothing to back it up. I imagine most people who buy Hellboy watch the X-Files. It would be nice, just once, if everyone who watches the X-Files bought Hellboy.
TF: This is the longest period you've stayed on any project . . .
MM: Way, way longer than anything else.
TF: . . . and the history of the world, steeped as it is in mysticism, gives you a virtually endless quantity of source material.
MM: Very true. I'll never run out of ideas. I've got an eight-foot high bookcase in my studio full of weird books. Outside my studio, I've got another bookcase, ceiling height -- all folktales, legends, myths . . I'm pretty comfortable that I'll be able to come up with stories.
TF: Do you see an end to the Hellboy saga?
MM: I've been saying for the last couple of years I'd be happy to do Hellboy forever. I now amend that to say that I'd be happy to do this kind of subject matter forever. There are some other things and a few other characters I'd like to do -- I'm spoiled being in the spot where I get to draw and write whatever I want.
TF: What does the future hold for Hellboy?
MM: Besides all the stuff we just talked about? Well, there's going to be a Christmas Special with -- and this is not written in stone -- a Hellboy story, a Corpus Monstrum story by Gary Gianni, and a story by Steve Purcell of Sam and Max fame.