Hellboy creator Mike Mignola
By Daniel Robert Epstein, Suicidegirls
August 11 2006
With the creation of his character, Hellboy, Mike Mignola has spawned a world of projects including animated and live action movies, as well as a wealth of brilliant merchandising. Mignola first broke into the business over 20 years ago doing comic books, which will always be his first love. He has been crafting Hellboy stories for over ten years and is just now reaching the middle part of Hellboy´s life. Hellboy continually evolves into a more complex and interesting character, and Mignola's infinite ideas are highlighted in the new trade paperback that offers the collection of the Hellboy miniseries "The Third Wish" and "The Island."
(This interview was conducted before the announcement that Hellboy 2 had moved to Universal Studios.)
Daniel Robert Epstein: How was San Diego for you?
Mike Mignola: Exhausting. I´m not getting any younger and that convention isn´t getting any smaller.
DRE: [laughs] You looked exhausted when I saw you.
MM: Yeah once that thing starts it doesn´t let up until the very end.
DRE: You got yourself a good table though.
MM: Yeah, it´s a good spot. We´ve had the spot for several years now.
DRE: Do you ever get tired of talking about Hellboy?
MM: You know what I get tired of? I have to keep answering the exact same question every 30 seconds. I´m really happy talking about this stuff but I never get the chance to talk about it. I´m just answering the same three questions over and over and over again. That gets old fast.
DRE: It seems like the stories in Hellboy: Strange Places are going to have long repercussions in the Hellboy world.
MM: Yeah, both those stories basically have Hellboy step off the face of the earth and end the first phase of Hellboy´s career and set up where things are going and really change him into a different character.
DRE: Like a more contemplative character?
MM: Maybe a little bit. The way I´ve been playing Hellboy up until Strange Places is a guy who just didn´t want to know, didn´t want to ask questions and didn´t want to deal with what he is. You’d have characters show up and say, “You´re this” or “You´re the beast of the apocalypse” or “You´re that.” My deal is that you can only bury your head in the sand so long. You get to a certain point where the weight of what you are is going to get heavy enough where he can´t delude himself that he´s just one of the regular guys anymore. But I won´t want to turn Hellboy into a character who says, ?Ok I´m going to go out and find out who I am.? So the whole way it´s set up in The Third Wish was that idea of just ?I´m just going to roam around. I´m going to go back to maybe my carefree days of not working for the Bureau. I´m just going to walk through Africa and I´m going to hang out with lions? or whatever the hell he did there. Then fate catches up to you and you get drawn down to the bottom of the ocean and then eventually onto this island where it´s just an intermission between the first part of Hellboy´s career and this new phase where he´s not a regular guy anymore but he´s not a demon. He´s trying to figure out what he is or find out what his place in the world is.
DRE: Do you see him becoming more like a Jim Starlin type character?
MM: I suspect he will become more philosophical. I don´t think he´s ever going to be as eloquent and well spoken as a Jim Starlin character but certainly there´s more and more stuff he´s got to confront. Whether he looks for it or whether it falls into his lap, he´s positioned himself in a place now where he is dealing with more supernatural characters than he´s dealing with human beings. Up until now he´s been essentially treated as one of the human beings who is against the supernatural stuff. Now he´s dealing with his peers who are the supernatural characters. Little by little, he´s just disappearing off the face of the earth and dealing with what goes on in the shadows.
DRE: What´s funny is that little by little with a big leap called the Hellboy movie you are dealing with the higher echelon of the entertainment industry. Did that influence where Hellboy is going?
MM: Maybe. Certainly you do deal less with the guy that works at the counter of the comic book store and more with movie producers and stuff. Not to elevate one above the other but You´re in a much more secretive world. The world where guys sit around at dinner and decide what movies are going to get made as opposed to the guy who´s wondering if he´s going to get the latest shipment of Conan comics. I do find myself in much weirder places than I ever thought I would be, so maybe on some unconscious level that´s showing up in Hellboy. But part of the plan I always had with Hellboy was that he would move further and further away from being a person. I love Jim Starlin´s stuff like Warlock and Captain Marvel. He and I are both very influenced by the same guy, Michael Moorcock who created Elric. I read a lot of Moorcock in high school. He often had this doomed hero who´s got a gigantic role to play in cosmic events but all the character wants is to be left alone to be a regular person. But that´s just not his fate in life and I think those ideas were in my head when I created Hellboy.
DRE: How much can you relate to Hellboy at this point?
MM: As much as I ever could. Hellboy still has the working stiff attitude guy. He still says the same things but as I get older and you think about career and your life and your children and all that stuff, it´s natural to write a character who´s going to think about stuff more. I never intended Hellboy to be the beast of the apocalypse. When I created Hellboy he was just going to be a good guy and it was just going to be like a joke that he looked like the devil or that he was the devil. But as things progressed and I figured out more and more about where he came from and who his mother is and who his father is, these other supernatural characters popped up and said things about him. Then I realized that he was such an interesting character and if he is in fact the beast of the apocalypse, how do you get a guy out of that problem. That´s what took over my thinking with Hellboy which is why I had to get him out of the whole BPRD thing because Hellboy´s situation is so interesting to me that it deserves its own book.
DRE: Since the Third Wish was the one of the first Hellboy stories to be released after the movie, how did the movie change things?
MM: Third Wish is interesting because it´s my post 9/11 Hellboy story. I was going to do a non-Hellboy book set in New York. But I was in New York when 9/11 happened and the last thing on earth I wanted to do was a book about a partially ruined New York City. I was just a couple of weeks away from starting on this other book and I just scrapped it. I´ve had this other idea since I first started in the business of a mermaid fairy tale story and once I created Hellboy I thought, “Well, someday I´ll do that with Hellboy.” It was going to be a light, fantasy, underwater adventure thing. So after 9/11 I thought “if I´m going to scrap this other project now´s a good time to do a light, fluffy, fun little underwater mermaid story.” The story turned out much grimmer than I originally intended probably because of the whole 9/11 thing and partly because of where I was going with Hellboy. Then I was working on The Island while I was working on the movie. I kept starting and stopping it, starting and stopping it.
DRE: How was fan reaction to it?
MM: The Island is one not too many people have commented on. It´s a very odd one and it´s real heavy on history and talking. It isn´t a big, fun, punch the monster story. There are a lot of different reasons why it was that. I ended up being much more interested in the backstory of various characters and the creation of the universe basically. Maybe that´s because in the movie there are these cocoons coming out and all this stuff which I hadn´t done in the comic. I thought, “Well if we´re going to do them in the movie, let me address them also in the comic.” My take on the stuff is a little bit different than the way it was in the movie so I wanted to have my version of events out to stand alongside the movie version of events.
DRE: I read that Duncan Fegredo is going to draw the next Hellboy miniseries.
MM: He just finished the second issue of the next miniseries and I´m thrilled with it. Duncan is supposed to do at least three miniseries and those will basically make one giant story. The first ten years of Hellboy were act one of Hellboy´s life. This three part story that Duncan is doing is the middle arc of Hellboy´s life. It´s his first full grown dealing with the supernatural world as opposed to dealing with the human world and dealing with his mother?s side of the family so it is all folklore and witchcraft. No mad scientists, no Nazis, just weird supernatural things.
DRE: Will this be the first time someone else has drawn so much Hellboy?
MM: Yeah because it is just too big of a story. I´m trying to do so many different things. I would have never done it without somebody else drawing it. It´s too long, I´d never finish it, I´d never survive it. Duncan is better at drawing so many things than I am. It was beyond my wildest dreams that we could get him to do this, so I´m thrilled to have him.
DRE: Of course Duncan´s fantastic, but what made you think of him specifically?
MM: Unlike BPRD where Guy Davis draws nothing like me, but is perfect for the book, I needed somebody that was not going to imitate me but had a similar art style. Duncan spots blacks the way I spot blacks. Also because this book takes place so much in real locations, there´s a lot of English countryside and there are a lot of old churches and things like that and Duncan´s great with reference. When he draws a church it looks like a church. Regular comic book guys fake everything so I needed a guy that when he would draw a forest it would feel like an English forest and when he was drawing an old Russian house it would feel like an old Russian house.
DRE: Do you do full script when You´re working with another writer?
MM: I´ve always worked plot style but I also do a lot of thumbnails. That´s actually how Jim Starlin worked with me Cosmic Odyssey. He might not thumbnail where the people are in the particular panels but he would break things down and say, ?Here are four little panels, one big panel and one medium sized panel on the page.? When I work with somebody I´m thinking in sequences not dialogue. So it´s really important to me if we go from a close up to this guy to cutaway to this guy, cutaway to this, cut back to this, come in closer to this and then we pull back to see a big landscape. So I will indicate that in my plot. Sometimes I´ll almost draw the page in a thumbnail form. Originally the miniseries was going to be drawn by a different artist so I thumbnailed it a lot more than I would have had I known Duncan was going to be the artist on the book. I trust Duncan a lot more than I trust the artist who was originally going to do the book as far as the storytelling goes. I should write something closer to full script but as I write more for other people I´m little by little figuring it out.
DRE: Have you considered not doing the books serialized anymore and just go straight to graphic novels?
MM: It has never been seriously discussed. I think the numbers make more sense for Dark Horse to do it as a comic rather than do it as a graphic novel. I like the miniseries format because then people don´t have to wait a year for a comic. I like dropping it out in those one issue installments to let the audience see what I´m working on. Financially, at this point, it makes more sense to basically earn back your money doing the monthly comic and then collect it as a trade paperback.
DRE: Bryan Fuller, who wrote and produced the Screw On Head pilot, said this to me “[Mike?s] whole edict was make it look like the comic book.? But he said that when they gave you the pilot to watch, he said that you said, “ I started to watch it but it looked too much like my comic book so I didn´t want to watch it.?
MM: I don´t remember ever saying to make it look like the comic. I don´t think that came from me. My suggestion wouldn´t have been to make it look like the comic. I think story wise I wanted it to be in the same ballpark as the comic but design wise I´m always more comfortable when people redesign my work for another form. Then I don´t run into a situation where people are second guessing what I would do. Apparently Screw On Head worked really well with their second guessing my art style. But, like with the Hellboy animated thing, I was very happy that they wanted to do it in a completely different style. I said, “I´ve done it my way, let them do it a different way.” I´ve never insisted that stuff look like my stuff. If somebody imitates my style, no matter how good they do it I´m always going to be looking at it going, “yeah, but you didn´t do this right and you didn´t do that right.” Whereas if it´s a completely different style I can be a little more objective.
DRE: Did you watch the whole pilot?
MM: No, I watched about a second of it. There was nothing bad about it but it was too close to my stuff so it gave me the creeps. It was great listening to the guys do the voices. I went to the voice recording and listened to them do the voices but when it came to the visuals of it, it was too close to what I did for me to be an objective observer. Whereas with the Hellboy movie it´s easy to look at it because it´s live action which makes it immediately different than what I did.
DRE: Would you want there to be more episodes of Screw On Head?
MM: Yeah, because people seem to really like it and Bryan seems to understand the material. He seemed to understand the gags I was going for and the genre I was trying to do. Certainly he´s the right guy to be doing it.
DRE: Do you want to direct films?
MM: No, I´m so happy doing what I´m doing. I love comics and I understand them. Now that I´m working more and more as a writer and not an artist, it frees me up to do more stuff in comics, as far as Hellboy and Hellboy related books. I´ve also got a bunch of non-Hellboy stories that I want to do in comics. Some of them I will draw, some of them I won´t draw. I´m very excited about just being an artist and just drawing weird little stories of whatever I want and also keeping the whole Hellboy world going. This year I´m writing an Abe Sapien miniseries. I should be writing a Lobster Johnson miniseries before too long and then writing the stuff for Duncan Fegredo for Hellboy. I´m also co-writing and illustrating a novel.
DRE: What´s the novel?
MM: It´s a gothic horror vampire epic that at one point I was going to do as a comic and it just got so big I knew I´d never finish it. I´m so slow these days. If I start plotting something that gets to be a 100 or 200 pages, it´s just not going to be something I´m ever going to be able to do. So I took it to a friend of mine Chris Golden who had written a couple of Hellboy novels. He fleshed out my notes and turned it into this novel. Now I´m just doing what will probably end up being close to 200 illustrations for it. It´ll come out next fall.