Mike Mignola Interview
by Keith Giles, CBR
July 17 2001
If you had to sum up Mike Mignola's life as a professional artist, you could safely say he's sold his soul to the devil, or at least to that lovable spawn of Satan he created. Chances are, that when Mike Mignola's career is chronicled for posterity, the main images you'll find archived under his name will be those of the great occult detective, named Hellboy. Of course, Mike has been distracted at times. Like when the phone rang and he was offered to work on such films as Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, or Blade 2, or Disney's Atlantis. Still, when he's done his part in Hollywood, Mike always returns to his home in New York, pulls out the black and red ink, and begins to work on Hellboy once more. Talking with Mike Mignola you get a sense of the dedication and "nose to the grindstone" work ethic that has earned him the adoration of fans worldwide, and the praise of his peers. Mike was kind enough to answer a few questions about occult detectives, creator owned comics, Hollywood and much more.
Keith Giles: You've been drawing Hellboy a long time now.
Mike Mignola: Yeah, Hellboy was first published in 1994.
KG: What's next for you and Hellboy?
MM: After Conqueror Worm, I will be working on another Hellboy Novel with Chris Golden based on a story idea I had. As usual, I'll do illustrations and Chris will write the story. It's going to be called BONES OF GIANTS and it's sort of a Norse mythology thing and it should be a lot of fun. After those two are done, that's pretty much it for Hellboy for a while.
KG: Is there life after Hellboy?
MM: I will be doing a non-Hellboy mini-series for DarkHorse but I don't want to say much about it yet. It's along the lines of Hellboy, an occult, detective, mystery sort of thing based in New York. It could possibly be a semi-future setting, but it's certainly a different NewYork than the one I see outside my window right now.
KG: What else?
MM: I'm also working on a very, very odd black and white comic published by Crazy Fish and I don't want to say too much about it. It's a little experiment. I guess I'm getting cagey in my old age because the way my schedule has been I could announce something and then one of my projects may be delayed if another film thing comes up and it could be months before it gets finished, so I don't want to say too much right now. But the plan is to finish the black and white book, then start the Hellboy novel and then draw the mini-series for Dark Horse. When I do come back to Hellboy it will be without the Bureau, the Nazi's, more of a book focusing on the supernatural world and his role in that. The Hellboy In Africa title is one of the next things I'll do. He will be in Africa and other weird places. I just wanted to …when I did Conqueror Worm, I thought, ok, that's it for this direction. I realized that this was the wrap up of the Nazi's because I've dropped all these hints about Hellboy possibly being the Beast of the Apocalypse and his origin and stuff that I wanted to just go in that direction. I'll wrap up the other Bureau things and spin that off in an Ape Sapien side book or something and I will focus on what's next for Hellboy without these other themes.
KG: Do you think you'll ever sit down one day and write "The Last Hellboy Story"?
MM: I don't see the last Hellboy book on the horizon. I've got an infinite number of different weird, extremely odd directions to take this in and I want to take it in all of those directions and it's possible that [Hellboy[ may change radically and if he does I'll deal with that, but he's not going to just lay down and die.
KG: But, you're taking Hellboy out of the whole Nazi, Mad Scientist kind of story into new territory?
MM: Yeah, after I brought out all the Beast of the Apocalypse stuff, at first I didn't deal with it and it's kind of a big nut to drop out there and never get back to it. It's now like a big snowball and I know I have to deal with it. I've done the mad scientist and nazi's but my interest has been more the supernatural and folklore end of stuff. Let's see, I guess it's almost officially being done…I think I can say this, there will probably be a spin-off book that will focus on the supporting characters. There are plans even as we speak where I will be co-plotting, supervising it and others will create it. I may help write Hellboy's dialog or something if he shows up in a story. The first one we've got planned is a real rough outline. It's so difficult, I'm so slow, to develop all of the ideas I've got, and this is a way to get more of the story out there.
KG: So, is it hard for you to hand these characters over to another creator and watch what they do with them?
MM: It is hard to give away some of these ideas. I always think, "Wellll, what if this was different?" The first Hellboy novel started out being very difficult for me and it was so different from the comic, well duh, it was a novel, and I started out kinda nitpicking and then I realized, it was a separate entity and it has a life of his own.
KG: So you'll be just focusing more on Hellboy by himself and let the others take care of the side characters and spin-off stories?
MM: Yeah, I wanted to take Hellboy out of the Bureau and I wanted to take care of Hellboy since he's mine, but the other characters would just sit on the shelf and I wanted to let other people work on them.
KG: Can you drop some names of the artists and writers who will be working on this spin-off?
MM: I don't want to say any names yet, but the creative team will be announced in the fourth issue, I think of conqueror worm.
KG: You know, I've seen that there's a Hellboy PC game or something, but it's received so little hype that I assumed it must really have been a stinker.
MM: That was my impression, too. It was only released in Europe and to this day I haven't seen it. But, I wish it had gone differently, but I had no personal interest in a game so I entrusted it to the wrong people. But, oh well, what are you gonna do?
KG: Back to comics, has Joe Quesada called you yet about doing a book for Marvel?
MM: No, not yet.
KG: If he did, would you be interested?
MM: You know, it's so funny. I have a funny relationship with Joey. I mean, I started at Marvel, I grew up on Marvel, I started working at Marvel, but as far as having a book with them I don't think so. I can't imagine doing work for hire work again. I could see doing covers or something but it's a lot of work doing something that, when it's over, you don't have any ownership of it. For instance, DC has said they might eventually collect the Hellboy/Batman stuff , but I like being able to control the destiny of it of my own work.
KG: So, you got a call, like four years ago to work on this movie called Atlantis for Disney?
MM: That's right.
KG: And how much time did this take out of your life?
MM: The Atlantis deal I didn't really spend a lot of time on. I could've spent more, I'll say that. It was such a bizarre experience. They called me to come out there and I walk in and they had already started doing it in my style and taken Disney type characters and pushed them in my style. They had stuff hanging on the wall with my drawings and their stuff over the top of it, notes with directions of how to draw like me, what I do and not do. I went in and looked at it and said, "Wow, that's interesting." But, I didn't teach anyone to draw like me. They already had someone doing that. They just asked what did I want to do. So, I focused on the design for how the city looked, how it would be revealed, various architectural designs. I was told, "Do whatever you want." I'd be there a couple of days, go home, work on comic stuff, cough up a couple ideas and go back to work on Hellboy and then never hear from them. Then they'd call me, I'd go to LA a couple of days and then get back to work on Hellboy. I basically forgot I had anything to do with it, the last two years! Then it's being advertised.
KG: So, are you pursuing a career in Hollywood?
MM: I'm not really pursuing a Hollywood career. I've never pursued it, always thought it would be fun, but it was never a focus. I've been asked to come in and work on a film, but I'm not getting calls from Hollywood all day long. I spent two months in LA working on Blade 2, and that was a blast, but it's not what I'm pursuing. I wouldn't know how to pursue that. It's kind of a luxury being a comic book guy that gets invited to do it.
KG: So, is Hollywood's love affair with Comics going to end happily ever after, or is this an extended one-night stand?
MM: As long as comic book movies make money, they'll keep doing it, but then someone will make the next Tank Girl or whatever and it will make them forget us. I saw something yesterday about now female action heroes are such a hot trend in movies, but that's only looking at the recent stuff. But like, if Tomb Raider does well, then someone in Hollywood says, "Oh, girls fighting monsters works!" People in Hollywood are always looking for a secret to make a good movies. If Hulk comes out and does well, then someone will say "Look! A big green monster made a lot of money and we've got a big RED monster in Hellboy, so let's put that on the fast track." My advice to creators with movie deals is to not pack your bags. There's nothing like "In 2 weeks they're making your movie" or anything. But they'll say "Next week it's a go" and then nothing happens for two months. My take on all this is to focus on the comic because that's what I can control. I can't walk on a set and say, "Ok, let's make Hellboy!" Will the Hellboy movie ever get made? I have no idea.
KG: What can you tell me about the Hellboy movie?
MM: Everyone on the Internet knows more than I do at this point. (Laughs) I'm not looking for a literal translation of the comic, I know they are different mediums and that's ok. I know Del Toro will make a very good, dark scary movie and I trust him. If he does want me on it I'll be in on the design end of things, but if it ends up with another director, then he may not want me anywhere near the project. I don't want to stick my nose in where it doesn't belong. My involvement in the Hellboy movie depends on who's directing it. I've read screenplays, given Del Toro my ideas, but it is HIS movie, I can make comments, but if there's something he wants, it's going in the movie. I think there about 200 versions of the same script running around now, but nothing is final until they start rolling cameras. The last I heard was that the problem is that it looks like it's a more expensive movie than anyone want's to make right now. So we need to go through it again and make it a smaller movie.
KG: Has your recent exposure on the Atlantis film opened any new doors for you?
MM: I don't know what will come from the Atlantis deal. In so many reviews my name has been mentioned and Disney has been going out of their way to put my name with the movie. It's really nice. It's good that they bent over backwards to do that, but part of me feels like they're only doing it so if the movie tanks they know who to blame. (Laughs) It was their movie, always was their movie, but it really was weird to throw out an idea and have it come back in 4 years and see it up on screen.
KG: What would you like to see change about the comics industry?
MM: It would be good if more people read comics. (Laughs) I don't travel in circles where people talk about what's wrong with comics. I only know my small end of things. I'll continue to put my energy into things I do and for the most part I think it's fairly original. I do know that about 75% of things you have out there now (in comics) are all the same. If people would sit down and do things they cared about we'd have better comics. Instead, you need a check and so you work on books you don't give a shit about. I do see it happening on the small independent stuff that's out there and I really like some of it, but the big companies are just changing costumes, cancelling a book one month and then relaunching it a month later. I think things would be better if they gave people a chance to create their own stuff. On the other hand, I've known people who felt like they should do creator owned stuff, but if you love drawing Spiderman, or whatever, do it. I never had the itch to do creator owned stuff but one day I looked around and said, "I've done nearly everything and everything I thought about doing had already been done. I hate to repeat myself so I thought I'd give something a shot that was my own. I threw all my ideas in a pile and found out that people liked it.
KG: So, Hellboy wasn't a character that you had in your back pocket since High School?
MM: No. Hellboy was basically a big pile of stories I like and characters and interesting visuals to base all that around thrown together. Most people come up with a character and then they write the stories. I had the stories and the setting first and then I had to find a character to live in it. I had been kind of drawing this big clunky monster at conventions and I put him together with this jumble, and then "boom", there was Hellboy.