Mike Mignola Interview
by Shawna Ervin-Gore, DarkHorse.com
Mike Mignola returns to his mutiple award-winning comic-book series, Hellboy, to tell an all new story spanning two issues, scheduled for July release. Hellboy: The Third Wish marks Mignola's return to the fan-favorite title character-- a demonic paranormal investigator who was last seen quitting service to the federal Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense in the last Hellboy series, Hellboy: The Conqueror Worm. Hellboy: The Third Wish finds Hellboy as he wraps up an exploratory trip to Africa and eventually encounters a powerful, 200-year-old witchdoctor named Mohlomi. Hellboy reveals that he's been travelling for many months, following whatever fortune brings his way, and exploring the world for the first time in his adult life outside the oversight of the BPRD.
Here's our most recent interview with Mignola, conducted just days before the news hit that the long-awaited feature film adaptation of Hellboy is now going forward. Stay tuned to the Dark Horse website and www.Hellboy.com for more news on that -- but before you line up for Hellboy movie tickets, take a few minutes to read this interview to see what's behind the next big Hellboy story!
Shawna Ervin-Gore: Before we start talking about your next Hellboy miniseries, The Third Wish, I'd like to talk about where we left Hellboy the last time we saw him, which was at the end of The Conqueror Worm miniseries. You've said in the past that that was your last bout between Hellboy and the Nazis. Why the last?
MM: I felt like I have done practically everything I could with that. Maybe someday the Nazis may return, but I was starting to get the impression that people were tired of the Nazis. My feeling was that I hadn't actually focused on them that much. They were part of Hellboy's origin, the Rasputin thing was part of that origin that carried through the book, but up to this point the Nazis have been kind of peripheral, just floating around that whole Rasputin business. But for The Conqueror Worm, I couldn't pass up making the bad guys Nazi mad scientists. That was the first time I really focused on it and said, "We're doing a thing about the Nazi project." And, you know, my feeling is I did it and I don't need to do it again. Certainly, as part of the ongoing conspiracy of weird supernatural events, the Nazis may figure in as background to that stuff, but I have no plans to bring back the Nazi's head in a jar, or any of those guys.
SE-G: At the end of The Conqueror Worm, Hellboy quits the BPRD. Why did he quit?
MM: I think he'd outgrown it. It's not that he sees it as an evil organization, though he is pissed because they did this thing to Roger the homunculus that could have killed him. But I think more than that, it's time for him to say, "I've got to go and figure my shit out."
SE-G: I'm not exactly sure at what point in his life he joined the Bureau, but wasn't it almost like a foster home or something for him when he was younger?
MM: Yeah, exactly. He was raised within the structure of that organization. I mean, that pretty much is the only home he's known.
SE-G: So, he's 50 years old now and he should leave (laughs)?
MM: Yeah. He's no longer able to say, "I'm just a regular guy." And I think that has been a long time coming. I wish he was a regular guy. I fully intended him to be a regular guy, but, all this other crap has kind of accumulated around him -- especially his whole "Beast of the Apocalypse" thing, and now it has to be dealt with.
SE-G: When you wrote the final few pages of The Conqueror Worm, when Hellboy leaves, did you know then where he was going, or did he have a specific purpose to leaving, besides just getting away from the Bureau?
MM: Did I know where he was going? I don't think so. . . I mean, there is always twenty or thirty Hellboy stories I could do. There are usually that many things that are in various stages of plot development rattling around in my head. So when he walks off, he could have walked into any number of stories. But with a little thought I realized that he really should just deal with his apocalypse/fate issue. So we'll start dealing with those issues right away -- the sooner they are dealt with, the sooner we can put them behind us, hopefully and then he can just be a regular guy.
SE-G: Or a close to it as a large demon man can be.
SE-G: Put yourself in Hellboy's head for a second: why does he decide to go to Africa?
MM: I have always just liked Africa. I always thought it was a really cool place, in a real strange, primal, wild animal kind of way. I have no interest in the politics of the country or any of those kinds of elements. When I am viewing Africa, I'm thinking the wildlife -- the lions and elephants ...
SE-G: The geography ...
MM: Yeah, the geography, the scale of the place. And I just thought there is something real primal about that location. So, that just seemed like a good place for Hellboy to visit to discover some things about himself. I could have him fade to, you know, New Jersey, but that didn't have quite the same ring to it. And I had been fishing around for a story to do that was set in Africa. My goal with Hellboy has always been to eventually do stories set in every part of the world. So, I was looking for an Africa story, I had a little story I was going to do about Africa, but I ended up not doing that, but, you know, The Third Wish starts in Africa.
SE-G: It's well known that you like researching regional folklore for some of your stories. Did you do any special studying of African culture or folklore for The Third Wish?
MM: I did read quite a bit of African folklore. Obviously I didn't do enough research, or I would have come up with an African folktale that I could just fit Hellboy into, but in the research I did, I didn't find anything like that. I found a lot of really cool stuff, but nothing that really suited Hellboy. So, instead of continuing on my research, I settled on a few pieces I really liked and said "Gee, I'll just use Africa as a starting place for this other adventure." Basically, I'm using Africa as a place for Hellboy to go to kind of clear his head. He needs to wander around and be in nature and just hopefully catch his breath. Or maybe he's looking for something, like a spirit walk kind of thing; I don't know what the hell it is. But he went there and my feeling is he walked around for a year -- maybe a couple months, I'm not sure -- but for a while. He's been hanging out in Africa and that's when The Third Wish starts.
SE-G: One of the first characters we meet is Mohlomi, the witch doctor. Is he more of an amalgamation of stuff that is already in your head, or is that character something you were inspired by from an African folktale you read?
MM: Mohlomi was a real witch doctor and what he talks about with Hellboy is African folklore. Originally they were just walking around talking about other stuff, but I rethought that and decided I really wanted to have a sense of African folklore -- even for just a brief period -- to put that research to good use. I wanted a sense of African myth and the African origin of things to guide the feeling of this story. The African folklore is amazing. It's not really my cup of tea as far as the kind of stories I do, but it is fascinating. It is certainly unlike the European folklore, which I've used a lot before. So not everything in The Third Wish is accurate to African folklore, but I did use some elements, like a scene with a bat and another with a snake, that provide a dose of more authentic African folklore.
SE-G: You've mentioned that this series has been a little problematic for you, as you try to figure out the next sensible steps for Hellboy to follow. What is your writing process when you start with something like this and you don't exactly know where its going? You know you want to send Hellboy in a certain direction, and you know that the end result is eventually him figuring out the nature of his being. So how do you make it work on a day-to-day basis? Do you sit down in front of your drawing board and figure how to make it work as you go?
MM: A better question might be, "AM I making it work?" Well, the thing is, I do know where the stories are going. For any story I do, I have a beginning, I have various parts in the middle, and I have an ending. In only one case, when I was working on a miniseries, I got two-thirds of the way through it, before I said "Holy crap! My ending doesn't work!" So I had to come up with a while new ending. And man, have I got some gray hairs from that.
SE-G: Which one was that?
MM: That was “Wake The Devil”. The ending I first had in mind literally just didn't work. But the stories I'm working on now are pretty well mapped out. A lot of what's difficult for me lately is the tone of the series. When the stories were a little simpler, before I dove head-on into the Beast of the Apocalypse side of Hellboy, it was more like "Okay, so first he does this, then this other character does this, then they fight, and Hellboy wins." But that broad-strokes approach doesn't cover everything. Now I think about things like, "As Hellboy is fighting Hecate, are they just grunting, or are they talking about something? And as soon as they start talking about something, it gets scary for me. She's talking, he's talking, and suddenly something is said that makes me go "Holy crap! I started something there!" And then it snowballs from there. So, that is the complicated stuff. You know, if you were to look at one of my plots -- which I don't write down -- but if I did write it down, it would be: "Wake up here, go there, find this, go over there, have a conversation about something here." And then "Fight monster. Fight monster." Whenever it says, "Have a conversation," that is where the tricky stuff happens ...
SE-G: And does that sort of scripting leave you clutching your head at the drawing table? -- "What does Hellboy say now!?"
MM: Sometimes it does. I script nine-tenths of my stuff while I am drawing, as a rule. Sometimes there are chunks of dialogue that I write that are thrown into an envelope. Or for some reason, I'll think of them in the shower. You know, I will be taking a shower and I'll say, "Let's think about this particular story." So I go back in forth in conversations in my head while I'm doing other stuff, and if any of it works, if any of is sounds like it would actually be good in a book, I'll write it down when I get out of the shower. Then I throw them in this envelope. Then, when it is time to do that story, I will hopefully be able to find those scraps of paper again. In some cases, I think, "Oh, yeah! That bit of dialogue works fine." In other cases it's like, "What the Hell was I thinking that day?" You know. It all depends. But these stories are kind of constantly evolving until I finally sit down to write the script.
SE-G: You mentioned tone earlier, and I see that being a big challenge for you for a few reasons -- mostly because everyone is constantly giving Hellboy really bad news: "You're the beast of the apocalypse!" or "There's a giant toad getting ready to eat your head!" -- all sorts of horrible stuff all the time, and Hellboy is just never dramatic about it. He just gets to work, and is as matter-of-fact as he can be about everything
SE-G: So, do you every have a problem reconciling the fact that he is basically getting this horrible news all the time, and he is being told this really terrible stuff day in and day out, and he just keeps up the fight? I can't help but think the same situation would be handled really differently if somebody else were writing the series
MM: Right. Well, it is an interesting problem. How do I keep this character being this kind of blunt, matter of fact guy and have him deal with this huge stuff? On one hand, I think it's kind of funny image that Hellboy is just some working-class kind of guy who just so happens to also be the beast of the apocalypse.
SE-G: That's pretty representative of your humor, which is one of the things people gradually come to really like about your work.
MM: True. To have the guy just continually not deal with it, I guess that would be one way to go about it. But eventually I realized that I had brought it up in the first place, and for Hellboy to ignore it for very long -- which I did try for a while! -- would get to be an old gag quick. You know, "Hellboy -- who may or may not be the beast of the apocalypse -- investigates a haunted house." There are definitely days when I wish I had decided to stick with that, but fortunately or unfortunately, I've started down that road, and I think it's lead to stories that are interesting and imagery that is interesting, so I'm just going to do it now.
SE-G: Now that you're committed to telling that story, do you yourself know where Hellboy is going to end up?
MM: I don't know where he is going to end up, exactly, but I do know where he is going in the next 20 or 30 issues of the comic. I don't know how long its going to take to get where he is getting. My goal is to put him through all of this terrible stuff and have him come out the other side being a much more normal guy.
SE-G: Is it true that before he comes out the other side, you are sending him to Hell?
MM: Yeah, I am going to send him to hell. But, starting with the Third Wish, we are basically dealing with what you could call "the temptation." This is the start of Hellboy looking at these various options he's getting. Basically, in the course of this story, he's going to hear a few different things that will suggest to him that he might have some options to giving into the whole apocalypse thing. But that doesn't necessarily mean the options are better choices overall. So, he's faced with the choices, which are each, in their own way, options to Hellboy giving into his alleged fate. But is he going to take one of those outs? And if not, what does that leave him with? This is awful weird to discuss, because I don't want to say what the situation is exactly. But I don't think it’s a case of Hellboy realizing, "Hey, you know -- if I eat this magic penny, I won't be the beast of the apocalypse!" I wish it were. If I could find some Chinese folk tales about a guy eating a magic penny and that making him not the beast of the apocalypse, hey, I might use that to get him the hell out of here faster than my current plan.
But I don't think that's going to happen for him anytime soon.
SE-G: Do you ever see it as you digging yourself a big old hole by ever bringing up the beast of the apocalypse thing in the first place?
MM: Oh, sure! Many, many, many times I've said, "Why the Hell did I do that?" And I always say it's because I read so much Michael Moorcock in high school. The doomed hero. They guy who is just screwed, who is constantly hearing, "Well, sorry! You don't have any control over your fate because it has been decided that you are going to do this, or you are going to do this, or you're the pawn of the Gods, so you go to do this, this and this." 'I always loved those characters, so inadvertently, I made one. Which is why I have a lot of scenes -- and more coming up in future stories -- where other people are sitting back commenting on Hellboy and his fate. "It's written that he is supposed to do this." Or "It's written that he is supposed to do that." Sorry, folks -- Hellboy doesn't want to do that! He just wants to forget all that stuff! But, for a million reasons he can't yet.
SE-G: Poor Hellboy!
MM: I know! I hate to torture him!
SE-G: When you talk about Hellboy just being a "normal" guy -- what do you mean by that?
MM: Well, I don't think he's going to move out to the suburbs and have kids any time soon, but I do want to get back to the Hellboy from "The Corpse and the Iron Shoes" -- you know, Hellboy sees a big monster and he goes up and fights it. Just like a regular guy. That's the Hellboy I want to get back to.