Interview Mike Mignola
by Steve Ekstrom, excerpted from Newsrama
March 20 2007
Mike Mignola has been dazzling comic book readers for close to 15 years with his creation, Hellboy, a sarcastic paranormal investigator with a penchant for underachievement—who is in turn a demon himself. With a number of successful mini-series from Dark Horse Comics; a successful spin-off title, B.P.R.D., a series of books with regards to Hellboy’s supporting cast who have just as strong a cult following as their leading man; the box office hit movie in 2004; and a faithful cartoon adaptation of his “World’s Greatest Paranormal Investigator”—Mignola shows no signs up slowing down. Newsarama was fortunate enough to catch Mike on a day where he wasn’t “as busy”.
Newsarama: You’re having a tremendously busy year—I almost don’t know where to start. When do you sleep or do you feed off of the souls of the living like some Lovecraftian fiend from one of your Hellboy stories?
Mike Mignola: (laughs) You will have to ask my wife—at least, I don’t think I’m feeding off human souls. I get some sleep. I’ve been very busy with a number of projects so I get my rest when I can. I have a number of projects this year—I’m not drawing them s I can focus on writing a lot more.
NA: We’ll start off with BPRD: Garden of Souls. It hits stands this week—co-written with John Arcudi with art by Guy Davis; Abe Sapien and Captain Daimao figure prominently in this arc—what should readers expect this time around?
MM: Well, I’d say it’s more about Abe and the room they found at the end of the last mini-series. Abe’s associates from the past who kept him in a water casket told him that they would return “when things were safe again”—so expect to see some developments in regards to that.
NA: Will Garden of Souls lead into the Abe Sapien mini-series scheduled for this summer you’ve written featuring art from Jason Alexander?
MM: No it does not—the Abe Sapien mini-series that Jason is drawing is actually a “Year One”—it’s not technically the first year but it is focusing on a period of Abe’s life where Hellboy and Abe having been running around for a few months together. Now Hellboy has gone off; Abe really isn’t a full blown agent yet but he does accompany other agents on a mission that goes terribly wrong so it becomes Abe’s first solo mission. It becomes a “make it or break it” type of a moment. It takes place in 1982 or something like that.
NA: Along those lines, will Hellboy be returning to the Bureau any time soon? They seem to be taking care of business with the exception of the apparent death of Roger the Homunculus.
MM: Hellboy is going in a radically different direction; it’s possible that they will meet up again but the character of Hellboy is changing so radically now that—well, I shouldn’t say that his character is changing so much—in that, he’s becoming more involved in the folklore world and because he is in that folklore world, he has less to do, day in and day out, with human affairs all the time. He’s pretty much slipping off the face of the Earth.
NA: Is Roger going to stay dead?
MM: I’ve always said that in Hellboy, when people die, they just become much more interesting characters. There are no plans to do anything with Roger in the foreseeable future; but it’s hard to say anybody is really dead since so many of the characters in Hellboy that are playing big parts have, at one time or another, been dead. All the main characters in the B.P.R.D. have been dead at least once—Hellboy has now been dead once. So, you know, Roger is kind of the new kid on the block having only been dead once or twice—he’s certainly in bad shape; let’s put it that way. He seemed very happy the last time we saw him so I would kind of like to leave him where he is happy.
NA: In April, Hellboy returns in Hellboy: Darkness Calls—set a year after the events in Hellboy: The Island, what can readers expect now that you’re taking the character in a new direction away from everything you’ve established and now that Hellboy knows a little more about where he’s from?
MM: It’s over a year—it took him a really long time to get away from that island. Hellboy doesn’t really know that much more about ‘where he’s from’ but I think the big change is that he’s stopped the denial; he’s no longer denying what he is—his head isn’t in the sand anymore. He’s not really actively pursuing questions like ‘where do I come from’ but he’s more open to seeing what’s going to happen. Darkness Calls starts Hellboy onto a path where he is literally walking to a crossroads and kind of standing their saying, “Okay, which way do I go?” Once he puts himself in that position—forces kind of take over and he begins this whole new cycle of his life which will go through English and Russian folklore; it’s going to be unlike anything I’ve done in Hellboy so far. It’s really a series of mini-series or graphic novels that tell one big story.
NA: Hellboy: Darkness Calls is the first of a trilogy right?
MM: It started out that way and now it’s starting to look like four books. God knows how many more books it’ll end up being but I know right now that there is a very definite arc—definitely a three book trilogy and there is a fourth book that will be dealing with the fallout of the trilogy. I don’t know what you call something that’s four books. (laugh) This has been so much fun and I’m so happy with the way everything is going. It’s my favorite of the Hellboy stories; it’s the biggest of the Hellboy stories and in a lot of ways, it is what Hellboy was always meant to be. It’s almost like I’ve spent the last ten to fifteen years laying the groundwork for this.
NA: Darkness Calls also signifies Duncan Fregedo becoming the new regular artist for Hellboy—what brought on this change to your creative dynamic?
MM: There’s just such a long list of books I’m working on—I just couldn’t draw them all. I’ve gotten slower as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten a lot more obsessive about my design—I ran into a lot of trouble with the last two mini-series because I had become so obsessive and I was re-drawing pages; plus, with all the things going on, trying to run the other comics, dealing with the films and stuff like that—it became very clear that I wouldn’t be able to do a Hellboy story of any length and I wanted to do this gigantic arc of a Hellboy story. It became a question of “do I do this with another artist” or “is this story just never going to get told”—it literally never would’ve gotten done. There was no way I could do a story this size and I didn’t want to compromise; I didn’t want to do a smaller story. I wanted to do this story the way it needed to be done. Fortunately I was able to get Duncan Fregedo, who is spectacular—there are so many things he can do that I can’t do. I think people will see that immediately when they see the arc in this book because his attention to detail is just more than I would’ve put into a book. Had I drawn Hellboy fighting an army of skeletons it would’ve been Hellboy and sixteen black lumps—two of which would’ve had a little detail on them—whereas when Duncan draws Hellboy fighting an army of skeletons; Duncan draws an army of skeletons. As a writer, I’d much rather work with an artist like Guy Davis or Duncan Fregedo than Mike Mignola. (laughs)
NA: Are there any other artists that you would like to see tackle the Hellboy universe?
MM: Yeah there are some—right now, Craig Russell is drawing a Hellboy story that’ll be in the next Hellboy trade that will be out later this year. There are several other artists that I am beginning to talk to; as I’m shifting to writing more and more I am realizing that there are so many more stories I want to tell so now I’m like, “Oh wait! If I can write this for other people…” then the stories become much more doable. There is a story involving Hellboy in Mexico that I am talking to an artist about; there is also a story about Hellboy in the Appalachian Mountains that I’ve wanted to do for years. It’s sad that I’m not drawing it but it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for these books.
NA: Over the past several year, with all the BPRD projects, a successful movie, and now cartoons—you’ve really added quite a lot of depth to the Hellboy mythos—as things begin to unfold over the next several months will readers see any points of convergence with all the materials? Does the continuity of the film intertwine with the status quo of your comic book universe or are they separate?
MM: Not with the animation and the film, those are all separate entities. I think what you’ll see, as we go forward with animated films, it is starting to look like we will get a chance to do a third film—you’ll start getting a sense of that Hellboy world. We’ll eventually cover Hellboy’s origin in that animation world which will be a little different than the origin in the live-action film and the origin in the comic. You’ll start to get a sense of how that Hellboy world functions—it will be the same in the live-action film. In the film, Hellboy will be heading in a certain direction which is different than the direction he’s heading in the comic—it deals with the same subject matter that’s in the comic, especially what is coming up in this story arc; focusing on folklore, a lot of which is in the film. It’s a different treatment of the same idea; the character of Hellboy will be going in a different direction than the direction in the comic.
NA: Staying in that same vein, you’ve got the project, BPRD: 1946 co-written with Joshua Dysart and drawn by Paul Azaceta—it features Professor Broome, a character who was developed largely in the Hellboy movie—are you going to revise him any?
MM: There has been no effort in the comics to pick up on the way something was done in the film. I’ve always known who the Professor Broome character was—there just wasn’t any room to do his story in the comic. While we do cover similar ground with Broome’s character, he’s not a radically different character in the comic than he was in the film because, you know, I had so much input on the film. What we see in the 1946 book is what this character was doing in those early years of the Bureau when he was going out and running field operations. It’s something never seen before—it’s funny; because people will see it some in the second Hellboy animated film. I’m always a little uncomfortable when things happen in the other mediums outside of the comic first because if we see Broome out doing field work in the animated film; I want to make sure we see him doing field work in the comics—in the real Hellboy universe.
NA: Will there be book projects or cartoon projects that tie into your Hellboy movie sequel—a certain “other trilogy” faired well with a cartoon lead-in to its final movie last year. Would you want to do something like that for Hellboy 2?
MM: The studio could have went that direction with the animated film but I think the real purpose for having the animation is to fill that ‘time gap’ between the first and second films for the fan but there was no effort to continue the storyline of the first film. They could’ve said “we are doing the animated version of the Hellboy universe”—but they didn’t—they said, “Let’s create another Hellboy universe.” In the animated films, for example, Professor Broome is alive and they use the B.P.R.D. Headquarters from the comic.
NA: This week, Dark Horse is releasing reprints of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser project you did with Howard Chaykin way back when—how do you feel looking back on a body of work you did much earlier in your career?
MM: It’s about damn time. I’ve always said that that was the one pre-Hellboy thing of mine that is out of print that I’m very happy to see back in print. Looking back, there is a lot of stuff that I would have done differently—but so much of what I did now started in that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser book. I’m still pretty proud of that book. I would hope that the atmosphere that Dark Horse has created around the Conan books that this book will get some attention. If tomorrow, for some reason, some power said that I couldn’t do Hellboy anymore—you can’t make up anymore new stuff—you’ve got to pick one thing you did from your past and you’ve got to do it for the rest of your life, it would be Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
NA: Now that you’re a successful veteran in the comic book industry—would you want to take on an up and coming maverick artist and attempt something like F&tGM as a writer?
MM: I just don’t have the time right now—I have other projects outside of the Hellboy universe that I try to work on but right now, I’m just trying to keep the Hellboy universe up and running. I also have a Lobster Johnson mini-series, finally. I’ve got my hands full right now.
NA: Looking at your success with the Hellboy franchise—do you ever feel creatively stifled by your own creations or confined by your success with Hellboy and his universe? Do you ever have the urge to want to go back and draw Alpha Flight or Batman again?
MM: (laughs) Not even for a second. It is frustrating because I do have unrelated projects I do want to do that I don’t have the time to work on; those small personal projects, like the Amazing Screw-On Head kind of thing, those projects are kind of stacking up off in a corner someplace. I do want to get to those. I have no interest in going back and drawing the stuff that I did at Marvel and DC because it is somebody else’s stuff. There are characters I grew up reading that I would love to draw—a lot of Jack Kirby characters—that I haven’t had the chance to draw. You can tell, you’ll see a cover I did—I did a Thor cover a few years back; it was Thor fighting the Absorbing Man. Why? Because a guy called me up and asked me if I wanted to draw Thor fighting the Absorbing Man. I’ve never drawn the Absorbing Man—he was a Jack Kirby character. There are a lot of characters I’d like to draw once; but as far as doing any amount of work with it—most of those characters don’t even exist in the form that I read them when I was really into comics. I might do it for myself, for fun.
NA: In closing, what would be a piece of sagely advice you’d give to young creators who want to achieve success outside of the glut of capes and tights in the marketplace?
MM: It all depends on what your goal is. The business today is so different than the business when I first got my start. Clearly, the whole self-publishing thing is a very viable thing to pursue these days whereas it wasn’t when I was starting out—very few people were doing it back then. My one piece of advice has always been, if I’m an example of anything, is that you take what you really want to do and you do it—then it is possible that it will work out. Thing’s aren’t always going to work out but I tell guys all the time—if you want to take a shot at something else just do one issue of a comic; like I did, you finish your Batman book then you say, “I’m going to do this one Hellboy mini-series and if it works out great and if it doesn’t work out—that’s fine; I took a year to do this thing now I’ll go back to drawing Batman or whatever.” At least you took a shot at it. If I had never tried I would’ve never found out that Hellboy would work. I didn’t think it would work; I didn’t think anyone would buy it but I took a shot and I didn’t try to make up a commercial book. I didn’t try to make up a book I thought would sell—I made up a book made up entirely of things I like. So, in the off chance that it did work and I was stuck doing this thing, then I was stuck doing a book that I love doing.