Mignola talks "Hellboy II"
by Emmett Furey, CBR
July 10 2008
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" opens July 11 in the U.S.
It was more than four years ago that Mike Mignola’s Hellboy was first ported to the big screen, but the cast and crew behind the first film have gotten the band back together to produce the highly anticipated sequel, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” Rising star Guillermo del Toro, who directed both films, helped save the film franchise from fading away into obscurity after the first film’s production company closed up shop by finding it a new home at Universal Studios. Mike Mignola first introduced the world to Hellboy some 15 years ago, and the Dark Horse comic (along with its bevy of spinoffs) is still going strong. Though del Toro has certainly put his own stamp on the material, Mignola has said on multiple occasions that he counts himself lucky that the director has fought to keep him so intimately involved in the development of the Hellboy films. Del Toro has said that he only has one more Hellboy picture in him, but Mignola hopes to dedicate another 15 years to wrapping up the comic book epic that is “Hellboy.”
EF: How proud are you of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army?”
MM: I’m pretty happy. As the reviews come in and as I talk to people who have seen it, it’s certainly easier. I mean, I was always happy with it, but there’s always an element that says, “Okay, I know it works for me, but what are the regular people going to think.” And then the more I hear people enjoy the film, the more I kind of unclench and relax and go, “Yeah, yeah, it is great.”
Scene from "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"
EF: Relative to some other comic book creators, you’re in a really good position where you control your property. Does that make it easier when you get your work on the screen?
MM: Saying “control” is slightly misleading, because once you’ve sold your property to Hollywood, you don’t really control it. One of the questions I’m always asked is how much control do I have. Well, I don’t really have any. Once I give up those rights, they can do what they want. Where I am very fortunate is I have a director who wants me there, a director who wants me involved.
EF: How much input did you have on “Hellboy II?”
MM: Quite a lot. Guillermo and I actually sat down originally to do an adaptation of one of the existing stories, and after about eight hours we hit a snag and said, “Ah, let’s just do fairies instead.” He was preparing “Pan’s Labyrinth” and I was preparing a major storyline in the “Hellboy” comic, both of which involved the kind of fantasy, fairy, elf stuff. I think that’s where both our heads were at, so we just abandoned the adaptation we were going to do, and immediately just came up with a brand new story.
EF: Which Hellboy comic were you going to adapt?
MM: It would have been a very loose adaptation of something called “Almost Colossus.”
EF: The creatures in “Hellboy II” have such a distinct Guillermo del Toro look, especially from “Pan’s Labyrinth.” How do you feel about the way they fit into the legacy of Hellboy creatures?
MM: Well, again, it was much easier on this film, because everything in the film was original. It wasn’t really adapting characters from the comic -- other than the character Johann, who is from the comics. There were a lot of design changes for that character to bring him to the film. But all the other creatures didn’t have their origins in the film. In the first film, we had a lot of characters we had to adapt from the comics, but this one it was just brand new. So even though I did early designs for some of these characters, for the most part, all the signature creature designs in the film are very much del Toro creature designs. The most unique ones are very much from del Toro’s imagination.
EF: By introducing a lot of B.P.R.D. characters, is that going to rule out a standalone B.P.R.D. film, or the possibility of a TV series now that Hellboy has quit the B.P.R.D.?
MM: When he quit B.P.R.D., it looked like Abe went with him, so you kind of go, “Well, who would the B.P.R.D. TV series be, or B.P.R.D. film?” It’s not like the X-Men where we have a billion superpowered characters, basically we have these two or three creature characters and most of the B.P.R.D. is human. Certainly I think you could do something with the B.P.R.D., especially I think it would be great for TV, because you wouldn’t be doing characters for the most part that need a billion hours of makeup. But, again, that’s for other people to make those decisions.
Scene from "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"
EF: Why did you decide to add Johann Krauss to “Hellboy II?”
MM: It was Guillermo’s idea, and then when they figured out how much it was going to cost due to the clear, plastic head, he tried to actually substitute Johann for another character of mine, which I wouldn’t let him do. Because I just felt, for what Johann needed to do in the film, it needed to be Johann. I said, “You know, if you want to lose the clear, plastic head and just make him a human being who’s a medium, that’s fine, but I don’t want you to bring in this other character and change that other character to suit this film.” It’d be kind of like saying, “We want Superman, but Batman’s cheaper, so we’ll just put in Batman.” It’s like, “Different guys, different powers!” But, you know, they did solve the Johann problem. But I think that was Guillermo’s decision to bring Johann in.
EF: Who was the other character?
MM: Lobster Johnson.
EF: But we’re going to see Lobster Johnson in the third film if that happens, right?
MM: That’s right. Among 10,000 other things [Guillermo] says are going to be in the third film, he swears Lobster Johnson will be in there.
EF: So the third one’s going to be five hours long then?
MM: If he puts in everything he told me he was going to put in there, five hours at least. I think there’d be a 36-hour cut that’d have to be chopped down to five.
EF: Are you optimistic that there’ll be a “Hellboy III”?
MM: I’m never optimistic. I would’ve sworn that there would never be a “Hellboy I,” so I’ve been wrong a couple times. I think the best thing I can do for “Hellboy III” is to say it will never happen, because that seems to be how things get made. You know, certainly at this point there seems to be a lot of interest in “Hellboy III,” so I am guardedly optimistic.
EF: We have to ask, because we obviously know he’s going to be busy for the next four years with “The Hobbit.” Obviously, Hellboy is your baby, but del Toro has adopted him like one of his own kids. Do we see someone else directing “Hellboy III” if he’s busy for the next 4-6 years?
MM: That’s certainly going to be a really interesting situation. Because if this movie is successful, I can’t imagine the studio saying, “Sure, we’ll wait five years.” So I don’t know what’s going to happen there. I can’t imagine it without him, but at the same time I can’t imagine people sitting around waiting five years.
EF: Helboy actor Ron Perlman said three movies is what del Toro really wants, that he doesn’t want it to go to a fourth film. How do you feel about that? Would you not like it to expand as a long franchise?
MM: I think the situation that Guillermo’s built in is a very definite arc. It certainly isn’t James Bond, it isn’t something that’s designed to not advance the character. And I think with the Hellboy/Liz Sherman relationship being so central to the story, and now the introduction of children, you kind of go, “Well, this is clearly going someplace.” It would be hard to do a third picture that’s just more of the same. I mean, for me personally, I’d be happy to see “Hellboy IV,” “Hellboy V,” but the film version of Hellboy is very much his baby, so if he wants to wrap it up, so be it. The one thing I’ve got to be really careful about is that, if he does do a third picture and he does do the end of Hellboy, I’ve got to make damn sure he doesn’t make the ending that I’m going to do in the comic, because mine’s 15 years away and I don’t want him to give away my ending. But it also would be a very strange situation where, you know, he’s doing the life and, whatever, death of Hellboy, and I’m still over here doing the comic going, “No, kids, it’s not over yet.”
EF: Does del Toro know what you have planned?
MM: He does say that I told him. I tried not to tell him, but once he and I get talking, I tend to tell him everything I’m thinking. But I think what he would do is very different than what I would do. And certainly there are so many different layers to my Hellboy, and they don’t involve family and children, I think it would just be radically different.
EF: What’s your process these days for drawing and writing, is it 9-to-5?
MM: It’s never been 9-to-5. Nine’s a pretty good starting time, but I work until the end of the day, which is usually midnight. Unfortunately, for the last couple years I’ve been mostly just writing because of various interruptions, and because the Hellboy thing has expanded so much. There are so many different Hellboy books, I’m writing this book and I’m co-writing that book. But I’m hoping once the dust settles on this, I’ll be going back to drawing again, which I haven’t really done that much of. I won’t be taking over drawing the “Hellboy” comic anytime soon, but there are some Hellboy related things I want to do.
EF: How about more animated Hellboy films?
MM: Again, that’s somebody else’s call. Tad Stone ran the animated shows, he and I actually wrote third Hellboy animated film that we were really excited about, and they just decided not to continue it. And that would have had Lobster Johnson.
EF: If it was your choice, which characters would you like to introduce in the third animated movie?
Hellboy: The Crooked Man on sale now; Hellboy: The Wild Hunt coming soon
MM: I think Lobster Johnson would be great. That’s the one that the fans love, it’s a character I think is great. You know, it’s hard to say. Considering the kind of story he wants to tell, I think that character would make the most sense to bring in.
EF: What’s coming up in the comics in the near future?
MM: The comic in the near future, again, without being the same storyline as “Hellboy II,” it deals with a lot of the same subject matter, with the idea of a kind of revolt or a war that’s building between the elves and trolls and all these dispossessed characters that have been kind of living underground. It’s a rebel, not a prince, but a kind of rebel character saying, “Hey, let’s take the world back.”
EF: Have you also dealt with Hellboy’s exposure to our world?
MM: No, because one of the major differences between the comics and the film is that Hellboy’s always been a public figure, and one of the things I’ve always done in the comic is he just shows up and people go, “Oh, hi. How you doing?” They don’t even notice that he’s red and he has a tail. It just started as something I just thought would be funny. And so I’ve never dealt with the whole “you’re a secret” kind of a thing.
EF: Frank Miller’s directing films. Are we ever going to see Mike Mignola direct?
MM: I can almost 100% tell you that you’ll never see me direct. I love sitting next to Guillermo when he’s directing, but within minutes I know that that’s a job I never want. Not because it wouldn’t be cool, but it’s just too big a job and it takes forever. I’m slow at drawing comics, let alone doing something like this that’s going to involve all this stuff. And Guillermo knows everything. He knows a little bit about everything, and he knows a lot about a lot of stuff. And if I wanted to direct, I think I would have had to be thinking about directing since the time I was 10-years-old. I mean, I watched him doing post-production, I watched him dealing with Danny Elfman on the music. He can talk music with Danny Elfman, he can talk camera lenses with [director of photography Guillermo] Navarro, and he can tell the special effects guys how to do the special effects. I don’t know anything. So I would just be a useless lump sitting there in the chair going, “Is there any way to make this into a picture?”
EF: Can you give us an update on what’s going on with the David Goyer project that you guys are working on?
MM: David Goyer is attached to the film adaptation of a novel I co-wrote last year called “Baltimore or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire.” Chris Golden and I wrote the novel together, and we just turned in the second draft of the screenplay. It’s sitting on David’s desk, and I know David has a bunch of different films that are all his “next film,” and hopefully this one gets to the top of the pile. I kind of like to think that, from that studio’s perspective, “From the creator of ‘Hellboy’ and the writer of ‘Batman,” that would kind of look pretty good. Again, I never expect things to work out, but I would be very excited to see that film happen.
EF: You’ve been around Comic-Con for years and years. Are you a little disappointed that it’s become this huge Hollywood event now?
MM: I would be more disappointed if Hellboy wasn’t a film, because it staggers what Hellboy is. But it is sad that the comic book stuff has become such a Hollywood machine. I miss the old days a little bit. It is very strange to go into the biggest comic book convention in America and kind of go, “Are there any comics here?” And the guys who created the comics are stuck against the farthest wall, but it’s the nature of the beast these days. There are bad things about it, but a few years ago we were all saying, “Jeez, maybe comics are going to go away.” Sales had gotten really terrible. If for no other reason, comics will stay around because publishers are going, “Well, maybe we won’t make any money on the comic, but, hey, maybe that will be a film.”
EF: How is the comic book business doing from your perspective?
MM: It’s not great. I know my publisher does publish a certain amount of things that don’t make any money as a comic, but my publisher is also a movie producer, so they’re always looking at things as “Does it have a possible other life?” And I think other publishers are all thinking the same thing. The good thing about that from a comic book creator perspective is, a publisher looks at your material, and they might say, “Yeah, we’ll sell 10,000 copies of this, but we might be able to develop it as a film property, so we will publish it.” So at least things are getting published that might not otherwise get published.
EF: Do you think the fact that Dark Horse publisher Mike Richardson has produced “The Mask” and “Timecop” and all these other things has helped the process of “Hellboy” along too?
MM: It’s hard to say it helped the process of “Hellboy.” You know, it got the film made. I’d like to think I’d still be doing Hellboy even if there wasn’t a film, but the truth is, God knows if I would be able to pay the rent or the mortgage if it was a just a comic and there’d never been a film.
EF: Can you talk a little bit about working with Mike Richardson and what that’s been like?
MM: There’s a lot of neck strain because he’s so damn tall, but other than that, that’s kind of the only problem. He’s been great. I mean, from day one as my comic book publisher, a guy who never asked what “Hellboy” was about, he said, “We want you to do something,” I said, “I’ve got this thing, it’s called ‘Hellboy,’” and said, “Great, we’ll give you the same deal we gave Frank Miller.” What am I going to complain about? My relationship has been great with Dark Horse.
EF: You mentioned that your Hellboy ending was some 15 years away. Do you have all of the stories of those 15 years well laid out in your head, or do you just have the ending that you’re shooting for?
MM: I’ve got the next probably five years of “Hellboy” pretty figured out. Then there’s a chunk of the story that’s roughly figured out, and then I know the ending.
EF: Why 15 years?
MM: It’s been 15 years, and it feels like I’m about halfway through the story. Again, depending on if the artist I’ve got drawing it is kind of slow, and if I come in at some point and draw it again, I’m really slow. I’d like to think 15 years. I’d also like to think that in 15 years, I’ll still be able to do this stuff, and beyond that, God knows. I don’t want to be hit by a bus before I finish the ending of the story.
EF: Have you thought of beginning any new comics?
MM: I’ve got a couple of projects that are set in the Hellboy world. I’ve got a Victorian occult detective I’ve wanted do for a long time, and I’ve actually got a couple other things. I’ve also got some original, non-Hellboy odd little short stories I want to do, but, you know, there aren’t enough hours in the day.
EF: Does it feel weird having so many other creators producing the actual comics?
MM: The toughest decision I ever had to make professionally was finding somebody else to draw “Hellboy,” but I just knew this gigantic story that I’d made up was never going to get done if I was the artist of it. It was tough, and there are days where it’s still tough. But the guy’s great, Duncan Fegredo, who draws “Hellboy,” is fantastic. I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve been able to work with. I co-write some of the other books. I wrote an Abe Sapien book last year, and I wrote a Lobster Johnson book last year. But that’s still Hellboy-related. I keep trying to put all my energies into something else, but I’ve created this big pile of interrelated books, and I’m the one guy who knows where those stories are going, so I can’t just say, “Hey, Bob, you figure it out.” It’s my baby.
Guillermo del Toro on the set of "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"
EF: Is there anything special planned for Comic-Con this year?
MM: No, actually, it’s kind of nice, because we’re not promoting anything. The movie will be over and done, and everybody will be talking about “The Dark Knight” by then. I think there’s a panel where we discuss the DVD extras, and other than that, I don’t think there are any big surprise announcements.
EF: Can you say what those DVD extras are?
MM: I’ve heard, but I don’t think there’s anything kind of earth-shattering, never-been-done-before kind of stuff. I mean, I know that there is a gigantic documentary. Our DVD guy Javier [Soto] was on the film forever, and he was in pre-production, so there’s a ton of making-of stuff.