Mike Mignola (2007)
This was a short interview originally published in 2007, in Death Ray 3, to publicise the animated Hellboy adventure Blood and Iron.
The Devil pays his dues
Hellboy creator talks paternal pride on watching the world’s nicest demon get all grown up…
Mike Mignola is in the very unusual position of being able to say that the devil paid for his house, for his creation Hellboy, the good-guy, ghostbusting demon, has proven to be far more than the one-off creative adventure Mignola thought he would be. Toys, games, films, animation… Big Red has taken himself to the hearts of millions, with his wisecracks, gentle nature, and satanic background, earning Mignola a pretty penny in the process.
But it wasn’t always the case. Mignola was once just one talented pencil jockey among many, drawing the creations of other men for the great idea factories of Marvel and DC. But with a distinctive art style developing, and a burning creativity within, he wasn’t to remain a company boy forever. 11 years after his career began in 1983, he published his first Hellboy story, The Seed of Destruction. As his confidence grew, he took over scripting the comic from John Byrne, and is now acknowledged as an accomplished writer as well as a highly distinctive penciller, colourist and inker. His art is inspired by Jack Kirby, his stories by HP Lovecraft – rammed full of a blend of references to obscure myth, folklore, and Nazi superscience. That there is a smattering of cybernetic apes only helps. All have combined to make Mignola the epitome of the successful independent comic creator, an inspiration to the next generation of writers and artists.
With the second live action film underway, a new comic which, for the first time, is being drawn by somebody else, and umpteen other spin-off products, Mignola is still in love with Hellboy. We got in touch with him to ask what life with the devil is like…
Guy Haley: Hellboy himself is a very striking visual, how did he come about?
Mike Mignola: I always knew the kind of stories I wanted to do – I was very into Victorian era occult detectives, but I realised if I just drew a guy with a moustache, I’d get bored. So I went much more Jack Kirby with it and created a character that I thought would be fun to draw. A character that even if I drew him badly, there would be no question that it’s the same guy. So, there wasn’t any kind of real graphic thing of ‘Well, it’ll be great because it will all be muted colours and this guy will be red’ I just wanted to always know who Hellboy was. And of course part of the joke with Hellboy was to have a good guy who looked like the devil. So of course the most stereotypical devil colour was red. I never questioned what colour he was going to be.
I remember when I told my wife about Hellboy – she encouraged me to do a creator-owned book. We didn’t have kids at the time, and all the Image guys were becoming millionaires, and she said maybe you should try, there’s nothing to be lost by it. I think she was hoping I’d say I’d created the next Batman, but when I came in a few hours later and said ‘I’ve got it, it’s called Hellboy,’ I remember that look on her face that said ‘Oh crap, we’re going to live in a studio apartment for the rest of our lives’. But I couldn’t help but make it into something I would care about, I couldn’t sit down and manufacture what I thought would be a commercial comic.
GH: A lot of Hellboy is draw from fairytale, folklore and Lovecraftian horror, then there are the Nazis and the all pulp influences. What draws you to that kind of thing?
MM: That’s the big question that I’ve never had any kind of an answer for. As a kid there were two or three different books that just I wanted to crawl inside. I remember distinctly reading Dracula when I was 12 or 13, I just said ‘Wow, this is my world’, that kind of stuff just grabbed me. Pinnochio is another, because it’s just such a bizarre, freakish world. It’s really dark, but really interesting. Which is why I like a lot of the old fairytales and folktales, there’s a sort of peculiarness, a sort of fairytale logic that goes on in those worlds that I find really appealing.
Then, growing up, my favourite comics were the Jack Kirby Marvel Comics and some of the best villains were characters like the Red Skull, that had their roots in World War II. In my mind for Hellboy to be a great old-fashioned hero, I needed to have his roots in World War II. So who’s going to be the villains? The Nazis. They’re great villains, they require no explanation, and almost any crazy project you can say they were working on, you’ll then find out by watching the History Channel that they were working on, so that was a no-brainer.
I just shovelled everything I liked into Hellboy. I know guys who’ll make a book and say ‘This is my folklore book’ or ‘This is my Nazi book’. I never planned to do a different bunch of books, so I thought let me cram all that stuff it into one thing, let me touch on all those different elements. I try and bring all that crap together, in a way that nobody in their right mind would, so it’s distinct. I don’t know if it’s good, but I know that nobody else would have made it up.
There’s also a very big dose of Michael Moorcock in Hellboy, the doomed hero. I read all Michael’s stuff when I was in High School, and I never quite recovered. It’s in there more than I realize.
GH: Hellboy really is the epitome of the independent comic. A huge success, but very much one man’s vision. Now so many others involved – animation, live action, novels, games. How do you feel giving your sandbox to someone else to play with?
MM: Some days it’s easy and some days its hard. Putting some distance in is the easiest way to live with it, because I can’t do everything all myself, and one thing I learned is, I know what I do – I do the comics, and that’s the heart of Hellboy. The animation is Tad Stone’s version of Hellboy, the film is Guillermo Del Toro’s version. But the comic is still mine. Things like the computer game are easy. I had no choice in the matter, the rights were tied into the movie and somebody else made that decision. I don’t play computer games, so I don’t really care. And they based it more on the film, so you kind of go, okay that’s fine. I had made my peace with the movie. That doesn’t need to be exactly like the comic. In fact the biggest problems I have with the film stuff is when it becomes too much like the comic. When I first sat down with Guillermo to talk about Hellboy, I wanted to change it much more than he did. Part of that would have been make it a separate thing entirely where I still got to keep the money! But it’s true to the spirit of my thing, it’s a pretty good PR tool for the comic, it’s my recognisable character with more or less my voice, it’s just that the particulars of the story are a bit different.
The hardest thing is when we brought somebody else in to draw Hellboy. But it’s a process where more and more of me becomes comfortable. And I do have some other things I want to do, so what we run into is either Hellboy isn’t going to exist, or it’s going to exist drawn by somebody else.
GH: Will it come to an end as comic?
MM: Well, you know, eventually I won’t be around, so I’m trying to get all my stories done before the curtain comes down. Originally it didn’t have an arc. I had a bunch of Nazis, and this guy shows up, and I just really never planned to deal with his origin again, but as time went on it was almost like the characters started telling me who Hellboy was. It became the focus of the book as opposed to a series of unrelated adventures, which was the original idea. At this point I have sketched out a really involved plan, there’s a definite arc to the character now. And there’s an end to the story, but it’s difficult to say if it’s the end of Hellboy.
GH: Do you ever feel like doing a Conan Doyle, and pushing your main characters off the Reichenbach Falls?
MM: I do recognise the Conan Doyle thing! I were to run off and do something else people would say, ‘That’s nice, but where’s Hellboy?’ I don’t know about Doyle, but almost everything I want to do is in that world. If you’re going to have a curse to do one thing, it’s not a bad curse.
Did you know…?
Hellboy was summoned by the evil monk Rasputin (he of Boney M and Tsarist Russia fame) to help the Nazis win World War II. However, the ritual was disrupted by the Allies, and Hellboy, then a child, was adopted by British Professor Bruttenholm. Now he is the chief agent for the Bureau for Paranormal Defense and Research, dealing with supernatural problems worldwide. However, though he has been raised by humans to be a good-hearted soul, his diabolical past is never far behind him, and their are powers who would use him for their own ends…