Mike Mignola is one of the hardest-working comic-book creators around. And he owes it all to one character.
By Bryan Reesman
Mike Mignola is one of the most distinct and recognizable comic-book artists/writers today. Starting his career in 1983, the Eisner Award-winning creator of Hellboy cut his teeth illustrating famous series like Wolverine for Marvel Comics, and Batman and The Phantom Stranger for DC Comics. By 1994, he had plunged into the world of his original creation, which he writes and draws in a gothic, expressionistic style.
Mignola's amiable but glib monster creation - a demonic creature that has a giant fist and which was summoned for nefarious purposes by Rasputin for the Nazis but now serves the U.S. government, fighting for the greater good - is where his fame and fortune lies.
Hellboy has been turned into a movie directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and into an animated series (Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron are in stores now, and The Phantom Claw is in development), and its spin-offs include the BPRD, Weird Tales, and Hellboy Junior comics series, as well as the novel The God Machine, which Mignola created with Thomas E. Sniegoski. You also may have seen the animated adaptation of Mignola's quirky and hilarious The Amazing Screw-On Head on the Sci Fi Channel recently (think cyberpunk in 1862, with vampires, zombies, and Abraham Lincoln), for which he was a consultant.
With 10 years of Hellboy stories already plotted out and with new live-action and animated movies coming, we wager that Mignola never sleeps.
What's in store for the second live-action movie, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army? It's a much better story. It has the benefit of not having to do with the origins, because all that stuff got taken care of in the first picture. Guillermo and I sat down and came up with the story together, so he was not kind of saddled with adapting my material, and I think it's very close to the spirit of Pan's Labyrinth, dealing with that kind of subject matter. Hellboy 2 continues the story of Hellboy and Liz Sherman, but it's much more folklore oriented than the first film. Also, the scale is twice as big as the first film!
Some liberties were taken in adapting the graphic novel's dramatic arc for the first movie, but I can understand why those changes were made. Guillermo, for whatever reason, really glommed on to Hellboy and really took that character very personally. I think it turned into a vehicle for a lot of his themes, so the whole father/son relationship, which I did very little with in the comic, and the love interest were clearly Toro themes that he attached to my character, and they fit really well. It just made it a slightly different character.
Many of us have grown up with superheroes, and now those heroes are receiving their own live-action adaptations. The special effects have gotten slick enough to be able to present a lot of these characters on-screen, but do you think they are living up to the original stories? Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. We're dealing right now with a generation of filmmakers, many of whom grew up reading comics, who view comics as a viable thing for serious films. Whereas it wasn't that many years ago when if somebody was doing a comic-book film, there was always a tongue-in-cheek camp quality to it. Now you have guys who view it as serious literature.
It used to be that every article about comics led with, "Wham! Pow! Comics aren't just for kids anymore." They would talk about how much an old comic sold for. Again, we have directors who are of the generation that grew up reading comics and grew up reading The Dark Knight and Watchmen, so they grew up in an entirely different atmosphere of comics. We also now have journalists who are of that same age and who want to write a serious article about Frank Miller or Alan Moore. This other generation is changing the perception of comics.
Is there a particular story you would like to adapt for comics? There are a lot of old fairy tales and folktales that I include and will continue to include as Hellboy stories. I would like to someday take one or two old horror stories and turn them into my own interpretation.
What did you think of the first animated Hellboy film, directed by Tad Stones? I thought it was great. Again, you wish you had a lot more money and a lot more time, but I thought that Tad did a really good job.
What's in store for the third animated installment, Hellboy: The Phantom Claw? Part of The Phantom Claw is a retelling of Hellboy's origin. It will be slightly different than the movie and the comic-book version and will involve Lobster Johnson.
Do you think BPRD [Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense] will be adapted into animated form? I think that if we continue to do animated Hellboy films, we will see more of the BPRD there, but I don't think there's an interest in the stand-alone.
How hard is it going to be to work on movies and the comic book simultaneously? Unfortunately, I'm primarily writing now, and not drawing. I'm writing or cowriting five different comics at the moment. I've cowritten a Hellboy novel, and I'm working on the animated films and on the live-action films, so I'm spread pretty thin. But I enjoy the writing. I've got a lot of stories that I want to do, but if I had to draw them myself, they would never get done, so writing has liberated me a lot.
There will be a new Hellboy series, which is an extremely long, involved Hellboy story. I think, well, it's not going to be 100 percent me, but either we get it done a little bit differently by a different artist, or we don't get it at all. And I'd rather have it out there in some form than not see it ever. I plotted a graphic novel that was going to be 300 or 400 pages, and I realized that I'd never get it done. Eventually, I went to a writer friend of mine, and we did it as a novel. It's a radically different form than it was intended to be, but it exists.
Perhaps you need to clone yourself. I've got these two great artists I would like to clone five or six times. There's Guy Davis, who's been doing BPRD and can draw anything, and Duncan Fegredo, who is drawing Hellboy. I'm working with some really great artists right now, but Duncan is doing such a fantastic job on Hellboy: Darkness Calls.
Once the fans get used to the idea that I'm not drawing it and relax and look at what Duncan's doing, within a few years, they won't want me back. My stuff is so simplistic, and Duncan's work is so rich and his character acting is so fantastic. I will always be the creator of Hellboy, but Duncan has really picked it up and run with it in a beautiful direction.
I've got a scene in the new Hellboy miniseries where there's an entire army of skeletons fighting Hellboy. When I made up the story, that scene was in there. But had I drawn it, I either would have changed it or it would have been a bunch of little black lumps with spears sticking out. But Duncan drew 45 running skeletons. He's delivered everything the audience could possibly want, so I couldn't be happier.