One might expect a character’s death to be followed by a dearth of activity, but that’s hardly been the case for the working man’s demon–that bear drinkin’, cigar smokin’, pancake eatin’ Hellboy. Not only have stories in his comics universe continued with the BPRD spin-off, not only are handsome new omnibus books collecting his adventures in chronological order for the first time, but Mantic Games also just blasted through all stretch goals of its Kickstarter campaign for a Hellboy tabletop game. Even if the ‘Boy hadn’t just woke up from seemingly endless sleep, he’d be pretty damn busy for any superhero, living or dead.
Hellboy’s creator, Mike Mignola, is back in some respects, too. Having taken a bit of sabbatical from comics to focus on painting, he’s affixed “semi” to his “retirement” to plot some new adventures for his resurrected creation. We got the chance the chance to chat with Mignola about all things Hellboy, from the series’ early days at Dark Horse’s Legend imprint to its unexpected reception in other country days. And while the man is synonymous with the ‘Boy, now, Mignola also has a sizable body of work at Marvel and DC, and a number of those projects have recently been adapted to screen. Read on, and get Mignola’s candid thoughts on every area of his oeuvre!
It’s good sign, I guess – there’s still some interest in this character! It’s the kind of thing I know nothing about. I suspect it’s entirely because people want a hundred little, tiny Hellboy and Hellboy-related figures to play with. I know that’s what I’m excited about! Haha…
Well, they definitely go deep into the mythos and its large cast of characters.
I’m always nervous about this kind of stuff – that I might end up with people who don’t know the material. So, I’m always nervous about these things, because I don’t want to get roped into being the one trying to explain to somebody endlessly, “That’s the movie!” or “Hellboy wouldn’t do this!” But these guys knew what they were doing, so that’s kind of nice.
Is it ever surreal to see such a personal universe of creations getting interpreted with such detail like this?
You know, at some point, it takes a lot now for me to really struck by that kind of stuff. I always say the weirdest thing is when this stuff starts feeling normal. Things like a hundred little, tiny Hellboy-related figures that are getting a million dollars in a Kickstarter. That should be weird, but it takes a lot for something to feel weird these days. Haha…
My day-in, day-out involvement has become less and less, because I’m not drawing the books, and I’m not even doing many of the covers. I’ve got my eyes on stuff, but the business of creating the books doesn’t involve me as much. That maybe is a little weird. This thing is going on and I’m going, “Oh, it’s under control, but it’s over there, and it’s mostly somebody else’s job.”
It’s taken on a life of its own.
It very much has. And I thank God for my wonderful editor [Katie O’Brien], who has to do all the heavy lifting. She does most of the dealing with the creators and stuff like that. I get to do the fun stuff.
Occasionally, I’ll have the conversations with the writers about some cool weird ideas. Or I get to talk to artists who want to work on the books, or are working on the books. So, I get to do the fun stuff and I don’t have to do any of the stuff that’s a grind.
You talk about it being a bit unexpected to see an audience respond to a Hellboy board game like they have today. We’re circling the 25th anniversary of the series’ launching at Comic Con with Dark Horse’s Legend imprint. Was the character received differently when first introduced?
It’s funny – I did a couple talks a couple of weeks ago in New York, and I mentioned the Legend imprint, and nobody has any memory [of it]. It really wasn’t around for very long. But certainly, I think I benefited from it more than anybody else.
Had Hellboy just been a regular book, and not part of this group with Frank Miller, and Dave Gibbons, and Geoff Darrow, and Art Adams… if Hellboy didn’t have that association, I think it might have come and gone without notice.
Because it was part of that group, and there was that brief moment where it got the kind of attention it wouldn’t ordinarily have gotten, I think it found an audience. Who knows? We’ll never know what happened without the Legend imprint. But I think that was very “right place, right time” for me.
That time was a watershed for comics, in general. Legend began around the launch of Image, too. This whole notion of creator-owned titles and having a stable of creators grouped together, building on each other’s hype, that was in the zeitgeist then, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it really was. Created-owned stuff was still kind of new. Not really “new” – creator-owned stuff had been around forever – but that Image group generated so many headlines. I don’t know if there was another group until Legend – a group of really high-profile, heavy-hitting creators. We might have been it after Image.
It was the same basic idea, but if Image were [comprised] of older guys who did a different kind of work. And of course, the last thing we wanted to do is get involved in publishing our own books. We just wanted to do the creative stuff and let Dark Horse handle the business. But yeah, for a brief period of time, it made some news.
There were a lot of nods to each other’s book in those early days, too.
Originally – because John Byrne was writing Hellboy with me – he, Art Adams and I were going to have a shared universe. So, John used Hellboy in one of his books. I think he actually used me and Art Adams in his book, also. I think it was in Next Men. I can’t remember exactly what the storyline was.
The character actually originally appeared in Next Men, which was a nice tease for [his] book. And then, I think in some of John’s other books, Hellboy appeared.
And you returned the favor with some of his creations, right?
I actually used one of John’s characters in the very first issue of Hellboy. So, there was this idea that we would have this shared universe of characters. Then, Legend kind of crumbled to pieces. Even before [that], we all realized, maybe this isn’t a good idea. This could be potentially problematic as we go forward if guys are looking over each other’s shoulders. “Well, wait a minute! You can’t use my guy.” We all realized pretty early on we should really just stick to doing our own things.
Every once in a while, something will come up. Somebody wants to do a Hellboy thing and they’ll mention using Torch of Liberty, and I have to go, “Whoa! Whoa! Wait! That’s John’s character.” Even though it’s in the Hellboy book, it’s John’s character. I can understand the confusion. “If it’s a few pages of Hellboy then, of course, it’s a Mignola thing!” That’s the one holdover from our Legend days.
Something similar happened with Image. Where Chapel from Youngblood had killed Spawn and that was initially part of their backstory, but they had to retcon it years later.
Had I created Lobster Johnson [then], I would’ve used Lobster Johnson in that opening sequence in Hellboy, but I hadn’t thought of him yet.
I thought it was cool to have one superhero guy – kind of a throwback to my Marvel Comics stuff, little World War II Captain America hanging out with GI’s. I always wanted to have that. And since John had created this Captain America-ish character, I thought, “Well, this is just perfect.” But now, I never want to go back and take it out, and John never told me to take it out. We acknowledge it’s there, but we just don’t talk about it too much.
Bit of a gentleman’s agreement.
Yes. I hope. Haha…
Speaking of your work at Marvel and your collaborations with John Byrne: it’s the early part of 2018 and a number of your works at Marvel and DC are on screen in a big way, like Krypton at SyFy, which draws from the World of Krypton mini-series you drew.
Yeah, I’ve never seen any of that show. I was contacted briefly by somebody about “how do you pronounce your name?” and it seemed like that had something to do with the Krypton show. I don’t know if it was some press thing or whatever, but somebody needed to mention me in some way, so that’s weird. Some of the Krypton stuff in that first Superman [movie, Man of Steel] was a little similar to some of the stuff I had done with John.
World of Krypton was so long ago, I barely remember what that thing was like. But when you see DC suddenly reprinting it two or three times, you go, “Oh, there must be something going on.”
It’s probably a good clue. Gotham by Gaslight also became an animated movie earlier this year and, of course, Rocket Raccoon has become this pop icon – is that another thing you get used to after a while?
Rocket Raccoon was just a job. It’s not like something I created. Granted, I was like the first guy to do a lengthy Rocket Raccoon thing. But what’s on the screen is so radically different than what I did, it’s just another raccoon character with the same name. It doesn’t ring any bells as far as, “Oh! I remember when I drew that guy!” It’s totally unrelated.
I haven’t seen the Gotham by Gaslight show, so I have no idea how much of it uses the stuff that was in the comic I did. I mean, I’ve seen the trailer for it, so I see that it’s a much bigger thing with a lot more characters. It actually looks really cool.
But again, there’s no part of me that goes, “Oh, that’s my thing!” It’s just, “Oh, there’s a Victorian Batman. That’s interesting.”
So you weren’t involved with that adaptation?
I think Bruce Timm called me at one point, or emailed me, to ask if I wanted to work on the show. So, that was kind of cool. It was nice that they asked. Whatever I did on that thing, I did so long ago, no part of me that wanted to go back in and do that again. I’ve been doing my own stuff for 25 years, now, which does a pretty good job of erasing my memory of everything I did in those first ten years! Haha…
It threw a major wrench in [my workflow], and I’ve never quite gotten back. I haven’t quite figured out what the hell I’m doing. There was something about wrapping up Hellboy where I really did say, “OK, now I’m gonna do something different.”
I tried going back and doing a comic. I actually did 19 pages of a comic, but eventually said, “Yeah, this is not working.” So, I’m still kind of flopping around and figuring out what the hell I’m doing.
The retirement was short-lived, then.
I’ve been saying for a while now I’m semi-retired, which just means I’m not sitting at the drawing table, every day, drawing a comic.
But I haven’t quite figured out what I’m replacing comics with, or if I’m replacing comics. There are plenty of days where I go, “Oh, now I’ve got a million ideas for comics.” Then, the next day I’ll go, “I don’t want to do comics, I want to go back and paint some more.” So, I’ve got a few little work things I still have to wrap up, and then I think I’m going to go back and, at least for a while, go back and do some more paintings.
But… yeah! I haven’t really figured out what the hell I’m doing. Haha…
I actually haven’t read comics in years, so that isn’t an issue, but it is a weird spot to be in. A lot of guys when they retire, they go, “Oh, now I’ll go work on my hobby.” But, my hobby really has been my job for 35 years. So, if you retire from your hobby, what’s left? Haha…
That’s kind of where I am. The thing I find most relaxing is to sit at the drawing table and work on stuff while I’m watching TV. So, I just haven’t quite figured out what to be working on. Again, I’ve got some little work- related that I’m still wrapping up, a couple of covers and things. But after that, I’m really not sure. I love to just play, just draw whatever I want, paint whatever I want, and not worry about making books or any particular publication plans for things, and just do whatever I want. But it’s really hard!
It’s really hard, at least for me, to go, “OK. I can do whatever I want.” And then the next big question is “Well, what do you want to do?”
The burden of choice.
I love drawing stuff, I just haven’t quite figured out what I want to commit to drawing. Haha…
Speaking of interests outside of comics, reading Hellboy over the years, one facet that sticks out is the thorough research behind the occultism and mythology. Is that something you always had an interest in, or was it something that snowballed as you ran with the book?
Yeah, I had been a big fan of folklore and mythology. I’d actually planned to adapt a couple English folk tales. I didn’t know where I was gonna do them, and I ended up working those into Hellboy. So, I had enough interest in that stuff, read enough of that stuff, that it really informed Hellboy.
I did at least three or four Hellboy stories that are pretty much direct adaptations of old folk tales. That was always a fun thing that I got to get away.
When you’re sussing out all these different mythologies, did you have any criteria about what made something fit the world of the BPRD? Were there ever times you looked at a folk tale you wanted to integrate, but it didn’t seem to mesh unless you took a lot of creative license?
I usually stay away from anything that’s very specific with religion. I’m looking for monster stories. And I love religion stories. I love stuff that’s very faith-based… but I never really want Hellboy to be a religious book, or overtly religious, if that makes sense. Certainly, some cultures are also just so totally alien to me, I wouldn’t want to try to do those and get the religion element wrong.
So, I usually just try to find the weird monster story. “Here’s a very specific monster you would only encounter in Malaysia. Yes! Let’s use that.” And I try to get the feel of these different regions. There’s a very specific type of Scandinavian story, there’s a very specific type of Russian story, there’s a very specific type of Asian story. So, I try to get the feel of those things and not step on anybody’s toes while I’m doing it.
Not get too deeply into someone’s beliefs.
Yeah, exactly. Again, especially with stuff I don’t understand – because I just don’t want to screw it up. I’m a simple creature. I was basically just looking for cool monster stories. Haha…
Yeah, exactly, I wasn’t looking to do this deep thing. There’s kind of an underlying mythology behind Hellboy that’s bullshit that I made up, but I never really wanted to get too specific about how that related to all the different folklore/mythology things. I didn’t want to explain, “Oh, fairies are actually this, or demons are actually that.” I tried to stay away from explaining away the magic of those stories.
I’ve done certain things where I’ve related [it all to] my kind of bullshit, made-up world mythology, like in the Russian folklore stories. But I try to keep it really vague. I don’t want to take away from the source material. I try to be fast and loose with all the whole thing, leave a lot of stuff for the reader to try and figure out how these things relate to each other.
So, it’s a matter of balance with the research.
I [do still sometimes] work in a lot of very specific things, as I mentioned – like a particular Malaysian vampire. I tried to work out, real briefly, an origin for this weird thing according to folklore. But I didn’t want the story to be about what this thing. I wanted it to still be an adventure story. I want the flavor of the old folklore or legend, but it’s not the entire point of the story.
I haven’t had too many complaints. In Prague, somebody pointed out that I had drawn a particular castle [into] the wrong country [and then] brought me [all this information] about it. I was just using the castle for reference because it looked cool, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, shit! Somebody’s going to know what that Castle is.” Haha…
What I do get is a lot of people saying, “You have to do a story about my country! We have this other weird thing.” So, that’s really cool. Everybody wants their [monster] to figure into Hellboy, also. And there’s no shortage of those kind of stories, which is always a comfort.
That’s got to be the highest compliment – people wanting their folklore reinterpreted or bumping heads with Hellboy.
Yeah! “Hellboy should fight our guy!” That’s nice… Haha…
Now that Hellboy’s back, any teases about what fans can look forward to in his continuing adventures?
Ah… no. Haha. We’re so close to wrapping up BPRD, anything I mention would be giving something away. There’s also problem of [me having] plotted that story with Scott Alie, pacing back and forth in a hotel room in Portland, just bouncing stuff back and forth, and rattling off a whole lot of stuff. And frankly, once I talk out stuff, I tend to forget it, so I don’t actually remember a lot of what we plotted. Some bits I know very well, because I did step in and I was very specific about certain things, but a lot of the stuff Scott is doing is based entirely on the notes from that day and a half, or whatever, of us just rattling this stuff off.
So, I remember being very excited about it at the time. Now, frankly, I’m just very happy that’s in his hands and he’s referencing his notes, and occasionally he’ll call me up and say, “The notes say this thing, but I can’t quite figure out what it means.” And I’m like, “Sorry! I can’t remember. It all came out in the blur.” Haha… But Scott know what he’s doing so. And he’s stitching it together pretty nicely. I trust him.
We’ve surely got loads of Hellboy fans in our readership. What are you favorite stories in his catalog? What other Mignola comics do you dig, too? Sound off in the comments.
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Featured Image Credit: Dark Horse
Images Credits: Dark Horse, Christine Mignola