Mike Mignola Talks About 15 Years of Hellboy, B.P.R.D. & More

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Oct 12 2009 at 9:00am

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Hellboy Comics and Graphic NovelsMike Mignola’s comic Hellboy started out 15 years ago as a series of short stories featuring Hellboy, a big, red, demonic paranormal investigator with a wry sense of humor, dealing with the supernatural world. Since then, Hellboy has spawned another series, B.P.R.D., as well as a plethora of one-shots, miniseries, and collections.

We got to sit down with Mignola and ask him about the birth of Hellboy, the future of the B.P.R.D., and how he plans to continue to make the Hellboy universe accessible to future readers: When you started out with Hellboy 15 years ago, what did you think would happen with Hellboy, both the title and the character?

Mike Mignola: I had no great expectations. I thought, hopefully it would do well enough that I could keep doing it. But honestly, I thought I would do it once, and then limp back to doing regular Marvel or DC Comics stuff. It was clearly just something to try. I certainly couldn’t have anticipated anything that did happen. How do you think your vision for the comic and for Hellboy himself have evolved over time?

MM: Once it became clear that I was going to be able to keep doing it, and you see it a lot with the second miniseries, I threw a lot more ideas in there. The first one, even though it kind of hinted at a lot of stuff to come, once I did the second miniseries, I was clearly planning on being around for awhile, so I was able to say, “Okay, let me start creating and fleshing out this world.”

And once I charted out all those pieces, it did start to take on a life of its own, pretty much out of my control. The ideas started coming so fast. I mean, the more pieces you put out there, the more characters you put out there, the more they take on a life of their own, scurrying in different directions. There was never any shortage of material once the ball started rolling.

Hellboy The Wild Now it looks like Hellboy has two possible paths in front of him: either becoming the Beast of the Apocalypse or the King of England. Do you think these are inevitable? Will he have to choose between them eventually?

MM: Clearly, I know the answer to that! The beauty of the Hellboy situation in the last couple of years has been putting the guy in that position, and writing him into a corner in a way. To say, there is no choice–you’re going to be this, or you’re going to be that–yet trying to figure out a way to avoid those things. I mean, I can’t imagine Hellboy as the King of England. How the hell? What would that comic look like? But that’s been in the works for a long time.

I’ve had that vision for Hellboy for a long time, that he would end up in that spot. Same with the whole Beast of the Apocalypse thing, which came about as a surprise. That was not a plan for Hellboy, it just sort of came up one day. I was writing dialogue, and I had nothing for someone to say, so I had him say, “You’re that,” and I went, “Oh crap, really?”

I’ve created all these problems for Hellboy, and the trick has been to try to find a way out of this trap that he’s in. That is largely why B.P.R.D. became its own comic. The Hellboy character was never intended to be the center of the comic. Hellboy’s life was never meant to be the center of the comic, but once you create problems like that, it does kind of crowd out Abe Sapien and what he’s going through. What still makes Hellboy exciting is the fact that he’s in this gigantic no-win situation. So you separated Hellboy from the B.P.R.D. so you could more fully explore those other characters?

MM: Yeah. There was just no getting back to Abe Sapien and everybody else. The Hellboy situation became so big and so interesting to me, that the idea of doing anything like a team book or sending Hellboy on missions for the B.P.R.D.–which is all stuff I really like–I just didn’t have the space to do it. Hellboy’s situation was just demanding so much attention that there was no room left for me to do the other stuff.

Hellboy Library Edition Volume Do you think it was a crucial piece character of development for Hellboy, to separate him from his friends?

MM: Yeah. I had played this gag for awhile of Hellboy saying, “I don’t want to think about it, it’s better not to know, I’m going to bury my head in the sand and not deal with who I really am,” which was charming for awhile. That’s really what I intended for this character, that he never would look into his past, and he never would find out what he was, but after you’ve done that gag half a dozen times, you realize it’s turning into too big a character flaw and it’s getting cliché.

So I fully intended not to deal with that stuff, but every time I would make the decision not to deal with it, it seemed like in the next story, I would come up with some other mention about Hellboy’s fate or destiny. So on one hand, I’m saying “No, I’m not going to deal with it,” but on the other hand, it was, “Yeah, but what about this?” So eventually it was just, “Okay, I give up. I will deal with that stuff, not really head on, but I will cut him loose from the B.P.R.D. stuff.”

Also, part of it was when I did the Conqueror Worm miniseries, I felt I had done that “Send Hellboy on a mission thing” as well as I knew how to do it, and I preferred–as an artist–doing stories where Hellboy would just kind of wander off in the world. And I thought it was interesting to cut this character loose and see what happens to him.

What I discovered, and what I think this character has discovered, is that the B.P.R.D. life he was tied to, what passed for a normal life for this guy, once you cut him loose from that, he was kind of swept up in this whole other world, and again, as an artist, what interested me was the supernatural stuff–that blurry line between reality and the kind of fantasy world. So I wanted to have Hellboy kind of slide out of the real world, mostly because as an artist, that’s what I was more interested in drawing. So it’s worked out really nicely in the storyline, to see Hellboy just kind of lose his grip on what passes for the “real world” in the Hellboy world. Is Hellboy going to get any specific answers about his path by the end of The Wild Hunt? Will the readers see him make a decision?

MM: Well, there’s never really any definitive answers. There definitely is, more than there ever had been, coming out of The Wild Hunt and going into the next two books, a very specific direction, and his character has always avoided any kind of direction in his life. He’s just kind of rambled over the earth wherever, and now he has a very specific problem to deal with. But there’s never really a clear answer. He is always going to be a character who’s thrown from one situation to the other, and there is no definitive answer to any of the big questions. At least not yet.

BPRD: The Black Are there any plans to bring him back into the fold with the B.P.R.D.?

MM: Uhhhhhhmmmmmm, that would be telling. I think there’s some really interesting stuff coming up. This year’s going to be really interesting for both Hellboy and B.P.R.D., and you’ll see some interesting hints about what’s going to happen in the future. Never say never. At the end of B.P.R.D.: The Black Goddess, Memnan Saa has been destroyed by Liz, and she seems to be back in her own brain. Where does she go from there?

MM: It’s nice to see Liz get back on her feet and be a normal team member again, but what tends to happen with all these characters is, once you start screwing with them, once you start giving them that much attention, they evolve, and once that ball starts rolling, they do tend to careen off in interesting directions. So interesting things will be happening with Liz.

I think as with real people, it’s really difficult to say, “Oh, now after you’ve gone through all this stuff, you can just go back to being this normal person.” And that’s something I didn’t really think about when I started this stuff. Even when I started with Hellboy, he was never meant to have a real arc to him as a character. He was just meant to be that guy who came in and solved problems. But all these characters, once we started doing stuff with them, they ended up going places.

The way [co-writer] John Arcudi and I work, and John does the bulk of the writing on B.P.R.D., is I kind of throw these problems at John, and then John handles the character stuff. I say, “Okay this stuff happens to this person,” and then John is going to show what that does to the person. It’s like I’m sitting at the top of the mountain throwing lightning bolts and blowing up things, and John is down on the ground cleaning up my mess. I’ll say, “Do this to this and do that to that,” and John says, “You do know what that does to these people, right? That’s going to screw up this guy and it’s going to affect his relationship with that person.” So that’s kind of an interesting way to work. Is Lobster Johnson returning to be a regular part of the B.P.R.D., or is this another temporary possession of Johann?

MM: It’d be kind of hard to pull off–I don’t know, maybe Marvel Comics could do it. But since he has basically shanghaied another guy’s ectoplasm to create a body for himself, I don’t see that working. I can’t imagine the B.P.R.D. saying, “Oh, great!” either. It’s one more problem for the B.P.R.D. to deal with. Lobster Johnson is around for awhile, but I wouldn’t look for him in the book five years from now.

BPRD: The King of What can you tell us about the next arc for the present-day B.P.R.D.?

MM: The next miniseries is The King of Fear, which is really interesting. A lot of stuff that we’ve been building to–we’ve had this whole giant war with the frogs and all this other stuff–we kind of said okay, let’s clean up this mess. King of Fear is the biggest miniseries in that it’s the game changer. It’s the one in which we reset what our guys are dealing with and how the world works. So we’re making gigantic, sweeping changes to the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. world in that one. Yeah, that one I’m pretty excited about.

One thing I’ve been saying for a long time about both Hellboy and B.P.R.D. is that when we break stuff, we can’t always fix it. When we kill characters, we can’t bring them back. So it’s not like Marvel or DC Comics, where if we blow up New York City, we’ve gotta spend the next issue getting things back to normal. When we break stuff in the Hellboy world, it’s okay for it to stay broken, because it never has to get back to what it was. So the characters, and the world, and everything else, is evolving in a particular direction, and we’re going to be seeing that a lot next year. With B.P.R.D. 1947, you’re working with a brand-new team of artists, with Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon. How did you select them, and what’s it like working with a team of artists?

MM: I had that idea for a story for quite awhile, and the more I started playing with it and seeing how that story would work, one of the problems was that I felt like the book had to be drawn by two different people. The whole point of that story is that some of it takes place in the real world, and then we kind of drift back into this fantasy world, which happens in the first issue, and from then on we’re flashing back and forth between the real world and this fantasy, nightmare-supernatural world. So we’re either looking for one artist with two radically different styles, or two different artists.

The problem with two different artists is that we still have the same main character in both worlds, so is it going to match up at all? I think it was probably Scott [Allie, Hellboy editor] who suggested the twins. The fact that they are twins, and they work in the same studio, and over the top of each other’s work, and they have two distinctly different styles–I couldn’t imagine any other team being able to pull off what I was asking for.

And it’s worked beautifully. Even in that first issue, you see a transition in one panel from one world to another world, which you could only do if the two guys were working in the same room. It’s been fun, and fortunately, because Dave Stewart is a genius, Dave was able to have two radically different color techniques: one for coloring Gabriel’s stuff and one for coloring Fábio’s stuff, and he was also able to do a transition between those two different color treatments. It’s really worked out great.

BPRD: It looks like it’s Fábio doing the more supernatural part of the story, and Gabriel who’s doing the more grounded-in-reality stuff?

MM: Yeah, which makes perfect sense, because Fábio’s stuff is a little more soft and drifty and spooky, and Gabriel’s stuff is so hard edged and it’s got a real bounce to it, so again, having two guys who work together but are so distinctly different was great, but also to be able to do a transition period in there, where you can’t really tell which artist is doing what. I don’t know if Fábio laid that out and drew it, or if Gabriel drew some of it. The beauty is, I can’t really tell who did what on the ground level. Once the finish work is done, I can tell who finished the stuff, but the guys work together so beautifully as far as concept, that it really makes for a nice, unified piece. Is this the first time you’ve done a story based solely on vampires? I feel like I haven’t really seen that before from you.

MM: Probably. Considering that vampires are my favorite supernatural creatures, I’ve done very little with them. I’ve done some short stories, but I haven’t done anything where I really get to do the whole cliché old-school vampire thing. This story is the closest to that. The idea of guys going down into a tomb, to open up coffins to put stakes through vampires’ hearts, is something I hadn’t done. Hellboy did it once, but the story veered off in such radically different direction it didn’t really have that atmosphere and that old-school charm.

The appeal of doing the old B.P.R.D. stories, 1946 and 1947, was to do stuff that I didn’t feel would really work in the modern B.P.R.D. That vampire, old-school stuff is so quaint and old-fashioned by today’s standards, but I could do it if I did it in a story that took place in 1947. So this is the most old-school vampire story that I’ve done. It seems like the fate of the character of Simon is to be the sole survivor of these terrible situations. What can you tell us about his character?

MM: I wanted Simon to be–and I had no idea what his name was, that was Josh [Dysart, B.P.R.D.: 1947 co-writer]–but with that B.P.R.D. 1947 I wanted to create the beginnings of a team that would last for awhile, because in B.P.R.D. 1946, everybody got killed, except for Professor Broome. And I said, “Well, let’s begin to create the team.” So Simon goes through this horrible experience that I think turns him into an interesting character.

What I didn’t want to do was create a bunch of guys with superpowers, or supernatural powers, but I said, “Let me screw up a guy enough that he becomes a very interesting B.P.R.D. agent and hopefully becomes the first kind of star agent of the B.P.R.D. and then as we continue to do these flashback stories, we’ll have more guys survive, so little by little, we will build a team of guys.”

Witchfinder: In the Service of You’ve also got Witchfinder, which is coming out right now, featuring Ben Stenbeck, an artist you’ve briefly worked with before. But this is the first series you’ve done with him. What attracted you to his work?

MM: There’s a real charm to Ben’s stuff. He is very solid, and he’s very detail oriented, but not in a fussy way. He is not a flashy, technique guy. There’s an old-school solidity to his work, and it’s very clear and readable, and it has a real charm to it. I think in comics these days, I see so many guys where it’s two or three tricks somehow turned into a style, and Ben can just draw, and he can just tell a story. And all the drawing serves to create that world and those characters and it’s not overly showy, it’s just solid.

Witchfinder has always been a problem–I’ve had that idea for the character of Edward Grey for a long time–and he’s been referenced before in Hellboy–but I needed somebody who could pull off a really detailed Victorian world, and would put in the work that the world required. So I needed a guy who was going to do reference, because I had to sell Victorian London, and if you get a guy who’s all flash, you’re not really going to get the atmosphere and the feel for that time period and that city.

When we worked together on the Ectoplasmic Man one-shot, he grounded that thing in such a reality that I thought, yeah, this guy could pull this off, and it had a mood and atmosphere. I was envisioning Victorian London, and how it’s going to have fog, and coaches, and all that kind of stuff, and I knew I could see that in The Ectoplasmic Man. So I’m very happy that he took the job. As you said before, Sir Edward Grey has been flitting around the Hellboy universe here and there. What made you decide to do a series about him now?

MM: Everything I like, I need to create my version of it in Hellboy, and I’m a big fan of old Victorian supernatural fiction and Victorian occult detectives, so I knew I needed one of those guys in the Hellboy world. Just like Lobster Johnson represents the ’30s-’40s pulp magazine characters, I needed a guy who would represent the 1880s Victorian occult detectives.

So I mentioned this guy way back in the second Hellboy miniseries, and then when I did this Abe Sapien thing a couple of years ago, I put this guy in the opening sequence–I did a 10-page sequence with Sir Edward Grey. And once I’ve given a character a little bit of room and a little bit of attention, he doesn’t want to get back in the box. Then it’s like, okay, we can’t really go back now. Now we need to give this guy more room, give him some attention. Hopefully, when you do a 10-page sequence with the character, if you do it well, people are saying, “Who is this guy, we want to see more of him.”

BPRD Killing GroundWhat also happened is, John Arcudi and I started talking about the possibility of doing a Western. He wanted to write a Western. And I said well, we could do a Western if we tied it into the Hellboy universe. And while I haven’t done anything with the American West, I do have this character who’s running around in the 1870s, 1880s. If we take that Victorian occult detective and throw him in the Old West, then we can do a Western set in the Hellboy universe.

So we started talking about doing that project, and then I thought, okay, is that a really good introduction to a character who’s an English occult detective? So while the Western started first, I realized that it had to be the second book. The first book needs to create the world and the normal setting for this character. Then we can throw him in the Old West. So the first Witchfinder book, the one I wrote, is really trying to just establish that Victorian England world. Hellboy originally started out with you doing the art and the writing, but now you have this family of amazing writers and artists working with you. How do you select them, and what do you look for?

MM: I’m picky. I’m a pain in the ass. Especially with something like Hellboy. It’s really difficult. To go back to B.P.R.D., Guy Davis was the easiest part to select. I’ve always loved Guy’s work, he creates amazing creatures, he can draw anything, and I thought, man, if we can get this guy, that would be perfect. Since Guy said yes to doing it, B.P.R.D. has been such a pleasure to do. Both John and I are in love with what Guy does, so it’s just a game of, ooh, it’d be cool to see Guy draw this, it’d be cool for Guy to draw that. That part was easy. Had he said no, god knows what would have happened.

Getting an artist for Hellboy was really difficult. I didn’t want someone to just imitate my work, but because Hellboy was so established in my style, I needed somebody who had some of the same stylistic things that I did. I needed somebody who could spot black, and that’s a lot trickier. Our first artist didn’t work out, so the fact that Duncan was available was perfect. But finding somebody to draw Hellboy is always going to be harder. B.P.R.D., because it doesn’t involve that character, is a lot more open, and we’ve had that flexibility to use different artists and different styles. Hellboy needs to have my kind of atmosphere.

Hellboy Wake the Going straight from that, are there any stories you’re saving for yourself to draw? Are you going to be doing any interior work?

MM: Yes. I’m constantly making up Hellboy stories and putting them on a shelf. And there’s two different mental shelves: one that’s, “Ooh, that’s so much fun, I’ve got to do that one myself,” and the stuff that piles up on my shelf, every once in a while, those slide over onto the other shelf. But there are definitely stories I have to do. There’s one about Hellboy in Mexico that I’ve been planning for years, and little by little putting together the reference. Mostly because it’s such a weird story, I wouldn’t even know how to write the plot for it for somebody else.

Because I’ve gotten most of my writing done, now that Witchfinder‘s done and I’m not taking on any more writing jobs, except for the Hellboy ongoing series with Duncan, and the one-shots I’m doing with Richard Corben, my focus is going to be writing and drawing my own stuff. So I’ve got a couple of different projects I have to get working on, hopefully early next year, if not the end of this year. You also have The Amazing Screw-On Head coming up. What can you tell us about that?

MM: That’s the first thing I have to start on, and I guess I should be starting on it next month. I’m running out of things to do, so I have to stop talking about it and actually do it. The Amazing Screw-On Head comic is unfortunately only 30-some-odd pages. I’ve always wanted a nice collection of that, but it’s hard to do a collection when it’s only one comic. So for years I’ve been saying that I want to do a collection called The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects.

The problem is, I haven’t got the other curious objects. So I’m going to sit down and do at least one story that will be the same length, if not longer, than The Amazing Screw-On Head, and a couple of shorter things. And it’ll be a very odd collection. There’s another story of mine that’s never been collected, a story I plotted with my daughter, The Magician and the Snake, which is my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

So that goes into this collection, and then all of the other stories in the collection, although none of them use the Amazing Screw-On Head character, all somehow either relate to The Amazing Screw-On Head or to The Magician and the Snake. A lot of it will be purely visual clues, to tie them into the same kind of world. It’s nothing a logical as “Oh, this is the Screw-On Head universe,” it’s just unrelated stories kind of reference some of the same locations. I think the lengthy story I’m doing uses one of the characters from The Amazing Screw-On Head, but not one of the main characters. It’s going to be a really fun book, once I sit down and actually do it.

Hellboy The Bride of Well, you’ve also got two one-shots in the Dark Horse One-Shot Wonders collection. Were those designed to be accessible to new readers?

MM: Yeah. One of the things with Hellboy and B.P.R.D. these days, is I’ve begun to be nervous that they’re not accessible to new readers. We’ve had this frog thing going on for years now in B.P.R.D., and in Hellboy we’ve had this Arthurian English folklore thing going on for awhile, and I want to make sure we always have some comics you can give to somebody who is not well-versed in the world.

Fortunately, with Hellboy, we do have three collections that are all short stories, which are good intros to Hellboy. And we did The Crooked Man last year, which is a great stand-alone Hellboy story. So part of the Hellboy plan is always to come up with these stories. B.P.R.D. is a little bit trickier. But before there was any organized plan from Dark Horse to do this one-shot program, I had already come up with this one-shot for Richard Corben to draw, and there was already talk about the Abe Sapien story.

The Abe Sapien story I had very little to do with. It’s very strange, that these characters are kind of John Arcudi’s characters. I had written the Abe Sapien miniseries The Drowning, set real early in Abe’s career, and I said to John, “If you wanted to build on that, if you want to do more stories with Abe, there’s about 20 years where we don’t know what the hell he was doing.” So there’s a lot of space to fill in. And since John is the character guy, my feeling is, if you want to flesh out the character, you’ve got these 20 years to drop in story–to do stand-along adventure stories, but also, it gives you an opportunity to flesh out that character a little bit more. As you know, this interview is going up for horror month. What do you think are the essential pieces of a good horror tale?

MM: For me, I’m a mood-atmosphere guy. I don’t know that I’m really a horror guy, not the way people think of horror these days. I’m not a big fan of what passes for horror these days. There’s not a lot of real violence in the Hellboy stuff. Instead, there’s this kind of cartoon-monster violence. The whole slasher thing unfortunately seems to be what people think of these days as horror, either zombies or slasher stuff, and neither one is terribly appealing to me. I’m very into the old-school atmosphere–that’s the stuff that interests me.

Abe Sapien So you’re not running out to see Twilight?

MM: Twilight is a whole different horror thing. That’s not even horror–it’s a romance story with vampires. Again, not terribly appealing to me, but there you go. What are you most excited about coming up, in the Hellboy universe?

MM: This next year, between The King of Fear and coming out of The Wild Hunt and going into The Storm, we’re really going someplace with Hellboy. A lot of stuff I’ve been thinking about for the last 10 years, suddenly, I’m writing those stories.

It’s the same with B.P.R.D. I’ve always said, “One of these days, we’ll get around to doing this kind of thing.” Well, we’re there now. So this next year has got such big changes in both those books, I’m excited about that. It does shake things up quite a bit. So yeah, I’m really happy with how both these books are coming along, and the way the characters have evolved, and how this world is getting fleshed out, with the addition of something like Witchfinder, and we’re talking about doing a Lobster Johnson book next year, so just the way we’re filling some of the gaps in the Hellboy world, I think it’s going very nicely.

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