Graphic Novel Fridays: ECCC 2009: Interview with Mike Mignola
Who knew that the cantankerous Hellboy would one day become a household name? Creator, writer, and artist Mike Mignola’s red-tailed anti-hero not only wields a “Right Hand of Doom,” but also a successful line of comics that spawned animated films, a spin-off series (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), several novelizations, and two feature films directed by Guillermo Del Toro.
At Emerald City ComiCon, Mike Mignola was nice enough to share his lunch break for a revealing interview. Fans waited somewhat-patiently as we talked at length about the apocalyptic future of his series, upcoming side projects, films, and sharing writing duties on B.P.R.D. with John Arcudi.
Amazon.com: As an exclusive to the Emerald City ComiCon, you created a limited edition print of Hellboy, where he is holding a very familiar-looking cup of coffee, and standing in front of a familiar—at least for Seattle residents—landmark: the Fremont Troll. How did you get involved in this project?
Mike Mignola: Out of the blue, I got an email that said, “Can you do a print?” And I said, “Sure,” figuring it would be Hellboy standing in front of the Seattle skyline. I had no idea there was this “Troll thing.” Somebody sent me photos of it and said, “Why don’t you put Hellboy in front of this?” That’s it. It's pretty simple.
Amazon.com: It turned out great [pictured at right], and demand for it this morning was fairly intense. I had to push down a small child to make sure I obtained a copy.
Mike Mignola: The trampling of small children was certainly what I had in mind (laughs). No, I walked in this morning and saw the line for that thing, and it was a nice surprise.
Amazon.com: The Fremont Troll has a bit of local folklore behind it, and one of my favorite things about Hellboy is the way you weave obscure folklore and mythology into the stories. Can you talk about that process?
Mike Mignola: One of my earliest ideas with Hellboy was that he’d spent years roaming, either on assignment or just on his own, and I would sort-of-adapt or at least use these folklore characters from around the world. My goal ultimately is to have stories that reflect all the different mythologies and folktales from the whole world—there’s a gigantic chunk of the world I haven’t even touched on yet. I’ve got a massive library of that stuff at home—it’s always been an interest of mine—and it’s actually very comforting to look at the bookcase and go, “Wow! There are 36 books I haven’t even opened.” So, I know there’s no shortage of Hellboy stories.
Amazon.com: As your schedule becomes more and more film-focused, will we see you return to Hellboy artistic duties anytime soon?
Mike Mignola: Well, my schedule is not more and more film focused. I worked on the Hellboy films because they were Hellboy films, and I’m going to help Del Toro out for a couple weeks on The Hobbit. But other than that, I have no interest in working on films. It’s not really what I do. It’s fun to work with Del Toro. I can’t say no—when he calls, I have to go running.
But my focus has always been—as much as is humanly possible—on comics. What happened was I ended up expanding the Hellboy world so much that just writing them, and co-writing them, and doing the covers became a full-time job. My goal is to tear myself away from some of these writing projects—it’s really hard because this is my stuff, and so the only person who can really write this stuff is me. And John Arcudi, who writes B.P.R.D. with me, you know, more and more that book is his, while the Hellboy stuff is mine. I’ve got to keep that up and running, but I’m trying like hell to free up my schedule so I can go back to drawing comics. I did one last year, and I hadn’t done one in a couple years. It was so much fun that all I wanted to do was go back to writing and drawing my own stuff. But I’m the middle of this gigantic ongoing Hellboy storyline that I really couldn’t go back and [draw] it. It would just never get finished, because I’m trying to keep so many different balls in the air.
So, my plan is to do certain Hellboy stories myself –short little folklore-oriented Hellboy stories, odd little stories—and then do some other non-Hellboy stories. I’ve been doing Hellboy for 15 years now, and, little by little, I have this catalog of odd things I want to do. I want to do a lot of stuff, and it means that some of the writing, I just have to say “No” to. I have too many ideas. (Laughs.)
Amazon.com: Can you give us a hint of what some of these other projects might be?
Mike Mignola: Well, I did a comic called The Amazing Screw-On Head, and while I have no plans to do another story about that character, I did love the feel of that world and the absurd humor in that story. I’ve got a lot more stuff like that I want to do, and just peculiar little things based on fairy tales and folklore. Instead of taking them and working them into Hellboy, I would love to take some of that same kind of subject matter and do it without having to turn it into a Hellboy story.
Amazon.com: I’m glad that you brought up B.P.R.D., because it’s been interesting to watch it achieve what few spin-offs have been able to: become a series in its own right. Volume 10: The Warning releases this month, and it’s the first in a trilogy of B.P.R.D. collections that will shake up the Hellboy universe. What’s to come in this series?
Mike Mignola: The Warning is the beginning of a wrap-up of basically everything we’ve been doing in B.P.R.D. That was one of those cases where the little snowball started rolling down the hill and just got bigger and bigger and bigger. It turned into something that’s taken over the book. So now we’re saying, “OK, we want to wrap this up—this whole ‘Frog Problem’—and then switch into a slightly different direction.” But it also means major changes for the characters and kind-of literally for the world. The Hellboy and B.P.R.D. Universe is not meant to be like a Marvel or DC comic, where it’s going to go on forever, and things will get fixed and go on to be the way they were.
Let’s break some stuff that can’t be fixed. Let’s turn some corners where there’s no going back. In both Hellboy and B.P.R.D., we’re saying, “Well, once we do this—once we round this corner—that’s it!” It’s not like, “Oh, Batman, different costume.” We’re doing stuff where there’s no way to fix it. That is the new reality in our world. You will see changes in the planet.
Man, it’s hard to talk about his without giving stuff away, but my feeling was “This is a battle where the good guys aren’t going to win.” We’re dealing with, basically, the end of the world. The end of the world isn’t tomorrow, and it’s not going to happen all at once, but there are forces at work here that are all geared towards changing the planet. Ragnorok has been a recurring theme in Hellboy, and even though it doesn’t get mentioned in B.P.R.D., the idea is there as well. Ragnorok in Norse mythology is the end of the world and the beginning of another world. That was Rasputin’s deal in the first Hellboy series: Hellboy is here to end the world and make way for a new one. Does that make you a bad guy, or does it make you the best guy because this world’s done? This one’s worn out. It’s time to say, “Turn the lights off so we can start a new one up.”
Amazon.com: This all sounds so Big Picture, I’m a little surprised not to see you as writer on B.P.R.D. Can you walk readers through how writing duties work between you and John Arcudi?
Mike Mignola: It varies a lot. On certain books I’ll say, “Ok, in this one we need to do this, this, and this.” On certain books I’ll say, “Here’s basically the plot.” And on other books, John will say, “I want to do this.” There’s a mummy character who’s John’s character, even though I think it was my idea to have a living mummy show up. Once he introduces these characters who are essentially his, then they are his to do with however he wants. More and more in B.P.R.D., I have a world view, but John being an amazingly good character-guy, he will tell me what [my view] will do to the people. I mean, I’ll make the world-changing decisions, and John will do the human reaction to those world-changing decisions.
Amazon.com: Like the “macro” and “micro” of B.P.R.D.?
Mike Mignola: Yeah, and it makes for a really interesting book, in a very fluid working relationship. We’ll bounce stuff back-and-forth, and I can tell at this point when I come up with something, and he’s like, “Well…it’s not really working.” I’m now asking him questions about B.P.R.D. When I wrote a short epilogue in Hellboy: Darkness Calls that was [about] the B.P.R.D., I had to ask John what the characters would say. That’s what I wanted, though, because I love John, I love the way he writes. I wanted him to take ownership of those characters—in anything other than a legal sense (laughs). I wanted him to feel like those were his characters. I didn’t want him to be second-guessing what I would do. That’s when writers do their best work: when they feel like it’s theirs. So, he’s a little bit hampered in that I’m steering the direction for the world, but I’m not micro-managing so much that he doesn’t have room to do what he wants.