Before we finish the leftovers from Thanksgiving and head into December, let’s revisit one of the Best of the Month picks for November in Comics and Graphic Novels: Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo. Demons and dark prophecies await young Hellboy as he sneaks away to find the circus, making for a classic Hellboy tale, but the way in which Mignola weaves familiar narratives into the compact story elevates it to must-read canon. In part one of our interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, we discuss his narrative influences in The Midnight Cirucs, the art process, and why he dislikes the circus.
Alex Carr: The Midnight Circus stars a young Hellboy, whom we recently saw in B.P.R.D.: 1948. Was it a conscious decision to release these two stories so closely together—and why the sudden focus on Hellboy at an early age?
Mike Mignola: You know, I think that was one of those happy accidents. Since we started using young Hellboy in the B.P.R.D. stories, 1946 and 1947, it just made sense to continue in 1948, but I wasn’t thinking about that at all when I started The Midnight Circus. When I started thinking about The Midnight Circus, I was looking for something to do with [artist] Duncan Fegredo that was different than what we’d done before [in The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury]. Since Duncan killed off Hellboy, I thought, “Well, let’s go to the other end of the spectrum.”
It’s set in the 1940s, so I was thinking Ray Bradbury—what does a young kid in the 1940s do? He sneaks off and goes to the circus. Obviously, I was thinking about Something Wicked This Way Comes, that coming-of-age type of thing, where you’re not a little kid anymore, but you’re not quite an adult. And of course Hellboy grows up to be a guy who’s always smoking a cigarette, so I thought about making that a moment. Is this somehow his rite of passage, you know, stealing a cigarette? So, Hellboy sneaks off and has a smoke.
And I’m a big fan of Pinocchio, the original book, and I’d always seen these funny parallels between that character and Hellboy—with the whole real-boy thing. It was an excuse to do the circus, and once I got into the circus, I didn’t really know what the hell to do because I don’t really care about the circus. But I thought it would be a chance to do my spin on Pinocchio.
AC: Well, you’ve pretty much touched upon every question I had for you about the book [laughs]. You dedicate The Midnight Circus to Ray Bradbury: “Who confirmed my worst fears about the circus.” When did you first encounter his classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes?
MM: Probably college. It remains my favorite Bradbury novel. I love that thing.
AC: I have to believe there is some sort of story behind your “worst fears about the circus.”
MM: That’s just me trying to be funny [laughs]. No, I always found circuses, especially clowns, so grimy and so creepy. Recently [publisher] Taschen put out a book on the circus [The Circus Book: 1870-1950], and I made sure Duncan Fegredo got the same book so we could compare notes—and it contains tons of old photos of just the creepiest, grimiest, scariest-looking clowns and things. I can’t imagine how anyone ever thought any of that stuff was cute or funny. It’s just the worst-looking stuff I’ve ever seen.
AC: [Laughs] What about Pinocchio? You said you saw a parallel between that character and young Hellboy, and there’s a significant thread in The Midnight Circus about this. What about Pinocchio’s story makes for such fertile ground for you?
MM: My favorite gag in the new book is when the woman looking after young Hellboy wants to get him away from reading comic books. So she plops him down in the library, alone, with a copy of Pinocchio, which is an amazingly dark, very twisted, and disturbing story. “This is literature and comics are going to rot your brain,” when Pinocchio is designed to scare little kids into being good. It’s nothing but a parade of “If you’re bad, your parents are gonna die.” It’s nothing but that. It’s just relentlessly horrible [laughs], and it’s so bizarre, so much weirder than the Disney film, which is why I wanted some discussion in there of the film versus the book.
AC: In The Midnight Circus, I noticed a shift in Duncan Fegredo’s artwork—something I’d never seen before from him. In a given single page, certain panels look to be done with pen and ink, while others look to be painted. Did you have any direction into the artistic process here, or what insight can you offer on how this look was achieved?
MM: Yeah, if you’ve seen any of our sketchbook sections, Duncan has done a lot of drawings and covers for us using ink-wash. The editors and I always think they look amazing, so when we started to think about the artistic look of this book we saw that we had the reality and then a descent into this nightmare-world. If we wanted, this would be the place to play with different techniques. Fegredo certainly took the ink-wash thing farther than any of us expected, and then when Dave Stewart adds his colors over that wash, it really does look like a painting.
AC: It’s beautiful.
MM: And time-consuming.
AC: I feel like a bad Hellboy fan for asking this, but have we seen villainess Gamori before?
MM: No, we have not. It’s funny—I mentioned this book was time-consuming. I thought The Midnight Circus was going to come out a year ago. We started talking about it after Duncan finished his run on Hellboy, and I knew I wanted to introduce—ah, I don’t want to give anything away.
MM: She is referenced in Hellboy in Hell but I figured she would be established here, and then later I would reference her in Hellboy in Hell. As it turns out, Hellboy in Hell, the comic, has already come out [collection forthcoming] so she’s been referenced before this book. It didn’t really matter in what order they released because it worked out well in this case. But no, we haven’t seen her before, but we will be seeing her again.