Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part One)

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.”

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