Comic Relief with Hellboy Creator Mike Mignola
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Paste: So taking Hellboy to hell is a deceptively organic move for the character. Has this been part of the plan since you started the series in 1994?
Mignola: Probably not since ‘94. But I did know almost from the very beginning that I was going to remove him from the real world. I didn’t know that it was going to be hell. I’ve always been so much more comfortable drawing fantasy stuff than drawing stuff in the real world. So I wanted to move Hellboy to a place where I wouldn’t have to draw the real world, and hell just made so much sense. As things firmed up and I established things like Hellboy being the Beast of the Apocalypse, it’s been in the works for a long, long time.
I didn’t know exactly when he was going to go, but at some point I realized it from the way the stories were accelerating, I went, ‘Oh, here it comes.’ Even when I started the big 3-book arc with (artist) Duncan Fegredo, I don’t think I knew I was killing him off at the end. But once I got going and once this turned into this big storyline, the only payoff that was going to be big enough was going to be to kill him off. It’s one of those things where you look around and go, ‘Have I done everything I was gonna do? Are we really in this place? OK. Let’s pull the trigger.’
Paste: I don’t think I’m going to surprise any of your readers by acknowledging that you’re incredibly well-read in myth, folklore, and history. “The Storm and the Fury” incorporated mythology with Russian, Biblical and Arthurian overtones. Do any old mythologies or folklore flavor this new direction?
Mignola: Yes, there are. There is some of that in the framework of hell. This hell is certainly based on other mythological and folklorish versions of hell, thought I’ve put my personal spin on it. One of the things I was doing in the regular Hellboy world was taking Hellboy around the world and adapting folk tales from different parts of it. Eventually in Hellboy in Hell I’m going to do the same thing. So I want to be able to embrace all of these different cultures by making hell a big enough world that when you travel around it, you kind of drift into an Asian corner, or a Middle Eastern corner of hell, and still be able to explore all of these different mythologies. The beauty of that is because I’m drawing a hell version of Asia, I don’t have to worry about the precise details as if I were really in Japan or China or someplace where I’d have to go, ‘OK, I’m drawing an establishing shot of this town in China, it has to really look like a town in China.’ This gives me real freedom to play fast and loose with the architecture and mythologies, without being tied into the real world.
Paste: From an artistic standpoint, what are your favorite interpretations of hell?
Mignola: You know, I’ve never even thought about that. I love the primitive stuff. Very little of the artwork of hell is influencing my hell, I don’t think. There’s this one painting, and I’m not sure who it’s by. It’s of Pandemonium. It’s this beautiful, gigantic painting, and it’s all in red. That one comes close. It’s just this epic, giant painting of a city. Some of those big, epic-y looking paintings. But my hell is really made up of all of the things that I like to draw. In some ways, it’s closer to the look of The Amazing Screw-On Head series I did. A lot of old buildings and rotting old boats. It’s just made of all the shit I like.
Paste: When you mention Pandemonium in Hellboy, one can’t help but think of Milton’s capitol city of hell in Paradise Lost. Is it the same reference?
Mignola: Yes, I established Pandemonium years ago in a 2-page Hellboy story about Hellboy eating pancakes and I quoted Milton before. If anything, my hell is a little Miltonian hell, but I’m trying, like everything with mythologies, not to write myself into a corner. So I think it’ll be the sixth issue of hell where we will get a little of a geography lesson. And in the first couple issues of Hellboy in Hell, especially issue #2, Hellboy gets a little bit of a tour to different parts of hell. So, it’s a giant world. And what’s exciting about this series is building this world. So you get quite a bit of it in issue #2. It’s a real fast tour; there’s still myriad things to establish with the look and feel.
Paste: It was fun, and slightly ironic, to see A Christmas Carol incorporated into Hellboy in Hell #1 through that random puppet show. Is it going to serve as a framing device for any of the future issues?
Mignola: I wanted to make sure that was in the first issue, even before I knew this book was coming in December, because it’s the kind of thing I really want to be able to do in this comic. It’s just an excuse to adapt one of my favorite chunks of literature and that specific scene in A Christmas Carol. So I knew I wanted to do that scene and then I realized I also wanted Hellboy to have this tour, and the two just met up perfectly. But I thought it was important to have that scene in the first issue, even without the structure of Hellboy touring through hell, I wanted that in the first issue to be a warning to readers: this is going to be a weird book. It’s going to be OK to drift off into a puppet show for two solid pages. It’s the kind of thing I definitely want to do more of. I don’t exactly know how, because I do have a million things that I want to do. But it was the tone, and just the odd texture and detail that I wanted to have in this series.
Paste: Hellboy’s reaction was priceless, uttering a bewildered “geez.” He had no clue how to interpret what was before him.
Mignola: It’s funny, because Hellboy doesn’t have a lot of dialogue in the first four issues. He certainly doesn’t moan and groan about being dead very much. He seems to take it in stride, which is something I’ll have to deal with sooner or later. He sees a lot of insane shit, and he does one or two insane things in these first couple issues. But my feeling is if you were just killed and you just got chucked straight into hell, you might go through a period of stunned shock. So I think for the better part of these first four issues, he’s going “Oh, OK.” He’s bombarded with so much weird shit, that he just has to go along with it and not really worry about it too much.
Paste: To empathize, if I had been a superhero opposing demons and abominations, I would be pretty disappointed if I didn’t end up in Heaven. Is dealing with that disappointment going to be a part of his psychology?
Mignola: I just don’t think there’s that much Catholicism in the book, and maybe not enough of that in me (laughs). I think part of it is, I find it really easy to write hell, but I have no fucking idea what they would be talking about in Heaven. Being raised Catholic, Heaven to me is one of the very rare things that’s not necessarily taboo, but I wouldn’t know how to deal with it. It’s too big. So I put that way the hell over there. And we can maybe see it, but we certainly don’t have access to it. A lot of what Hellboy in Hell really is, is a little bit more like Purgatory, though it’s not as good a title. There’s definitely a hell that Hellboy goes down and sees. But a lot of the book takes place in a giant sprawling city that, if anything, is probably more like Purgatory. I think you can get out of this place. It’s certainly a waiting place; it’s not guys burning and screaming in big pits of fire. It’s a little bit quieter and a little bit sadder. It’s not quite the main show.
I don’t see Hellboy saying ‘I think I bought my way into Heaven.’ He’s not thinking that far. It’s still ‘Am I the Beast of the Apocalypse? Have I gotten out of being that?’ Making the leap to ’I’m not the Beast of the Apocalypse and I get to go to Heaven’ may be too big a stretch for a guy. Maybe eventually we’ll get there, but I think at this point he’s trying to figure out if he’s going to burn.
Paste: One quality that I’ve always thought unique to the character is how unagressive Hellboy is for a guy who resolves supernatural catastrophes, let alone the fact that he’s also the Beast of Revelations. It’s such a rarity in a genre comic book to have a reluctant fighter. I know that was definitely challenged when he took on the giants in the last arc, but when you started Hellboy what kind character did you want to build?
Mignola: When I started Hellboy, I had no clue that he was the Beast of the Apocalypse, and I just wanted to do a regular guy. When I started Hellboy, it was just going to be a joke that he was regular and I’d always write him as a regular guy, but he looked like the devil. That was the gag, and things snowballed as they went along. Still, the only way I know how to write him is if he’s a regular guy. The bits I’ve always been uncomfortable writing, though I keep writing them, are the things where we deal with his destiny, but mostly it’s other people talking to him about that. He rarely discusses that stuff himself. There’s always going to be denial. It’s like if somebody said to you, ‘Hey, you’re destined to be President of the United States,’ would you start really thinking it, or would you go, ‘Yeah maybe, but still I gotta get through high school.’ It’s just too abstract an ideal. As much as people in high places keep pointing shit out to Hellboy, there’s still a ‘maybe, but I don’t want to be that, and mostly, I don’t want to think about that.’
Paste: How’s the rest of the Hellboy Universe, like BPRD, going to complement Hellboy’s journey?
Mignola: I think for the most part, it’s not. There are things that are happening in hell that will slightly effect things that are in BPRD. You won’t see a lot of cutting away from BPRD, ‘Meanwhile in hell, this is happening ’ There is shit that happens in hell as a result of Hellboy being there, and that does crop up in at least one upcoming BPRD story. But at least for the foreseeable future, Hellboy, as a person, has no effect on the earth, other than the fact that his death in England changed England. And that’s something we’ll get into more somewhere down the line as soon as I figure out how to do it. It’s a shared universe, but the books are on such completely different tracks.
Paste: Is there an ending to Hellboy’s narrative? Or is he a character you can picture continuing in somebody else’s hands?
Mignola: Well, the beauty of Hellboy has been that he appeared on earth in the 40’s and didn’t die till two thousand whatever. So there are a million unwritten Hellboy adventures that take place when he was still running around the world. And God knows what happens when he’s in hell. He’s got a lot of life in him. There is an ending, but I’m going to cheat and not wait till I’ve decided, ‘OK, this is the last Hellboy comic.’ I’ve found a way to do Hellboy’s ending, but continue the series after that. We may just flash forward to see how things are going to play out. He has a couple things still left on his list, big things that he has to do. But I can’t say too much about any of that.
Paste: That’s fair. Are we going to see this ending in the near future?
Mignola: We’re going to see it eventually. I’m not sure when. I thought I knew when I was going to do it. Now that I’m back writing and drawing my own stuff, I’m coming up with new stories literally every two days. Things are stretching out in front of me. We’ll see it before too long, but I can’t tell you when.
Paste: It’s also great to see you pencilling and writing again. Can we expect more of this, or are you planning on having another penciller like Duncan Fegredo come in to illustrate Hellboy in the future?
Mignola: Duncan is doing a graphic novel right now about Hellboy when he was four years old. I’d love to do something else with Richard (Corben) and we talked about maybe doing something again, but he’s happy and busy doing his own stuff, which is cool. I can’t imagine anybody else coming to do any of the Hellboy in Hell stuff. The whole point of hell is that it’s so much my world, I couldn’t even explain to somebody what things should look like. As an artist, there’s a lot more discovery building my uniquely-me world. And if I invited anyone else in, they’d be doing their world. I can’t even explain to them what my hell looks like or how it works. I have to figure that out for myself. This could change in the future, but for right now, I’m precious and greedy about making this world myself.
Paste: You’ve accomplished a lot of film and design work with Guillermo del Toro among others, and when I saw that Troy Nixey had worked with del Toro on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, I was reminded of your work with Nixey on the comic miniseries Jenny Finn. One can’t help but think that you and these others have kept the gothic tradition alive, like a modern Villa Diodati. What is it about the gothic genre that you find so attractive?
Mignola: You know, it’s something I can’t analyze. I just know when I discovered that kind of stuff, which was when I was twelve or 13 years old, reading Dracula, a light went off and I just went ‘that is it.’ A gaslight clicked on, or whatever noise a gaslight makes. That went on, and I just said ’that’s my world.’ That’s what I want to read. That’s what I want to draw. That kind of old-school Victorian, Olde German thing. There’s such an appeal to that stuff that I’ve never really gotten over. And you see it in the design of the Hellboy in Hell stuff. I’m much more comfortable in that old-school supernatural thing. The real fantasy stuff and the real science-fiction stuff doesn’t appeal to me the way that stuff does.
Paste: Do you, del Toro, or Nixey have any collaborations planned for the near future? Is the Hellboy trilogy still a possibility?
Mignola: I’d love to think that the Hellboy trilogy is a possibility, but del Toro’s got a million things out that he’s working on. We haven’t spoken in a long time. We just haven’t been in the same place. We’ve missed each other by an inch once or twice. I know he’s spoken a while back about wanting to do Hellboy 3 and Ron (Perlman) and I have spoken, and we’d love to see it happen. But it’s entirely dependent on (del Toro), and it’s entirely dependent on a studio saying yes to what I assume would be a very expensive movie. And so far the indication I’ve gotten from Universal is that they’re not jumping up and down to make another Hellboy. So, I’d love to see it happen, but I"m not holding my breath.
Paste: Going back to the gothic umbrella, between Hellboy, BPRD, Baltimore, Witchfinder and Lobster Johnson, are there any niches in the pulp and gothic generes that that you haven’t been able to scratch yet?
Mignola: Yes, there are a couple. There are two different books that I’m going to be writing. There are things that I’ve touched on in Hellboy that have never really been fully explored, so that’s one of the things on my list after I finish this first arc of Hellboy in Hell. I’m really looking forward to writing these two. They’ll probably be two 5-issue miniseries. And I don’t want to say what they are yet, but they’re stories that take place previous to what we’ve been doing. They’re slotted in a time period that we underdeveloped, dealing with those characters who haven’t gotten as much of a spotlight as maybe they should.
Paste: Any hints as to who’s on art?
Mignola: Nothing’s set in stone. But as of right now, they’re two different artists who are currently working on other things in the BPRD world. I think in both cases, artists who I haven’t actually written for myself. They’re guys who have been working with the co-writers. But they’re both great artists, and I’m hoping it’s going to work out with these guys.
We have such a big pool of talent that we’re working with now, my eyes are always open for other guys to work with, but we’ve got so much stuff, and there are three writers now. We’ve only got so many slots so we can create new books. I don’t want to be putting out twelve comics a month. Writers would be stretched too thin, and it’s just overload for the audience. So this stuff could expand much more, but we have to keep a lid on it. So when I look around and see all of these wonderful artists, I say ’I’d love to work with you, but we can’t expand that much.’ It’s a nice family we’ve got going, so we’re slow and careful about adding new people to it.