Two Decades of Hellboy
Mike Mignola looks back on 20 years of his comic-book creation’s unexpected success both on the page and on the screen. By Thomas J. Mclean.
When Mike Mignola first created his comic-book character Hellboy — whose first comic series debuted 20 years ago with Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction #1 — he had no assumptions that the character would make a second appearance, let alone still be around 20 years later. The artist, who lives in Manhattan Beach and continues to write and draw comics about Hellboy and the world he lives in, is as puzzled as anyone as to why the big red guy has been a hit in animation and two live-action movies. But he’s also a guy who appears happy to have created something that, in his words, has managed to survive this long and inspire so many people.
Animation Magazine: Why do you think this character and his world have struck such a chord and managed to survive all the ups and downs comics have been through in that time?
Mike Mignola: I don’t know. I just took everything I liked, crammed it into one place. I do think there is some intangible thing that happens when you can tell the creator just loves what he’s doing. I see so many comics that are technically so well done but they’re so boring to me because you can tell the guys are just doing a job. And I just love this world, so I poured a lot of me into this book. I certainly never thought this was a recipe for success, but from my perspective it does seem to be one of the things that separates Hellboy out from other things.
What was your approach in selling this character or giving him over to other media to adapt? He’s been pretty successful in other arenas, but it sounds like you were someone who was not actively looking for that, so how did that all come about?
Mignola: I maybe would have stressed over it more if I thought there was ever any real possibility of anybody making a movie, but I knew nobody would ever make anything called Hell- boy, so there wasn’t a lot of stress. And then when I met Guillermo [del Toro] and we talked about what he wanted to do, I thought well this will be great but I’m not going to get my hopes up because there’s still no way in hell he’s go- ing to be able to make a movie called Hellboy starring Ron Perlman. That’s just never going to happen. So it makes it easy when you don’t think it’s going to happen. And then it happened.
What did you think of the animated movies? Were they closer to your vision of the character?
Mignola: When it came to animation, I knew this guy Tad Stones who had been at Disney who really was a big Hellboy fan and when we started talking about animation I said can you involve Tad Stones because he knows animation and he knows the character so I don’t have to be in there trying to explain what this thing should be to somebody who is unfamiliar with it. Tad and I banged out the stories together, which was very fun and very easy, cause he knew the material and then I just kind of got out of the way. The third [animated] film, we would have learned a lot from the first two films — not that I’m unhappy with the first two films, but I think we were going to hit our stride with the third one. We had come up with a plot that we were really happy with and had two films to look at and say let’s do this and let’s not do that, and then they pulled the plug. I’m a big fan of the unmade third film.
Were there any particular animators who had an influence on your style?
Mignola: Nothing consciously. The one thing, and I don’t know that it comes from animation, but I’m very silhouette conscious, I’m very design conscious, and that comes from looking at stylized types of artwork, like animated stuff, rather than live-action stuff. So I’m always thinking, what’s the silhouette of this character, what’s the shape of this character, what’s the readability of this character. As opposed to just a big rendered pile of realistic drapery and whatever else, so I do think I think a little bit like an animator without consciously being influenced by animation. What does the future hold for Hellboy? Mignola: He’s going to remain dead, he’s going to remain in hell. He’s got a lot of work to do in hell because it turns out it’s kind of a shitty place and if he stays there I guess he’s gotta fix it. My original idea with Hellboy in Hell was it was a way for me to come back to drawing the book and draw this kind of fantasy world that I wanted to draw. And it was intended to be just a bunch of unrelated stories as Hellboy wanders around hell ... and what’s happened is all those little unrelated stories have started fusing together into a big lump, so I find myself now telling a particular story where I have to jump Hellboy through X number of hoops to get to a certain place where I’m going. If I do manage to tell this particular story, then my hope is that I can then send Hellboy on vacation where he does just get to wander around this world where I adapt different folk tales, different fairy tales from different cultures and do it all in this kind of hell setting. That’s my hope, that’s my intention, but plans do tend to change.