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.

Animation Magazine - - Frame- By- Frame -

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.

Mike Mig­nola

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