‘Hellboy in Hell’ is the Comic Mike Mignola Will Be Drawing for the Rest of His Life [Interview]
On sale now from Dark Horse is Hellboy in Hell #1, a comic that marks not just a new creative achievement in the already superlative oeuvre of cartoonist Mike Mignola and a return to drawing the main Hellboy story after several years away, but also the beginning of a new and carefully considered phase of his professional career. The story finds Mignola’s popular red-skinned hero from the infernal realm come to the end of a corporeal existence that’s included achievements as the world’s best paranormal investigator, an introspective wanderer and a champion of destiny, and take the first steps into a world that Mignola’s meticulously designed to serve as Hellboy’s home for the foreseeable future. But as Mignola told ComicsAlliance in this candid interview conducted in advance of his signing and exhibition at Things From Another World in Portland, Orgegon this weekend, Hell is where the artist himself will be happy to work until the day he can no longer make comics.
SPOILER WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Hellboy: The Storm and the Fury.
Summoned to Earth by forces of evil, Hellboy was intercepted by the Allied forces during World War II and raised as an American in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Trained in the ways of mythology, folklore and the occult, practically invulnerable and equipped with a massive stone fist (also known as the right hand of doom) Hellboy was an indispensable agent of the B.P.R.D. before leaving his post to embark upon a quest of self-discovery that eventually saw him trapped at the bottom of the sea for some years. What was perhaps Hellboy’s greatest adventure occurred when he returned from his watery exile to discover that he was a direct descendent of the legendary King Arthur himself. What later ensued was a massive multi-arc adventure written by Mignola and drawn magnificently by Duncan Fegredo, the first artist to draw a long-form Hellboy epic besides Mignola himself. The story took several years to complete and ended with the death of Hellboy and the Ogdru Jahad, the dreaded apocalypse dragon that Hellboy was supposedly destined to unleash upon the world. Now, Hellboy’s in Hell — or at least on the outskirts, ready to begin the latest movement in what’s one of mainstream comics’ most beloved creator-owned series.
Hellboy in Hell #1 sees Mignola’s long awaited return to the drawing table, and what he turned in is one of the best single issues of his career. The artistic and storytelling merits of this first issue have been praised by Mignola’s peers and critics alike, including our own David Brothers in this highly insightful piece. I had the chance to speak with Mignola for a few minutes recently and availed myself of the opportunity to ask him about what Hellboy in Hell means to him and his career.
ComicsAlliance: How many years ago did you know Hellboy was going to die and go to Hell?
Mike Mignola: That’s been the question that keeps coming up and that’s why I realize, I have no idea. I know it’s been a while. Probably around the time we started the three-big-book arc that Duncan Fegredo drew — Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury. If I didn’t know he was going to die when I started that, certainly I figured it out pretty quickly. Just so much stuff had happened with him, there was no way to untangle it. I knew that I wanted to get him out of the real world because it would be more fun for me to draw and I knew I wanted to come back to drawing the book. Part of that experience was getting Hellboy in a place where it would be a different book, a book I wanted to come back to.
CA: What was it about the previous three arcs that you felt needed to be drawn by somebody else, and why come back to the drawing table now?
MM: Because it was one giant story. I think we were gearing up for the second Hellboy movie and I knew that the only way to keep this thing going was to involve somebody else. It was such a big story, I just figured I’d never have the patience to do the whole thing. I just couldn’t imagine having a big, uninterrupted chunk of time what turned out to be three huge miniseries. It just never would have gotten done. I’m really slow and I’ve also got other things that I’m trying to get done. It just never would have happened. The only way way to get it done was to get another artist involved.
CA: Do you anticipate creating another story on such a scale?
MM: No, not like those. One of the things I’ve been trying not to do with the Hellboy in Hell stuff is turn it into a giant, sprawling epic. What I really want to do are small stories. These first four issues are sending him into Hell but I’m trying to sever ties and simplify his life so I can do these kind of small stories. Closer to the things I’ve done with the Hellboy short stories over the years.
CA: The color in Hellboy is always very distinctive. You can always tell at a glance that you’re reading a Hellboy or indeed a Mike Mignola comic. But here, in Hellboy in Hell, it’s even more so. There’s a weird otherworldly color palette that we haven’t really seen in the book before. Can you talk about the color in this story? How much input do you have on Stewart’s work?
MM: We talk all the time. When Dave colors a job we go over it literally page by page, panel by panel, talking about the palette, talking about the mood. In a lot of cases I’ll specify… well for example in the magic scene in this book, I’ll say, “Well we have two different guys fighting. We need a magic color for this guy and a magic color for this guy. This one guy is related tot he abyss and the abyss we’re doing in blues and greens so this guy’s colors should tie to that. For the other guy we need something warmer — we can’t go to yellow or red because those are the hellfire colors.” The color is always done for a reason, not just, “Oh what color haven’t we used yet?”
The biggest color change in the Hellboy book now is that we decided Hellboy didn’t need to be red anymore. One thing we’ve always stumbled over is Hellboy is so red that putting him in a green situation, it becomes a Christmas special. But because he’s dead now, let’s make him much more harmonious with his environment. He’s a ghost, he’s a supernatural being, so let’s make him a little more ghostlike in that he’s not going to stick out like a sore thumb.
CA: Speaking of your collaborators, I was wondering if you could tell us about some of the artists who might be drawing Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics in the near future. I heard Kevin Nowlan, the Hellboy logo designer and a brilliant artist in his own right, is drawing a story.
MM: Kevin is now drawing a Lobster Johnson [story]! There are so many different guys working on this stuff, it’s hard for me to keep track. Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá are doing a B.P.R.D. series that they’ll hopefully continue with called B.P.R.D.: Vampire. There’s two other brothers who I think are also from South America called Max and Sebastian Fiumara. One is doing a book I can’t talk about and one is wrapping up our B.P.R.D. 1948 series. There are a couple other artists… James Harren is doing a bunch of amazing stuff, Tyler Crook is our ongoing B.P.R.D. guy and he has a bunch of amazing stuff coming up. Most of that isn’t really my domain. Except for the Hellboy stuff, it’s being dealt with by [B.P.R.D. co-writer] John Arcudi and [editor] Scott Allie. I kind of give them my yay or nay on things and my little bit of input, but my main focus is entirely on Hellboy stuff. Duncan Fegredo is drawing a Hellboy graphic novel that will hopefully be done one of these days, but that’s the only other person other than me right now who’s working on Hellboy.
CA: I find that whenever there’s a new Hellboy arc starting up, I go back and reread the entire series in the library editions to gear up for it. In my head I think I have it all straightened out, but usually within the first few pages you reintroduce a guy I remember and I just want to, like, remember all of it. As you’re into the second decade of this series, do you find yourself having to go back and check what you’ve already done?
MM: I do. You have to. But I also have a pretty good memory of what I’ve done. I don’t know my own phone number but I do know this stuff. I know this world and I know the backstory of this world and I know about a million bits of history that haven’t made their way into the comic yet. I’m constantly chewing over that stuff and there are so many things that I’ve done in Hellboy that I knew would play out someday. I’m constantly running those things and the various things that have been said about Hellboy and various other characters. But yeah I do reread the material a little bit.
CA: Speaking of the world of Hellboy, I think a lot of people imagine you have this very gothic, candle-lit library full of dusty manuscripts and old leather-bound tomes. What sort of reference sources do you use? Is it as romantic as all that or has the Internet taken over?
MM: It’s not nearly as romantic, nothing is candlelit — there are some candles but they never get lit. I do have a library. Very little of it is leather-bound. The folklore and mythology library, which is in my studio, is pretty tacky looking since it’s all picked out of used bookstores. I am a book guy but more and more I do use a computer to do certain research things. But there are 30-40, 50, maybe 100 books of folklore in there, most of which haven’t been read. I’ll look at a table of contents and go, “Wow there’s 30 to 40 different Hellboy stories in there.” It’s very comforting to know there’s a million stories to tell that I can pluck off the shelf for those days where it’s like, “Well, I got nothing!”
CA: How far are we into the Hellboy saga? Halfway? Two thirds?
MM: There’s no way to know. You’re basically asking, how long am I gonna live? I have an ending to Hellboy but it’s not necessarily the last issue of the comic. That’s because I don’t trust myself. “Oh, I’ve only got six months to live so I’d better draw the last issue of the comic!” Especially since I created Hellboy in Hell, because it’s my world, everything I want to do, everything I could possibly imagine, everything I want to do in comics, I can do in that comic. It’s not just Hellboy’s story, but Hellboy can sit at a bar or sit on a beach smoking a cigarette with some other guy, and that can be that guy’s story. I’ve done it once or twice in Hellboy. When you want a puppet show [like that seen in Hellboy in Hell #1], that can be in that story. There are so many different devices in that world to tell stories. Right now most of what I’ve plotted involves Hellboy directly, but I’m open to the idea of saying, this is about this other guy. And some other story I want to adapt that I just can’t figure out how to bring Hellboy into. There’s no ticking clock, it’s just the comic I plan to be doing as long as I’m doing comics.
Mike Mignola will be appearing at Things From Another World in Portland to sign his work and exhibit art from Hellboy in Hell #1. The event is open to the public and you can learn more about it right here.