Devil in the Deep Blue Sea

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Many of Mike Mignola’s influences can be traced back to his childhood. His passion for monster movies, horror novels and Jack Kirby art are evident in almost all of his works. Mignola carried these loves through his formative years into young adulthood, leading him to his entry into the comics industry with a self-published fanzine called “The Comic Reader.” Less than two years later, Mignola made the transition from fan into comic professional when Marvel Comics hired the young artist for a number of projects. Over the next three years, Mignola provided interior art, covers and inks for several of Marvel’s 2nd tier titles, such as Alpha Flight, The New Defenders, The Incredible Hulk and Master of Kung Fu.

In 1985, Mignola received his first regular assignment from Marvel. As artist of the four issue mini-series, Rocket Raccoon, Mignola depicted the adventures of a space-faring raccoon peacekeeper. The title, while not what would be considered a major hit, did establish a cult following and led Mignola to more regular work with Marvel. Primarily working as a cover artist, Mignola’s trademark art style developed, combining heavy, blocky figures, with many Kirby-esque influences.

After several years with Marvel, Mignola moved to DC Comics. His first two major assignments there were as the artist for a Phantom Stranger mini-series and The World of Krypton (a spin-off of the very successful re-launch of Superman). In 1988, Mignola provided the art for three projects that ultimately brought his unique style to a larger audience. The first was a DC Superheroes crossover, Cosmic Odyssey that paired the artist with writer Jim Starlin in a tale that prominently featured Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters. The next project was as the cover artist for Batman, during the infamous “A Death in the Family” arc (which saw readers deciding that fate of Robin the Boy Wonder by a 1-900 telephone poll). Finally, Mignola also provided art for Gotham by Gaslight, an alternate reality take on the Batman mythos, set in the 19th century and pitting the Dark Knight against Jack the Ripper (the success of this project resulted in the launch of the DC “Elseworlds” alternate reality stories).

As the 1980s gave way to the 90s, Mignola began finding more frequent work at a fledgling Dark Horse Comics. In 1993, Mignola found himself working on the comic book adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as well as working on storyboard and design on the actual film.

1993 was also the year that saw the debut of Mignola’s signature character, Hellboy. Originally, a tongue-in-cheek one-page gag in a convention program, Mignola’s Hellboy quickly took on a life of its own. Around the same time, Mignola joined Dark Horse’s “Legend” imprint, an impressive collection of creators including Frank Miller and John Byrne. In March 1994, Hellboy debuted in earnest, with the first issue of “Hellboy: Seed of Destruction.” This four part series introduced the world to a slightly modified Hellboy. Drawn to Earth during World War II, Hellboy grew from a young demon into a blue collar paranormal investigator. Modeled in attitude after Mignola’s father, Hellboy’s no-nonsense personality kept the otherwise Lovecraftian adventures from becoming too serious and began gathering a loyal fan-base. By the end of this first adventure, most of Hellboy’s supporting cast had been introduced, including love interest and pyrokinetic, Liz Sherman, and Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) partner, Abe Sapien.

On the heels of “Seed of Destruction”, Hellboy next appeared in a serialized adventure for Dark Horse Presents (“Hellboy: The Wolves of Saint August” in issues #88-91, August – November 1994). He returned the next year for another serialized adventure, this time detailing his origin (issues #100-102). Readers eventually learned that Hellboy was Anung Un Rama, Son of the Beast and Bringer of The Apocalypse, “lost forever to the world of mortals after eating a pancake.”

Hellboy appeared occasionally over the next years with “Hellboy: the Corpse/The Iron Shoes” (January 1996), “Hellboy: Wake the Devil” (a five issue series running from June to October 1996)  and “Hellboy: Almost Colossus” (a two-part series in June/July 1997). Dark Horse Comics also commissioned a Hellboy novel in 1997, “The Lost Army”, written by Christopher Golden with illustrations by Mignola. 1997 also saw the debut of Hellboy Junior (a darkly comical younger version of the paranormal hero) in the pages of “Hellboy Junior Halloween Special.” As the 1990s drew to a close, Hellboy appeared in several more one-shots, specials, anthologies and mini-series, as well as more Golden penned novels. Even Abe Sapien and Hellboy Junior got their own starring roles, in a one-shot comic and a two-issue mini-series respectively. 

In 2001, Mignola made an interesting diversion from his career in comics, as he was recruited by Walt Disney Pictures. Mignola joined the team of the already-in-production Atlantis: The Lost Empire – a film that was reportedly based on Mignola’s unique style. The experience was an interesting one for the artist, as he was simultaneously uncomfortable and intrigued with the process of analyzing and imitating his work.

Following his experiences with Atlantis, Mignola briefly returned to comics for four projects in late 2001 and early 2002. The first was a new Hellboy mini-series – the four-part “Conqueror Worm”, that saw Hellboy investigation the ruins of the Nazi space program.  Mignola also provided covers and guidance to Christopher Golden’s 3-part spin-off mini-series, BPRD: Hollow Earth. Finally, Mignola also wrote and drew a book set outside the Hellboy universe. He gained critical praise for the stand-alone comic “The Amazing Screw-On Head”, a strange tale of an American secret agent, his entourage, Abraham Lincoln, the Emperor Zombie and an alternate dimension housed in a turnip. Finally came “Hellboy: The Third Wish”, a two-part tale that saw Hellboy operating independently of the BPRD and finding even stranger adventures on his own.

Around this time, Mignola began to divert his attention from comics. He did not turn his back on Hellboy however, as the majority of his time was spent working with director Guillermo del Toro on the pre-production of the live action Hellboy movie. The film had been in discussion between Mignola and del Toro for years, as both considered it a dream project. 

The duo worked closely over the next two years, ensuring the project stayed true to Mignola’s original vision of Hellboy. Two notable challenges the duo faced were convincing the studio to accept their choice of Ron Perlman for the lead role (both had gone on record many times, saying that Perlman was the only proper choice) and avoiding unnecessary tampering with the core concepts (a well-circulated tale tells of one studio executive who suggested that Hellboy should be a normal human who transformed into a demon when he got angry). The film opened in 2004, to reasonable success in terms of both financial and fan approval – enough so to warrant beginning work on plans for a sequel.

In the meantime, Hellboy and Mike Mignola have been conspicuous by their absence in comic shops (excepting a Mike Mignola endorsed anthology project, “Hellboy: Weird Tales” that saw other comic creators providing their own interpretations of Hellboy and his supporting cast). All that changes however, with the release this week of Mignola’s Hellboy: The Island #1. Fans have waited to see their demonic hero rise from the ocean bottom he was left on three years ago, and now he will in a tale that Mignola promises will provide revelations about one of the great secrets of Hellboy’s world.

For more information on Mike Mignola and Hellboy, visit www.hellboy.com and www.darkhorse.com. Hellboy: The Island #1 arrives in comic shops June 22nd, 2005.

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