The Genesis of Hellboy

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Hellboy II: The Golden Army has arrived in theatres. To mark the movie's debut Broken Frontier chats to Hellboy creator Mike Mignola about his career and his most famous creation...

BROKEN FRONTIER: What was it like working for Marvel and DC? Is that a common thing to do? What were the environments like as a young artist? Getting your start?

MIKE MIGNOLA: Back in those days, in the early 80s, it was pretty common for writers and artists to work at both places. They were cool places back then – not so much cold and stiff. There wasn’t a lot of self-publishing going on, and there weren’t a million indies. I grew up reading Marvel, and that was where I wanted to work. I was terrible – so that made it difficult – but it was so much fun, and both places were just a great place to hang out for a young kid who had just moved to New York. For the most part it was really positive.

BF: What about production design work, like your involvement with Dracula, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Blade? Why did you choose those projects?

MM: I never pursued anything outside of comics. I worked on Dracula for about eight hours, because I was working on the comic book adaptation, and I happened to be in San Francisco near Francis Ford Coppola’s office. Disney tapped me for Atlantis and it was just a couple of days of work, a novelty thing. Hellboy came about because Del Toro wanted me. I mostly prefer being home in the studio.

BF: When you’re dealing with a character with a vast history, like Batman, how do you approach it? How much do you put your ideas forward?

MM: When I’m working on other people’s characters, I honestly don’t feel totally comfortable adding my own stuff. I’ve never gone in and said "I’m going to put my own stamp on Batman." That was one of the great things about Gotham by Gaslight – it wasn’t regular Batman. It was my version of Batman, my version of Gotham. I didn’t have to reference what Commissioner Gordon’s office looked like. Now that I do my own stuff, I certainly can’t imagine going back and doing someone else’s characters.

BF: What was it like moving into the independent comics arena, and finally handling your own character, Hellboy? Was it liberating?

MM: It was a couple of things. It was liberating in a sense, but I really wasn’t toiling in the dungeons over at my job, I was having fun. I wasn’t escaping. In the beginning, I approached Hellboy as just another project. I didn’t think that I’d be doing it for 15 or 20 years. I never believed it would actually work.

It wasn’t terrible scary in the beginning, either. Dark Horse paid me well, and John Byrne was scripting. I had no fear until John left. Then I became scared. Then it was mine. My wife actually had to come in and say "You gotta keep doing it." There were times when I wanted to change projects. But hey – it turned out all right.

BF: Was there a moment of genesis for Hellboy? What did early sketches look like?

MM: Well – I had drawn a monster one day for a comic convention program booklet, just kind of a fun monster. I hadn’t done that much because I was always working, always drawing somebody else’s thing. I distinctly remember writing "Hellboy" on his belt buckle and laughing. I thought it was a funny name. I wasn’t seriously thinking about a particular character, until a year or two later. I came back to that drawing and name and I thought, "Inside this hulking monster, there’s something I could do." I could have done straight fantasy but I knew I needed to do something slightly more commercial. Maybe not so much commercial, but closer to mainstream comics. I remember when I threw a coat on him, just some old coat from my closet, and he became this working stiff kind of guy. That was it.

BF: What are your future goals for Hellboy and other works? Where do you see yourself and the industry in ten years?

MM: As for me personally, I haven’t been drawing. My number one priority is for me to get back to draw comics, which will be happening soon. Hellboy is going to come out as often as we can get it out there, but I’m not going to draw it. I’m writing, and an artist named Richard Corben is drawing. There are spin-offs from the Hellboy world, some of which I’m writing, some I’m co-writing, some I’m drawing. It’s just so much damn fun, and there are so many things we can do. We’re putting out a Hellboy Companion, which has a timeline that shows the beginning of the world up until now. I can have a Victorian era detective in 1890, or a Nazi head-in-a-jar in 1943. We’re totally fleshing out this world, and we’re having too much fun.

BF: In your own words, what is your work about? What separates you from other artists and writers in this medium?

MM: Well if there’s anything separated my work, I’d like to think that it draws on a lot of history, and specifically, the folklore legends of other countries. One of my goals has always been to give a peek into the world of other cultures. We’ve recently done a book drawing from Russian folklore. That stuff just fascinates me, ever since I was a kid. It’s subject matter that I’M passionate about. I’m not trying to retread on the same horror concepts, this or that. I want to draw on something more diverse.

All that stuff, especially the stuff that’s happening with the big two, those mega events, and those iconic characters – it’s all part of the big marketing machine. One of the things that separate me from them is that I have no plans to keep Hellboy going for 20 more years. I feel like I’ve got a character with a real spark to his story. I can change this character because he’s not intended to be around forever. These guys, like Superman, it’s all the illusion of change, because they’re intended to be around for a million years. Hellboy, for the most part, is still a one or two man operation. It has honest life to it. It has a definite ending.

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