Mignola looks back on a 23-year run
A lot has changed in the last 20 years, but one thing that’s stayed constant is Mike Mignola’s production of Hellboy comics. Mignola first created his iconic hero in 1993, as a red-skinned demon, brought up on Earth, who served humanity by fighting all sorts of monsters alongside his comrades in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). Over the years, Hellboy evolved quite a bit: he was revealed as the Biblical Beast of the Apocalypse, he quit the BPRD, spent some time walking the ocean floor, fought nearly every major figure from Celtic mythology, failed to prevent the apocalypse, and even died himself. That’s right, Hellboy died — and unlike most of his comic book peers, he didn’t pop back to life a few months later. Instead, Mignola followed his protagonist down into the depths of Hell itself with a final series, Hellboy in Hell. Pandemonium turned out to be rather empty by the time he got there, but Hellboy still had to face off against an array of monsters, from his demonic siblings to the mythical Furies.
Now, however, the story is finally coming to an end. Hellboy in Hell #10, out this week in comic stores, will be both the finale of Hellboy’s story and, at least for now, Mignola’s work in comics. As he begins his year off to focus on painting, Mignola spoke with EW about the series’ “odd” ending and what he’s most proud of from this legendary run. Check that out below, along with an exclusive preview of the first four pages of Hellboy in Hell #10.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As your final issue of Hellboy nears release, what’s the first thing on your mind?
MIKE MIGNOLA: I am more than a little curious to see what people are going to think, cause it’s odd. It’s an ending I had in mind for a really long time, but when it came down to drawing that last page, I started going, “Wait, no, really? Am I really gonna do this?” Fortunately I couldn’t come up with any other ending, and I was on the last page. So it was like, “Well I’ve got to stick to my guns here. I’ve gotten good at trusting my gut.” I’m really curious what people will think.
Speaking of the “odd” ending, Hellboy has always kinda zigged when readers thought it might zag, such as the years he spent walking the ocean floor. Has it been fun for you to subvert expectations as you went?
There have been a couple times I was nervous. When I threw Hellboy in with mermaids, I felt like I had maybe crossed a line into this pure fantasy, which I really liked and wanted to do, but every once and awhile you become aware of, “Oh yeah there are people buying this book.” I don’t want to lose my audience. But that doesn’t flare up too often. Like after I did the mermaid thing, it was like, “Sh–, well let’s have him be descended from King Arthur.” I’m very happy that my audience has seemed to follow me along for the ride. Sometimes people who are very aware of genre stuff have a very clear idea: this is that kind of story, so it’s gotta do this. But Hellboy is kind of my “everything” book, so there’s no, “I won’t do that here.” Anything I want to do, I’m gonna do with this guy… at least until this point.
Unlike most stories with apocalyptic stakes, Hellboy actually followed through and destroyed the world. What did you like about digging deeper and deeper into that?
I’ve been stuck with these prophecy things that pop up every once in awhile. When I started them, I had no idea what they were going to turn into. It was just like “I need Hecate to say something to Hellboy cause I drew a scene where they’re fighting and I have nothing for them to talk about.” So, boom, Hellboy becomes the Beast of the Apocalypse, because I thought that’s a cool thing to say. And you can’t dismiss things like that. So these things pop up, and little by little I thought “Well okay, if that’s the case then how’s that gonna play out?” That’s been the thing that’s kinda dogged me all along, but at the same time it gave me a place to go. I knew it was a cheat to talk about these things and not have them pay off in some way.
Hellboy took down all of Hell pretty easily. Was that a theme you were interested in, these big myths getting knocked down?
My feeling is that almost all of this stuff had run out of gas by the time Hellboy got there. Hellboy is the big agent of change, but generally it’s not a lot of stuff he has to do. It’s just by him showing up, it triggers certain events. In Hell, he didn’t really have to fight too many guys. They just heard he was coming, and there’s so much prophecy about him they were like, “Oh, sh–, that guy’s coming? Run for the hills!” Which sends a signal to your underlings, “Hey, these guys are scared to death, I bet we can take them ourselves.” Hellboy, just by showing up, causes this gigantic event to happen. Again, it wasn’t something that wasn’t really planned. It was just, “Okay he’s gonna go to Pandemonium, but I don’t want to draw a million guys, so let’s clear the place out.”
As much as I really enjoyed the Hellboy stories illustrated by Duncan Fegredo, it seems like your style was really invigorated here by drawing your own stuff again. Is that accurate?
That is very accurate. I had really run into a big problem with the way I drew and told stories. I started second-guessing myself so much that I actually became paralyzed. I was also coming up with this big storyline, but the way my life was going I knew I could never draw this big three-volume thing. Thank God Duncan showed up so that story could get out there. I just needed to get away from the drawing stuff. By the end of that six years I was chomping at the bit to get back there. But I really wanted to create my own world. So killing him off, throwing him into Hell, and Hell is made of all the stuff I thought would be fun to draw. So yeah, when I came back I was very recharged and raring to go.
Even more than previous stories, Hellboy in Hell features a lot of things that should be impossible to visualize. What was your process for designing Hell?
When I sat down to do the Hellboy In Hell stuff, I spent a certain amount of time filling sketchbooks with the kind of stuff I liked. Mostly it was the architecture, taking real old great buildings and seeing what would happen if they were too large or butted up against each other in interesting ways. Then the Lovecraftian-type stuff, the chaos stuff you see in the first issue that we get back to later, I had a hard time. The problem with monsters, and especially Lovecraftian-type stuff, is you want to draw the details because they’re gonna be crazy looking and have whiskers and mandibles and all that stuff. But if you draw it too distinctly, if you don’t use enough shadows, they become too solid. They become a rubber monster. You want that stuff to stay weird.
What will be your involvement in the other “Mignolaverse” comics (Lobster Johnson, BPRD, Witchfinder) be like going forward?
I’m as involved with all the other books as I have been for years. I’m very happy to have these books in the hands of really good writers. John Arcudi has left BPRD at this point, but he’s still writing Lobster Johnson. John and I will talk periodically about the direction of that book. Same with Chris Roberson. He’s got Witchfinder and he’s got the Hellboy and the BPRD stuff. We’ve got a road map of where Hellboy goes, the twists and turns his life takes, but there are gigantic open areas that even I haven’t thought about, like, “What does he do between this year and that year?” So Chris and I had a lot of conversations about what he’s interested in doing. My involvement is fun. I get to sit around and make sh– up, and then get out of their way while they do the hard stuff.
After all these years of Hellboy, what do you look back on most fondly?
In a broad stroke, my favorite thing is this thing has turned into what it is, and that we haven’t run into a brick wall here or there. I’m really proud of the fact that this thing has grown the way it’s grown, especially as the big companies have somewhat collapsed under the weight of their continuity. You don’t have to read all our books, but the more you do, the more connections you see. There’s a couple things I did, art-wise, that I’m pretty proud of. But as a writer, which is something I never thought I’d be, The Crooked Man. When I travel, that’s usually the Hellboy collection I take with me in case somebody asks me what I do. There’s the story I drew in that collection, but the three-issue thing I did with Richard Corben, The Crooked Man, that’s probably my favorite thing I’ve ever written.