Mike Mignola’s big red butt-kicker may be settling into his new home in the pages of Dark Horse’s ongoing “Hellboy In Hell” series, but the creator has plenty of opportunities to expand on Hellboy’s past yet. This weekend at Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, the publisher revealed that the previously teased graphic novel “Hellboy: The Midnight Circus” will see release this fall.
Written by Mignola and drawn by “Hellboy: The Storm & The Fury” artist Duncan Fegredo, “The Midnight Circus” tells a new tale of young Hellboy as he tries to run away from his military base upbringing but finds something much more dangerous in the wild.
CBR News spoke with Mignola about the genesis of the book, and the cartoonist explained with a laugh that when it comes to the specific birth of the story, “I don’t know! A friend of mine had talked periodically about writing a novel about young Hellboy. I think it was his idea or my idea that the natural story would be ‘Hellboy runs off to join the circus.’ It’s really that Ray Bradbury, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ kind of thing. ‘Let’s do a little kid at an evil circus.’ And there were some certain thematic things that I liked from ‘Pinocchio’ which was always one of my favorite books, so I kind of mixed some of those ideas with this evil circus thing. It just came together really nicely.
“What Duncan’s been doing on it is really amazing,” Mignola continued, praising his collaborator. “He wanted to do something that was half his regular style and half these ink washes. It’s really spectacular. He’s been working on it for a long time and doing some other things, so I knew we’d get it eventually, but I didn’t think we’d get it this soon. Now that he’s focusing on it, it’s come together really fast.”
The clowns, elephants and jugglers of the Midnight Circus will be every bit as macabre as readers have come to expect from Mignola’s world, and he noted the book will include “Almost everything I find hideous and disturbing about circuses.” The artist said he and Fegredo were attempting to pull as much weird circus iconography as they could into the mix. “As it turns out, Taschen had just put out a gigantic coffee table book about circuses with a ton of really old, really creepy circus stuff from the ’20s and ’30s. The first thing I did was tell Duncan, ‘Go find this book, and I will flag certain pages.’ So what we’ve been looking at is the really old, really disturbing, really creepy circus stuff.
“But even through I think circuses are creepy, I’d never really cared about them. So the circus is really a framing sequence for this Pinocchio kind of story where we could get into the idea of the fact that there are demons who are keeping an eye on Hellboy. Chronologically, this is the first time we’ve seen that happen with Hellboy. The idea is that even early on, there was some threat or promise of what Hellboy is supposed to be.”
The young Hellboy has been a popular part of the mythos since he debuted in a short story aboutÂ pancakes years ago, but in “The Midnight Circus,” the character will see a bit more of a serious take as he grows closer to the Hellboy fans know and love. “There were a lot of things to deal with, and that was a secondary idea,” Mignola said. “It’s funny. I wrote this thing so long ago that I’m only now that we’re talking about it starting to remember what I put in there. But what I really wanted to deal with was Hellboy at a particular age. This is very much a Bradbury thing. He’s not an adult yet. He kind of wants to be an adult and a grown-up, but he’s still a little kid. So you have a guy in that period where he wants independence, but he also wants his father’s approval. Again, this comes from Pinocchio — this idea that he runs away but realizes, ‘I ran away because I’m selfish, and it affected other people.'”
The idea of doing a Hellboy original graphic novel is not new, but this short book will be more along the lines of all non-“Hellboy In Hell” stories moving forward. “We did one with Richard Corben a couple of years ago, and it just got to the point after Duncan’s run and a bunch of the short stories we’d done, we didn’t want to do miniseries anymore because we really weren’t sure how many of these sorts of things we were going to do. Sometimes you do a miniseries, and you go ‘Well, where do we collect that?’ And the graphic novel idea was appealing, and when we tried it with Corben it worked out okay. Duncan and I were talking way back when as I was doing that Corben book about other things Duncan would want to do, and as we were talking, we started conceiving of a line of these graphic novels. Now, whether that’ll happen or not, I don’t know. But the page count for this story was right around 50-some odd pages, so we just brought it into that format. Will we do more? I don’t know. But certainly this one is so unique and so much like something we haven’t done before, it made so much sense for it to be out there as a special one-off book.”
Overall, Mignola said he was happy that the long-simmering book came together as it was a chance for his collaboration with Fegredo to grow. “I think by the middle of our run, already I was trusting Duncan so much more,” he said. “If you look at the beginning, I didn’t trust anybody, so I was giving him a lot of direction. And now I don’t. I think this one is funny because I wrote almost a full script, but my actual descriptions of panel-by-panel actions are a lot looser. I think I left Duncan more room to tell the story the way he wanted to tell it. I hope like Hell I actually worked out most of the dialogue in advance because with some of these things, you can get to the point where you’re dialoguing and you pick up that script out of the drawer and go, ‘Oh God — I hope I wrote this, because I made the story up so long ago!’ There’s nothing worse than sitting down with 50 pages of art and going, ‘I remember I knew what these guys were talking about a long time ago.’
“But it’s great working with Duncan. Frankly, I never thought he’d come back. Like me before Hellboy, Duncan has never stayed on any one project for too long. I appreciate so much that he did those three books of Hellboy, but I figured afterwards he’d be chomping at the bit to go elsewhere. But it’s great that he actually wanted to come back and do this book. And my standing relationships with Duncan is ‘Anything you want to do.’ Will we see more Duncan Hellboy? I certainly hope so. He’s got a standing invitation to do whatever he wants.”
Stay tuned to CBR News all weekend for more news out of C2E2!