Writing, sometimes drawing and overseeing “Hellboy,” “B.P.R.D.,” and the related Dark Horse published universe of characters is more than enough to keep a comics creator busy. But, even with the freedom to tell any story he wants within the universe he’s created, Mike Mignola often sees other worlds to explore. In 2010, Mignola brought one such dark, new universe to the comic page, migrating it from its previous existence in a novel, and, in a thoroughly different affair, wrote and illustrated several new short stories in an effort to bring back into print a much-loved and sought-after humor piece. For the midway point of CBR’s HELL(BOY) ON EARTH series of interviews, we follow up on Mignola’s look back at Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. with a conversation about the first two “Baltimore” miniseries, the “Amazing Screw-On Head” collection and a last hurrah with Rocket Raccoon.
This year saw Mignola reunite with author Christopher Golden, with whom he previously worked on the first “B.P.R.D.” miniseries “Hollow Earth,” to return to the world the two writers created in their novel “Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire.” In that book, taking place during World War I, Lord Henry Baltimore fought a quest for vengeance against the vampire who murdered his family, even as a devastating plague of monsters ripped across the continent and ground the Great War to a halt. “Plague Ships,” the first “Baltimore” miniseries, began Mignola and Golden’s journey back into this world, establishing what happened during a 10-year elision in the novel and how this world has changed from what we know. In 2011, the writers, along with artist Ben Stenbeck, will return with “The Curse Bells,” taking Baltimore further into the black heart of a transformed Europe.
“Chris and I had never really worked like this before. When we did the novel ‘Baltimore,’ I had a very specific idea of what that book was supposed to be. I gave Chris notes for the whole book. There were a couple holes he had to fill in, but probably 80% of that book was pretty much etched in stone, the way it had to go,” Mignola told CBR. “Doing the comic is interesting, because instead of it being Chris working on my story, it was us putting our heads together and coming up with a story that was really ours. And Chris, like John [Arcudi, writer of ‘B.P.R.D.’], is a real pleasure to collaborate with. I can tell, because when I look at ‘Plague Ships,’ I cannot tell who came up with what. It was probably one or two conversations [that] we came up with this story, but we were both going back and forth so much that it’s really hard to remember who came up with what. Which is good.
“It was a little bit of a challenge on the first one, because one of the main things we had to do with ‘Plague Ships’ was cover the first half of the ‘Baltimore’ novel. We could not do this thing and assume anybody’s read the novel. So we needed to cover all that ground and show this world,” Mignola continued. “One of the things that was excellent, and neither of us really realized it, but in the ‘Baltimore’ novel, we get a sense of the world at the beginning, but once the plague happens and World War I comes to a screeching halt, we focus so tight on the character of Baltimore that we never see what changes go on in the world. So the one thing we realized really early on in this comic is, we get to show this world. It’s our world, more or less, if it got derailed by a giant plague in the middle of World War I. So what happened after that? That’s the kind of snowball that started rolling downhill. We focused pretty tight on Baltimore in ‘Plague Ships,’ we saw a little bit of the expanding world, but with ‘The Curse Bells,’ we see a lot more of this – I don’t want to say post-Apocalypse – but post-plague-ridden world. Once we started talking seriously about the comic, we started coming up with so many story ideas, so fast. ‘The Curse Bells’ started kind of as a joke. It was this half-formed idea I had, Chris laughed at my stupidity, then cobbled it into a really great story. It’s nice working with guys you’ve worked with a lot; he knows what I do, I know what he does, and it’s taken on a life of its own really fast. We’re really excited.”
Though the novel and first miniseries dealt largely with vampires, particularly the scarred vamp at the center of Baltimore’s quest, there are other things that go bump in the night within the world that Mignola and Golden are establishing. “One of the things we realized is, we don’t want to just do vampires. I’d like that to be the focus, but it does kind of mean that all sorts of other supernatural stuff has come back into the world. A lot of stuff has been hiding in caves, and now that the plague’s here and there are vampires running around, every other folklore-oriented monster is saying, ‘Hey, we want to get in on that too,'” Mignola said. “The whole thrust of this book, the tone of this book, is this very old school supernatural fiction that people aren’t doing anymore. I’d love to do real folklore-feeling werewolf stories, or even mad scientist stories, but mad scientist stories like ‘Dr. Moreau,’ that sort of old school Victorian-era fiction. That’s what we’re drawing on.
“And one thing, it was just a small idea in the ‘Plague Ships,’ but the idea of some kind of inquisition as a response to all this evil walking around. Once people realize that vampires are back, that’s going to change the shape of religion and the role of religion. That’s one of those little ideas that kicked up speed really fast, so you will see more of that in ‘The Curse Bells’ and more in the future,” he continued. “The game we want to play is, look at a map and say, ‘Let’s travel Baltimore!’ We’re playing with a hole in the middle of the novel where Baltimore is pursuing this one guy who he never really catches up to. So let’s run Baltimore around Europe and whatever other part of the world, and as he goes and sees different areas, let’s look at folklore, the history of those parts of the world. I don’t know that we’re going to get into Asia, but I think it would be really cool to do a story dealing with Asian folklore.”
A completely different project that saw the light of day in 2010 was “The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects,” a collection of short, somewhat absurdist humor pieces written and drawn by Mignola (with, in the case of one tale, the assistance of his daughter, aged seven at the time). The centerpiece of the collection was the 2003 Eisner Award-winning “Amazing Screw-On Head” one shot, which had long been out of print by virtue of its not fitting in very well with any other trade paperback. “The challenging thing with the Screw-On Head book was that there wasn’t a lot of material to pull together. There was Screw-On Head and one other story,” Mignola explained. “The third story, ‘Abu Gung and the Beanstalk,’ was a humor story, but I didn’t like the way I drew it. So I redrew that, and we’re still too short for a collection. Fortunately, I had made up this couple other stories, and I had to return to drawing, which was nice.
“It’s a weird book – it’s really half new, half reprint,” he added. “I love doing those kind of absurd stories. The thing I was nervous about doing those stories, I was in that mindset when I did ‘Amazing Screw-On Head,’ and around that time I did ‘The Magician and the Snake,’ so I was starting to build this kind of world. Not a world like in ‘Hellboy,’ it doesn’t make any sense, but this body of work that was this kind of absurd humor. And it’s so different from the way I write ‘Hellboy’ and ‘B.P.R.D.,’ I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get back into that mindset. I was wrong. It was very easy for me to slip back into that mindset of doing the absurd, pseudo-Victorian, and yet no logic, kind of world. It’s a world I love, it’s a world I will definitely be doing more work in, whether it’s just artwork I do on the side or whether I do more stories, I can’t tell right now. Artwise, I definitely want to do pictures of this world. It’s my favorite thing to draw, these old buildings and these odd old Victorian characters, these puppets and stuff. But nothing I did in ‘Screw-On Head’ is intended to turn into a series. I didn’t do a new Screw-On Head story because I felt I did it right the first time, and none of the other characters in that book really took on their own life. Everything I did felt like everything I wanted to do with that particular character. I do want to draw the buildings over and over again. But for the characters, I’m happy for them to live their short lifespan.”
Katie Mignola, co-writer of the Eisner-winning short story “The Magician and the Snake,” was also pleased with the new edition of “Amazing Screw-On Head.” “She was very relieved to see it in color. She was always disappointed that it was in black and white, originally it was published in black and white [in the Dark Horse anthology ‘Happy Endings’] and she was very insistent that that snake had to be green. So she did a load of art directing on the coloring it, but she gave it her stamp of approval,” her father told CBR. “We had a little negotiating about whether or not her name would go on the cover of the book, I don’t think I’m going to be able to skunk her on royalties the way I did the first time. And she did demand a certain percentage of the comp copies. So yeah, she was a little bit tougher negotiator this time around with the reprint. And she got to do a signing, which was nice. Better attended than any store signing I’ve ever done, so I should probably always bring a sixteen-year old girl with me when I do store signings. It was great. It’s still my favorite thing I’ve ever done. It’s great to have it out as part of that book.
“I really think this is the most important book I’ve ever done, because it’s so much – even more than ‘Hellboy’ – it’s so much my sensibilities,” Mignola said. “This is so much my world, Screw-On Head and Magician and the Snake are probably my two favorite things I’ve done, so to have a book like that, with those things in there – between that and popping Hellboy’s eye out, those were the two most significant things I did this year.”
Perhaps somewhat akin to the absurd fancy of “Screw-On Head,” in 2011 Mignola will return briefly to a character he helped propel to fame when he provides the cover to Marvel’s “Rocket Raccoon and Groot” #1. Mignola seemed bemused when talking about the character, who was created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen. “I do very little work outside of Dark Horse, I do very little for Marvel and DC. Somebody asked me at a convention to do that cover, I said… Ok, Rocket Raccoon…People like Rocket Raccoon. I always have people asking me to sign ‘Rocket Raccoon.’ I have no burning desire to draw the character again. but I thought, Ok, I could do Rocket Raccoon one more time,” Mignola said. “Especially if he’s with Groot, who is one of my favorite of the old Jack Kirby monsters, though I’m horrified to see Marvel has him wearing a suit and part of a team. On my cover I took his suit off him and made him a little more Kirby than he looks in the various new stories. And Marvel was cool with that, I think. I don’t know. I hope when the book comes out I don’t find out that somebody in production has put a suit on my Groot character. Not unlike things that have happened to me with Marvel in the past, but I think they’ll probably run it the way I did it. It was a fun little one-off thing, it was a nice little farewell to Rocket Raccoon.”
Wrapping up his look back on 2010, Mignola noted that, between “Hellboy” [link], “B.P.R.D.,” [link], “Baltimore,” and “Amazing Screw-On Head,” the year has seen some fairly ambitious and rewarding projects arrive in print. “It’s funny, towards the end of the year there’s always this feeling of, ‘Oh, I didn’t do anything this year! Another wasted year!’ Thank God for an interview like this where I can go, you know, I had a couple things, including some stuff I drew,” he said. “Probably this year, one of the biggest things for me was actually returning to the drawing table. And the idea of next year being spent almost entirely at the drawing table, that’s kind of exciting.”
Next on CBR’s HELL(BOY) ON EARTH, Mignola will talk a bit more about getting back to the drawing table, as well as other projects coming up in 2011.