In most comic book universes, there is some baseline status quo to be maintained. Characters may die, headquarters might change, San Diego might sink into the ocean, but in the majority of long running series, eventually things will return to a state of near-normalcy. Not so in the case of the universe Mike Mignola and company have built up around Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.
2010 was a big year for Dark Horse’s core Mignola-verse titles, while also adding a standalone property into the mix and collecting some of the cartoonist’s humor stories. As the year that saw the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense enter a cataclysmic new era and witnessed Hellboy make a dire sacrifice winds to a close, CBR is pleased to present HELL(BOY) ON EARTH, a series of interviews reviewing Mignola’s work throughout 2010 while previewing what’s in store for the coming year.
Hellboy, Mignola’s signature character, began the year with the Richard Corben-illustrated “Hellboy in Mexico, or, A Drunken Blur,” a one-shot set early in the character’s career which had him tag-teaming with and against Mexican wrestlers in a story somewhat less whimsical than the title would suggest. Mignola and Corben would join again for the “Double Feature of Evil” late in the year. In between, the present-day series “The Storm,” drawn by regular artist Duncan Fegredo, found Hellboy struggling with the curses and responsibilities bearing on his life and destiny, finally realizing that he may not have the resources necessary to defeat the Queen of Blood, or, not without help. The last week of 2010 will also see “The Sleeping and the Dead” #1, illustrated by Scott Hampton.
Asked what he saw as creative highlights in such an active year, Mignola cited the dramatic changes to Hellboy in “The Storm,” which was the only “Hellboy” series in 2010 that took place in the present and which sets the stage for 2011’s “The Fury.” “I don’t want to sell any of the stuff Richard [Corben] has done short, because working with Richard has been one of the great, unexpected pleasures and privileges of my career. He’s fantastic, there’s nobody like him, he enjoys doing Hellboy – it’s one of the great thrills. I’m happy to work with him as much as I can, whenever he wants,” Mignola said, referring to the several one-shots and two-issue “Hellboy” stories he’s done with the artist. “But advancing the main Hellboy storyline with Duncan [Fegredo] has always been the priority, and this year, with ‘The Storm,’ it’s the first half of the last book of this giant storyline. It’s the beginning of the end of this first giant arc of Hellboy, which I realize, now that we’re here, it’s not just the end of this King Arthur storyline that began with ‘Darkness Calls,’ continued into ‘The Wild Hunt’ and then will ultimately be ‘The Storm and the Fury.’ It’s not just the end of that story, but it really is the end of almost everything I’ve been doing since I began Hellboy. It really is a gigantic game changer.
“And – he lost an eye. Which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and it kind of marks the beginning of this giant transformation of the character,” Mignola continued. “This is one of those stories I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It’s one thing to say, ‘…and one day I’m gonna do this,’ but it’s really strange to actually write it, it’s really strange to see the artwork come in, and then it’s really strange to finally have it out there. It’s exciting to me because I’ve always said this character is meant to change, the entire Hellboy universe is meant to change, and this to me felt like the beginnings of the biggest change I’m making.”
Discussing the significance of that life-altering event, Mignola went on to discuss what the choice to sacrifice an eye to the duplicitous witch Baba Yaga means for the character and how this signals a shift beyond the merely physical. “One thing I’m not going to do is give him a magic eye or a bionic eye to replace it. It’s more of a symbolic thing. I don’t want to get lofty, but there’s the Norse mythology with Odin giving up an eye to achieve something. That Hellboy didn’t get his eye gouged out, that he actually gave up his eye in order to get to where he’s got to go, I think is gigantically significant,” the creator said. “It shows that he has taken charge, he has made a sacrifice in order to do this thing. Hellboy has a tendency to stumble into stuff, and this is I think one of the biggest cases I’ve done, where he is looking to do – I don’t want to say ‘his duty’ – but he’s got a mission and he’s doing what it takes to accomplish that mission. That’s a pretty different thing.”
Before the deal with Baba Yaga is sealed, or even offered, Hellboy has the opportunity to accomplish his mission through other means – namely, using his role as Beast of the Apocalypse to release the armies of Hell. “I think you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to go, ‘You know, that one I’m not going to do – that one’s too risky,'” Mignola joked. “I’m not going to call giant demons to Earth to solve this problem, because it’s hard to undo shit like that once you’ve started. But this one [giving up the eye], it’s a personal sacrifice, and it’s not something that people have been prophesizing for a million years. So I think it’s easier to say yes to something like that.”
As he has done with other characters, Mignola expanded the role of Baba Yaga considerably since her first appearance, growing her personality and influence until she was able to initiate the pivotal events of “The Storm.” “I think what’s also really interesting in the scheme of things is, this is a character who has been a bad guy, and it’s one of the things I like about dealing with this sort of folklore, supernatural world – they serve multiple purposes. Baba Yaga is a witch and a cannibal and all these horrible things, but she is also a character who is this ancient, almost like one of the Nornes – she’s this crossroads kind of figure that represents change,” he told CBR. “It’s very hard for me to write a character who’s just the cackling, Mephisto-type villain who just wants to be the bad guy. I like dealing with these characters who have complicated roles, and changing roles in a changing world. She’s always been one of my favorite characters. I knew I wanted to do something like this with her.
“In the first story I did with her, Hellboy shoots her eye out. It was a nothing little story, I didn’t know it would end up becoming a major moment in the scheme of things. But like so many things I’ve done in those early Hellboy stories, some of those are just a story that took place, and others had this sort of resonance that ended up vibrating through the whole thing,” Mignola continued. “Like the ‘Changeling’ story with the little pigheaded guy. I didn’t know that character would come back, and I certainly didn’t know the character would come back in such a big way. It’s really exciting to me to see these threads running through fifteen years of Hellboy.”
Given that Baba Yaga’s role in “The Storm” surprised even the story’s writer, CBR asked how plans for that miniseries had evolved over time. Mignola explained that he often had an idea of events that would happen and how a character would evolve, but the form those stories would take tends to be flexible. “I’ve had these kind of turning points for the character – I know he’s going to do this, he’s going to get into this, he’s going to go here, he’s going to there, but I don’t know what the shape of the story is. So when things start drifting in a particular direction, it’s almost like, ‘Oh, now that things have drifted over in this direction, now I see, now is the time we’re going to do this!'” Mignola said. “So there’s a fluidity to it, but there are also these signposts that I’m looking for. So we’re drifting down a particular direction, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this is where we’re going, but now is the time to do this.’ And you look around at the characters and you go, ‘Oh, this character has evolved to the point where he will be the character who makes this happen.’ On one hand, I do have these kind of long-term ideas of where things are going, but the mechanics of how those changes happen I keep fluid. Because nothing would be more boring than having this stuff all mapped out.”
Hellboy has come a long way since his time with the B.P.R.D., though at every step it seems his life gets more complicated, from discovering he’s destined to become the Beast of Apocalypse to reluctantly assuming the role of King of England, to now bargaining his eye to overcome impossible odds. “I think he’s playing on a much bigger field than he used to. There was a comfort zone in where he was, in the B.P.R.D. I did this gag for several years where he didn’t want to deal with who he was. I never wanted him to be a character who sat around and thought about, ‘Oh no, I’m the Beast of the Apocalypse, I’m this, I’m that,’ but I realized after a while that I couldn’t keep playing him as a guy who never looked at that stuff at all,” Mignola said. “So while I’ve never really turned him into a character that said, ‘I’ve got to find out who I am and do all this other stuff,’ after a while you can’t ignore that something’s going on. Now, as soon as he quit the Bureau, suddenly he got kind of swept away – and I think he did it consciously, ‘I’m going to cut myself loose from this structure.’ It’s like if you quit your job, got a divorce or whatever else. ‘Ok, I’ve got this certain life I’m living and I know what I’m supposed to do; but what happens if I give away everything I own and get a divorce and move away and see what happens?’ It’s kind of like becoming a hobo. Once that happens, then you’re kind of drifting, and it is cutting a lifeline and then going wherever you go. I did that pretty consciously.
“When I did ‘Conqueror Worm,’ I felt like I’d done that kind of Hellboy story as well as I could do it, so ok, let’s cut him loose from that and see what happens. I didn’t have a lot of his storyline mapped out beyond that. Again, I knew vaguely that I wanted to do things with him, but when Hellboy says, there’s a line something like, ‘Where you going?’ ‘Wherever the wind blows,’ that was almost my thinking. Well, let’s see where he goes and deal more these folklore and supernatural things without the structure of, ‘I’ve got to go on a mission!’ That made it really interesting, and it did create this giant rolling down a hill snowball of, ‘Oh! I didn’t know we were going here! I didn’t know we were going to get this big with certain aspects of the story!’
“I think Hellboy is perhaps regretting his decision to step out of his comfort zone a little,” Mignola added. “Because I just don’t know how much bigger this stuff can get. You quit your job at the factory, become a hobo and then you find out you’re the king of England. Oops! Didn’t see that coming! Suddenly that factory job might be looking pretty good.”
2010 also saw Mignola collaborate on two new one-shots with Richard Corben, “Hellboy in Mexico” and “Double Feature of Evil,” both of which took place at earlier points in Hellboy’s life. “When we did ‘The Crooked Man,’ I knew that if I was going to work with Richard Corben, I knew I wanted to do this kind of subject matter anyway, that idea of doing something in the Apalachian Mountains,” Mignola said. “For ‘Hellboy in Mexico,’ I had a vague idea that I wanted to do this story – it might not have ever gotten done, it started as something I made up for myself and was kind of floating around half-done. But when Richard wants to do something, it’s one of those things, I pull it off the shelf and go, really, I was never going to get around to doing this, and who would do it better? ‘Hellboy in Mexico’ and ‘Double Feature,’ both are stories I’d made up a long time ago. But again, I wasn’t the right artist for them. They’d been sitting on the shelf, getting covered in dust, they’re never going to get done – until, wait a minute! If Richard wants to do them, who would be better for doing this spooky haunted house story? Who would be better for doing this crazy story that takes place in a museum?
“And as I write them and work out the story, there are certainly things I put in because I know Richard is doing them. I certainly write the plot differently than I do for somebody else. Everybody that I work with, I write the stories differently for them, and I lean the stories to what I think are their strengths, or, in some cases, ‘Ooh, I’m really excited to see him draw this!'”
Possibly the most unusual Hellboy appearance of the year was the “Hellboy/Beasts of Burden” one-shot by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, a fun and well-received special starring Dorkin and Thompson’s canine detectives of the occult. Luckily, this special did not unduly add to Mignola’s workload. “I was almost not involved at all. My editor asked me if I would be interested in doing something like this. I think he expected me to say no, but he was surprised that I said yes, that it would be fun,” Mignola said. “I wanted it to be just a ‘Beasts of Burden’ story that Hellboy appears in. Don’t try to tie it to any Hellboy continuity or bring in any Hellboy villains or anything like that. I think it would just be cute if it was Hellboy tagging along with these dogs, doing their story. There was some discussion of the beginning of how to introduce Hellboy, and I might have had a little input on that. But the way I remember it, I think Evan had already come up with the opening, which was exactly the kind of beginning I was thinking of, so I think we were on the same page there. The only thing I did was, once Evan wrote the script, I tweaked Hellboy’s dialogue, which I’ve done, I think, every time there’s been a Hellboy crossover. I just go in there and fine tune it to make sure Hellboy’s voice is right. I had to do very little there. Evan was, probably 9/10ths of the time, right on as far as what Hellboy sounds like. It’s my favorite kind of collaboration, one where I had almost nothing to do.”
Still forthcoming this year and bridging into 2011 is another project Mignola did have a more direct hand in; the two-issue “Sleeping and the Dead” miniseries, the first issue of which ships December 29. Mignola said he’s been a fan of artist Scott Hampton “for a billion years.” “I sheepishly asked him one day if he ever wanted to do a Hellboy thing, and he said, ‘Yeah, that would be fun,’ because I couldn’t imagine anybody better at doing this really old school, gothic, haunted house, vampire kind of stuff. Considering that I love vampires and I love old-school vampire stuff, I’ve done very little of that stuff in Hellboy. So I wanted to really do old, classic, Victorian era-type ghost story/vampire-type thing, and I just thought Scott was the perfect artist. Again, it’s a story that I had kind of half-formed in the back of my head. It’s not one of the stories I would give to Corben. I could’ve done it, but it’s not even what I do best. I wanted something that was going to feel real quiet, and Scott’s perfect with that. So yeah, it was another case of talking to the right guy and having the right story drifting around in the back of my head.”
Rounding out discussion of his slate of “Hellboy” projects in 2010 and giving a taste of what’s to come in 2011, Mignola shared his perspective on “The Whittier Legacy,” an eight-page strip that ran on USA Today’s website as part of their DH:HD partnership with Dark Horse and Toshiba. “That was something Dark Horse mentioned to me, it’s got to be more than a year ago. They wanted to this thing with USA Today, it’s got to be an eight page story, and yeah, I said sure. I didn’t have an eight page story sitting there on my mental shelf – I’d probably given them all to Richard Corben,” Mignola said. “It’s one of those few times when I haven’t had a story drifting around in my head that was the right thing to do. So, over the years, so many people have talked about the Lovecraft influence in Hellboy, and I’ve never done a story that was really straight ode to Lovecraft. So, that would be kind of fun. One of the things with a USA Today story, I couldn’t do anything too weird, because most of the people who were going to see this had probably never seen Hellboy before. So it needed to be kind of, in a way, a very typical kind of a story. It was like an ad for Hellboy. I wanted to do something that was very simple, and the Lovecraft stuff, even though it’s kind of weird and complicated, it could be done in such a way that wasn’t too ‘inside.’ Then they threw a surprise in at me in the last minute – ‘It’s going to be two four-page installments.’ It’s hard enough, for me anyway, to make up an eight-page story that works, but man, making up a story that can break in the middle? It had its challenges. But it was fun and it was so nice to be back drawing the character again. Not the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done, but it was fun and certainly reminded me that I should be drawing this stuff, not just writing it.”
As Mignola announced at Comic-Con International, he will in fact be writing and drawing “Hellboy” full time in 2011. Check back on CBR for more installments of our in-depth interview with Mike Mignola, in which he discusses his return to the drawing board and the book he considers “the favorite thing I’ve ever done.”