Mike Mignola has always loved the undead. The cartoonist behind Dark Horse’s popular “Hellboy” and “B.P.R.D.” franchises first took vampires to the page adapting one of his favorite books “Dracula” in the early ’90s through the lens of the Francis Ford Coppola film. But in the world inhabited by Mignola’s signature de-horned investigator and his government organized allies, bloodsuckers have been few and far between…until now.
Recently, the events of the “Hell On Earth” story cycle running through the main “B.P.R.D.” series written by John Arcudi have shaken vampires loose from their years of hiding from the modern world. And as Mignola told CBR News, the change in the status of some of his favorite villains was unexpected but certainly welcome. “The vampire thing is interesting because I don’t really know why I didn’t deal with them as much as I did,” he said. “Certainly, the idea of them being in hiding came about fairly recently. I think when I did ‘B.P.R.D.’ #47 is when we trotted out that idea. And that was really to say ‘Here’s why we haven’t done the vampire stuff.'”
But in the just completed “The Pickens County Horror” two part series and next week’s “The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell” one-shot (both co-written with editor Scott Allie), the vamps are back big time – assaulting both the teams present and past. “The ‘Pickens County’ story that Scott and I just did is something I originally pitched to John to work into the regular story. But John doesn’t like vampires, and I don’t want to force John’s hand when he’s got ten million things he’s doing. So I said, ‘If you don’t want to do it, do you mind if we do it over here?’
“I am fascinated with vampires, and because the world is changing so much, they’re changing,” Mignola explained. “So to do traditional vampire stuff -Â which I’d still love to do -Â I’d have to set that back in time. We’re constantly running into situations with the vampires where going forward everything is like this, but how did we get to this point? Is there room to do traditional vampire stories at some point? We put something out there, and it starts traveling in a million directions.”
Like many of the elements of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. world, the ideas for potential new stories based on the old school horror villains seem to grow and grow. “The bit I’ve been wanting to stick in some place for a long time was this idea of how the vampires came to America, so when Scott and I started talking about this story, I said ‘I don’t want the whole thing to be a history lesson, but we have to stick in this one chunk of American history that I’ve always wanted to play with. If we can just put that in there – this kind of second Boston Tea Party with vampires – that’d be great.’ And now that I look at it, I go ‘There’s room for about five different series of vampires in Colonial America.’ If I had nothing to do tomorrow, I could come in and do all those stories, but really how many books can we do? Some of these ideas take root and start wanting to be books.”
In the case of “The Transformation” story drawn by Max Fiumara, the opportunity presented itself to both do more vampire tales and explain the past of a character who most recently cameoed in a Hellboy short from ‘Dark Horse Presents’: Professor O’Donnell. “O’Donnell is a guy where I came up with his origin story a long time ago -Â probably when I introduced the character,” Mignola said. “I introduced this character who was nuts, and it didn’t take too long for me to say, ‘And why is this guy nuts? Oh…boom! There it is.’ That’s a story I told John, and we were looking for a place to work it in, but it never seemed to fit. So when Scott and I were talking about doing these other ‘B.P.R.D.’ stories, the O’Donnell one was just sitting there. It kind of stands on its own and needed to be a little longer…so why not put Hellboy in there?”
As far as Fiumara’s involvement in the tale, the up-and-coming artist similarly fell into place once the story was planned. “A lot of these guys these days, it all comes about through Facebook. I think I saw Max’s stuff there and thought, ‘Oh my God, who is this guy?'” Mignola said. “I hadn’t seen [his Image series] ‘Four Eyes’ yet. I’d just seen some pages he’d posted and some of his Marvel stuff. And I don’t really follow the Marvel stuff, so I’d missed this guy. But when I saw his work, I thought, ‘It’s so interesting. He’s done such a wonderful exaggeration/stylization, and his character stuff is just beautiful.’ So we started exchanging messages back and forth going, ‘Would you ever want to do something?’ I’m always very tentative about that because some of these guys are at Marvel and DC because they have a contract or they just love Wolverine or God knows what. So it always starts with a sheepish ‘Well…if you ever want to do something’ and Max came back right away with a yes.
“We didn’t even know what we were going to do with them, and then Scott and I started talking about the O’Donnell story, and I knew he’d be great for that. So right now we’re in a position where there are quite a few artists we want to work with, and it’s just a matter of working with guys’ schedules. We’ve learned now that we’ve got in the foreseeable future if not already about a comic-a-week coming out. And we don’t want to take it any further than that. If Dark Horse just rolls over one day and goes, ‘Why don’t you guys just do everything and turn us into the Mignola-universe’ then we could do it. It’d be really easy to turn this from four books a month into ten books a month. We’d have to find somebody else to help write the stuff, but the thing does seem to want to expand that fast and that big. But for practical reasons, we have to keep this lid on it.”
Of course, Mignola has his hands full already working with his collaborators on the characters already on the table, and the creator explained that the cast of “B.P.R.D.” also moves from creator-to-creator on occasion. In fact, he teased a future return for himself to Abe Sapien – the aquatic hero currently out of commission -Â though Mignola couldn’t say how that ties to his impending “Hellboy In Hell” series later this year. “It’s funny. Some of these characters you make up, you give them to John or whoever else to use, and then every once in a while you go, ‘Can I borrow him back?’ With some of the characters I’ve made up, John and the writers have been a little afraid to do too much with them because they still view them as my characters. At this point, most of the B.P.R.D. is where John is comfortable doing what he wants to do with the characters. Abe is a character who in the last year I’ve started to come up with ideas for what should be done with Abe, so that’s part of Abe’s current predicament in ‘B.P.R.D.’ I’m going, ‘John, you’ve done this great thing with him, but now maybe it’s time to do something different.’ And there are certain kinds of stories that John does and certain kinds of stories that I do. So Abe might have gone as far as he can go in John’s version of things -Â though I’m sure John could take him some place – and now I’m saying, ‘Let me take him back.'”
One character with vampire hunting experience that Mignola has given the reins over on is Baltimore -Â the prose creation that’s come to comics thanks to co-writer Christopher Golden. “I view them as radically different things,” Mignola said of that world and his Hellboy work. “As much as I’m hands off with ‘B.P.R.D.’ or hands-almost-off, I have even less involvement on ‘Baltimore.’ Chris and I have had talks about the things we could do with this book, and we’ve got a story coming up that’s based on a quickie idea I had, but Chris is really the force driving ‘Baltimore.’ In a way, after I did the Baltimore novel, I said everything I had to say about this character. In the novel, we see the entire arc of this guy – well not his ultimate demise, but we do see the transformation of the character. So I did what I wanted to do with him. Most of the Baltimore stories that we’re doing are generated by Chris, and we bounce them back and forth. Very few of those ideas are starting as my ideas.
“Now I sound like the laziest guy on earth,” the artist laughed. “There are ten million books out there with my name on them, and how much do I have to do with any of these books? I guess I was there first, and I’m a guiding hand on a lot of them. But what works about ‘B.P.R.D.’ is mostly John, and what works about ‘Baltimore’ is mostly Chris.”
“B.P.R.D.: Hell On Earth: The Transformation of J.H. O’Donnell” hits comic shops next week from Dark Horse Comics.