But with his latest project, the artist is returning to a monster that wouldn’t stay dead in his imagination. Dark Horse‘s 2015 miniseries “Frankenstein Underground” brings back the creature from Mary Shelley’s novel as an ongoing character in Hellboy’s world. The pair last crossed paths in the “House of the Living Dead” graphic novel, but now Frankenstein takes center stage in “Underground,” as written by Mignola and drawn by Ben Stenbeck.
CBR News spoke with the creator about how he couldn’t set aside the classic character any longer, and Mignola explained how both the Mary Shelley original and the Boris Karloff beast of film will factor into his take, why sending the monster underground added unique layers to the character and how the end of this 1950s-set series will ripple into the modern day world of the B.P.R.D.
CBR News: Mike, with the announcement of the “Frankenstein Underground” series, you’re taking a different step in the Hellboy world by including one of the iconic pop culture monsters as a literal presence in the story. It feels like you decided this character was THE Frankenstein Monster almost on accident, but up to this point was there a reason you’d held back from including the likes of him in HB’s world for so long?
Mike Mignola: It just never occurred to me. There’s no bigger Dracula fan than me, but it is its own thing. I didn’t think there was anything I could add to it except bringing some name recognition to the book. It was easier to make up my own version of this, or my own version of that.
But with Frankenstein, it’s not only such an iconic character, but an iconic idea. I’ve already had Frankenstein-like things — the gorillas with the bolts sticking out of them and jars of guys — but I’ve never had the guy. And it wasn’t until it came time to write cover copy for “House of the Living Dead” where I realized this. “House” was really a nod to those old Universal monster films, where you’d see team-ups between the Wolfman or Dracula or whoever. Actually, in that book we have a vampire that you see who’s in a coffin and who wakes up for a second. And I never thought about it until, actually, right now, but I’m sure that was Dracula. If there’s a Dracula in the Hellboy universe, that was him in that basement crypt in Mexico. That’s what that book was all about — nods to those classic stories.
When I wrote that book, I was writing about a Frankenstein-like creature, but when it came time to write the cover copy, you couldn’t just put “Frankenstein-like.” It had to be him. He only really had one moment at the end of the book where he talks to Hellboy — I thought it was such a nice moment — and then he walks out the door. It kind of got the clock ticking for me. He’s out there someplace, and if he is the actual Frankenstein monster, then sure — let’s use him.
I was really hesitant about just doing a Frankenstein book. It doesn’t seem to jibe with the rest of the Hellboy world because it is so much its own thing. But when I found a way to mix it with some of the other imagery and the other history that’s built up in the Hellboy world, it just seemed to work.
Even though the original novel is as iconic a book as it gets, the arguable definitive version of the Frankenstein character is the Boris Karloff movie take, with the bolts in his neck. Even when some adaptations have tried to stick true to the original, it’s been something like Kenneth Branagh version —
He didn’t come very close.
Right. So looking at all the Frankenstein stuff ever made, what did you consider the sacred stuff that had to be in place to show that this was the character?
I really don’t think anything’s terribly sacred. What I did do in this book is, when we reference his origins — which we don’t do a lot, but there are some flashes to moments in his past — we do jibe with the Mary Shelley version. In fact, there’s one particular moment where we see him actually coughing up dialogue that’s slightly modified but pretty much taken from the novel. My feeling is that while I’ve read the novel and appreciate it, I’m much closer to the Karloff, “Bride of Frankenstein” monster. The voice I hear in my head for this guy is that Karloff monster.
While there doesn’t have to be any specific explanation of it, clearly at one point in time this character was much more together. Now, he’s been beaten down by centuries of roaming the Earth and being mistreated, so that brings him closer to the Karloff monster in the way he speaks — although I haven’t actually scripted the first issue of this book as we’re speaking. I haven’t played with his dialogue just yet. It’s not going to be a big, speechy kind of book except for the flashbacks, so I’m not entirely sure how his speech patterns will develop. I feel like he hasn’t spoken to anybody for a long time. So when he did say those few things to Hellboy at the end of “House of the Living Dead,” you could kind of hear it as Karloff would say it during “Bride of Frankenstein.” Maybe, as this book goes along, he’ll get much more comfortable with talking because he has several more characters to interact with in the underground world. He’ll never be quite as flowery as Shelley had him, but he may get more comfortable with talking. I’ll know all that once I’m scripting it and can hear the voice in my head.
It’s a long time and a long way from 1800s Europe to 1950s Mexico. Does this book at all explore how the monster went from his classic incarnation to his Hellboy appearance?
Yeah. It’s all about post-“House of the Living Dead” Frankenstein. There is a reference at the end of that book to the mad scientist guy having claimed to create him. He says, “He didn’t create me.” There’s a little bit more of that and a few more ideas fleshed out as far as where he came from. We just get flashes of how he’s been mistreated since the Mary Shelley novel and up to now. It’s a brief look at how he ended up in a carnival before being purchased by that mad scientist. It’s really covered quickly, but that’s not what this story is about. It’s all about, “Where does he go from here?” which turns out to be underground.
But this is all a part of the history of the world readers have been following for years. Just like some B.P.R.D. series have investigated the past of, say, the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, does “Frankentein Underground” hold its own ties to the broader universe?
I’ve got a lot of the past mapped out. I’m always looking for a place to get it out there, but if I’ve made up stuff that I really like and want to get into the book, I don’t want to manufacture a book that’s just an excuse for a history lesson. Put it this way: I have to come up with a character or a period of history tied to characters we’ve dealt with where I can go, “We need more about these guys.” That’s where the plot comes from, and then the next part of my brain asks, “How can I tie that into the history of this world?”
Sometimes those two things go hand-in-hand, but I don’t want any excuse to drop a chunk of history. Even with the prehistoric Hyperborian stuff, I know there are a million stories out there, and part of me wants to just truck it out so we can see more stories from that world. But I have to wait until a plot comes in from someplace, and then I can tie it into the mythology.
Let’s talk about that underground world he’ll be exploring, which is semi-inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ inverted earth. Was that the element that also helped you make this more unique to the Hellboy world, rather than just plunking down Frankenstein in any story?
I do think this story could have very easily not been part of the Hellboy world. In fact, the other day, one of the people working on it said it never occurred to them that this could tie so much to the Hellboy thing. Probably of all the books I’ve done, this one needs that banner across the top the most that says, “From the Pages of Hellboy!” Looking just at the cover and the premise, you wouldn’t think it tied in that much.
The Hollow Earth thing I’ve played with a few times already. It’s in “Witchfinder” and in “B.P.R.D.” so it’s not too much of a stretch. The stuff we do see of the underground world here is certainly more about that world and different than other things we’ve done. It’s not a completely out of left field idea, though, based on what we’ve done.
I get the impression that this book ended up being even more tied to big ideas than expected.
When I first started playing with the idea of this book, I never realized how big the ending of this would be. I kind of knew where the ending was going, but I didn’t know what it meant. Looking at the way the increasingly messed up world of the “B.P.R.D.” was developing, I realized the ending I was playing with will work really well with where that’s going. I really can’t say much here — I’m deathly afraid I’ll say too much. Like with all our books, you won’t need to read this to understand what’s coming, but it does serve a really nice purpose. Even though this takes place in the ’50s, it does relate to stuff that’s coming as it stands alone.
With a slew of Hellboy news and releases arriving across October and you working on this book, is that your way of celebrating for Halloween?
I don’t even read more than ordinary. It’s not like I go, “Oh boy! It’s time to read horror books!” or, “It’s time to watch monster movies!” I do that all year long. [Laughs] Halloween is something where I love the idea of it, but we don’t decorate the house except for putting one thing out in the yard. I’ve never really celebrated it, and I’ve never been a costume guy, except when I was a little kid. The Halloween parties and stuff aren’t my kind of thing. I’d rather see Ray Bradbury do Halloween than me. I guess it’s funny that I’ve never done a specific Halloween story in all the stuff I’ve written. It just never occurs to me.
Though connecting with classic monsters as Frankenstein is, I was wondering if there’s ever been talk of reprinting your adaptation of the Francis Ford Coppola “Dracula.” Is that even possible, or are the rights from when Topps stopped making comics too complicated?
It’s not Topps. I don’t even know what Topps is anymore, to be honest. But it was something with the studio where it was only allowed to be printed once. This was pre-scanning and stuff like that, so where the film for that art would be I don’t think anyone knows. It may have all been destroyed. I think two or three publishers have contacted me in the last five, ten years and said, “We really want to reprint this.” And I say, “Good luck, but I just don’t think you can.” So far, no one has been able to do it. It’s a shame because I actually think that does hold up pretty well, and there are some nice bits in there that didn’t make their way into the film. As far as my work goes, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever done. It’s one of those books where I wouldn’t mind if it was back in print. It just doesn’t look doable.
The five-issue “Frankenstein Underground” arrives in 2015 from Dark Horse comics.