SPOILER WARNING: The following story contains spoilers for “Hellboy In Hell” #1, on sale now.
For Mike Mignola, the wait is over, but the work is just beginning. Months after announcing the return of his signature character in the new “Hellboy In Hell” cycle of stories and years since he last drew the big red guy in sequential pages, the cartoonist saw his first issue of the new era ship from Dark Horse Comics this week.
But as the issue provides a new entry point into the series and a new phase for Hellboy’s “life,” it also asks some big questions about where the character will go next. To help get answers, CBR is launching a two-pronged fact-finding mission. First up is the start of a regular feature on the opening “Hellboy In Hell” issues with Mignola himself, which you can read right here. And fans will be able to get in on the action on Twitter today when Mignola answers their queries using the hashtag #CBRHellboychat starting today at 4:00 PM Pacific! (just keep an eye on CBR and Dark Horse’s respective Twitter feeds to follow the action)
Below, go behind the story of “Hellboy In Hell” #1 as Mignola explains how the tone of the series had to change after the grim tidings of “The Storm & The Fury,” what statement he wanted to make to kick off his own personal Hell, the literary influences that had to be a part of the book and more about the fantastic future that sees Hellboy confront new villains, new powers and more.
CBR News: Mike, I’ve got to say that the thing that surprised me right out the gate with “Hellboy In Hell” that I probably should have saw coming was how funny parts of it were. What was your plan in terms of the tone right as Hellboy took a dive into the underworld? Was it just a matter of making him as much like Hellboy as you could again?
Mike Mignola: Yeah. “Hellboy” had become such a downer. It had been so grim as a book with all this apocalyptic prophecy and “You’ve got to die to save England” and all this other stuff. I really wanted a breath of fresh air here. Because of the way I view the Hell I’m creating, it in no way reflects real beliefs I have, btu I wanted to throw him into a real fun world. It’s made up of all the stuff that I like. You can see it in the architecture and in the puppet show. I wanted to put him in the “Screw-On Head” world! [Laughs] I mean, there are some darker aspects to it as you’ll see in issue #2, but I did want to start over and have a little bit of fun with him. There’s some heavier stuff to come along, but this had to be a relief from what had gone before.
When Sir Edward shows up, he makes the argument that “Hellboy’s story is not finished.” Usually you don’t get too into metafictional ideas where these folklore characters comment on their lives in terms of story, but a little bit of that crept in here. Why cast the journey in that kind of a light?
As far as Hellboy is concerned, I kind of boiled this down to the idea that there are a certain number of things that Hellboy still needs to do. There are certain prophecies that are just there. And it’s all based on my working backwards. I know there are certain scenes that still have to happen with Hellboy that kind of go against the idea that he’s going to have fun and walk around and drink with skeletons. There’s going to be that, but there are a couple big, heavy things that need to happen sooner or later. That’s the part that’s still waiting for Hellboy. And I could find a way out of it, but I like that doomed hero thing. I read a lot of Michael Moorcock in high school. Without realizing it for a long time, that’s informed so much of the Hellboy stuff. So once I had the ending in mind and saw where Hellboy was going, I knew I could work backwards from there. I could let him have a really good time, but ultimately there are a couple of things that have to get done.
We start the journey into Hell by literally dropping him into the mouth or the maw of the place.
And that was hard. That was a hard panel to do. I may put in the sketchbook section of the trade the various starts to that page. Originally, there were a lot more heads there. And I kept carving away and carving away until at one point, I just said, “What would Terry Gilliam do?” And this was as close to what I could come up with. [Laughs]
But this strikes me also because it’s quite different from those standardized versions of Hell we see in stories. There’s no boat across the river or Cerberus showing up here. It’s your own thing. Are there any Hell cliches you’re looking to avoid?
I don’t want to do the Hell that I did in “Hellboy Junior.” I don’t want craters with fire jumping out of them. I don’t want any kind of traditional Hell. You mention the Ferryman and Cerberus and stuff. I actually do want to do that kind of stuff, but that’s in a different neighborhood of Hell. He drops into my Hell, and eventually as he wanders around, he can go to the Greek Hell and the Norse Hell, and I want to play with all those different things. But at least for these first issues, I wanted the images so much to be my version of things. So I did consciously avoid any of the stuff that had been done in the past.
And also that sequence of him dropping into Hell was an entirely visual thing. The mouth wasn’t important. What was important was to let that image of the heart morph into the shape of Hellboy. The mouth was secondary to that little red and orange dot that was trailing downward, and as we’d get back closer and closer to it, it could change into Hellboy.
Another visual element that seems important is the kind of runes that Sir Edward scratches into the air and makes things out of where he’s never had powers like that before. Is part of this series going to involve characters and even Hellboy being able to do things they’ve never been able to do before?
Yeah. Basically, there are no rules. There’s a lot of magic kind of stuff, but I guess magic really works because you’re closer to the source. There are a lot of wisemen and magicians in the next several issues. But in general, people are dead or they’re kind of dead or they’re ghosts, so there’s a definite abstract to things. That’s what I really want. What you’ll get more and more as we go along that this is a dreamy kind of world where things just happen. I mean, there’s no gravity! One of the things I realized when I got to the end of this issue is that Hellboy isn’t being dragged through the air. The last panel is him hanging in the air. So I guess Hellboy can fly now. Will he be able to fly all the time, or is it just because he’s in the company of these spirits? There’s really no hard and fast rules. I’ve got my own ideas for how to limit these things as we go along, but it’s definitely more of a fairy tale/folklore kind of logic more and more than it ever was when he was on earth.
Sir Edward puts him on this path. Is he going to continue to be a guide of sorts for Hellboy, or is there really going to be no more of a central cast than the main character and the occasional villain he’s “put away”?
There are going to be occasions where he meets people he’s met before, but I don’t want that to be the running gag in “Hellboy In Hell.” There’s a certain amount of it, but I also really want to introduce a new cast of characters. And Ed Grey does have some recurrent stuff. We’ll see him in issue #4, and we’ll see more of him later. But it’s not going to be Hellboy and Ed Grey teaming up. Hellboy is kind of on his own for a while, which is great because it gives me a chance to have him discover this world. I think you can tell from the end of the first issue that he’s going to get a tour. We’re going to see him with a variety of characters as he’s on this tour, but after that he’s cut loose to deal with some stuff.
And the thing is, as this book goes on what I discover is that I know what Hellboy’s going to do, but you never really know all that’s going on. I’m excited by this world. I just scratched the surface of this world and in drawing it I’m really seeing what this world can be. Hellboy is my vehicle for just exploring this world.
Well, the last thing I was going to ask about was this idiosyncratic ending where you kind of answer the question “What do you see when you die?” I thought, “Well, if you’re Mike Mignola…you see a puppet show of ‘A Christmas Carol’!”
If that happened, I’d actually be pretty happy! [Laughs] I don’t know if I ever consciously thought that was going to happen, but if anything, if I’m going to Hell I’d like the opportunity to go to my own. If I’m going to make up a Hell, I’m going to make one I wouldn’t mind spending an eternity in. And if there’s puppet shows of “A Christmas Carol,” I’m fine with that.
The puppet show started as a joke, and then I kind of got serious about it because I wanted something in that first issue to warn the readers that this is what the book can be like now. It seemed very strange – especially before this book was going to come out in December, which it originally wasn’t. But I always wanted that sequence in there because it is one of my favorite pieces of literature. That exchange between Scrooge and Marley is one of my all-time favorite things. I said, “If I can do whatever I want in this book, let me do this.” And then when we bumped this book back to December, that was perfect.
Head to Twitter today at 4:00 PM PST for #CBRHellboychat!