When building a comics universe, it’s never a bad move to bring along some collaborators for the ride. And while Mike Mignola has always been the hand steering the ship that is the Dark Horse’s Hellboy Universe, the cartoonist has drafted more than a few accomplished comics names to aid in the expansive number of stories involving his hellacious hero. In 2005, Mignola made a first step in letting an artist other than himself draw a major chapter in Hellboy’s life with “Hellboy: Makoma” – a two-part series delving into the paranormal detective’s past drawn by horror and sci-fi comics legend Richard Corben.
On May 5, that team returns to unveil more about Hellboy’s historic heroing with “Hellboy in Mexico (Or, a Drunken Blur).” As the title implies, the new one-shot takes a more rollicking look at a character whose most recent adventures have been a bit more on the side of doom and gloom, and as the second installment of CBR’s TO HELLBOY AND BACK interview series, Mignola explained why stories set in the character’s past are necessary for keeping Hellboy the way he’s supposed to be, what the collaboration with Corben is like and who Hellboy ultimately is as a person. Plus, Dark Horse has provided an EXCLUSIVE preview of “Hellboy In Mexico” for fans to prepare for a Cinco de Mayo comics bender.
CBR News: The next Hellboy project hitting is “Hellboy In Mexico” with Richard Corben, which is interesting in that your first collaboration with Richard was the first time you let someone that’s not yourself draw something that represents a major piece of Hellboy’s life. Did you just want to find a new story to do with Richard after that, or is “In Mexico” a specific Hellboy story you’ve wanted to tell?
Mike Mignola: The Mexico one I’ve had in mind for a while -Â since I did a drawing a number of years ago that’s actually published in the “Hellboy Companion.” I did this drawing just for fun, and it was just a picture of Hellboy standing next to a Mexican wrestler with a date on it…1957 or something. Like so many things, it starts with a picture, and little by little somewhere along the line I figure out, “Oh yeah…he was in Mexico. And he did meet Mexican wrestlers. And this is what happened.” It takes on a life of its own. For years, it was a story that I was going to draw myself, but I was never getting around to it.
Once Richard and I began working together, it just seemed like something where not only did I know he could do it, but it’s hard to say as an artist, “You know, the story I’ve got in mind is something he could do better than I could.” So it went to him so he could do the best possible version of this story. And God only knows if I was ever going to get to drawing it.
And again, it’s a Hellboy story set in the past. With this one we actually get -Â the story itself only takes place over the course of about a month. I guess that’s weird in the Hellboy universe. Usually these stories take place over a couple of hours, I guess. This one takes place over a month, and as a result you’re introduced to kind of a big chunk of Hellboy’s past. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it does present a chapter of Hellboy’s life that previously we’ve known nothing about. That’s really fun. There’s room to follow that story up with a bunch more stories of Hellboy in Mexico. We establish that he was in Mexico for about six months, and it was a particularly bizarre period of his life. I guess it doesn’t give too much away to say this is the origin of Hellboy’s first really long drinking binge. So it’s a pretty interesting chapter of his life.
When you first took Hellboy out of the B.P.R.D., it certainly changed a lot about the character’s mission statement and circumstances, but it also got really dark really quick. Is this story a kind of call back to the more fast-paced, light-hearted Hellboy tales?
It is. The best thing I did – and it wasn’t necessarily intentional -Â but the best thing I did with Hellboy was having that character appear on earth in 1944 and then begin the first actual Hellboy story in 1994. So I have 50 years where Hellboy ran around as a character who didn’t really evolve very much. He was just a regular guy. Once I started doing things in “Seed of Destruction” and “Wake The Devil,” that character started evolving pretty fast. As soon as I started telling that story, he started changing from a regular guy to the guy who was possibly the Beast of the Apocalypse. It’s really difficult to do Hellboy stories set now where we don’t deal with the baggage of that character.
BUT…there’s a period of 50 years where that guy is completely obliviously to or avoiding that. Actually, he was kind of unaware that he was this Apocalyptic creature. So stories like “Hellboy in Mexico” or “The Crooked Man” are definitely chances for me to draw a much less complicated character. It’s the character I always planned for Hellboy to be. I didn’t really plan for him to be the Beast of the Apocalypse. I didn’t plan for his story to take over the Hellboy comic. I thought Hellboy was just going to be these kind of fun stories. The character just evolved into something.
So now the Duncan Fegredo Hellboy books are the dark, evolving character, but Richard gets to draw the “fun” Hellboy. And there will be some other artists coming in before too long to draw some other Hellboy stories set in the past. I’ve drawn Hellboy stories set in the past. And maybe eventually Duncan will get to draw fun Hellboy stories set in the past. But as the Hellboy story goes forward, I want to break it up by continuing to tell stories about that fun Hellboy.
When you’re working with someone like Richard or Duncan, I noticed there are flourishes that are much like your art – panels of Gargoyles or details that add a tone and a rhythm. Do you work those details into the scripts, or have they been picking up pieces of your style to make them your own?
Bot Richard and Duncan add panels. I’m definitely more intimidated by Richard Corben, so I think I try to give him a lot of room. I will writer much looser descriptions of what I’m looking for. Little by little, I’ve gotten that way with Duncan, but Duncan had the misfortune of taking over the book and doing a story that I had pretty much plotted out. I had a lot of specific ideas of how that story would go. A lot of it I had planned to draw myself. So Duncan is burdened with me knowing what the story would look like. The first couple of issues I had thumbnailed, and I had designed a bunch of the characters. Duncan got saddled with a bunch of my minutia.
To go back to those “mood panels,” that’s just how I do stuff. Even with Richard, I will say, “Cut away to this. Cut away to that. This is silent. That is silent. This is silent.” I don’t write a full script, but I am pretty specific about what goes on in the panels. I’m just lazy about putting down the specific dialogue. And again, Richard plays pretty fast and loose with my things. I’ll give him a four-panel page, and he’ll turn it into a seven-panel page. Duncan sticks a little closer to my scripts, and my scripts are a little more tight.
Exiled demon child. B.P.R.D. stallwart. Arthurian heir. Beast of the Apocalypse.
All of these phrases can be used to describe Hellboy – the Mignola hero who got the ball rolling on what is now and entire line of comic books and arguably the key figure in all of Mignola’s prophetic mythology. Found in December of 1944 after an occult Nazi experiment dropped him amongst a group of American service men in England, the horn-headed, red-skinned, club-handed creature grew up with as much of a normal upbringing as army life can provide something otherworldly. Raised by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm, Hellboy earned his place in the newly formed Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, becoming the group’s most trusted investigator. And the intervening 50 years of pancake eating, cigar smoking and demon hunting did little to change Hellboy’s general no nonsense outlook on life. When confronted with almost any kind of god, devil, creature, witch or warlock, Hellboy’s first response is usually mumble “crap” soon followed by punching whatever’s in front of him square in the mush.
“His responses – except for in particularly grim passages, he’s still me,” Mignola explained of his favored creation. “He’s still my personality. While certain things get dark and sad and he responds in a dark, sad kind of way, there’s always this element of humor. I can never turn this character into a character who talks like the Beast of the Apocalypse. He’s just not that guy. At least not yet. Maybe he will be someday. I don’t know. But he’s always my voice. I think it’s always going to be my voice in that character.”
Still, the future for Hellboy certainly seems set to test the limits of how long the hero can remain a regular Joe in the face of the supposed competing fates he could complete. On the one hand, Hellboy is the spawn of a Prince of Hell, and as such he is expected by his father’s forces to one day lead the armies of the underworld and plunge earth into the foretold Apocalypse. On the other hand, it was recently revealed that Hellboy’s mother -Â the witch Sarah Hughes -Â was actually the last living descendent of King Arthur Pendragon…meaning that Hellboy is the rightful King of the Britains.
Which, if either, of these two sides will win the hero’s favor is unknown, but the next step will doubtlessly involve the legendary sword Excalibur, which Hellboy found at the end of the recent “Wild Hunt” miniseries.