ECCC: A Conversation with Mike Mignola

Last year saw the release of the latest chapter in the saga of Mike Mignola's Hellboy: the highly anticipated "Hellboy in Hell" from Dark Horse Comics. With the series nearing the close of its first arc and an upcoming series featuring Abe Sapien on the horizon, fans at Emerald City Comicon were eager to hear the creator speak about his work and inspirations. Mignola was joined on Saturday afternoon by Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief Scott Allie, "B.P.R.D." artist Tyler Crook and Mignola-verse colorist Dave Stewart for an in-depth question-and-answer session.

The audience kicked things off with a request to each of the panel members to talk a little about their favorite "Hellboy" or "B.P.R.D." story arcs. Stewart, when it came his turn to respond, named the current "Hellboy in Hell" as his personal favorite.

"I've heard about 'Hellboy in Hell' for such a long time and it seems like we've kind of been working there," said Stewart. "It feels like the ultimate pinnacle of Mike and I's collaboration. It's great -- I'm really enjoying the great, surreal world that Mike envisioned for Hell."

Mignola is known for his distinctive visual style as well as his storytelling. The art he's producing for "Hellboy in Hell" is dramatically different from most other books on the market, reliant on shape and form over line, and insistent on the story-telling capacities of the image.

"It's just trying to get happy with the stuff," said Mignola of his artwork. "I always want it to be something really solid and really easily readable, so it's just been paring it down over the years -- saying: 'Well, those lines don't really do anything, and these lines really don't do anything.' I can just distill it down to these clunky shapes -- that's the best I can explain. I'm influenced a lot more by painters than I am by guys who draw in line -- I'm a shape guy."

Mignola's Hellboy characters have been adapted into two feature films directed by Guillermo del Toro. In crafting those films, Mignola said del Toro, at first, tried to pay heed to the visual aesthetic Mignola had already established for the world.

"On 'Hellboy,' [del Toro] really wanted that film to be a kind of nod to my art style -- even the kind of palette he was using he wanted to reflect what Dave and I were doing on the comics. But, our differences have always been there. I'm a 'less is more' guy -- more and more a 'less is more' guy -- and he's a 'more is not enough.' So, the joke was, when we were doing design stuff -- I would come up with something, like Rasputin's gauntlet, in the first movie. I came up with a version of it, which Del Toro just laughed at...It was always a joke -- any time I would do something he'd be like, 'That's fine, can you add a hundred moving parts and can you get steam to shoot out of it in different places?"

One audience member suggested that the market is becoming increasingly saturated with stories combining folklore or fairy tales with the so-called real world, and wondered what Mignola felt set "Hellboy" apart from other books on the stands such as "Fables."

"I have almost no interest in the real world," said Mignola. "Rather than bring that stuff into the real world I'm much more interested in going into the world where that stuff is...Over the years I've seen a lot of people take folk tales and fairy tales and make them make sense, or take out the bits that make the most sense, and leave out the really weird bits. The really weird bits are the stuff that I like the most."

Mignola said that, with the plethora of sources in folklore and mythology he draws upon in the stories of "Hellboy," he has very few specific folk tales in mind to directly incorporate. Rather than adapt stories directly, Mignola explained he'd much rather pick various aspects as referential points and fit those parts into his world.

Artist Tyler Crook interjected to ask of Mignola, "When you're reading that stuff, can you read it for pleasure now? Or are you always just re-casting when you're reading?"

"It's so hard to read almost anything for pleasure these days," said Mignola. "There's that part of my brain that's always trying to knit stuff together, going: 'We can use this, we can use this, we can use this.'"

The work that goes into the Mignola-verse "B.P.R.D." books is often a collaborative affair, with Mignola, Allie and John Arcudi sharing the task of writing. There's a lot of give and take between the writers, a volley of ideas and story arcs sketched out over phone conversations.

"The majority of stuff is mostly written by John," said Allie. "John generally writes the scripts on books that Mike and John co-write together. Ideas might start with Mike, they might start with John -- on the stuff I work on, sometimes it starts with me."

Mignola added, "So much of the stuff, the collaboration, by the time it's done -- by the time it ends up in Tyler's lap -- no one can remember who made up what."

One reader asked the panel about the character Roger, a homunculus, and the origins of the large metal ring attached to his crotch.

"Not a lot of thought went into that one," joked Mignola. "He's gotta be naked but you can't make him really naked -- how 'bout a 2x4? If there's gonna be a 2x4 there, let's put a big metal ring on it so you can tie him to a post! I don't know what that says about me...The one gag I did give John when he took over 'B.P.R.D.' was 'I want a scene where they try to make him wear pants. That worked out better than I could have ever imagined."

Allie pointed out that when Roger was introduced, there were no existing plans to keep him around as a recurring character. He was, at that time, a device for that story arc alone.

"[Mignola] didn't know that Roger would become this main character," said Allie. "It's not like he said, 'Oh, I need to introduce Roger in 'Wake the Devil' so that he can do this to Liz, and then join the team, and then eventually will have this really poignant death'...None of that was thought out from the beginning, but the possibilities present themselves."

"There are certain characters that you create," Mignola said. "They have a certain life and you go, 'Oh, you're done, get back in the box,' and they go, 'No,' or, 'I'll get back in the box, but you gotta write me my own series.' It's rare that I plan a character and have him take off. There's several characters...three characters, that I'm planning on writing relatively soon that were never intended to have a life of their own."

Allie and Mignola emphasized that "Hellboy in Hell" is not a series with a definitive endpoint, but the ongoing project that Mignola envisions working on for some time to come. Mignola has a wealth of stories to tell in the series, primarily focused on Hellboy but looking also at other characters. Allie also touched on other future projects to come, including continued installments in the "Baltimore" line, and hinted at the possibility for a new installment of "Witchfinder."

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