EXCLUSIVE: Mignola Previews "Midnight Circus" & "Hellboy In Hell" #5

Hellboy may be wandering aimlessly at this point in his life, but Mike Mignola is doing anything but.

Though it's been months since the last issue of Dark Horse's "Hellboy In Hell" arrived in comic shops, the character and his creator have been gearing up for their next phase of projects. First up is "Hellboy And The Midnight Circus" - the long-awaited graphic novel by Mignola and frequent art partner Duncan Fegredo focusing on a young Hellboy's adventure. That volume arrives this fall and will be previewed today in the first issue of Dark Horse's "The Strain: The Fall." Meanwhile, the publisher confirmed that the next issue of Mignola's "Hellboy In Hell" serial will arrive in stores this December. Issue #5 is a stand alone story that allows the artist to dig into the weirdness of his setting, though bigger puzzle pieces are still falling into place.

CBR News spoke with Mignola about both projects, and below the artists describes how his fascination with Carlo Collodi's classic children's book "The Adventures of Pinocchio" fueled the creation of "The Midnight Circus," why he can't stop seeing big stories even as "Hellboy In Hell" gets smaller ones and how he'll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the character at Comic-Con International next week.

CBR News: Mike, I've been trying to find the best way to approach talking about this "Hellboy And The Midnight Circus" preview, and the best starter I can come up with is this: Tell me about your Pinocchio fascination.

Mike Mignola: There's nothing really complicated about it. I mean, it would probably take a shrink to unravel it, but it's just something I've liked ever since I read the book. I'd seen the movie, and then I remember when my brothers and I found the book and realized how much stranger and really dark it is. It's really creepy and really goofy. It hits so many different things where my brothers and I all had a similar sensibility. We had enough of a similar sensibility going in to it that it hit all the right spots for us, but then it also really molded the things we liked from there. It just gave you a completely different world view. It's so odd in so many ways that it really kind of defined the way I do things.

And now aren't you also working on a version of the book with one of your brothers? That seems to be coming full circle a lot of late.

Well, no. The thing with my brother has been wildly exaggerated - not by him but by someone one else. I literally just did the cover illustration and one little frontispiece drawing. I've thought of illustrating it over the years. Briefly when "Classics Illustrated" was at First Comics a billion years ago, I actually said I'd adapt it for them, and I think my brother wrote the adaptation, but it just never ended up happening. And really, the great edition of "Pinocchio" that I have is so profusely illustrated - I mean, there are two or three illustrations on each page - that there was nothing where I said, "Oh, I can do better than this" or "I see it differently than this." So the hardest thing about doing the one cover was trying to come up with something that wasn't just me copying out of that great book.

As you approached "Midnight Circus" with Duncan, how did your love for that story impact not only this story but your collaborations with him? Did you give him very specific reference to draw in, or did you lean back and see what he did with those parts?

First of all, I had Duncan get that same edition of the book I had. The one place we really had to communicate on the Pinocchio material was where he had to do certain illustrations that directly referenced the book. I just said, "Give me something very like this illustration on this page." We had the same point of reference.

I'm not really even sure when the Pinocchio thing came to me for this. I've said over the years when a writer friend of mine came to me and talked about wanting a story from when Hellboy was young, the first thing that popped into my brain was "He runs away and joins the circus." It's very much a Ray Bradbury/"Something Wicked This Way Comes" kind of thing. It's the only thing I could think of for a young Hellboy to do. And when Duncan and I started talking about doing something, this seemed so different than anything we'd done that it seemed like it'd be fun. At some point, I didn't want to just do what Bradbury did with "Something Wicked This Way Comes." The last thing you ever want to do is try and do Bradbury because he is who he is. But I saw parallels between Hellboy and Pinocchio - especially in a situation where Hellboy ran away. A lot of "Pinocchio" is the fact that he runs away and gets into trouble, and then Geppetto goes out looking for him. I just found ways to weave those things together, and it was an excuse for Hellboy to talk about Pinocchio and for me to put in all the weird shit that isn't in the Disney movie.

So there was a little bit of that - the chance for me to play with the Pinocchio stuff - but it did suit the Hellboy idea really well. It was just one of those happy stories where within a couple of hours, it all started cobbling itself together.

Looking at the preview pages hitting this week, you can see that Duncan changes his style up in parts of this specific Pinocchio sequence where he's using a lot more inkwash stuff to create that ethereal feeling. Was that something you talked about before he got drawing?

We were amazed at every single page he turned in. We'd talked early on about how he'd done a lot of inkwash drawings just for fun that I'd seen, and he'd done a bunch of covers for Dark Horse in that style. So our process became very much like I did with the twins [Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon] on "B.P.R.D. 1947." The real world is done in one style, and as we get into this fantasy world, we use another style. Part of this story was an excuse for Duncan to try doing a full-length comic using that different style. I think he went further with it than any of us thought. Rather than just doing inkwash, a lot of these are really fully painted pages. God knows what he was doing, but you can kind of see "Oh that looks inkwash, but over here it looks like a watercolor." As we artists tend to do, he got involved with something that was a hundred times more work than he thought it was going to be. [Laughs] So I'm sure he was very happy to get finished, but it is beautiful stuff.

The other news is that "Hellboy In Hell" #5 is finished and ready to be put on the schedule.

About time! [Laughter]

But I was curious: now that you're done with that opening four-part story that kind of set Hellboy off in the world and wrapped some of the Beast of the Apocalypse ideas, are you pretty much just going to your notebook of ideas for the series and pointing at random pages to decide what the next issue will be? Is there any linear planning going on to what you're doing?

I thought I was just going to be able to get Hellboy there and just do these little tiny stories of whatever I want. That's really what I want to do. But it turns out, once you start coming up with a few unrelated stories - at least the way my brain works - you start to see how this one links to that one or how this one means that one. Things snowball. I'm trying desperately to not have to turn this into some big epic that has to build to something, but right now I did kind of realize "We lost this character, so we've got to pick up this other character" and "He neglected to do this, so I've got to do that." As much as I would love to sever all ties with the big story, there's still a part of my brain going, "But we haven't done this yet! It needs to connect!"

Issue #5 is a stand alone story in that it's just an isolated little adventure that Hellboy's just along for the ride on. But it does say some things about the bigger picture as far as what happened to Hell when Hellboy went there. Part of this is the fact that he went to Hell and killed Satan, it's not like no one is ever going to mention that again. There are ramifications to those kinds of things. There is this horrible part of my brain that can't help but look at that big picture. But I really just want Hellboy to sit in a corner and talk to a frog about something. Or he looks in a window and sees a picture of something, and it flashes to this totally unrelated story. I want to do these weird little, dreamy nothing stories. And I'm going to sandwich them in there! [Laughs] I will squeeze them in there somewhere, but there is a bigger story that goes on.

At this point, I think I've roughed out a structure for maybe three or four trade paperbacks of material. Now I just have to find the time to draw it.

And it's also the 20th anniversary of Hellboy...at Comic-Con? Is that right?

I can't really remember the exact sequence of events, but I do know that Dark Horse put out some kind of Comic-Con special comic. It was at the time when the Legend group had formed, and we all had these little four-page teasers for our thing. I'm pretty sure that was Comic-Con '93, because the comic came out in April '94, but that teaser was in San Diego. And that was probably the first four-page thing I ever did of Hellboy. I may have done it before I did the "Next Men" thing, so it was probably the first look anyone got of Hellboy.

Everyone's relationships with San Diego has changed over the last ten years, five years...one year even. I feel like I've been at multiple panels of yours where one guy shows up, asks if there will be a "Hellboy 3" movie and then leaves so everyone else can talk about comics. But do you have any other kinds of expectations for taking your stuff out to this show at this point?

I have no idea what to expect from that show anymore. Last year, I swore it was going to be my last year because especially around the movie years, things got crazy there. But I find the place that I'm situated in within that show now - because so few people actually come there for comics - means that I actually had a pretty relaxed convention. I was able to actually talk to people and hang out and actually have a really good time. There's nothing worse than a show where you can't talk to people and have to just sign and keep the line moving so it doesn't get out of control. San Diego is so much not a comics show now that I kind of enjoy it. As long as I don't have to go someplace through the middle of the convention center, I'm very happy in my little corner where all the artists are.

But I have no real expectations. Yes, I'll get the "Hellboy 3" question no matter how many times you try and say "There's nothing going on. Not even a chance of anything going on." Even del Toro is now saying it's probably not going to happen, but you still can't put that thing to rest. No one will ever let it go. [Laughs] So there's always going to be that. There will probably also be some other people going, "Are you doing any more 'Hellboy In Hell'?" I think the perception was that it was a four-issue mini series, and it's done. And that's kind of good. I didn't end on a cliffhanger, so no one was going, "What? Where's issue #5?" Maybe instead of getting after me for being so late, hopefully they'll just be thrilled to hear from me that there is another issue coming. [Laughter]

I don't know. It's certainly not what it was. I've been coming to that show every year for almost 30 years. And it's never going to be what it was. It's transformed into this completely other thing, but it is what it is.

Stay tuned for more on "Hellboy In Hell" and more news from Comic-Con International on CBR.

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