Going to the Chapel: Mignola Returns to Drawing Hellboy

Mike Mignola is a busy guy. Between writing “Hellboy,” collaborating with John Arcudi on “B.P.R.D.,” and conspiring with Guillermo del Toro to bring his demonic hero to life on the big screen in this past summer’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” it's no wonder the writer-artist’s had difficulty finding time to return to the drawing board to illustrate a full-length comic book. This week, though, Dark Horse releases the new one-shot, “Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch,” the first Hellboy comic written and drawn by Mignola since “The Island” in 2005. CBR News caught up with Mignola to discuss the book, upcoming projects, and the scarcity of time.

“In the Chapel of Moloch” finds Hellboy called to Portugal to investigate an artist's rapid decline into ill health and madness, even as the painter is creating some of the most haunting and vivid works of his career. “It's a relatively simple, little old-fashioned Hellboy story trying really hard to be creepy,” Mignola told CBR, adding that the story also served as “an excuse to copy of bunch of Goya ink drawings,” a device which Hellboy comments upon in the book itself.

“There's a supernatural influence inside the chapel that kind of latches onto this very insecure artist -- something I know something about!” explained Mignola. “I wanted to turn it into something that could say something about artistic obsession and creativity. As an artist, you're in kind of a fragile place, so you're particularly susceptible to, I would think, supernatural influence.”

Focusing the story on Moloch, a god from antiquity that receives mention in the Bible, allowed Mignola to show a more intellectual side of Hellboy. “When I was casting around for a title for this thing, 'In the Chapel of Moloch' popped into my head. So I thought, okay, let's do Moloch,” he explained. “It gives us an excuse to have Hellboy talk about something. It's quite often in Hellboy stories that Hellboy doesn't seem to know anything about anything, and I thought, well, he should know something about something, so we'll throw this stuff in there.”

In addition to Hellboy's dialogue, Moloch receives further explication by way of footnotes. “I always like to root that stuff in some kind of history,” Mignola said. “I knew roughly when I came up with the name Moloch, I knew roughly who I was talking about, but I did want to find some specifics. So for the first time ever I used Google for research.”

But though the forgotten god and additional historical tidbits the scholarly treatment, that's not to say that everything appearing after the asterisk is strictly true. “In The Chapel of Moloch” also implicates a group of adventurers from the Crusades that are original to the Hellboy universe. “I knew I didn't want to use the Knights Templar because everybody uses them, and I thought, well, let me make up my own spin on those guys,” Mignola explained. “So I did a little bit of research there, and a little bit of invention. It's one of the things I really like to do with the Hellboy stuff: there are things that sound real, but the reader doesn't really know at what point I've made stuff up. I do reference this group and say that it's inspired by a Crusader who fought at the Fall of Acre--which was a real battle--after he was decapitated. That part I made up.

“I love doing those footnotes. But this is how this whole 'Hellboy' thing keeps snowballing. I make up this little quickie reference for this group, and suddenly I think, 'Oh man, I want to do a story about this group, I want to do the origin of these guys.' So as soon as made this up I called ['B.P.R.D.' writer] John Arcudi and said, 'If you ever need to reference something like this in 'B.P.R.D.,' I've made up my own version of the Knights Templar.' Who knows if these guys will ever get mentioned again? But it's those simple little things that keep feeding the Hellboy universe.”

Mignola, who continues to write the main “Hellboy” series and occasional “B.P.R.D.” character spotlight miniseries as well as collaborating with Arcudi on “B.P.R.D.” and providing covers to all of the above, said that he had been yearning a return to drawing comics. “I knew I really had to get back and draw a comic,” he said. “I knew we had a hole in the schedule coming up, and I was ahead enough with the writing I was doing--it's one of those things, I just kept saying, I'm gonna get back to drawing, I'm gonna get back to drawing. And I just said, 'Let me do it now.'

“So ['In the Chapel of Moloch'], I came up with it in about a day and a half, and probably within a week of coming up with the story I was sitting down to draw it,” Mignola continued. “That's something that almost never happens with me, that I'm able to do something that directly. And I had fun. It was, really, in so many ways, just to see if I could do it. And to see if I could do it without blowing my brains out. And I enjoyed the entire thing. In fact, when I was done with it I looked at all the writing I had to do and went, 'Man, I just want to do **this** again!' This has been a great experience because it does mean I can still do this, and I’ve got to find a way to get back to it.”

Though he did provide an eight-page epilogue to “Darkness Calls,” Mignola's last stint both writing and illustrating a full-length Hellboy comic was 2005's “The Island.” As such, much of his careful planning of his art schedule stems from his experience drawing that two-issue miniseries. “'The Island' was such a painful experience,” Mignola revealed. “The problem with 'The Island' was that I started and then I had to stop and do something else. And again, I started then I had to stop and do something else. Those interruptions make it really impossible because when I have to stop and do something else, then it gives me time to worry about the pages I drew and think, well, they're not good enough, I could redo this or rethink this. But if I can just sit down, like I did with 'In the Chapel of Moloch,' I can plow through it basically in one sitting, then that's what works best for me.”

The writer-artist described the circumstances he would consider conducive to a good drawing experience. “Right now, I'm not behind on the writing, but what I want to do is get well ahead of Duncan [Fegredo] on the 'Hellboy' book,” Mignola said. “There's another project I'm writing for another artist, I want to get well ahead on that. I look around, I look at my schedule and see, 'Oh, I'm two months ahead with my writing. Now I can two months drawing without any interruption. And that's what I really need. Granted, I have a billion covers I need to do, but even that, I want to get as much of that stuff out of the way so I can sit down and look my calendar and say, 'wow, there's two solid months where I can come down to my studio every day and pick up where I left off the day before.

“My idea of a good time right now would be to go back to writing and drawing my own stuff,” he continued. “I can't do that with the main 'Hellboy' book, because it's such a big, involved story, it's too huge for me. But I've got a couple of other projects that I'm dying to do, and I just want to get myself enough ahead with all the various writing stuff I need to do so that I can find myself a big chunk of time where I can dive back in and focus on the drawing.”

As to what's coming for Hellboy after “In the Chapel of Moloch,” Mignola hinted at developments in December's “The Wild Hunt,” which sees the return of Duncan Fegredo on art following Richard Corben's turn on “The Crooked Man.” “'Wild Hunt' is continuing where 'Darkness Calls' left off,” Mignola said. “We set the stage in 'Darkness Calls' for this gigantic, epic, supernatural, folklore warfare thing. 'Wild Hunt' is the first of three books that deals directly with that thing. So it's one of my big fantasy epics. I never expected 'Hellboy' to veer off this much in this direction, but that's where we are. And this is very much the middle arc of Hellboy's life. Across these three books, so many big things happen to Hellboy that, at the end of the third book, he really will be a completely different character. It's a little spooky sometimes--sitting down and writing these things and I think, wow, I've been talking about doing that for years, am I really going to do that? And I am.”

Following up on the many “B.P.R.D.” miniseries, “Lobster Johnson: Iron Prometheus” and “Abe Sapien: The Drowning,” Mignola confirmed there are plans for more titles spotlighting Hellboy's colleagues at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. With Arcudi, Mignola will be writing what he describes as “Lobster Johnson, Day 5,” examining the character's early adventures.

The writers are also busy developing Sir Edward Grey, the Victorian occult detective who debuted in the “Abe Sapien” mini. Two miniseries featuring the character are being developed, with Mignola writing the first solo and collaborating with Arcudi on the second. “Actually, John's already started with the second book, I've got to get in and write the first book,” he confessed. “Right now, the plan with Sir Edward Grey books is, there will be three of them. The first one I do is set in London, the second one John is doing with John Severin will take place in the Old West, and the third one is... something else that I will be doing.”

Mignola also indicated there will be a sequel to “B.P.R.D. 1946,” advancing one year to 1947, which will be illustrated by Gabriel Bá and Fabio Moon. This miniseries will be published after the “Black Goddess” storyline of the regular “B.P.R.D.” series.

Beyond this, though, Mignola says he will not be further expanding the Hellboy universe in the near future. “I'd love to keep the main focus on 'Hellboy,' 'B.P.R.D.,' and then keep 'Lobster Johnson' up and running,” he said.

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