From comic books to two Hollywood productions, Hellboy has garnered an enormous fan following over the last two decades. At this year's Long Beach Comic Con, Hero Complex's Patrick Kevin Day served as moderator for an intimate but light hearted discussion with creator Mike Mignola about Hellboy and the world he's created at Dark Horse Comics.
Day began the panel with a challenge to Mignola. "Since the title of the panel is 'Hellboy in Hell: 20 Years of Hellboy,' talk about the origins of Hellboy."
"I like the title, as if 20 Years of Hellboy made it hell," Mignola said with a laugh. "Sometimes that can be the case."
Asked how difficult it is to write stories for Hellboy, Mignola talked about how his writer side and his artist side aren't always perfectly in sync. "In the course of the average shower I can plot ten years of Hellboy, and then I'll spend three days drawing one page," Mignola said. "I gotta stop the brain from plotting issue #9000 because I'm still on issue #7."
As for the types of stories he likes to tell, Mignola said he's a horror guy through and through. "I'm a supernatural guy so even when I first started comics, my whole goal was to draw monsters." He cited an early opportunity to write and draw a Batman comic for DC in his style, saying it's what led him to create Hellboy. "I knew after that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing this. If I could create my own projects drawing exactly what I want, that's what I want to do."
In addition to horror, Mignola said he's always been fascinated with folklore and mentioned coming across some fairytales in middle school when he picked up a Norse mythology book. "Hellboy became a great vehicle for me to play around in that fairytale folklore world" he said. As an adult, Mignola's personal library houses plenty of books on folklore and they give him an opportunity to draw parallels via Hellboy stories. In addition to giving him a starting point, the writer/artist said he hopes it can help bring new audiences to the folklore he loves. "If I do a straight adaptation of 'The Chained Coffin,' is anybody gonna look at it? But if it's a Hellboy story that's mostly an adaptation of that -- hey, now I can attract an audience for these stories."
One of the most frequent questions Mignola receives is about which tales he draws inspiration from, though he admitted to having trouble naming just one. "Going way back [to] art school I just pick these things up from used book stores. And I came across the book 'Passport to the Supernatural,'" Mignola said and it was just great." The 1972 book, written by Bernhardt J. Hurwood, was the first book Mignola and, perhaps fortuitously, director Guillermo del Toro, owned on the subject. Mignola said after reading the book he realized every culture had similar types of stories.
Mignola clarified how these stories influences him, explaining that he doesn't like taking the folklore and adding it to the history or backstory of the "Hellboy," but rather letting them exist on their own and Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. investigate them. "It's not really [about] adding new elements. I don't want to take away the magic of those stories." Day asked Mignola if he ever falls into the trap of coming up with some grand theory behind the stories so they tie into the Hellboy universe. Mignola quickly rejected the idea, adding, "The last thing I want to do is pollute them with some nonsense that I made up."
Day then shifted gears by asking if every new story and character is an "experiment" when he debuts them. "No, but if you do a story of Hellboy where the ghoul only speaks chunks of old poetry, that better be an experiment because that's probably not gonna work," Mignola answered. "I [also] don't want to do the same story over and over again. It's a challenge because everyone loves certain Hellboy stories and they think they would want to get a steady diet of that, and they wouldn't. They will say, 'The first one was really good the second one was OK, but then the third one wasn't good.'"
As many "Hellboy" readers know, Mignola stepped away from drawing Hellboy and focused primarily on writing Hellboy's adventures for a while. Asked why he returned to writing and drawing the character in the ongoing "Hellboy in Hell," Mignola said, "I just got tired of the constant renumbering of the issues. There's so many issue #1s out there. And I would be dropping out these new stories [frequently] and I just thought 'ugh,' so let me just [have] issue one through however long it goes."
Mignola said the big reason he sent Hellboy to Hell is he never was good at drawing real world objects. "The real world is filled with cars and planes and eventually I would have to draw that stuff if he stayed on earth and I was running out of places for him to go where there wouldn't be any cars," Mignola said. The solution -- created a version of hell that allowed him to draw whatever he wanted. He calls this the "desert phase" of his career. "I've eaten my vegetables, I've drawn cars and now I just want cake and pie all the time and that's what my hell is like."
Mignola also attributed authors such William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens as major influences to his style of writing. "If you quote Shakespeare you sound so much smarter," Mignola said of his decision to place quotes from these authors into "Hellboy," prompting laughter from the audience.
Day mentioned a recent interview in which Mignola was asked about the overall story arc of "Hellboy," asking if there is a definite end point and whether or not he knows what it is. "I do, and there's the trick when you have an end point is when do you do it? Do you do it then say I'm done? I can't ever imagine not doing Hellboy," said Mignola. The creator then assured the audience that they will see the end point, but he wasn't willing to provide a specific time frame for the finale.
This December, Mignola will begin co-writing and drawing a second Hellboy series for Dark Horse, "Hellboy and the B.P.R.D." Speaking to its premise and how it differs from "Hellboy in Hell," Mignola said, "It follows Hellboy in 1952. It's a book that I thought about for a long time, we just needed the right time to do it." Since much of the story and art in "Hellboy in Hell" is so bizarre and "in my head," Mignola said he wanted an avenue to go back and do classic Hellboy. "So many people like the classic Hellboy. I thought, there's still so much to do there, why not create a book that begins with the his first outing as a B.P.R.D. agent."
Mignola said it's easy for him to allow writers and artists to come in and tell stories with the other characters in Hellboy's world, but when it came to the main character, that was an entirely different story. "It was really difficult," Mignola said. "And I still have never handed him off completely to another writer. I always went back in and touched up Hellboy's dialogue."
As the panel opened up for questions, the creator was met with nothing but silence. "Really, no questions? that's a first," said Mignola as hands flew into the air.
The first fan asked about Ron Perlman as Hellboy in the two movies directed by del Toro. "Did he nail it exactly?" While Mignola said he thought Perlman did a wonderful job, "Even now I don't hear Ron's voice in my head when I'm writing for Hellboy. What I do in the comic is such an abstract thing so I never thought about him or anyone playing [Hellboy]." Even now he thinks of the character as just a voice in his head. "A lot of it is my father a lot of it is me and thank God neither one of us was going to put on the suit and play Hellboy," Mignola said.
Another question led to the discussion of Hellboy's family, which may have resulted in a minor spoiler. "He's got a sister and she's coming out soon," Mignola revealed, before quickly retracting part of his statement. "It probably won't be that soon at the rate I'm drawing this book."
"Hellboy and the B.P.R.D." begins in December.