Mignola on Hellboy's Extended Universe

Since the debut of Mike Mignola's Hellboy in 1994, the character has gone on to supernatural adventures in successive Dark Horse miniseries before rising to widespread fame in the 2004 film directed by Guillermo del Toro. Along the way, Hellboy's allies in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (or BPRD, as it is known) grew into their own series of miniseries. And with the recently completed Lobster Johnson miniseries and Abe Sapien: The Drowning, and BPRD: 1946 in stores now, Hellboy's universe is suddenly a very deep, very rich place. CBR News spoke with Mignola about his current projects, this summer's movie sequel, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," and what comes next.

The extended world of Hellboy is full of story possibilities, and Mignola wants to avoid missing the opportunity to follow compelling mysteries simply because the regular BPRD and Hellboy series are taking particular paths. Since the regular run of 'BPRD' --which picks up when Hellboy left [the organization]-- has become much more militaristic, where it's this huge organization, what we don't get anymore is what the BPRD used to be-a relatively small group of guys who investigate vampires and werewolves and supernatural bad guys, Mignola said.

In 'BPRD: 1946,' we can show the group's humble beginnings, when they started dealing with the aftermath of World War II and the Nazis' occult research, when they started trying to find out what Hellboy is. The BPRD started as a result of the Allies getting their hands on Hellboy, so this story is set around that time.

Joining Mignola on writing chores for BPRD: 1946 is Joshua Dysart, whose previous credits include a run on Swamp Thing and Van Helsing. Mignola indicated that he enjoys having other writers explore the Hellboy universe, bringing them to a gradual understanding of the characters before letting them loose. For 'BPRD,' I've worked with John Arcudi longer, the creator said, referring to his longtime collaborator. When we started, I would tell him, 'Something happens here, you fill in what's next.' But now there have been some stories I've had very little hand in. Now I ask John, 'What do you want to do?' I still have an idea of an overall arc, and I might say I want this moment, or I want this to appear. But I'm trying to set 'BPRD' up to be John Arcudi's book, and the artist, Guy Davis's, book.

Since I haven't worked with Josh Dysart before, 'BPRD: 1946' is about 90% my plot. I handed him the characters and a lot of the actions. But within that framework, I've been amazed at the character development and action he created. We're hoping to do 'BPRD: 1947,' 'BPRD: 1948,' 'BPRD: 1949,' and into the '50s. Some of those will bend a lot more to Josh. I'm basically looking for a good writer-it doesn't do any good to find someone who's doing exactly what I'm doing in 'Hellboy'-I'm looking for good writers who speak the same language but bring something else to it. Josh is great at research. For a story set in the 1940s, he'll come up with, oh, the Russians were doing this in 1946.

Hellboy's fantasy version of history so far spans the late nineteenth century through to the twenty-first, providing opportunities for a variety of settings. The goal is not to putty in every hole, Mignola said. The first Hellboy story started in 1945, so he's been around for a long time. We then jump to the mid-'90s, so there's this big period we didn't deal with. What starts to happen is, the more you put in, the more you realize, hey, if this happened then maybe this happened too.

One thing we haven't done yet is stories set during World War II. We've had stories before World War II, and right after, so I'd like to find a way to set one during. We had Lobster Johnson operating in 1938-39, and some other characters active in the 1940s. Also, in 'Abe Sapien: The Drowning,' we get a Victorian occult detective, Sir Edward Grey, there's more I want to do with that character. What we get eventually is that everything fits together in a line.

Of the popular amphibious Hellboy cohort, Mignola explained, I realized there had to be a time where Abe Sapien went out on his own, or led other BPRD agents. 'Abe Sapien: The Drowning' tells the story of Abe Sapien's first time out on his own, proving himself as something other than Hellboy's partner. The miniseries takes place primarily in 1981, during Hellboy's leave of absence from BPRD."

With the this summer's debut of Hellboy II: The Golden Army in cinemas, Mignola has once again taken an active role bringing his character to the screen-more active, in fact, than the first time around. In the first one, I had no hand really in the story, other than that it was based on my comics, he said. For the second picture, Guillermo [del Toro] and I sat down and came up with a completely new story together. It's not taken from any of the 'Hellboy' comics, and it's great because this is a Guillermo del Toro spin on material I'm doing right now.

The film experience has also given Mignola a clear picture of the ways comic book movies can thrive or fail. I think what you really need is a director who has a feeling for the subject matter, who grew up reading or reads it now. I don't want to name any movies, but I can see where a guy hasn't loved... 'Fantastic Four,' Mignola said. I've only worked with Guillermo del Toro, but I could see passionate he is about the material. What you don't need is somebody who's slavish to the source material. Different things work in film. You know, I made the comics-the comic's over there, it's fine, nobody's trying to mess with it-the film is not meant to be a carbon copy of the 'Hellboy' comic.

One thing fans might not notice (but may nevertheless appreciate) is that the BPRD and Abe Sapien comics do not bear any mention of their connection to Hellboy on the cover-quite surprising given the marketing cache of a successful film franchise. But perhaps that's (rightly?) beside the point? In the shadow of the movie, it's probably something we should do, Mignola admitted. It's something we look at for the trade paperback, whether or not we want 'From the World of Hellboy' or something like that. But it messes with the design, and I don't want the 'Hellboy' logo on a book if Hellboy's not in it. I don't want to falsely advertise it. BPRD is mentioned in 'Hellboy,' Abe Sapien is in the movie, so maybe that's enough to tell people there's a connection.

Released to coincide with the film is Hellboy: Oddest Stories, the third collection of prose short stories set in the Hellboy universe. I love the short story format-this is what I read, what I collect, Mignola said. It started with Chris Golden, who wrote the Hellboy novels, saying wouldn't it be great if, not just his pals but guys who are writing supernatural fiction, could come up with their own takes on Hellboy? The great thing is that these are not meant to fit into continuity, so the writers can just let loose. I might look at the stories and say, Hellboy would do this or would not do this, but the writers are given much more liberty. And readers can look the collection, and someone won't like this guy's take but might like this guy's, because it's a new look at my character.

As for the next Hellboy comic, there are two miniseries in the works but Mignola said they are not necessarily looking to ride on the coattails of the film. [Artist] Richard Corben and I are working on one called 'The Crooked Man,' set in the 1950s in the Appalachian Mountains," Mignola revealed. "So we've got a lot of good American witchcraft elements in there, That one will be starting around summer. And [artist] Duncan Fegredo is working on my biggest Hellboy story yet. It's an eight-issue miniseries. 'The Crooked Man' will probably come first, I just want to make sure we give everyone time-that we're not rushing something out because of the movie.

That said, there should be plenty of Hellboy-verse reading material on stands in time for the film: BPRD: 1946 wraps in May; the next BPRD and Hellboy trade paperbacks will be released, as will the first Lobster Johnson trade and Hellboy Library Edition Volume 1, Hellboy: The Companion, and the art book Monsters of Hellboy II will also become available over the next few months.

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