Interview: Mike Mignola Pt. 1 [of 2]

Categories:  Interviews

In the off-chance that there lingered any doubts about Mike Mignola’s legacy, Guillermo Del Toro’s 2004 cinematic adaptation of Hellboy firmly cemented the place of the artist’s flagship creation among alternative comics’ most widely-known and best-loved characters. The film’s runaway success also proved, for better or worse that, in the right hands, a indie comic character has as much blockbuster potential as its mainstream counterparts.

We sat down with Mignola in the center of the New York Comic Con, as the artist revved himself up for the much-awaited release of the film’s sequel, The Golden Army, which, by most accounts, is set to become one of those rare Hollywood blockbuster sequels that manages to show up its predecessor.

The artist happy spent his hectic weekend dividing time between promoting the film and his countless comics series, the latter of which, unsurprisingly, has been the target of a new explosion of readership, in light of the former.

Mignola was kind enough to carve out a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk about the movie, the books, and how he manages to ever get anything done in the first place.

Have your convention appearances changed a lot since the release of the first movie?

Yeah. The movie elevated the profile of Hellboy so much.

You still seem to be doing an incredible amount of comics work. Has the film affected your workflow on that front at all? Every time I look at the stands, there are four or five new books with your name on them.

Yeah, but unfortunately nothing’s drawn by me. For the last couple of years, with the exceptions of the covers, nothing’s drawn by me. That’s for two reasons. Part of the reason is the movie. I run off and work on the film for a few months. That just threw a big wrench in getting comic book work done. I would get halfway through a story and would stop, and when I’d go back to the story, my mind had changed. It just made it really difficult to do work of any length. At the same time, I have so many different ideas that there’s just no way I can do them all, so I just got in this system of writing series for other people and co-writing other books. I’ve just had so much fun expanding things

As much as I think that writing’s easy or it doesn’t take much time, it really does. It left no time for me to write comics. Now with the second movie over and a lot of the writing I was doing done—the Abe Sapien mini-series, the Lobster Johnson series (I’m still writing stuff, I’m still co-writing Hellboy)—I find that I have time in my schedule to sit down and return to drawing comics. That’s the biggest change I’ve got coming up. After two years of solid writing, I’m so antsy to get back in there and draw some of this stuff myself.

For someone who wore both hats for so long, was it hard to separate out the two, when you only had time for one?

Well, there was no question of me bringing a writer in on my stuff. It’s the art that slows it down. I have to write the story or co-write the story. It was really difficult to come to that decision where I had to bring someone in to draw Hellboy. B.P.R.D., no problem, because I that could go in any direction, art-wise. And I loved Guy Davis—I always knew that I wanted to work with him, so that was easy. But finding someone to replace me on Hellboy was really difficult, because it needed to be somebody that I clicked with, in terms of visual storytelling, and somebody who, to some extent, had a style that reflected what I do, without being an imitator of me. That was incredible difficult. And just letting somebody else do it, no matter how good they are, that’s letting go of some part of your creation. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, professionally.

You’ve got a real strong connection with these characters—would it be impossible to ever franchise them like a Superman or Spider-man?

Oh yeah. Really difficult. Little by little, having people co-write the stuff with me is sort of a transitional step. Say John Arcudi with B.P.R.D., the first couple of things we did together, we had several lunches together, talked together, and John and I have know each other for a long time. We talk over the phone. So the plot was maybe 50-75-percent mine, and he kind of filled in the stuff and fleshed out the characters.

But now in the last couple of years, with these last couple of mini-series, he’s almost written them completely. I’ll talk about this bit or that bit, and we’ll talk about the general direction, but he’s carrying the bulk of the load, and I’m not worried about it. I’m not asking to see the scripts or the plot, because I trust him. And to a certain extent, he’s making those characters his. We still talk about the general direction of where these characters are going, but it still feels like it’s collaborative. I’ll call him up I I’m writing something with Abe Sapien. I’ll ask him what Abe should say. At this point, that is his character.

And now with Josh Dysart on B.P.R.D. 1946, we haven’t worked together that much, so probably 75-80-percent of the plot was mine. But I’m allowing Josh to flesh things out and do the character stuff, and every time we work together, I’ll be able to relax a little bit more and let him carve out his part of B.P.R.D. the way that John has. I can’t imagine that though with Hellboy. That’s so much my character.

Have you ever read a script and had to reign one of the writers in? Do you ever find the characters doing things that they ought not be doing?

I haven’t—I don’t remember something with the characters. I’ve done that with the art. I’ve said, “this doesn’t work” or “that doesn’t look like Hellboy.” But character-wise, no because by the time I’m handing something over to someone to co-write, I’m entrusting them with a lot of that character. And again, there aren’t a lot of surprises because I’m a big fan of communication. I talk to these guys all of the time. I say, “you go do what you want,” and then, two minutes later, I’m saying, “but when you do that, will you make sure it’s this?” it’s my baby, and little by little, I’m letting them grow up and move out of the house. But when they first move out of the house, I’m checking in with them, every day.

The Madman appearance was a pretty early spin-off of the Hellboy character. How closely did you work with Mike Allred on that?

Not at all. Mike wanted to use him. In the past I’ve always said, “write Hellboy and get back to me and I’ll punch up his dialogue and make him sound like my Hellboy.” I don’t think I even did that with the Madman appearance. It was such a small appearance. I think—I might be wrong—that I was just dimly aware that it was happening. I said, “sure, that might be fun.” Next thing I knew, there was Hellboy in Madman.

[Concluded in Part Two].

–Brian Heater

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