Staring Into the Abyss With Mike Mignola

Before MondoCon, the comics legend talks Hellboy and shadows

"With Hellboy in Hell being one giant experiment, it's my job to push that as far as I can. You don't want to feel safe. You want to feel like you're doing something." After 20 years drawing and writing his signature character, Mike Mignola goes deeper and darker into the Hell world of Hellboy

Mike Mignola created Hellboy and the world of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Now he's slowly destroying it. He says, "There's a map in [writer] Scott Allie's office, marking out what's left."

This weekend, Mignola will be one of the headlining guests at the inaugural MondoCon, discussing his career in film as a designer on movies like Blade II and Disney's Atlantis. But for many fans, the real topic of discussion will be demon turned demon fighter Hellboy and the slate of interlocking comics that Mignola, Allie, and writer/editor John Arcudi built around his creation. In core titles Abe Spaien and BPRD: Hell on Earth, civilization has broken down. As for Hellboy himself, he is dead, and Mignola is writing and drawing his posthumous exploits in Hellboy in Hell.

Just don't expect things to get magically better. That's not Mignola's style. In conversation, there's a sense that he refuses to look back: He's quite happy for most of his out-of-print work to stay that way. If he had his way, he'd scrap the original Hellboy series, Seed of Destruction, and replace it with a 25-page précis. And last time he tried to draw the popular, quirky character, the Amazing Screw-On Head, he just could not bring himself to go back down that old path. He says, "I never want to get in that spot where I go, woop, this didn't work, let's start over. I'm too old. If we broke it, then let's just run away."

Austin Chronicle: Hellboy started off as a four-issue miniseries for Dark Horse. Was there a moment when you realized it was going to be this successful?

Mike Mignola: I remember the moment where I thought, 'oh, this comic might work,' which is different from, 'it's going to sell.' It was the The Corpse. That comic came out, and Craig Russell (Elric) called me, I heard from Charlie Vess (Sandman, Stardust), artists I really admired and respected, When these guys called me and told me how much they liked this thing, that was when I thought, wow, that was the first one I did that I just did without worrying, I just had a good time doing it, and it's the one everyone likes the best. That was a big moment when I thought, if I just go with my gut, that's what people want or people like. This could work.

AC: Arguably, your biggest impact as an artist is your willingness to have black space in panels. Most artists seem to want to fill every inch with detail, but both you and Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead) were prepared to deal in shadow.

MM: That's just a maturing process, and a confidence issue over years of doing this stuff. You stop looking at what other guys are doing, and you start focusing totally on how can you tell this story, how can you get this particular impact, how can you use this language to do certain things.

With Hellboy in Hell, I did a couple of things that, I wouldn't say I was nervous about, but I did look at what I was doing and thought, 'I can't believe I'm going to do this, but that's what's going to give me the impact on the page.' You just make these bigger moves, these bigger statements, as you become more confident. With Hellboy in Hell being one giant experiment, it's my job to push that as far as I can. You don't want to feel safe. You want to feel like you're doing something.

AC: You built up the Hellboy mythology as early as the first miniseries, Seed of Destruction, but now there's a whole cosmology. How deliberate was that?

MM: I've certainly written more mythology, and there are certainly more connections to the mythology and a lot of history that I haven't trotted out in the comics, but I certainly know how this connects to that. Even with stories that other people are plotting, I'm looking and going, 'Can we insert this in there? Can we insert that in there?' I don't want to roll out a big lesson, but I'm looking for places to add more of this history and mythology that I know. Those dominoes start falling. You go, oh yeah, you know how this connects to this, and the origins and vampires. It only takes a few seconds to come up with all this stuff, and I think, well, I better write it down while I remember it.

It becomes an issue with this Hellboy and the BPRD series we're starting up now, because the book starts in 1952. So there's constantly a thing of, OK, what was around, what's been dealt with, what hasn't been dealt with. We did this timeline years ago for The Hellboy Companion, but that was outdated instantly. Sooner or later, we're going to make a mistake, and somebody will say, 'you said this guy was here but he wasn't even born yet, blah blah blah.' But for 20 years to be doing this and not hit a wall yet and have that history not work, that's one of the things I'm really proud of.

AC: Marvel and DC have world-ending events where the world doesn't end. With your stories, there's a real feeling that everything can end really badly. There's no guarantee the good guys will win.

MM: I've said this for years now. It's never going to get to a point where you just go, OK, we'll just fix it. We've done too much damage. Things may survive, maybe, but if they do, it's radically altered. Unlike Marvel/DC, where you have the illusion of change and, more and more, these constant rebootings, this series is not meant to go on forever. BPRD is a really long finite series. So it's not like they're going to rebuild new York City. Well, maybe, but it's not going to be like it was.

AC: The way your stories jump back and forth in time, with Hellboy and the BPRD starting in the 1950s, Sledgehammer.44 and Lobster Johnson in the 1940s, and Witchfinder in the 19th century, you can end the world and still have stories to tell.

MM: Growing up as a Marvel Comics guy, I loved the fact that there was Captain America now and Captain America in World War II, and at that time, it still made sense. This timeline worked with that timeline because he'd been frozen in ice. I loved that you could draw the connections from the current day, all the way back to World War II and even further than that. That's been one of the real joys of the whole Hellboy world, is doing things that take place in the Old West or Victorian England, and how those threads run through all the way to the present day.

Mike Mignola will be part of the Designing Movies panel at MondoCon, 1.20pm, Sept. 20, Marchesa Hall & Theatre, 6406 N. I-35. For more on Mignola and the festival, read this week's screens section.

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