In the landscape of modern comics, it’s rare that you’ll find a contemporary character who becomes truly iconic. In the 23 years since his first appearance in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2, Hellboy has made an impact that no one, not even his creator Mike Mignola, saw coming. “I didn’t even think I would do more than four issues. I really just thought I’d do this one miniseries and hopefully it would work. But if not, at least I’d have this one book that’s full of stuff that I like,” Mignola told Nerdist.
After 22 years, Mike Mignola did something almost unheard of in the world of comics: he finished his character’s story completely on his own terms in the final part of his hellborn hero’s epic saga, Hellboy in Hell #10. “My biggest fear became at some point, ‘What if I don’t have the energy to finish it? What if I get run over by a bus?’ Once you envision that last scene, you really have to put it out there,” Mignola explained. “Then you think, ‘Well I don’t wanna be so burned out that I don’t finish it, or that I can’t do a good job.’ So that’s why Hellboy in Hell got shorter, because I didn’t want to end up quitting in the middle.”
Hellboy is notable in many ways. While it’s a single story spanning over 20 years, it’s also spawned a huge expanded universe with numerous titles and been a hit movie franchise. One of Hellboy‘s more overlooked and interesting influences on the industry has been the structure of the comic book. Mignola pioneered a new release method with a string of miniseries and short stories collected into trade paperbacks. Over the last two decades, that’s become something very close to the new industry standard with companies like Image employing a release model that’s strikingly similar to the one that Mignola and Dark Horse established with Hellboy.
This different way of telling a regular ongoing story was something that came to Mike earlier in his career when he realized he didn’t necessarily fit the monthly comics model. “Even when I was working with Marvel and DC, I wasn’t really a deadline guy and I only ever lasted a couple of issues on regular running books. So most of what I did at those publishers were miniseries and graphic novels. One of the things I really think I did differently to other things out there was to tell short stories. Almost half of the Hellboy stuff–some of the better Hellboy stuff–are these eight or 12 page short stories,” Mignola described, looking back at his early days in the business. “At some point, even in the Marvel and DC days, I started viewing everything as a book. Eventually it’s going to be a book, and when you start thinking that everything’s a book you start to format accordingly.”
The idea of formatting comics to be read as collected longform stories was well ahead of its time, and is now the foundation for much of the comic book world. It’s only collections and so called “graphic novels” which can make it onto the New York Times bestseller list, there are many fans who are fondly called “trade-waiters,” meaning they only pick up their favorite titles once they’re collected. “As a reader, my shelves were full of short stories and anthologies. To get to do that with comics, well it just worked for me,” Mignola enthused. “Around the time I was doing Hellboy, things really started to be collected more and more. I started to hear people say to me, ‘Hey, I only read these things when they’re collected.’ That was nice, you know? It’s like TV. How many shows do we not watch week in and week out anymore? It’s much more satisfying.”
Though Hellboy has arguably become a cultural phenomenon, his creator is still regularly astonished by the passion and positive response from fans. “I’m surprised every day that people read these things. I never want to take that for granted,” Mignola said, noting that it was a weight off his shoulders when B.P.R.D. was a success. “It was a huge relief, if that’s the right word. It was very nice when the book found its legs. It was fun to write the one B.P.R.D. book I wrote, but when John Arcudi came on board that was when that series just really took off. I’m so lucky to have Guy Davis and to have John, who made that book completely its own thing.”
Since leaving Hellboy in Hell both figuratively and literally, the storyteller has stayed involved in what’s fondly known as Dark Horse’s Mignola-verse. “A lot of those books like Lobster Johnson and Joe Golem, beyond phone calls they’re not gigantic time consuming things on my part. Baltimore and Joe Golem are very much [Christopher Golden]’s books. We have our big conversations periodically and sketch out where things are going. But the real hard work? That’s really Chris,” stated Mignola, expanding on his collaborative process. “When John started working on Lobster Johnson, we had those conversations. But really John is one of those guys who works better when you just leave him alone. The best thing about Lobster Johnson is–though it has my name on it–I get to read it almost like a new reader.”
With Comic-Con International: San Diego looming, Dark Horse has announced three new Mignola-verse titles and these are unique in one very special way: Mike himself is returning to full writing duties with three sets of collaborators. Rasputin: Voice of the Dragon (Mike Mignola, Chris Roberson, Christopher Mitten, Dave Stewart, Mike Hiddleston), Koshchei the Deathless (Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck, Dave Stewart), and Hellboy: Krampusnacht (Mike Mignola, Adam Hughes) will see Mignola take a truly active writing role for the first time since the last issue of Hellboy in Hell in 2016. “It’s been a lot of work,” said Mike. “I really have a full time job again, what with drawing covers as well as writing plots and scripts for these books.”
The three new books aren’t the only thing on the horizon, as Mignola recently shook the comic book world with the announcement of a new Hellboy movie. Directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall and starring Stranger Things‘ David Harbour as Big Red himself, the film looks to be a move away from the beloved Guillermo del Toro films towards a darker, R-rated vision. Though, as Mignola explained, that wasn’t always the plan. “I would’ve loved to see Guillermo do his third movie and finish that story. But over the years it became very clear that wasn’t going to happen. About three years ago the producers, the screenwriter Andrew Cosby, and I all started working on this new story. Del Toro didn’t want to have anything to do with it, he wasn’t going to direct. He was offered to be a producer, and Ron [Perlman] wouldn’t do it without Guillermo,” Mignola stated.
“So we originally started trying to tie it to the del Toro universe and continue those movies. But once we had Neil Marshall, we thought, ‘Why are we going to try and continue that universe?’ Because a del Toro movie is a del Toro movie, and you don’t want to try and hand a del Toro movie to someone else. Especially someone as great as Neil Marshall. So that’s when it went from being this continuation to being a reboot,” Mignola enthused. “It’s exciting to have another director. It’s exciting to take another path, to take that material and give it another leaning.”
Though Mike obviously couldn’t disclose very much–as the film is almost in production and the details are under lock and key–he did share some really exciting news with Nerdist. “It’s very dizzying when you’ve been banging this story idea back and forth for all these years, and suddenly you have someone making it. And they’re making it tomorrow! And everyday there’s a new development,” Mignola gushed, continuing with praise for his new production team. “So Joel Harlow (Logan, Pirates) is doing the makeup effects and just last Friday I went to his shop. I got to see the sculpts of the new version of Hellboy, and then the next day David Harbour was in there doing makeup tests. So it’s very, very exciting. [Joel] is so excited and so enthusiastic.”
It’s not just Harlow who’s excited by the world of Hellboy. The film’s star has been in constant contact with the character’s creator. “[David] is super excited about being Hellboy and he wants to make sure he gets it right. He’s texting me Hellboy questions about his history, about what the character would think about this or about that. It’s really exciting to be back and see this thing come together,” confessed Mignola.
We’re excited to see anything and everything Mignola has coming down the pike. If he’s selling, we’re buying.
Images: Dark Horse Comics, Netflix, Celador Films