For more than 20 years, Mike Mignola has told the adventures of his most famous creation, Hellboy, in stories full of pulp adventure, heroism, and horror. These days, Hellboy is dead, though that doesn’t stop Mignoa from continuing his story in the pages of Hellboy in Hell.
This week, Mignola and artist Alex Maleev begin a story set during Hellboy’s younger days, the story of Hellboy’s very first assignment with the BPRD. We spoke to Mignola about the story, Hellboy and the BPRD, as well as the upcoming miniseries Frankestein Underground, what’s up next for Hellboy in Hell, and the possibility of future Mignola-verse movies.
You’ve been writing Hellboy stories for 20 years. Why is it only now that you’ve decided to tell the story of his first mission with the BPRD?
It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while, and probably, if we had really focused a little bit earlier, it would have been the perfect book for the 20-year anniversary. It was a matter of finding the right artist, and that’s why we did it now, because we found the right artist. With Hellboy getting weirder and weirder, with the Hellboy in Hell stuff, it just felt like we were really missing classic, old school Hellboy, and there’s a real pleasure to writing Hellboy when he was a much simpler character, before the whole apocalypse nonsense and death. Also, we’d done the BPRD 1946, ’47, ’48. John [Arcudi] did a little sequence, a flashback sequence, in BPRD. It was Hellboy in ’49, and it just felt like a logical progression of those things. We didn’t plan this thing as far back as when we started BPRD ’46, ’47, but the beauty of what we’ve done with Hellboy is there’s this gigantic chunk of years where we’ve seen almost nothing with him, except a few short stories here and there. We don’t have to reboot the book to be old school Hellboy, because there’s so much untold material out there. The idea of, as a companion to Hellboy in Hell, having this book will really - and then we’ll start in ’52 and then we’ll keep going – every five or six issues will be a different year. A lot of ground to cover.
So this book sounds very much like an invitation for new readers to come discover Hellboy.
Yeah, it was never our number one goal with this, to snare new readers, but if it works for that, that’s great. After 20 years, you don’t want to do something that’s such a closed shop that nobody can get on board, and Hellboy in Hell would be a really tough place for somebody to get on board., so this is a good jumping on spot.
You mentioned the artist on this story, Alex Maleev, and he’s obviously very talented, so there’s little question about why you’d want to work with him. You mentioned that finding him was finding the right artist for this story. What is it about him and his art that makes it the right fit for this particular story?
I’d had this story, or the rough idea for this story, banging around for a long time, and it wasn’t like I had any perceived notion of who should draw it or what it should look like. I just wanted somebody really good. Over the years, we’d kind of throw out this guy, “what about that guy?” We’d talk to one or two people, and nothing was really panning out. So really, we were just waiting for somebody that was great.
Unlike when I first handed off Hellboy to Duncan Fegredo, where I was really concerned that somebody kind of maintain my style of things, it’s much more wide open now, with this series. So there was no narrow box somebody had to fit into, it was just, we need somebody who’s really, really good, and Alex is really, really good.
For longtime Hellboy readers, what will they find different about this younger Hellboy, compared to the Hellboy they first met in Seed of Destruction?
That was probably the toughest thing to bear in mind when I wrote this, is this is Hellboy’s first outing with the guys. He’s actually not a full blown agent yet, he’s just kind of being allowed along with the guys, for the very first time. So, my tendency is always to have Hellboy take the lead on stuff, and here he’s the junior member. There was even a moment, I think in the first issue, where Alex drew Hellboy – as the guys are going up a flight of stairs or something – and Hellboy is kind of leading the way, and I had to say “no, no, no, he wouldn’t be that guy.” He’s, I think, a little bit chomping at the bit to get out there and do stuff. He’s eager, but he’s young. Visually, he looks like the Hellboy we know now, but to play him a little bit more insecure, and realize – unlike the Hellboy I do, where he’s done everything – this is where he’s doing certain things for the first time. It’s always very strange to go back and deal with the younger version of characters, especially when you’ve been writing them for 20 years. Yeah, I had to do a couple of little things.
Any particular moments that stand out in your mind as particularly challenging, in that way?
Not really. I think the real growing up stuff was done in those BPRD books – 1946, 1947, and 1948 - and in that graphic novel I did with Richard Corben. So, big maturing things, or growing into something things, was really handled. So there wasn’t a gigantic leap in his personality, it was just showing that he’s still on the leash. He’s still a little unsure. There’s also the extra element of how the other agents deal with him, whereas, mostly, if I put him in the field with other agents, they’re looking to him, and here I have to remind myself that he’s looking towards them. In fact, there’s a scene where they ask him to do something that really reminds the readers, and it reminds Hellboy, “You’re the kid. You’re the junior guy. If there’s a s**t job, you’re the guy we’re going to ask to do it, because you’re new.” The story presented a few opportunities like that, where I could really address his position with the other guys.
You also have Frankenstein Underground coming up. What’s it like trying to write this classic character, and balancing staying true to Mary Shelley’s original creation, while also trying to make it your own?
The more I think about it, it’s very daunting. I’m glad I didn’t give it a lot of thought when I started, because I just thought, “Oh, that’s kind of fun. I didn’t realize I have Frankenstein, but I have Frankenstein, so let me do something fun with him.” And I did want it to be Mary Shelley’s character grown up, so there are references and some flashbacks to a couple of scenes in the novel. I did want to represent her in there. At the same time, even though I’ve read the novel a couple time, the Frankenstein that’s normally in my head is the Boris Karloff version, and certainly when I did this version of Frankenstein in the Hellboy graphic novel I did with Corben, House of the Living Dead, I envisioned something much more like a Karloff type monster, who barely spoke. So, and I’ve still only scripted the first issue, as I’m doing more and more of his dialogue, that’s where I’ve kind of got to find that middle ground between the Shelley thing and the Karloff thing, which are like a billion miles apart.
And, you know, I just saw the Penny Dreadful TV series. I didn’t see it when it first aired, and I just watched that, and the Mary Shelley version of the monster is so beautifully done in that show that, had I seen that show, I probably never would have written this book, because I went “oh my god, of course.” That’s such a beautiful treatment of the character, certainly the Mary Shelley version of the character that I might have just shied away from this whole thing. But I didn’t, and it’s such a different location and type of story for the Frankenstein monster that I don’t feel like I’m treading on the same ground that anyone else has ever done. I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah, other people have done Frankenstein, some have done it better than others, but no one’s done him, to my knowledge, running around the center of the Earth, in sort of an Edgar Rice Burroughs situation, where he’s also bumping into Victorian undead. So, it’s been like taking somebody else’s character and throwing them into my world, or the Hellboy world.
How deeply entrenched in the Hellboy world and mythos is Frankenstein Underground? Is the story designed more with the intent of inviting Frankenstein fans who might not be familiar with Hellboy, or…?
With all of these books, I think you can come to it, if you’ve never read anything and you just love Frankenstein, and get a Frankenstein story out of this. If you are familiar with the Hellboy world, then certain situations, and certain characters, you’ll be going, “Oh, it’s that guy,” or, “Oh, it’s tapping into this scene,” or this little bit that I’ve established in the Hellboy stuff. There’s a lot of the Hellboy universe in there, but nothing that you’re required to know to enjoy the story. In fact, when I started this, or when I started thinking about this, it had a lot less of the Hellboy elements. As I started putting all the pieces together, I realized that this story actually becomes a very important thing in the future of the Hellboy/BPRD world, even though it takes place in the 1950s, something happens that will definitely impact our future stuff.
You seem to have a pretty clear appreciation for classic horror stories. Are there any other characters, like Frankenstein’s monster, that you’d like to try your hand at introducing to the Hellboy universe?
I’d never considered bringing any literary character into the Hellboy world. A lot of people talk about, or compare my stuff to Lovecraft, but I purposely never referenced any of the Lovecraft creatures, or the Necronomicon, or anything like that. To me, that’s somebody else’s fiction. Frankenstein really only happened by accident. Not accident really, but when I wrote the back cover copy for the House of the Living Dead graphic novel, and I kind of was rattling off the different monsters – because it is kind of a monster festival, that thing, sort of like the big Universal House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein – you know, I had a vampire, I had a werewolf, and I couldn’t come up with a quick, easy way to say a Frankenstein-like, or creature. So I just said “the Frankenstein Monster,” because it just sounded good, and it was kind of funny. So, as a result of writing that one piece of copy, I realized, oh, that character is the Frankenstein monster, so I might as well use him.
But I can’t imagine…I love Dracula, it’s my favorite of the iconic, literary horror characters, but I can’t imagine doing him. I’m always much more comfortable making up something kind of like that, or kind of inspired by that. In the future, I want to do some stories that have very specific nods to certain short stories and things, but it would be kind of taking those short stories, or those types of characters, and filtering them through my thing. Literature is sort of almost out of bounds for me. So, the idea of the Headless Horseman is kind of appealing to me, but I don’t know. I would probably make up my own headless guy. Or, I love pulling that stuff out of folklore, and legend, and mythology. That stuff I feel like is fair game, that’s what they’re there for, but the literary characters are all somebody else’s thing.
Can you share what’s up next for Hellboy in Hell? What will it be about, and when might we see it?
I can’t tell you when you’re going to see it. It’s going amazingly slow, but I am about a couple of pages short of finishing issue #7, finally, but #7 and #8 are a two-issue story, so it won’t come out until I’ve gotten both issues done, so that when I do something that’s a two-issue story, it will come out in two consecutive months. So, they’ve got to wait on issue #8, or until they know when I’m going to finish issue #8, before they can even schedule it.
Nobody’s ever asked what it’s about. Do I know what it’s about? Hm, I do. It’s dealing with something that was done in the first couple of issues of Hellboy in Hell. It’s the fallout from certain things that happened early on in this series. The Hellboy in Hell stuff was originally supposed to be a parade of unrelated stories, but, once I did certain things in the first series, I realized, well that impacts that, and that impacts this, and this story fits in with this, and this thing fits into that, and it turned into, “that’s a big story.” I won’t say that I see the whole Hellboy in Hell thing, but this big story that I’m working on, I very clearly now see it as four trade paperbacks worth of material, so roughly 20 issues of material. It pretty much tells everything I think I need to tell about Hellboy and where he’s going, so I’m kind of looking at that as “get that done, then I can play.” Then I can do these odd little short stories and stuff. But I’m really focused, right now, on telling this big story that answers all the questions, and pays off all the prophecies, and all the little hints and things that I’ve been doing. That’s where I am.
I was watching an episode of The Colbert Report recently, and Jeffrey Tambor was on as a guest. He said something about hearing that the gears might be moving forward on Hellboy III. Do you know anything about that?
Do I know what he was talking about? I have no idea what he was talking about. No. There’s talk every once in a while, but nothing concrete, nothing solid, nothing anybody should be jumping up and down about “oh boy, its coming.” It’s not entirely dead, some days it seems like there’s a spark of life there, but most days it’s just a matter of most studios, or our studio, Universal, seems totally uninterested in doing anything. So, you know, wait and see. Anything’s possible. I never thought they’d make the first one, and I never thought they’d make the second one, so maybe they’ll make the third, I don’t know, but nothing worth talking about is being discussed. At least not to me, and you would think that if anything was happening I would know.
You’ve created plenty of other character over the years. Do you have any desire to see any of those other characters, besides Hellboy, adapted to film or television?
I think they all – well, do I think they all have possibilities? I mean, I’d love to see Edward Grey or Lobster Johnson. I think there’s great potential for stuff, but, again, the studio who has the rights to all that stuff doesn’t seem to share my vision of a great Mignola universe. Greatest thing to me would be somebody at Universal, or some other studio, says, “Hey, wait, all that stuffs related, and it’s all one shared universe? Oh my god, there’s a zillion things we could do here.” And that would be great. So far, I’ve never heard anybody embrace the idea of the other characters.
Hellboy and the BPRD #1 goes on sale December 3. Check out a preview in the gallery below.
Above photo courtesy of Christine Mignola. Above art by Mike Mignola.