[Mike Mignola, photo by Christine Mignola]
There are several big developments coming up for the Hellboy Universe. First, there's the long-awaited return of Hellboy in Hell for Issues #7 and #8 as a two-part series called 'The Hounds of Pluto' landing in late August and September, then come October, we're going to see the arrival of the first of two one-shots for Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953 by Mike Mignola, Ben Stenbeck, and Dave Stewart. The winter is also brewing up some surprises since in January Dark Horse will release a Winter Special with several collaborating writers and artists, and it will include a team up between Mignola and iZombie's Chris Roberson for a 12 page story drawn by Michael Walsh. To round things off, Roberson is going to continue as co-writer with Mignola on the next Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. stories, accompanied by artists Paolo Rivera and Joe Rivera. If you thought the Hellboy Universe was going to calm down after this summer's promise of 'The Impossible Will Happen', time for a re-think and preparation for some major milestones in Hellboy lore that we've all been waiting for.
And those are just the announcements. I had the extreme privilege of talking with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola about his series Hellboy in Hell, returning in August for Issue #7, an issue which presents some of the biggest shifts in Hellboy's understanding of his condition that we've seen thus far, and one with big implications about the future of the world. Of course, I couldn't interview Mike without gushing about how great Frankenstein Underground, drawn by Ben Stenbeck, has been, too, and trying to figure out how the events in that series impact the wider Hellboy Universe. For added measure, we geek out about Dave Stewart's uncanny abilities as a colorist and look toward the future for Hellboy.
Mike Mignola: For getting away with it?
HMS: It was fantastic, and the last issue was just amazing.
MM: Can I just tell you how much I thought that thing was going to stink? I do this a lot, but I really thought I had no idea what I was doing and I never should have started. Apparently, it worked a lot better than I thought it would.
HMS: So, when Frankenstein's Monster in the final issue is saying essentially, 'What am I doing?', that's you? That's a classic situation actually for Hellboy, too.
MM: There is a lot in various Hellboy books and in Frankenstein Underground that's just me saying, 'What have I gotten myself into?' Sometimes you do just have to write what you know, even if you don't know what the hell you're doing.
HMS: Well, if it feels like you are with them journeying into the unknown, and you have the same sense of wondering what's going to happen next, that seems like a good thing to convey to the reader.
MM: The one thing that did happen on Frankenstein is that I kept changing my mind about what the story would be. Before I even started, the idea was to do something fun and goofy, which is what Issue #2 turned into. But I realized early on while plotting it that I could only do one issue of that 'out of the frying pan into the fire' approach of Frankenstein's Monster getting grabbed by one monster, then another, then another. Now Geof Darrow could do 900 pages of that, and it'd be wonderful, but I couldn't come up with that. I just didn't think it would work. So, then, adding the Victorian expedition into it made it quite a different book. I was then more able to surprise the readers, who wouldn't see the twists and turns coming up.
HMS: Absolutely. The books feels constantly new and surprising, page by page. At what point did you decided to talk about the origins of the Hellboy Universe in that story? The final issue gives a great brief history, almost a guide, to the creation of the universe.
MM: I believe I had trotted out some of that before, but it is the kind of thing that, as we go further down this road and make bigger and bigger changes to these books, it becomes more necessary to string things together. Every time you add a new wrinkle to these books, you kind of need to restate it. I also don't want to bore the people who have read the other comics, so I look for ways to cover all that ground in a new way so that I can move on to new things.
HMS: Exactly. It was very good for new readers, and since Frankenstein's Monster doesn't know these things, he can be taught about them along with the reader in a simple way.
MM: It's nice for new readers out there to say, 'Here's a very simplified version of what's becoming a very complicated and multi-faceted history'.
I would love to do a comic that's just the history lesson. It would have a lot of weird shit in it, but it really wouldn't be a story. It would be boring as shit. But I have so much of that mythology in my head, that I'm always looking for an excuse to tell a story that includes it.
MM: Which is why I've never read The Silmarillion! I love that he thought of all that shit, but I don't think I could sell a whole book of it.
HMS: It's hard to read straight through, easier to just jump in for bits of it, though some people know it through and through (not me). Any time you take the history out of story and put it in its own context, it becomes a different thing.
MM: Which is why the idea of making up a whole world again is so daunting an exercise. Because so much thought has gone into creating this world, I think, 'I can't imagine ever doing this again'. And yet, part of me is thinking, 'It might be fun to try'. It is nice that I've been able to put so much of it out there over 20 years.
HMS: And even to bring other people in who want to contribute to that universe too.
MM: Well, that's been the privilege of working with just a few writers is that we're not constantly bringing in different, out of the blue, takes on the material. I am kind of a control freak. Scott Allie is always having to listen to me talk about this history stuff, and every time I get him on the phone, I say, 'Oh yeah, here's this other million years of stuff'. But when we first started talking with Chris Roberson about coming onboard, he pitched an idea for a Witchfinder series, which he's doing. And it was clear from his pitch that he was bringing in threads from B.P.R.D. and past issues of Hellboy. He was really embracing elements of history from the Hellboy Universe. And I said, 'Can we keep this guy?' Because that's what I want. I want someone who wants to play with what's been created and build on it.
Before we reach those projects, I wanted to ask if the events of Frankenstein Underground directly impact Hellboy in Hell #7 and #8, 'The Hounds of Pluto'?
MM: I don't think so. 'Hounds of Pluto' has actually been done for quite awhile. It really focuses on Hellboy and his situation and exists very much in its own universe. Other things might kind of relate to the situation in Hell, but Hellboy is not really reacting to anything else. Frankenstein Underground does resonate with the history of everything. It will end up being a pretty significant part of this puzzle.
HMS: I'm avoiding spoilers carefully here, but I was thinking that some of the mythological elements in Frankenstein Underground might have resonance with #7.
MM: Oh, yeah, that's just me having similar ideas. I can see the parallel. One of those things came first, but I'm not sure which. I like to give glimpses of paradise, and present things characters can either have or not have.
HMS: For me, I have a less dark take on that—it seems almost like glimpses of hope in the Hellboy Universe. It keeps me going.
MM: At some point while working on the Frankenstein Underground stuff, I realized, 'This book is going to be so bleak if don't do something like this'. So I was probably well into the book before I decided on the ending exactly. I did beat the shit out of Frankenstein's Monster for so many issues that I felt he deserved something.
HMS: Well, in the new issue, Hellboy in Hell #7, 'Hounds of Pluto' part 1, when you're referring to England, which has sadder overtones but also interesting mythological elements, you change the art style. It changes to this beautiful, watercolor-like look and a different color palette.
MM: It was the scariest thing I've ever done professionally.
HMS: Wow. What was the origin of that decision? Where does it come from?
MM: I just wanted something that was going to be so different that Dave Stewart wasn't going to be able to produce that difference just through changing the colors. I needed something that was going to be softer, more dream-like, and really make it very clear that you have stepped out of one world into another.
My first thought when drawing [REDACTED] was that I didn't want to just make it [REDACTED]. So I thought I'd go and get another artist to do instead. The first artist I thought of was busy, and that was my chicken shit reaction, I decided. I said to myself, 'Hellboy in Hell, that's my baby. It would really be a cheat to have someone come in and draw a couple of pages just because I'm scared of those pages'. So I decided I'd do it. But yeah, the one close up of [REDACTED's] face is the scariest thing I've ever had to do.
I wanted a glimpse of something that, at least in this book, we weren't going to see again. It needed to be that different. It was tricky to write those pages too. I've probably been writing them over and over for several years since I knew I was going to do that scene eventually. In the end, I decided to pare it down from a longer version to basic ideas.
HMS: Does the elevated art style of this episode in #7 draw from a particular artistic tradition? It resonates with the cover of #7 as well as similar in its elements. Something perhaps like Old Master paintings or gold lacquer ornamentation from Japan?
MM: Not really. There was no conscious thought other than wanting to do something that felt a lot softer and more mysterious than my usual clunking black and white stuff. It was spooky doing the drawing for that cover as something really minimal and leaving the rest for Dave. He's a genius, but it was unusual. I was looking for something that I couldn't do in my usual style.
HMS: It's an amazing addition to what we think of when we think of the aesthetics of the Hellboy Universe. Recently, I finally interviewed Dave Stewart for the first time for Bleeding Cool Magazine #18 and it was hilarious because I had no idea what to ask about the processes of coloring comics, but he came out with some of the most amazing statements. The things he said were so mind-blowing that I can't wait to see it on the page. He's a visionary.
MM: It's funny because so often when I talk to him about this stuff, I go in with all my ideas and very rarely do I even allow him room to tell me his ideas. I ask, 'Is it possible to do this? It is possible to do that?' And he says, 'Yeah, we can do that. That might work'. And that's about all I get from Dave, but he's a genius.
HMS: One of the questions I asked him was about process on a particular approach, and his answer came back almost like a whole paragraph of digital code. It was amazing. I know that some of the colorists who read it will know exactly what he's talking about.
MM: I remember I was at a convention once and there was a spotlight on Dave Stewart, and they asked me to moderate it. People in the audience were asking technical question, and yes, he was responding in numbers. It was like having a computer up there. I know nothing about that stuff at all. I just ask, 'Can it be spookier? Can you make it softer?' I used to be very specific with Dave. I still am sometimes, asking for blues or greens, since I want to make sure different scenes have a different palette. So sometimes I'll specify color, but more often than not, I'm specifying difference. Saying, 'This has got to be cool', or 'This has got to be warmer'. Saying, 'This is violent', or 'This is quiet', or 'This is soft'. Once we get into numbers, I'm lost entirely, so we just speak in mood.
MM: It was a very hard thing to explain. I'm still new at the writing game. How do you explain what is worse? I knew Hellboy was sick, but how do you explain what kind of sickness, and what worse can happen to a guy once he's dead? But to me, Hell is such a tangible place, I'm still treating him as pretty much a living guy. I wouldn't mind if things changed as we go on, if Hell becomes vaguer and softer as he goes along. It may be that he's still very much physical and tangible because he hasn't been dead that long. As we go further down that road, it may become dreamier.
HMS: I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that we'll see the puppet show again in this arc, and it really made me feel that everything that Hellboy is going through is part of a puppet show that just seems really big and elaborate to him. As if Hell's realities aren't fixed.
MM: The puppet show was something that I did in the first issue to really send a message to readers that: 'It's my book. I'm going to do whatever the hell I want. I like puppets, so I'm going to do puppets'. And there are some scenes I've always wanted to do, and I thought, 'Let's do it as puppets'. I put clues in there on purpose, knowing people might not catch things. But it's my funny little world and I have bizarre ideas of how I think that world works. It's me doing things I want to do and having some logic I can't explain at work. It's my fairy tale logic.
MM: The thing with the cat and the string? That's something I came up with a long time ago, and it's not actually pulled from any particular source. But it really felt like something as stupid as you'd find in an old fairy tale or folk tale. And my favorite thing to do with something like that, something that absurd, is address it really quickly and just keep moving.
MM: Yeah. I've said this before, but the original idea for Hellboy in Hell was that it was going to be a series of stand-alone stories. It was going to have these odd, little meandering stories, and not be this ongoing thing. This is exactly the kind of story that I was intending to do originally. This is a glimpse of that original goofy adventure element, whereas this does actually evolve into something that affects Hellboy more widely at this point.
HMS: Bizarrely, that has jogged my memory. I was actually in a panel at one of my first comic cons in New York where Hellboy in Hell was announced, and I recall you giving the impression that Hellboy in Hell was going to have a lot of small adventures.
MM: That was the original plan. Then I realized there were so many things that Hellboy actually "had" to do that I had to lump them together. The shape of Hellboy in Hell has actually changed quite a bit. I'm still heading toward the same place, but how I'm getting there keeps changing. At some points, the story has expanded. Thank God, now it's actually contracting into a tighter story. I'm having him jump through the hoops he has to jump through so that he can then take a vacation. And then talk to puppets and frogs and stuff like that.
Really, the killing Satan thing was something I somehow thought I'd be able to get away with never addressing again, but that's exactly the kind of thing that snowballs into something that demands a certain degree of attention and you have to deal with it more fully.
MM: It turns out to be one of the bigger things he's done and it does have repercussions.
HMS: Does the use of the name 'Hoffman' in #7 relate to the horror story writer Hoffman?
MM: E.T.A. Hoffman, yes. In fact, the names of the other 'Doctors' in this story relate to Hoffman or may be names that appear in the story 'The Sandman'. I can't remember. I did this so long ago that I don't remember why I did certain things. I've always loved Hoffman. I think there's a dream-like, bizarre quality in his work that I was aiming for.
HMS: And underneath all that is a typical human truth in this story that rivalries and old aggressions just never die, do they?
MM: I thought it would be fun to ask, 'What happens if you're consumed with this slight, which turns out to be completely misplaced?' The idea is of being 'stuck' in that spot in your afterlife, and wondering what would stop you from being completely transformed or consumed by that anger, and then what would happen?
HMS: Regarding some big announcements, it looks like you and Ben Stenbeck are teaming up for two one-shots for Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953, which is Hellboy's first ghost hunt, and set in England. And after that, you and Chris Roberson, and Paolo Rivera, among others, are going to team up on the ongoing for that series, right?
MM: Well, Paolo is doing three issues, and I don't know that he'll do more after that. The way we are structuring the Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., we have different artists coming in to do different arcs. We already have creative teams being lined up for Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1954. At some point, I'd love for some of these creative teams to circle back in, but for now we haven't gotten anyone begging to stay forever.
HMS: So 1953 is two one-shots, then three issues?
MM: All of the Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.arcs are 5 issues, yes. Each trade paperback will be a year, for instance, too.
HMS: And how did the Winter Special that's forthcoming come about?
MM: Well, it came about because we had an artist who was interested in drawing Hellboy, and since he'd never drawn Hellboy before, we thought, 'Well, maybe we'll give him a longer arc, but let's give him a short story. Do we have a place to do a short story? We don't? Then let's create this Winter Special and that way we can do this. And actually there's another story, and another still, that other people want to do. Now we have three stories that all involve winter. Let's put them all in one book'.
HMS: That's a great idea. We'll be looking forward to it.
Hellboy in Hell #7, 'The Hounds of Pluto' Part 1, arrives in shops on August 26th, and is currently listed in Previews World with item code: JUN150079. It reaches FOC today, August 3rd.
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1953—"The Witch Tree & Rawhead Rex and Bloody Bones" will be arriving in shops November 25th, written by Mike Mignola, with art by Ben Stenbeck, and colors by Dave Stewart. It will be a 32 page one-shot described by Dark Horse thus: "As Hellboy continues his journey across England with his mentor, he confronts some of the most horrible figures of British folklore—Rawhead Rex and Bloody Bones".