Mike Mignola was born in California and began his career illustrating comics for Marvel. He has also worked in the film industry, including on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Hellboy is his most famous creation.
I never really seriously thought about drawing comics – I just didn’t think I was that kind of artist,” says Mike Mignola. That might sound like graceful false modesty coming from the creator of Hellboy, and a man whose work is admired by thousands of artists across the globe.
But Mike, it transpires, is not only refreshingly honest about his own abilities, but also articulate and friendly. Not to mention busy: with the Hellboy 2 film in development, along with a series of animated versions of his most well-known creation and a couple of other personal projects on the back burner, he remains remarkably calm.Late starter
Unusually, Mike wasn’t as huge a comic fan as you might expect him to have been during his childhood, drifting in and out of love with them. He did, however, harbour a great fascination with all things supernatural, as well as monsters. It was only after finishing art school and when “it was time to decide how to make a living drawing monsters” that he decided he’d better get serious and get himself a job.
After a rather tenuous start as a “really bad” inker at Marvel in 1982, for the next 10 years or so Mike flitted between Marvel and DC working on various projects such as Thor, Batman and Cosmic Odyssey. “I didn’t think of trying to steer my career in any particular direction, I just did whatever seemed fun at the time,” he adds. “It was five or six years before I thought I began to know what I was doing.”Hellboy is born
In 1993, he was due to attend a comic convention, and the organisers asked him for a drawing to feature in the convention book. “So rather than draw Batman or Wolverine or whatever the hell I was doing at the time, I just drew a monster,” he says. “There was a space on his belt, and I wrote ‘Hellboy’. I just thought it was funny and didn’t think any more about it.”
At least, not until a few years later, when he started to play with the idea of creating his own character and stories – a trend which had recently surfaced in the industry. “I knew my first impulse would have been to create a regular, normal, human guy who’s an occult detective; but I also knew I’d get bored drawing a regular person all the time.
“So I went back to that first monster drawing and thought, instead of a regular person, what if I do a guy that looks like the devil, as an occult detective? I spent a lot of time designing him so he’d be fun to draw, and the name Hellboy was literally the only one that I ever came up with.”
Mike’s fears that his project would come to nothing were baseless, and the first mini-series, Hellboy: The Seeds of Destruction, set the scene for Hellboy’s bizarre world to be expanded in further series and one-offs. The red-skinned one took a leap into the mainstream with the 2004 release of the eponymous film, directed by Guillermo del Toro and co-written by Mike.
“One of my main hopes was that the film would introduce more people to Hellboy,” he says, and that certainly was the case. “Suddenly your silly little character is known worldwide… it’s strange. When you get those kind of numbers from all over seeing the film, it’s pretty weird.
“I was feeling the pressure even before the film. When you know more people are noticing what you do, you’re always thinking, oh my god, they’re expecting something – as opposed to, well, I’ll surprise them. So then I start worrying every time I pick up a pencil: ‘If I do this wrong, I’ll have ended my career’,“ he laughs.Second coming
He’s currently working with del Toro on Hellboy 2, set for release in 2008, as well as on the second animated film (the first, Sword of Storms, is out on DVD now – see above). Thus the Hellboy franchise is sucking up most of his time, but even without these projects to keep him busy, Mike feels his days of drawing huge mini-series are behind him. “I’m too slow and I’ve got too many things I want to do, so some of these big projects I’ve had in mind for years I’ll do with different artists.”
Hiring other artists to realise Mike’s ideas is a decision that’s bound to displease many fans, but he sees no alternative. “I’ve become very anal about design and about storytelling and about this and that… It’s very difficult for me to draw something without analysing how it works as a storytelling thing, and how it relates to other stuff. It’s become almost like this complex maths problem when I draw – I’m so conscious of what I’m doing. It makes for interesting work, but a lot of spontaneity is gone – and I don’t know how to get that back.
“So I have to make the decision that either this book never happens, or it happens with another artist. It’s hard to let go of that stuff, but I want to get the stories out there. You’d never get the comics otherwise.”Is it a monster?
Famously, Mike once said, “All I want to do is draw monsters.” Is that still true? “I think I would change it to monsters and old houses. I would love to do a string of paintings of old buildings. None of them would be bright, sunny, happy houses; they would be dark, creepy things with rotting wood. It’s not like I want to sit there and draw Frankenstein all day long, but I like a certain kind of atmosphere. Del Toro got bitten by the same bug as I did at an early age, when for some reason your ideas work better when they’re cut loose from reality. I have so little interest in the real world.”
He pauses, trying to sum it all up, before adding dryly: “I like making shit up.”