ONE OF THE ABSOLUTE BEST THE COMIC WORLD HAS TO OFFER, ARTIST/WRITER MIKE MIGNOLA BRINGS CLASS, SOPHISTICATION, AND VICTORIAN-ERA LITERARY INFLUENCE TO A MEDIUM MOST KNOWN FOR MUSCLEHEADS IN TIGHTS. TASTES LIKE CHICKEN'S MUSSELHEAD IN TIGHTS, DEBBIE, TRAVELS THE DEPTHS OF CREATIVE INFERNO WITH THE HELLBOY CREATOR.
debbie: Iíve come across a slew of girls who absolutely love what you do.
Mike: The last couple of years, thereíve been girls that have come up to me at the San Diego Comic-Con. I have no idea what Iím doing that appeals to women, but Iím so glad to be reaching a wider, different audience.
d: Your drawing style is very atypical, as far as comic books go. I think artists like you and Bill Sienkewicz really push the envelope on how you portray action or superhero stories. Does your work standing out ever make you feel like the black sheep of the comic world?
M: Iíve never really known how to do superhero comics. I didnít really learn to draw comics from studying other comic book guys. Iíve never had this thing where I said, ďIíve got to draw like this to appeal to this audience.Ē Iíve been very fortunate in that Iíve just been able to go, and find an audience as Iíve gone along.
d: If comics werenít the original influence to draw, how did you end up taking that route?
M: All Iíve ever wanted to do was draw monsters, and there arenít a lot of places to do that. When I was in college I did some stuff for gaming magazines. But I always wanted to draw the kind of stuff Iím drawing now. Comics seemed to be the only place to do it.
d: When you were starting off, did you run into editors who were telling you to tone down your style?
M: Not really, because when I came in, I didnít draw anything like I draw now. After a while, I grew confident enough in what I was doing. Iíd been around long enough. I knew the people I was working for. I started going a little bit further stylistically. I do remember one page I brought in where the editor went, ďWhoa! What the--?Ē He didnít ask me to change it, though.
d: So was it years before you ended up with the style youíve got now?
M: Oh yeah. And I think itís changing all the time, which is fun. Itís an ongoing struggle to figure out the best way to do what Iím trying to do. Now itís evolving to suit the story since Iím the storyteller as well as the artist.
d: Because itís all you now.
M: Yeah. There was a time when I didnít give a shit what the hell the story was. Now, I have so many more concerns. There might be a place where the drawing isnít as detailed or finished as it could be because that would slow down the story. So thereís a whole lot of stuff going on. And itís always an experiment.
d: Were you ever interested in taking Hellboy in a serial direction?
M: Ultimately, Iíve got so many stories I want to do, I could do hundreds of issues of Hellboy. I know there are people whoíve wanted me to do the book every month. But if I did, it would be shitty. Whatís important to me is, no matter how many issues I produce, itís the best stuff I could do. The last thing the comic industry needs is for me to produce more crap. And itís sometimes hard to make the audience understand that.
d: Does the need to make money doing comics ever crossover with your passion for making the art, or is that something you try to keep totally separate?
M: You canít separate them. It is my main job, so I have to produce a certain amount of work. I canít take a year to do an 8-page story. The nice thing about it is the financial concern makes sure you sit at the drawing table and work. I donít think I could afford to do Hellboy any slower than Iím doing it. Iíve got four trade paperbacks out now and a fifth one coming out soon. Having that stuff out there, and continually on sale, is a nice piece of income. In a way, once you get this machine up and started with the trade-paperbacks and the merchandise, all you need to do is continually feed the machine.
d: Now, I have a technical question. The color palette you use adds so much to the stories. How has that developed for you over the years?
M: I donít color the book myself, but I do work very closely with my colorist. The guy who colors it now (Dave Stewart) is a genius. When we were both living in Oregon, I would go over to his house. He would color the book on a computer. Then I would sit behind him for a day and say, ďCan we go brighter here,Ē or ďCan we make this background color match that background color exactly?Ē Iím in the process of developing a thing that works for me, which is storytelling with color. Putting in the color to me is like putting in the soundtrack. For storytelling purposes, the key thing is to say, ďThis is a blue scene. We keep it in these kind of tones.Ē It kind of keeps the level at a certain mood. Itís kind of quiet. Then, suddenly, BOOM! We wanna break that up. Thatís when you punch in some other color. Itís possible, I think, to create rhythm that way. Iím just fortunate that Dave will actually put up with me sort of steering his hand as much as I do.
d: It sounds like he starts off already headed in the same direction as you.
M: We talk through the whole story one panel at a time.
d: Now, some of our readers might not know the role youíve played in Hollywood. Could you elaborate on those jobs?
M: Well, I havenít done much. I worked on Bram Stokerís Dracula for about a day-and-a-half. It was the most amazing experience, working directly with Francis Coppola. I was drawing the comic book adaptation. Later, I saw a rough cut of the film. Francis, George Lucas and I-- there you go. Thereís the weirdest night of my life. We saw a rough cut of the picture, and we discussed maybe adding this scene or that scene. I storyboarded a couple of scenes. Thatís about all I did. Atlantis was a case where Disney wanted to do this particular film in my style. So they brought me in and basically just kept me around to throw in suggestions. There were these flying fish that were my idea and I did a lot of design work on the actual city itself. It was fun. I worked on the new Blade film for two months, which is the closest Iíve ever been to having a real job. I spent two months in L.A., living in a hotel and doing design stuff for that film. That was a blast.
d: What are you working on right now?
M: What Iím working on right now is the first story after ďConqueror WormĒ. In my view, itís really restarting Hellboy as a solo book. Iíve always thought the most successful stories were the ones where he just wanders around the Earth. What happened was the actual back-story to Hellboy; where he came from, the apocalypse. This whole thing just came out of nowhere. And suddenly Iím like, ďOh shit. Well, letís deal with that then. Letís deal with what Hellboy is.Ē What I wanted to get away from was the, ďHereís a team of guys that has to go and do a particular thingĒ story. So with the entire team, I just said, ďI donít want to deal with them.Ē I may bring back one or two, periodically. Maybe Iíll team Hellboy with one guy to do a particular thing. But the formula that existed in the three major miniseries, Iím done with that. Now, Iím gonna focus on Hellboy more. Which is why thereís a spin-off book just called B.P.R.D. (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense). I like these characters. It was fun creating them and I think they do have a life beyond being second stringers in Hellboy. So Iíve turned them over to another writer. I have a lot of input into the stuff.
d: Do you have any fear or anticipation about passing that story on to another creative team?
M: Yeah. Iím very anxious to see how it does. I think if the B.P.R.D. book goes on, it will be more driven by the particular writer (Chris Golden) and the artist, whoever that might end up being. Issue one was very much me having unfinished business with one of the characters. I knew where this character named Liz Sherman ended up, but I never put it in a comic. And I thought, ďLetís go and see her and where she is.Ē Again, itís an experiment. I hope it works.
d: These next few questions are gonna get pretty goofy, so just have fun with them.
M: Okay,.. if I can.
d: You draw skulls and skeletons very well. Did this mastery of bone structure require years of study, or just eating a lot of chicken wings and McRib Sandwiches?
M: (pause) No. I spend a lot of time with skeletons.
d: Really? You actually--
M: No. Iím not digging up graves. Iíve got a skeleton in the studio. Iíve always been fascinated by bones.
d: Whatís up with those Nazis? I know that in Indiana Jones they were portrayed as the ultimate villains. Is that part of what lead to you using them as the ďbad guysĒ in your stories?
M: Yeah. They have great outfits and they require very little explanation. Also, when you use a villain like that, itís a great shortcut because everybody knows a lot about them. And thereís so much mystery and intrigue-- they were supposedly into this and supposedly into that-- so anything I come up with, people could say, ďYeah, they probably were into that.Ē
d: Do you think dogs have lips?
d: You do? Excellent! Is there any reason why?
M: Because I had a dog and he had things that were kinda like lips.
d: Is there anything youíve read that you think is, down to the core, a really frightening story?
M: The Exorcist. I remember that being the one book I read that was frightening. There was another book by a husband and wife team of occult investigators. When you start reading it, itís so stupid. But as the book went on and on and on, it got scarier and scarier and scarier. The book that made the biggest impact on me as a kid was definitely Dracula. I remember when I read that, I think it was in the 6th grade, I consciously decided, ďThatís what I want to be into. I want to read everything I can about this kind of stuff.Ē
d: If you, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Dan Rather got into a back-alley brawl, who would win?
M: I donít think Lovecraft was much of a fighter. Poe would have probably been too drunk. Dan Rather, I suspect, would kick all our asses. Heís pretty tough.
d: You mean you wouldnít act as a ringer? Youíd just go down easy?
M: Iím just gonna go down. Iím not much of a fighter. Iíd be cringing under a tombstone with the other guys.
d: (laughs) Youíre not much of a fighter? I swear, itís hilarious just how gruff and bitter Hellboy is. He doesnít take shit from anybody.
M: Hellboy is very much me and my dad. My dad is a tough old buzzard. Heís a cabinet maker. He spent so much time around wood, that he kind of became wood. Heís always gashed and cut and scraped. Heís rough as an old cowboy boot, and that is the texture Hellboy has. Heís got the toughness of my dad and heís kinda got my mannerisms. Heís really the only character I know how to write because I know exactly what Hellboy would say. He would say what I would say.
d: Are we ever going to see a Hellgirl?
M: Well, Hellboy is going to Hell in the next miniseries. Iím sure thereíll be lots of cousins and things there. Some of them will be female. Thatís one Iíve been wanting to do for years. Itís finally time to say, ďOK. You want to know where he comes from? You want to see mom and dad and the brothers and sisters? Letís just show it all to ya.Ē
d: It must be really cool for you to be at a point where you can show that.
M: Yeah. I canít give everything away, but the thing thatís scary is, I never intended to reveal this much about the character. But since I thought of it and it would be a lot of fun to draw, we will reveal a lot about the character. Whatís the most daunting thing about it is, how do I deal with a character whoís gone to Hell? That would be one of the things that would send you, pretty quickly, into therapy. So, yeah, weíre talking about Hellboy entering a period of his life where he knows. Thereís always been an element of denial in Hellboy, saying, ďAh, Iím just a regular, working stiff guy. No big deal.Ē But once youíve actually been to Hell, I think itís harder to say, ďNothing special about me.Ē
d: Thatíll be awesome to see pan out.
M: Itíll be fun to do.
d: Okay. Now, I have to admit, Iím a sucker for daytime television. Namely, NBCís Passions. Do you have any guilty TV pleasures?
M: Wait. Which oneís Passions? Is that the one thatís got that doll in it?
d: Yeah. The midget--
M: Holy shit! What is that? I end up watching Judge Judy and that stuff. If I turn the TV on too early, that damned thing is on. I have no idea what the hell Iím looking at. Thatís the most horrific, stupid thing Iíve ever seen in my life. Itís like a regular soap opera, then they cut away to this old woman whoís got this ugly kid.
d: Heís a doll. Sheís a witch. Her nameís Tabitha and thatís her doll, Timmy. He comes to life.
M: What the hell are they thinking about over there?!?
d: Someone just told me itís the number one rated soap. Itís so ridiculous, itís amazing. Iím not an old lady or anything, but my friends and I turned on the TV one day during lunch and, no lie, this girl was trapped in the fires of Hell. Another girl had thrown her into Hell, and the portal to it was in her closet. It was a month and a half of these kids being stuck in Hell. There was a priest trying to save them and everything.
M: But itís really crappy. It doesnít have any mood or atmosphere. Dark Shadows was actually pretty crappy, but it had gothic pretense. But this is just a regular soap opera that has that shit thrown in in a really haphazard, stupid, ugly way.
d: But the people who make it know that itís horrible.
M: Oh yeah. It is one of those things where, when I saw it I thought, ďAm I really seeing this? Have I just gone crazy? Can this thing really exist?Ē
d: Oh yes. It does exist. Do you have any final comments for our readers?
M: Go buy the new Hellboy novel, ďThe Bones Of GiantsĒ. Itís great.
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