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Comic Book Day: To Hell and Back with Mike Mignola

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There aren’t many people that I’d follow into hell, but Mike Mignola is definitely one of them. The Hellboy creator has resumed writing and artistic duties on Dark Horse’s new ongoing Hellboy in Hell series and he oversaw the newest B.P.R.D. miniseries, B.P.R.D.: Vampire, written and illustrated by Brazilian wondertwins Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, which hits stands in March. Following the story of Simon Anders, it is “one doomed agent’s quest for revenge against a clan of vampires and their gorgon-eyed queen.” So, in a word, awesome. With an ever-expanding empire at his fingertips, we leaped at the chance to sit down with the multi-talented Mignola to talk everything from what inspired his vision of Hell to the best piece of advice Frank Miller ever gave him. So, without further ado, let’s go to Hell.

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Nerdist: Tell us about B.P.R.D.: Vampire. I understand that it’s a direct sequel to B.P.R.D.: 1948. Where in the chronology does this fit in, and what can fans expect from it?

Mike Mignola: Well, you can expect a really beautiful book which I haven’t actually read yet. It takes place shortly after B.P.R.D.: 1948. I originally thought it was going to run parallel to that book, but I try not to tell John Arcudi what to do and I don’t want to say, “You have to coordinate with these other guys.” But John actually did come in and deal with the Simon character in B.P.R.D.: 1948. If Vampire takes place after ’48, maybe you can walk this guy by in the background, you know, reintroduce him. John actually did quite a bit with him, though, which he coordinated with Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, who wrote and drew the Vampire book, so I suspect it takes place within a year or so after 1948.

N: While I love your art, I was very excited to see that Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá were handling art duties. How did they get involved?

MM: I’ve loved the idea for a long time of this B.P.R.D. agent who’s become infected with this vampire thing, which we started back in 1947. We did this gag back in B.P.R.D.: 1947, Joshua Dysart and I, and I love that this guy was screwed. There was just no way this guy was ever going to get back to being normal. I had no plans to get back to that, but we wanted to do another project with Gabriel and Fábio and they’re really good, really interesting writers. I love Daytripper even though I only understood a quarter of it, and I asked them if they’d be interested in taking this Simon character who they kind of created in 1947 and just running with it in any direction they wanted to go. I had an idea of how to start things off and some directions it could go, but I really wanted to say, “Here’s a character. We don’t have any plans for this character. Let’s treat this guy as your character. Here’s a suggestion on how to start and you just take it wherever you want to take it.”

bprd-vampireHopefully, what will happen with this book – and I know they have a million other things they want to do – is that this character will be sitting here, waiting anytime you want to come back and pick up this character again. You can continue to move him into any direction you’d like to take him. There are no plans to funnel him back into the main B.P.R.D. stuff, unless of course the twins want to do that. Since it is about a character who’s kind of disappearing into that supernatural world, they’re ideal for it, because the two of them working together, they have these two different art styles and they can bounce back and forth. Turn him into a good guy, turn him into a bad guy – do whatever you want with him.

It’s similar to what we did with Cameron Stewart with the Ashley Strode character in B.P.R.D.: Exorcism. We said, “Hey, Cameron, here’s this character – do you want to use her? We have no plans for her, you can do whatever you want with her.” I suggested a way to sort of start things up with here and said, “From here on out, you come back anytime you want and pick up where you left off with her.”

N: It’s nice to hear that you’re creating a sort of Hellboy empire with various writers and artists you like. Do people prefer to write for these characters or is it a situation where they get the opportunity then fall in love with it?

MM: Well, again, for the most part, John Arcudi writes everything. Scott Allie is now writing Abe Sapien with me, but it’s mostly Scott writing that. The twins could have done whatever they wanted, but I was very glad they picked up this Simon character that they created. The beauty of that is saying, “make him into what you want to make him into.” It’s an experiment – both these books  - it’s an experiment in letting someone else write the books. What’s worked really well with all the Hellboy stuff is, for the most part, it’s been me, John Arcudi, and Scott Allie. That’s been the creative brain that’s been generating all this stuff. Bringing in all these other guys isn’t the goal for me. There’s millions of great guys out there, but we kind of like this small family. But you do run into a couple guys who are really good and want to write their own stuff. And my feeling on that is I don’t want to step on John Arcudi’s toes – let’s take things away from John Arcudi and make sure he wasn’t going to use them. And John hates vampires, so I knew that would be okay. [laughs] So, we’ll take these characters and hand them over to these other guys; it makes for a richer world, but the last thing I want to do is have people come in and say, “Oh, I’ve got to undo everything John Arcudi did.” As long as he’s happy, I want to keep that guy doing what he wants to do.

BPRDvampire1-pageN: You, John Arcudi, and Scott Allie are at the nucleus of this Hellboy universe. How difficult is it to keep all the various, sprawling storylines straight? How much coordination is there across titles?

MM: Well, it’s really easy. There’s a little bit of coordinating that Scott did with John with Abe Sapien because he’s taking him out of the regular B.P.R.D. run off on his own thing. Scott’s Abe book and John’s B.P.R.D. book both take place in the same world, so they do have to check to see if we blew up this city, can I use this character, did we reference this and so on. There’s some coordinating which goes on between them, which happens anyway because Scott is the editor of these books. For me, there’s nothing, because I’m off doing Hellboy in Hell, which, for the most part, doesn’t impact these other books. We discuss the direction of stuff, but even with John Arcudi, I barely do that anymore, because those characters in B.P.R.D. are so much his characters and we discuss the world, what’s going on with the world. I get a little bit more hands-on when we discuss historical stuff and events that take place in the past of this world because my job is sort of the keeper of the history of the B.P.R.D., and all the historical stuff in our version of the world, so I’ll stick my nose in and say, “Can we tie this into that? Or there’s this legend or piece of mythology I’d like to get in there – can we work this into that?” As far as what the characters are doing on a day in, day out basis, I mostly leave that to Scott and John.

N: Speaking of Hellboy in Hell, I know that this story was a long time in the making. When you’ve been thinking about these images and plotlines for so long, is it more challenging on yourself to get it exactly right?

MM: Yeah, the problem is always going to be when you’ve been thinking about a particular image or storyline for five years and you sit down and draw it, you go, “Oh, I thought it was going to look better than that.” Stuff always looks better inside your head. Fortunately, I was so champing at the bit to do that book that I got through the first couple issues almost on pure adrenaline. I was so excited to be doing it that I didn’t really stop and beat myself up over “this doesn’t look right” or “that could be better.” It’s kind of a slow introduction to the world, even though the second issue’s entirely a tour of the world, we only see snapshots, little slivers of that world, and I know that I plan to do so much stuff in this world, I kept telling myself, “Don’t drive yourself crazy – you’ll have plenty of time to go back and go into more detail. That’ll look better the next time you draw it.” You know, that kind of stuff.

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Frank Miller, when I started the first Hellboy, gave me a piece of advice. He said, “Don’t drive yourself crazy because no matter what you to do, you’re going to hate it.” You can spend nine days on that page and a year from now, you’ll look back and you’ll hate it. You just have to get in there, get it done and keep moving. I’m not saying to just get in there and bang it out as I’ve had editors in the past tell me, “That’s good enough.” I am slow, I take my time, but you have to let yourself off the hook at some point. If I work on a page for three days, it’s not going to be any better. And that’s part of the beauty of calling Hellboy an ongoing series. There’s a little bit less pressure than if you’re doing a mini-series. If I can get into the rhythm of this book and think “that’s just another issue of this giant thing,” it’s a little bit easier on a psychological level to get through it. I love doing short stories, but if there are only eight pages, you can’t have a bad page. If I’m doing Hellboy in Hell, there’s going to be 10,000 pages. If there’s a clunker every now and then, that’s not so bad. If there’s a clunker in an eight-page story, that kind of sucks. [laughs] So, you try to get into that kind of Jack Kirby mindset. I sure wish I could have worked as fast as he did; I don’t think Jack was stressing over every single page.

N: The Hell here is very different from what we saw in Hellboy Junior. Tell us about what inspired your design for the Hell we see here.

MM: My Hell is entirely made of things I wanted to draw a picture of, which is why you get a lot of old Victorian, Dickensian architecture. I love buildings that are old and creaky and kind of leaning over – stuff like that. There’s going to be different parts of Hell; we’re going to travel around. I want to do some big landscape stuff, some real  big landscapes and I want to do some real odd locations. Issue 5 takes place largely in a cemetery, but it’s a monster of a cemetery because it is Hell and I wanted to certain things to be kind of grounded, but I want the fantasticness of giant statues that when you walk past them, their heads turn – that kind of stuff.

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N: So, to clarify, Hellboy in Hell will be an ongoing series, correct?

MM: Yes, it will be an ongoing series. I don’t know how often it’s going to come out. Part of the problem is that I do have to do the trade paperback covers and I’ve got two other books that will be coming out… someday. Right now, I’m kind of in this hole between issue 4 and issue 5 where I’ve got a lot of odds and ends to get done. I’d love nothing more than to finish one issue of Hellboy in Hell then go right into the next one, but it’s just not the reality of the situation.

N: Those two other books you mentioned… is there anything you can tell us about those?

MM: [pause] Not really. They’re both about characters that have been in the Hellboy world that haven’t gotten enough screen time. One of them in particular popped up briefly then went away. Some characters show up, do their job then leave – you put them away – but there are other characters, when you go to put them away, they say, “Wait a minute, I have 6,000 other stories,” you know? So then you have to go back and write a book about them.

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N: Well, I’m looking forward to these 6,000 mystery stories. Shifting gears a bit, can you tell us anything about the status of the B.P.R.D. movie? 

MM: Yeah, you’ve heard more than me. I’ve heard nothing other than that brief comment Del Toro made last year in San Diego, “Yeah, I’d like to do Hellboy again.” I think if anyone were making a B.P.R.D. movie, they would have said something to me. So, yeah, unfortunately, there’s no movement on that stuff.

N: Well, hopefully, they’ll read this interview and get to it.

MM: [laughs] Yeah, I’m sure that’ll do it.

N: You manage to balance being a writer and an artist quite well; do you find that you prefer one over the other?  Is it easier for you to function as writer/artist, or do you prefer to work with other people?

MM: It depends. Today is one of those days where I’m fighting a losing battle with this cover I’m drawing. It’s days like this that make me go, “Maybe I should just be a writer. It’s way easier than being an artist. Everyone else seems to draw these things better than I do, so maybe I should just be a writer.” Then you do that for a couple years and think, “Man, do I miss drawing stuff!” The Hellboy in Hell stuff has been really great, writing and drawing for myself. I do enjoy writing for other people, but I can’t imagine working with another writer myself because I’m so spoiled, especially now. I make up stories comprised entirely of stuff I wanted to draw. Working with another writer, they’ll invariably come up with something you didn’t and you’ll go, “Ugh, I don’t draw cars because I don’t want to draw cars!” [laughs] I’ve been very fortunate in that the artists I’ve worked with are really really good. Like Duncan Fegredo or Richard Corben – these guys can draw anything, so that gives you the freedom to make up a story without worrying “I can’t draw that” or “I don’t want to draw that.” It’s awfully nice.

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N: What comics are you reading and enjoying right now?

MM: Ordinarily, I say that I don’t read comics; I look at a lot of stuff. Lately, though, I’ve been reading. Fantagraphics reprinted the old Hal Foster Prince Valiant stuff and I’ve been reading that. Every once in a while, I’ll get something with the intention to just look at the pictures and I won’t be able to put it down. I think the last time that happened was the Ed Brubaker Criminal stuff. I could not put those books down. Plus, Ed gave me copies. I started looking at them, started reading, then BOOM! That’s what happened with the Prince Valiant stuff. As I mentioned earlier, the desire to do more landscapes in Hellboy in Hell comes from looking at this Prince Valiant stuff and going, “Yeah, I want to do some of these big vista shots.”

N: One last question! What’s in your ideal burrito?

MM: Ugh…. it has to have steak, white rice, black beans – I go to Chipotle all the time so I see them making it – mild salsa, sour cream and cheese.

Dark Horse’s Hellboy in Hell #3 is available at your local comic book store now, and you can keep up with the Mike Mignola’s myriad projects on his website.

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