Novelist Thomas Wolfe once wrote that “you can’t go home again,” but Hellboy has proved him wrong – and shown the consequences – in the recently debuted series Hellboy In Hell. Launched in December with Mike Mignola writing and drawing the book for the first time since 2011, Hellboy In Hell shows the Right Hand of Doom returning to his namesake homeland to find that it’s a lot different than what he imagined.
The first arc concluded with March’s Hellboy In Hell #4, with Mignola taking a brief break to get ready for the second arc. Newsarama spoke with the writer/artist about Hell’s prodigal son returning home and seeing his birthright, meeting a surprising Satan, and finding his way in the afterlife.Newsarama: Let's ease into this, Mike. What are you working on today?
Mike Mignola: Today I am continuing to obsess over the Hellboy In Hell trade paperback cover.
Nrama: Is there something you're trying to get just right, or…
Mignola: The problem is this is the important cover for important book; my most important book in a really long time. I've come up with six different half-finished covers, but none are quite doing it. God knows how long is this going to take.
Nrama: Hellboy In Hell #4 came out earlier this month, culminating this series' first arc. We’ve seen a lot in your little tour of hell, from Hellboy's destined army, his father, and even a version of Satan as a recluse. What can you tell us about the series so far?
Mignola: This one is the last part of settling into Hell. The first four issues are really all about introducing him into that world. It's him making peace with his place in that world and the fourth issue is kind of the wrap-up of that.
There is a lot of information about another character and just getting some of Hellboy's thinking about where he is, where he's going from here and sets the stage for what I really want to do: a lot of small 1 and 2 issue stories of Hellboy traveling around and exploring that world. But first I had to settle him into that world. That's where we are with issue #4 – settling him in.
Nrama: In an interview I read earlier this year you described Hellboy In Hell as a tour of sorts into this homeland for him. How would you describe the shape of Hell?Mignola: I actually lead off issue six with that — a little geography lesson of Hell. I se it very much as a world; not far off from Milton's Hell in Paradise Lost. My Hell has Pandemonium, the capital city, right in the center and surrounded by a sea. Around that is a city what we've seen in a few panels so far; this sprawling jumble of old buildings that is build in a ring around it all. Then there's stuff outside of that.
I don't necessarily want to make map of it, because it's real fluid and there's always going to be different kind of areas to explore. But basically it's series of circles with the pit of hell in the center; sort of like a big drain.
Nrama: [laughs] Centering in on Hellboy here, seeing him come back makes me thing of the biblical story of the Prodigal Son. Is he, in a way, the prodigal son for Hell and his father, Azzael?
Mignola: He is kind of the ungrateful son. From the perspective of his family, they see him as the one chosen to receive this wonderful gift. But he doesn't want it, because from a his perspective it's not that wonderful a gift. So basically, Hellboy comes back and says, "Yeah, I see people sacrificed to make me what I am, but I don't want it."
And that's kind of the culmination of what I've been doing for years, with Hellboy being told he's fated for this, or destined for that, blah blah blah. And I just want to sever all ties with that. But to do that, Hellboy had to go down, get a look at it and get a big dose of it like shown in Hellboy In Hell #2 and #3. We showed all the stuff that was meant for him, and what he's able to do with that, but Hellboy pushes back and finally says "No! I said no before, and I mean no. Leave me alone."
The bigger idea of Hellboy In Hell isn't what Hellboy becomes, but what happens to Hell itself when he goes there and refuses to be these things. That has a giant impact on Hell itself.
Nrama: Have you already started looking ahead to issue #5 and going forward?
Mignola: I should be in the middle of issue 5 but I haven't started because of the number of covers giving me fits. Hellboy In Hell #5 is plotted and thumbnailed, and I should be finishing it in a couple of months which will wrap up the material for the first paperback.
I've got the material for the next five issues, which will become Volume 2, all figured out; not that it might not change once I get there. Then after that, I already have a pretty good idea of what the next five issues will be. I've got so much material I want to do, it's just a matter of arranging these stories in some kind order. I've got a lot to do, lot to figure out, but still just tip of iceberg of what I want to do. I’ve said many times, can't imagine doing anything in comics other than Hellboy In Hell, because it's a bottomless pit of material to play with.Nrama: One of the most shocking displays we've seen in series is the fate of Satan, a recluse living in the basement of Hell's capital city as a bit of a recluse. How'd your ideas for how Satan would be here develop?
Mignola: I've had it for awhile. It was mentioned once in Hellboy: The Wild Hunt with Duncan Fegredo that Satan's been sleeping in the basement for 2000 years. I've liked that idea for a long time, that Hell would be ruled by a bunch of other guys, while the guy who started everything is retired and down in the basement. What I like is that when Hellboy comes to Hell, everyone says "Holy shit, let's get out of here!" and they either don't think to wake the guy in the basement or purposefully leave him behind. Satan is completely abandoned; maybe they haven't given him much thought in thousands of years because he's a king whose in retirement. He's not running the show anymore.
I went back and forth on whether Hellboy would confront Satan in this series. When I did the first issue, I wasn't sure I was going to spell out what happened down there. You saw a little more of what happened in Hellboy In Hell #4, but there's still room for me to go back and say a little bit more about what happened down there.
Originally this idea for Satan was a cute idea thrown out there, but it's grown to be a big deal that's going to continue to affect the book as the series progresses.
Nrama: Seems like simple little twist storytelling-wise, but my mind keeps coming back to the juxtaposition of it all.Mignola: Exactly. I wanted some way to dismantle or disrupt the governing body of Hell. To have that governing body of Hell, princes and whatever, scatter. But I though that if I go that one step further and really destroy it by taking the king out of the picture, that's pretty big. That's a pretty big destruction of what Hell has been for however many thousands or millions of years it's been there.
I really wanted to take Hell and do almost what we're doing with Earth in B.P.R.D.: infect it in some way so that it can change a lot. More and more, Hellboy In Hell is about Hellboy in hell, but also how Hell reacts to Hellboy being there.
Nrama: Hellboy's part demon, and Satan is the king of hell – we've met other relatives of Hellboy, but are he and Satan related in some way?
Mignola: If they're related, it's one of those super distance relationships. Since I started Hellboy, some people, for whatever reason, have said that he's the son of Satan – but he's not. There's a whole family tree, and if they're even related at all then it's way way back. It'd be like us claiming we're related to Adam and Eve; if you trace it back far enough, maybe. My view of the cosmology there is that there were a certain number of angels either exiled or thrown down into Hell. It wasn't just Satan and everything sprang from him; it was Satan and his gang, and Hellboy descended from one of the members of that gang.
Nrama: In your Hellboy and B.P.R.D. stories you've always found inspiration from ancient fairy tales. With Hellboy now in hell, could we see some of the more demonic or hell-based stories of old influence stories you tell here? You mentioned Paradise Lost earlier in our conversation.Mignola: Definitely. Issue 5 is actually a loose adaptation of an old Grimm's fairy tale. So I want to continue to do these kind of adaptations where I draw on mythology and folklore. As we get further into the book, we will be seeing different mythological version beyond the Christian or Miltonian Hell we've seen so far. We'll get into older Pagan, Greek and Roman versions of Hell. I've got a storyline about that kind of stuff. Their hells have a lot more spectacular monsters in it, so we'll get some of that.
One of things I've always stumbled over a bit when it comes to bringing in folklore and mythology is that if I wanted to adapt a Japanese or Indian folktale, Hellboy had to be in Japan or India. That meant it had to look like Japan or India. If I do those same stories in Hell, I can do my own version of Japan or my own version of India without it having to bear resemblance to the real Earth version of those places. I Want to show Hellboy wandering through Hell, visiting a sort of Asia, and a sort of Middle East; soon he's going through a Hell version of Eastern Europe. With Hellboy In Hell I'll be able to draw on and adapt these various folktales, but in a much more fantastic way. So as an artist I have more freedom to create those worlds.
Nrama: Last question, Mike... Hellboy's never been all that interested in his lineage, but after dying at the hands of a dragon and being forced into hell he's being pushed down that path. What would Hellboy do if he didn't have all these obligations weighing down on him?
Mignola: Well, if none of that stuff ever came and if Hellboy was never told he was the Beast of the Apocalypse or any of that other crap then he'd probably be on Earth as a member of the B.P.R.D.; one of the guys, a working stiff. It really only fell apart when Hellboy quit the B.P.R.D., and that was because he'd heard one too many times that he's this, or he's that. If Hellboy had just kept his day job and not listened or thought about what people said about him, he'd be written by John Arcudi and be in B.P.R.D.. And he'd be having a better time there, even though the world sucks over there too.