Mike Mignola's known for monsters, but in March he's going back to one of the originals: Frankenstein's Monster.
On March 18, Frankenstein: Underground #1 will hit newsstands as Mignola and collaborator Ben Stenbeck re-introduce the famed monster created by Mary Shelley to readers in the first of a five-issue mini-series. Mignola promises to take the Frankenstein Monster deep into the depths of the earth where he will encounter a host of horrific demons and monstrous creatures as he uncovers the dark secrets of the universe. Mignola took some time to speak with Newsarama about his experience tackling Shelley's most infamous creation and his own love of all things Frankenstein.
Newsarama: You have created your own dark Lovecraftian world – the “Mignolaverse” – with Hellboy, which stands as a testament to your love of all things horror and supernatural. Needless to say, it’s not surprising to find you appreciate Frankenstein’s Monster, but what about this particular scientific miscreation captures your attention in particular?
Mike Mignola: It was surprising as hell to me! The idea of a Frankenstein-like creature is something I've done several times. It's such an icon of the horror scene. You've got a vampire. You've got a reanimated big guy with bolts sticking out of him. I've done it with Hellboy. I've even done it with the apes – almost from the beginning – in Hellboy.
When I did Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, it never really occurred to me that this was the Frankenstein Monster though. I never had any plans to actually use any characters from literature, but when I wrote the back cover copy for that book, it was just funnier to call it the Frankenstein Monster. Once I'd done that, however, I found myself saying "Oh crap! We now have the Frankenstein Monster!"
Nrama: So where did you decide to take Shelley's monster once you had him?
Mignola: I maybe could have left him alone, maybe should have left him alone, but it was just fun to have him. Once I had him, well, I had Ben Stenbeck looking for something to do. So, I said "What if we had a fun book where he [the monster] goes to the center of the earth to fight monsters?" It was that simple of an idea.
The original plan was to do just that, to do an Edgar Rice Burroughs kind of thing where you throw the Frankenstein Monster into it, and it's just going to kind of ramble on for however many issues of him fighting this monster and falling over here and getting eaten by a fish and so on. The second issue is going to be this sort of hit parade of "Shit! What's this? Look – another monster!" but I just can't do a steady diet of that for more than one issue. It was conceived to be something that was fun, but then it gets into the ghost stories and mythological stuff.
Then the Mignolaverse, Hellboy and B.P.R.D. universe stuff started coming into it as well. The result was that it kind of tightened up into this neat and tidy little book that actually ends up saying quite a bit about the future of the Hellboy / B.P.R.D. world.
Nrama: Now with Mary Shelley, we see the monster as being more of a dark reflection of his maker – Dr. Frankenstein, whose lofty pursuit of godlike power through science makes him – in some ways - a much more horrific being than his creation. Are you looking to pursue similar themes in Frankenstein: Underground, or instead, can readers expect a new and different perspective on the monster?
Mignola: Well, I think I was well into plotting out the idea before I started to realize "Oh crap! This is Mary Shelley's monster." I'm familiar with her stuff, I've read it, and I do reference specific bits from the book later on. But because I didn't really start with the idea of her monster, the plot was never really about him.
Nrama: What then did you find was the most challenging aspect of taking on Shelley’s monster?
Mignola: It was probably the trickiest to try and come up with the voice for the monster. I wasn't writing the eloquent Shelley monster. When I did him in Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, he grunted and said all of four words. I didn't want that same creature to now suddenly begin making big, long speeches. I kind of had to find some balance. For me, in spite of reading the book, all of my affections are for Boris Karloff's Frankstein. The challenge, then, was finding a way to make the grunting Karloff Frankenstein Monster jive with that of Shelley's creature. That's why I went out of my way to make a few references to the book. There are a few flashbacks from the book. My thoughts were that he was the character, but he's been so beaten down over the years that he's become – not quite an animal – but definitely someone who is no longer given to giving long, drawn out speeches. So, while there are aspects of Shelley in there, I had to go with my gut for how I saw this monster and how to make this all come together.
Nrama: Right. After all, there are elements of the original prose novel that seem like they would be challenging, especially the long soliloquies, and wouldn't work near so well in comics form.
Mignola: Well, you know, I'd be afraid to try and pull those off. I can do it occasionally, but generally, I need to internalize a character and make him my own. The idea of second-guessing myself and asking what would Mary Shelley do? That I can' do. I've read it, I've internalized it, and I'm mixing it up with all of the other elements that are floating around inside of me. Now I have my Frankenstein's Monster. It has to be mine…or I just can't write it.
Have you seen the movie Penny Dreadful?
Nrama: No, unfortunately, I haven't yet.
Mignola: There's a Frankenstein's Monster in there that, had I seen it before doing this book, I don't know if I would have done it. It was probably the best version of the Shelley monster that I've ever seen. It's so beautifully done, but fortunately, I was already too deep into Frankenstein: Underground to turn back.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier that your version of Frankenstein Monster back in Hellboy: House of the Living Dead, which sort of a mashup homage to the world of luchadores and the classic Universal monster movies. Yet, the end of the first issue of this new series seems to strike a very different tone.
Mignola: My monster is a really sad character. I mean, he's sad in the Shelley version, but he's mostly pissed – and rightly so! But the Karloff Monster is so heartbreaking. For me, Bride of Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite movies, and he's so tragic in that. That's colored so much of how I've handled him.
There's also quite a bit of religion in this that I don't usually do. You know, old school Catholic-type stuff that I've attached to the monster. But really, he's a vehicle for telling this other story. He's the central character, but dealing with who he is and where he comes from and the angst of what he's done, that's his baggage – but it's not the focus of the story.
Nrama: So why was now the right time to tell this story? What was your line of thinking in breaking Frankenstein's Monster apart from the Hellboy storyline where we first met him and give him his own mini-series?
Mignola: Like so many things we do, it had to do with an artist that was looking to be off one of book and looking for something else to do. When Ben was making some noise about being off Baltimore, we knew we needed to find something else for him to do.
I very rarely make up a book and then go looking for an artist. Instead, it will run more along the lines of "Oh, this is the guy for this thing, so let's get a book in the works" because I don't want to do a book and get the wrong artist. I've got ideas for a whole bunch of different books and at some point, you meet the right artist and you go "I've got something for you!" and boom! That's how it works.
Nrama: I think you're looking at my notes! I was just going to ask what fueled your decision behind bringing Ben Stenbeck on board to man the artistic duties. Still, were there any aspects of Ben’s visual storytelling surprised you after the finished art started coming in?
Mignola: I don't know that anything surprised. I think Ben did everything I asked him to do. Ben's really good. He's very solid, and he's very given to doing his research. The one element I was a little nervous about was that this is a fantasy book, and it's not one that takes place in a given time period. Most of it is underground, and we're dealing with lost cities, monsters, and shit like that. I hadn't seen Ben do much of that kind of stuff. I knew he did the Victorian era stuff and the Baltimore era material so well. So I can't say I'm surprised he pulled it off because he's just really, really good. He did such an excellent job of capturing the personality, the sadness of the monster I wrote. Ben's wonderful with character stuff like that.
At this point, I don't think Ben's going to surprise me with anything. Clearly, he's ready to do anything. We've already talked about other projects we're ready to do beyond Frankenstein Underground that we're both pretty excited about.
I'm a very lucky boy to get to work with Ben.
Nrama: Not only have you tackling Frankenstein’s Monster in this series, but you’ve also worked with other classic monsters, correct? There were some of the Universal monsters you worked on in trading cards format as well as working on the Francis Ford Coppola film Bram Stoker's Dracula. Are there any out there you’d still like to try your hand at writing or drawing?
Mignola: Um… Is there? No? I don't generally look at them like that. There's a ton of stuff in mythology and folklore that is loaded with wonderful creatures that I haven't drawn yet, but that's kind of my retirement plan. Theoretically, I won't be doing comics any longer, and I'll just drawing and painting whatever the hell I want. Most of that will be monsters. So I'm sure there are things that I'm just not recalling to mind. But there isn't a laundry list where I'm thinking to myself "Whoa! I've got to work this guy in!"
Of course, two minutes after we finish this interview, there will be all of these characters I didn't think about! But for now, there's nothing that I am really chomping at the bit to do that I haven't already done.
Nrama: Suppose there are readers who are largely unfamiliar with Hellboy and the rest of the Mignolaverse – what sort of barriers might they encounter – if any – with Frankenstein: Underground?
Mignola: I don't think there are any. There will be bits where I recap certain things, and I think I recap them well enough to say "Okay, I know enough to keep going." It's hard to say when you've written all of this stuff, it seems like it stands on its own. But I've got all of this shit in my head, so it's hard to say for sure. But my goal with all of the different books is to let them stand on their own. However, if you read more of the Hellboy world, there is a character in the first issue that's from B.P.R.D. Still, I think you get everything need about that character in this issue without having to read those past stories.
Overall, I think new readers will have fun; it's just that as you read more of this stuff, then you can appreciate what we're referencing in different places. I don't think it hinges of a giant knowledge of the greater world.