SDCC 09: Mike Mignola Hunts Vampires W/ Baltimore

SDCC 09: Mike Mignola Hunts Vampires

It was at this weekend’s Comi-Con International: San Diego that Dark Horse announced that Mike Mignola and author Christopher Golden were bringing the character and story of Lord Baltimore to the comics medium in a new miniseries set to debut later this year. Originally conceived and released as an illustrated novel entitled Baltimore: Or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire.

The novel tells the story of a World War I era man who during the trench-fighting in Europe earned the animus of a vengeful vampire named the Red King. This vampire then killed Baltimore’s family, setting a burning fire in this man’s soul that led him on a single-minded pursuit of his own vengeance.

But a man’s vengeance cannot be contained in one novel – it has spilled over into Mignola’s home medium of comics with long-time publisher Dark Horse debuting a five-issue miniseries chronicling an untold ten year span of Baltimore’s globe-spanning collision course with the vampire known as the Red King.

 For this, Mignola reteams with the novel’s co-writer Christopher Golden and Witchfinder artist Ben Stenbeck. We caught up with Mignola shortly before Comi-Con itself to get a better idea of this story.

Newsarama: Mike, let’s talk about the comic series of Baltimore. Fans may not know this, but it’s based on a novel you did awhile back with Christopher Golden. How’d this finally end up comics?

Mike Mignola: Well, we always knew there was a giant hole in the novel. Halfway through the book, there’s a part where we jump over about ten years of the guy’s life. We said even then while doing the novel, that those 10 years were comprised of him chasing this vampire he’s after.

So the idea was always that we could do another book set in this period – or multiple book – or comics even. We talked about spinning out a new story bridging the gap in the middle of the novel.

The more we talked about this ten year gap, we knew that we didn’t want to step on the end of the novel but do something unique and distinctly separate. But this ten year period, Baltimore is chasing the Red King all across Europe, Asia, and the game in writing it would be just to pull out a map and point, saying “he goes from here to here, and here…” You get the idea.

NRAMA: A cross-country, map-hopping thing. How do you view Baltimore? Your stories seem very character-oriented, so why did you pin it all on him?

MIGNOLA: I love the character, the real simple motivation of a guy who is looking for the man who ruined his life. He never catches him, but he comes close – glimpses him – but the whole time he’s chasing the Red King he stumbles upon other stuff.

NRAMA: How would you compare Baltimore with someone like your other main creation, Hellboy?

MIGNOLA: The character of Baltimore is so different from Hellboy. Where Hellboy is light and a goofy wiseass at times, Baltimore is pretty grim – closer to Solomon Kane.

NRAMA: Let’s get back to Baltimore. Where’s he going with this?

MIGNOLA: In the novel, Baltimore has pissed on this vampire during a time where a supernatural plague is coming over the world. This is during the World War I era, but in this story that’s coming to a screeching halt because of the plague – the supernatural stuff as a whole is more active than it would have been.

At some point of the comic he’s in Italy and rubbing up against Italian folklore elements, while when he is in Russia he would come across Russian folklore.

NRAMA: Folklore is something you seem to have a real interest in, Mike.

MIGNOLA: Both Christopher and I are into folklore and mythological stuff. Baltimore is a little bit like Hellboy, wherein it’s a game of having this guy interact with supernatural elements.

NRAMA: You mentioned Russia and Italy and their folklore. With the success of Hellboy, have you had a chance to go to these places and seek out these stories first hand?

MIGNOLA: I’ve been to some of them, and I actually know the places that Chris has been to that he wants to use.

But you know, when you travel to these places now, it’s not like you step off the plane in Budapest and “Oh, it feels just like Dracula country”. That shit isn’t there anymore.

NRAMA: [laughs]

MIGNOLA: Some people might think that when I get there an old monk leads me to this archive, but actually the reality of it all is on my bookshelf. These books tell the stories and histories of a place that only exists in the past now.

NRAMA: Let’s go from the past to the future – when do you expect the first issue of the Baltimore comic coming out?

MIGNOLA: Probably in the next couple months, we’ll start. The artist, Ben Stenbeck, is finishing up work on the Witchfinder miniseries and we plan on giving him the first script for Baltimore as soon as he’s ready.

NRAMA: This speaks to a larger issue – your collaboration with Christopher Golden. With the novel I’ve read that you supplied the initial plot, and then you collaborated on the story and he wrote the novel. What’s the comic been like?

MIGNOLA: We hammered out the story for the Baltimore comic book over the phone in about 15 minutes. So far we haven’t had the idea to talk about it too much, but since we spent so much time on the novel it’s really easy to write this thing.

For this, we’ll probably plot it together and then Chris will write the script.

NRAMA: You’ve got a lot on your plate, from the various Hellboy miniseries to working on movies. How do you find time for it all?

MIGNOLA: I’m trying desperately to get back into drawing comics more, and not get into real writing. Chris wrote the novel, so I think it’s best if we go that route for the comic as well. For this it’s more back-and-forth – I have some ideas, and Chris has some ideas for stories as well. In some cases Chris might write one from scratch, while I might later write one myself when I think it’s right.

NRAMA: When I first saw your name and this title, “Baltimore”, I thought you might had it out for the city of Baltimore. I was wrong, but where’d the idea for this, especially the title, come from?

MIGNOLA: I was watching this movie in a theatre, and it was terrible and boring. It had nothing to do with Baltimore, but it was set in an Italian village. The whole time I was looking at the town, and these old buildings and the costumes they wore.

Because the movie was so boring, I started making up this story and the name “Baltimore” just popped in my head as the name of the character. There was no work involved, it was just – BOOM! – and there it was.

We ended up walking out of this movie about halfway through – maybe even only 15 or 20 minutes into it, but while I was in the theatre I came up with the whole story of Baltimore.

NRAMA: Doing it as a novel is a first for you. Why’d you decide to debut it in prose instead of your coMIGNOLAon form, comics?.

MIGNOLA: I originally conceived of Baltimore as a graphic novel, but I realized I’d never have time to do it.

At that time, the Hellboy movies were starting to happen and I was also beginning to write and co-write some of the expanded Hellboy comics. I didn’t have enough time to do Hellboy, let alone anything else. So it was tough… I didn’t want to let it go, and I initially thought about cannibalizing some of the ideas from Baltimore for Hellboy but I really liked how the idea for Baltimore stood on it’s own.

So I told Chris, who I’ve worked with in the past, about this giant project I hope to do something with. After awhile I finally called him up and said, “I’m never going to get this done unless you’d be interested in collaborating on it”. And while I knew I could draw this as a graphic novel, I would be able to draw some of the imagery in the book. So that was why there was so many damn illustrations in the book. They were all particular moments I wanted to draw.

NRAMA: You’ll be doing the covers for the comic book, but not the interiors. What’s it like handing over the story to another artist – namely, Ben Stenbeck?

MIGNOLA: It’s great. He’s got a style that’s not like mine, but he can really pull off the period stuff – he just loves it. And he thinks about the period stuff on more than just a surface level, and he’s got a really good design sense. What I didn’t want was someone who would come in and make this a fantasy comic. For a scene with an Italian village, I want him to really make it look real – down to all the weird little details of the time.

If you look at his work on Witchfinder, you see all that Victorian London stuff that he’s done so well.

I love it that he’s a guy that does his homework, and loves that aspect of the job.

NRAMA: Athough this isn’t connected directly to Hellboy, you’ve got your fair share of vampires and folklore in this book...

MIGNOLA: Well, it’s the same only for the reason that we’re dealing with the same kind of source material. But after that, it’s a fairly different world.

This is set during the period of World War I, and in this world it’s more steampunk. It’s kind of a parallel earth where the War was building up to be a much bigger kind of event, but we only barely touched upon that in the novel.

This World War I is going to be massive – more scientific advances, with fleets of submarines, giant war machines, and the larger supernatural elements coming to play. And all this came to a screeching halt as a result of the plague, so we’ll be seeing the ruins of that kind of stuff.

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