Mike Mignola is a busy man.
After years working full-time in the comics medium, in 1992 he began moonlighting in the world of film as an illustrator on the movie Bram Stoker's Dracula. After 1994’s debut of Hellboy in comics form, Mignola continued to find time to work on films. After subsequent work on Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, it was on the set of Blade 2 that he met the man who would help him bring Hellboy to movies: director Guillermo Del Toro. That collaboration produced two live-action movies, several animated ones and even pulled Mignola in to help design the look of del Toro's upcoming movie, The Hobbit.
While Mignola wasn’t the first cartoonist to work in Hollywood, his successes and involvement in the feature film adaptation of his book Hellboy became the measuring stick for creators with creator-owned books trying to make a dent in Hollywood. But he’s leaving all that behind to return to comics full-time.
“It’s funny because, when I was doing comics full time it was a dull daily grind… but now that I’m not doing it, that’s all I want to do,” said Mignola. “Because of the success of Hellboy in movies my life got more complicated, and it’s forced me to jump around a lot: I have two days to do this, then I stop to do this, and then I jump over and do a cover or pin-up real quick. My focus has been spread all over the place, and while it’s fun to expand this thing the way it has I miss the old days sometime.”
The old days, as Mignola says, trace back to 1980 where he debuted doing pin-ups for the Comic Reader magazine. After some early work at Marvel on titles such as Daredevil and Rocket Racoon, Mignola moved over to DC where he made a name for himself with the miniseries Gotham by Gaslight which spawned DC’s Elseworlds concept. The character of Batman soon become one he was very affiliated with, which pushed him to darker depths that would foretell future work on Hellboy.
a self-portraitAs I get older, what I really want to do – and what I enjoy to do – is writing and drawing my own stories,” Mignola said. “So that means I’ve go to focus. The trouble is that in the average shower, I dream up the story for an entire 5 issue miniseries. I end up making up stories so fast that my drawing hand can’t keep up. I’m a slow artist – I’d have to say only 2% of what I make up I could end up drawing myself.”
For the debut Hellboy miniseries, Mignola had no experience writing his own stories so he enlisted veteran cartoonist John Byrne. Subsequent stories saw him stretch his legs as the sole writer of Hellboy, which has continued through all major story arcs of the character himself. But as Hellboy universe grew more popular, the titles expanded to included spin-off miniseries such as BPRD and other stories that saw writers John Arcudi and Christopher Golden come in to co-write with Mignola.
“So then that’s where writing comes in, and handing it off to co-write with guys like John Arcudi or Christopher Golden,” Mignola said of his frequent collaborators. “When you start writing a whole bunch of comics, it does take time. Fortunately I have John and Chris – I can make it up and give it to those guys to flesh it out. There are certain stories, like Hellboy for instance, that I keep to myself to write. I’m writing something for Richard Corben now, and hope to continue that. I also write for Duncan Fegredo, but after that I’m not looking to expand or create new series for the Hellboy world.”
The most recent addition to the Hellboy world was that of Witchfinder. This new miniseries debuted back in July 2009, and saw Mignola team up with artist Ben Stenbeck to chronicle the nineteenth-century occult investigator Edward Grey.
“Witchfinder was the last expansion to the Hellboy world,” explained Mignola. “We’re doing a Lobster Johnson book that I’m co-writing with John Arcudi, but it’s mostly him. It’s the same way with the BPRD books, so it doesn’t demand too much of my time.”
As for what exactly is on his drawing table right now, he’s got several writing projects to finish up and a big itch to return to drawing more.
“What I’m doing now is wrapping up the last couple scripts for Hellboy: The Wild Hunt and Witchfinder,” said Mignola. “When that stuff is done, I’ll start writing the next Hellboy comic and go back to drawing again. I promised myself not to expand the Hellboy universe to any more titles.”
But fans of Mignola’s linework do not fret, for he wants to draw as much as you want him to.
“I will continue to co-write BPRD with John Arcudi and continue writing Hellboy for Duncan Fegredo, but besides that my main thing is going back to drawing stories myself,” said the career cartoonist. And the first project I want to do is some stories that will act as companion pieces to The Amazing Screw-On Head. Not with the character itself, but set in that kind of world. The plan is to put out a collection of three stories under the banner Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects.”
While 2010 will mark his thirtieth year in the comics industry, Mignola still has a long life ahead – so where does he see himself in 10 years?
“My dream job is making up stories about monsters,” said Mignola matter-of-factly. “What I want to do in comics is be a full time comic artist. The film stuff was interesting, but ultimately not very satisfying. Most of the work you do doesn’t surface at all. It’s gone through so many hands that you don’t see it in the final product. It’s been an interesting experience, but I don’t really have much to show for it.”
“The 3 months I might spend working on pre-production for a movie, I could spend in the studio and have a full comic to show for it; I’d rather to do that,” said Mignola. Mignola’s last film work was on the upcoming movie The Hobbit, a prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies, which will be directed by his long-time friend Guillermo del Toro. For this project, Mignola was brought onboard as an illustrator, working on both the characters and the setting of the movie. But with years spent working on films, the bright lights of Hollywood didn’t phase him.
“I did that for about a week and a half in New Zealand. Whether anything I did will have any impact, I never really know,” said Mignola. “ It’s always great to work with Guillermo Del Toro, but the downside of working in film is that you never know what of yours will make it since a film goes through so many hands; you don’t know if you’re wasting your time or not.”
Mignola’s worked in various aspects of the film industry, from production designer to art director, producer, creator, writer and even actor – he’s a knight in the first Hellboy film. With all that time spent in the service of making movies and the unique storytelling that involves, we had to ask: does it affect the way he does comics?
“The only thing is it made me so I didn’t have time to draw them,” Mignola laughed. “As far as the way I tell a story, no; the way movies and comics are told is so dramatically different. That’s the mistake some young guys in comics make; they want to be filmmakers, and they attach certain film rules to stories. Comics aren’t movies, and one of the saddest trends in mainstream comics is that a lot of these are just pitches for movies. Comics are their own thing. “
“While there are some comic panels where certain camera angles from movies might be inspired by, and some of my pacing,” said Mignola,” there wasn’t any lightbulb going off in my head while on a movie set enlightening me about a better way to do comics.”
Mike and some Hollywood friendsAs one of the cartoonists with the most years in comics and movies, Mignola has a unique perspective on the comics industry and the recent blossoming of movies, television shows and other media adapted from them.
“Having survived the Hollywood experience, I can tell you from the beginning that Hellboy was never designed to be a movie: I was just trying to make the best comic I could,” stated Mignola. “The more you gear yourself towards trying to make a movie, you cut out what’s really exciting about comics.
Up until the release of The Spirit, one of the questions I’d always get is ‘do you want to direct?’”, Mignola explains. “I must be the last guy in comics who just wants to do comic book. I don’t want to be a businessman, but owning Hellboy
“I have so many stories I want to tell, so that’s what I want to do.”