HELL WEEK: MIKE MIGNOLA Plunges HELLBOY Into Dark Future

HELL WEEK: MIKE MIGNOLA

 

In a comic industry that likes to restart its properties, Mike Mignola is doing the opposite with B.P.R.D. and Hellboy, instead thrusting them forward and plunging them both into Hell.

In 2012, which Dark Horse editor Scott Allie promised would be the "year of Hellboy," fans of the series are being given a year-long, epic event called Hell on Earth, with multiple B.P.R.D. stories set throughout the Hellboy universe.

As Mignola revealed to Newsarama last August, he decided to kill his most recognizable character, Hellboy, so that the world he'd created could progress. As a result, the world has been changed drastically as monsters have stepped up their efforts 

to take over the Earth, and the B.P.R.D. members struggle to keep up.

The writer/artist also got some attention for the B.P.R.D. characters recently when it was announced that a camp in Oregon would be offering a week-long, B.P.R.D.-inspired wilderness training course. Labeled by a camp organization called Trackers PDX as "Hellboy Camp", the event is advertised with the tagline, "Join the B.P.R.D.! The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense needs your help to defend humanity against various occult horrors and paranormal threats."

Mignola was also the inspiration for some recently revealed video game artwork for a Steampunk Batman game based on the artist's graphic novel, Gotham By Gaslight. Although the video game proposal never got off the ground, many fans are calling for its revival.

In the first interview for a series we're calling "Hell Week" here on Newsarama, we talked with Mignola about these latest developments and all his work on the upcoming Hell on Earth and Hellboy in Hell comics.

Newsarama: Mike, you've got quite a year coming up, between all these "Hell on Earth" stories in B.P.R.D. and the Hellboy story you're drawing with him actually in hell.

Mike Mignola: Yeah, I hear there's something going on!

Nrama: Yeah, just a little something! When "Plague of Frogs" ended and you didn't turn things back the way they were after it ended, you really broke the trend of most comic books by evolving the entire universe. It sounds like you're going to push things even further and make this a completely different world with "Hell on Earth?"

Mignola: Yeah. It is going to be a completely different world. In a way, I thought "Plague of Frogs" would end with a more definite "turning the corner" thing. It did happen, but it happened in more of a subtle way than I thought it was going to happen. So big changes happen, they just haven't really blossomed.

So we've had, you know, big monster attacks, and we've had increasing monster stuff, and we've had a plane full of transformed humans crash in an airport, and we've had volcanoes and earthquakes and stuff like that.

The whole idea was, that marks a very definite change in the way things are going to go worldwide. There are a lot of events going on at the same time as that, but it's basically going to be the defining characteristic of Hell on Earth. That's why we went with that title, Hell on Earth, because things are really just, geographically and for the characters, things are taking a pretty ugly downhill slide.

Nrama: Yeah, it was a bit of a slow build, without the drastic change, but it's slowly stitching these things together as part of a much bigger narrative.

Mignola: It is.

Nrama: I know you've got a couple stories coming up this year with Scott Allie, but it's been the regular team of John Arcudi and you on B.P.R.D. How do you and John work together?

Mignola: John and I are working together very closely on the direction of the book, but then I turn stuff over to him as far as how the characters react. My view is much more, I'm kind of this weird overseer, voice of God on the B.P.R.D. stuff, where I say, "let's hit shit with lightning" or "let's blow up a mountain." And other than some of the real basic development with certain characters, for the most part, all the character stuff, all the ground-level stuff is left to John.

So there are characters that I have a very definite hand in where they're going, but all the characters John created and all the kind of "working stiff" regular human characters are entirely John's characters to deal with. So my wanting to maybe blow up an entire continent didn't really jibe with how he was evolving those characters.

So there's a back-and-forth thing.

At the end of the day, the pace of this thing is almost entirely John's, but the direction is something that we totally see eye-to-eye on.

Plus, John is the greatest. This thing could not have happened without John, and he's just such a great writer for character. It's so funny now, if I use any of these characters, I call up John and say, "Would this character say this? Or would this character say that?" Because in so many ways, he's taking characters that I created and really made them into something much more than I ever could have.

Nrama: The first thing we've seen is B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: The Long Death, the first issue of which just came out last week and launched a whole new cycle of comics that are coming this year.

Mignola: The Long Death focuses on Johann and his team of guys. And you're right that there's a whole new cycle, but that's because we have a different approach to the art during "Hell on Earth," because while we have a main artist, we also have other artists ducking in and out to do various arcs. So there are more people involved, art teams involved.

And then one of the things we're doing this year for "Hell on Earth" is that Scott Allie and I have co-written a couple short B.P.R.D. things. They're based in the same time, but because we're starting to deal with such a big playing field, there's a lot of room to do other stories. So we're able to not use any of the main characters, but still tell these other little stories that show just how much crazy shit is going on.

Nrama: Next month, you and Scott have B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth: The Pickens County Horror coming out, which follows up on what vampires are like in this universe. Is this a story you've had in your head for awhile?

Mignola: It is! I've had it in my head for a really long time. I pitched it to John, but it's not really John's comfort zone. He just doesn't like vampires. We all have our different strengths with this stuff. So I said, well, OK, I don't want to force you into doing something that's not your thing. So I'll take it, use these other B.P.R.D. characters that aren't being used very much, and tell this story.

That's the beauty of having this big, army of foot soldiers. You can say, well give me that guy out of the background of that panel, and then we'll introduce a couple more guys and we'll plop them down someplace that doesn't interfere with what John's doing.

So yeah, that worked out real well. And I think we'll see more of that stuff in the future as the trouble spreads across the world. I would love, ideally, to say, you know? Gee, we haven't done anything with China. This thing that's going on and spreading all over the world -- how does it affect China? How does it affect, you know, India? Now, I don't know if that stuff's really going to happen, but we certainly are coming to a point where, as we saw with the Russia mini-series, there's no reason to believe that that kind of stuff isn't going on all over the world.

We can do three books a month and still not cover all the different stuff that's going on all over the world. And that's what makes this Hell on Earth thing this epic feel, plus it creates a situation where you can do radically different kinds of stories, and that's what I'm excited about.

 

There will always be the main thrust with certain characters that we're going to follow -- like Abe Sapien and Johann and characters like that -- but we've got so many, just regular guys, foot soldier kind of guys, that we can tell different stories with.

Nrama: You mentioned Abe Sapien, but he's not in these stories coming up, is he?

Mignola: Well, let's just say Abe Sapien is out of the picture for quite awhile. He's been shot, he's in a tank somewhere at B.P.R.D. headquarters and last I checked, he was in some kind of a coma.

Nrama: You mentioned being able to tell other stories from the point of view of other characters. With May's Transformation of J.H. O'Donnell, you've also got a flashback, don't you? It tells the hidden story of his past?

Mignola: Yeah, this story of J.H. O'Donnell is one that I've been talking about for a long time. John and I had talked about it. But given how much stuff was going on, we just really didn't see a place to squeeze that in among all these other stories that John was telling.

So I said, well, OK, let's pull that out and give it some room so we can really tell the whole story. If we're going to do a couple books that are running along the main B.P.R.D. stuff, let's do this.

It also gave us a chance to do a B.P.R.D. story that had Hellboy in it.

And it does have a framing sequence on it that ties it to the current continuity and addresses all the trouble that's going on in the world.

But like you said, it's most a little stand-alone Hellboy and O'Donnell story. It's always nice to find ways to bring this stuff back and relate it to Hellboy. Not that I'm desperate to fill in what happened in every day of Hellboy's life, you know, while he was with the B.P.R.D. But there's still so much room to fill in these little incidents.

Nrama: As you mentioned before, you have several artists involved with "Hell on Earth." How involved are you in choosing the artists that do these different things?

Mignola: I'm pretty involved, and thank God for Facebook, because so many of these guys, that's where I discover them. I mean, some of them I see at conventions. But you know, Max Fiumara, who is doing the O'Donnell story, I discovered his stuff on Facebook.

I think I'd seen his work, but I made contact with him on Facebook.

And the same with Jason Latour. I saw his story in a Captain America comic that I just happened to pick up. I don't pick up a lot of comics these days, but every once in awhile, I do go down there and look around and see who's doing what. And I loved this little Captain America story he did. I went home, and it turned out we were friends on Facebook, so we got to chatting. And I tentatively asked him, you wouldn't by any chance be interested in doing something, would you?

So yeah, there are so many great artists. And we do have Tyler Crook carrying the main weight of this book, but it's nice to be able to work with these other guys and get them for a couple issues here, a couple issues there, and just add fresh blood to this thing.

Nrama: Once you get around to Hellboy in Hell coming out later this year, will it tie into the B.P.R.D Hell on Earth storyline?

Mignola: It's going to be separate, although there are things from Hellboy's past that will relate to things that are coming up in B.P.R.D.. And you already see some of that stuff -- characters that were established in the earliest issues of Hellboy are now resurfacing.

But Hellboy himself is in Hell. So he's pretty much put away for the time being.

Nrama: You've also got Cameron Stewart coming up in June with B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Exorcism!. You're working with him again?

Mignola: I am! I had worked with him really briefly on a very short story in a B.P.R.D. collection. My editor was in touch with him, and Cam wanted to do some writing.

So we thought, well, here's something we could try. Here's kind of an experiment. Why don't we take this character, Ashley Strode, who'd been established in B.P.R.D., but was a character who just appeared in maybe one issue, wasn't the main character, but she was a character that I liked and John didn't have any plans for her. So I thought we could turn her over to Cam.

And Cam's story also includes another character -- one that I created -- that I wasn't necessarily planning to do anything with, so I thought, why don't we put them together? So you'll see a familiar face.

So we let Cam take the lead on that story. I mean, I had an idea of where this thing could start, but what I really wanted to do was work with Cam, come up with an idea of how these characters would get together, and what kind of story he would start telling, and then let Cameron go, and take this character where he wanted to take that character.

The idea was, while it's still my character and it's still part of the B.P.R.D. world, since we have no future plans for this character, let Cameron take her, and hopefully he'll do this story and come back to do more stories with this character. And just take her wherever he wants to take her.

Nrama: Mike, you're doing so much right now. I know you're working with other writers on these stories, but you're also drawing Hellboy on Earth, right?

Mignola: Not as fast as I'd like to be!

 

No, but most of what I'm doing here, working with these other writers, they're not giantly time-consuming. But with the stories I'm co-writing with Scott Allie, I write a couple pages of notes, we talk on the phone, he writes a script, I kind of do a little bit of re-writing, we bounce some stuff back and forth. So it's not a lot of work, but there is some time spent on it.

What I'm trying to avoid is weeks at a time where I'm just full time writing for other artists.

But at the same time, I'm doing all these covers and things like that. So it is frustrating that the Hellboy in Hell stuff is going as slow as it is. But it's getting there.

Part of our Year of Monsters thing is this series of 12 variant covers that I've been doing, and I've only got a few more of those to do. Once those are done, then I'm kind of down to just doing covers for the various trade paperbacks. So then I'll have more time to just focus on drawing the Hellboy in Hell stuff.

Nrama: Is Hellboy in Hell planned as a monthly?

Mignola: Hellboy in Hell doesn't have any definite length to it. I've never done anything quite like this. It's definitely not going to be a monthly book. What it will be, the first arc will be a four-issue storyline. Those four issues will be monthly.

And then there may be a month gap before issue #5, there might be three or four month before issue #5. They're going to come out when they're going to come out. I'd like to do at least two or three issues a year, but at the same time, there are a million other things I've got my hands in. So my goal at this point is to just put out the best comics I can, and if that means there's only two issues a year, well, at least they'll hopefully be two really good issues.

But the one thing I will promise is, if it's a two-issue story or a three-issue story, those will come out monthly. I don't want to leave readers hanging in between, you know, cliffhanger moments.

Nrama: Some really wild news just came out recently about what people are calling the Hellboy camp? I guess it's the "B.P.R.D. Training Camp" for kids. How did that happen? It sounds so cool!

Mignola: I know almost nothing about it. It came about because -- and I'm pretty sure I'm right on this -- it's a camp my editor's son was going to. And he was really impressed with different theme things they were doing at this camp, and they approached him about a B.P.R.D. thing. And I think we signed the papers that say if a guy shoots his eye out, we're not responsible. But other than that, it's just a cool idea.

They're really excited about it, so we said yeah. And it was one of those things that I though, well, it's a little, local Portland, Oregon thing. Nobody's ever going to know about this thing or hear about this thing unless they're in that neighborhood. But somehow this story really got picked up and reported on.

Nrama: But it seems like it fits. With B.P.R.D. training, you actually have a story that a camp would fit with.

Mignola: Yeah, it's funny. At this point, it seems like there are so many comics that are about supernatural stuff or have teams of guys battling supernatural stuff, but for whatever reason, we've got a stake to claim, and it just seems to click with people.

And maybe it's about so much of the thrust of the B.P.R.D. stories these days is about people, not about whole giant teams of superheroes. Yeah, I think it just makes it a little bit more accessible for things like this.

Nrama: We also recently found out that there were plans for a Batman Steampunk video game. It was loosely based on your Gotham by Gaslight stuff. Did you know anything about that being planned?

Mignola: I knew nothing about it until somebody sent me a link about the fact that it wasn't happening, and I guess a couple drawings that got leaked out. No, I didn't know anything about it.

I know nothing about computer games, so I had no idea. I know nothing about computer games, or anything DC Comics is involved with. So there was absolutely no way I could have ever heard about this thing.

Nrama: And you're just a little busy with a few other things.

Mignola: Yeah. You know, at this point, I'm so out of the loop as far as what the big companies are doing, and computer games, and stuff like that. I live in this little kind of bubble.

My wife keeps track of what's going on with Marvel and DC. But I'm so far out of those guys' loop, that, you know, I never get job offers, which I'm not complaining about. I think everybody just knows, he's up to his eyeballs. Maybe they just don't care. But I'd like to think there are guys going, "Oh, you know, it'd be great to get Mignola to draw this book, but he's too busy." I'd like to think that's why my phone doesn't ring.

Nrama: That may be. I will tell you that the big trend is one you are clearly not following with B.P.R.D., because everybody else is relaunching or starting things over to attract new readers. I find it really interesting that you guys are doing the exact opposite. You make the comics accessible to new readers, but the world is evolving way past where it started.

Mignola: Well, that's one of the beauties of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. world -- and I can't think of too many other things like this. It is an expanding universe, but it's expanding slowly. And we haven't been doing it for 75 years. So we haven't tripped over continuity. We haven't come up with stuff that we can't deal with, that we feel like we have to go back and say, well, wait a minute, this never happened or that never happened.

And there's such a fun, natural evolution to stuff. I mean, not only are we taking the books forward with the B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth stuff and the Hellboy in Hell stuff, but we've got the entire history of this world to deal with.

 

And there's really only John and me and to a certain extent, Scott Allie doing most of the writing on this stuff. So we can't expand it too fast.

And that's part of the problem you have at Marvel and DC. You're generating so many books and dealing with so many people, that stuff is just going to trip over itself.

But the fact that we've got Lobster Johnson up and running again, so we've got stories set in the '30s. The fact that we did the Witchfinder thing, so we were able to say something about the Victorian era. And then the Old West also having things, like the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, these lunatic Victorian guys, and we've been able to have them have an impact at B.P.R.D. and in Hellboy.

Both John and I are big fans of World War II-era comic book characters, but we've still barely managed to touch on World War II, because Lobster Johnson died before World War II, and Hellboy arrived at the end of World War II. So it's one of those, wow, we've got to find a way to do stories set in that time period.

It's so much fun creating this whole history, and it's so much fun to play around in it. I mean, there's so much to do! And this year, between Hell on Earth and everything else, we've been able to expand the world, but we have so many more stories to tell. It's really exciting.

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