Mike Mignola: Looking Back at Hellboy 2 and...Ahead?

Hellboy 2, now on DVD

It must really be something to be Mike Mignola. Over the last five years, his devilishly delightful creation Hellboy has gone from comic book icon to mass media monster. That doesn’t mean the general public knows his personal vision of the Big Red cat fancier and demon slayer. They are buying into the franchise thanks to the films of his longtime buddy Guillermo Del Toro.

Go onto the IMDB sometime. Check out the credits on Hellboy II: The Golden Army. You’ll discover Del Toro shares the story credit with Mignola and the mighty Mexican film director has the screenplay exclusively to himself.

So, was it Mignola’s idea to include Dr. Krauss or have Liz Sherman in a family way? No. Those are ideas that are strictly Del Toro. Much the same way other Hollywood types have put their personal imprimaturs on a comic book creation, Del Toro has indelibly stamped Mignola’s creation with his own flourishes and idiosyncrasies. Not that the general public, or Mignola for that matter, mind.

It reminds me of a time I once had an interview with Neil Gaiman. At that time, Terry Gilliam had purchased the rights to his and Terry Prachett’s novel Good Omens. When asked if he thought this would make a good movie, Gaiman, quite cheerfully, quipped, “I don’t know if it will make a good Neil Gaiman or Terry Prachett movie, but it should make one great Terry Gilliam film.”

One gets the impression Mignola would concur with Gaiman regarding Del Toro’s treatment of Hellboy. So when the opportunity came to discuss the differences with him, and Mignola’s personal involvement in the creative process, it was impossible to say no.

Here’s what he had to say:

Newsarama: The new DVD set comes with a documentary by Guillermo Del Toro about making Hellboy 2 called In Service of the Demon.

Mike Mignola: Oh really? Cool! Does he mention me?

NRAMA: Actually, you’re in it.

MM: That’s nice!

NRAMA: One of the points it brings out is you and Del Toro share 90% of the same vision.

MM: That percentage might be a little high. We do comfortably meet somewhere in the middle. From the moment I met Guillermo, it was amazing how much we had the same ideas on the same things. He is much better read than I am, but we do share a real affection for this genre and monsters in general.

Man Accidentally Shoots Wife During Sex
Man Accidentally Shoots Wife During Sex
Hellboy with his gun

NRAMA: I was more interested in the 10% or whatever difference.

MM: His sensibilities are much louder than mine. He’s much more colorful and emotional; more flashy. I see that especially in the second film, the sense of humor is much broader than mine. I tend to be a bit quieter and dryer, grayer. He uses more color and he likes stuff that moves. I like stuff that stands still.

One of the jokes that’s is when we were doing design work on both Hellboy movies, I would hand him some design things, then he would hand them to someone else and instruct them to make things spin around and have gas jets pop out of them. It’s been a running joke for some time. I would do something and he would laugh at how simple it was. Then he would add clock gears spinning around it.

NRAMA: It’s funny you mention that. In the film it shows him designing the Golden Army soldiers.

MM: That was clearly something that if I had any hand in them they would have been…I would have had something similar as far as the silhouette, but they would have had two or three big gears in it. His had 60,000 tiny, little gears and other moving parts. I think much more in simpler, er, chunks.

NRAMA: Would you say that’s due to your personal illustrating style?

MM: It does come from my illustration background, but there are plenty of other illustrators out there who draw 60,000 little gears and moving parts in their work. In fact, one of the major designers is Francisco Velasquez, a Mexican comic book artist. He’s the guy who would add gears and moving parts. It’s a different style, a different sensibility.

NRAMA: One thing I noticed in the documentary is Del Toro mentioning an illustrator who you and I also liked named Chichoni.

MM: I have no problem with that, especially after going from the first film to the second. I knew we were not going to go with my version of things on the big screen. My job on the Hellboy films is to help him realize his vision of what this stuff should be. There were certain scenes in the film that we would differ radically about. I think the Troll Market is very much not my vision.

NRAMA: The Troll Market reminded me a lot of a Harry Potter thing.

MM: Yeah. It was so colorful and lively. Particularly as we had a budget issue, I was much more of the mind to have something that only had three characters as opposed to 300. It wouldn’t have had as much light. It wouldn’t have had as much color. I would have made it spooky, quiet and it probably would have been a complete failure. Of course, it’s one of the scenes that everyone has loved the most. It’s just not my sensibility to have something that much fun. That’s so much Del Toro’s personality.

NRAMA: Now one thing you say directly in the film is you loved Pan’s Labyrinth. In fact, in the film you said Hellboy 2 shouldn’t be considered a sequel to the first Hellboy, but that film.


MM: We had already decided to make Hellboy 2 a fancy, folklore-based film before I had a chance to see Pan’s Labyrinth. He hadn’t even started Pan’s Labyrinth yet. Obviously, he had written it and knew he was going to do it. He was in that folklore mindset. So was I because that was the kind of stuff I was writing in Hellboy. So it made perfect sense to do that kind of stuff.

So there was a lot of fantasy stuff I had never seen Del Toro do before Pan’s Labyrinth, I was kind of sitting there going ‘I don’t know about this.’ Then when I saw Pan’s Labyrinth, I went ‘Oh My God! Of course you can do this.’ After Pan’s Labyrinth there was a lot of things in the script I would have questioned him on all I could say is ‘Boy! You really know what you’re doing! I’ll stay the hell out of your way.’ Yes, I had to hold my tongue in a few places, but it’s not my usual style.

NRAMA: But Hellboy is your baby. The title does say ‘Mike Mignola’s’—note the possessive-- ‘Hellboy.’

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MM: The first film, to me, was all about Guillermo putting my comic on the screen. Through the course of that first movie, he gradually took possession of those characters. With Hellboy 2, it’s about Del Toro owning those characters. What you see there is truly a Del Toro Hellboy. He’s much more confident.

In a way, the best way to compare it is to Tim Burton’s Batman. The first Batman film was fine, but it was a little safe. With the second film, you could see that Burton was saying he was going to do the crazy shit only he was capable of. He was putting his personality on the character. I think that’s what you see with the second Hellboy. There were less places where Del Toro would ask me if he could do something. He just did them. It was his character by that point, and that’s fine.

NRAMA: So you are comfortable with this?

MM: I am. My version exists. It exists in the comics. His version, as different as it is, is still true to the spirit of what I do.

NRAMA: So let’s look back a bit. I interviewed you when they did the animated version of Hellboy with Cheeks Galloway doing the character design. You were comfortable with that.

MM: Yeah. The more different it is from my stuff, the more I can be objective about it. What makes me most uncomfortable is when people try to imitate me and get it wrong. So in some ways that made the second film more difficult but in other ways it made the film easier because I could separate myself from it more.

I think what also helped is it wasn’t an adaptation of one of my stories. It was an original story. There was no part of me saying ‘I did it this way and you’re changing it.’ So what happened in the story of Hellboy 2 has certain parallels to a story I’m working on in the comic books. So even if there were things that I would have done different from this, I felt fine because I have the comic book. I can put it out there my way.

NRAMA: Yeah. The idea of Hellboy being a daddy strikes me as kind of alien to the work you do.

MM: That one was the one I was the most nervous about with the fans. I was afraid they were going to come after us with pitchforks and torches. If they did, I would have just handed them Guillermo’s address. That wasn’t me. That is not my idea. It could have created an odd situation because in the next film it could swerve [Del Toro’s] Hellboy so far away from my Hellboy that I would have no idea what he would do on the third picture. It could potentially put it on a completely different planet than my character.

NRAMA: Now the DVD does include an animation by Brooks Burgess (Broken Saints) that is supposed to be a prequel to the third movie. Is it underway?

MM: We’ve always talked about it being three pictures. The question is he’s doing The Hobbit first and that’s going to take years. When is he going to do the third film. The big question with Guillermo is he’s always got 60,000 projects that are his next picture, it’s absurd for me to…

Del Toro

Well, the plan is he’s going to do The Hobbit and then he’s going to do Hellboy 3. God only knows. It’s constantly changing. If he does do a third picture, I hope he asks me to work on it. I think if I work on the third picture, my role would be to safeguard my ending. I want to make sure I don't tell him how I plan to end the comic. I don’t want him to put that on the screen ten years before I get around to it and people then say ‘Oh! I saw that!’

Guillermo actually did say that I told him my ending once. I hope that’s not true. If it is true, I hope he forgot it. It would be a weird situation because he has talked about the third film as being the end of Hellboy. It would be weird to have the end of Hellboy on film and I’m sitting there in the corner going ‘Uh…it’s not really over. I’m over here!’

NRAMA: There’s one factor we haven’t discussed in the interpretation of Hellboy, and that’s the performance of Ron Perlman. What did you think of it?

MM: Guillermo and I, from the moment we met, agreed there was only one actor who could play Hellboy, and we were right. Ron Perlman? He’s…just…great. I can’t imagine it being done by anybody else. We had a very difficult time convincing the studios that was the case. I know we also take personal satisfaction when the reviews came back on the first film and they agreed with us.

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