With the popularity of reboots in comic books and movie franchises these days, Mike Mignola is proud that he's never had to restart Hellboy — even after 20 years.
But working with acclaimed artist Alex Maleev, the Eisner-winning Hellboy series will now get a fresh start thanks to the decades of untold stories from the character's past. With Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., which launches this week with a new #1 issue, Mignola takes readers back to young Hellboy's very first mission with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense in 1952.
The Hellboy universe, which has grown since its 1993 debut into multiple spin-off comics, feature films and video games, has lots of room to grow in the past. While there have been mini-series detailing the 1945 origins of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., this new mini-series — plotted by Mignola with scripting by John Arcudi — will open the door for a whole batch of fresh stories about Hellboy.
Plus, as Mignola revealed to Newsarama, the plan is to tell ongoing stories set in Hellboy's early years — but with a rotating roster of writers and artists. In fact, Mignola already knows who's drawing one of the next stories of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D., which is set in 1953.
That's not to say all Hellboy stories will have a young version of the character. The new series runs concurrently with Mignola's Hellboy in Hell, which takes place after the character died (back in 2011).
For this new series. Mignola gets to write an inexperienced Hellboy as he evolves into the leader he'd eventually become, as well as introducing, exploring and even killing off a few new characters to the Hellboy universe. Newsarama talked to Mignola about this new adventure, the genesis of the "first mission" for Hellboy, and how he picked Maleev as the artist on the untold story.
Newsarama: Mike, I don't think we've talked since before this 20-year celebration of Hellboy started. I'm sure you've been asked this a million times — did you think it would get this big — and I'm sure the answer is "no."
Mike Mignola: Yeah! It is certainly no.
Nrama: But now that it's been around 20 years, and it's had all these spin-offs and movies and everything, what are your thoughts looking back at it, and do you have an opinion on its staying power?
Mignola: You mean as far as why it's staying? I mean, like, that I can't comment on. I'm just very, very lucky that people still want it.
But yeah, looking back at 20 years of it, I'm really — it's weird for me to say, but I'm really proud of what we've done, because I think it all works. You know?
We haven't had to restart anything or say, oh, let's say that happened in a parallel dimension or whatever.
It's still organically growing from what I did. And I haven't managed to, you know, sink it.
And I have expanded it very organically, which was never the original plan. And I've gotten to work with people I never thought I'd get to work with. And so I've had all these wonderful people to collaborate with, to build this thing that I still recognize as this world that I made up.
It's so far beyond anything I ever imagined doing in my career. It's actually kind of nice.
Nrama: Yeah! And you know, I was going to ask you about the fact that it's never rebooted. And you've never had to do anything "gimmicky" to get people back to the book.
Mignola: Yeah, I'm not big on gimmicks. I killed Hellboy off, but I actually didn't want any advertising that said I was killing him off. Finally, one of the — somebody found out we were going to do it, so we kind of had to go public the week before.
But I said, man, I want to do something where you turn the page and you're surprised.
So I'm like the anti-gimmick guy. And yeah, it is amazing, in this day and age, that this stuff is still selling at all, considering most of the marketing stuff, I go, "Nah… I don't want to do that."
I'm also very fortunate that I'm at the right place, Dark Horse, because for 20 years, they've never tried to get me to do this book in any particular way. It's always been the way I want to do it. You know, they haven't forced me into any kind of marketing thing that I wasn't comfortable with. They never said, can you put out the book more often, or less often, or can you put this on the cover?
I mean, maybe they have meetings about, it would be great if he did these things. But they never said any of that to me! So I'm so spoiled now, I could never go anyplace else. For 20 years, I've been left alone to do this thing the way I want to do it — good, bad or otherwise. I mean, I've been left alone to do it.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about Hellboy and The B.P.R.D., which kicks off this week with a #1 issue. I know there have been a lot of flashbacks over the years, but this story is still untold — the first mission of young Hellboy in the B.P.R.D. What were your thoughts behind finally telling this story?
Mignola: It was tricky, because, like you said, we've never done a reboot — this is the closest thing to doing something like that. But fortunately, we don't have to do it as a reboot, because I've largely skipped over a gigantic part of this character's career.
We did B.P.R.D. 1946, 1947 and 1948, and it just kind of naturally grew out of that. I suppose I should have done this book a year ago to kick off the whole 20-year thing, but like I said, I don't do marketing stuff like that. I don't say, oh, it's 20th anniversary; we need something special.
I've been wanting to do this story for a long time. It was just a matter of, when do we find the right artist?
It's not that we wanted this book to come out at a particular time. It was a matter of, when all the pieces are assembled, when we have the right people, that's when we'll do it.
When we got Alex, when he was available and wanted to do it, that was the thing that made it all come together.
Nrama: Let's talk about Alex's art. It sounds like you wanted to work with him on this sort of story?
Mignola: Yeah. When I came up with this idea — the idea of doing this 1952 book (and the plot actually came a little bit later) — but when I came up with the idea of starting what will, essentially, be a new Hellboy series that will start in 1952 and just keep going, I didn't have any particular artist in mind.
I just said, "we need somebody great."
When Duncan Fegredo took over drawing Hellboy for that stretch of time, I was a lot more nervous. It was, like, we need a guy who draws kind of like me, not an imitator, who does something similar to me.
With this, it was just, "I just need someone who's great."
We talked to a couple of guys who are great, who weren't available or weren't interested. But then somebody said Alex is available, and I said, "and he's great!" So that's what I wanted. Somebody great. No preconceived thing of what the art was supposed to look like.
Nrama: Did you always know what Hellboy's first mission was? Or did it come from the challenge to yourself, OK, it's time to write that?
Mignola: Well, you know, to be perfectly honest, I thought I was going to get away without having to make up this story. I had said, as a joke — well, John Arcudi and I had been talking about this for a couple years, probably. And I had in mind that it took place in South America.
And I can't say more than that without giving away a big chunk of the plot.
But I said, you know, they go to South America and they do this. There's like a one-sentence, or two-sentence idea.
And then I thought, like we do on B.P.R.D., that's all I would have to give John, and he would make up a fantastic story.
But it turned out, when things got real, that John was just way too busy to plot the story. So then, suddenly, it's like, "Oh! Crap! Now I actually have to fill in all the blanks and connect up all the dots and do all that stuff."
Which is fun… I mean, John and I have never worked like this. I've never written a plot that would be scripted by John. And it was very strange, because you know, it's a Hellboy book, and John's been the B.P.R.D. guy, so I've had to call him up and say, "would this guy say this? or would this guy say this?" Because some of these characters that I'm plotting, John created, or John has certainly written them more than I've written them.
So it was a nice back-and-forth.
Nrama: So you have to keep in mind their future continuity, because that's been written, right?
Mignola: Yeah. It's a challenge of doing any of this kind of stuff. You can't have Galactus show up, because people would still be talking about that, which is fine, because I wanted these smaller stories.
But yes, there is a certain amount of continuity stuff. There is, you know, what characters would we pick up that were introduced in the '46, '47 and '48 book? Where are they? What would they be doing? And ultimately, where are they going to go?
The beauty is, other than Hellboy, and the Professor Broom character, everybody who is in Hellboy '52, we've never seen them again. So their fates are completely wide open.
So that's exciting. In so many ways, it is a brand new book. There are certain things we can't do. But there is so much we can do. And we've got so much work, as far as the years that this series goes on through. There's so much to do.
I actually brought in a couple different elements, introduced them in this mini-series. There's a lot of stuff to do with it.
I wrote the third B.P.R.D. series – I wrote the "Plague of Frogs." And when I did that, I put a whole lot of pieces on the board, because at that point, we thought, this is going to be an ongoing series. So I wanted to dump a lot of stuff in there that another writer could pick up and run with in a bunch of different directions.
So I tried to do that in the 1952 book also — introduce a lot of new stuff that can be played out in a bunch of different directions.
At the same time, I had the benefit of those earlier series — the 1946, '47 and '48 B.P.R.D. books — to draw from. And some other things that have been done in B.P.R.D. that involved the Russians and things like that.
There have been enough flashbacks to the "early days," that there are a lot of pieces to play with. So it was a trick of getting some of those pieces into this series, and now, with this series, we'll have room to play with them.
Nrama: This Hellboy is at a different stage in his life. Was it different for you to write a Hellboy story where he's so young and new at the job?
Mignola: Yeah! It was funny because, there was one of the places in the artwork where I actually had to have Alex change something because I had the group — I think it's in the first issue — they get to where they're going, they go up a flight of stairs, and Alex had Hellboy taking charge, leading the way. And I had to say, "no, he's not that guy yet."
It was interesting to write a Hellboy that was doing stuff for the first time.
Now, the arc of this book really is all about Hellboy becoming a much more take-charge guy. But, yeah, I had to write in him making certain mistakes. It was difficult to remember that that's where he is.
But I think it helps having John script it, because John is coming from a position of having written B.P.R.D. 1948, and there's another flashback of young Hellboy in B.P.R.D. that takes place in '49.
So John's writing this character in order. You know, the only times he's written Hellboy, he has been young, unsure-of-himself Hellboy. So John can pick that up and continue him in that direction.
Nrama: OK, my last question just occurred to me as I was talking to you. It's been 20 years, and you sound as enthusiastic as I can even imagine you being the first day you wrote Hellboy. It's exciting as a fan to hear you talk that way. Are you really feeling that way after 20 years?
Mignola: Yeah, I really am. I mean, part of it is that I've been able to go back to drawing it myself — you know, the "in Hell" stuff. So I'm super enthusiastic.
And with this new series, it's really exciting, because we're at just the very beginning of a whole new series. And there's so much material to play with.
And we're going to have rotating creators in this Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. thing. I know who's drawing the first half of Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. 1953, but I don't know who's drawing the second half. I don't know who's writing the second half of it.
So it's exciting on a lot of different levels. It's exciting because of the stories we can do, and we're throwing the doors open a bit further to work with new people and different people. So I'm excited about that kind of collaboration, if we find anybody who's willing to collaborate with me. We'll see.