Life doesn’t often imitate art when your art is creating a comic book about a gung-ho hell-spawned supernatural investigator named Hellboy. So it was hard for writer and artist Mike Mignola to refuse an offer from Guillermo del Toro, director of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, to go out to London and investigate a supposedly haunted hotel room with composer Danny Elfman.
“Nothing happened,” says Mignola, “But Guillermo did come up with the brilliant idea that we would each spend a half an hour alone in the room, which made for a pretty long half hour.”
As co-writer of the film’s story with del Toro and co-executive producer on the sequel, which opens July 11, Mignola says it’s hard for him as the creator to say exactly why the character seems to resonate with audiences. “I think that’s because even though he’s red and has a tail, he’s written like a guy,” Mignola says. “Yeah, he’s the beast of the apocalypse, but I’ve always treated him like, ‘What would I do in that situation?’”
For Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Mignola says he and del Toro began by trying to adapt one of the comic book stories, as the first film had done, but changed their minds rather quickly. “We chucked that idea after about eight hours, because even in the first film the character is already veering away from the world I created in the comic. It was much easier and actually a lot more fun to just say, let’s not try to tie it to the comic, let’s just continue what you did in the first film,” he says.
The writer and artist says he had gone through an adjustment period during the making of the first film in terms of allowing del Toro to play with and alter his characters. “With the second picture, I really went into it feeling like I was working on his characters.”
Still, there were moments where Mignola saw his creation shine through. “It was a scene where Hellboy comes out and he’s wearing no shirt but the coat, and that’s the way I’ve always drawn him in the comic. So there’s that one moment where I went, ‘Ooh, there’s my character!’” he says.
Minor conflicts were rare but not unheard of. At one point, it looked like the Johann Krauss character was going to be too expensive and del Toro asked Mignola if he could use Lobster Johnson instead. “I said the trouble is you’ve written a story for a character who’s a medium, and I don’t want to take Lobster Johnson and turn him into a different character just to fit,” he says. “You can’t swap them out. That was the one place where I said, I’d really rather you didn’t.”
While the story in Golden Army is original, it does unintentionally parallel what’s going on the comics. “There are things I’m doing that people might think came from the film, but there are just places where (del Toro) got to do things in the film before I got around to it.”
Mignola says the movies have put Hellboy on the map and helped sales of the comic enough to allow it to continue. “Given the way comics sell, would I still be able to do Hellboy had there never been a film? I don’t know. I do have to feed my family and I hate to think I would have had to crawl back to Marvel or DC and do fill in issues of whatever,” he says. “That’s still my greatest fear: What if I wake up one day and somebody says, ‘We can get you a fill-in issue of the Teen Titans, but that’s about it’?”
With del Toro slated to spend the next few years making two films based on The Hobbit, Mignola says it will be interesting to see what happens if the film does well and whether there will be pressure to make a third film without del Toro. “Fortunately, that’s not my decision,” he says. “Five years is a long time to be gone and if Hellboy II is as successful as we hope, Universal may want to get moving that much faster.”