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Mike Mignola on Hellboy 3, Sending the Character to Hell, and If He'll End Up There, Too

Mike Mignola's Hellboy
Mike Mignola's Hellboy
Courtesy of Dark Horse

Let's just get this out of the way: Renowned comic book creator Mike Mignola has no earthly idea if Hollywood will ever get around to making Hellboy 3, the third cinematic portrayal of his signature red-skinned character. It's a question that the 52-year-old artist and scribe will get hit with often at various events, and we're certain that fanboys and geeks alike will be asking it during Mignola's visit to this weekend's Phoenix Comicon, where he'll appear from Friday through Sunday.

Frankly, he's pretty resigned to the fact that Hellboy 3 may never become a reality, although he'd love to see it happen, and told Jackalope Ranch as much during a phone interview earlier this week. We also discussed the ongoing Hellboy in Hell series, which debuted last year and damned the loveable humanoid demon and his "Right Hand of Doom" into Hades and, thus, a whole new direction for the character. Mignola gushed about his excitement over getting to explore a whole new world and how he anticipates adapting different folkloric portrayals of Hell for future issues, whenever he gets around to turning them out.

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Your panels at events like Phoenix Comicon are almost as instructional as they are Q&A sessions where you detail your drawing style in-between answering questions from fanboys. Yeah. I'll talk about whatever anybody else wants to talk about. I've got no pre-prepared spiel and I'm not a big PR promotion machine, so I try to throw that stuff open to questions and answers right away.

Will you have the overhead projector going at your panel?

No, no. Because, again, I have no idea what we are going to be talking about. Usually the first question is about, "Is there going to be a third

Hellboy

movie?" And then after that it really can be on anything since there are so many different books I'm involved in now. It covers a pretty wide range of topics.

So, is there going to be a third Hellboy movie? [Laughs] Yeah, I brought that one on myself. You know, it would be nice. There is certainly nothing in the works.

We wanted to get the definitive answer, since there were conflicting reports online. Yeah. Something came out, I quite innocently said in another interview where I was talking about something else, whatever I was talking about, and I said there is nothing going on with Hellboy 3. And a lot of people picked that up like it was news, even though I've been saying the same thing for years now.

Somehow, people are making it sound like it was my fault that there was no movie and somehow stopping a third movie from being done. And all I'm saying is, "You've asked me if one is being done and I'm saying no." It doesn't mean I wouldn't like for one to happen, but I'd know if they were making a third one, and they are not making a third one...at least not now. 

Ron Perlman as the big-screen version of Hellboy.
Ron Perlman as the big-screen version of Hellboy.
Universal Pictures

Is everyone else on board, like Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman? I know Ron is and del Toro has come out and said he'd like to do it, but this drives me crazy. Anybody that follows del Toro has to see that every week he's announcing another movie is his next movie. So, some weeks, maybe, he wants to make Hellboy, some weeks he wants to make this other movie.

I mean, the studio, the last time I spoke to the studio, they assured me they would never make another one. And what I still believe is the only person who could talk them into changing their mind, would be del Toro. So my feeling is, don't ask me, ask del Toro, ask Universal. The decision making power is with those guys.

Say Hellboy 3 gets a green light. Do you have any idea as to what previous Hellboy story would be used? del Toro has, at least from what I have read. Years ago, he told me he knew what a third movie would be. Other things I've read over the years, he's said he knows what that movie is. So, I don't know any particulars about what it is, but my feeling is he already knows the movie he would make.

I don't know that I would have any input in it or not, because any third movie would be a sequel to his second movie. We veered so far away from the comic book source material with the second film that it's completely a separate del Toro version of Hellboy out there now, so I think he'd probably like my blessing on it? He certainly wouldn't come to me and say, "What should a third movie be?" He knows what his third movie would be.

If you had to say, is there ideally any particular story arc that you'd like to see on the screen?

Um, if we were to go a completely different direction and not continue the del Toro version of

Hellboy

, if it were to get scrapped and started over, then I could point to stories I'd done and say, "I'd love to see an adaptation of this story, I'd love to see an adaptation of that story." But that just doesn't jive with the del Toro version of

Hellboy

that's on screen.

What did you think about Ron Perlman dressing up as Hellboy for a Make-A-Wish child? That was great. I just wish it had known about it beforehand because I would have loved to have been there. I hadn't seen Ron in a long time and it would have been really cool to see him get made up again. Yeah, I just thought it was great.

So, is Hollywood interested in any other of your projects past, present and future? There are longstanding rumors that B.P.R.D. is going to be made into a TV show or movie. You know, I have no idea, I mean they have the rights, because all the Hellboy-related stuff is all tied to B.P.R.D. and all that stuff. All those rights are sitting with Universal. They have not expressed any interest to me in making anything. Who knows? 

If you could pick any of your projects, whether it's Abe Sapien or The Amazing Screw-On Head, what would you love to see on the big screen? I'm a comic book artist, so my goal is to create graphic novels. That said, there are a couple novels that I've co-written that I would love to see made into a film. There has been talk of adapting them into a film, but it's so hard to say I'd like to see it there. I'd like to see it done right, you know? My goal isn't just to get it made. My hope is the right person would make it.

What's your take on how the Hollywood machine works? I've been in Hollywood meeting since Hellboy. del Toro kept me out of any Hollywood meetings on Hellboy because he said, "You just wouldn't survive it." And he's right. I went through a series of meetings with another project and it's really impossible to parody Hollywood.

Because...you are in a producer's office or studio executive's office and the suggestions they make, and I'm sure there's great ones out there. My experience in the meetings I was in, the suggestions in some cases were so mind-numbing that you go from, "Oh boy, they're making a movie," to "Oh my God, I hope they don't make this movie." Because it so far away from everything my project was supposed to be.

So, again, that's why I'm a comic book artist, that's why what I do exist as a graphic novelist, and if they're going to make something out of it, I want to say more than "Thank you very much, it's very nice to have the money." It's an advertisement for the comic book work I do, but the one thing I can't imagine doing is creating something specifically for Hollywood.

There has to be directors as good as del Toro that can do your stuff justice? You might get lucky, you might make up something, give it to them, and boom you get the right director, you get the right writer, you get a [decent] translation of what you came up with. But chances are it's going to go through a million different hands and -- if it gets made at all -- it's going to get made into something that doesn't resemble what you created.

Mike Mignola's self-portrait.
Mike Mignola's self-portrait.
artofmikemignola.com

Would you ever create something specifically for the screen? If I came up with something, an original screenplay or original property for a Hollywood thing, chances are I'd spend the rest of my life explaining to people what it was supposed to be. But having done the comic books, the graphic novels first, if anything gets made I can say, "Well, it's not killing me that they did their version because my version, the way I want to see it exists over here in book form."

One of the old mystery writers, I can't remember which one, but he had a great quote in an interview, somebody was saying to him, "Hollywood ruins all your books." And he said, "No, the books are fine, the books are right here," pointing to the books. They don't wreck it, they just make them a different version of it and your hope is, it's not such an awful version that people will shy away from the book. What you want is the thing out there as an advertisement for your book.

There's an interview with James Elroy discusses how little old ladies love the L.A. Confidential film but he's more interested in whether or not they've bought a copy of his book. It's true. I end [up] sounding really, really negative about the movie stuff. I had blast. I had a great experience working on those films, seeing those films get made. It was a great experience that made me very happy at the end to come back to my studio where I'm left alone to do the work without other people telling me, "We can't do this," or, "This is too expensive," or "Because of the audience, we need to make this change." I'm very lucky in that I'm left alone entirely to do whatever I want and I have a publisher that will publish that.

You described the upcoming trade paperback for Hellboy in Hell as your "most important book" in long time. Why is that? Well, it's my only book, for one thing. I haven't been drawing the comic. Since the movie stuff, I've been mostly just writing, I've only done a handful of stories since I've been working on the film. I've just gotten so busy with so many other aspects of this Hellboy comic book world, between doing covers and co-writing and writing, I just got away from drawing the comic. So, yeah, I'm back, I'm drawing the comic book myself and I've taken that character and put him in a whole new world that's entirely mine.

Into Hell. Yeah, into Hell. The Hellboy stuff, as odd as it got, it was always taking place in the real world. And now I've thrown him into Hell, which is very much my fantasy world. I get to make up every corner of that world and not worry about, "What does Japan look like?" or "How would he get from this country to that country?" It's entirely the world that's inside my head. So the goal now is entirely to try and take just these images and stuff that are banging around in my head and get 'em onto paper. 

Artwork from Hellboy in Hell.
Artwork from Hellboy in Hell.
Dark Horse Comics

In that same interview, it sounded like you were having difficulty creating a cover for the trade paperback. Is your creative process more about frustration than inspiration? There's inspiration and then there's frustration when you try to put that inspiration on paper. I mean, I wish I had that magic thing where I could see what I want and take the brain image, send it directly to my hand, and my hand could put it on paper. The image I've got in mind is a kind of blurry, abstract image and then it's just wrestling with trying to get it onto the paper in someway close to what's inside my head.

So the Hellboy in Hell trade paperback cover, because, again, it's like this important book for me, my return to the comic, this whole new direction for Hellboy...I can't even remember now, I must've done six or seven different versions of that cover. It got to the point where it was such a strange process of just starting a cover, throwing it away, starting another one, that at some point I started thinking, "I'm never going to stop doing this. This is going to be my full-time job for the next however long. It stopped becoming frustrating. It just had this numb surrealness to it of drawing these covers over and over and over again. I got it now. Done. So that's good.

Not to be too punny, but is that your personal hell? Eternally doomed to never being able to create something that's as good as the image in your head? That's my constant hell. It's never going that pure image that's in your head.

What I tried to do to let myself off the hook is to say, "What the Hellboy in Hell stuff is, the process is, little by little getting pieces of that thing." The nice thing about the Hellboy in Hell is that it's not four issues, or six issues, or 20 issues, it's my ongoing work that I probably will be doing until I stop drawing comics.

So I have the rest of my working life to try to create this world. And so I've done four-and-a-half-issues now, and of those, there are things I look at and go, "Yeah, that's right. This is right." We've established the corner of this forest. The rocks on the side of this river are right. So it['s] just this thing of building this world one little piece at a time and not saying, "It's all gotta be there tomorrow."

Because the creative process is so frustrating for you, is that why you've said that Hellboy in Hell issue will come out whenever they come out? Yeah. I'm not good working under pressure. I didn't want a deadline breathing down my neck, which I know is frustrating for Dark Horse [Comics], because they'd like to schedule this stuff. But I just said, "You know, I'm not doing a lot of other work, other than the Hellboy stuff, so hopefully it will come out soon." But it's gonna come out when it's ready.

Is Hellboy in Hell considered to be an alternate universe storyline? Not really. The last book I did with artist Duncan Fegredo, [Hellboy] died at the end. So it's not a parallel universe of Hellboy, it is the ongoing story of that character. It's picking him up in Hell and how his existence continues in the afterlife.

If the first four issues of Hellboy in Hell are -- as you've said -- "settling in," what's the next few issues and arcs going to cover? Well, he's kind of accepted where he is and now it will be, little by little, dealing with that. He caused quite a bit of problems when he landed in Hell. So what we'll get are him reacting to some of the problems he's caused. Other characters reacting to the problems his presence causes. And also, now that he's settled in, exploring that world.

He's got a little unfinished business he's gotta take care of, but what I really want to do is use Hellboy as a vehicle, ultimately, to explore this world and eventually get back to kind of what I was doing in the old Hellboy stories where I travel him around. And as we go into sort of the Asian corner of Hell, I'll adapt Asian folk tales. As we travel him through the Eastern Europe corner of Hell, we get some Eastern European stories. I've always loved being able to adapt old fairy tales, old folk tales and put my spin on them. In fact, issue five of Hellboy in Hell is a very, very loose adaptation of an old Grimm's Fairy Tale.

Which one? Can you spoil a little? You know what? I have no idea what the actual name of the fairy tale is. I read it so long ago. I remember it, but I haven't looked it up again. Partly on purpose, because I kinda want to go with the way my brain has reinterpreted the story, but there is a crucial piece, there's a puzzle, there's a riddle that's in that story that the entire story hinges around that riddle. And I don't remember what the riddle is. So I do have to find the story. I've got my own name for it, I call it "The Three Gold Whips." But I have no idea what the actual Grimm's Fairy Tale title is, so at some point I've got to pull out the big Grimm's Fairy Tale book and try to find this thing. And hopefully this riddle is kind of like what I remember it being. 

Could it be...Satan!?!: The dark lord, as seen in Hellboy in Hell.
Could it be...Satan!?!: The dark lord, as seen in Hellboy in Hell.
Dark Horse Comics

Your depiction of Hell in the series obviously seems like such a chaotic place, which is fitting because, you know, it's Hell. Satan as a reclusive figure and his minions are running the asylum. Is it comparable in any way to any kind of political situation, folkloric allegory, or Shakespeare? You know nothing specific but there is a Shakespearean thing about that, I'm not a political creature. But you know, you don't really have to watch a lot of current events to kind of see certain parallels.

You know, it's one thing that's always fascinating in Shakespeare is the political, trouble behind the throne kind of stuff so, yeah it wasn't based on anything particular, the idea of Satan actually running things just seemed the most obvious and most boring way to deal with it, so the idea of Satan as this guy who is just sleeping in the basement was just very appealing. Not on any conscious level is it based on anything.

Kind of like King Lear or something of that nature? Yeah, I wanted this kind of tragedy to that figure.

How far have you planned out the plot? I've got probably six, seven, eight, 9...I've got a real clear idea of what I'm doing with 10. So, yeah, definitely got the first 10 issues pretty solidly figured out and beyond that I've got broad strokes. I think of it in books, five comics equals one book, so I've got the first book almost done, the second book is pretty clearly planned out, third book is pretty clearly planned out, and a pretty good idea what the fourth book is going to be.

It's really frustrating because I can make up a story or half a dozen stories, while I'm taking a shower but it's going to take months to draw those stories, so at some point you kind of have to stop your brain from thinking ahead because it becomes too overwhelming when you are looking at, "Oh, I've plotted the next ten years worth of work." Again, as much as I've plotted already, I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface.

Were you bored with how Hellboy was going before sending him to Hell? No, not at all. But we accelerated the story in such a way, by the end he discovered he was the rightful king of England, he was descendant of King Arthur, and he had started drifting back and forth, and interacting more and more in this fantasy, fairytale, folklore kind of world. He'd gone so far around the bend there was no way to bring him back to the simple, relatively uncomplicated character he was in the classic early Hellboy stories.

But I loved that aspect of the character. I wanted to simplify this character I created, but I'd attached so much baggage to him. The plan was always to kill him off at some point, and when he has that much baggage attached to him, it was just clear that we had to clear the slate. Also, I have been writing a book for another artist and I wanted to come back to the book, but didn't want to come back to a book where I was going to draw Hellboy checking in with the office or getting on an airplane and going places, I wanted to come back to this dream fantasy book.

There's something we've always wanted to ask you: Do you believe in the existence of Hell? You know, not in any way that causes me trouble when writing about it. I have no real, solid belief about an afterlife, other than some vague, it'd-be-nice-if-you're-good-place-and-if-you're-bad-you-go-to-a-bad-place sort of thing. But no real, clear religious thing that would trip me up.

What if you wound up in Hell? Well, I was talking to my wife about this the other day about this, and what's funny is that everybody you know says, "We're all going to Hell anyway." So, chances are, if there is a Hell, I would probably know more people there than not. I'd think it'd probably be a much more fun place.

Heaven forbid there is a Hell, I'm probably really wrong and I probably wouldn't want to be there, but that's why I guess I don't really believe in anything like that. I don't do anything wrong...I don't know. It's such an odd subject to me. It's something I never really think about. I love religion, I'm fascinated by biblical stuff, mythology, and all that stuff. I think there's so much cool material in there, but I kind of treat it as literature.

Mike Mignola is scheduled to appear at the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight panel at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, and at his own "spotlight" Q&A at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 26. Both are in room 124A of the Phoenix Convention Center.

Phoenix Comicon takes place from Thursday, May 23, through Sunday, May 26, at the Phoenix Convention Center. Daily admission prices are $15 to $30 while full event memberships is $50.

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