Giving Them Hell – Mike Mignola Sees His Major Creations Hit the Silver Screen
Originally printed in New York Resident the week of March 29, 2004
“I remember having a giant grin,” Mike Mignola recalled of seeing the big screen debut of his decade-old comic book character, Hellboy, at a 1 a.m. screening in Austin. Mignola, a current Battery Park resident and on-and-off New Yorker for the past 20 years, is on a surreal joy ride as his grand Hollywood adventure nears fruition.
“I’m almost at the point I can sit back and enjoy the ride,” Mignola said.
Indeed, Mignola is much more involved in the film’s production than one would expect him to be. Signing on as an associate producer and designer, he has been taken away from the drawing board, with his last issue of the comic book seeing print in fall 2000.
The resultant flick, however, is startling, as longtime readers of the comic will find a movie that looks almost exactly like its source material.
It’s been a long, strange road for Mignola and New York, traditionally the center of the comic industry. A young Mignola first moved here in 1982 looking for work.
“It really helped because I wasn’t a superstar coming out of the gate,” he explained. Showing up in the office of Marvel was a success, with Mignola starting out on such comics as The Incredible Hulk and Rocket Raccoon.
Eventually he went out to California, a move Mignola partially credits for a career stall. Still, it was responsible for his first foray into film.
While living in San Francisco and working on the comic adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula feature, Mignola attempted to drop off some pages of art at the offices of American Zoetrope and accidentally ended up doing some design and storyboarding for the movie.
Not too long after his Dracula comic hit the stands, Mignola turned to Hellboy, a series concerning a cynical investigator of paranormal activity for a secret government agency who himself is of paranormal, if not demonic, origins.
While working on this tongue-in-cheek horror series, he found himself drafted twice more for design work on big screen productions: Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire (Mignola’s discovery of its animation studio being decorated with drawings of his Hellboy comic put it “in the top five surreal moments of my life”) and on Blade 2 with future Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro.
But for all his excursions into movie magic, Mignola claims he wants nothing more than to return to his drawing board, saying that film isn’t his focus.
“I’m glad it’s not what I do for a living, but it’s a fun experiment,” he elaborated. “It’s an interesting social thing to do every couple years.”
As the build-up to the film’s premiere comes to a peak, Mignola is back in Manhattan and ready to resume his career, hoping to have a new Hellboy comic out by the end of the year, but there’s a catch: Finding that his drawing for the series has slowed down, Mignola wishes to keep with his schedule of issuing one miniseries every 12 months but doesn’t intend to draw the main Hellboy series for the next 3 years.
While he still intends to draw “periodic” short stories, the next three serials would still be written by Mignola but drawn by a different artist. Mignola would return for the fourth serial, an important story arc for the series. In the meantime, he would concentrate on an “alternative project.”
This stay in Manhattan started 2½ years ago, and Mignola still finds himself drawn to the city.
“There’s so much history and so many doors you don’t know what’s behind,” he said.
While he’d love to do a book that just wandered through city imagery, Mignola hasn’t yet. He’d started on a project involving a partially ruined New York, but 9/11 happened and he dropped it. He does have a miniseries plotted out featuring his Lobster Johnson character romping through 1930s New York, but it’s not been determined that he’ll draw that one himself.
As he settles back into his studio, Mignola, ever the self-deprecating artist, is still somewhat incredulous that anyone would take interest in a work that’s as personal to him as Hellboy is. He has found at least one silver lining in all the newfound attention, though.
“Suddenly, it’s something people have heard of,” he said.