Mike Mignola is best known as the award-winning creator/writer/artist of Hellboy, although he began working as a professional cartoonist in the early 1980s, drawing “a little bit of everything for just about everybody.”
He was also a production designer on the Disney film Atlantis: The Lost Empire and visual consultant to Guillermo del Toro on both Blade 2 and the film version of Hellboy. Mignola lives in southern California with his wife, daughter, and cat.
Interview: Mike Mignola
by THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY
PUBLISHED IN DEC. 2012
Mike Mignola is an award-winning comic writer and artist, perhaps best known as the creator of Hellboy. He is also the author (with Christopher Golden) of the novels Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier, Joe Golem and the Drowning City, and Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism.
This interview first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the entire interview and the rest of the show, in which the hosts discuss various geeky topics.
How did you decide to start doing prose fiction?
Well, I had come up with an idea for a graphic novel—Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire—and I just never got around to it. Hellboy was taking up more and more of my time, and the Baltimore storyline got bigger and bigger, and I realized that I was never going to be able to take a year away from Hellboy to do this thing. But I had told Christopher Golden about it, and every once and a while he’d say, “When are you going to do that vampire thing?” And eventually I just said, “What if I just give you all my notes that I have for this thing and you write it up as a novel?” And he said yes, which suddenly made me a prose writer.
Baltimore was an interesting case because I really did know eighty-five percent of the book. It just had two clear holes in it, where Chris needed to plug in his own stories. So it was almost like, “insert a short story here and insert a short story here.” Whereas with Joe Golem and the Drowning City, I thought I had the whole story, but after I actually wrote up my notes I said, “Oh, actually this thing is pretty blurry.” So that was when Chris contributed a lot of story content to tie the whole thing together, whereas with Baltimore he was almost just filling in a few holes.
Does Christopher Golden write all the actual text? How involved are you with that aspect of it?
We do a lot of phone call stuff. He’ll send me a couple chapters at a time, and I’ll comb through them and then just torture the shit out of him. We go back and forth. The good thing about working with Chris is he will defer to me on certain things, but if he feels really strongly about something he’ll argue his case. And I don’t think there are any places where we really got at cross purposes about stuff. On Joe Golem, I think because I had such a loose outline, there was a lot more discussion there about how are we going to fill in this, or how are we going to tie in this to this. So Joe Golem was probably a fifty-fifty collaboration whereas Baltimore was much more just me.
The one thing I didn’t want to do was draw actual scenes that were taking place in the book. Mostly I did portraits of the characters and did little spot illustrations that were mostly meant to provide mood and atmosphere and not spell out, “Oh, the guy’s hitting him, that means he’s standing here and he’s hitting this guy over here.” I tried not to draw the monsters. I just wanted to create a mood and not tell the reader too much. I wanted the words to inform the reader. For a guy who reads fiction, I’m not a big fan of illustrated books. I mean, I like illustration, but as a guy reading a book I don’t want an artist telling me this is how these guys look.
So how do you know Chris Golden?
Oh god, from way, way back, from early on with the Hellboy stuff. He was doing interviews for some kind of magazine, and he interviewed me and he was a big Hellboy fan, and he was the first person who suggested, “Hey, someone should write a Hellboy novel.” Meaning that he wanted to write Hellboy novels. So he wrote the first couple of Hellboy novels.
You also adapted Baltimore into a comic book series. Why did you decide to do that particular one in both formats?
I think even when we were doing the novel we were talking about doing a comic, because there’s a part of the book where the main character is pursuing this vampire and chasing him all over the world and running into any number of other things, but the novel wasn’t about that. The novel was about the beginning and then eventually catching up with the guy, so we just thought, wow, what a great opportunity to do a comic to cover that period—or other books, but as comics guys we’re thinking that this would be nice if this thing works as comic. So it wasn’t a matter of really adapting the novel as much as it was filling in a big missing chunk of the novel.
So your newest book is Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism. What’s that about?
It’s about a priest who decides to teach orphan boys Bible lessons using puppets that he’s made, which is a really bad idea because puppets are scary, and puppets do things when people are sleeping, and they run around and get their own ideas about things.
We were talking on the phone about something, and I was talking about puppets—because I often talk about puppets—and after maybe a minute Chris said, “You know what would be funny? Blah, blah, blah,” and we talked back and forth. Ninety-nine percent of this book is entirely Chris. I believe the only reason my name appears first on the book is because graphically it looked better to have my name up there. So it’s something I’m actually kind of uncomfortable with, because it really is Chris’s book with just a few illustrations by me.
Given the cover art, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that the story involves demonic forces, so between that and Hellboy, what is it about the idea of demonic forces that interests you, and have you ever believed that such things were real?
I’ve never believed that much in that stuff, but it doesn’t mean I’m that crazy about hanging out in haunted houses. So I guess I believe enough in that stuff that on the one occasion where I did stakeout a place that was supposedly haunted, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. But for the most part my personal beliefs about that stuff don’t inform the work. I’ve just always liked monsters, since I was a little kid. It was always the thing I found interesting, it’s always what I wanted to draw, it’s always what I wanted to read, and so, yeah, I don’t know. It’s a good question for a therapist, why I like monsters. But I tend to not question it. It’s what pays the bills, so that’s kind of nice.
You’ve said that when you first told your wife you wanted to do a comic called “Hellboy,” she gave you a look like “We’re always gonna live in a studio apartment, aren’t we?”
That’s the look, that’s the one. I still remember it. I guess I’d made some noise about starting my own comic. I’d been working for Marvel and DC for ten years, had done a little bit of everything. At the time, other guys were creating their own books, and everybody was making a million dollars, and I think she thought I was going to go come up with Batman. And I’d drawn Batman, and I toyed with coming up with a Batman kind of thing, but the more I thought about it, the more I really wanted to draw just what I wanted to draw. And the only name I’d ever come up with was Hellboy. So when I came out and said, “Yeah, I’ve decided what I’m doing, I’m going to do Hellboy,” I think she was like, “Oh, that’s not ever going to be Batman.”
But she was great. She was really encouraging, and in fact when I did the first series—and it sold okay, it certainly didn’t set the world on fire—my first thought was, well then, let me run back to DC Comics and do another Batman book. You know, I’ll do my commercial books and then I’ll do Hellboy maybe between the commercial books. And she said, “No, why don’t you just do another Hellboy right away.” So as much as I’m sure she didn’t have a lot of confidence in the Hellboy idea, she did say to give it a chance.
But Hellboy has become a big commercial success. So do you think the concept actually was more commercial than you gave it credit for?
Oh, well certainly it’s been much more commercial than either of us ever imagined, I’m sure. I mean, the funniest question I get from people is, “How did you come up with this commercial franchise?” Well, first off, if you’re looking to come up with a commercial franchise, chances are you’re not going to call it “Hellboy.” You know, it does limit its potential as a Saturday morning cartoon and as a toy that can be sold in Toys-R-Us. I mean, I thought the name was cute and funny. What I guess I wasn’t prepared for is how many people would really have trouble with the word “hell.”
So yeah, it’s completely a fluke. It’s just that for whatever reason the comic was appealing to comics people. It appealed to a broader audience maybe than a lot of the regular comics I was doing. Suddenly I found out I had a lot more women reading the book. I’m not sure why. Maybe because he’s not a superhero, maybe because he’s written a little bit more with some humor and he’s a little bit more of a regular guy, so it’s just kind of funny that he looks like the devil but he talks—kind of, I hope, I think—like a regular guy. And then certainly you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the movie. I got really lucky that a very, very talented director [Guillermo del Toro] happened to be a big fan of the comic.
When the movie came out I saw that some theaters refused to screen it because they didn’t want it showing at the same time as Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.
I have heard many people talk about going to the theater and there was The Passion of the Christ playing here and over here is the line for Hellboy. I think that’s hilarious. Yeah, I mean, I’ve heard some of those stories but it’s always second-or-third-hand. And I’ve heard that there were places where people didn’t want to sell the comic, and I’ve heard there were people protesting this or that, but I’ve never seen any of that stuff. I’ve always lived in places like northern California or New York or L.A., so it’s not like I’m living in Middle America someplace where that kind of stuff tends to go on.
So you don’t get angry letters from people or anything like that?
No, I’ve gotten the reverse. When the first Hellboy series came out, in the same batch of fan mail I got a letter from somebody from the Church of Satan and I got a letter from a minister, and they both liked it. And I thought, “What am I doing that I’m making both these guys happy?” So yeah, I just think because Hellboy is essentially a good guy, and he fights bad guys, it’s pretty cut and dried, and I think the humor element does make it go down a lot easier, and it’s not really gory and it doesn’t really wallow in Satanism or anything like that. I’ve heard with the movie a lot of people said, “Oh, I didn’t want to see it because it was called ‘Hellboy,’ and I thought it was going to be scary or violent or Satanic.” But then anybody who’s seen the movie goes, “Oh, that was cute.”
I’ve watched a number of interviews with you, and fans always want to know about your input on various film projects, and you sort of have to explain that actually you’ve had very minimal involvement in all those projects. Is that a fair assessment?
Well, I’ve had minimal involvement in some things, but on the Hellboy stuff I was heavily involved—certainly in the design stages—at least on the first film. I actually spent the same amount of time on the second film as I did on the first one, but I think the difference is that on the second film most of my involvement doesn’t show in the film, whereas in the first film there’s quite a bit that I can say, “I did this, I came up with this, I wrote that line of dialogue.” The second film was much more a del Toro picture, so a lot of my influence is still there, but it’s buried under layers of other people’s stuff.
The one I always have to say—it’s always in my bio and a lot of people pick up on it—is with Francis Coppola’s Dracula film. That’s one where I was literally involved in that film for about a day and a half. So that’s where a lot of people—certain interviews and things, or certain articles—have given me credit for a lot of stuff on that picture that I had nothing to do with.
And The Hobbit as well, right?
Yeah, I was on The Hobbit for ten days, but that was the del Toro version of The Hobbit. And to my knowledge, visually nothing of the del Toro version of The Hobbit survived into the Peter Jackson version of The Hobbit.
I was really a fan of Hellboy 2, particularly the Prince Nuada, but is that basically a del Toro character or is he drawn from the comics at all?
No, he’s not drawn from the comic at all, even though there are parallels in the second film, I think, to the last big arc I did on Hellboy. The whole war between the fairies and the regular world, that idea was in this last arc of Hellboy—which actually I’m not even sure del Toro’s ever read. But it’s similar to what was in my mind when we started working on that second picture. When we started on the second picture, the original idea was to go back and pick a story from the comic and adapt it to film. But that first film strayed so far away from its comic book roots that there was really no way to go back to the comic.
So what we had to do was come up with a sequel to the film, as opposed to another comic book adaptation. So with the prince character, that was one of those organic couple of days where del Toro and I banged around a lot of ideas. We came up with the original story together. So I don’t know who came up with the idea of this prince character originally, but certainly once he got fleshed out with the visuals and stuff, that was all del Toro.
It was interesting with that character because he’s the villain, but in a way I sympathized more with him than with Hellboy.
Well yeah, I mean, when I do villains I have to understand the villain. And I’m glad the prince came off that way, because certainly that was the way I imagined him. This idea of a guy who was completely in the right, but he was going to take it too far. And I always went back to the American Indians, and I said it’s basically, “You’ve taken our land, you’re building shopping malls all over our sacred land, and you want us to just go down quietly? No, I’m gonna fight back.” And the idea was, what if Geronimo had access to nuclear weapons? Would he use them? Or was he going to keep fighting out in the desert and getting picked off one guy at a time? So that was the basic idea—his cause is just, it’s just how far he’s gonna take it.
And yeah, I mean, the Hellboy character in that second picture is so far away from my version of Hellboy, because you had the whole love interest thing, which had morphed into this first year marriage squabbling kind of thing, which is totally alien to my character. So the Hellboy character did quite a few things in the second film that my Hellboy wouldn’t do. In fact, there was a moment in one of the meetings where I said, “Hellboy wouldn’t do that,” and del Toro said, “Your Hellboy wouldn’t, mine would.” And that was one of those real moments of, “Oh, that’s right. I’m working on a del Toro movie. I’ve gotten pretty far away from working on a regular Hellboy thing.”
What are some other big ways that the comics differ from what people see on screen?
My Hellboy is much older. Well, I guess they’re both the same age, it’s just my character matured somewhere back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And del Toro’s Hellboy, even though they both arrived on Earth in the ‘40s, somehow del Toro’s Hellboy is still a lovesick teenager. My Hellboy is modeled on my father in some ways, a guy who’s been in the Korean War and he’s traveled and he’s done a lot of stuff, and he’s kind of got a “been there, done that” attitude. He’s also been in the world. Del Toro’s change was to have Hellboy bottled up in a room and mooning over the girl he can’t have. With my Hellboy, there were no girl problems. That element of the character was completely not in the comic.
But the one thing I’ve been really happy about is that for the most part people who are fans of the comic—despite all those big changes I just mentioned—they’re fans of the movie also. You know, del Toro didn’t think twice about making all those changes to the character for the film. It was only when the film was about to come out that he started saying, “Gee, I wonder if the fans will lynch us.” And I said, “I just hope they don’t lynch me before I can point them in your direction, because that shit wasn’t my idea.” But for the most part it went down just fine with my audience. I’ve actually only had one guy come up to me and say—which is a weird thing for somebody to say—come up to me and say, “I discovered Hellboy from the film, and then I read the comic, but I like the movie better.” I’m sure there are people who feel that way, but I’ve only had one guy come up to me and actually say it.
What are some of the craziest things that happen to Hellboy in the comics? I was reading that he travels to the bottom of the ocean and is interacting with mermaids and stuff like that?
Yeah. I love writing about the real world, but I’m not crazy about drawing the real world. So at some point I did shift Hellboy in a much more fantasy direction. He was an agent for the BPRD (the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense), and he was going all over the world, and that was all fine. Then I had him just quit, and the first thing I did was just chuck him to the bottom of the ocean. And I really thought, “Uh oh, I’ve turned a corner and am going to lose my audience. He’s not fighting Nazis, now he’s fighting mermaids.” But just for me as an artist, I wanted a lot more freedom with my environments. So yeah, that was pretty weird. And then when I stopped drawing the book and was just writing the book, that’s when he got a love interest, because I found an artist who’s much better at drawing women than I am. Then I did this giant storyline where we find out he’s actually a direct descendant of King Arthur, so he’s actually the legitimate King of England. That was weird. So yeah, once you’ve done that, the only thing left to do is kill him off, so I did that.
And then he’s in the afterlife?
Yeah, he’s in hell. So I’m drawing the book because hell is much more fun to draw than New Jersey or someplace else. Nobody’s going to write me a letter and say, “You said he was in this place, but what you drew isn’t really that place and they don’t really have a castle there.” Nobody’s going tell me, “Your hell isn’t quite right.” It’s my hell, my version of hell. I get to draw whatever I want.
As someone who works on the darker side of the comic book spectrum, do you have any recommendations for what you would consider the scariest comics?
For my money, the best comic book series ever done that was really smart and really scary—well, it’s hard to say “scary,” but it had some disturbing stuff in it—was the old Tomb of Dracula, series by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. Gene could ground stuff in the real world, but he could do mood and atmosphere and is one of the very few guys I’ve ever seen who can draw stuff that I actually find really disturbing. Without being really wildly abstract, the guy could just draw scary, disturbing images.
And he did another series for DC called Night Force, which I only dimly remember, but I do remember the image of some kind of ghost thing in there. I won’t say it scared the crap out of me, but I still remember it, and it was really disturbing. Unfortunately, so few people remember that stuff, and it’s not the kind of stuff the comic book audience wants. DC was going to collect it into a book, but they got such bad orders they couldn’t even do a book collection of it. So you’d have to round up the individual comics, which I really should do one day. But yeah, the Tomb of Dracula series has been reprinted a few times, and that is my favorite long-running horror comic.
You’ve said that you prefer Victorian literature to more contemporary stuff. What is it about that type of material that you find more appealing?
Well, a lot of it is the time period. There’s an old-fashionedness to that kind of literature. I mean, I like ghosts, I like more or less traditional vampires. I like monster stories. When you get past the pulp magazine era, I really think H.P. Lovecraft changed horror literature radically, and it kind of put the final stake in the traditional vampire, and suddenly all werewolves and things got kind of quaint, and it became much more abstract, and I like some of that stuff a lot, but I also like a simpler world. You get much past the ‘20s, ‘30s, you know, I just don’t have that much interest in the modern world. I like fog and wagon wheels and guys on horseback.
A contemporary author who it seems like might appeal to you is China Miéville. Have you ever read any of his work?
Yeah, I have read China, and yeah, I like his work a lot. A lot of it is too fantasy for me, but I have read his stuff. I illustrated a fascinating story that he wrote years ago, “Reports of Certain Events in London,” about streets that come and go. People notice that this street wasn’t here and now it is, and an expedition goes down this street—guys tethered on a rope go down this street and vanish. The illustration was some old buildings with this flapping end of a rope. And it’s such an interesting story because—having lived in New York City, having spent time in places like London—you see where a story like that comes from, because you walk down a street and go, “That wasn’t here. I swear this alley wasn’t here six months ago.”
I saw that you were reading the anthology The Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, which is this massive retrospective of weird fiction. What do think of that?
I thought it was great, what little I’ve read. I bought the book, and I love it, and it’s on my shelf, but I had to then buy it on Kindle so I could actually read it, because it’s too damn big! It’s too damn big to sit in my chair and hold it on my lap. There’s another one that’s two volumes, Black Water and Black Water 2, where they’re pulling all these short stories from different cultures. Because I’m fairly well-versed in the Western writers, but you get something like Jeff and Ann’s book and this Black Water series, and you’re pulling Asian stories and Indian stories, all these different things in there, and it just gives such a great perspective on supernatural literature.
I saw that you’ve done some work adapting pulp writers like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. What’s it like working with those stories?
I actually wrote a Conan story, and it was a nightmare. I went through my big Robert E. Howard period when I was in high school, and I loved that Conan stuff, and I thought it would be fun to write it, and I actually wrote one based on one of his unfinished story outlines. So it had a beginning, middle, and end, and I thought, “This’ll be great. I’ll just expand it.” But the character has no sense of humor, and he actually does say things like, “By Crom,” which is just so silly to actually write. Yeah, that story was unexpectedly a nightmare to do. I think it turned out OK, but it was rough.
The Leiber stuff fortunately I didn’t have to write, and Leiber’s world was so much fun. I mean, a lot of it was city stuff, and I was living in New York City, so walking around New York—which I think was Leiber’s inspiration for his fantasy world—was exciting. I was in exactly the right place to draw that city. And a lot of the art I based on buildings in New York City. And then the stuff that didn’t take place in the city was just so wonderful and exotic. I’m much better I think—or more comfortable—drawing these kinds of fantasy worlds. I don’t actually read that kind of stuff, but I like that liberty to create a world.
And those books have a lot of humor in them, as opposed to, say, Conan.
Yeah, there’s a lot of humor, and Howard Chaykin wrote the scripts. And Howard I think is very sympathetic to the way Leiber wrote, so when Howard added stuff, it had that same kind of sarcastic humor that the Leiber stuff had. I wish I’d been a couple years further along in my career, I could have done a better job. That was my pre-Hellboy stuff. I can actually still look at those Leiber adaptations and say, “Yeah, you know, I did all right,” but I’m not a big fan of my early work.
What do you think about the way weird fiction writers like Lovecraft have been adapted to comics?
You know, I just haven’t seen it done very well. I think there are certain things about Lovecraft that are so cliché—the big tentacled monster is so cliché. So many of the comics just kind of reduce Lovecraft to the same gag of, “Oh no, the big rubber monster’s gonna show up.” I’m sure I’m missing things—I know Richard Corben has done some stuff that’s really beautiful—but so much of Lovecraft relies on mood, and if guys just focus on the big monster/cosmic universe stuff, they’re only really getting part of Lovecraft. And I just think with the mood and atmosphere of those stories, comics are not the easiest place to do that. I also don’t think it’s been done on film. So yeah, the great Lovecraft adaptation I think is still to be done. But I’m not gonna do it.
It seems like you might be perfect to do it, because Lovecraft often doesn’t describe his monsters—because it’s scarier leaving it up to the imagination—and your work is full of these shadows that keep things so mysterious.
Yeah, and the times in my stuff where I’ve dealt with these Lovecraftian-type things, certainly the fact that I can’t draw a whole figure without throwing half of it into shadow, that does help. Certainly there’s a Lovecraft influence in my stuff. But rather than do an adaptation, I’d just as soon do my own stuff and then steer people back—when they say, “Where’d you get that idea?” you go, “Oh, go read H.P. Lovecraft.” There are times where I’ve really wanted to adapt certain things, and certainly it’s nice to be able to adapt somebody who’s a really good writer, because then you’ve got all these words and you don’t have to embarrass yourself writing your own words, but at this point I’ve kind of got my hands full doing my own stuff. And the beauty of adapting the folk tales and fairy tale stuff that I’m using a lot in Hellboy is I’ve got traditional, old stories that I can pick and choose elements of, but I can also play really fast and loose, which I just wouldn’t be terribly comfortable with [if I was]adapting a piece of literature.
You also worked on a Lovecraft/Batman crossover called The Doom that Came to Gotham. What was it like doing that?
That was a weird one. It was a strange project and my memory of it is kind of blurry, but I do remember that an artist/writer came to me and he was going to do this project, and I think he wanted me to co-write it with him. And I think he started drawing the book and I’m not really sure what happened, but at some point he was no longer on this project and I inherited the project, which had been his idea. So that’s the closest I’ve come to doing Lovecraft, where I actually used The Necronomicon and names from Lovecraft and stuff like that. I always forget about this project because DC didn’t keep it in print.
Do you think that Lovecraft plus Batman is a weird combination, or is there some natural synchronicity there?
I mean, I don’t know anything about Batman and really couldn’t care less about Batman, so putting Batman in a world where there are monsters makes Batman a lot more appealing to me. I know a lot more about Lovecraft than I know about Batman, so I’m sure that Batman book had a lot more to do with Lovecraft than it had to do with Batman. I actually co-wrote one issue of Batman, before I did Hellboy. I came up with the plot, but a friend of mine came in and wrote the script, because I just didn’t know anything about Batman. And I made it just a traditional ghost/vampire kind of story, and actually that story led to me doing Hellboy, because I loved making up this story, I loved what I had done with it, and I just thought, you know, did I want to make up more stories like that and shoehorn in characters I don’t care about or understand—like Batman or Wolverine or whoever the hell it is—or if I know the kind of stories I want to do, why don’t I just make up my own guy? So that’s how Hellboy came about.
That’s funny if you don’t feel any affinity for Batman, because I thought that was the only superhero they would let you draw, with your style.
I actually drew a lot of superheroes. I think it’s just that Batman was the only superhero that the audience liked me drawing. Batman’s easy. I mean, for me, for a guy who’s all about shadows—Batman is one of those characters who looks better the less you see of him. So if Hellboy didn’t work out, that was always going to be my fallback position. At the time I knew a lot of people at DC Comics, and I figured I could get other gigs doing Batman, but for the most part Batman lacks a supernatural element. I really wanted to do ghosts and monsters and things like that, and Batman comes close with some of those characters, but yeah, I’m kind of lucky I got away with this one Batman ghost story I got to do.
Speaking of Lovecraft, I saw that Guillermo del Toro was working on a film adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness. Were you following that project at all?
Yeah. I was never involved in that, but I did read the script at one point, and I know that as long as I’ve known him that’s been one of his dream projects. And actually, the couple of days I spent with him when we were trying to come up with the story for Hellboy 2, that same couple of days he was working on Mountains of Madness, so I think fifty percent of our Hellboy 2 conversation was him and his other writing partner working on Mountains of Madness. He was kind of running into one room to work on Mountains of Madness, and then running into the other room to come in and work on Hellboy.
Did you get any sense of what kind of movie it would have been?
I mean, obviously it’s been a rough picture to get made. He wanted to be very traditional, and he wanted to set it in the proper time period, which is going to scare studios, and of all Lovecraft’s stuff it’s the least human. It’s really about guys exploring and discovering this gigantic Lovecraftian universe and then running away from it. So I’m sure he would have done a great job, but I can see studios saying, “Who’s going to go see this?” Especially if you’re going to want $150 million or $200 million or whatever it was going to be to make it. That’s a big number for a movie about Arctic explorers and giant jellyfish.
You mentioned that you don’t think Lovecraft movies have been particularly successful. Are there any that you think are kind of flawed but they’re worth checking out?
There’s one called Dagon, which even though it’s called “Dagon” is actually an adaptation of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” where it’s a lot of guys running around in a spooky town, and what really works for that one is that the town itself is spooky. It’s got mood, it’s got tension, it’s got a lot of shadowy figures with kind of flipper arms that you don’t see too clearly. Unfortunately, I think where that movie falls apart is when you get a really good look at the monsters. Then it kind of becomes a big rubber octopus. But the stuff where you were getting these sort of mutant half-Lovecraftian guys skittering around through this godawful Spanish town in the rain, for atmosphere and everything I thought that worked really well.
I kind of wonder why they would change the name of the movie to Dagon when “Shadow Over Innsmouth” is actually an awesome title.
The more I see of the movie business, the less I understand about it. I have no idea what goes on with that stuff.
So the movie business is kind of like The Necronomicon—if you stare at it too long you just go insane?
Yeah, I guess. On the first Hellboy movie, with all the meetings where you’re trying to get it made, del Toro said, “I’m never going to have you in any of those meetings because you literally wouldn’t survive them.” Then when Chris and I were involved with trying to sell the Baltimore novel as a movie, that’s when I was in some of those meetings. And del Toro’s right, you know? It’s hard to be in the room and listen to some of these suggestions. And maybe this is lazy on my part, but I’ve got other things I could be doing. So for the most part, when we sell a book as a movie I kind of go, “Well, now it’s theirs and I hope they don’t do too horrible of a job with it, but they paid me so I’m going to take my money and go home and work on my comic, and if the director wants my involvement, that’s great.” But you can’t lose sight of the fact that at the end of the day, they’re going to do what they’re going to do.
On the first Hellboy movie, there were a lot of things that del Toro wanted to do that I talked him out of, whereas on the second Hellboy film, there were a lot of things I tried to talk him out of and I couldn’t. He knew what he wanted to make and I just kind of had to suck it up and say, “Well, okay, it’s your movie. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Are there any other new or upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
I’m doing the Hellboy in Hell stuff, which is taking way longer than I thought. And since Hellboy in Hell isn’t a miniseries—it’s an ongoing series—I don’t even foresee other stuff. I want to find more time to just draw pictures, but the only comic book work I have planned is the Hellboy in Hell stuff.
Are you planning on doing any more collaborations with Chris Golden?
I shouldn’t say no, but we don’t have anything else in the works. We haven’t talked about anything, and I have a love-hate thing with book illustration, as I mentioned before. As a reader I’m not a big fan of illustrated books, and I think I’ve done that kind of thing as well as I know how to do. I’m kind of going through a phase where I’m looking at what I’ve done and saying, “Yeah, that was nice, but really I’m a comic book artist and there’s a lot of stuff I want to do in comics,” so I’m looking to do as few things as possible that take me away from comics.
Going through that whole movie period—suddenly you’re working on movies, you’re working on animated shows, you’re illustrating books. I spent about six, seven years there where I wasn’t drawing comics, and you do kind of go, “Yeah, I’d like to do a children’s book, and I’d like to do this, and I’d like to do that.” And there’s so many different things you can do you’ve got the connections or people you know who are at various publishers and stuff. There’s this world of possibilities, and for me anyway I kind of had to reign it in and say, “Yeah, but what do you really want to do?” I made up a comic where I could draw whatever I want with no editorial interference or parameters, and I’ve got a publisher that will let me do whatever I want, so why don’t I just go do that and create a body of work? I’ve got so much of my own stuff I want to do, I’d just kind of like to do that.
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