Comic book creator Mike Mignola is best known for his work on Hellboy, the demonic defender of Earth from paranormal, satanic, and otherwise bizarre threats. For over twenty-five years, the writer and artist has leveraged his talents to create some of the wildest and most provocative stories ever published by Dark Horse comics.
Hellboy's popularity skyrocketed with the release of 2004's Hellboy film and its 2008 sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Both films were written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, while a third film found itself stalled in development limbo for many years. Finally, April 2019 saw the release of a cinematic reboot of the series, simply titled Hellboy. Though the film was faithful to the comics, it ultimately failed to make a lasting impression at the box office.
While promoting the home video release of Hellboy, Mike Mignola spoke with Screen Rant about his history with the Hellboy character, including his work on the film, Hellboy III, which ultimately became the current reboot. He discusses what it's like to see his creation become part of the work of authors other than himself, and even shares fond memories of his time working on the cult Disney film, Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
We're doing this interview for the home video release of Hellboy. I like doing interviews at different points in a movie's life cycle, but the Blu ray and digital era is something like "last call" for me. There's something special about this period of time. So, for people who missed out or skipped the movie, what would you say to them now that they can get it on Digital or Blu ray?
There's so much frenzy around the release of a movie, and so many people jumping in with opinions, fairly or unfairly. It creates a certain atmosphere, and I think the nice thing is, now that's died down, so there's not so much noise about the movie. Maybe now people can say, "now I'll judge for myself." And it wasn't in theaters for that long. I kept running into people who said, "I see you have a movie coming out, I really want to see it," but I had to point out that it had already come and gone. It went pretty fast! Hopefully, this is a chance for a lot of people to see it, without the frenzy of initial reviews. It's a relaxed time for people to sit down and judge for themselves.
The atmosphere is so fast nowadays. Blockbusters, or especially aspiring blockbusters, mid-tier movies, just kinda get thrown out there and never get a chance to grow their audience.
Also, you have critics, and by critics I mean whomever; everybody is a critic now, everybody is an online critic. You have so many people making snap judgments based on a movie trailer, or a story that they heard third or fourth-hand that suddenly turns into internet fact. It's nice when people get a chance to actually see the thing and judge for themselves.
Absolutely. I don't want to ask stuff like, "why wasn't the box office strong," because I know you've been over that a million times by now. Instead, there's a lot of storylines in this movie that get set up, like with Abe Sapien, Baba Yaga, and Lobster Johnson – my favorite. Whether or not we're going to get movies based on any of those characters in the future, which of your comics would you want people to read if they're going to learn more about these characters who are only teased in the film?
Well, it's hard to say. There's so many things... The Wild Hunt storyline, if people want to see where this story was going, there are three books that make up this epic. Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, and The Storm and the Fury. It's one big story, and if we were to continue the films, I think we would use those books as the guide for where the series would go. Baba Yaga has popped up in a bunch of different places, but she does function in a certain way in that storyline. Lobster Johnson has his own book, his own series of books. If people like Lobster Johnson, there's a lot of Lobster Johnson out there to like. Abe Sapien, he's got his own line of books, and he's been in a bunch of the Hellboy stories. There's a lot of material out there. I think the beauty, for people who are discovering Hellboy with this film, or with any of the films, is, if you like this world, it's not like there's only one book out there; there's 25 years of material out there.
That's a lot of Hellboy!
As a fan of certain things, I'm always frustrated when I love something and I find out there's only one or two books. But if you go into Hellboy, oh, there's 80 books! That's nice! You don't need to read them all to know what's going on, but the more you read, the more you see how things are connected. It's not like the Marvel universe, where you don't know what the hell's going on if you pick up a stray book. I've always made it something where you didn't need to read everything. You just needed to read what you like! But the more you read, the more you see the big picture. It's something I'm really happy with with this film. Because we needed to introduce Lobster Johnson, because we teased Abe Sapien, and we had the Baba Yaga in there, you got the sense of how big this world is. It was a great teaser for the comics!
In the movie business, it's kind of hard to tell the difference between fact and myth, you know, these Hollywood legends. From my understanding, Hellboy started out as Hellboy III before it became a reboot. Aside from the title character, do you think there's any DNA from that lost sequel that's in this Hellboy?
Let's see... It was always going to be The Wild Hunt. It was always going to be that storyline. But you're right, at the beginning, the idea was, how do we go from the Del Toro movies to continue into this storyline? Plot-wise, it's always been similar. When the decision was made to reboot, it was really just a matter of saying, "well, okay, let's take the Del Toro-isms that we put into the original script, let's take those out. You know, I don't know that there's anything in there that really carries over that's specifically Del Toro. It was more of an effort we made of putting those Del Toro-isms in there. It was easy to take them out. I know that was one reason why Neil Marshall wanted to do the Hellboy origin sequence, even though it was covered really well in Del Toro's movie. He wanted to put his own spin on that, so it was a different version of the Hellboy origin scene.
I know you were closely involved in the Del Toro films. What was your involvement with this one? I always wonder how these adaptations work when the creator is right there. Are you on call in case anyone has lore questions? Did you do a draft of the script? How does that work?
I was definitely on call. When they sent me the rough breakdown of what they wanted to, they got me involved right away. I was there to go, if you're doing Wild Hunt, don't do this; do this. Take this piece from over here and put it over there. All I could do is make suggestions, but as long as they're asking for my opinion, I'll give them my opinion. I was very involved. On this one, I was very involved with the script. It went on for... There were a billion different drafts of this script. In fact, Chris Golden, whom I'd worked with before on novels, he and I worked on a couple of drafts of the script, somewhere in the middle, and then it went back to (credited screenwriter Andrew) Cosby. We worked on the script, wow, up until filming. We shot for a fortnight in the U.K., and then we had a few days in Bulgaria before they started filming there. and those couple of days in Bulgaria, before they started filming, I sat down with the producer, and with Andrew Cosby, and we went through the script again, and made changes. It was little stuff, not major stuff, because everybody's working on the film, but it was dialogue changes. Say this instead of that. I've been very fortunate on all of these Hellboy things, that they've wanted my involvement. You know, if they're going to ask for my opinion, I'm going to give my opinion.
So, when you were working on the script, that was before it was a reboot?
Is there a chance in a million years that the old script could be made into a comic book version of Hellboy III?
You know, I think Del Toro mentioned it to me once, and I said no. I think, let the comics be the comics. Comics are confusing enough for people. Let's not have two different versions of the Hellboy comic out there. My vote would be "no."
That makes sense. Plus, you know, they never get the eyes right.
Exactly. That's probably true, yeah (laughs)
So, I write for Screen Rant, and we do a lot of stories about Disney. One underrated classic that comes up when talking about all-time Disney classics is Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
That's nice, because that's a movie nobody talked about for years! It seemed like there is a generation of people who grew up with that film who are now excited about that film, that's cool.
I think, for people who are my age, I'm 28, that was one of the last big movies we watched on cable as kids. So even if we missed it in the theaters, it was on one of those cable channels every day. That's how I saw it. But with the current trend of live-action Disney remakes, would you love to see them try to do a live-action remake of this? Would you be interested in working on that?
Yeah! I mean, they would never call me to work on it, but that would be cool. It wasn't a huge box office movie. But that's what we had in mind. When they came to me, they said we want to do something that was a throwback to the adventure films they used to do, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I think it would be a terrific live action film. It's funny, nobody has ever mentioned that before. That would be great! Hopefully, somebody at Disney reads this and wants to make that Atlantis movie, because I think that would be really cool.
Then I'd deserve a producer credit! So, there aren't a whole lot of truly huge comic book characters who are wholly creator-owned. Hellboy is yours. You've had your stamp on almost everything he's ever been involved in. But there are novels and stories here and there which you did not write. When you see those stories, which you didn't write, are you like a parent watching their child go out by themselves?
It is strange, yes. I have a daughter who is 25. She's in Minnesota in vet school. It's very similar. I used to know what she was doing. But now, I check in with her once a week. We Skype. We occasionally message back and forth, but there are gigantic chunks of her time where I have absolutely no idea what she's doing. That's very much what it's like with Hellboy. I check in with the various writers who work on the various Hellboy books, periodically. But I'm not there day-in-day-out, in contact with these guys. There are Hellboy stories that show up, and some of the related books, they show up and I go, oh, I remember we sort of mentioned that kind of idea in one of these long lunches or phone conversations, and it evolved into this story. Or there are stories that pop up where I go, "I had absolutely no involvement with that." For the most part, I'm working with writers whom I've worked with for a very long time. And at some point, they kind of go, "I know what I'm doing. Mignola trusts me." I do trust them. I know it's in capable hands. But it is weird. It's very strange where you go, oh, my little thing is out there, not beyond my control, but I'm not day-in-day-out controlling it.
You said your daughter was 25?
And Hellboy just celebrated his 25th year...
Yes. When somebody pointed out to me that Hellboy was turning 25, my first thought was, "Holy s***, that means my daughter is 25!" She was born the month before Hellboy was published.
So, subconsciously or deliberately, is there a bit of Hellboy in your daughter and Bruttenholm in yourself?
Uhhhh, no, I don't think so! I mean, there may be, who knows! That's the kind of stuff I don't actually think... If it gets in there, it's in there, but it's not the kind of stuff I'm ever going to analyze!
Hellboy is out on Blu ray, Digital, and On Demand now.