Mike Mignola arrived at his panel Saturday at the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo with no agenda and no safety net. "I'm on your time," he told the audience, "so I want to talk about what you want to talk about."
And that's what the popular creator did. For the next hour, Mignola sat alone at a table at the head of a cavernous panel room half-filled with fans and answered their questions about "Hellboy," "B.P.R.D.," and his other works. There were no big revelations, just a comfortable back and forth between the creator and his readers.
The first question was whether the Hellboy universe, which includes movies and spinoffs of the original series, has become overwhelming.
"The Hellboy universe as I view the Hellboy universe, is not the movies," Mignola said. "There is a movie universe that I have little to do with. My Hellboy universe is the comics. It's not my goal to make it a bigger universe, it's just that as these stories pop up, they have to get done."
"I think we are doing a good job of keeping it a rich world without a ton of information," he continued. "Some of these comics, it's like this guy shows up and says 'Hi! I got 200 years of universe that I'm going to tell you about on page two!'"
Mignola's tack, on the other hand, is to slowly fill in the gaps with stories that interest him: "My goal with 'Hellboy' was, and still is, to eventually cover all the different geographical areas and do the folklore specific to those areas. There's about a 45 or 50 year gap between when Hellboy appears on Earth and when the first Hellboy story takes place, so, little by little, I'm throwing stories into those years. Those are 50 years of Hellboy just being a guy roaming around the world fighting monsters.
"More and more, it's a matter of me finding another artist and finding out what they are drawing. If someone came to me and said 'I'm really interested in China,' I would be really excited. At this point, what I'm going to be doing with 'Hellboy' myself as an artist is different from the roaming around the world folklore stuff, so I'm looking for someone to draw China."
Asked whether he comes up with a story idea first and looks for the right artist for it or finds an artist and then tailors a story to his interests, Mignola answered "Yes. It's a little bit of all that."
"I wanted to do an Appalachian folk tale," he said, referring to "The Crooked Man." I didn't have the story, I just wanted to do something set in those mountains, and when I worked with Richard [Corben], I knew he would be the perfect guy, so I wrote the story knowing he would draw it."
"I have a lot of half-formed stories, some are completely plotted, and when I find the right artist I kind of roll through the files in my head and say 'He would be perfect for this.' If I find that artist, I can shift them more toward what that guy does. I like to work to an artist's strengths or what an artist is interested in."
That's what Mignola plans to do with Duncan Fegredo, who is currently illustrating the main "Hellboy" series. "I will be picking up the 'Hellboy' storyline after Duncan finishes, but I will give Duncan the opportunity to tell me what he wants to do and I'll throw him into that 50 year gap where he roamed around being classic Hellboy," Mignola said.
Mignola said he does not insist on a core aesthetic, although since he writes the main "Hellboy" line, it is important to have an artist who has a similar visual style to his own. "Others I feel can drift toward me," he said. "With ['B.P.R.D.'] writer John Arcudi, it's important for me to give him freedom to work with who he wants to work with. Most of the artists who work on the 'Abe Sapien's, other than the first one I wrote, are chosen by the editor or writer of that book. I don't want to put together a creative team and say 'You work it out.' It's important to me that John Arcudi be comfortable. For the second 'Witchfinder' book, I can't announce the artist but John Arcudi said 'I want to do a book with this artist,' so I said 'Let's make up a book for this artist within the Hellboy universe.'"
Mignola said many projects that start out independent end up in the "Hellboy" comics. "The Hellboy universe is like a black hole: Little by little, everything I want to do gets sucked into 'Hellboy.' The projects that don't get done sit on the edge of this black hole, and some have enough gravity that they don't get sucked in. 'Baltimore' [the prose novel Mignola wrote with Christopher Golden] never rolled into the Hellboy world. The novel I am doing with Chris Golden sits on the edge. King Arthur is sitting out here, I don't really have a real book, pfft! It's in the hole.
'There aren't a lot of projects sitting on the rim. I have one big fantasy novel sitting outside the rim; I think it's anchored outside the Hellboy universe. The Hellboy story 'The Crooked Man,' is a story where Hellboy walks alongside the main character. One writer said 'Why write Hellboy in? If you write the story without Hellboy, you would have another property you can sell the movie rights to.' But I liked the story, and it made the 'Hellboy' world richer to have something about the Appalachian mountains. Same with my Victorian occult detective - I could have written that completely not relating to the 'Hellboy' universe at all, but everything I like, I want in the 'Hellboy' universe."
Mignola's inspiration often comes from the books he has picked up in used bookstores on his travels. "I have been haunting used bookstores and collecting tales and legends since I was a kid so, it's a chance to use all this stuff that is sitting on my library shelves. Most of these books haven't even been opened, but I have great comfort in saying that I have a shelf of books about Iceland and Norway. Every now and then I pull them down, look at the table of contents, and say 'That's a Hellboy story, that's a Hellboy story.' [For] 'The Crooked Man,' I had three books of Appalachian folk tales and had never opened them. I had no preconceived idea, I opened first of the three and circled [items]: I want to use that bit, that bit, those bits, as I'm reading there is some part of my brain knitting those bits together. I was halfway through the first book and I had the whole series 'The Crooked Man,' so I have two and a half books of Appalachian folk tales I haven't opened yet."
As Mignola told CBR earlier this month, he cut an entire miniseries out of the "Hellboy" story, giving Hellboy the sword Excalibur at the end of "The Wild Hunt" rather than drawing it out through another series. He told the panel that big changes are about to come. "What happened when the 'Excalibur' miniseries disappeared, suddenly I found myself a lot closer to some cataclysmic events than I had expected," he said. "I said 'We don't need to do it as fast. Is there something I haven't done, something I'm skipping over or haven't given enough attention to?' And there wasn't. [In] Hellboy and B.P.R.D., we are doing some gigantic changes. You think, 'I'm going to do this,' and it's strange to wake up and think 'I'm doing it today.'"
And those changes are permanent. "It's not the Marvel-DC universe," Mignola said. "There's no magic pill that makes things go back they way they were. When things change, they stay changed."