From the Arthurian heights of his and Duncan Fegredo's current Hellboy mega-arc to the world-burning breaking point that will take "B.P.R.D." into its next phase, Mike Mignola and his collaborators have more events and releases on their plate in 2010 than ever before. But if you ask the mind behind so many interlocking and introspective serial adventures where his real artistic bread and butter is at, he'll easily point you to the most bizarre, downright nonsensical story he's ever done.
In September, Dark Horse releases "The Amazing Screw-On Head And Other Curiosities." Not just a reprint of his award-winning 2002 one-shot (which was also adapted into an animated pilot for the SciFi Channel), the new collection features a slew of new stories written and drawn by Mignola that allow him to indulge the wilder aspects of his artistic persona. To top it all off, the publisher will also re-release some of his seldom seen superhero crossovers in the October-shipping "Masks and Monsters" trade featuring stories co-starring Batman, Starman and Ghost.
Today, as the final (for now) part of CBR's ongoing TO HELLBOY AND BACK series of chats with the creator, Mignola takes readers inside the both projects, explaining why the non-connected "world" of Screw-On Head is the kind of story he's been trying to get back to for years and why now is the time that all the pieces of his plan are falling into place. Plus, Mignola shares an exclusive variant cover for "Screw-On Head."
CBR News: Mike, a few years ago I remember speaking with you just when Duncan was first announced as coming on "Hellboy," and you said the reason you were leaning off drawing that character was because you wanted to draw more of your own stuff that was like "Amazing Screw-On Head."
Mike Mignola: And when the hell did I do that? [Laughter]
I was going to put it nicer than that, but yes. Is this new "Screw-On Head" collection what would have been those stories?
Yeah. I finally did those stories. It's about damn time, and I've got one more to do which isn't really a story. It's a four-page bizarre sequence, and that's all I've left to do for the "Screw-On Head" collection. All I've got to do is ink it.
But yeah, I got carried away writing for other people, and part of that was that expanding Hellboy mythology and meeting other artists and going, "This guy would be great for this story" or "If I find the right artist I can do my victorian occult detective guy." And before you know it, a couple of years have gone by, and all I've done is write. And I kind of thought, "It's great to be doing all this stuff, but I'm not getting that satisfaction of doing the whole thing myself." AND with "Screw-On Head," which I consider one of the best things I ever did, and this story called "The Magician And The Snake" that I did with my daughter that I think is the very best thing I've ever done – we've got these two stories that nobody knows about. "Screw-On Head" has been reprinted several times, but it hasn't been reprinted in a while, and most of the people I run into know it only as a cartoon. I've got these two things that aren't out there, and it was very clear that I need to do more material to round out this collection. I view it right now as my most important book because it is this entirely other world of my stuff.
Hellboy's kind of become – and I don't mean this in a negative way – but Hellboy's become my commercial book. It was always very important to me that there be this other thing that didn't have the logic of a shared universe or anything. The "Screw-On Head" stuff is me trying like hell to put exactly what's inside my head onto paper – this funny, weird nonsense world that's made entirely of odd characters and architecture and all this stuff I love. Hellboy's that to a certain extent, but Hellboy was kind of molded into something that was a comic book universe. The Screw-On Head stuff is more just fun nonsense.
The cartoon for "Screw-On Head" was fun, I thought, but it very much felt like the producers were going, "We've got to add logic to this. We've got to make it 'make sense.'" From the comics, it always felt like you were going "I've got the Screw-On Head...let's make his boss Abraham Lincoln. Just because."
With the "Screw-On Head" guys, the writer was great, and he loved the comic and appreciated the comic, and he wanted to flesh it out some. But the people I talked to where I think I had one or two conversations with studio people or with SciFi Channel people, and they just got hung up on the fact that Lincoln was the president and therefor it had to take place in this specific time. I'm trying to explain to people, "It doesn't take place in any time. It's just nonsense!" But the people I was dealing with could not understand that. Lincoln was the president because to me Abraham Lincoln is the president. And he's really fun to draw, and I'd always wanted to draw him. It's kind of like when you put in a Nazi because "We need a villain, and he's a villain because he's a Nazi." You use Abraham Lincoln because you need shorthand for "the president." [Laughter]
So there was never any attempt at logic. And in adding stories to this collection, I didn't want to do anything that felt like a shared universe. Even though one of the characters from "Screw-On Head" does appear in one of the other stories, it's not in any kind of way where you can go, "Oh! This takes place before that or after that." It's just giving the impression that these things are cut from the same bolt of cloth. There are shared visual references in the stories, but not in the way where you go, "I see. It's all in the same city." There's no cohesive logical thread that holds the stories together, but there are visuals and thematic things linking them.
So much of the Hellboy universe comes from the books you've read and the fairy tales you're familiar with. Is this more a product of your sketchbook and things you think are fun to noodle with on the page?
I wish I could say it is, and some of the stuff is later on, but "Screw-On Head" grew out of the books on my shelf and books of old photos – these great old photos of that Victorian world. The first book started with me going through these books of old photos and flagging things that would be fun to draw. So I like the fashions, I like the hardware, I like the buildings, and it all started as a collection of things I wanted to draw. It's very much my "artist first, writer second" kind of thing. The plots for all Screw-On Head-related stories...I doubt that any one of them took more than five minutes. I know for one of them that's granted a very short story, the plot took about 30 seconds. And that's what I wanted. I wanted something very direct and that very much struck me as funny for a minute. They're not intended to be complex, involved stories. They're more art pieces or mood pieces. There was a letter we got for the first "Screw-On Head" comic where someone wrote in to say, "Mike Mignola's lazy! The plot is weak!" And I was like, "What plot?" [Laughs] That was just a parade of crazy things. If you're reading it and looking for a real story, it's kind of missing the boat. It's meant to be wild, crazy and in some cases sad stuff, but mostly just funny stuff.
And the writing of it is so different from Hellboy because as much as possible, I try to write down the very first thing that pops in my head. My editor summed up "Screw-On Head" really well when he told me that the book reads like what I sound like when I first tell him about a Hellboy story. That stuff starts as crazy little nonsense and then gets carved into a story. The Screw-On Head stuff is like my raw first pass at a story.
In collected form, you've also got this "Masks & Monsters" trade back into print. Was there a delay there trying to figure the rights issues out between the different publishers on things like the "Hellboy/Batman/Starman" crossover?
The Hellboy/Batman stuff is something that I've talked to Dark Horse about several times over the years – "Hey, let's reprint this because we've also got the Hellboy/Ghost thing." I'd bring it up, everyone would say it was a great idea, and then we'd all forget about it. A year would go by, and I'd say, "Oh yeah! We should reprint that!" I tried to get someone to reprint it when Hellboy and Batman were both out there as films, and I don't know if it was DC putting the breaks on it or them wanting to reprint it first – I don't know what conversations would go on because I'd just throw these ideas to Dark Horse and let them work out the deal. Mostly, I just kept forgetting it existed. So I'm not sure as to why it's happening now as opposed to three or four years ago. And of course, this year I've got more books out than ever before, so why this year? I don't know. It's just when it happened.
When we started this whole discussion, I said how surprised I was that the volumes of "Hellboy" and "B.P.R.D." had grown in number. Do you have an ideal format you like for your stuff be it trades or the big fat library editions, or is it just whatever's easiest to keep around for reference?
Well, the trades are easiest to keep around for reference. The hardcovers are too Goddamn big. They're too heavy! [Laughs] It's always been my intention to see everything collected, and what kind of drives me crazy sometimes are these short stories that we have no place to put. At one point we did this Johann one-shot "The Ectoplasmic Man," and it doesn't fit anywhere else, and I don't want to shoehorn it in to a "B.P.R.D." collection, so it kind of sits there by itself on the lowest rung of the thing my trade paperbacks are in. I've got a few miscellaneous comics, and I go, "We'll eventually need a trade for this to go into." There's conscious talk between Scott Allie and myself about what stories we can do to compliment that thing and turn it into a special B.P.R.D. trade. It's the same with the Abe Sapien short stories. Eventually those will add up to a second Abe trade or with the Hellboy short stories where eventually we've got five issues worth of material to make a trade. The "B.P.R.D.s" are pretty simple and the Duncan Hellboy's are pretty simple because they're structured to be a trade paperback.
Thanks for playing along with TO HELLBOY AND BACK! Stay tuned to CBR in the months ahead for more news surrounding Hellboy, the B.P.R.D. and more!