Hellboy may be a little more than six feet under, but the fan-favorite character's creator Mike Mignola is on Cloud 9. Twenty years after the introduction of his demonic hero, the artist/writer finds himself overseeing an entire supernatural pulp universe based around the titular character. His enthusiasm for the Hellboy Universe was evident as Mignola grinned all the way through his Fan Expo panel.
"I figured I would do one miniseries and then would go back to DC [Comics]," Mignola said in response to a question about whether or not he anticipated "Hellboy" becoming one of the most popular characters published by Dark Horse Comics and a multi-movie franchise. "I honestly did 'Hellboy' so on my deathbed I could say that at least once, I did a book that was me doing what I wanted to do.
"For 20 years, I've been left alone to do whatever I want, and I can't imagine anything that would make me turn my back on that," he later added when asked about a possible return to Marvel or DC.
Mignola admitted that the thought lingered in the back of his mind that the series could be become big, but prior to "Hellboy'"s debut, he had never worked on a character for more than a year. and therefore could never have imagined spending two decades working on one universe.
Originally planning to write about a man who investigated the paranormal, Mignola decided he wanted to have more fun with the character design. Playing around with Hellboy's look, the character ended up with a mammoth right arm of doom which had no significance when he first drew it. It simply looked cool.
"I thought I'd get bored drawing a regular guy, so let me draw this monster that would be fun to draw and have him fight monsters. And, if it works, I'm stuck drawing monsters, which is I wanted to do!"
Mignola and Hellboy were originally brought to Dark Horse as part of the publisher's "Legend" imprint which promoted creator-owned comics. In addition to Mignola, the first round of Legend releases included fresh work from Frank Miller, Arthur Adams and John Byrne. At the time, Mignola was the least legendary of the group.
"Probably, I benefitted more than anyone else there," said Mignola. "I think Dark Horse would have published 'Hellboy' without it, but would have anyone have noticed? Because I was a part of this Legend group... I was lumped in with Frank, John Byrne and Art Adams and the book got a lot more attention than it might have otherwise."
"Hellboy" debuted in 1993 and has since expanded to the point where Mignola oversees at least three simultaneously running series, all taking place in the same universe. In addition to the comics success, the franchise has also spawned two movie adaptations with a third one rumored to be on the way.
The character's current storyline, "Hellboy in Hell," is Mignola's dream project. Every time he brought the story up, he mentioned how much he enjoys writing it. Placing the titular character in Hell allows him to have the character wander the Earth and encounter all manner of mythological creatures, but without extensive reference material.
"The beauty… is that when [Hellboy] wanders into the Asian neighborhood in Hell it doesn't need to look like real Japan or real China," said Mignola "I don't know how the doors look in Japan. I don't know how the doors work. But if he's in the Hell version of Asia, I still want to capture the spirit of Asian folklore."
Ultimately, Mignola wants Hellboy to meet up with "pseudo-adaptations" of folklore from all over the world.
Mignola briefly discussed IDW Publishing's Artist Edition of "Hellboy in Hell," which will feature highly detailed copies of the original artwork with none of the lettering. Readers will be able to see all the notes, white-outs, and messages to the editor, as if browsing through Mignola's creative process.
As for the rest of the universe, while he isn't personally scripting each and every page, Mignola remains in constant contact with those who do, providing John Arcudi ("Lobster Johnson," "B.P.R.D") and Scott Allie ("Abe Sapien") rough outlines of how he wants each character and story to progress, then standing back and allowing them to meet those milestones on their own time.
"You want this thing to be organic. You want it to breathe," Mignola said of this approach. "You want it so that if things take life of their own, you want to be able to incorporate that."
Asked by an audience member for his thoughts on Guillermo Del Toro's "Hellboy" movies, Mignola said he maintains a personal distance from them. He understands the changes the film made with the characters' and their relationships, but considers it completely separate from the comics. He doesn't want to adapt any of the films ("Hellboy" and "Hellboy II: The Golden Army") story into the comic -- at least not without changes to make it his own.
"The thing I'm happiest about is that fans of the comic are fans of the movies," he said. "I was very lucky to have [Del Toro] who understood the spirit of the comic."
Although he says he had very little input on the sequel, Mignola spent several months with the director during the making of both films, resulting in at least one adventure he shared with the audience. The two spent an evening in a haunted hotel room in England, and Del Toro told Mignola to spend 30 minutes alone in the room at around 2AM. Novelist and "Baltimore" collaborator" Christopher Golden called Mignola about halfway through the ordeal to ask how he was doing.
"'Uh, first off, I'm wetting my pants!'" Mignola recalled, laughing. "'I'm in a haunted hotel room staring at a mirror of myself.' It's a bad way to spend 30 minutes."
Of course, the crowd was most concerned with the future of Hellboy and his creator. Hellboy is often forced into fighting for mankind because of destiny, a tendency that resulted in his death. Now that he's dead, one fan wanted to know his reasons to keep fighting.
"Yeah, what's driving Hellboy? It's a really interesting question I hadn't really thought about," Mignola replied. "I don't know. One of the joys of doing this stuff is finding that stuff out as I go."
Mignola enjoys jumping head-first into these stories, figuring out his plansd as he goes along. The original premise was simply to have the character in Hell so he could explore all that folklore. At the moment, Hellboy is still finding his way, just like Mignola.
Even after having spent two decades with the character, Mignola is far from being done with Hellboy and has no plans to retire from the series. At this point, the only thing that would keep him away is if people stop buying his books. "Especially now that he's dead and Hell can be whatever I want it to be, I just can't imagine what else I would do," Mignola told the audience, a broad smile on his face. "Not when anything I can do, I can do in that book."