Not too many comic book heroes have an origin story as wild as “half-demon who was summoned to Earth by Nazi occultists.” But then again, Hellboy isn’t like most comic book heroes– and his creator, Mike Mignola, isn’t like most comic book creators.
Best known for the Hellboy franchise, Mike Mignola flew into town earlier this week to talk to fans and future comic creators at VCU. We caught up with him just before he arrived, and asked: of all the places for the man behind Hellboy to make a pit stop, why VCU? Luckily for us, VCU has an old connection in Department of Communication Arts Chair, TyRuben Ellingson.
“Ty and I have been talking for years about getting together,” said Mignola. “Since I never pass through that way, the one excuse we could come up with for us getting together was ‘I’ll talk to your class.’ That sort of evolved into something else, as these things tend to do, but it was really an excuse to see him.”
Hellboy has always been a powerhouse of an underdog. While both of the films, made in 2004 and 2008, did decently, they were never what was considered a blockbuster franchise. With a reboot coming in March 2019 starring Stranger Things’ David Harbour in the role as the half-demonic hero, why did this take so long to get made?
Mignola said it’s pretty straightforward.
“Hellboy has always been an uphill battle, getting those movies made,” he said. “[2008’s Hellboy II: The] Golden Army did not make… I think it turned a little bit of a profit. But none of it ever ended up in a place to make people jump and go ‘Oh boy, we’ve gotta make a sequel.’ So literally ever since The Golden Army, I’ve had the same producers I’ve had, trying to make a Hellboy film get off the ground. ”
However, even though he hasn’t seen much of the film himself, Mignola assures us that it will make fans of the franchise happy – both in the overall feel and in David Harbour’s take on the classic hero.
“I know [David Harbour] brings a certain kind of weary maturity to the character,” said Mignola. “Ron [Perlman] played it the way the script was written, with a bit more of that lovesick-teenager thing, and there is none of that at all in this version of Hellboy. This is a Hellboy that is wrestling with his place in the world. Ron had a little bit of that too, but that is the bigger issue, as opposed to the love thing. ”
Mignola’s sold-out talk was not just a play by play on the film and just how dreamy David Harbour really is, though. Ellingson hoped students would learn about Mignola as an artist and how, with hard work, dreams like his are possible and achievable.
“So rather than talking about what’s it like to work on a Hollywood movie or what’s it like to meet all these actresses and actors,” Ellingson told VCU News, “I’m really hoping the evening will open up a conversation and shine a light on his development. What are his studio practices? What were the inspirations that got him from point A to B? How was it that he found inspiration after doing work year after year after year?”
Naturally, many Hellboy fans were in attendance, but there’s no doubt that some future comic creators were there too. In light of this fact, the question I had to ask Mignola was what advice he had about staying focused and finding your voice for the future Jack Kirbys in the audience. Naturally he knew what to say.
“I got very lucky, but I worked my butt off to be in the position where I could be lucky,” said Mignola. “You can’t just sit around and wait for some lucky break. No one is ever going to read your mind and go, ‘Oh that book you haven’t drawn? We want that.’ My advice to comics people is, if you wanna do it, do it. If there’s something you’re passionate about doing, don’t worry about whether its commercial or not. Just do it.”
If you missed the event at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts on Monday — which sold out way in advance, so it’s understandable — Mignola tends to do conventions fairly regularly during the year. So keep your eyes peeled for your next chance to reveal your undying love for him.
Image by Lindsay Eastham