c. 1962 • California
Comic book author/illustrator
When first starting out on his career path, Mike Mignola had a modest goal. "All I really want to do is draw monsters," he told Christopher Brayshaw of the Comics Journal. Drawn to the comic book industry, one of the few fields where people can create monsters for a living, Mignola figured that, as he told Brayshaw, "maybe after eighty or ninety years I'll have been around long enough that someone will let me do a story." It took far less time than that for Mignola to establish himself as one of the hottest properties in the comics industry, a talented artist who doubles as an intensely creative writer. Mignola's reputation rests largely on his role as the creator of the Hellboy series, which features an unusual hero. Sporting red skin, the remains of horns on his forehead, and a tail, Hellboy is a demon—one with very human qualities—who hunts down monsters and other supernatural bad guys. Featured in a number of comic books as well as in several graphic novels, which are book-length comic books that tell an entire story from start to finish, Hellboy also starred in a major motion picture in 2004. Amidst his abundant success, Mignola remains a humble artist who simply wants to spend his life drawing monsters. His efforts just happen to provide extraordinary entertainment for legions of fans.
Mignola was born around 1962. He grew up in the Bay Area of California, developing an early passion for monster stories, particularly those in comic books. He experienced a defining moment when, as a sixth grader, he read Bram Stoker's classic horror novel Dracula. In an interview with Neda Ulaby on National Public Radio's (NPR) Morning Edition, Mignola recalled: "When I read Dracula, I said, 'I'm done. I'm done picking that other stuff. I found my thing.'" He explained to Brayshaw, "It's not just that I started liking monsters—it's that I started liking monsters to the exclusion of everything else." His reading choices thereafter consisted of ghost stories and other tales of the scary and supernatural, as well as myths, or ancient stories handed down through the generations, from cultures all over the world.
"Basically, it's taking everything I've been reading since high school, everything I ever liked, everything I ever read, old movies, tons of pulp magazines and stuff I read in college, fairy tales—all that stuff I've read, going back to Dracula in sixth grade, all that stuff I've been thinking about since then, I boiled it all down and made it into Hellboy. "
Mignola knew even during childhood that he wanted to grow up to be a comic book artist. He even knew he wanted to live in New York City. Growing up in California, Mignola never learned to drive. He explained to Brayshaw that he figured, "'Eventually you're going to live in New York, so don't bother learning how to drive. They have taxis there.'" His lifelong goal—to simply find a job drawing monsters—may seem modest, but Mignola pursued that goal with a passionate intensity. After graduating from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1982, Mignola headed straight for New York. He had some connections in the comics industry, having done a short inking job for Marvel Comics. His first attempts at finding work were mildly successful, but after six months he returned to California, hoping to obtain long-distance freelance work from the New York-based comics companies. When those offers dwindled, Mignola headed back to the East Coast again, and his persistence finally paid off. He began to get regular work illustrating comic books and covers.
In 1983 Mignola got his first series work as the penciler—the person creating a comic's initial drawings based on the writer's plot—for Marvel's Rocket Raccoon, a four-issue work featuring the title character, a time-traveling law enforcement officer. Mignola also worked on several superhero titles and did some illustrating for The Incredible Hulk comic books. In 1988 Mignola left Marvel to work for rival DC Comics. At that time, with the 1986 start of Alan Moore's The Watchmen and Frank Moore's The Dark Knight Returns series, DC had made great strides in the field of comic books and graphic novels aimed at adult readers. The dark, often violent subject matter of such comics appealed to Mignola, and at DC he established his reputation as an exciting and notable artist. He provided illustrations for Jim Starlin's Cosmic Odyssey and created the covers for the series Batman: A Death in the Family. One of his projects at DC involved plotting a Batman story in which the superhero confronts a ghostly villain. He enjoyed crafting the story's plot as well as creating its images, and began thinking he would like to try it again. A few years later he got that opportunity.
A demon is born
It Takes a Team
Sometimes a comic book or graphic novel reflects the effort of one multitalented person who wrote the story's plot and dialogue and created the illustrations and the lettering. In many cases, however, a comic book is a team effort, with a number of players adding key elements in order to create a vibrant, original work. Each role is dependent upon the other. A glitch at any stage of the process can turn a good story into one that is confusing or sloppy. But when the members of the team work well together, coordinating their creative skills and striving to understand what the others intend to accomplish, the finished product can be magnificent. Below are the primary jobs involved in producing a comic book.
Writer. Generally the work begins with the writer, who creates the story, mapping out the details and creating the characters' speech. Often the writer will offer directions about the visual aspects of the story, indicating his or her ideas for how the characters should look or what their movements should be for each panel.
Penciler. The illustration work for the comic book begins with the penciler. Just as the writer has used words to tell the story, the penciler must use images. The penciler has a great deal of input on the story's rhythm and pacing, determining, for example, if an action sequence will be spread over just a few panels or over several pages. The penciler also makes decisions concerning the light sources—sunlight streaming through a window, perhaps, or a dark room illuminated by just a desk lamp—and the angle at which the viewer sees the action, whether head-on, from above, and so on. He or she must establish the scene in each panel, carefully choosing which details to draw so that a great deal of information can be communicated without the panel looking overcrowded.
Inker. After the penciler is finished the work goes to the inker, whose job varies tremendously depending on the style of the penciler. Some pencilers leave a great deal of interpretation up to the inker, while others provide detailed and complete drawings. Generally the inker's job is to finish, polish, or clarify the penciler's work. For example, the inker may take a spherical object drawn freehand by the penciler and use tools to make it perfectly round. The inker provides texture, filling in elements such as hair and fabrics, and depth, which gives readers a sense of each object's position in relation to every other. The inker also adds or elaborates on a drawing's depiction of light and shadow. As suggested by their titles, the penciler creates the image's outlines with pencil, while the inker goes over the existing lines and adds extensive new details in ink.
Colorist. Another significant member of the comic book team is the colorist, who, as the name implies, "paints" the images with color. Performing a job that involves far more than simply coloring in, the colorist must study color theory and have an excellent grasp of the depiction of light and shadow. The colorist has a great deal of creative input, making choices that can have a tremendous impact on the book's overall look and mood. While some comic books are still painted by hand, most are colored using a computer. The common use of computers means that colorists, in addition to their painterly skills, must also possess extensive technical knowledge, mastering various software programs and developing techniques for using the technology to its best effect.
Letterer. One of the final stages in producing a comic book is the lettering. Lettering involves a number of skills, both artistic and technical. The letterer can act as editor, correcting any mistakes in spelling or grammar. He or she also has input on the font, or the style of the letters, used. The letterer selects the shape of the balloons the words go in, whether it is round, oval, or perhaps square with rounded edges. The letterer also influences the position of the word balloons in each panel, taking care to smoothly guide the reader's eye from one panel to the next.
publisher known for creating comic books based on films, signed on for a comic book adaptation of the film, and Mignola was hired to provide the art. With that project, he began a long-running relationship with Dark Horse that would lead to his signature series called Hellboy. Mignola had long been toying with the idea of creating a new character. He told Brayshaw, "I wanted to do some kind of monster paranormal investigator," a good-guy creature that would hunt down and get rid of evil creatures. The result was Hellboy, a muscle-bound demon complete with devilish red skin, horns, and a tail. Raised by decent people, Hellboy thinks of himself as human and is governed by a sense of justice. Part of Mignola's reason for making the main character a monster was to keep up his own interest in drawing the character over and over again; he worried that if he had to draw the same human character repeatedly, he would get bored. In addition, Mignola felt that an otherworldly creature like Hellboy could easily fit into a number of different story lines, and Mignola wanted to incorporate mythologies and folk tales from around the world into the Hellboy series. He told Gary Butler of Rue Morgue, "From the very start, I wanted to use Hellboy as a device to investigate folklore." Mignola also mixes in healthy helpings of traditional horror stories, particularly those by masters of the genre Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) and H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), as well as elements from monster comics of decades past.
Hellboy initially came about as part of a new imprint, or section, of Dark Horse called Legend. Mignola, along with a group of well-known comic book writers and artists including Frank Miller, Art Adams, and John Byrne, approached Dark Horse with the idea that the new imprint could feature a number of original "creator-owned" series—that is, series that were originated by the writer or artist, rather than new installments of an existing series like Batman. Mignola told Arune Singh of Comic Book Resources that his alliance with the more established figures in the comics world made it far easier for him to launch Hellboy: "I was the one guy kinda along for the ride, and so you had this high-profile group of people, with the spotlight shining on them because of this Legend imprint, so my book got seen. Without the Legend thing, it might have just been another mini-series from Dark Horse and people saying, 'Oh, there was this demon thing, we don't know what the hell it was.'" When it came to actually writing the first Hellboy installment, Mignola felt he needed assistance. He had come up with plots before but had never written an entire comic book. He enlisted the help of Byrne, providing him with detailed notes about plot, design, and even dialogue. While he has acknowledged that Byrne's support and writing help were invaluable, Mignola explained that much of the first book, Hellboy: The Seeds of Destruction, came from his own imagination. When it came to writing the second installment, Byrne and Mignola agreed that Mignola would attempt it on his own.
In Seeds of Destruction, published in 1994, readers were introduced to Hellboy and given a brief summary of his beginnings. A demon created in hell, the infant Hellboy was summoned to be used as a tool to fight for the Nazis, the ruling party of Germany during World War II, in their quest for world domination. Rescued by American agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, or B.P.R.D., Hellboy was taken back to the United States and raised among humans. In Mignola's universe, the B.P.R.D. is a secret agency that investigates paranormal episodes, or supernatural events that have no logical or scientific explanation. Endowed with a strong sense of duty and fairness, the adult Hellboy combs the globe, investigating these unusual events and hunting down nasty creatures. Hordes of fans were instantly drawn to the Hellboy series, attracted not just by the action-packed episodes but by Hellboy's decent, caring nature and mild-mannered, often humorous, approach to life. Mignola told Singh that in some ways Hellboy is based on his father, "who had all these jobs building cabinets and came home busted up, with dry blood all over him, and he was so matter of fact, saying, 'Oh yeah, I got my hand stuck in this machine and all chewed off.'"
Mignola spent the next several years writing and illustrating numerous Hellboy issues, gradually revealing details about his demon hero's past. At the beginning of the series, Hellboy refuses to dwell on his evil origins, focusing instead on fighting for good. Over time he is forced to question his true nature, leaving readers to wonder whether he can ultimately escape his fate as a demon created to destroy humanity. Hellboy is aided in his quest by a team of supporting characters, including Abe Sapien, Roger the Homunculus, Johann Krauss, and Liz Sherman.
Mignola's expanding universe
In addition to commanding a huge audience, Mignola has also earned numerous Harvey Awards and Eisner Awards, prestigious honors in the comics industry. He has continued to write and illustrate Hellboy issues, while also occasionally handing over the reins to others. The 2004 issue, Hellboy Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm, marked the ten-year anniversary of the Hellboy series. Mignola also collaborated with author Christopher Golden on several graphic novels featuring Hellboy, including Hellboy: The Lost Army (1997) and Hellboy: The Bones of Giants (2001). Hellboy: Odd Jobs (1999) is a collection of illustrated short stories written by a variety of authors. With the aid of Golden and several artists, Mignola created a spinoff series focusing on the B.P.R.D. Mike Mignola's B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth and Other Stories (2003) showcased the work of artists such as Ryan Sook and Derek Thompson in a collection of stories highlighting the series' supporting characters.
While Hellboy has been the centerpiece of Mignola's professional life, he has also explored other artistic avenues. When work began on Disney's 2001 animated adventure film Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the filmmakers initially studied Mignola's work, hoping to imitate his style in the design of the film. Instead they hired the man himself, naming Mignola the film's production designer. His contributions included the design of the characters and input on the film's overall look. The following year Mignola again took a break from Hellboy to create The Amazing Screw-On Head, a bizarre and amusing story of a mechanical head summoned by President Abraham Lincoln to save the world. An interviewer for bookmunch described the work as "one of the finest slices of super-hero surrealism you'll find on your shelves," and labeled it "happily deranged." While Amazing Screw-On Head was adored by fans, Mignola refrained from turning the stand-alone comic into a series or adapting it for any other medium, fearful that the magic would be lost. He told Arune Singh, "There's no plan for more Amazing Screw-On Head because I was so happy with what I did with [it] that I'm afraid of spoiling it. I'm very proud of that book."
When the film adaptation of Hellboy, directed by Guillermo del Toro, became a reality, Mignola found the notion difficult to believe, because so many earlier plans to film a Hellboy movie had fallen through. But the film, based on Hellboy: Seeds of Destruction, was finally approved by Revolution Studios and given a hefty $60 million budget. With del Toro as a vocal champion of the film, Mignola had found a dream-come-true partner. The two men clicked from the moment they met, finding that they had surprisingly similar views on how to adapt Hellboy to the big screen. Mignola described del Toro to Singh as "probably the only guy out there who loves Hellboy more than I do." From the outset of the project, del Toro insisted on Mignola's close involvement in the film, and requested his approval concerning any departure from the comics version. "The particulars of the story are different," Mignola reported to Murray Whyte of the Toronto Star, "but the feel of the thing is the same, and the personality of the character is closer to the personality in the comic than I could have ever dreamed possible."
While fans of the Hellboy comics were passionate and fairly numerous before the film was released in the spring of 2004, the film brought the oversized red-skinned hero to the attention of millions, a circumstance Mignola found difficult to grasp. "When I drew the comic, I did it entirely for myself," he told Whyte. "Of course, I hoped people would buy it, but I didn't have commercial potential in mind—if I did, I wouldn't have called it Hellboy. " The film's release brought an unusual amount of attention to the comics creator, who told Whyte that following the excitement of the film's premiere he planned to return to his everyday existence and work on new story lines for Hell-boy and other characters: "The main difference is I'll now live in a world where people actually know who Hellboy is."
For More Information
Brayshaw, Christopher. "Between Two Worlds: The Mike Mignola Interview." Comics Journal (August 1996): p. 65.
"Hellboy Vol. 5: Conqueror Worm. " Publishers Weekly (March 15, 2004): p. 57.
"Mike Mignola's B.P.R.D.: Hollow Earth and Other Stories. " Publishers Weekly (July 21, 2003): p. 176.
Whyte, Murray. "Success Comes to Hero from Hell." Toronto Star (April 3, 2004).
Butler, Gary. "Mike Mignola's Hellboy." Rue Morgue. Appears at Suicide-Girls.com http://suicidegirls.com/words/Mike+Mignola+on+Hellboy/ (accessed on July 25, 2004).
Hellboy.com. http://www.hellboy.com (accessed on July 25, 2004).
"Mike Mignola." bookmunch. http://www.bookmunch.co.uk/view.php?id=772 (accessed on July 21, 2004).
Server, David. "Interview: Mike Mignola." CountingDown.com. http://www.countingdown.com/features?feature_id=2855916 (accessed on July 21, 2004).
Singh, Arune. "A Hell of a Time: Mike Mignola Talks Hellboy. " Comic Book Resources. http://www.comicbookresources.com/news/newsitem.cgi?id=3217 (accessed on July 21, 2004).
Smith, Frank. "Thumbnail: Mike Mignola." Ninth Art. http://www.ninthart.com/display.php?article=787 (accessed on July 21, 2004).
Ulaby, Neda. "Interview: Mike Mignola Discusses Hellboy and His Inspiration for Starting the Comic Book." Morning Edition, National Public Radio (April 5, 2004).