Arriving on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow is the newest cinematic take on the Hellboy universe, and to celebrate, Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with none other than Mike Mignola, the man behind the Right Hand of Doom. During our interview, Mignola discussed the challenges of working various storylines from the different Hellboy comic series into this latest film, his thoughts on why David Harbour was the perfect choice for this version of the iconic character, why it’s important for artists to stay true to themselves instead of catering to the latest trends in the world of comics, and more.
Look for Hellboy (2019) on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD this week, courtesy of Lionsgate.
I’m a big fan of how this Hellboy pulled directly from some great storylines from different comic series, and I'm curious if you were involved with those creative decisions at all. I was really excited to see the King Arthur stuff, especially, in here.
Mike Mignola: Well, the beauty is that I didn't make any of those decisions. So, it was basically handed to me. Over the years, I had suggested a couple of different Hellboy storylines that might make it into a follow-up film and they didn't listen to me. So they came to me and said, we want to do Wild Hunt and we want to add the Daimio character, and they asked me what I thought. I said, "I think you're crazy." And then, I had to wrap my brain around why they wanted to do it. So my job was just to give them my opinion as we went along, and help guide them, too, like, "If you're gonna do this, then put this piece here, take this piece out, move this piece around over here." Things like that.
It was a challenge to take one of the most complicated Hellboy storylines and make it work in a two-hour film. I have always thought that it must be much easier to adapt one existing novel than something like a comic book property, because in this case, you've got 25 years of stories. So, even though these guys are saying we want to do this one particular story, they're looking at 25 years' worth of material and saying, “We also want to use this scene and we also want to use this character that didn't originally fit into the story.” So there was a lot of juggling and a lot of trying to get these bits to fit together, which is fortunately a problem that I like. I like the idea of figuring out how to make up this new version of the Hellboy universe. This film is certainly much closer to the world I created. And when they told me that this time they wanted to do something that was much closer to the comic, it was one of the things I was excited about from day one.
Admittedly I'm super precious about [Guillermo] del Toro's first two films. I think they're beautiful films. But still, what I loved about this movie, it just felt more in the spirit of the rough edges of the character of Hellboy, and his struggle feels a bit more grounded here. Well, as grounded as you can get with all these monsters everywhere. But I think David’s take on the character was great.
Mike Mignola: It was my wife who pointed to Harbour in Stranger Things and said, "Oh, that guy should play Hellboy." And it was definitely that quality that made him perfect for my version of Hellboy, that kind of battered, been around for a while type of guy. He’s a very volatile character. The Ron [Perlman] version of Hellboy is a completely different character [and] is great, but he comes from a completely different place than the Harbour Hellboy. And David’s performance is closer to this version of Hellboy, who has been around and he's done this job for a really long time, so nothing surprises him anymore. There's a world-weary quality to that character that was much more what I always had in mind for Hellboy.
Hellboy is based on my father, who had been in the Korean War. He was a cabinet maker, he was a very physical guy, and nothing ever seemed to phase him. He was always scuffed up and scarred and nothing seemed to ever phase this bigger-than-life character. So that was always what was in that DNA for Hellboy, and I think Harbour had the talent to pull off those qualities here.
How closely did you work with Joel Harlow on some of the designs of the different creatures in this Hellboy? I also liked the fact that Hellboy’s profile here was a little slimmer, so it felt more reflective of the comics, and had those battle scars that you talked about and that weariness to him as well. Plus, it also felt different from the other makeups, which I loved as well.
Mike Mignola: Yeah, I did go out to Harlow's shop. He invited me out. I went out, I looked at what he was doing. I said, "That stuff looks great." The one thing I suggested to him was that we changed the shape of Hellboy's stone hand, which doesn't need to be stone. I thought we should treat it like it's metal this time. I was really just looking for something to make it that much different than the original Hellboy design. I mean, del Toro's guys did a fantastic job of putting a Hellboy out there that was very close to the comic, so the challenge for me was figuring out, "How do we make this guy look a little different this time?"
And one of the things I was thinking with the way I draw Hellboy's hand, I had put a flat shadow on it and I thought if we designed the hand so it's faceted rather than a smooth round, then maybe we can get some of that lighting effect. And it's not a million miles off of the comic, but it's just one more thing to make this thing a little bit different. So, that's the only thing I remember really saying. On the other del Toro films, I was in pre-production with him for a good three months before the films. This film, other than one visit to Harlow and one visit to the production office, I had no involvement.
But I didn't feel I needed to because they were so clearly referencing the comic. When I walked in the production office and they had the designs for the Gruagach character, they were basically just saying, "Here's what it looks like in the comic. How close can we get to do that design?" So yeah, there was really nothing for me to do.
One of the standout scenes in this Hellboy for me was the Baba Yaga sequence. Did you have fun with that as well? I loved all the little changes to the character.
Mike Mignola: Visually, it's a very different Baba Yaga than my Baba Yaga. But when I was at Harlow's shop the one time, he showed me footage of the contortionist [Troy James] who was going to play Baba Yaga, and I couldn't tell what I was looking at. He was doing that thing he does as Baba Yaga, where he's scurrying across the floor on his back, and I couldn't tell what I was looking at. But it came out great, and I think when fans look at the Baba Yaga scene, they’re going to think that's a puppet or CGI. No, no, no—that's a guy actually doing those things. But the tone of the Baba Yaga scene was probably the closest to the tone I have in mind when I’m creating my stories. So I was thrilled to have that in there.
When you think of the character of Hellboy, from your perspective, why does this character still fascinate us? 25 years later, he’s still very much a character that a lot of fans still care about to this very day.
Mike Mignola: I honestly haven't the faintest idea. I really did this comic just for me. I never imagined it would go on for 25 years. I thought I would do this comic once. There was certainly nothing about Hellboy where I was trying to create a commercial character. I just tried to put all the stuff I love into one thing, which is why that world is as bloated as it is, because I tried to cram everything I loved into this world, and you can do that over 25 years. And the beauty of this film is that it got quite a bit of that stuff on screen here.
But why it endures, I have no idea. The third Hellboy story I did, which was this story of the corpse, it was the first one that had a lot of humor in it. I thought it was unpublishable, but I had so much fun doing it anyway, and I thought, "There's no possible way anybody else would like this because I did it entirely for me." But that turned out to be everybody's favorite issue of Hellboy at that time. So from then on, I've just kept doing what I like to do, and the fans have really responded to that.
But when you’re talking about creative projects, I think the best things happen when you're doing it for yourself. So, when it happens to resonate with other people, that's an even more amazing achievement.
Mike Mignola: Well, one of the things that I'm always telling young artists who want to do this stuff is just do what you want to do. It may or may not work, but if you're looking at what the hot trend is, by the time you do your book, the hot trend will be something else. When I look at comics these days, I can tell where a guy did his comic just because he's pitching it for a TV show. Or a guy who's saying, "I don't expect anybody to make a movie or a TV show. I'm just telling a story I'm really excited about." There's a difference in the authenticity that you can feel.
[Photo Credit: Above Mike Mignola photo from Mike Mignola's Facebook page.]