11:21am PT by Graeme McMillan
Mike Mignola Revisits The Early Days of 'Hellboy and the BPRD' (Exclusive Preview)
This Wednesday sees the debut of Hellboy and the BPRD, a new series by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and artist Alex Maleev that takes Mignola’s long-lived monster-fighter back to his origins — or, at least, his first days working alongside the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. To accompany an exclusive preview of the first issue, Mignola tells The Hollywood Reporter what it’s like to go back half a century to revisit the early days of his most famous creation’s career.
The new series — which will run concurrently with Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell, which takes place after the character’s “death” in the 2011 series Hellboy: The Fury — has its roots in a number of miniseries focusing on the origins of the BPRD as an organization, and the chance to revisit a simpler Hellboy. “There’s a real beauty to Hellboy before he got involved with the beastly apocalypse stuff and his own death — that stuff complicates him quite a bit,” Mignola jokes. “And there’s so much room: the fact that Hellboy showed up in the ‘40s and we didn’t really pick up his story until the mid-90s, there’s this gigantic period where — other than a few short stories — we don’t see that character.”
That 50-year gap of unexplored potential was what Mignola calls his “happiest accident” in terms of working on Hellboy. “All I was thinking was, because I grew up a Marvel Comics guy and so much of my favorite Marvel Comics stuff has its origins in World War II, I needed Hellboy to have his origins in World War II — but I wanted to do a contemporary book,” he explains. “I didn’t have any conscious thought about ‘it’d be good to leave this gap for later.’”
Hellboy and the BPRD purposefully gives both longtime readers and newcomers a chance to see a different Hellboy than they might expect. “Instead of this take-charge, follow-me guy, he’s the junior member — he’s not even a member of the BPRD at this point — he’s the grunt, so when they say ‘Someone’s got to carry that bag back to the house,’ it’s ‘Hellboy, do that,’” Mignola says, describing the series as “day one of a Hellboy that [readers] recognize,” and saying that it’s”really exciting to think, when he says this, it’s the first time he says it. When he does this, that’s the very first time he ever does it.”
Don’t think of this as a reboot for the franchise, however; Mignola says that there’s no reason to do so. “The thing I’m proudest of is, we’ve been doing this for 20 years and at no point have we written ourselves into a corner or hit a dead end,” he says. “Everything is building really organically.” In fact, it’s specifically building to something, he revealed. “The plan is to have everything we’ve done build to something that, hopefully, answers at least a few of the questions we’ve dropped over the past 20 years and resolve that story.”
The idea of finishing out a long-running series — especially one supporting an entire franchise of spin-off comics and even movies — remains a rare one in mainstream comics, and Mignola admits that Hellboy didn’t start out as one single story with an ending in mind. However, he goes on, the idea of finishing everything goes back about a decade when he realized that not everything could be resolved cleanly.
“Certainly, when I wrote the [2004 BPRD: Plague of Frogs miniseries], I created a problem in that book and said, I don’t ever want to resolve this,” he remembers. “Ultimately, this is going to snowball into the end of everything. That doesn’t mean I knew how we were going to get there, or how it was all going to go. I just started thinking of it as one big story.”
Having an end in mind helps when revisiting the beginning, according to the creator. “It’s good to know where the thing ultimately goes when you’re writing the early stuff,” he says. “It forces the stories to be kind of small, or if you’re going to do certain things, our characters can’t know about it. I managed to say some things about where Hellboy is going, but not in such a way that it’d derail this book. I really do want the old-school, simpler Hellboy [in this series].”
Hellboy and the BPRD reteams Mignola with his long-time writing partner John Arcudi, whom Mignola credits with bringing a humanity to the larger mythology. “I come up with the big strokes, the big mythological ideas, and John’s real focus is on character and the people,” he says when describing the way the two work together. “The comfortable place we’ve ended up is me having this grand scheme of where it’s going and John being the one responsible for taking the humans to that place.” (Arcudi is responsible for “99% of the heavy lifting” on everything other than the core Hellboy title, which Mignola handles alone, he says.)
“Around the 20 year mark, I did look around and think, well, we really have done something. I say ‘we,’ because it’s not just me; it’s John, and [longtime Hellboy editor] Scott Allie and all these artists,” Mignola says of the franchise he launched back in 1993. “I do feel the enormity of what I’ve been allowed to do — at no point has Dark Horse said, maybe do this, maybe don’t do this. They’ve really left me alone to do what I want, and I’m very grateful for that. I think, with this series, what’s so exciting is something that I thought was closed — I thought we were done with this kind of Hellboy story, with the past — suddenly, when you open that up, there’s a million story ideas. There’s a million different things you can do.”