by Carl R. Jansson
The nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.
Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.
Mike Mignola had been a professional comic illustrator since the early 1980s, working for both Marvel and DC Comics. He had worked on some of the most iconic characters that comics has to offer, yet he couldn’t tell the types of stories that really interested him.
Hellboy’s genesis was not some grand idea Mignola had, but a simple, throwaway convention sketch of a demon with Hell Boy written on his belt buckle. While this sketch bears no resemblance to the character we’ve all come to know and love, Mignola decided he really liked the name. He was becoming interested in doing creator owned comics, instead of creating characters for the Big Two, and this character seemed like the perfect way to do just that. However, he didn’t create Hellboy to tell the kinds of stories he wanted to tell, he already had the stories and Hellboy just became the main character.
After pitching to DC Comics, and being kindly rejected, Mignola brought his idea to Dark Horse Comics, and a long term relationship was formed. The first series, Seed Of Destruction, was penned by John Byrne, from ideas by Mignola. And it was a hit!
Featuring a demon who rejects his destiny to bring about the end times, to work with mankind for the common good, these stories borrowed elements from all of the things Mignola loved, crafting stories unlike anything previously seen on the comic store shelves. Superhero team books, Gothic horror, folklore, mythology, themes from Universal and Hammer horror films, and more influenced Hellboy’s creation, and that of the world in which he lives. This series was the perfect place to showcase Mignola’s evolving artistic style, full of thick black swaths of ink, a brilliant use of negative space, and elegant yet creepy Gothic imagery.
This is a series that could go wherever Mignola’s fertile imagination and extensive research would take it. Ancient Japanese ghost stories, Romanian Vampire legends, Nazi genetic experiments, pulp adventure tales, Golems, fishmen, and plagues of frogs were all grist for the mill, and all made perfect sense together under the weight of Mignola’s mighty pen.
Fans almost instantly fell in love with the character, and his equally interesting extended family in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Mignola had a hit on his hands! After that first series ended, Mignola took over scripting duties, and for many years was, aside from colorist Dave Stewart, the sole creator working on the title, affording him complete creative freedom. Over the years, many other high profile creators have had the chance to play in Hellboy’s sandbox, as well as two feature films, two animated features, video game appearances, spin-off series, crossovers with other comics, action figures, and a whole lot more, a true testament to Mignola’s much loved creation.
Mike Mignola is one of the most respected creators working in this industry, and his creations are fan-favorites, lasting far longer than he would ever have expected. Mignola just created the types of characters and stories that he wanted to read, and for some reason they fully resonate with the fans to this day and are one of the reasons it was great being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week, I’ll bring you another.