This month’s Artist Spotlight focuses on Mike Mignola, an American comic book artist and writer known mainly for his creation – Hellboy. Mignola started as an illustrator for the Comics Reader, drawing spots and covers of Red Sonja, The Spirit, Dominic Fortune and Doc Savage. Upon receiving a BFA from the California College of the Arts in 1982, Mignola moved on to work for Marvel Comics as an inker.
He lent his handwork to titles such as Daredevil, Power Man & Iron Fist, and later he worked on The Incredible Hulk and Alpha Flight.
The Beginning of his Career
In the mid 80s, Mike Mignola gained more recognition in the industry, and after doing some minor work for DC comics, was commissioned to work on high profile titles such as Batman, doing a cover for “A Death in the Family” story arc, pencils for Cosmic Odyssey – a 4 issue mini story featuring some of DC’s greatest heroes, and Gotham by Gaslight, a Victorian era re-imagination of Batman confronting Jack the Ripper.
During the early 90s, Mignola worked on covers and features for both DC and Marvel Comics. Mignola’s art was featured on Marvel’s Wolverine – The Jungle Adventure, and he worked on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and Ironwolf – Fires of the Revolution with Howard Chaykin and P. Craig Russell for DC. Mike drew the comic adaptation for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, after his assistance with the storyboards for the Coppola film.
The Birth of Hellboy
Mignola had exclusively worked on properties owned by larger companies. In 1994, Mignola’s released his own title with original characters and stories. The first Hellboy story, The Seed of Destruction, was picked up by Dark Horse Comics. The character of Hellboy was developed from inspirations like local mythical folklore, campy B-movies, horror stories, demons and pulp fantasy. This new series about a paranormal investigator from hell, became an instant success due to its combination of abstract artwork and extraordinary horror. Hellboy’s success has defined Mignola’s career, as his connection to the world he created extends into numerous stories, merchandise and films.
The first story arc was originally scripted by John Byrne, at Mignola’s request. Fearing that his writing skills weren’t up to par with the work of some of the greats he collaborated with in the past, he left the writing duties for the start of the title to Byrne. However, subsequent Hellboy stories have been written wholly or in part by Mignola after the character had been fully established. The bulk of the artwork was illustrated by Mike, until mid 2007 when artist Duncan Fegredo took over as the lead artist on the title. Mignola remained as the main writer and cover artist, and also worked on the Hellboy spin-off title BPRD with John Arcudi. In 2008, Mignola created a one-shot story entitled In the Chapel of Moloch, which marked the first Hellboy story which was written and drawn solely by Mignola since 2005.
Style and Technique
Mignola’s distinctive style uses dark defining shapes rather than the conventional detailed linework. This simplified, abstract approach to his work was labeled as “German Expressionism meets Jack Kirby” by writer Alan Moore, found in the introduction notes to a collection of Hellboy works. This rough, pared down approach with its use of stark contrast to define form became a huge influence on up-and-coming artists in the 90s, due to its separation from the traditional method of superhero drawing from the past 3 decades. While this style was clearly influential and lauded by artists today, Mignola’s seemingly crude and dark renditions of characters and settings in his comics differed greatly from the work of his peers in the past. Nowadays, it is common to hear artists compare dark, silhouetted and unrefined comics as paying homage to Mignola’s style.
Mignola’s work has also gone beyond the realm of traditional print comics. Having spent some time doing storyboards and concepts for Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Dracula, Mignola’s stylized artwork was featured in Batman: The Animated Series, where a version of Mr. Freeze was commissioned by lead artist Bruce Timm. His costume design for Batman used in the original series Gotham by Gaslight was featured in the latest animated series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold
In 2004, director Guillermo del Toro helped release the silver-screen adaptation of Mignola’s Hellboy. In order to keep the character and environments true to the original story, Mignola was directly involved during film production. Due to its overwhelming success, a sequel was released in 2008. In addition to the live action films, two animated Hellboy stories has been made into direct-to-video offerings: Sword of Storms, and Blood and Iron.
Mike Mignola also lent his talents to production design for Disney’s Atlantis – The Lost Empire, concept art for Blade II, and most recently, The Hobbit, directed by del Toro.
For television, Mignola developed The Amazing Screw On Head in 2006 for the Sci-Fi Channel, which stars the voices of Paul Giamatti and David Hyde Pierce.
Prior to that, Mignola worked as an illustrator for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He was also the production designer for the Disney feature film, Atlantis: The Lost Empire in 2001, and was a concept artist for 2002’s Blade II, also directed by del Toro. He will also be working in New Zealand as designer on the upcoming Hobbit movies directed by del Toro.
Mignola’s original story – The Amazing Screw-On Head debuted in 2006 on the Sci-Fi Channel, starring the voices of Paul Giamatti and David Hyde Pierce. Originally published as a one shot for Dark Horse Comics, it featured a robot who could screw his head on to different bodies depending on the occasion. The idea came to Mignola from his observation of action figures who simply had a different painted body attached to the same head type.
Now that you’ve learned about this award winning and influential artist, check out this Mike Mignola’s Bibliography.
Rocket Raccoon – 1985
The Chronicles of Corum – 1987)
Cosmic Odyssey -1988
Gotham by Gaslight – 1989
The Doom That Came to Gotham – 2000
Seed of Destruction – 1994
Wake the Devil – 1996
The Chained Coffin and Others – 1995-2002
The Right Hand of Doom – 1998
Conqueror Worm – 2002
Strange Places – 2005-2006
The Troll Witch and Others – 2007
Darkness Calls – 2007
ZombieWorld: Champion of the Worms -1997
Jenny Finn: Doom Messiah- 1999
Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution – 2000
Hollow Earth and Other Stories – 2002
The Soul of Venice and Other Stories – 2004
A Plague of Frogs – 2005
The Dead – 2005
The Black Flame – 2006
The Universal Machine – 2007
The Amazing Screw-On Head – 2002
Lobster Johnson: Iron Prometheus – 2007
Action Comics Annual #6 (DC)
The Adventures Of Superman Annual #6 (DC)
Aliens versus Predator #0 (Dark Horse)
Alpha Flight #33, 34 (Marvel)
The American: Lost In America #4 (Dark Horse)
Aquaman Vol. 2 (?) #6 (DC)
Batgirl Special #1 (DC)
Batman Annual #18 (DC)
Batman/Judge Dredd: Vendetta In Gotham #1 (DC)
Conan #236 (Marvel)
Conan #237 (Marvel)
Dark Horse Comics #2 (Dark Horse)
Deadman #3-5 (DC)
Death Jr. Vol. 1 (Image)
Doctor Tomorrow #1 (Valiant)
Fallen Angels #6 (Marvel)
The Frankenstein Dracula War #1-3 (Topps)
Incredible Hulk #302, 304-306, 308, 309 (Marvel)
Justice League Quarterly #14 (DC)
Kickers, Inc. #9, 12 (Marvel)
Lobo: Unamerican Gladiators #1-4 (DC)
Man Of Steel Annual #3 (DC)
Marvel Comics Presents #20 (Marvel)
New Mutants #54 (Marvel)
New Mutants Annual #7 (Marvel)
Power Pack #20 (Marvel)
Quasar #15 (Marvel)
Showcase ’94 #3 (DC)
Silver Surfer Vol. 3 #14 (Marvel)
Solar Man Of The Atom #24 (Valiant)
The Spectre #7-9 (DC)
Starman #42-45 (DC)
Strange Tales Vol. 2 #19 (Marvel)
Strikeforce: Morituri #21 (Marvel)
Superman Annual #6 (DC)
X-Factor #55, 70 (Marvel)
X-Men Classic #57-70 (Marvel)
Zorro #6 (Topps)