Welcome back to Jewels of Apator, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's biweekly column about the intersection of art and the fantastic. It may be hard to understand now just how fresh and different Mike Mignola's Hellboy was when the first installment, Seeds of Destruction, came out from Dark Horse Comics in 1994. Wise-cracking anti-heroes have always been around, whether in comics or other media. But Mignola went a step further: he brought in Boys from Brazil-style Nazi bad guys, monsters that could rival Lovecraft's Old Ones for sheer alien intensity, a cast of fascinating supporting characters, and a mysterious past for Big Red himself. What made it work, however, was his approach to the art. We've got an interview with Mignola below, as well as a gallery of his art.
Mignola's dark, flat style, which Alan Moore has called "German expressionism meets Jack Kirby," gains its unique power from the use of shadow to define space in each panel. Through these varying shades of darkness color reaches the viewer as if from the bottom of a well. The contrast or frame created by the shadow his use of color unexpectedly rich and deep. What should be murky is sharp. What should be opaque instead illuminates. The flatness is itself deceptive, in that Mignola manages a kind of layering effect that renders both the characters and their actions three-dimensional. All of these effects ran counter-and still to some extent run counter-to traditional wisdom in creating comics.
If Hellboy has become iconic since then it is in part because of this unique quality to the art and in part because Mignola's imagination in the storylines has been a match for his artistic talent. While the stories work as adventures, and Hellboy himself entertains with his wisecracks, Mignola often mines very strange territory indeed-mixing myths of world creation and destruction with more localized stories of witches and demons into the fabric of a modern world. Using such varied material has allowed him to refine and add nuance to his art.
Now that Hellboy has reached the big screen, Mignola has teamed up with another great visual stylist: Guillermo del Toro, whose vision in movies like Pan's Labyrinth brings another great tradition-Mexican surrealism-into Hellboy's world. The result is a unique hybrid vision from two highly imaginative creators.
With Hellboy 2 opening in theaters, we talked briefly to a hyper-busy Mignola about his work...
What science fiction and science fiction artists have influenced your work?
The writing of H.P. Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock...the art of Frank Frazetta and Jack Kirby were my biggest and earliest influences.
What's your relationship to technology and the modern world? Are there elements you try to put into your work?
I am able to send and get email. I do not love technology. My stories are very low tech...in the entire run of Hellboy I think I've only drawn three cars and none of them were moving!
What projects have been most personal to you, and what are you most proud of?
The Amazing Screw-On Head and the short story The Magician and the Snake.
What are you currently working on?
I'm writing 2 different Hellboy series, The Crooked Man for Richard Corben and The Wild Hunt for Duncan Fregredo and I am writing and drawing In The Chapel of Moloch. I'm also co-ploting the BPRD comics and a few other things!
Many thanks to Mignola and Dark Horse Comics for letting io9 to run a gallery with this feature.