Happy Birthday Big Red
Hellboy hits 25 years this year and so here’s a look back at how Mignola’s loveable demon character has grown and evolved since he first appeared by Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows with additional writing by Scott Braden…
When Hellboy first made its appearance back in 1994, Mike Mignola was a well regarded mainstream comic artist for hire. Cutting his teeth at Marvel and DC on series like Cosmic Odyssey, Alpha Flight and World of Krypton, everything changed with the first appearance of Big Red.
Seed of Destruction was the first miniseries, where Mignola brought industry veteran John Byrne in to script it. Its synthesis of goofy superheroics, pulp adventure and gothic horror was an instant hit for Dark Horse’s Legend line.
Mignola talked about the genesis of the character in an interview he did with us in print in Tripwire Volume 1#14, back in midsummer 1996: “I’ve always been a big fan of old-fashioned pulpy, horror fiction. It just got to the point where I needed a character to base these stories around,” he told us.
In the same chat, he explained why he used Nazis in many of those early Hellboy tales: “I wanted to do an old-fashioned comic and I thought because of the comics I grew up reading, the greatest villains that need the least explanation, would be the Nazis.”
With Byrne giving the series a boost, Mignola took over writing the series on his own. A raft of other series followed including one-shot The Wolves Of St August, Wake The Devil, Almost Colossus, Box Full Of Evil and more.
Hellboy also teamed up with other company’s creations as we had Batman/ Hellboy/ Starman co-published with DC and Painkiller Jane with Event Comics.
Mignola continued to distill and evolve his greatest creation in his own series too, adding colour and dimension to him.
In another chat with Tripwire back in 2001, he explained why he stuck with comics rather than move into film or other media: “I want to do comics because they’re the one place where I can put my ideas on paper.”
With director Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy came to the big screen first in 2004 with a sequel , The Golden Army, following in 2008. These were well-received with Ron Pearlman bringing the essence of Hellboy to the cinema, and some extra ingredients thanks to del Toro’s input.
Mignola felt very lucky to be part of the Hellboy movies as he revealed in a chat with Tripwire back in 2003: “It feels like I have won the lottery. I was content to have no involvement but del Toro wanted it to be Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. So they wanted me. Del Toro’s Blade 2 [which Mignola worked on] was a warm-up for Hellboy.”
By this point, Hellboy had become an established part of the comics landscape. Both films grossed a respectable $250m at the box office but a third film with del Toro and Pearlman never happened.
At this point, Mignola temporarily stepped back and brought artist Duncan Fegredo on board to illustrate the next three Hellboy adventures: Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, The Storm and The Fury. Fegredo did bring a new kind of visual approach to the look of the character.
Mignola felt a little strange allowing someone else to draw him regularly but he does admit it was a positive experience in an interview he did with Tripwire back in 2007: “It was very odd, handing it over because I had imagined so much of the stuff as the way I would have drawn it. But certainly very quickly, as soon as someone suggested Duncan and as soon as Duncan was interested, I realised ‘Wow, he can do a lot of stuff that I can’t do,’ so it has made writing it a real pleasure because there’s so much stuff that, as an artist, I wouldn’t want to draw or I couldn’t pull off. So it’s extremely liberating.”
“The three series were well-received but Mignola returned to tell the last tale of Hellboy in the current cycle: Hellboy In Hell. This was a nuanced and introspective series which was one of the most low-key and unusual Hellboy stories ever told”
The three series were well-received but Mignola returned to tell the last tale of Hellboy in the current cycle: Hellboy In Hell. This was a nuanced and introspective series which was one of the most low-key and unusual Hellboy stories ever told, with Mignola experimenting with his art. He resolved the current run of Hellboy stories mostly although his story continued in the BPRD comic.
2019 has seen a new Hellboy movie which as of this writing hasn’t made its production budget back. So its future on the big screen is uncertain. One thing is certain though: Mignola’s Hellboy has come a very long way from a throwaway strip in 1994. It has appeared in animation, novels, short stories, films and of course comics. Mignola managed to distill everything he liked to read in books and comics and to watch on movies into one of the most enduring comic creations of the past 25 years. Happy birthday, Big Red and here’s to another 25 years.