Friday, October 5, 2012

The Hellboy himself, Mike Mignola; A retrospective part 1

I think Mike Mignola is one of the most exciting creators in modern comics.  

First, because his work is so powerful and unique and second, for carving out an equally unique and successful niche for himself in the modern cut-throat world of comics. Not only has he drawn and written countless graphic novels in the last 20 years, he’s also had several successful Hellboy spinoffs series like BPRD,  Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnson, plus 2 Hellboy feature films and 2 animation films! When you talk about modern comic geniuses Mike has to be up there with the best of them. So it's strange and interesting to think that this comic luminary started out as a lowly inker for Marvel comics in the early 80's!

When you look at Mignola’s modern work and look back at his early Marvel work it’s hard to believe that they are one and the same guy. How did he go from his early heavily designed and lyrical work to the raw, dynamic power of Hellboy.

 That’s what I aim to find out with this article.
One of Mike’s first pencil jobs is in Marvel Fanfare #16, September 1984.

He had done a few inking jobs for Marvel at this point in places like Master of Kung Fu and Power Man and Iron Fist. Editor, Al Milgrom, said in Marvel Fanfare, “Originally Mike wanted to work exclusively as an inker and when he showed me his inking samples I said, ‘As an inker you make a great penciler.’ In such a manner a star is born.”
And so in this inauspicious manor a star was born, though I’m sure Al would have been surprised to know just how big a one he became.

As first jobs go it was pretty good one. It’s a 10 page Sub-Mariner story written by Bill Mantlo. Mike does the pencils and the inks on it. Considering it appeared in Marvel Feature, a comic that published work like unused stories and portfolios, work that wasn’t used in other places, I imagine this work was part of his portfolio that originally got him the job at Marvel.


It’s a highly competent work with lots of style and elegance. Just look at how he lavished elegant decorative mermaid boarders around the title.

The pages are very well designed with a good use of panels and pint of view. Notice how on page 2 he leads the readers eye with the figure of Namor (click on the page to enlarge it). In panel 1 Namor dives across the top of the page and as our eye reaches the right boarder our eyes jump back to the left of the page as all readers do. Then the slope of Namors shoulders in the second panel slides our eyes into the third, and the third into the fourth, while in the fourth Mike has Namor dive under panels 2 and 3 back to the right again leading into the 5th panel. Oretty cool no?

The next page is equally ingeniously designed with smaller panels bridging the gap between the page wide bigger panels. This is the work of someone who has studied comics and knows about page design and readability, while at the same time making the whole of the pages pleasant to the eye.But for all it’s competence, style and elegance I wouldn’t have remembered this work if it weren’t for the fact that he went on to become THE Mike Mignola.

But lets examine it a little more closely.
One thing that strikes me about this work is the resemblance between the face of Namor on page 7 and some of Wrightson’s faces I’ve seen.
Mignola's prince Namor face.
Wrightson's work from Swamp Thing #10.

Wrightson's work from House of Mystery #121.

The shape of the mouth Mignola gives Namor is a particular give away being an unusually expressive gesture but somewhat common in Wrightson's work. Also the feathery lines Mignola uses to ink Namors cheeks is reminiscent of Wrightson's own inking style.
So from this I think we can safely conclude that Wrightson was an influence on the young Mignola. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that both Mignola and Wrightson are considered by many to be Masters of the Macabre. I can see a young Mignola religiously studying Wrightson’s work and emulating the hugely popularWrightson.
Though as different as Mignola's early work is to his late work, there are many similar qualities in them.
Hellboy Seed of Destruction
Marvel Fanfare #16 page 9

Though his style has changed quite a bit over time, there is, never the less, a strong emphasis on page layoutsin both his early work and his Hellboy work. Strong shadows and blacks are also a recurring aspect of his work as you can see from these two pages. Though this Hellboy page is a light one. Even so Abe and Hellboy are still draped in strong shadows and Abe in the first panel is a silhouette.
On the other hand there are obviously differences to these works. One of the biggest differences is the way he treats forms. In his early work everything is rounded and fluid inked with very clean lines while in his later work the lines have become much more crude and angular. This is most evedent when comparing his figure work.

When you compare the elegant round forms in the figures of Namor with the raw angular forms in the figures of Abe Sapien you can really see the difference in the 2 Mignolas.

 For me page 10 is particularly characteristic of young Mignola’s early work in comics like the Hulk and Alpha Flight. The last panel has a large Neptune with his eyes in shadow, looking on to a tiny Namor riding away on his sea horse while the atmospheric water swirls around them in the distance. There's something about the postures of the people and thin feathery lines that are characteristic of this period. and yet this same effect will eventually evolve into the raw powerful images he will later make, first in his late 80's work like Gotham by Gaslight and on into his 90's Hellboy work. 

I hope you enjoyed this first installment in a series of post devoted to exploring the early works of the man that would become THE Mike Mignola, Hellboy creator, Comic artist extraordinaire!

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