Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Mike Mignola!

Mike Mignola who was born on September 16, 1960, has been one of the most dynamic and exciting artists, writing and drawing his Hellboy for the last 20 years...
though he wasn't always so well thought of.

He originally started off as a struggling new-comer at Marvel Comics attempting to make a name for himself.
One of his earliest works was on Rocket Raccoon as written by Bill Mantlo.

Rocket Raccoon #1 came out in May of 1985.
In this early work you can see many elements that Mike will become famous for like the use of strong blacks and silhouettes in the background though there is a softness and delicacy and attention to detail that is no longer present in his mature work.
On this cover a Frazetta influence can be seen. The hero is standing on a sea of bodies, their faces obscured by the low light of the moon which ominously hovers in the background, half hidden by blood red clouds. It's reminiscent of Frazetta's Conan the Destroyer.

Mignola has said about his influences, "I’ve been interested by a lot of people. I desperately wanted to be Frank Frazetta in high school. It took years to realize that he is much, much older and a freak, a legitimate freak. He is insanely good. You’re never going to be as good as him. Before the ulcers really cripple you at age 17, let go. You’re not going to be him. Then I discovered Bernie Wrightson and I went through it all over again. “I’ve got to be Bernie Wrightson!” And then I went through a phase where I wanted to be a different guy, like every two days. The beauty of that is, now a days people look at my stuff and say, “Who are your influences?” Because I’m influenced by so many different people and all the different bits and pieces of all these guys are rattling around in the back of your head and when you sit down to draw, they kind of mush together." 
Rocket Raccoon is a very good work. There is so much dynamism to it. The figures are depicted in varied and well done poses; The compositions are dynamic and flowing and he's got the dramatic lighting.

I enjoy the stark black backgrounds of this page while many of the objects have strong blacks with delicately graded shading. You will see stuff like this in Mike's later work though he found shortcuts around the shading to get the same effect using fewer lines and less work while getting more power.
Here we see a wonderful flow as the killer clown zaps his way past the monkey guards as our eyes follow the zaps of the laser. Again Mike uses a tremendous amount of detail on this page, in things like the monkey's armor and the pile of toys. Later Mike will be able to create more powerful pages using less lines.

Though as good as Rocket Raccoon is, it just don't have the power that Mike's later work has.

In this page from the Corps, what elements are shown are depicted with a very simple, almost crude line, like that of the castle in the first panel, to not take away from the important elements like the Hellboy detail in the second panel. You can also see a similar horizontal page composition as the previous killer clowns page though here the lines are much more simple and much more essential like the arm of the pointing dead man and the landscape in the fifth panel without unnecessary details taking away from the impact of the image.

Here, in this page from the Corps, Mike uses a similar kind of lighting as the previous Rocket Raccoon page though the essential elements of the page pop out more without all the superficial details.  

Though Mike has said he was influenced by Frazetta and Wrightson, he says, "One thing I didn’t get from Frazetta or Wrightson is the very specifics of how they do their line stuff. I was looking at their ideas and shapes and how they spot black but I wasn’t focusing on all the tiny details that you see a lot in comics these days. “I don’t know what this means but this line plus this line plus this line makes a nose. This line plus this line makes a knee.” And to some extent you can do that with a guy like Frazetta because in his black and white work there are very specific kinds of things that he does, there are very specific kinds of shadows that he uses or a particular way he draws a mushroom and you see certain artists who pick up those kinds of things but my focus was much more on the abstract qualities of the artwork. What made it powerful, the high contrast quality of stuff, but the specifics of line work… I developed my own language for that.  I think to study a bunch of artists is important and to develop your own ways to interpret that. You have to cut through the stylization to understand the drawing underneath."

Here we can see two very different types of line that Mike employs in the same picture. This is from his The Wolves of Saint August which barrows from Albrecht Dürer for the upper "horsemen of the apocalypse" while the picture of Hellboy is his more usual style though he can be more crudely drawn depending on Mike's mood.

 Mike Mignola has said about his unique and dynamic style, "The down side of this style of mine is that I was never cut out to do superheroes, and the fans recognized that. Until I did Batman, most people were not that keen on my work. When I finally did Batman people would say, “Ok, with the shadows and stuff, Batman works, but please stay away Captain America and Superman. Please stop wrecking our guys.” The thing that changed everything was Hellboy because nobody had drawn Hellboy before; I drew Hellboy the way he was supposed to look."

This was drawn for Detective Comics #583,  Feb, 1988

It's true that his early monthly work on Alpha Flight and the Hulk wasn't fan favorite work, he is being a little bit hard on himself because he had many early successful jobs besides the  Batman vehicle, Gotham by Gaslight (1989), including many prestige format mini series and one shots like Cosmic Odyssey (1988), Triumph and Torment, a Dr. Strange/Dr. Doom graphic novel  (1989), and Wolverine's Jungle Adventure (1989).

Though I think it's true that it was his iconic 1988 covers of Batman, Death in the Family that really cemented him as an A list artist and got him those high profile jobs.

"I created Hellboy right after the whole Image thing happened. All these guys were making a trillion dollars and it came down through channels that if I wanted to do something for Image I could do that and I briefly entertained doing a kind of Batman thing. But I thought, “Well, I’d spend a year drawing it, no one would buy it, and I’d hate the whole time that I am doing it. So if I’m going to do my own thing, why don’t I do something that I would enjoy? There’s a 99% chance that nobody is going to give a shit about it but I’ll have a good time and I’ll limp back into doing Batman or whatever I can get a job doing but at least I will have this one thing on my shelf where I can say, once I did exactly what I wanted to do. And on the off chance that it works, I’ll be stuck doing the book that I really wanted to do.”

This is one of the first drawings that led up to the creation of Hellboy from Dime Press #4 , 1993.
Mike has said, “So I put a lot of thought into the design of Hellboy and the broadness of Hellboy, the fact that I could do every different kind of story with that character, because if it did work, I didn’t want to have this narrow ‘thing’ that I worked in and I wanted to make sure that I had a character that would be fun to draw. My first thought was to have this regular human being, an occult detective. That’s the kind of stuff that I like to read but I knew that I would get bored drawing this guy. No matter what the guy looked like, It’d be a guy and I’d get tired of drawing it. So I had drawn this monster character for fun two or three times and I thought, “I like this guy. If I get stuck drawing something, then… first off, no matter how terrible I draw this guy… he’s red… he has the little goatee… you can always tell it was him.”

This page from Next Men #21, Dec 1993, was one of his first appearances which came out before Hellboy's first solo book, Seed of Destruction.
“Any success I had with Hellboy was not by design. So my art advice to guys is, if you’re going to try doing your own thing, make it something that you enjoy. I believe that the fans can tell. I believe it shows in the work, if you’re doing it for the paycheck, if you’re doing it for the movie deal, or you’re doing it because it’s something that you really care about. And chances are that the thing you love, and the thing that you really care about is not going to be a giant commercial success, but I have no idea how to create a commercial success but at least try it. It doesn’t have to be a 100 page graphic novel. Just do a 6 page story. Just so something is out there where you can say, “That’s my personality.” My goal these days is to do work that nobody else would do because it’s entirely made of my personality. It’s not me looking over there and saying, “I need to do that because that will sell.”

The first Hellboy series, Seed of Destruction, came out in March of 1994. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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