The nature of the beast

You have a very distinct way of drawing and inking—a lot of flat colour, plenty of light and shadow. How did your style come about?
The first artist I definitely wanted to be was Frank Frazetta, and I got ulcers in high school because I wasn’t as good as him. It took me years to realise not only was he much older, but he’s also kind of scary freakish good. But at least I was trying! And then I went through a phase where I really wanted to be Bernie Wrightson. The thing is, I was looking at really good guys, and I learned a lot. I studied their work, and then I went through a phase where I wanted to be everybody—every two days I wanted to be a different guy!

When I started working in comics, I realised you don’t really have the opportunity, because stuff’s done so fast, to figure out how so-and-so would have done this. Suddenly, you’re just working. What I found was all the people I wanted to be, all of the little pieces of inspiration, were floating around at the back of my head, and comics is a great place to learn how to draw, because you have to do so much of it.

All those styles start mixing together, and then it’s a case of just being really bad and trying to get better. Every job I did I hated, and so every new job I went into, I’d say this kind of worked, what if I did this with it, and I’d put too many lines here, so let me get rid of some of those, or the colourist messed up this, so next time I’ll just make that solid black and then they can’t wreck it…

There was a lot of that kind of stuff. I think there was at least ten years of just fumbling around, trying to figure out what I was doing before I started to feel like maybe I kind of do know what I’m doing. I’m still trying to figure a lot out. But at least the last ten years I’ve kind of gone, yeah, I guess that’s what this stuff’s supposed to look like!

And now your style’s being imitated by others!
And it’s very flattering! Mostly, people point it out to me and I don’t notice it. I notice it when someone makes the same mistakes I do. If someone does it really well, I go, wow, that guy can really draw… But if he’s doing it badly, I go woah, he got mixed up by the way I do this or this.

I think because I’m influenced by so many different people, the nice thing is no-one can look at my stuff and say I’m doing an imitation of so and so. You don’t want to be the third-best ‘this guy’ or 15th-best ‘that guy’, which unfortunately is what you see a lot of in comics. So when I see people influenced by me, the one thing I’m hoping is that it’s a phase they’re going through and eventually they’ll evolve into their own guy.

During Hellboy’s early years and up until recently, you’ve done almost everything yourself—most of the art and writing—but most comics creators script or illustrate. So how does it feel to have that much control over your creation, and how did it feel when others took over?
It’s interesting because I started out as a guy inking other people, but I was terrible at that so I started drawing other people’s stories. Even when it came to doing Hellboy, I never wanted to write this stuff. I liked making up the stories, but I loved the safety net of having a real writer that’d come along and put the words in there.

John Byrne came along and co-wrote Hellboy with me, because my plan when I talked about doing Hellboy was that I’d just make up the character and a list of stuff I wanted to do—this laundry list of things I wanted to draw—and give it to John to knock into a story. But at that point, I was making stuff up pretty fast, and little by little I was piecing the story together, before I could give it to John, and then John just came in to script it.

Then I’d send artwork to John and have to write in what everyone was saying, because he didn’t know what the story was. So I kind of wrote it, and gave it to John to rewrite. What I then found was there were places where he changed what people were saying and I went hmmmm. It sounded more polished and professional written by John Byrne, but I liked the oddness to the way I wrote it. Some of the quirks and humour didn’t translate.

John knew this, and I was actually editing him as we went through the first Hellboy miniseries. John would always say to me that I should be writing the book. To his credit, John never tried to make this his book or even our book—he always treated it like he was the training wheels on the bicycle, like he was there to help me out. And I can’t thank him enough for that, because at the end the miniseries he said “you’re on your own—you don’t need me!”

So I got to practice writing the book, and then the scariest moment was when I took over the next one, drawing and writing myself. Because I’d never been faced with a situation where everything on the page was gonna be me. And the second Hellboy story was published in black and white, so I didn’t even have a colourist to come along and make it look like a professional job!

But what I found once I relaxed into it a little bit was that there were so many things I could do as the writer and the artist together. So often when you’re working with a writer or an artist, you kind of trip over each other. One guy overstates something, or the writer over-explains something, or the artist doesn’t quite understand what the writer was asking for. But because I was in charge of that vision, I found there was this whole set of tools that I didn’t even realise existed.

To let that go here for a while where I’m turning over Hellboy to someone else to draw… Frankly, it’s been really difficult, because I’ve had to explain to someone else what I’m thinking. I’m so used to knowing what I’m thinking when I’m writing the stories. I know what I’m going to do as an artist, and when I’m drawing, I know pretty much what the writer was thinking. But to have to sit there and write a script where I have to explain everything to somebody else, I always back it up with a phone call to make sure they know that the hell I’m talking about!

What’s happened is that I’ve been writing these past couple of years, and I’m really getting that itch to go back and draw and write some stuff myself, because it’s the real thing. There’s so much interesting stuff you can do when you’re doing it all yourself.

When I go back, it’ll be to do some really odd stuff. I’ll step in periodically to do bits here and there on Hellboy, but I wanna do some stuff that’s more experimental where I’m playing a little more with the artform.

With thanks to Mike and Christine Mignola, and the guys at Dark Horse. The official Hellboy website can be found at

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Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6