Family story

The presentation of the Hellboy comic is quite cinematic. Was the potential for a movie always at the back of your mind?
It never occurred to me! I never even thought I was going to get to do a second Hellboy story. I thought that when I made up Hellboy, I’ll do this once… I tend to be fatalistic! I thought I’ll do this once, and then when nobody buys it, I’ll limp back to doing whatever job I can get from Marvel and DC Comics. What I wanted was something I’d be able to look back on and say at least once I got to put my personality on the page, before I went back to drawing fill-in issues of Iron Man or whatever it would be.

I was just so thrilled that I got to keep doing it as a comic, and I couldn’t get over the fact that I’d made up something that I still wanted to draw, because I’d never really drawn any one character for more than a couple of hundred pages. The fact that I enjoyed drawing this thing over and over again… I thought I’d won the lottery right there!

The whole film thing, even when it first came up, when Dark Horse first said they were interested in developing it as a film, I went: “Pfft! Sure! I’m very happy to take the movie-option money, as long as you guys want to keep optioning it. That’s great, because no-one will ever make a film of this!” It was beyond anything I imagined.

And then when I met Del Toro, I thought if anybody was going to make a film, he would be the guy to do it. But it was always such an uphill battle that I really never thought it was gonna happen. So, no, it was not something I ever anticipated.

When it was clear the movie was going to happen, what changes were required for the character to work on-screen, and how did you go about adapting it?
I’m not one of those guys who says it needs to be like the source material. In fact, one of the very first conversations I had with Del Toro, I said: “Listen, you turn it into whatever you want to turn it into. I’d love for you to keep true to the spirit of the character, but I actually have a different idea in mind for what I think would be a much easier sell for a movie”. Not that I was ever pitching it, but I thought of a way he could do it. And Del Toro said no, and that he wanted to make it like the comic. So, he was the one wanting to be faithful to the source material!

Yeah, he felt the love interest [between Hellboy and Liz Sherman] was necessary. I think as much as Del Toro loves Hellboy, he brought to it his own things he wanted to do. There were scenes in the first Hellboy film that he’s been trying to put on film for years, and he found Hellboy a great vehicle for some other stuff he wanted to do.

But that’s great. I didn’t want a filmmaker who’d just say, “Oh, this is what it is? OK, fine”. I wanted a filmmaker who went in there with his own agenda, because that’s where you’re going to get an interesting film. You want a filmmaker to make the film they want to make, not a film where they just take some money and put something up there.

So do you think this is a good way of creating a successful comic-book movie? Some, such as Sin City, are slavish, and some, like From Hell, barely resemble the original. But with Hellboy, it remains true to the original’s spirit, but with no effort to tie it into the comic’s continuity. It’s its own thing as well as still being Hellboy.
Right, and I think that basically there’s a lot of factors that have to fall into place, and the more I see of Hollywood, the more I’m amazed when something like that does work. I think in my case with Del Toro, we spoke so much the same language, even to the point that when he came over to my apartment right after we met for the first time, he noticed that we both put certain authors next to other authors on our bookcases, and that we’d read similar stuff.

We speak a very common language—film-wise, not quite as much, because he knows so much more about that—but I think we’re different guys with enough common ground to know we weren’t coming from completely different planets.

Despite the fact you said Del Toro should make the Hellboy movie his own thing, you were actively involved. Most creators either get the hump about translations, or take the money and run, but you wanted to be there. Why was that?
Del Toro wanted me involved, and he didn’t give me a choice! I want you there! I can certainly understand, having gone through it, a creator saying “Go make it, just give me the cheque,” because it’s really a difficult process.

I managed to work with Del Toro while we were hoping to make Hellboy—I’d done pre-production on Blade II, and that was fine, because it was someone else’s thing. Del Toro would say make up this, create this, and that’s fine. When we’re working on Hellboy, and we need to make up something different to what I had done… It’s one thing for me to say change it, and it’s another thing for me to be there changing my thing.

We saw eye-to-eye 95 per cent of the time, but the five per cent where we didn’t was really difficult, because it’s his film and so he’s got the final say on certain things with my character. So the only thing I could do to survive that process is really say the comic’s the comic, the film’s the film, and I’m here working with a guy I really like on his movie. I’m not working on my movie.

This is the one thing we had words about—when I’d say to him, “It’s your movie”, he’d say, “No, it’s our movie”. I’d say, “Well, OK, some days it’s our movie”, and there were a couple of days where it was his movie! For the most part though, it was a really smooth thing.

It’s the same for the second one—a very similar working experience. But more and more the film is Guillermo’s film, especially as the story veers further away from the comic. In a way, it’s actually easier for me the more it veers away from the comic, because it’s much easier to look at it as purely his film. I mean, when I was on the set of Hellboy 2, people would say to me, it must be amazing to see your characters walking around. That was funny, because I wasn’t even thinking of them as my characters—I was thinking of them as the Hellboy movie characters!

There are a couple of scenes where Hellboy is actually bare-chested, but wearing his coat, which is the way I’ve always drawn him in the comic, and he didn’t appear like that in the first film. When I saw Hellboy looking like the character in the comic, that was the only moment when I kind of went “Oh cool, there’s my character”. For the most part, I’ve gotten used to those characters as live-action characters being part of a Del Toro film.

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

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Hellboy movie