Strange places

With Hellboy, where does your inspiration come from? There’s a real mix of mythology, horror and fantasy.
The first couple of Hellboy books are like an explosion—everything and the kitchen sink is thrown in there, because who knew how long I was going to get a chance to do this? I just wanted all the things I’d ever wanted to draw in the book. I only planned on making up one thing, so I wanted to make sure that everything I wanted to do was in there: pulp-magazine horror stories, b-movies, horror-movie kind of stuff… everything from that to Victorian-era ghost stories… So, basically, everything I’d ever read, everything I’d ever seen, was the inspiration for Hellboy!

And then once I got through the big explosion of stories, the thing I gravitated towards was the folklore. The pulp stuff is really fun to write, but I’ve always loved—since I was a little kid—European folklore. I think it was at the third or maybe even the second story I did, I wanted to do a werewolf story, and it was just a matter of doing enough research and enough reading about werewolves and looking for some kind of folklore hook that I could base the story around. That Hellboy story was almost a straight adaptation of an Irish folk tale.

I’d always wanted to do something with folklore, and I’d actually planned on doing straight adaptations of these tales, but I realised that once I did Hellboy, and once I realised people liked Hellboy, I could do these same stories, but using Hellboy as a device to get people to read them. If I did straight adaptations of Irish folk-tales, it would narrow the audience tremendously, but Hellboy injects this nice ‘everyman’ appeal, even though he’s the beast of the apocalypse, and this is a good way to deal with these old-fashioned stories.

What is it about these folklore stories, myths and legends that really grabs you?
I have no idea. When I was a little kid, I read Dracula, and I said this is a world I wanna live in—obviously not really with him—but this is my kind of subject matter. And there’s always been something about not just gothic literature but folklore and myth that that I’ve found fascinating.

I think one of the things I love about it is that there’s an element of the absurd—in the stuff I like anyway. There’s stuff that happens where you just go: “wow, there’s no way in hell I’d have made that up! It’s like, I don’t know why that works, I don’t know why that happens, but the beauty of that stuff to me is that it does happen.

For some reason, somebody made up a story where the Russian witch Baba Yaga sneaks into a guy’s house every night to count his silverware. God knows why, but there’s some other logic going on—something I always refer to as ‘fairy-tale logic’. Things just happen and you go: yeah, OK, I buy that, even if I don’t understand it.

In doing supernatural fiction, I find that one of the most important things is that there has to be that element of not understanding why things that are happening are happening. As soon as you understand them, they become science-fiction. There’s gotta be that thing where we don’t know what the rules are, with no regular kind of logic to it. It’s that kind of strangeness that I find really endlessly fascinating.

I guess that’s also a good reason for keeping Hellboy grounded?
There’s a schizophrenic nature to writing Hellboy. I listen to a lot of Shakespeare and old Bible films, and so I have a tendency to write in probably a very bad way, where everyone speaks in that kind of rhythm—especially when dealing with the king of the fairies, or the ghost of Rasputin. They tend to speak in this Biblical or Shakespearian way.

What I find is that I write a couple of pages of that and become really embarrassed by what I’m doing. Hellboy is that part of me that is my father’s son that says “What the hell are you doing?” Hellboy’s the guy that’ll come in and deflate that, and let the reader know that I know that the other thing is kind of silly. That’s been the formula that works real well.

So Hellboy brings things down to Earth, if someone’s finding things becoming a bit much for them?
Being an inexperienced writer, the only way I knew how to write my main character was to think what I would say, and that’s worked pretty well. He’s got my sensibilities, he’s got a little bit of my sense of humour, and he’s also got my father’s real blue-collar working-stiff attitude about things.

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