Hellboy’s Mike Mignola on his new comic series, Radio Spaceman
For decades, the name Mike Mignola has been attached to a comic character: Hellboy. The long-running gothic/supernatural comic has followed the adventures of the titular demon working for the US government. uu. to try to avoid supernatural (and other) problems, and in recent years, Mignola has been working to calm the character down. .
While he’s been at it, he’s been working on a handful of other projects, including a new one: radio spaceman. The two-issue comic event hits stores next spring and is based on a handful of pandemic sketches that went viral when Mignola posted them online last year. The comic will follow the adventures of a steampunk-style robot and combine Mignola’s affinity for monsters and weird goings-on.
I spoke to mignola earlier this week about the comic and where it came from, as well as what his plans are for his long-running hellboy universe. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
polygon: to start off, can you tell me a little about radio spaceman: how did you come up with the character and design? p>
mike mignola: this goes back to the early days of the pandemic, when i started doing sketches just to avoid going crazy and posting them on facebook. I was doing a lot of drawings of other characters, like cereal characters and the jolly green giant, and things like that. and from time to time, he would draw something original. so there was no real thought in it. I’d done drawings like this in the past, of, like, a skeleton wearing a space suit. I just did one of those drawings and wrote “radio spaceman” on it. It was like when I invented hellboy: there was no thought in it, I just thought, “oh, these two words are fun to put together.”
[The radio astronaut] was funny and people liked him, so I probably did four or five or six drawings of this character, and then I forgot about him. It wasn’t an attempt to make up a character or anything. it was a fun thing to draw two or three times, and he didn’t really plan on doing anything with it, until one day he was thinking, “well, what if there was a comic about this?” thing?” I didn’t really have a story, but I came up with a couple images and then I came up with three or four words of dialogue and I was like, “oh, I love that.”
so I had the opening, and these two words in this particular sequence that start the action. and then it was just a matter of “well, what happens after that?” it was very much the way I did the amazing bolt-on head, where it [started] from a bunch of images I see in my head and some funny one-liners here and there.
so that was it: it just happened.
can you walk me through the elements of radio spaceman? the bandolier, the medal…
Well, it’s just what I draw when I draw an old-fashioned space boy. the bubble helmet, is based or inspired by the old ec comics, hollywood type astronaut suits. so again, there wasn’t really any thought to “oh, he has to have these things”, or that he has to look any particular way. he was just drawing without any thought.
I’ve done a lot of these guys lately; most of these old victorian looking characters with this floating skull head so it wasn’t much of a leap to fit the floating skull head inside the space helmet. and then the only thing different from something I would draw any day was that this name, radio astronaut, came to mind. it does not mean anything.
I guess it means something in the comic, but nothing is ever explained in the comic. it’s just one of those things like the amazing bolt-on head, we just go, “well, it’ll just be this and some things will happen.” and we’re not going to go into any fancy origins or grand explanations of what’s on his belt. why does he have a mallet? I don’t know.
you started making these sketches in the middle of the covid 19 pandemic. how did the pandemic and lockdown shape your work and your process?
well, what it did was make me do these really quick, spontaneous drawings to distract me. [it] was really a big problem for me; spending six months just drawing for fun, and not really caring about what… I mean, I threw away a lot of drawings, it’s not like I published everything I did. but since i was having so much fun making these drawings, i think i did some of the best things i’ve ever done.
Everything was done with a black prismacolor pencil, there is no underlying drawing, there is no real plan for these drawings. it was just sitting at a table drawing all day and just deleting these drawings. I would love to think that I could go back to that place and have so much fun, just drawing for pure escapism. I don’t know, I’ve never been able to go back there since.
but it had a lasting effect on my career, the way I approach things. I created probably three or four new characters that came out of those things, that I may or may not do anything with again. but again, to create characters the way I created the amazing bolt-on head, where things appeared one day without any conscious thought: I made this zula, the queen of bats, I don’t know what the hell she is. but I did five or six drawings of her and I fell in love with her character. but there is no story. I made the giant caveman, I have a story for him, but again, it was nothing planned. It’s just one day I thought “Giant Caveman” was a funny name, the same way I thought “Radio Spaceman” was a great name. but I wasn’t trying to create something, which sometimes works best for me. it happened with hellboy, it happened with the awesome bolt on head, just silly names and some kind of clunky thing that was fun to draw.
people actually responded to the radio astronaut character after you posted it on facebook. what did the fans tell you about why or how they were drawn to the character?
I didn’t get anything specific like that. I remember it being just, “that’s great, I want a story!” that’s what you would normally get. It’s not that “they wanted a story, I’ll have to give them a story”, but the process was more like “well, I don’t have a story. I don’t really plan on doing a story. but if I were to do a story…” is almost like a mental exercise. Could you make up a story about this? I’m taking a shower, I’m like “hmm, could you make up a story about that guy?” That’s when these five or six words came to my mind, and I remember getting out of the shower and going, “oh shit, okay. if that sequence is there, then I need to make up the rest.”
it’s just a parade of fun stuff. There’s, there’s nothing in this comic, I think that’s laying the groundwork for a bigger story. like the incredible bolt-on head, it is meant to truly exist as one thing; It’s not like something where I think you’d be going, “oh, you’ve hinted at this whole other world.”
maybe there’s another world there? I dont know. I haven’t thought about it anymore. one day if I suddenly come up with another idea for this character, that would be great.
how does that compare to hellboy’s origins?
I mean, I was in a completely different place with hellboy because I needed to come up with something, you know, to make a career out of it. he was looking to create something that he would do for a long time. I didn’t think he would be able to do it, but he needed to at least replace all the commercial work he was doing. The idea was to think of a character from the series, so I thought a lot, maybe not the name hellboy, but I thought a lot about what kind of things I could do with that character. and after 27, 28 years of doing that character, I don’t feel the need to re-invent a whole world.
now, back then in 1993-1994, if I had thought of the radio spaceman as my [hellboy] character, then yeah, I probably would have put a lot more mental energy into developing that world. but at this point, the last thing I want is another gigantic universe to deal with; I’m still dealing with the hellboy universe that I started, you know, 28 years ago.
so these things are now meant to be these kind of fun and weird things.
You mentioned that you started with those five or six words: what can you tell me about the story you’re developing in these two issues?
well, the radio astronaut is almost nothing as a character. he is a good visual. but he’s basically just a puppet. does he have personality? I’m not sure. he’s only shown a trace of personality and the first issue, and I don’t know if that will play out more in the second issue.
The character can’t speak, so it’s a visual book. It’s like an escalation situation where a guy is dropped on a planet and then there’s this incident that leads up to this, which leads up to something bigger, and it culminates basically in a gigantic explosion. in fact, I don’t think it’s going to have an explosion, but it probably does have explosions. I can’t remember
but it was just a fun chain of events. I don’t want to give it away even though there isn’t much.
I should mention the artist, greg hinkle. He did this book a few years ago, Airboy, which I loved. I never thought of working with him because I assumed he’s great, he’ll always be busy with his own stuff. and I met him at a convention, and I was like, “well, if you ever want to do something…” and he was like, “well, yeah, I’d love to.”
So, I thought about him writing something in the world of hellboy, and when this came up, I probably would have toyed with the idea of drawing it myself, but then I thought, well, there’s greg hinkle.
last time we last spoke in 2017, b.p.r.d. it was coming to an end and hellboy in hell was closing the main arc of that character. at the time, hellboy was coming to an end of him, and it looks like he’s still showing up. Do you see a point where you will stop doing hellboy stories?
you know, I’ve been trying to take down [hellboy]. I keep covering it up, except every time I do it, I leave this little vent. there’s always that little thing where I’m like, “yeah, but I’m not done with this” or “oh, I couldn’t help but figure this out a bit.”
so the ongoing process for me with that whole world now is to finish it, at least as far as my work in it is concerned. I have created all these characters, and now I just want to solve them. we’re nearing the end of resolving edward gray’s character, i think, i hope?
there is always space; I mean, my problem is that I’ve killed all these characters, or I’ve created characters that can’t die. so it’s really hard to get to a point where you’re like, “oh, they’re done.” hellboy to me ever since i made him disappear into an iron maiden and cause the world to end and a new world to begin, my feeling with hellboy is that i think its as done as i can make it. some of these other characters, I just haven’t gotten there.
but of course another thing I’ve done is create a world where there are a million years of untold hellboy stories. so ultimately what I’d like to do is finish these few characters I haven’t finished yet, and then leave this world for other people to play in. It takes place in the world of HP Lovecraft. They are mostly not about specific characters created by Lovecraft, but rather about his mythology and his world. I loved that [for hellboy]. I’ve invited people over and there’s a few writers right now working on things where I’m like, “well, okay, here’s an idea, or here’s something I’ve never really dealt with.”
but I don’t know how many more stories about hellboy and abe sapien and blah blah blah blah blah. I don’t know how many more stories we need about those characters. If people come to me and say, “hey, I have a great story for this character that hasn’t been done,” that’s fine. but for the most part, I’d rather see it expand in different ways.
lovecraft is an interesting comparison, because i heard someone describe his world as the first open source fictional universe, where he invited all his fellow writers in. What do you think about this? Taking your hands off the wheel, since his career is almost synonymous with hellboy? Is there any reluctance on your part?
I mean, it’s been a slow process. So many of the books, for one reason or another, my name is on them as a co-author, where there were phone calls where I brainstormed with other people. i feel more and more uncomfortable with some of these books where it says “co-written by mike mignola”. It’s like, I’m sure there was a phone call that led to that story, but 90% of the work was done by someone else.
Now, we’re getting to a point where there are whole books that I had nothing to do with, where my name won’t be on them as a co-writer, but they come out of the writers I’ve had. a long relationship with, where we just talked about the world, the different things that the world needs, or the different unexplored areas of that world. I like that: I don’t have to do the heavy lifting. I like being able to play with these other writers or give other writers license to pick up on things that are or bring a different perspective to certain things.
I mean, in most cases, I get a little bit involved, like just brainstorming. but for the most part, I just want to open the doors to writers who have an affection for that world who have ideas for it
Do you see yourself moving from art to writing?
Right now, I’m looking at that a little bit. I’ve never really done that, but I’ve been writing a lot more than drawing [lately]. there are several big projects right now that are with other artists that I’ve written, and I’m looking forward to a couple of other big projects that, again, I would never tackle [on my own]. As an artist, I have become so obsessive-compulsive about my own stuff that it actually becomes very painful for me to draw something that is long and complicated, just because I erase entire pages all the time. that’s bad.
I have a couple of short things I’m in line for and I’m excited because they’re short so I can obsess and compulsive about whatever I want. if it’s only 10 or 12 pages, it will eventually run out.
I hate typing, but I love making things up. There’s a couple of things I have that are very mythology-dependent, so it’s been an excuse to sit down and research, something I haven’t really done in a long time.
that explains your reluctance to like it, take a character like the radio astronaut and turn it into a whole new grand universe.
yes. right now, a lot of my energy is ending my universe (or not ending it, a part is still evolving). finishing these stories. The last thing I want to do is get the ball rolling again. I just turned 61 and I’m thinking, “man, I just don’t want to be in the middle of anything again,” but I like to be at the end, or in a place where, god knows, if something happened to dark horse or me, if the hellboy universe ended tomorrow that would be fine. there are a couple of things that would be left undone, but for the most part, I have to create a world and destroy it. I never imagined that I would have time to do this and finish it well. and I did it. so now it’s mostly a place for other people to play with the toys i made.
The first of two issues of the radio spaceman series will hit comic shops on March 2, 2022, published by dark horse comics. mike mignola will write the series, with greg hinkle on art, dave stewart on colors, and clem robins on lettering.