Here’s a bit of gush about a comic artist I like, I’ll probably end up doing a few of these, but I had to start with Mignola!
OK, so I realise I’m not the only person here who loves Mignola, I’m not his biggest fan ever, nor his oldest. But I did find him a good while ago…
I first saw his artwork in the JLA comic: Cosmic Odyssey in the local library in the early 90s. I was taken by the simple style: the characters were broader and more stylised than a lot of other superhero comics at the time. The writing didn’t hurt either, it was your typical end-of-the-universe plot we’d expect from the Justice League.
Fast-forward few years later and the Hellboy graphic novel Seed of Destruction hit the shelves in the comic book shops. I was immediately blown away by the artwork- the panel compositions, the broad style that I remembered, and the bold blacks.
But it was the crazy Nazis, mythological creatures and exotic locations that kept me coming back for more. The story was so high-stakes: creepy stuff to kill you around every corner. You root for the paranormal investigators, you feel their unease at the horrors lurking around every door (and hole in the floor). You want them to punch out that Nazi scientist good, before he finishes his hideous project!
Mignola’s style is deceptively simple. He doesn’t have a lot of hatching lines, and often his scenes are shrouded in black shadow. But there is thought (or uncanny instinct!) behind every frame, pose, and location.
I admire this approach because it takes guts to cover up your drawings with black. It’s a bold statement, especially if you’re working traditionally, as Mignola does. He takes us to ancient dungeons and blasted spirit-realms with uncanny characters doing their sick, weird business: doomsday prophets, witches, cursed souls, tentacled gods. He just looks like he’s having fun with it!
Here’s a comics anthology cover I made, highly influenced by Mignola.
In one interview Mignola spoke about his approach to the story. He read up on myths and legends from different cultures. He just started drawing stuff he thought would be cool and strung the story around that. Eventually he decided to knuckle down and even got some help with the writing, but I love it that he just didn’t care what people thought, he just made comics for himself. He made the comic he wanted to read.
You can also check out 7-part interview he did with Bobby Chiu on YouTube (cut up due to the old 10-minute limit).
I love Mignola’s approach to comic book storytelling. Let’s take a look at these 2 pages for instance. These pages are from book 1 of the Batman- Hellboy- Starman series, published in 1999.
Starting with page 22: for an action scene, it’s very minimal. All the environment vanishes from the picture. The first panel on p22 just has our 2 heroes leaping into the room. The green energy bolts create bold shapes behind them, streaming along the direction of the action (left to right). The large panel on p22 is vertical, as the heroes fall down on top of the Nazis.
Hellboy taunts the skinheads, but the dialogue is minimal now. We don’t need to be distracted with a lot of exposition– we came for the fight! This causes us to proceed through the panels in quick succession, like a proper action scene.
The overlapping figures give us the feeling of depth, the green bolts show up extra bright against the bad guys’ silhouettes.
Over on page 23 we have two quick images of Batman, then Hellboy fighting. The frame is cropped in close on the action. The final 5 panels are clustered together, they tell their own story. Why do we need that extra close-up in the second last panel? We know the guy is in the plane. The extra panel slows us down for an instant- that guy is important, he’s the reason they’re fighting.
…anyway. I could go on like this. Mignola is a master of comic book storytelling.
But for me, the coolest part of Mignola’s work is his blocky style of drawing people. All his shapes are so nicely designed, from the chunky blacks down to the fine lines. You see these thin lines in almost every page. They suggest texture such as rough stone, Hellboy’s chest hair or the lines in an old man’s face.
I have to admit I get kind of disappointed when I open a Mignola book and someone else has drawn it. It’s usually pretty good, but it’s not what I came for. Sometimes it’s hard to tell at the comic shop (shrink wrapped books) or online if he drew them or not, because he writes and makes the covers.
I was a big fan of the first Hellboy in Hell graphic novel, I’m looking forward to seeing the next 5 issues collected in a book.
These are the Mignola books I have right now, are there any I’m missing (esp. books drawn entirely by Mignola?).
–Postscript– I just noticed over on the Muddy Colors site: Mignola received a Spectrum Grand Master award in May 2016. Great little write-up, too.
So I’m thinking of making fan posts like this every now and again- some of my other favourites would include Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl), Skottie Young (I hate Fairyland), Bryan Lee O’Malley (Scott Pilgrim), Stuart Immonen (Nextwave) and Jeff Smith (Bone).
Who would you write about if you were making a post about an artist you love? Tell us about it in the comments!