In over 25 years of making comics, Hellboy creator Mike Mignola has established himself as a creator with such a distinct aesthetic that not only is it possible to identify his work on sight — macabre yet charming, full of shadows so deep and black they look alive, hiding horrors within — but also the work of those he’s chosen to collaborate with. You can always tell when a work is set in the Mignola-verse, and part of the fun of following along is seeing Mignola’s unique stylings applied to familiar genres and story archetypes — the latest of which being Frankenstein’s famous monster.
In this month’s new graphic novel Frankenstein Underground (you can read the first chapter here), Mignola, artist Ben Stenbeck, and colorist Dave Stewart spin a Frankenstein tale spun out of a corner of the Hellboy universe, one that takes the iconic monster on a weird, Jules Verne–esque trip toward secrets stranger than himself. To commemorate the occasion, Mignola spoke to Vulture about six of his favorite takes on the classic Frankenstein tale — and to share the news that he’d be ending his acclaimed series Hellboy in Hell early next year, with issue No. 10.
“I was looking at what I had done, and coming off one of the stories I realized, ‘Oh, we’re further along in some way than I thought we were going to be. We got where we were going a lot faster,’” says Mignola. “I had some fun stuff lined up that I was going to do, but if I did it, it was just going to soften the impact, it was just going to ramble more than it needed to ramble. I thought, If we’re going there, let’s just go there now. So, yes, we’re wrapping up Hellboy in Hell.”
What’s more, Mignola isn’t planning on following up the conclusion to his Hellboy epic with another substantial comic project — at least not for a little while.
“It’s been at least 25 years since I finished something and I didn’t know what I was doing next — I’ve always had a project lined up,” says Mignola. “I’ve painted in the past, but I only average about one painting a year, and the last painting I did, I actually really liked. So I thought, Gee, if I do a bunch of paintings, maybe I’ll actually figure out what I’m doing instead of relearning every year. So I asked my wife, could I do this? Could I just take a year off and just paint? Of course, I can’t really take a year off — I am co-plotting B.P.R.D. and these various other books, but I’d like to take a year off from drawing any kind of comics, and just spend the bulk of a year doing color work. I’ve never taken a significant chunk of time to just do work essentially for myself. I have no idea where it’s gonna go, but it’s exciting. It’s what keeps me going. “
But regardless of what comes next, for now we have his take on Frankenstein’s monster. Read on for Mignola’s essential Frankenstein stories.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
“I’m not the biggest fan of the novel — it is kind of dull, but it’s got great speeches and a lot of real power to it. As a kid, what I loved about the Frankenstein monster was, like everybody else, the creation scenes and stuff like that — all of which really aren’t in the book. Oe of the most powerful things in the book is when Dr. Frankenstein agrees to make a bride for the creature and then says he won’t do it. I think he gets halfway done and chucks the pieces in the lake. And the monster says, ‘I will be with you on your wedding night’ — and he kills Frankenstein’s wife. That’s why I had to have that moment in the comic, I had to replay that moment in the comic. Because, to me, that’s the most horrible thing he ever does. That’s a guy who calculates and says, ‘You did this horrible thing to me, I’m going to do something equally horrible to you so you know what it feels like to be me.’ I’ve never seen that scene done as well or as powerful as the way it is in my head.”
“Boris Karloff, to me: he’s the Frankenstein monster. As much as I appreciate the novel, that’s the image of the creature that’s in my head. I much prefer the second movie. The first one is fine, but he doesn’t really do much. He just kind of grunts and growls, and there’s this wonderful scene with the little girl where he’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a friend,’ and then he, you know, chucks her in the water. It’s kind of the problem with so many first movies. It’s the origin scene. And there’s nice stuff about it, but the second one has so much more color.”
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
“I hadn’t seen Bride of Frankenstein until high school, or maybe even later than that. It’s really one of the great movie experiences where you think you know what it’s going to be but it’s so much weirder, and so much better than anything you could’ve imagined. It’s so full of these striking, powerful images. Frankenstein’s monster is essentially crucified on a tree in this wonderful, bizarre-looking forest, or chained into this giant chair. It’s just a parade of really great, powerful images. There are scenes in the movie where he’s down in this crypt and he says, “Love dead, hate living.” You know, like, will you make a friend for me? It’s kind of comic, but the idea of this guy down there with these dead bodies and bones, going, this is my place, can you make me a friend out of this stuff? That’s the shit that works for me.”
Penny Dreadful (Showtime)
“The Frankenstein monster in there is my favorite thing in the whole show. Had I seen that before I did Frankenstein Underground, I probably wouldn’t have done Frankenstein Underground. They do such a beautiful job with that creature — it’s so much the Mary Shelley creature. It boils down the kind of statements the monster makes — there’s only about three or four speeches the monster has, but they’re so strong, and they’re so powerful. I would’ve gone, ‘Oh, that’s great, that’s what the Frankenstein monster’s supposed to be like. I can’t write that!’
They do a beautiful little cheat where they have the Victor Frankenstein character — he makes a creature that’s charming, really just a lovely, sweet, innocent kid. Then, at some point, that creature — just at the moment where you’re like, I love this guy — he’s suddenly torn in half by the original creature, by the Frankenstein monster. So this guy has done this amazingly horrible thing, and then he explains his case: You did this horrible thing to me, you abandoned me, you left me alone — and then you make this other guy?! To hell with that! They do a wonderful thing, bouncing back and forth between making that monster beautiful and horrible, but you understand why he became like this. ”
Monster of Frankenstein (Marvel Comics)
“That’s my favorite of all the comic things I’ve seen of Frankenstein. In the first six or eight issues drawn by Mike Ploog, he did a wonderful job of making this really sympathetic monster, but also making him this brutal guy. They do a great job with the killing-the-wife scene, but they also do these really heartwarming things with the monster. There’s something about the way Ploog drew him, that really — he could give this character this kind of power and sympathy. It’s very high on my list of great horror comics. He did a wonderful thing with the monster’s eyes, he did that sort of half-eyelid that the Karloff monster had, so there’s almost a sleepiness to the creature’s face. It really makes the eyes look kind of runny, and kind of soft and wet-looking. He had this wonderful power, but then softened the creature up.”
Frankenstein (Illustrated by Bernie Wrightson)
“I think he’s said it before in interviews, but for Bernie, Frankenstein was always his thing. I think that was the end-all, be-all for Bernie, to someday adapt that novel. It’s very telling because I’ve seen so many pieces that he rejected from the book, beautiful pieces that, for whatever reasons, he just thought, this shows too much, or, this doesn’t quite capture what I want to with that scene. It’s probably the high-water mark of his career, and also clearly the thing that he devoted the most work to, and clearly agonized over the most — just getting that thing right. It’s a terrifically powerful thing, but he does a really great job of these really heartbreaking images.
There’s a couple that come to mind — one beautiful shot of a woman hanging. It’s the monster’s first great crime: First he murders the little kid, and then he frames Justine for the murder, so she’s hanged. You just feel the weight of this horrible miscarriage of justice, that this innocent girl was set up and hanged for this crime. And then this wonderful thing, of the monster kind of huddled in the corner of this little hut, where he’s listening to the blind man and his kids and he’s learning the English language, or whatever language they’re speaking. I think he’s clutching some papers, he’s read enough that he can read who he is. He’s got Frankenstein’s journal, so he knows what he is and he’s not happy about it, he’s just tragically huddling in the corner of this little hut. It’s a spectacular, great, tragic moment. You can tell how much Bernie loves that thing, it’s trying to get an image as powerful as the ideas in the book.”