"All I really want to do is draw monsters."
by Arnie Fenner
Capping the presentation of the Spectrum 23 awards May 7th in New York City was the announcement of the 2016 Grand Master honoree. As I explained on Muddy Colors way back in 2012, "What is the criteria to receive the Grand Master Award? Well, at the time the designation is given the artist must be living; their careers must have passed the 20 year mark; their work must have achieved a high level of skill and quality that has been maintained throughout the course of their career; and their art and their attitude must have had a profound impact upon and been a positive influence for the field as a whole."
The list of Grand Master candidates grows longer each year and, honestly, all are deserving for a multitude of reasons. But it was particularly nice when Rebecca Guay took the stage at the Society of Illustrators to talk a bit about this year's recipient, Mike Mignola.
Michael Joseph "Mike" Mignola was born in Berkeley, CA in 1960. A graduate of the California College of the Arts with a BFA in Illustration, he began his career while still a student doing spot illustrations for the small-press magazine, The Comic Reader. His first professional work was as an inker for Marvel Comics, working on such titles as Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, and Rocket Raccoon. In 1987 Mike also began drawing stories and covers for DC Comics featuring such fan favorites as Lobo and Batman.
Above: Mike's cover to the graphic novel version of Francis Ford Coppola's
1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula. Since he was originally only working on the
comics adaptation for Topps Mike was surprised to be asked by the director's son,
Roman, to redesign Dracula's castle for the film. Coppola was so impressed with
the results that, he says, "I invited Mike to a work-in-progress screening of the
movie which, in addition to Mike and myself, was watched by director George Lucas.
Mike's movie work culminated with him being asked to draw the storyboards for
a new ending for the film. For his contribution, Mike received screen credit as Illustrator."
Above: On the left Mike's cover for the Aliens Salvation 1993 one-shot comic
and on the right his cover for Conan #29 in 2006, both for Dark Horse. It's fascinating
to watch Mike's stylistic evolution through the years, which Alan Moore has
described as "Jack Kirby meets German Expressionism."
Mike freelanced for other comics & card publishers as well and periodically worked as a designer or concept artist for such films as Bram Stoker's Dracula (as mentioned above), Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Blade II. He also designed the Mr. Freeze villain for Batman: The Animated Series. But Mike was always thinking of something beyond work-for-hire assignments and in 1993 he premiered his creator-owned comics character Hellboy, The World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator. You can read the Wikipedia entry for the origin and backstory so I won't repeat it. Similarly, I won't further recite Mike's biography—his story is told rather nicely here. But what I will point out is:
Hellboy was a hit. Maybe not in headline-grabbing, artificially-driven, speculator-fueled blow-out numbers like "event" titles, but the comics—then graphic novels—were wonderful (and steady) sellers. People bought them for the art and became hooked by the stories. Hellboy was heroic and conflicted and tragic and funny. The comics won acclaim and awards and attracted a loyal cadre of international fans. Collectors snapped up Mike's original art as quickly as it was offered; dealers did likewise and found customers willing to pay 10 times their original purchase price. Bootleggers and fan artists offered knock-off prints or drawings at comic cons around the world. And Hellboy inspired spin-off series by Mike and his collaborators including B.P.R.D., Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, and Sledgehammer 44. He was turned into live-action and animated films; he was licensed for statues, toys, t-shirts, and video games. Hellboy was popular—and still is 23 years after his first brief appearance in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2.
Hellboy in his various story arcs and tales—like Seed of Destruction, Wake the Dead, and Conqueror Worm—was always as impeccably designed and drawn as it was impeccably plotted and written. "I took everything that I love and stuck it in there," Mike said in an interview with Mental Floss. "And I tried to write Hellboy as a regular person. Not as some superhero comic. And so maybe some of that comes through."
Above: The cast from Guillermo del Toro's 2011 second Hellboy film, Hellboy: The Golden Army. Del Toro says, "Mike's body of work is firmly anchored in comic-book and literary traditions of Machen, Lovecraft, Toth, and Kirby. Yet what has been emerging from them is a species all its own."
Above: A gifted painter, Mike simply doesn't do it often enough.
Above: Mike has collaborated with Christopher Golden on several
well-received illustrated novels.
"Hellboy is a gem, one of considerable size and surprising luster."
"Hellboy is a comic-book masterpiece. With style, imagination, and simplicity,
it creates a parallel universe of mystery and horror, which is unique in the medium...
Hellboy restores my faith in the joy of comic books."
"Hellboy is a brilliant example of how to elevate the comic of the future to a
higher literary level while achieving a higher pitch of excitement."
Despite all of his enviable successes, Mike Mignola never "went Hollywood" and has remained firmly grounded. For the last few summers he's been instructing at Rebecca's Illustration Master Class, nurturing new talent and giving back to the community. He's kept his sense of humor intact; he's often self-effacing, always humble, and genuinely appreciative of the attention his work receives. While viewing the video of the previous Grand Master honorees—which included his friends and collaborators Richard Corben and the late Al Williamson—before he took the stage I heard Mike whisper to his wife Christine something to the effect that he wasn't sure he belonged in the company of such an influential group of artists.
As I said to Mike that night—and repeat here—without fear of contradiction, without a moment's hesitation, "Yes! Yes you do!"
Congratulations Mike Mignola, Grand Master!
Above: Mike shows off his Grand Master Award. Sculptors Kristine and Colin Poole modified The Muse to have a red patina and sport Hellboy's horn stumps, tail, and Right Hand of Doom.