Iconic “Hellboy” comic book creator speaks at VCU

Mike Mignola, artist and writer, speaks to the community at the W.E. Singleton Center for Performing Arts about his past works like Hellboy. Photo by Erin Edgerton

Sebastian Grant
Contributing Writer

Creator of the “Hellboy” and “Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense” comics Mike Mignola — famous for his unique drawing style and storytelling — discussed creativity, insecurities and the artistic process at the W.E. Singleton Center for Performing Arts Oct. 29.

TyRuben Ellingson, department chair for VCUarts Communication Arts and a former Hollywood prop designer, is Mignola’s longtime friend. They engaged in an insightful academic discussion that often slid into stand-up comedy territory. The jovial chat touched on some personal topics, including Mignola’s insecurities and fears when it comes to his artistic process and his tales of humorous falls and a near-fatal encounter with actor Jeff Goldblum.

In anticipation of the discussion, Mignola hoped to speak on human emotions that many people might not expect from a comic book superstar.

”Hopefully, we’ll get into my endless parade of insecurities and fears. And the fact that I could overcome so much of that stuff to do this stuff,” Mignola said.

This candid sentiment resonated with students at the event.

“I think it’s really funny that a man whose comics really seem to calm my anxieties and my fears struggles with the same kind of stuff,” said Claire Willard, an avid Mignola fan. “His work has a really positive effect on me.”

Audience members asked questions regarding Mignola’s motivations and inspirations. Mignola cited urgency and foresight as strong motivators throughout his career.

“There’s a part of me that’s always looking ahead,” he said. “I’ve always had this feeling of ‘I’ve gotta get going.’”

Mignola touched on the value of individuality throughout his talk, encouraging attendees to be distinct and unique. Mignola cited comic book legends Bernie Wrightson and Frank Frazetta as artists he initially wanted to emulate. However, he later learned it was best to just be himself and embrace his personal style. With this in mind, he cautioned artists against following too closely behind their idols.

“People look at my style and they say ‘who the hell are your influences?’” Mignola said. “That’s a good thing.”

His individuality has significantly impacted the comic book community.

“Mignola is probably the most influential comic book artist of the past 20 years,” said Patrick Godfrey, owner of Velocity Comics on Broad Street.

Works like “Hellboy” have achieved such a high level of pop culture status that Mignola’s ideas have now spanned into two feature films, animated projects, video games and more. An R-rated reboot for the “red renegade” releases sometime in 2019. But Mignola said you’d have to ask his wife for the specific date.

Mignola told The Commonwealth Times he could never have anticipated such mainstream success for a character he originally began drawing on tablecloths.

“My story is that a guy with a pretty limited skill set figured out how to take his limited tools and do what he wanted and become very successful,” he said. “It’s not an unattainable thing. I’ve been very lucky, but there’s a lot of hard work that went into getting that lucky.”

The talk was warmly received with countless moments of applause and laughter. The scene at the Singleton Center following the discussion was emotional — many attendees were inspired, informed and entertained by the enriching event.

“This was one of the most impressive talks I’d ever been to — and I’ve talked to presidents,” said Gayathri Prakash, a VCUarts student. “He said he had a lot of doubts, and that was very relatable.”

Mignola hopes his work and story inspire people who are interested in working in the comic book industry.

“I just want people to come away thinking, ‘if he could do it, then I could do it,’” Mignola said. “It’s all about knowing what you want to do and figuring out a way to just go do it.”

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