Obviously, there’s no name more synonymous with the character of Hellboy than that of creator Mike Mignola. However, Christopher Golden runs a close second. Golden, a prolific best-selling author of original novels, media tie-in books and countless short stories, helped pioneer the line of Hellboy prose novels and anthologies, beginning with 1997’s The Lost Army and continuing this month with Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors. He’s also a screenwriter (along with Mignola and Andrew Cosby) of the upcoming Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen, the Neil Marshall-directed reboot of the Hellboy film franchise. Golden was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with Cemetery Dance Online about his long history in the world of Hellboy.
(Conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: Your history with Mike Mignola and Hellboy dates all the way back to the novel The Lost Army in 1997. Tell us how you got involved with that particular project.
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: My first job out of college was working for the corporate parent of Billboard Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, and a ton of others. During that same time, I was pursuing my writing career in comics and novels and non-fiction, just getting started. I sold my first novel in 1992 and quit to become a full-time writer, which meant I was doing all of the freelance work I could get my hands on. Quite a bit of that was for a variety of comic book and pop culture related publications.
In 1994, Harris Publications started up a new magazine called FLUX. It didn’t last very long. I did reviews and interviews, mostly, and one of those interviews was with Mike Mignola, about the launch of Hellboy. That was our first interaction. My memory is hazy, but I know I sent him my first novel, Of Saints and Shadows, which came out in May of ’94. At some point, either before or after he’d read the novel, I told him I’d love it—as a fan—if in future Hellboy miniseries he included serialized prose Hellboy stories in the back, like in the ‘70s Marvel black and white horror magazines. In typical Mike fashion, he said, “And I supposed you’d want to write it.” I told him, honestly, that of course I’d love to, but that I really just thought it would be a fun addition, that Hellboy would really work in prose. At some point he did read Of Saints and Shadows, and eventually he said he didn’t think the prose backups would work, but maybe I should just do it as a novel, and he’d do some illustrations for it. I’d seen a fantastic documentary about The Lost Army of Cambyses and I loved the mystery of it. I thought it was the kind of thing Hellboy would get involved in. So that was the beginning.
The Lost Army was the very first of many prose Hellboy projects, ranging from anthologies to stand-alone novels. What is it about the character that helps make such a successful transition from comics to prose?
Yep. I wrote the second one, The Bones of Giants. I’d heard from a mainstream editor or two that there was interest in Hellboy as a licensed property, so I mentioned that to Mike, which led to me sort of packaging and being editorial director on a series of four original Hellboy novels that were published by Pocket Books. I wrote one of them, The Dragon Pool. Later, we brought the series back to Dark Horse, and they published four more (well, three Hellboy and one Lobster Johnson, the latter by Tom Sniegoski, with whom I’d written the first BPRD miniseries, among many other things). The anthologies were also a blast to do. There were some incredible stories in those pages. I’ve always wanted to pull together a “Best Of” book, collecting my favorites from the three Odd Jobs books.
As for what makes Hellboy such a great candidate for prose—yes, the pulp elements are there. Monsters and ghosts and adventure, Nazis and exploding jetpacks, occult mysteries. But really it’s the ordinary/extraordinary nature of Hellboy that makes for a great character in prose, the idea that he’s a demon who’s also just an ordinary Joe, someone who is frightening or so different on the outside, but so human on the inside. So weary. That makes for great stories. And the supporting cast is fantastic. Mike always implies that he’s not a “real” writer, but he sells himself enormously short. He crafted this thing, this story and these characters and this world. I don’t know anyone who would suggest he’s not a real writer—and a great one.
What was it about the world of Hellboy that attracted you originally, and what keeps you going back?
All of that stuff I talked about, the pulp elements and the humanity…it’s all my wheelhouse. When Mignola created Hellboy he included all of the stuff he loves, the folklore, the monsters, the weariness, and on and on. If there was ever a comic book tailor made for a reader like me, it’s Hellboy.
Mike Mignola seems to have no problem letting other artists and writers play in the world he’s created, but he seems to have placed a significant amount of trust in you. How has your working relationship with him evolved over the years?
I’d be really curious to hear Mike’s answer to that question. From a practical standpoint, it usually is reflective of how much he himself has already envisioned a thing. For instance, on the Baltimore novel there would be scenes he had a clear vision for, scenes he’d already imagined himself drawing, and for those scenes there were many details Mike wanted to be sure were included. In other scenes, he still gave notes and suggestions, but he was mostly content to let me invent stuff. That’s sort of how our creative partnership works still. Of course, Mike would prefer to be hands off—he keeps saying he’s semi-retired—but everyone keeps dragging him back in. I want his participation as much as he’s able to give it. Though we share a lot of the same frame of reference, he sees stories much differently than I do, and that’s invaluable.
Explain the process of working with Mignola on a Hellboy project. How much back-and-forth is there between the two of you, from the conception of the idea to the actual writing?
Man, the answer to that varies so hugely depending on the project. On the first two novels, we worked together pretty closely as far as me getting feedback from Mike. But I also did a lot of advance work, picking his brain about the characters, about Hellboy’s personality. Remember, at that point, there’d only been the one miniseries. Most of our collaboration has been on Baltimore and Joe Golem. Obviously Sniegoski and I had a ton of input from Mike on the first BPRD miniseries, Hollow Earth. But every project is different.
It’s been nearly 10 years since the last Hellboy anthology, Oddest Jobs. What made the time right to resurrect the Hellboy prose anthologies with An Assortment of Horrors?
For me, it was just the idea that there was a whole generation of writers out there, that I’d met so many authors over the years that loved Hellboy but hadn’t written a story for the earlier anthologies. I love to see these writers immerse themselves in Hellboy’s world and in the characters and see what they come up with.
I understand that these stories are the first prose Hellboy stories for each of the contributing authors. Was that deliberate?
A hundred percent. Our first rule was that there would be no stories by anyone who’d written Hellboy (in prose) before, either in novel form or in the anthologies. I’d have liked to write one and I know Scott Allie would have, and Sniegoski, but I wanted to make sure we had room for new voices. Again, that’s the fascination for me—seeing what people will come up with.
Tell us how you went about assembling this list of authors and stories.
It’s a combination of writers we already knew were Hellboy and Mignola fans, writers who’d written great stories for other anthologies I’d edited, and people I recruited. For instance, Michael Rowe is a supremely talented Canadian author who I knew was a fan of Hellboy, but also someone whose work both Mike and I had read. His novel Wild Fell is a wonderful modern gothic. Mike recruited author Chris Priestley, whom he’d already been a fan of. We’d both become fans of Angela Slatter, who is definitely a Hellboy fan. Chris Roberson and Chelsea Cain had both already written Hellboy stories for the comics. E. Lily Yu is a young writer I met at a convention—Joe Hill introduced me to her over lunch and I went home and read a couple of her stories, and was intrigued by the possibilities. The lineup is fantastic. Other authors in Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors include: Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Paul Tremblay, Laird Barron, Kealan Patrick Burke, Richard Kadrey, Weston Ochse, Delilah Dawson, Nathan Ballingrud, and my buddy Rio Youers. The amount of talent in this book is enormous.
I know the answer to this question is likely to be “Very little,” but what can you tell us about your script for the new Hellboy movie?
There was a bit of backlash when the announcement was made that a new Hellboy movie was in the works without the involvement of Guillermo del Toro or Ron Perlman. Do you think that will flame up again when the movie is released, or has the chatter calmed down somewhat now that people have had time to get used to the idea?
I think it’s already calmed down a bit. I certainly have my own opinions about all kinds of things, but I was definitely surprised by the vehemence and hostility involved here. People have no idea what goes on in the background. Anyone buying into the narrative that Mike prevented that version from going forward is…let’s say “mistaken.” Regardless, I’m a huge fan of David Harbour and of Ian McShane, and Neil Marshall has made two of my favorite horror films. Even if I hadn’t been involved in the process, I’d be really excited to see what comes of this. For me, the closer the film can get to Mignola’s creation, the better.
The concept of condemning a film before one frame of it has been shot is a troubling but common occurrence in fandom. Is it better to try and reason with those who are grumbling, or just put your head down, do the work, and let the results speak for themselves?
For me, the latter, and that goes for all of my work. Novels, comics, etc. At the end of the day, the work is what will matter.
A lot has been made of the fact that this Hellboy movie will likely be rated “R.” It would be my guess that the intent is not to “earn” that R with gratuitous blood and sex, so how will this be a darker, more mature Hellboy film? Why is that important to the filmmakers, if it is at all?
I can’t speak for them, though I think your interpretation is correct. Nobody wants a gorefest, but when telling a story with an inherent darkness, I imagine it’s nice not to have to worry about whether certain imagery or subject matter is too unsettling for a ten year old. (As a parent, I’ve often been hugely surprised by the spectrum of content included in films rated PG-13. An R-rating takes the guesswork out of whether or not you should bring your ten year old.
What other projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
My latest novel is Ararat, out in hardcover now from St. Martin’s Press. Joe Golem: Occult Detective continues from Dark Horse. JournalStone just put out the third book in my Peter Octavian series, and are publishing all seven books in the series, the last two of which have never been published in the U.S. before. My next novel will be Blood of the Four, an epic fantasy I’ve collaborated on with Tim Lebbon. That’ll be out in March from Harper. With Jonathan Maberry and James A. Moore, I continue to host the Three Guys with Beards podcast every week. Come check us out!