A comic book cover is a gateway to an interior realm, instantly creating a mood, an emotion, or a reaction to beckon one into the story it serves to herald. It's the first impression that entices prospective readers to engage with the creators and forges a bond to lure you into its pages upon purchase.
As part of SYFY WIRE's ongoing series saluting some of the finest cover artists in the industry, which has already showcased living legends Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, and Francesco Francavilla, we now celebrate the considerable artistry of Mike Mignola.
The Eisner Award-winning creator of Hellboy and the entire Mignola-verse — which encompasses titles like B.P.R.D, Lobster Johnson, Abe Sapien, Witchfinder, Joe Golem, and Baltimore — began his career with Marvel inking Daredevil and Power Man and Iron Fist. He then migrated over to DC for various Batman series like A Death in the Family and Legends of the Dark Knight before blazing his own trail in 1994 with the horned, hammer-handed paranormal detective Hellboy.
With Halloween fast approaching and the new Hellboy movie starring David Harbour on the horizon, SYFY WIRE sat down with the wizard of this weird world at Portland's Rose City Comic Con last month to hear his personal comments on 13 classic Mignola covers encompassing his 35-year career.
From Bram Stoker's Dracula and Hellboy to Batman: Gotham by Gaslight and Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil, follow along and let us know if our collection includes any of your favorites.
Here in his own words are the secrets and surprises on how these covers were conceptualized and composed in Mignola's uniquely stark, evocative style.
Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #62 (1994)
"Terrible! No idea at all what to do. Didn't know anything at all about the characters. I think one of them is actually Batman. Basically, what do the characters look like and I'll just have them standing there. Did way too many covers like that in my career."
Hellboy: The Midnight Circus (2013)
"It's something that on a good day I do really well, where I compose a lot of elements. I wrote this book so I knew all the elements in this book. I thought I wanted to draw the circus and I'd love to be able to get Pinocchio in there, so the whole thing is a matter of taking all those different elements and composing them together. This is one where that worked out better than usual. This is one of my favorites."
Bram Stoker's Dracula #2 (1992)
"A very surprisingly good female face for me. Drawing women is not my strong suit, but I'm sure I had some similar photo reference. There were so many different elements in the Dracula comic it was always a matter of getting some dramatic, identifiable thing on the cover. The first one had the big old man Dracula head with the red and this would be the blue cover, so we'll put the big werewolf on there. So again, not terrible!"
Hellboy: Seed of Destruction TPB (2004)
"I got into the habit with the trade paperback covers of wanting to get a bunch of different elements from the story. It's a problem if you put too many elements in there. The simple idea was okay, Hellboy and Rasputin, and then you kinda go, 'But it could use something over here.' So probably the guy with the harpoon wasn't in there originally, but once I put the frog guy in there, I said, 'now I need something on the other side.' Guy with the harpoon! That'll work!"
Sherlock Frankenstein and the Legion of Evil #1 (2017)
"I like this one. It was a new book and they sent me character designs for some of the creature guys. So I had a design for Sherlock Frankenstein, and it wasn't one of the more imaginative covers because all I had was character designs. So it was taking characters that would be fun to draw and stacking them up. The best idea, the bit I like best, was the reptile guy behind him. His arm disappears, and then the snakes emerge down here, so his hand turns into the snakes. When I'm working with Dave Stewart, the colorist, I'm saying to make sure the snakes are the same color as this guy to tie them together."
Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil (2010)
"This is one of my favorites. This is a piece I've never sold. In one of the art books, I reprint the original version of this. Because it's Double Feature of Evil, and it's two different stories, I originally designed this cover so there was that Hellboy figure and then there were two movie posters. The elements of the two different posters I ended up combining into one image. But there's a version of this somewhere where you saw the two posters. One was the portrait and the skull, the other was the statue and the mummies. Dave Stewart is a genius. We've been working together for more than twenty years so at this point we speak the same language enough that we have a shorthand for how we work together."
Hellboy: The Right Hand of Doom & Others (2015)
"Not one of the more successful versions of this kind of thing where I try to combine a bunch of different element. Because it was a collection, the idea was to try and sum up a lot of what Hellboy is about in one piece. I've done better versions of that kind of thing. But the idea of the whole Right Hand of Doom, it's having that fire pouring up off that hand so the composition draws you back to the hand."
B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth Vol. 7 (2014)
As I became less involved in B.P.R.D. and it became more and more a John Arcudi book, I was less familiar with the story. I would just get handed a really rough idea of some of the moments in the book. It's almost a completely abstract piece, almost purely composition, so the idea of horror and this open body and these demons hunched over it, and then the specter of death and "Cold Day in Hell" so you put snow in. It was just a composition of elements you hoped would look cool, and an excuse to draw a skeleton horse."
Hellboy: The Third Wish (2002)
"A nice excuse to draw animals. One of the real quiet covers. There are days when you're very confident and think, 'I've got this solid composition idea that isn't one of those cluttered let's get everything in there.' It's just empty grassland with lions with spooky eyes. It's a quiet one that works. Some of those things, I lose my nerve and think it's too simple. But that one I'm glad I didn't lose my nerve."
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (1989)
"It is what it is. It's become one of the more iconic covers but it's a no-brainer thing to me because Batman to me is just a silhouette. The less you show of him, the better he looks. So the idea of a black shape with a black shape sitting on it, and the only thing that defines it as Batman is the tips of his ears and the choppy cape. So it's stick Batman up there and then you've got to sell the Victorian era."
Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham #3 (2001)
"This is a book I wrote, but didn't draw. I knew all the elements of the story. Because it was three issues, I think I started with color. One was going to be a red color, one was a green cover, one was a blue cover. The first one was Mr. Freeze and it took place in the arctic so that was the blue one. The green one is the middle one and that's the mystery and plants and I think Poison Ivy was in that, and then this was the apocalypse cover so you put tentacles and the demon and the bats and do it all in red."
Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #4 (2007)
"One of the 'stack up the elements' covers. When I'm writing a book I'm not drawing, you think, 'Okay, it would have been fun to draw the dragon monster, but I'm not drawing the comic.' So the cover is an excuse for me to draw that guy. In the Lobster Johnson series, every cover was basically an excuse for me to draw something I was only going to get a chance to draw once."
B.P.R.D.: The Black Flame #4 (2005)
"It's got this nice flower feel. I was doing these kind of concept covers for a while where I'd have this bottom bar. Everything flows up from that center skull and there's these almost flower petal, flame shapes and that frenzy of all those figures. That's one I'm really proud of. Because we were doing four and five-issue mini-series, every one I wanted to give a special feel, so this one was the bottom bar that had a skull."