The Art of Mignola

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 When I was a student and first started reading comics seriously, one of the artists that really caught my eye then was Mike Mignola. The other fave was Art Adams and both couldn’t be more different in their art style.

Art Adams relished in sheer detail. He was the guy who probably started drawing Wolverine with so much arm hair, it looked like one hirsuite mess.

Mignola was quite different. His characters were drawn in a stark, nearly abstract manner with hints of German 1940’s poster art overtones. Mignola emphasises shadow and sharp lines, and has trailblazed a Gothic style still unparalled in the art world today. Among his earliest landmark works was Gotham By Gaslight (1989), which pitted Batman against Jack the Ripper in Victorian England.

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Of course, Mignola’s greatest work is Hellboy.

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I’ve been wanting to buy the Hellboy series for many years now and I finally did it last Wed. I bought all 6 books of the Hellboy collection, and it was $150 truly well spent. You see how Mignola’s artwork on his seminal character evolves from 1993 to 2005. Some people may think it is more de-evolution, as the artwork gets simpler, more abstract and less detailed.

But if you look into it carefully, it’s more about an artist being confident about his style, and possibly reducing his art time so he can spend more time on the story development. Towards the end of the six books, Mignola becomes a master of the mise-en-scene, and though he freely admits he’s not steeped in Japanese culture, he has also become expert at using panels without dialogue to convey emotion like the best manga out there.

As a writer, Mignola is overrated though. He gets praised to death by everyone from Robert Bloch to Frank Miller, but his prose is far weaker than his art. That’s why his pulp-horror storylines in Hellboy never transcend the page like his inspiration HP Lovecraft. Much of Hellboy’s mythos is drawn from the Lovecraft universe (outerworldly beings with huge tentacles sleeping and waiting to destroy Earth), but the Hellboy plots often collapse towards the end as the hero just punches the heck out of every monster he sees. That’s a convenient plot-kicker, but it does get tired after a while.

(To be continued)