clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Radio Spaceman, a sort of robot-like exporer laden with belts, tools, and a medal, whose head is a free-floating skull inside a lamp-shaped space helmet, stands on top of a hill as if in awe of the universe on the cover of Radio Spaceman: Mission to Numa 4 #1 (2022).

Filed under:

‘I love making shit up’: Hellboy’s Mike Mignola on his new comic series, Radio Spaceman

Mignola breaks down his pandemic sketch serendipity

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

For decades, Mike Mignola’s name has been attached to one comic character: Hellboy. The long-running gothic/supernatural comic has followed the adventures of the titular demon who works for the US Government to try and avert supernatural (and other) problems, and in the last couple of years, Mignola has been working to wind down the character.

As he’s done so, he’s been working on a handful of other projects, including one new one: Radio Spaceman. The two-issue comic event will hit stores next spring, and it’s based on a handful of pandemic sketches that went viral when Mignola posted them to the internet last year. The comic will follow the adventures of a steampunk-like robot, and it’ll blend Mignola’s affinity for monsters and strange happenings.

I spoke with Mignola earlier this week about the comic and where it came from, as well as what his plans are for his long-running Hellboy universe. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Polygon: To start off with, can you tell me a bit about Radio Spaceman: how did you come up with the character and the design?

Mike Mignola: This goes back to the early days of the pandemic, where I just started banging out sketches just to keep myself from going crazy, and posting them to Facebook. I was doing a lot of drawings of other characters, like cereal characters and the Jolly Green Giant, and stuff like that. And every once in a while, I would draw something original. So there was no real thought in it. I had done drawings like this in the past, of, like, a skeleton wearing a spacesuit. I just happened to do one of those drawings and wrote “Radio Spaceman” on it. It was kind of like when I made up Hellboy: There was no thought that went into it, I just thought, “Oh, these are a funny two words to put together.”

[Radio Spaceman] was fun and people liked him, so I did probably four or five or six drawings of this character, and then just kind of forgot about him. It wasn’t an attempt to make up a character or anything. It was just something that was kind of fun to draw two or three times, and I didn’t really plan to do anything with it, until one day I was just kind of thinking, “Well, what if there was a comic of this thing?” I didn’t really have a story, but I came up with a couple visuals and then I came up with like, three or four words of dialogue and I went, “Oh, I love that.”

So I had the opening, and these couple words in this particular sequence that kind of gets the action started. And then it was just a thing of just “well, what happens after that?” It was very much the way I did The Amazing Screw-On Head, where [it started] from a bunch of pictures I’m seeing in my head and a few funny phrases here and there.

So that was that was it: it just kind of happened.

Can you walk me through the elements of Radio Spaceman; the bandolier, the medal…

Well, it’s simply just what I draw when I draw an old fashioned space guy. The bubble helmet, it’s kind of based on or inspired by the old EC Comics, Hollywood-type spaceman outfits. So again, there was really no thought into, “Oh, he’s got to have these things,” or that it’s got to look any particular way. It was just drawing without any thought.

I’ve done a lot of these guys lately; mostly of these old Victorian-looking characters with this floating skull head, so it was no no giant leap to put the floating skull head inside the space helmet. And then, the only thing different than something I would just draw any old day was coming up with that name, Radio Spaceman, which just popped into my head. It doesn’t mean anything.

I guess it means something in the comic, but then nothing in the comic really ever gets explained. It’s just one of those things like The Amazing Screw-On Head, we just go, “Well, it’s just going to be this thing and some stuff is gonna happen.” And we’re not going to go into any fancy origins or big explanations of what’s in his belt at all. Why does he have a sledgehammer? I don’t know.

Radio Spaceman — a robot with a floating head inside his space helmet — stands on a spar of stone holding a sledgehammer. A full moon and a flying pterosaur of some kind appear in the sky behind him.

You started doing these sketches during the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic — how did the pandemic and lockdown shape your work and your process?

Well, the thing it did was it got me to do these really fast, really spontaneous drawings, to distract myself. [That] was really a big deal for me; to spend six months just drawing for fun, and not really caring what I — I mean, I did throw a lot of drawings away, it’s not like I posted everything I did. But because I was having so much fun doing these drawings, I think I did some of the best things I’ve ever done.

It was all done with a black Prismacolor pencil, there’s no underdrawing, there’s no real plan to these drawings. It was just sitting down to draw at a table all day, and just knock out these drawings. I’d love to think I could get back in that place again and have that much fun, just drawing for pure escapism. I don’t know, I have never been able to get back in there since.

But it did have a lasting effect on my career, the way I approach things. I did create probably three or four new characters that came out of that stuff, which I may or may not do anything with again. But again, to create characters the way I created the Amazing Screw-On Head, where stuff just popped up one day without any conscious thought — I did this Zula Queen of the Bat People, I don’t know what the hell she is. But I did five or six drawings for her, and I fell in love with the character. But there’s no story. I did Giant Cave Man, I kind of have a story for him, but again, it was nothing planned. It’s just one day I thought “Giant Caveman” was hilarious name, the way I thought “Radio Spaceman” was a great name. But I wasn’t trying to create a thing, which sometimes works the best for me. It happened with Hellboy, it happened with the Amazing Screw-On Head, just silly names and a kind of clunky thing that was fun to draw.

People really responded to the Radio Spaceman character after you posted him on Facebook. What did fans tell you about why or how the character appealed to them?

I didn’t get anything specific like that. I remember it was just, “That’s cool, I want a story!” That’s what I would usually get. It’s not that “They wanted a story, I’ll have to give them a story,” but the process was more like “Well, I don’t have a story. I don’t really plan to do a story. But if I was going to do a story…” It’s almost like a mental exercise. Could I make up a story about this thing? I’m taking a shower, I’m going “Hmm, could I make up a story about that guy?” It was then that I came up with these five or six words, and I remember coming out of the shower going, “Oh, shit, okay. If that sequence is in there, then I need to make up the rest of the thing.”

Radio Sapceman, proclaims the lettering on this pinup of a squat, robot-like space explorer with a floating skull inside a space helmet for a head.

It’s just a parade of fun things. There’s no, there’s nothing in this comic, I think that’s laying the groundwork for a bigger story. Like the Amazing Screw-On Head, it’s meant to really just exist as one thing; it’s not like something where I think you’d be going, “Oh, you’ve hinted at this whole other world.”

Maybe there’s another world there? I don’t know. I haven’t given any more thought to it. One day, if I suddenly think of another idea for this character, that’d be great.

How does that compare to the origins of Hellboy?

I mean, I was in a completely different place with Hellboy because I needed to come up with something, you know, to do for a career. I was looking to create something that I would do for a giant chunk of time. I didn’t think I would be able to, but I needed to at least replace all the commercial work I was doing. The idea was to come up with a series character, so I did put a lot of thought — maybe not into the name Hellboy — but it put a lot of thought into what kind of stuff I could do with that character. And after 27, 28 years of doing that character, I don’t feel the need to come up with an entire world again.

Now, back then in ‘93-‘94, had I thought of Radio Spaceman as [my Hellboy] character, then yeah, I probably would have put a lot more mental energy into fleshing out that world. But at this point, the last thing I want is another gigantic universe to deal with; I’m still still dealing with the Hellboy universe that I started, you know, 28 years ago.

So these things now are meant to just be this kind of fun, odd little thing.

You mentioned that you started off with those five or six words: what can you tell me about the story that you’re playing out in these two issues?

Well, Radio Spaceman is almost nothing as a character. He’s a good visual. But he’s basically just a puppet. Does he have a personality? I’m not sure. He’s only shown a trace of personality and the first issue, and I don’t know if that will develop more in the second issue.

The character can’t talk, so it’s a visual-oriented book. It’s like an escalating situation of dropping a guy to a planet and then there’s this incident that leads to this thing, which leads to this bigger thing, and it culminates in basically a gigantic explosion. I actually don’t think it has an explosion, but it probably has explosions. I can’t remember.

Radio Spaceman, a squat robotlike explorer whose head is a floating skull inside a spacehelmet, sits astride a drooling dragon-like beast.

But it was just a fun chain of events. I don’t want to give it away even though there’s not much to it.

I should mention the artist, Greg Hinkle. He did this book some years back, Airboy, which I loved. I never thought about working with him because I assumed he’s so great, he’s always gonna be busy with his own stuff. And I met him at a convention, and I was like, “Well, if you ever want to do something…” and he was like, “Well, yeah, I’d love to.”

So, I thought about having him write something in the Hellboy world, and when this thing popped up, I’d probably have played with the idea of drawing it myself, but then I thought, well, there’s Greg Hinkle.

Last we last spoke in 2017, B.P.R.D. was coming to an end and Hellboy in Hell was closing down the main arc for that character. At the time, Hellboy was coming to an end, and it seems like he’s still popping up. Do you see a point where you’ll stop doing Hellboy stories?

You know, I’ve been trying to end [Hellboy]. I just keep putting a lid on it, except that every time I do, I leave this one little escape valve. There’s always this one little thing where I go, “Yeah, but I haven’t quite finished this” or “Oh, I couldn’t help it tease out this one little bit.”

So the ongoing process for me with that whole world now is to kind of wrap it up, at least as far as my work on it is concerned. I’ve created all these characters, and now I kind of just want to resolve them. We’re getting near the end of resolving the Edward Gray character, I think, I hope?

“I never liked him, but even I have to admit he ended well,” says the Baba Yaga in Hellboy in Hell #1.
This image contains sensitive or violent content
Tap to display
Image: Mike Mignola

There’s always room — I mean, my problem is I’ve killed all these characters off, or I’ve created characters who can’t die. So it’s really hard to come to a point where you go, “Oh, they’re done.” Hellboy for me since I’ve had him disappear into an Iron Maiden and bring about the end of the world and the start of a new world, my feeling with Hellboy is I think he’s about as done as I can make him. Some of these other characters, I just haven’t gotten there with.

But of course, the other thing I’ve done is I’ve created a world where there’s a million years worth of Hellboy stories that haven’t been told. So what I’d ultimately like to do is wrap up these few characters that I still haven’t wrapped up, and then kind of leave this world for other people to play around in. Very much like how people keep writing stories that kind of take place in HP Lovecraft’s world. They’re mostly not about specific characters Lovecraft created, but they deal with his mythology and his world. I’d loved that [for Hellboy]. I’ve invited people in and there are some writers right now working on things where I’m like, “Well, okay, here’s an idea, or here’s something I never really dealt with.”

But I just don’t know how many more stories about Hellboy and Abe Sapien and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I don’t know how many more stories we need about those characters. If people come to me and say, “Hey, I’ve got a great story for this character that hasn’t been done,” that’s fine. But for the most part, I’d rather see it expand in different ways.

Lovecraft is an interesting comparison, because I’ve heard somebody describe his world as the sort of first open-sourced fictional universe, where he invited all his fellow writers to come in. How does that look for you, taking your hands off the wheel, given that your career is almost synonymous with Hellboy? Is there a reluctance on your part?

I mean, it’s been a slow process. So many of the books, for one reason or another, my name is on them as co-writer, where there were phone calls where I banged ideas around with other people. I am increasingly uncomfortable with some of these books where it says “co-written by Mike Mignola.” It’s like, I’m sure there was a phone call that led to that story, but 90% of the work was done by somebody else.

Now, we’re getting to a point where there are whole books that I had nothing to do with, where my name won’t be on them as co-writer, but they grow out of writers that I’ve had a long relationship with, where we’ve just talked about the world, the different things that the world needs, or the different unexplored areas of that world. I like that: I don’t have to do the heavy lifting. I like that I get to play around with these other writers or give other writers license to pick up on things that are or bring a different perspective to certain things.

Radio Spaceman, a sort of robot-like exporer laden with belts, tools, and a medal, whose head is a free-floating skull inside a lamp-shaped space helmet, stands on top of a hill as if in awe of the universe on the cover of Radio Spaceman: Mission to Numa 4 #1 (2022). Image: Mike Mignola/Dark Horse Comics

I mean, in most cases, I have some tiny bit of involvement, as in just bouncing ideas back and forth. But for the most part, I just kind of want to open the doors to writers who have an affection for that world who have ideas for it

Do you see yourself transitioning out of artwork to writing?

Right now, I’m looking at that quite a bit. I’ve never really done that, but I’ve been doing a lot more writing than drawing [lately]. There’s several big projects right now that are with other artists that I’ve written, and I’m looking down the road and a couple other big projects that again, I would never tackle [on my own]. As an artist, I’ve just become so obsessive-compulsive about my own stuff, it really becomes really painful for me to draw something that’s long and involved, just because I scrap whole pages all the time. That’s bad.

I’ve got a couple short things I’m lined up to do that I’m excited about because they’re short, so I can obsess and be compulsive about those all I want. If they’re only 10 or 12 pages, they’ll eventually get done.

I hate typing, but I love making shit up. There are a couple of things that I’ve got that rely a lot on mythology, so that’s been an excuse to sit down and do research, which I haven’t really done in a long time.

That explains your reluctance to like, take a character like Radio Spaceman and turn it into a big new universe.

Yeah. Right now, so much of my energy is in ending my universe (or not ending it, some part keeps evolving). Wrapping up these storylines. The last thing I want to do is get that ball rolling again. I just turned 61 years old, and I’m just going, “Man, I just don’t want to be in the middle of something again” But I like kind of being at the end, or in a place where if God knows, if something happened at Dark Horse or to me, if the Hellboy universe ended tomorrow, it would be fine. There are a couple of things that would be left undone, but for the most part, I got to create a world and destroy it. I never imagined I would have the time to really do this thing and finish it right. And I did. So now it’s for the most part a place for other people to play with the toys I made.

The first of two issues of the Radio Spaceman series will hit comic shop shelves on March 2, 2022, published by Dark Horse Comics. Mike Mignola will write the series, with Greg Hinkle on art, Dave Stewart on colors, and Clem Robins on lettering.