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NYCC: Toon Zone News Interviews Tad Stones & Mike Mignola on "Hellboy: Blood & Iron"

by on February 27, 2007

In 1993, a promotional comic book made for the San Diego Comic Con by Dark Horse Comics introduced a giant spawn of the supernatural fighting to keep the monsters in the world at bay. Created by Mike Mignola, Hellboy soon became a fan-favorite comic book character, becoming one of the pillar characters for Dark Horse Comics’ Legend imprint and eventually becoming a live-action film in 2004 starring Ron Perlman in the title role.

In 2005, rumors were confirmed that Hellboy would also get his own direct-to-video animated movies. The first movie, Hellboy: Sword of Storms, sent Mignola’s creation on a quest through a strange world of Japanese myths, and received wide acclaim after it was aired on Cartoon Network last November. The second animated movie, Hellboy: Blood and Iron, was screened at this year’s New York Comic Con. While we were there covering the con, Toon Zone News got the chance to sit and chat quickly with Tad Stones and Mike Mignola about Hellboy Animated.

TOON ZONE NEWS: In America, there is a general perception that “Animation is for kids.” Obviously, Hellboy is not. Did you run into any flak about the mature subject matter in the direct-to-video movies?

MIKE MIGNOLA: I don’t think it has particularly mature subject matter. The tone of it is spooky, but it’s cartoon violence. Even in the comics and the live-action film, we were doing monster-on-monster cartoon violence. It’s like a Godzilla movie. When you’re dealing with ghosts and stuff, especially in the second film, it’s spooky, but it’s not particularly gory. So, it’s going to be up to individual parents to know if it’s OK for their kids, but I think it’s pretty kid-friendly. Certainly it’s the kind of stuff I would have seen. I don’t think it’s all that much different than a good Universal monster movie that I would have grown up watching.

TAD STONES: When you look at Bride of Frankenstein, or any of the classics from Universal, and combine that with Ray Harryhausen movies that we both grew up with — that level of monster violence is pretty much intrinsic into what Hellboy is, so when translating to animation, it was an easy call for me to just follow the comic. And we didn’t have any body telling us not to. I’m often asked, “Who’s your target audience?” (Mike chuckles) And I answer (shrugs), “I don’t know. (laughs) I’m doing the comic here.” And it seems to have worked out.

Agent Leach, Prof. Broom, Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, and Hellboy in Blood & IronMIGNOLA: I’m getting 8- and 10-year old girls coming up to me at these conventions and telling me how much they love Hellboy, so that means young kids are seeing the live-action film, and I assume these films also.

TZN: Are you concerned about anything that might have to be cut for broadcast when Blood and Iron gets aired on Cartoon Network?

STONES: No, actually quite the opposite. If they have to edit things, that’s great. I understand that the network has different standards, but really whether or not we get to do more movies is all about DVD sales and the idea that you’ll have the unedited version on DVD is actually a plus to the older market.

MIGNOLA: TV is like a really big commercial for the DVDs.

STONES: Again, Starz Media is in the business of DVDs and that sale to Cartoon Network was an acquisition deal. They weren’t giving us money for development. It was, “This is the movie we’re doing. Hey, you want to take a look at it? Hey, are you interested?” And then they decided to put it on the air. If they have to modify it in some way, it’s just something to talk about at conventions (laughs).

TZN: A lot of times we hear from people working on other animated films is that sometimes characters will change based on someone’s performance, or take a character in a different direction. Did that happen with these movies?

MIGNOLA: What different direction were they going to go in? They had already done their roles in the live-action version, so it made things extremely simple because Selma knew Liz Sherman. Ron certainly knew Hellboy. Even though Doug’s voice didn’t appear in the live-action film, Doug was the actor who created the character on film, so Doug knew how to do Abe. It certainly simplified matters.

The only thing I saw in the voice actors that showed up wasn’t really a huge problem, but a lot of voice actors are used to being cartoon voices for kid’s shows, so we had to get these guys to dial it down so it was like a live-action performance. Again, we treated it like it was a live-action film. It was done as a straight film, but sometimes you hear some voice actors in there that are a little wonky or a little goofy because most of these guys do these more juvenile voices.

STONES: We’re not talking about Ron and Selma in the movie, of course, but the other animation actors that came in. The one character who I intentionally wrote a little differently and subtly, I thought, was Professor Bruttenholm (Broom), who’s a little warmer and has more of a sense of humor than Guillermo (del Toro, director of the live-action Hellboy — ed.) showed in his movie. And (Broom actor) John Hurt picked up on that, because when we were warming him up and we started doing some dialogue, he said, “Oh, this IS different. Give me a moment.” And I started panicking. “Oh, God, he’s calling his agent or something.” He came back 15 seconds later and it was like he had made some kind of mental adjustment and just sailed with it after that. It was just great. To me, it was so interesting seeing an actor really know a role so well that he just has to do a little correction and he’s back on course.

MIGNOLA: Also, it’s quite a coup to get John to come in and do the voice. I knew Tad was going to try to get John, but I didn’t know what our chances were of getting him, so that was great.

TZN: Did you write the bigger role for Professor Broom before you had John Hurt, or did you expand the role once you got him?

Young Prof. BroomSTONES: No, we wrote for Professor Broom. We were going to do the story, and it was like, “Boy, it would be great to get John Hurt.” We used a different actor, James Arnold Taylor, for the younger Broom, which helped out a lot because a lot of the extra material was with him and he was in town, whereas I never got to work face-to-face with John. It was through a digital patch to London. So no, we knew that if John didn’t do it, we’re not going to not do Professor Broom. It just worked out fantastic and I hope to bring him back. He’s got a small role in the next one, and we’ll see where we go after that.

TZN: What do you think was the hardest thing about bringing both of these movies to fruition?

STONES: The schedule. We were doing 2 movies in about a year and a couple of months. It wasn’t just that we were doing 2 movies, because that would be hard enough. It was that we were trying to figure out the rules of animation as we went. How should it be storyboarded and what kind of thing works best, and we were kind of learning as we were going on. The overseas studio was the same way. I think the second movie is a little more even than the first one in terms of character design and all that. It’s just that they’ve been animating on it for months and months and they were ready to hit it.

MIGNOLA: If you listen to the audio commentaries — we did audio commentaries on both films — some of the audio commentary is, “Oooh, I wish we had thought to do this. Oh, I wish we thought to do that.” They were just done so quickly that the beauty of doing a third film is that we’ve had a while to digest. To do the first two films and then to think about them and look at them and pick through them to say, “OK, next time we would do THIS, and next time we wouldn’t do THIS.” The third one will be REALLY good.

TZN: Speaking of the third one, you mentioned at the panel that you were hoping for 3, 4, and 5.

STONES: Well, just in general, Starz has the rights for, I think originally seven years, so they’re at 6 or five-and-a-half. I don’t really know where they are. Hopefully, it’s successful enough that they say, “Let’s do THIS many,” because that just allows us some planning. We can say, “Do we want to put an arc that starts in this one and is touched on over here and really pays off in the last,” to kind of reward the fan who’s been following along with us. But if you’re only doing one at a time, you can’t count on that. And logistically, you can set up your productions and get the most for your money, which is all about getting it on the screen.

TZN: Regarding the characters that weren’t in the live-action movie, you added Kate Corrigan to the cast for the animated films.

STONES: Kate, to me, is really a singular part of the Hellboy universe in that you read the comics and realize that he’s confided in her more than anybody else about his misgivings and his nature and all of that.

TZN: You also added Agent Sidney Leach for Blood and Iron?

STONES: Sidney Leach was introduced in the comics, much as he was in this film as the new agent.

MIGNOLA: I don’t think any new characters have been added to the animated show.

Hecate faces off against HellboyTZN: Just mostly the villains and some of the minor supporting characters.

MIGNOLA: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

STONES: And in the next one going forward, actually a lot of the villains are coming out of the comics and it’s down to Hellboy and Kate alone going on the adventure.

TZN: If you could do it all over again, what’s the one thing you would change?

STONES: You know, I’ve been asked this before and I keep forgetting the answer (laughs). Mostly it’s just the lessons we’ve learned. You can listen to the commentaries, because I actually talk about it at great length. The first movie has some pacing issues and staging stuff that would be easy to fix. We were just going to fast to do it. Time was our enemy, and now for the next one time is our friend.

MIGNOLA: And in the second film, I realized that as we were plotting it that it felt a little like a Hammer film — the Christopher Lee Dracula, Peter Cushing films. Certain scenes were very much inspired by those, but what I really wish was that I realized how much it was a Hammer film early on because I would have loved to have modeled the design and stuff after a Hammer film. Make it a real obvious tribute to Hammer. If we do a third film, it’s designed to be a real obvious tribute to the old Universal pictures. So I’d like to come up with a style model for each film.

Toon Zone News would like to thank Tad Stones and Mike Mignola for taking the time to talk with us, and to Starz Home Entertainment for making the interview possible. Images in this review were taken from the Hellboy Animated Production Blog. Hellboy: Blood and Iron will air on Cartoon Network on March 17th, with a DVD release coming later this year.

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