For many comic creators, it’s a harsh reality that your series will not even survive a year—for Mike Mignola, his Hellboy series is about to turn 30. Mignola was your average comics jobber before Hellboy: he worked on assignments for Marvel and DC, and he didn’t have much say in what was being created. Effectively a cog in the overbearing corporate machine that is mainstream comics, Mignola knew at his soul that while he worked on superhero books such as Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, superheroes weren’t quite his thing. He famously hated drawing cars, wasn’t a huge fan of winding city landscapes, and would occasionally receive hate mail from dedicated fans lambasting him for ruining their favorite heroes. Faced with an uncertain future in comics, Mignola did what he had to do and persevered—and drew for fun. One day, he drew Hellboy; thus, everything changed with a few strokes of his pencil.
Transfixed on his rough sketch of a brutish looking demon with horns, Mignola fleshed Hellboy out in the early ’90s until his character landed a book at Dark Horse 1994, the aptly titled Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. While some Hellboy stories stand on their own, the aforementioned book kickstarted Mignola’s epic, winding tale showing his hero facing trials, tribulations, and the truth of his own destiny. In Seed of Destruction, Hellboy is established as having been summoned by the Nazis during World War II, aided by the famous Russian wizard, Rasputin. Rasputin explains to Hellboy that his destiny lies in the fact that he alone holds the power to control an immensely powerful deity set to bring about Ragnarok—the destruction of the entire world. Not only is this the reason for his entire existence, but it’s one that Rasputin makes clear he has absolutely no say in.
Hellboy is accompanied by his friends Abe Sapien and Elizabeth Sherman, the former being an intelligent, but otherwise ironically named fish-man who has a penchant for adventure. Elizabeth on the other hand, is a much more tragic character who is host to a destructive, fiery entity that wants nothing more than to be unleashed at any moment—an action that would devastate any and all life in their immediate area. Both her and Hellboy are pinned as tragic characters destined to do nothing more but destroy everything they hold dear. For Abe, his position as an investigator of paranormal phenomena is all and well, but his name was a joke, as he was found with a note sharing the same date as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. For Hellboy, these things are commented on in a brutish, blunt fashion, yet still pertaining to a sense of humanity. He expresses discontent by noting that Elizabeth’s file at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense—an organization they all work for—reads as if it isn’t about a human. They face off against Rasputin not as a team, but as a broken group of friends who are separated from each other in Hellboy’s ultimate time of need. As Rasputin recounts how he summoned Hellboy for the Nazis and then waited about 50 years for the culmination of his plans, he offers Hellboy a chance to join him knowingly—of his own free will—so that he can fulfill his destiny. Hellboy vehemently refuses, and Rasputin’s world ending spell is brought to a stop. Mignola isn’t reinventing the wheel with his plot structure here, it’s no surprise that Hellboy is victorious, but his refusal to be the destructor of the world comes at a cost: finally killing Rasputin, the only man who knows who he really is, and what power lies within him and his striking red right hand. He accepts this, saving the world and damning himself, as the story ends with him slowly starting on the path of self-discovery. It’s a powerful origin story, one that paints Hellboy in a sympathetic red light, and frames him as a tragic hero.
It’s not my place to comment on just how poignant Hellboy’s character is and how rich his universe has become over the last 27 years—that is painfully apparent today. What may not be so apparent is why Mignola’s story has such a faithful following. In the grand world of comic books, many stories come and go without ever really contributing to the status of American literature. Mignola’s work is different, as seen in his striking art-style where he happens to break one of the most basic rules of traditional art: negative space. His use of negative space, and his philosophy of drawing less, not more may have been controversial when he was working on Batman, but now it’s the source of his genius. Hellboy is a comic that originally was built in that use of negative space, a space that exists outside of rules and regulations, where artists can truly thrive and find freedom. Though some artists may find that they really don’t understand what makes the use of negative space so special, the ones that have found the will to choose for themselves and utilize it may very well be all the better for it. That will to choose for yourself is what makes Mignola’s Hellboy: Seed of Destruction stand above the plethora of mediocre comics—it’s what his protagonist does in every breath he draws for himself, not as the seed of destruction. Faced with insurmountable odds, both Mignola and his titular character were given a destiny they’d rather not have fulfilled. For Mignola, he was destined to never have made it big in comics, for Hellboy, well, you’ve already read all about that. Their response to destiny is what makes them human, what makes them still lovable today. Their response to destiny can be found in the 27 years’ worth of Hellboy comics, and defying destiny has never looked so cool.