In the early 90s Mike Mignola and I used to go out to lunch on a fairly regular basis. At one point neither of us were able to get together for five or six weeks but we still talked often enough. In that span of time Mike was working on a 24 page Hellboy story that was going to be serialized in the old Capital City order form (anyone remember when we used to have more than one distributor?), two pages monthly for a year.
When Mike and I talked he would go on about how very badly the story was coming. Week after week I’d hear about his career being finished; not only was this the worst thing he had ever done but he was sure he’d completely lost his ability to draw. Bear in mind that this went on every couple of nights for about six weeks. All the relentless negative reinforcement eventually wore me down. By the time we were going to get together for our long-overdo lunch I was convinced; I knew the story would be bad, I just hoped I would be able to find something--anything--positive to say.
We met at a natural food place down on Spring Street and Mike handed me a manila envelope with a stack of lettered copies in it. “Here, read it,” he said. So I read it. And as I did, Mike sat across from me sweating. When I finished I started to laugh. He looked at me with something close to terror in his eyes. Mike has a very expressive voice, there really isn’t any way to describe it; you need to hear it to understand, especially when he’s doing his characters. Anyone who has spoken to him for more than five minutes knows what I mean. Now, in panic mode, his voice was something akin to a high-pitched shriek. “What’s wrong?!” he asked. “You,” I said. “Why?!” “Because”, I told him, “you are a $%#@ing idiot.” “WHHYYY?!” he cried. “Because not only is this the best story you’ve ever done but it is probably the best story you will ever do.” Mike sat back in his seat and in a voice calm and sure, and with no room for doubt, said “You’re nuts.”
We sat there and ate lunch and disagreed on the story. Me telling him it was brilliant, him saying I was crazy and that is was awful. I even tried to buy the art from him (for my collection) but Mike felt it was so bad he didn’t want to foist it on anyone. He wasn’t fishing for praise; Mike honestly thought it was the worst thing he had ever done and that he had lost any meager talent once possessed. But, of course, he was wrong. The story in question was The Corpse and I still think it’s the best job Mike has ever done.
Years pass. Mike and Christine (who, by the way, is as benevolently patient a wife as my own) moved to the west coast. I did too shortly after, but further south. Mike and I didn’t talk as much after we left New York but we’d catch up when our paths crossed. One year, at the Chicago comic convention, I was with Mike and a few other people at the hotel bar. We’re all talking about various topics and suddenly he says, “The best story I ever did was The Corpse.” I remember being surprised as I said “The Corpse? When I told you that was the best thing you ever did you said I was crazy.” Mike looked at me, as calm and sure and matter of fact as he was at our lunch in New York, and said “Craig Russell told me it was the best story I ever did.”
A few years ago I was sitting in my (now former) office at WildStorm and Mike called me up out of the blue. He said that I was the first person to tell him how good The Corpse was and he wanted to thank me. He said he’d like to give me a page of my choice from the story. It was a wonderful act of kindness and I was touched. I asked if I could think about it and call him in a day or two; this would be a tough decision to make. He said sure. A few days later I called Mike back and asked about a couple of pages, specifically the ones with the mother and baby at the beginning of the story. It turned out he had traded those, of course, to Craig Russell. My alternatives were the pages with Jenny Greenteeth stealing the Corpse’s arm. Mike had both but I couldn’t make up my mind which to choose, the consecutive pair made such a great sequence. I asked if he would consider selling me the second one so I could have the scene in its entirety. Mike, in a slightly grumpy voice, tells me he’ll just give me both pages. I ask him if he’s sure, that I’d be happy to pay for the second page. He says no, that he’ll give me both. I thank him for his great generosity and ask that he remember to inscribe them to me. To which Mike, in a classic Mignola curmudgeon moment, says, “Inscribe them? Won’t that make it more difficult to SELL them?!”
Less than a week later a package arrived with the two pages inside. They were beautiful. And Mike did go ahead and put an inscription after all: “To Scott--with great appreciation--Mignola.” Oh well, guess I’m stuck with them now.
The Corpse by Mike Mignola