For many of us, the last year has been a peculiar, stressful time. Cooped up in our houses as work schedules suddenly become work-from-home ones, no events or movies to go to, we’ve distracted ourselves with binge-watching, new hobbies, and maybe a plastic giant robot or sixteen. But for the man behind Hellboy, one escape became a practice that let him help people who needed it most.
Mike Mignola quickly turned to daily sketching in the early days of the pandemic but what was first a distraction became a charitable cause. The writer-artist began raffling off his daily work—covering everything from Hellboy to Ultraman, and even new creations—to benefit the World Central Kitchen’s efforts to feed people in need during the covid-19 pandemic. And now, his months and months of work have been collected in a new hardback, marking what a long, strange year it’s been in a certain style.
Mike Mignola: The Quarantine Sketchbook, published by Dark Horse, includes a foreword from Mignola’s wife, Christine, as well as over 200 pages of his artwork from the past year. Just as it was when Mignola began auctioning off the sketches, all proceeds from the book will go to the World Central Kitchen. To learn more about Mignola’s year of sketching, we spoke to him over email to see what he’s taken from a strange year made bearable by some lovely artwork. Check out the full interview below, as well as a few pieces from The Quarantine Sketchbook!
James Whitbrook, io9: What was it that inspired you to start your sketching project during the pandemic in the first place?
Mike Mignola: Originally it was just something to distract myself, as we were suddenly living in very uncertain times and I couldn’t really concentrate on doing “real” work. So many of the Hellboy projects were suddenly on hold with no idea when things were going to start up again, so I just started playing—and posting the drawings on Facebook. It was really all just something to entertain myself and (hopefully) the people that follow me on social media.
io9: When you were deep into this process, what did you find helped you keep inspired and creative about the sketches as you turned this into a daily process?
Mignola: Once I started, I just found them so much fun to do. For a while there I just kept thinking of stuff I’d never drawn before. And they got such a big reaction from the people who follow me—I guess that fed the fire. Getting that kind of instant response can be pretty addictive.
io9: At what point did you realize you could leverage the sketches to do something charitable for folks hit hard by the pandemic? Tell me a little bit about that process for you.
Mignola: As the drawings piled up (and they piled up really fast), I felt I should probably do SOMETHING with them. At the same time, there was so much on the news about people being out of work and people lining up for food. My wife had been following the work José Andrés was doing out there with his World Central Kitchen, and that just sounded like a perfect organization to support.
io9: You’ve touched on some icons beyond your own work throughout this—who was the character you were most excited to draw? Were there any sketches that you found challenging, or perhaps went in a direction you didn’t initially expect them to when you decided to put your own spin on a subject?
Mignola: I don’t remember being especially excited about any one thing at the start. Maybe those goofy Japanese Ultraman and Godzilla monsters (sadly not collected in the book)? I was never really into that stuff, so had never drawn any of them, and some of them are just so odd. It was a lot of fun translating them into my style. I wasn’t really looking to challenge myself with these drawings—I was just looking to have fun. Some were a lot easier than others. A whole lot of them turned out so much better than I expected. I didn’t know it was possible to do a good drawing of Robot Monster or Squiddly Diddly, but they ended up being a couple of my favorites.
io9: You’ve not just been doing spins on known characters, but creating new ones for your sketches like Zoola and Radio Spaceman. Tell me a little bit about that process of deciding to create a character off-the-cuff like that—and who’s been a character you’ve made here you’d like to explore further?
Mignola: I don’t remember exactly how I came up with the names Radio Spaceman or Zoola—those things just pop into my head, usually when I’m taking a shower. Pretty sure in both cases I had a name first and just did a drawing to go with it, and in both cases, once I started I found I just wanted to keep going. I could have done more of both, but didn’t want to spend too many days on any one thing, and didn’t want to bore the people that were following me. I ended up actually coming up with a story for Radio Spaceman, so something is in the works. But Zoola—she doesn’t need a story. She’s just fun to draw. I want to get back to drawing her before too long.
io9: You can look back now on what is almost a year of daily artwork, on top of all the projects and painting you do anyway. What do you think you’ve taken on most as an artist from doing this endeavor?
Mignola: The sketches were all very fast and very spontaneous, very very different from the way I do my “real” work. I fell in love with working that way, and I really want to get back to it.
io9: Speaking of those other projects, you’ve currently got your own documentary in the works about your career and legacy being crowdfunded. What’s that experience been like for you, seeing people react to not just the documentary, but artists across industries and mediums discuss what an inspiration you’ve been to them?
Mignola: The whole thing is very strange. I hadn’t really given any thought to what it would be like hearing people I barely know talking about me—It’s very nice and very strange. I have to say, the first time I saw the little teaser for the documentary, I got a little emotional. I have absolutely no idea what it will be like to see the whole thing. It’s all very flattering. And strange.
Mike Mignola: The Quarantine Sketchbook hits shelves today.
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