Scott McCloud/First Second
Scott McCloud/First Second

Interview: Scott McCloud On The Sculptor and Balancing Art and Life

Scott McCloud/First Second
Scott McCloud/First Second

Scott McCloud changed the way we think about comics with his groundbreaking 1993 comics theory book Understanding Comics. After two follow-up books exploring other aspects of the medium (Reinventing Comics and Making Comics), he has returned to the world of fiction with a nearly 500 page graphic novel called The Sculptor.

The Sculptor is about a young artist named David Smith who makes a deal with Death to be able to sculpt anything he can imagine, from any surface he touches. In exchange, he now has only 200 days to live. The deal gets even more complicated when he meets the love of his life in the eleventh hour. The Sculptor hits stores in the U.S. and the rest of the world beginning Feb. 3.

I had the honor of talking with Scott about his new book, life, art and, of course, comics. 

The protagonist of The Sculptor has to make a choice between his art and his life. Being a husband and a father and having just completed a 500-page graphic novel—on top of everything else you’ve done in your career—you seem like you’ve found some sort of personal balance in this struggle yourself. What’s your secret?

Ha. Yeah, that’s a good question actually. I have found that balance and until this moment I hadn’t really thought about it. I’m very lucky. I work really, really hard, but then we play hard and have fun afterwards. I’ll work an 11 hour day or more for years on a book—like this one—but then when I’m done, my wife and I will hop in the car and go have fun. Travel and go see the world and get to reconnect again. When you’ve done the hard work, it’s a lot easier to goof off.

I do think a lot of artists really struggle with that and I think a lot of them will relate to this story because of that. Do you think that many artists feel like they have to sacrifice one for the other?

I just think that most artists find that there’s some kind of sacrifice involved. Sometimes it’s something dramatic like the kind that people make movies about, like Van Gogh or Michelangelo. But sometimes it’s just more subtle than that. We make the decision every day to spend our time with the people that we love, or to enjoy the world as it is, or to create these imaginary worlds. We’re making choices all the time. We don’t do it in such a dramatic way as my protagonist does, but we always do it and there’s always that tension.

Sometimes there’ll be a relationship where both are workaholics and they’ll just be together for ten minutes at the end of the day to have a glass of wine and that works for them. But in most cases, one mate or the other is working really hard and the other is left feeling abandoned.

How long did it take you to make this book?

Five years from when I sat down to actively make it. Before that I spent a year just thinking about it very intensely. But, before that it was almost thirty years that it just sat in the back of my head. It’s a very old story that goes back to my 20s.

I think that’s really fascinating to think about when it's the right time for an idea to come to fruition. How did you know when it was the right time to start working on it?

Well, I loved the story, but for many years I felt it was too close to my superhero roots. Too much of that preposterous, adolescent power fantasy that we dream up when we’re young. But as the years went by I realized there was something powerful about the basic story as I had perceived it and that, if done right, this was worth doing as a graphic novel. The challenge, as my editor put it to me, was to see if I could preserve the vitality of that young man’s idea but bring in the wisdom and perspective of an older man. A man twice the age of the kid who dreamed it up. And that’s what I tried to do.

Do you think it would have been drastically different if you had done it as a young man?

I think it would have had some of that same energy, but it would have been about something entirely different. I can’t imagine the 20s version of me ever doing a story that in the end was more about acceptance, letting go and understanding that we all get forgotten. It’s just not a story that young men tell, but it’s something that I’m more at peace with now as an older man.

What made you choose a sculptor?

The fact that he’s a sculptor and not a painter or a draftsman is the one part of the story that I never chose at all because sculpture was the initial point of inspiration. The whole time I was working on it, I never considered anything else. I think if I had, I still would have chosen it because it’s uniquely visual and spatial. A lot of magic happens in trying to capture three dimensions within two. Trying to create the illusion of space. That’s something that sculpture is really good at bringing out in a book.

I think if I had chosen an artist who was working in a vein closer to mine it may not have worked. Although there is another artist, Dylan Horrocks, who has a book out called Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen and it actually involves a man who, through supernatural means, is able to bring about new worlds with his pen. So, in a way, he got to do that story and I got to do this one.

Well, it does seem that a lot of cartoonists tend to tell stories about cartoonists so it’s interesting that you steered away from that.

Yeah, although there’s something similar in that a sculptor does work alone and that’s something that a lot of cartoonists, especially these days, tend to do. We’re loners. We do it all ourselves.

Speaking in sculpting terms, is making comics an additive or subtractive process?

You know, when we’re adding, we’re using the skills of drawing, word craft, figure drawing, anatomy. But, when we decide what doesn’t belong—when we take panels out, when we take out what’s between those panels that activate the readers’ imagination—that’s even closer to the heart of what comics are. So I think the identity of comics are wrapped up in the subtractive more than the additive.

I think a lot of people might be surprised, given you’re such a proponent of the digital medium, that—as far as I know—there isn’t a digital or webcomics version of The Sculptor. Is there a digital version planned for the future?

Well, I like the all-at-onceness of it so we decided not to serialize it on the web. My editor Mark Siegel, who had his own wonderful graphic novel, Sailor Twain, which he did serialize, he and I felt, in the end, that it would be more interesting if the whole thing landed with a boom.

Beyond that, I feel very strongly in designing for the device. I think we should make our comics with the final result in mind and not expect it to be able to adapt to whatever format that we stuff it into. If you’re designing for a book you should design it for a book. If you’re designing it to exist as a mobile app you should design it specifically to exist for that app or even for a mobile app on a specific device. I think the idea of Responsive Design—the idea that content can flip into a variety of formats automatically —is a noble idea for some kinds of communications and expression but comics isn’t one of them. In comics, shape matters. The concrete shape a work takes is tied too closely to its identity to expect it to just morph into a hundred shapes.

So, this particular book I designed as a book. My next book, I might design to be native to the web or to mobile devices, and if I do, I’ll care as little about the print version of that as I do about the digital version of this one (laughs).

Now, there will be a digital version of The Sculptor, you know, for iPad and Kindle, but I’ll be encouraging people to consider buying the print version because that’s going to be the closest to what I had in mind for it.

Do you think it is possible to do a comic that would work across as many formats as possible?

It’s possible. Now, you can do a comic where every single panel was the same shape and size and it would just reflow. So it would be one panel at a time if you were reading it on the bus on your phone and then it might be three wide and two deep on your iPad. That’s one way to go about it, and if that suits your set of goals, I say go for it. Art Spiegelman did that for a reissue of a comic anthology that he did called Breakdowns. But for me, I want to use the full orchestra. I want to choose every tool imaginable to tell this story and that meant pushing to the very limits of what print can do. And when you do that, then you’re illuminating the shape of print. And when you're illuminating the shape of print, the thing's gotta be in print.

It is a very substantial book to hold in your hands, but also your use of the black and blue ink to make certain elements fall into the background really works very well on the page.

Thank you. Good old Pantone 653. Special thanks to MailChimp in Atlanta who gave me a Pantone book and a quiet room when it came time to really make a decision on what color it would be. I was thousands of miles away from my own Pantone book so I’m glad they had one.

Did you always intend the book to be two-color? Did you ever consider full color?

I really enjoy a lot of black and white work, but two-color seemed great because I could really bring out the form. When you look at a couple of pages of this book, I want you to see characters and faces and buildings and trees. I don’t want you to see lines on paper and have to work at discerning the form. And that second color can really help there. You just instantly see the shapes and silhouettes of everything you’re looking at so it flows quickly. We talk about load time on web pages, but now we're talking about cognitive load time. I want the cognitive load time to be very fast on this thing.

But full color I’m just not good enough at. My color choices aren’t that great and it would have added enormously to the workload unless I had someone else color it and then I would just have to give up some of the control. So, basically, these two colors were the fullest palette I could work with while still having full control.

It seems like a lot of comic creators these days are moving more towards smaller works rather than big graphic novels like this one because the idea of holing yourself up in isolation for years without serializing it in some way is not favorable.

Right, you want to get some sort of gratification along the way. And if I had to do this thing while also working a 9 to 5 job, then it would have been a ten-year book instead of a five-year book. So, I understand why people are reluctant to do something quite this huge unless they have a publisher willing to support them during that period.

I guess that’s the key, so this was an enjoyable five-year experience for you?

It was fantastic. I’ve never enjoyed working on anything so much in my life. This was just as much fun, if not more so, than working on Understanding Comics back in the early ‘90s. It was very hard work. Very long hours. 11 hours a day, seven days a week. Even longer during the last year. But it was gratifying, interesting work. I was finally pushing my skills in directions I’d never gone before. And, frankly, also just filling a big hole in my resumé. You know (laughs), I’m out there for years telling people how to understand comics, how to make comics, and now I had to put my money where my mouth was. And that put a lot of pressure on me to not screw it up. Rather than as a burden, I took that pressure as a kind of rocket fuel to push me forward.

That almost answers my next question about any fears you might have had having to resell yourself as “Scott McCloud, the graphic novelist” vs. “Scott McCloud, the comic theorist”.

Well, I’ll tell you, there’s a journalist named Gary Tyrrell who writes for who said he expected to see The Sculptor push Understanding Comics out of the first line of my obituary (laughs). And that was really just what I was trying to do.

Well, I also couldn’t help while reading it to think about Understanding Comics like “Oh, look he’s using Aspect to Aspect transitions here..." Do you think you can say that working on those books made you a better storyteller and artist?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Well, Making Comics, in particular, if you go back to the introduction I say that one of the reasons I was doing that book was to teach myself to be a better cartoonist because I had this big book in mind for afterwards. That wasn’t just hyperbole. I was getting up on my own shoulders and then pulling myself up because I knew that there were gaps in my storytelling ability. I especially wanted to study facial expressions and body language because that’s one of the great untapped resources in comics. It’s extremely important that cartoonists improve on that front. Especially because I think we have a young readership that is more attuned to those things that are coming in through the all-ages comics now and will be arriving at our doorstep shortly. A very big wave of young readers, many of whom are female, and who absolutely care about what’s on the minds of ordinary human beings and how they interact with one another. These are things that they have enjoyed watching in the comics of people like Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Sisters) and they are going to be expecting it from their more mature, literary comics.

I noticed at the end of the book you thank a lot of people that modeled for you throughout the making of this book. Was using that much photo reference new to your process?

Yeah it was new and it turned out to be vital. Basically, I finally acknowledged my own limitations and did something about them. I always bemoaned my figure drawing and I worked at improving it, but I was pretty fatalistic about it and assumed nobody was ever going to be impressed by my figure drawing. But then I realized, if I have that problem, maybe I should get some help. And one of the best things you can do for that is to look at actual human beings (laughs).

So I went out and found some people. I thought a friend of mine would make a pretty good model for David and he found us our Meg. My father-in-law posed for the character of David’s grand-uncle Harry. And they were invaluable. And I managed to capture the nuance of some of these moments because I took thousands of photos. I also took a lot of video. Video is terrific when you’re taking reference because you can move that little scrubber back and forth until you have the exact instant where a whole gesture is captured in a moment. That’s something that’s harder to do when you’re just taking still pictures.

A lot of times when cartoonists use photo reference it really sticks out, but it felt very seamless here. You did a great job of retaining your style while really making these characters feel like real people.

Well, thank you. That was certainly a worry in the beginning that they might feel overly photo-referenced. What I tried to do was to keep them fluid and pretty iconic and to try to capture the gesture rather than copy the gesture. And that seemed to make a difference.

What’s the one thing about making comics that has changed the most since you began your career?

Of course, one of the biggest changes is the tools. I was never really a master of my tools in the pen and ink era, so I was uniquely suited for digital. I didn’t have a tremendous natural skill for drawing but I had a pretty good eye. So, I could look at my drawings and see that they sucked and I could figure out what needed to be fixed. When it was pen and ink or brush on paper, fixing things was very hard. You can’t decide after you've drawn a figure with a sable brush on bristol board that the head should be 10% smaller. You can’t decide that the figure should be half an inch to the left. But with digital you can. And by working in very high resolution, I was able to exactly that.

When I see a figure or a face that looked wrong, I fixed it. I made it a little less crappy and a little less crappy and eventually it looked okay and I moved on (laughs). And that seemed to do the trick. But, that meant that I had found my right tool. If I had the drawing skills of a Moebius or a Craig Thompson or a Jillian Tamaki, then I might not have needed to go digital. But that wasn’t my strength so I tried to play to my strength.

So, are you 100% digital or do you, say, thumbnail in pencil or anything like that?

No, even the thumbnails were digital this time. I laid out the book on massive Photoshop documents that had 40 comic pages on each document in these two long strips with these open areas above where I could take panels and move them above to move them out and then move them back in to the narrative, trying to think more of panel-to-panel flow across pages rather than getting too hung up on what was going on in any individual page.

What was your favorite comic that you read in the past year?

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, also from First Second, I think was my favorite one from last year. A really important book, especially in terms of its sense of place and pacing. It’s kind of a tone poem in a lot of ways. I’m very fond of that one.

First Second had a very good year last year. You’re coming in at a good time with them.

Yeah, it’s amazing because I’ve been able to see them grow up as I worked on this book. When I first signed up with them they were a little scrappy and new and now their line has really filled out beautifully. Part of it has to do that they invested a bit in the young reader end of of the spectrum and that’s grown in importance in the last year and become an important sector.

Who do you think is doing the most interesting or innovative comics right now?

In addition to Jillian, I think…that’s a hard one…who do I pick? It’s like you just showed me the MGM Grand buffet and are like, "Okay, pick a food, quick!"

Well, for most innovative, I really like Michael DeForge’s stuff. I really like Glyn Dillon’s The Nao of Brown. It came out just a couple of years ago. Jim Woodring’s really going strong right now, though he’s been around for quite a while. Again, the all-ages category as a whole I’m fascinated by. Vera Brosgol, Gene Yang. These folks are going to be very important down the road. Let’s see…what am I looking at right now…things change so much. Oh, Boulet, the French artist, I’m very fond of what he’s doing online. He does some really cool webcomics.

I’m glad you mentioned Boulet. If I had thought about it I would have asked you about him because he’s sort of the perfect webcomic cartoonist to ask Scott McCloud about I guess.

(laughs) He’s really covered those cycled looped animations as a comics-friendly extension that doesn’t break the boundaries of the medium but kind of knocks on the wall in a really interesting way.

What are you working on next?

I’m really excited about my next book, the only problem is my last book won’t leave me alone (laughs). I’ll be doing promotions of The Sculptor. I’m going to be traveling like CRAZY, talking about The Sculptor. We’ve got six European stops just in the first few months and then there’s going to be a Korean edition and, oh god, it’s just going to be everywhere.

But, yeah, I am working on the next book which is going to be about visual communication, generally. It’s a return to non-fiction but not quite as limited to comics as my previous books were. I’m interested in trying to distill some of the comics principles and the best practices of communicating and educating with pictures. I think there are a lot of common principles to be derived from information graphics, data visualization and any number of other disciplines.

Welcome Productions, YouTube
8 Things You Might Not Know About Ziggy
Welcome Productions, YouTube
Welcome Productions, YouTube

Devoid of pants or much of a personality, cartoonist Tom Wilson’s Ziggy has been prompting pleasant chuckles out of readers since he first appeared in newspapers in 1971. The bulbous-nosed little unfortunate has, against the odds, become a highly recognizable character, extensively merchandised on everything from greeting cards to pencil erasers. Before the inevitable big-budget CGI reboot happens, check out some facts about Ziggy's history, why fans were upset when he once spoke, and the bittersweet origin of his distinctive name.


Ziggy had a circuitous route to the comics pages. The character was first created by American Greetings executive Tom Wilson in the 1960s. (Wilson would later have a hand in creating the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.) Doodling an elevator operator who commented on the mundane events inside his small world, when Wilson first tried to sell it as a comic strip, there were no takers. When he resurrected the character for a 1969 American Greetings humor book, When You’re Not Around, the odd little man intrigued the wife of a Universal Press Syndicate executive. By 1971, Wilson and Ziggy were in 15 newspapers, a number that would eventually reach over 500. 


Ziggy is often depicted as beleaguered and exasperated at the various obstacles life puts in front of him, from faulty ATMs to soured relationships. (He prefers to socialize with animals.) Wilson gave him the name “Ziggy” because the letter “Z” comes last in the alphabet and Wilson thought that was a proper position for his character, who often came last in life. (Another story has Wilson hearing the name from a colleague’s barber and remembering it.) In one strip, Ziggy is seen waiting for a rescue after a flood—but the responders are going in alphabetical order. In 1974, Wilson told a reporter that his full name is “Zigfried.”


When Wilson died in 2011, his heir apparent was already selected. His son, Tom Wilson Jr., had been drawing the strip since 1987. Long before that, the elder Wilson would sit with his son at a table, draw Ziggy in a precarious position—a safe plummeting toward him from above, for example—and then instruct his son to draw a way out of the jam. Ziggy, Tom Jr. later said, was like his “successful little brother.”


Despite his general haplessness, Ziggy often draws sympathy and affection from readers. Wilson felt his large, circular nose and rotund body engendered feelings of warmth and told his son to go easy on his line drawing work. “Let’s keep Ziggy round and lovable,” the artist said. Ziggy also breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to readers, a technique Wilson felt further strengthened the feeling of companionship.


For years, locals in Strongsville, Ohio have craned their necks to take in a curious sight: Ziggy appears on the side of one of their water towers. Wilson was from Cleveland, and when he heard a local sports team had painted the character up there in 1975, he offered to render a better portrait. Firefighters lifted him on a crane and allowed him to paint Ziggy next to the school’s mustang mascot. When the Cleveland Water Department threatened to cover him as part of a new paint job, residents signed a petition to prevent them from going through with the plan.


There was no limit to the kind of Ziggy product tie-ins hitting stores, including shirts, calendars, and mugs. But 1977’s A Day with Ziggy might be the most memorable. Players assumed the role of the put-upon blob, trying to avoid landing on a space that would worsen Ziggy’s day.


Ziggy first popped up in cartoon form in 1981, when he “appeared” in a segment with Today film critic Gene Shalit. Strangely, readers wrote in expressing disapproval of the spot, noting that Ziggy's voice didn’t mesh with what they had imagined he might sound like.


Ziggy made the jump to animation in 1982 with the ABC primetime special Ziggy’s Gift. Written by Wilson, it afforded Ziggy fans a closer look at the character’s daily life, including his sparsely-furnished apartment and a gig dressing as Santa for the holidays. At Wilson’s insistence, the character didn’t speak to avoid another Shalit situation. The special won an Emmy in 1983. Ziggy still wasn’t wearing any pants.

Columbia Pictures
12 Burning Facts About Hellboy
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

Two decades before he would become a two-time Oscar-winner for The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro set out to make a movie about his favorite superhero: a big red demon with a big gun and a heart of gold. It took years to finally get the film off the ground, but in 2004 Hellboy finally made it to theaters, adding another piece to the beloved supernatural filmography that’s made del Toro a favorite among genre fans for a quarter of a century.

Though it never rose to the box office heights of The Avengers, and it never reached the end of its planned trilogy, Hellboy remains one of the most imaginative, thrilling superhero films of the 21st century. From early script changes to an accidentally deleted scene, here are 12 facts about how it was made.


Guillermo del Toro grew up with comic books, noting that he was flipping through them before he even knew how to read the words. That childhood fondness for the medium stayed with him into adulthood, and by the time he’d reached his early 30s he’d not only discovered the work of Mike Mignola, but began to consider the Hellboy creator one of his great comic book visual influences alongside legends like Will Eisner, Bernie Wrightson, and Richard Corben.

“Mignola, in my later years, already as a young adult, fascinated me with his use of light and shadow, with his amazing bold line work, but also with the way he gave birth to my favorite superhero in my adult years, which is Hellboy,” del Toro said during the recording of the Hellboy Director’s Cut commentary track.

When del Toro and Mignola finally met during the making of Hellboy, they bonded over a mutual love of folklore and pulp fiction, becoming fast friends and collaborators. 


In the world of the film, Hellboy is viewed as an urban legend and tabloid story, not unlike Bigfoot. The film’s opening credits underline this with blurry photos, grainy videos, and newspaper headlines meant to depict widespread eyewitness accounts of the creature. Agent Myers (Rupert Evans) further emphasizes this point when he exclaims “He’s real!” upon meeting Hellboy for the first time. 

According to del Toro, this idea was initially supposed to play out in a much more overt way through the film’s screenplay. In early drafts, parts of the film’s story were told through eyewitness interviews with characters claiming to have seen Hellboy.

“So people would be saying ‘I saw Hellboy over here. I saw him jump,’ and a kid saying, ‘I saw him on the rooftop.’ Now everybody does it, but back then it was 1997, '98, and I thought that was a great idea,” del Toro said. “That was the first thing we cut out of the shooting schedule because [the studio executives] didn’t understand it.”


Though Hellboy’s live-action debut occurred relatively early in the 21st century’s superhero movie boom, he could have been more of a comic book trailblazer than he turned out to be. According to del Toro, if it weren't for reluctant studio executives, the film could have come out as early as 1998, making it a contemporary of Blade rather than Spider-Man 2.

“The one thing that particularly infuriates me is that this movie could have been made in 1998,” del Toro said, noting that the film would have then pre-dated X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), and even The Matrix (1999). At the time, though, many studio executives considered the comic book movie label “almost an insult,” and so Hellboy kept getting pushed back. In between the time it could have been made and the time it was actually released, del Toro made his comic book movie debut with another dark superhero film, Blade II, in 2002.


By the time Hellboy hit theaters, creator Mike Mignola had already been building his own mythology and supporting cast around the character for a full decade. While the film is a loose adaptation of the first major story arc of the comic, “Seed of Destruction,” del Toro couldn’t help adding his own touches to everyone’s backstory. Even before he began work on the script, del Toro wrote out detailed character biographies for each major player in the Hellboy story, which were then included on the eventual Director’s Cut DVD release.

A particularly amusing example from these backstories: The fictionalized version of historical figure Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden) is said to have disliked “greasy food,” and while he really did die in 1916, he was resurrected in 1936 when Nazi occultists mixed his stolen ashes with the blood of the innocent.


Long before his fantasy romance The Shape of Water earned him two Academy Awards, del Toro was imagining tales of unusual creatures falling in love with human women, and Hellboy was one of them. The romance between the title character (Ron Perlman) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) didn’t exist in Mignola’s original comics, where Sherman’s stronger connection was (ironically, given The Shape of Water’s subject matter) with the aquatic creature Abe Sapien (who is played by The Shape of Water's Amphibian Man, Doug Jones). Latching onto a particular moment in the comics in which Hellboy is enraged by the thought of Liz’s death, del Toro envisioned a story in which his demonic hero could fall in love with a pyrokinetic woman, and was particularly enticed by the image of that woman engulfed in flames kissing a fireproof creature. That particular storytelling decision made del Toro’s Hellboy significantly different from Mignola’s, who modeled the character after his father, but the creator ultimately allowed the departure in the final film.


In several sequences throughout the film, the character of Rasputin wears a pair of small sunglasses, even in scenes set at night. This was not done simply to make him look cooler (del Toro recalls comparisons made to The Matrix), but because del Toro originally planned to take away the character’s eyes. In the film’s opening sequence, Rasputin is sucked into the very portal that baby Hellboy is drawn out of, causing him to vanish from Earth for decades until he’s resurrected in the present day. Del Toro wanted the portal to create a “cosmic eye-gouging” effect that would rip the character’s eyes out of his head, but it simply didn’t work in a PG-13 film.

“I thought the eye-gouging, the cosmic eye-gouging, was not graphic enough for people to get the point,” del Toro said.

So, the shot of Rasputin losing his eyes was cut from the theatrical release, but restored for the director’s cut, along with a deleted scene in which the character is given a set of glass eyes.


Del Toro is a director known for his keen attention to detail. As a result, various recurring visual themes appear in all of his films. For Hellboy, he focused on the idea that “a man is made a man by the choices he makes,” and while the film’s story conveys that as Hellboy must choose between the ideologies of Rasputin and Professor Broom, he also sought to convey it through visual metaphor. To do this, del Toro settled on the recurring motif of the labyrinth. It first appears as part of the opening credits sequence, when the entire logo becomes a kind of maze, then reappears as Ilsa (Bridget Hodson) and Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) weave through mountainous terrain to find Rasputin’s resurrection site. To bookend the metaphor, Rasputin’s mausoleum in Moscow also functions as a kind of labyrinth. Even the metal gates leading to the BPRD’s headquarters resemble the lines of a maze.


While several scenes from del Toro’s Director’s Cut were left out of the theatrical release, even the version of Hellboy shown in theaters wasn’t always complete. As del Toro later recalled, some “careless” projectionists in “dozens” of theaters accidentally removed one key sequence from the film’s final act as they were assembling the reels. At the end of the scene in which Liz activates her fire powers to burn the Sammael creatures away, a rock flies directly at the camera lens, creating a brief blackout. That scene is supposed to be followed by a shot of an unconscious Myers waking up on the ground to find Ilsa and Rasputin standing over him. The blackout confused some projectionists into skipping over the scene of Myers waking up, so some theatrical audiences were taken directly to the scene that followed, in which Myers has already been captured and chained up. According to del Toro, he set up an email contact form for moviegoers to report this misstep and got numerous replies, though the studio was not able to correct all of the errors.


Beginning with Cronos (1993), del Toro has built a large and diverse company of frequent collaborators, many of whom continue to work with him to this day. Several of these collaborators contributed to Hellboy, both in front of and behind the camera, including actors Ron Perlman (Cronos, Pacific Rim, Blade II) and Doug Jones (Mimic, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and more), composer Marco Beltrami (Mimic, Blade II), and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim and more).


During the Director’s Cut commentary for Hellboy, del Toro praised the film’s marketing team for finding ways to sell the film to the public, noting that it wasn’t always easy to attract audiences to a film called Hellboy. Some theaters refused to show the movie, while others retitled it Helloboy in an effort to calm potentially offended patrons. The problem was exacerbated by the presence of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which opened a few weeks earlier and remained a big box office draw during the Easter holiday.

“Especially on Easter, some theaters mysteriously dropped the movie when it was still making money,” del Toro recalled.


Hellboy opened on April 2, 2004 to strong reviews and a box office return good enough to merit a sequel. Just weeks after the first film hit theaters, Hellboy II was a go, with del Toro, Perlman, Blair, and Jones returning. With the knowledge that he would get to continue the story, del Toro envisioned a superhero fantasy trilogy, which moved closer to becoming a reality when Hellboy II: The Golden Army opened in 2008 to more critical acclaim. As time passed, though, a third film began to seem increasingly unlikely, with Perlman in particular noting that the epic scope of del Toro’s plans could be too taxing on the budget as well as Perlman’s own physical health. After years of holding out hope that the trilogy could be completed, del Toro finally announced in 2017 that all plans for Hellboy 3 had been scrapped.


Del Toro might not get to finish his version of the Hellboy story, but that doesn’t mean Big Red won’t hit the big screen again. In May 2017, just months after del Toro announced an end to his version of the tale, Mignola revealed that the character would be rebooted as part of a new film franchise. Directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent) and starring David Harbour (Stranger Things) in the title role, the new Hellboy film is set to hit theaters on January 11, 2019.

Additional Sources:
Hellboy: The Director’s Cut special features (2004)
Guillermo del Toro: Cabinet of Curiosities (2013)


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