I’m a writer. Given that you’re reading something I wrote right this minute, that may go without saying but, in addition to stuff like this, I’m also a writer of fiction. So far, I’ve published nearly a hundred spooky short stories, which have appeared in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year multiple times and been gathered into four collections and counting.
I say that less to toot my own horn than to provide context for what comes next. As a writer of weird and supernatural horror tales, I’ve been inspired by many other writers who came before me—and others who are my peers and contemporaries. E.F. Benson, M.R. James, William Hope Hodgson, Manly Wade Wellman, John Langan, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the list goes on and on. But if I had to pick a single influence to point to and say, “This is who made me the writer I am today,” I would point to someone better known for his art than his writing: Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy.
Mignola has a story that he often tells in interviews, about how when he first read Dracula, he realized that all he ever wanted to do was draw monsters. I had a similar awakening but, for me, it was Mignola’s own work on his various early Hellboy titles that caused the realization. Few other creators have ever matched the influences and beats of classic weird and supernatural tales with the energy of modern pop-culture like Mignola. Few have ever performed the alchemy of transforming their own influences into something wholly new with as much gusto. Few have created such a perfect balance of fun and genuinely eerie.
In the 30 years since his first appearance, Hellboy has grown from a minor creator-owned character appearing in back-up stories to a genuine pop culture phenomenon, with three live-action movies (and another on the way), a couple of animated films, toy lines, video games, and innumerable spin-off comics that form an entire extended universe. In growing this way, Hellboy and his supporting cast have, by necessity, also grown further and further from the imagination of Mike Mignola, even though he still owns the character and has at least some say in almost everything associated with it.
As the brand has grown, however, it has become increasingly clear to me that what I really love is not Hellboy or his adventures, it is Mike Mignola’s imagination. The stories that Mignola has less involvement in are often still great stuff, but they don’t possess the same magic that drew me into this world in the first place. That magic comes from Mignola’s own gift for mixing and matching the various sources of his inspiration into a brew that is as heady as the classics from which he is sampling and yet still uniquely his own.
Which brings us, finally, to The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects.
What You Should Know About The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects
The title story from this collection of short stories was first published as a standalone comic back in 2002. The idea for the eponymous “Screw-on Head” was inspired by action figures—specifically, those action figures for Batman and similar characters who are often pretty much the same figure over and over again, just with a different color scheme.
The idea was for a robot whose head would screw into different bodies in order to fit the situation, which Mignola developed into an Eisner Award-winning comic book. The one-shot comic, which features an array of distinctly Mignola-ish touches, sees Screw-On Head serve as an agent under President Abraham Lincoln to thwart a villain named Emperor Zombie who is in search of a turnip (and a whole lot of other outré ideas).
In spite of its almost anti-commercial nature, The Amazing Screw-On Head was adapted into a pilot for an abandoned animated series in 2006, written by Bryan Fuller and starring the voice talents of Paul Giamatti, David Hyde Pierce, and Patton Oswalt among others.
More relevant to our purposes here, the one-shot comic was collected and re-published into a hardcover edition called The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects in 2010. In addition to the title story, this collected edition also included several other tales, most of them newly written and drawn by Mignola just for inclusion here. Among them is another Eisner Award-winning story, “The Magician and the Snake,” which was co-written with Mignola’s then-seven-year-old daughter, making her the youngest Eisner winner to date.
As much as I love both The Amazing Screw-On Head and “The Magician and the Snake,” though, they’re only part of why this collection is my favorite book. The rest of the stories are new (one of them just re-drawn) for the collection, and they, when combined with those two, show the magic of Mignola’s imagination at its best. The other stories include a young boy climbing a beanstalk, the devil coming to collect a witch’s soul from two puppets, and a trip to Mars. They are loosely interconnected but unbridled from the demands of the growing Hellboy universe and, as such, as pure a distillation of raw imagination as one is ever likely to find in a major comic book publication.
The stories contained in The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects showcase Mignola at his best as both writer and artist and, more to our point here, they are a perfect example of what drew me to his work in the first place, and what makes him still the creator I most want to be when I grow up. Magical combinations of classic inspirations, indelible imagery, and storytelling that is by turns surreal, humorous, macabre, and genuinely poignant.
In 2022, The Amazing Screw-On Head & Other Curious Objects received a special, oversized hardcover re-release celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original Screw-On Head comic. It contained everything that had been in the previous edition, as well as two new sections featuring pin-ups and a “great unpublished curiosity” in the form of a story that Mignola had planned to write and draw for a project but never finished.
The end result is many pages that are inked but uncolored and unscripted, though Mignola’s author’s notes go into some detail as to what is happening in the story, and how it was all going to end. The opening sentence of that story summary is also as good an example as any of Mignola’s particular genius, and why this is my favorite book: “We start with an exorcism in some sort of fish museum, and the possessed guy coughs up a giant evil flying octopus.”
What more could you ask for?