Paul Pope hasn't been hiding. You can find the writer/artist behind such acclaimed works as Heavy Liquid, Batman Year 100 and THB on pretty easily on Twitter, for example. And he just had The One-Trick Rip-Off/Deep Cuts — a collection of older work — land on the New York Times bestseller list for graphic novels. But sussing out the current status of Battling Boy, Pope's long-awaited graphic novel project from First Second, has been a little tougher.
Announced three years ago, Battling Boy focuses the story of a young dude who defends the mythical city of Arcopolis by killing giant monsters. The cartoonist has called the graphic novel's main character a new superhero for the 21st century and fans of Pope's pulp sci-fi world-building and his hyperkinetic art style have been holding their breath for to see what exactly that looks like.
Kotaku can exclusively reveal today that readers' first chance to enter Batting Boy's world will come this summer, with a prequel comic called The Death of Haggard West that comes out this summer. Here's the official description from First Second:
The Death of Haggard West / by Paul Pope
On Sale 7/17/13 * $US2.99 *
This one-shot comic reprises scenes from the beginning of Battling Boy by Paul Pope. It presents the death of Haggard West, a vigilante-style superhero who protected the monster-ridden world of Arcolpolis before Battling Boy arrived to rid the planet of monster once and for all.
The Death of Haggard West is a 32-page one-shot limited edition pamphlet comic with exclusive material (illustration and original cover) from Battling Boy author-illustrator Paul Pope.
Haggard West is the character modelled on the last century's superheroes and it's his death that sets the stage for Battling Boy's own heroic journey. I had the chance to shoot some questions to Pope over email to see what touchstones he's been drawing on to bring this project to life.
Kotaku: The core premise of Battling Boy feels like it could be the plot of a video game. Do video games inspire or depress you in any kind of creative way?
Paul Pope: It's funny you'd ask that, since I wouldn't have initially thought that video games had much to do with Battling Boy. However, now that I think about it, the game Tekken 3 was an influence on the book — the whole idea of a fight game where the lead character must go through a series of one-on-one challenges. Some of those character designs were great. There is a hyena-headed monster in Battling Boy who is a subtle nod to character King from Tekken 3. Around the time I was coming up with ideas for Battling Boy, I played some video games with my nephews, who at the time were pretty young, right about the age I imagined for the Battling Boy audience. We played games like Attack Of The Monsters, with Godzilla and Rodan, and also Tomb Raider. I would ask them lots of questions while we played to see if I could figure out what they liked about the games and what they would do to make a better game. They were like my kid think tank.
Kotaku: Do video games give you ideas* to extrapolate on? or highlight clichés to stay away from? (*Granted, these ideas are probably in most forms of genre/adventure fiction...)
Paul Pope: I like games like Tetris and backgammon. There is a good one for the iPhone called Ball-X, a marble balance maze. Those kinds of games are relaxing to me. I don't play games much, there's no time in my life. I've never owned an Xbox or PlayStation. But I do study the more advanced games for narrative and character challenges. I thought the Tekken model had a lot of potential and in some ways, functions like a comic book plot — a series of hyperbolic challenges between arena combatants.
Kotaku: You've worked for both American and Japanese comics publishers. What do you think the two territories can learn from each other in terms of creativity and business models?
Paul Pope: I worked for Kodansha for 5 years and spent some time in Tokyo working directly with a team of editors and publishers. I've found the Japanese are really hard-working and serious about their manga. They have a kill-or-be-killed attitude toward competition. The editors have a lot of power and influence, and they tend to try to keep the talent away from each other in order to discourage distractions. There are believable stories about editors locking artists in a room and not letting them out until the manga is drawn, stories about artists sneaking out a side window to escape a guard dog editor, things like that.
I find the breadth of manga subject matter is often a lot more broad than what we'd think of as comics in the US, although thankfully that is now changing for us. Our market is not just superheroes anymore. I've been lucky to have worked with many publishers in the US and Europe, too. I read a lot of manga and European comics.
My Japanese editors would often say they admired American comics for the forcefulness of the art styles and the fantastic use of colour. They admitted they thought many manga-ka could learn a lot from studying those characteristics of American comics. When I was there, Todd MacFarlane's comic Spawn was the one American comic book everyone knew about. American comics aren't as popular there as manga is here or in Europe. The French artist Moebius was also very popular, and rightly so.
For more on Battling Boy, keep an eye on Paul Pope's site, which looks damn pretty on any given day.