If Andrew MacLean has his way -- and your help -- heads will lop once again.
Earlier this year MacLean self-published Head Lopper #1, an action-filled tale of one viking's quest to decapitate monsters, and the annoying severed witch head that he drags along with him. It was a great introduction, but not near long enough ... which is something MacLean hopes to remedy. He's currently running a Kickstarter so he can publish issue #2, which promises more pages, more head-lopping and more of that evil witch head.
I spoke with MacLean about both issues of the series, as well as his tale in last Wednesday's issue of Dark Horse Presents and much more. My thanks to Andrew for his time.
JK Parkin: For those who may not have heard of Head Lopper, can you give a few details on what it's about and how it came about?
Andrew MacLean: Head Lopper follows nomadic Viking warrior Norgal and his companion, the severed heard of Agatha Blue Witch. When they aren't bickering and torturing each other, they are traveling about beheading monsters or whatever or whomever might get in their way.
Head Lopper actually originated from a Brand New Nostalgia piece I did. The theme that the members had chosen for the week was "Viking" and I just had so much fun with it I just knew I had to run with it. So I redesigned that same character a little bit, including the severed head he was originally pictured with and started putting together some rather simple classic-feeling stories for the unlikely pair.
You were very sparse with words and dialogue in the first issue, letting the art tell the story and also making every word count. Can you talk a little bit about your general approach to storytelling?
Yeah, it was pretty sparse but not really by design. The first issue was meant to be a nice kick-in-the-face intro to the series, where I would hit upon a few things that you could expect to become universal. Specifically I wanted to show you how action plays out, how Norgal deals with others, and how Norgal and Agatha interact.
Comics are pretty short at 22 some-odd pages. If you've got a lot of plot to move along, you might not have a lot of pages to spare for action. I don't want to sacrifice that with Head Lopper, as lopping heads should probably remain pretty central. So when I set out to write it, I didn't count pages or map it out first. I just wrote it the way I'd like to read it, which meant a lot of action and very little talking for the first 15 pages or so while the big battle waged. Apart from that I just don't like fluffy dialogue. I'm a big Tarantino fan, and each one of his words falls heavy on your ear, so I strive for that in my dialogue. In the end, the fact that it issue one came out to 23 pages was actually a coincidence.
How did you end up working with colorist Mike Spicer?
A couple years ago, another colorist turned me on to Mike's work, and I kept an eye on his stuff for awhile. Then, about a year ago, all the guys at Brand New Nostalgia got together with the Out of Step Arts guys and did a book together called KaBOOMbox. My story in it is called "The Legend of Daruma: The Heist." It takes place in feudal Japan. It just so happened that Mike had colored a really nice Samurai piece around that time and it just looked perfect so I asked him if he wanted to color Daruma for me. Mike hopped on and did such a great job that it was a no-brainer to ask him to team up again for Head Lopper.
You've been selling the first Head Lopper over the Internet and at conventions this year. What's the reaction been like for the book?
It's been really positive. Obviously selling this way isn't a good model to sell a ridiculously large number of copies but its still more than I expected and from what I can tell a good number of folks have enjoyed it. But really I think I'm much too close to really have an accurate grasp on the thing.
As a self-publisher, what were some of the lessons you learned from putting it together yourself?
Well, the most pungent lesson is that it is really really expensive. I think we've done alright keeping the ship upright but it's always an uphill battle trying not to get buried by the costs. Also, while obviously you don't want to print too many copies and have a hard time selling them, you also don't want to print too little. We didn't have much money to invest in the project (the "we" being my wife and I) so we printed small batches of Head Lopper to get started. But printing small quantities jacks the cost per book way up, which is a cost passed on to the readers and/or eaten by your own wallet. Which sucks, either way.
But it's a guess! You can't really be sure how many copies you will sell, especially when you're looking at the very first issue of the series.
You mention your wife as a "co-investor," for lack of a better term, for Head Lopper #1. A lot of times we don't really think of or know about the other behind-the-scenes folks who help bring a project to life. What sort of support network did you have when creating the first issue, be it family, other artists who gave feedback, etc.?
My wife is really amazing. She's more supportive than I could have ever thought possible. I draw comics as my full-time and only job but I'm not some big name so the money is always tough. There was a time that I was about to give up and go get a real job because I was just wasn't making it and she talked me out of it. She said "No, you'd be miserable at that job. Just keep drawing and you'll be alright." Not only that but she is super smart and great with all the not-so-fun business type stuff. I owe her a lot.
Apart from her, it's really amazing the friends you make in the business. People love comics so much they really go out of there way to help make things happen. It's surreal sometimes, you have friends you only know from the internet and/or conventions that will go way out of their way to help you out, even if it's just spreading the word about a new project you have. That stuff goes a long way and I am super grateful for it. I only hope I can return the favors.
Ok, so let's move on to the Kickstarter project. I thought it was pretty smart to turn to Kickstarter for the second issue, after already building up an audience with the first issue. What were some of the factors that made you decide to launch a Kickstarter, vs. simply self-publishing again?
Honestly, as I just started to touch upon, printing is expensive and I don't want to pass too much of that cost onto the reader. So I thought if we Kickstarted the thing we could possibly afford a rather larger print run right from the gate and get that cost per book down. I've been especially concerned this time around because I wrote issue 2 for 40 pages of story. That's nearly twice the size of issue #1 and the idea of it being twice the price is no fun. SO, Kickstart it, order higher quantity of books, and it's cheaper for everyone. In the end, doing it this way he should only be a couple dollars more expensive than issue one rather than twice.
I'll also mention, knowing most people haven't read Head Lopper #1, all the reward packages on the Kickstarter are doubled, one package with both Head Lopper 1 and 2 (for those new to HL), and another package with just Head Lopper #2 (for those who already have the first).
What can we expect from the second issue? And do you see the series continuing past that?
Yeah, it a full miniseries. Probably five chapters total, around 200 pages.
In issue #2, we really start digging into the plot that will carry us through to the end. We meet the rest of the major players and cut some more heads off. The entire series is roughly built on a series of trials put before Norgal and Agatha. Each chapter (or issue) Norgal and Agatha overcome the next trial. The hope is that while there is an overarching plot that continues from issue to issue, the reader should still have a nice sense of closure at the end of each chapter. This is partly because self-publishing can be slow, and it's no fun to wait forever on a painful cliffhanger, but also because Head Lopper is inspired by more simple stories from mythology and movies, and a series of trials put before a traveling warrior just that.
If I'm not mistaken, I believe you also have a story in Dark Horse Presents this month. What can you say about "Snip Snip"?
I do, it's in Dark Horse Presents #29. The title is called "Snip Snip" and the story in particular is called "Deathroll." "Snip Snip" follows Mindy Cooper and her cartoon dog hallucination/sidekick Harvey (think Steamboat Willy meets Scarface). Mindy is an exotic barber (haircut meets lap-dance) in a really dangerous town but she's a real bad ass and can handle herself. Not to give too much away, which is especially easy with an eight-page story, but in this tale Mindy is ambushed by a very quirky gang and as a result will find herself fighting a crocodile.
Think Roger Rabbit meets Pulp Fiction. I didn't mean to make it that strange, it just sort of came out that way.
Do you have plans for the characters after the DHP tale, or is it a one-off?
Yeah. Before I wrote the eight-pager for DHP I plotted a five-issue mini series for those characters and showed it to Dark Horse. They liked it and we decided to test the waters with in DHP. Will we see more? I really hope so, but there are no plans at the moment. The 8-pager is kind of silly and fun, I don't attempt to accomplish much in 8 pages. But the mini series has a real story that I would really love to tell someday.
What else are you working on?
Apart from Head Lopper #2, I'm currently drawing the second issue of Department O (written by Jamie Gambell), I'm going to draw a long story in Bad Karma Vol. 2 called "Joe Mars" (written by Seth Peck), I've been working on a webcomic project called Mars: Space Barbarian ((unrelated to Joe Mars) written by Jim Gibbons) and I just started a short graphic novel that won't be out until either late 2014 or early 2015.
Nice, I have the first Bad Karma volume and Seth Peck's stories were some of my favorites. Can you talk about what the story is about, or are you sworn to secrecy at this point? (I like to imagine that everyone who works on Bad Karma is part of some sort of blood oath).
HAHAHA There is an oath but its reserved for The Four. I'm just a tag-along.
I can't offer a whole lot about our section, partly because I wouldn't want to spoil it and partly because we just haven't worked it all out yet. I'll offer this though, it's called "Joe Mars." It takes place in a very quirky version of the apocalypse. We follow Joe himself, as he tries to "make sense" of the chaos with his sword.
Finally, I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about Brand New Nostalgia, the artist collective you founded. How does it work, and how do you go about choosing the various art themes you showcase on your Tumblr? Also, how is the first anthology coming along?
Yeah, sure. Brand New Nostalgia, which has slowed down a bit now, is a collection of artists who got together to create weekly themed pieces of art. It was really just a structured venue to create some art just-for-fun. Apart from a little bit of a schedule, we kept it pretty rule-free. We would rotate alphabetically artist to artist selecting themes. Themes could be anything, no guidelines. Sometimes it was fan art, or tributes to other creators, and other times it was pretty abstract like simply the word "red."
Our first anthology, KaBOOMbox, is finished and now we're just waiting on the printer. I haven't seen a printed proof copy yet but based on the PDF of the thing, it's going to be a really good book. I knew these guys and girls were talented but they all just delivered some really amazing stuff. I think people will enjoy it quite a bit.
Below: Cover and preview pages from Head Lopper #1, followed by two more watercolors