End of the world, with cats: Andrew MacLean on 'ApocalyptiGirl'

Andrew MacLean is one of many artists I've enjoyed following over the past few years, from his self-published work on the two volumes of Head Lopper to his collaborations with writers like Jim Gibbons, Nolan T Jones and Jamie Gambell. This year he'll be hitting comics in a big way with the release of ApocalyptiGirl, a graphic novel about a girl, a cat and an apocalypse.

Due out May 20 from Dark Horse (and listed in the current Previews), ApocalyptiGirl is both written and drawn by MacLean. I spoke with him about the book, as well as his plans for more Head Lopper.

JK Parkin: You were very busy in 2014 -- the release of the second Head Lopper, Colonial Souls, the announcement of ApocalyptiGirl, among others. What were the one or two biggest highlights for you, professionally and personally?

Andrew MacLean: The announcement of ApocalyptiGirl was probably the biggest. Until now I've been self-publishing my books, so with this book I'm trying something new and exciting, where I'll be able to reach a larger audience. That said, I LOVE working on Head Lopper, and HL2 was a much larger chunk of story that HL1. Really any release is a bit of a rush.

Are you working full-time in comics now, or do you have another job as well? How much time do you spend making comics, on the average day?

Yeah, I'm working full-time on comics, and have been for some time. It hasn't been easy, and there have been a few times I almost gave in and got a "real" job again, but my wife usually talks me off that ledge by reminding me how much I would hate it.

I work at least eight hours a day on comics, but with ApocalyptiGirl deadlines and a few side projects, I've been working 12-plus hours a day and usually seven days a week through most of 2014.

In the title, ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times, I thought "Aria" was an interesting word choice and name for the main character, given its definition -- "an elaborate accompanied song for a solo voice." Is there a double meaning there, in that you're writing, drawing and coloring the entire story?

There is a double meaning there, but it never occurred to me that it's also indicative of my effort on the book.

Our main character, Aria, is very much alone (apart from her cat) in this very beautiful but hostile environment. She's on a quest that will in time return her to her home and her family, but it's taken much longer than expected, and the solitude has started to take a toll on her.

Also, I liked thinking of the story as being like an opera, telling a very late story of this Earth.

I was going to ask if we should reserve our tickets now for the stage production.

HAHA! I'm tempted to say yes, but I still have a good chunk of coloring to do on it, so I should probably wrap up the book first.

In the preview pages you sent, the narrator says, "All have forgotten that world except me." Can you talk a little bit about the main character and what she's hoping to accomplish?

I'll be a little cryptic, and try not to get too spoilery ... Aria, is in a unique position compared to the other human survivors as a part of her quest. That quest is to find an ancient "relic" that holds great power, a power that was abused by earlier humans and became the catalyst that caused this "apocalypse." Aria heads into her quest with this special knowledge, which are her only clues as to how to locate the "relic."

And how does the cat Jelly Bean play into the story?

I really love exploring buddy relationships, meaning just two characters, one-on-one. It's very intimate. So originally, I imagined Aria as being a 19-year-old crazy cat lady, but while the idea of having a TON of feral cats felt very apocalypse-ish, it just didn't have the charm of a buddy relationship. So Aria has one cat.

While Jelly Beans has his own way of moving the plot, I really wanted him to be a very realistic cat and do all the antisocial things that cats do. So while Aria and JB have their intimate moments, Aria probably needs Jelly Beans more the Jelly Beans need Aria.

How did you end up working with Dark Horse on this project?

I had shown them a few things that they were more curious about rather than actually interested in, and they saw I was working on a handful of other things simultaneously, so they asked me what I'd like to work on were I given the choice. I told them about a few ideas I had, and in the end we did a Dark Horse Presents short from a title I have called "Snip Snip" (in DHP #29). Once we wrapped it up, they basically offered me the format of a short graphic novel, and we bounced around ideas of which of my ideas would fit best in that format. In the end we went with ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times, mostly because the ideas I had for it were still so much in their infancy that we could just make it fit the format.

You mentioned you plan to return to Head Lopper in 2015. Do you have the third issue plotted out, and are you looking at doing another Kickstarter for it?

I do have Head Lopper 3 plotted pretty tightly. I also have 4 and 5 loosely plotted, and some ideas for where it would go next. Issue 5 would be the end of the current arc, where Norgal would leave the island of Barra for some strange new land.

The details aren't totally nailed down for how Head Lopper will be released in 2015, but I'm kind of spent on Kickstarter for the time being. Not that I have sworn it off entirely, but my wife and I spent a ton of time in line at the post office throughout 2014, and a break from that would be nice.

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