Two Books For Battling Boy Prequel And Being Dropped By Legendary – Paul Pope Talks The Future And The Past

Battling BoyBy David Dissanayake

"I've realized, wow, this is going to be the comic that hooks these kids for life."


Paul Pope's long awaited Battling Boy is finally out this week and it has received its fair share of love from all over already. Battling Boy has been so well received, in fact, that it has already sold out of its first printing in less than two days. I sat down with Pope the day after the release of the first installment of his new series and he shared with me a bunch of mouthwatering details about the future of Battling Boy, THB, Escapo, and Pulphope.

For those who don't want to read the rather extensive interview, here are the exciting bits of information he revealed to Bleeding Cool:

  • Battling Boy's newly announced prequel will, Pope revealed to Bleeding Cool, actually be TWO books in itself, beginning with next Spring's "The rise of Aurora West" who Pope referred to as "Battling Girl." The Aurora West saga will be co-written by Pope and J.T. Petty and drawn by Spanish artist David Rubin. The releases of Battling Boy and Aurora West will be staggered.
  • THB will be published as Total THB in five re-drawn, re-colored smaller format books before being reprinted in five deluxe, oversized, artist-edition black and white "Absolute Edition" style hardcovers. Most of the work has already been completed, but First Second is waiting until all Battling Boy books are published before publishing THB.
  • The Battling Boy movie is on hiatus until Pope finishes the books, but everyone is still involved and things still look good.
  • Pope's art book newest Pulphope art book slated to be published by Legendary will no longer be published by them. It will still be published, but after Battling Boy.
  • The long awaited Escapo reprint from Z2 comics is almost complete and will be out mid-2014. Pope's friend and longtime design collaborator Jim Pascoe is designing the book.

Now, without further ado, the interview:

Battling Boy 2So you've been working on Battling Boy for a few years now right?

Yeah we signed a deal in 2006 pretty much right after I finished Batman. I didn't really start working on it until 2008 because I got drafted into the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay film adaptation. I did a clothing line with DKNY and did a lot of work with Diesel, and that's why I always wear Diesel because they hook you up with a lot of clothes. It's actually kind of a cool thing because you get paid the advertising rate, whatever that is for the project, and then they go, ok now we're going to give you your clothes budget (laughs). I said I really don't need any more clothes but they said no, part of the deal is that people who work with us, the artists, we want you to wear our clothes. It's like you're an unpaid spokesman.

That's not a bad deal.

Yeah! (Laughs) It's made me a loyal customer.

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the process of Battling Boy. Doing something like is very different from the normal monthly deadline. I know you said in other interviews you missed the monthly deadline working structure.

Actually, we're kind of returning to the monthly deadline. My editor Mark and I have instituted a weekly deadline, but it's been very hard to keep it, so we've kind of turned it into a monthly deadline. Especially for me, a guy coming from self-publishing and working for the mainstream comics where you do have monthly deadlines. It's been different because you don't get the monthly feedback from the letters columns. Webcomics have kind of picked that up I think, so there is kind of a community feedback, that call and response between the creator and reader. But with Battling Boy it's been different. I'm kind of like a farm animal whose been trained to that monthly deadline so with the next books we're going back to that with thumbnails on the walls and seven page deliveries a week or whatever it is. I'll be basically delivering a comic book a month. It's just that no one is going to see it for a year.

Yeah that makes sense. It sounds like a good system to keep things on track. Was it harder to keep yourself on track without the deadline?

Yeah, because you feel like you're in a creative wilderness. Now that Battling Boy is out, like for example when Sadisto reveals his chainsaw guitar, I was like, oh man this is so cool but nobody can see it (laughs)! It's not one of those situations where I can leak anything and put it on my flickr page or tumblr. No one can see any of it, and they are very tight about what can be leaked and who can leak it. So I think for the past five years, probably, and this is hard to imagine for me, but only four or five page images were made public. Because we can't shoot off the fireworks before its ready and that makes sense to me. I understand that.

Yeah that is fair enough. So tell me a little about book two. I heard it's going to be called "The Rise of Aurora West?"

Yeah that is the next one in the series. She's becoming a star of her own. There is Battling Boy, and we've kept it a secret, but there is also a Battling Girl. Its great because meeting all these young readers I've seen that the girls love this. Mark, my editor, has been telling me that comic's readership when you step outside our age group who grew up on X-men and read X-men, something like 60% of graphic novel readership is girls. So without intending to, I've sort of created a Battling Girl. So there is going to be Battling Boy: Book One, Aurora: Book One, Battling Boy: Book Two, Aurora: Book Two.

Oh, so there is going to be four books in the series?

Yeah. They tie in together.

How far along into the future will this go?

We've announced Aurora and she's already on the charts, and I think she's spring 2014. Battling Boy two follows six to twelve months after that –hopefully six- and then Aurora will be the same. The artist on Aurora, David Rubin, is a great Spanish artist, cartoonist and animator. I've noticed that animators are very efficient, very quick, and that's why I'm always name checking Disney, and studying Disney and Disney technique to speed myself up.

So it's going to be you and David Rubin on Aurora West, aka Battling Girl?

Yeah so the Aurora West series will be first the Rise of Aurora West, and then the second book has a title that I probably shouldn't reveal yet (laughs). Her story follows her training with Haggard West and the Mother figure who hasn't been revealed yet. We'll show her backstory, it will all be revealed in the book.

So her mother figure isn't her teacher in Battling Boy?

No no, that's just her teacher. She's actually the former sidekick of Haggard. There is a lot of story here, but what's really cool is that I'm writing the [Aurora] book with a guy, J. T. Petty, who comes from a film background. He has a great handle on horror. He's shot a couple movies, and he's handled a couple of graphic novels and screenplays so he has a really good handle on story structure. He and I sat down with our editors and I told him what I was seeing as the backstory of Haggard and his family's story, and his earlier battles with the monsters and stuff like that. That series will end pretty much where Battling Boy begins, so there is this cool Rosetta stone of story. Haggard is a kind of archaeologist character who has been looking into the larger question of where do these monsters come from, and he has some ancient information on where these monsters come from, and so in the second Battling Boy book that information comes out, and that seeds back into Aurora's story. There is a lot of cool coded stuff that we're putting in to the two series to make them one large story.

It's been amazing at this point to just have this see the light of day and talk about it.

Yeah since it came out officially yesterday, everyone has loved it. It's been getting great reviews.

Yeah it's insane. Wired magazine, Hollywood Reporter, New York Times is coming up. Outside the comics press, this is getting big already. This is starting to bleed into a civilian population which is great, because if the intended readership is young adult and older, and doing a lot of talks at schools and school libraries and meeting hundreds of kids anywhere from ten to seventeen years old, I've realized, wow, this is going to be the comic book that hooks them for life. That's an unintended thing, but it's pretty awesome.

That's huge. I know I'll never forget the first time I read a comic that really hooked me and now you'll be doing that for a whole new generation. For me it was preacher.

Oh yeah? How old were you?

Well technically it was Asterix when I was a kid because my father was really into them, but then it was I guess around high school when I got into comics and picked up Preacher and then Vertigo hit me and I realized all the amazing comics that were out there. It's really cool that you'll be doing that for all these new kids.

That sounds about right. You know it's funny because this new audience will grow as this material grows. So the second Battling Boy book is darker than the first one. Jeff Smith was telling me that in the roughly twenty years it took to do Bone he saw the young readers grow up, have kids and suddenly they are reading Bone with their kids and it's this bizarre weird thing, you know?

You were doing that work with Michael Chabon on the Kavalier and Clay film adaptation, and I heard you say in another interview that you took a lot of what you learned with Chabon about superheroes and mythmaking and applied that to the process of creating Battling Boy and the building up of this myth. Can you talk a little bit about that process?

I think he did sort of codify a formula for what creates a superhero. A superhero is just an idea, we have real world heroes of course, but I mean a man from Krypton, what is this really all about. I was already into Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, and Michael was also thinking along those lines and so in the course of working with him for a year on his movie we spent a lot of time, a lot of down time waiting around, months really, talking about this idea in relation to Kavalier. When that film went into Hiatus and I was already done with Batman and had been toying with archetypes, I had been walking around thinking about Superman and I thought if the notion of Superman came from the desire to fight Nazi's on the part of a powerless person a continent away, what is something like that today? The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be cool to do a kid superhero who protects children against monsters that kill children.

I've mention this before, I love Peter Pan, but even as a kid I couldn't understand why doesn't he just get rid of Captain Hook and save Tiger Lilly because then the Lost Boys are safe and Wendy is safe and peter is safe. I mean the crocodile is right there (laughs). All you have to do is throw him in the water and the stories over. So that's where it came from really, this weird concoction of ideas that were floating around.

Byut why a child superhero that saves children? What is it about that that you think resonates with today?

Well in all seriousness I've heard too many stories of child abductions and unsolved crimes. This is in the news all the time, and at the time I had pre-adolescent nephews and they see the news and they can't process it. I'm sure in their minds they are hoping for a wish fulfillment, and they're thinking well who is going to protect me? I thought it would be so cool to have the answer to that kid asking "whose going to protect me," be a kid.

So what is the status of the Batting Boy movie? Brad Pitt's production company picked it up and Alex Tse is doing the screenplay. What's going on with that? Why did Pitt want to be involved with this? How did this all come about?

Well I already have a name there [in Hollywood] because of the Michael Chabon project and I've been out to Pixar and I've been out to Lucas so I know a lot of those people so the name is out there, but I routinely take meetings even if nothing comes of it. I sat down with Pitt's company Plan B and they asked me what I was working on and I gave them the rough outline of Battling Boy. They said they loved it and went to show it to Brad. I know that since he has kids he has an interest in a project that will appeal to his kids and I'm sympathetic to that because a lot of the stuff I've done is not suitable for kids. His little kids can't watch World War Z or Fight Club.

Pretty early on in the process of Battling Boy we got involved with them and worked eighteen months on the film and we reached a point where we realized to fully realize Battling Boy on screen is going to take a lot of money unless we do it in animation, which will still be a long process but it'll be different. We agreed to put the film on hold until the book is done because that was also a big conundrum. I was working on the book and the film and that's why the book was so held up.

That makes sense. So once the books are all done, you'll go back to the film and see how things turn out?

Yeah. You know if you look at Tolkein, how many decades did it take for the film to get made? Everything in its time. We're still on good terms and everything, I just took the film off the table but we're all still in good faith with every player involved. There is no acrimoniousness.

Going back to kids and comics, could you talk a little bit about your decision to make a book for a younger audience? This comes up a lot with many of the creators I've talked to, that comics have grown up but they've left the kids behind almost, and there aren't too many books you can give to a kid anymore.

Yeah, definitely. I do want to go on record and say that I'm not against mature comics. I read them, but I'm forty three years old and I'm emotionally mature enough to handle the themes. Now they are older, but when my nephews were younger it was frustrating because they really loved comics and it was hard to give them books. They loved the old Fantastic Four stuff and I read that too when I was eleven years old. If you look at Doctor Doom, he blew himself up in a botched experiment to pull out evil forces from the other realm, and that is a pretty heavy concept, but the way it's handled makes it suitable for a kid. Everyone knows Peter Parker's uncle was murdered, but it's just about the way its handled.

In Battling Boy monsters kidnap children, and we haven't revealed what they're doing with them yet, but that's a heavy thought. Child abduction is a serious problem and a serious crime, but I'm just doing it in a way that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would have done it in Marvel comics in the 60's. Or even to go earlier into the golden age there is that one issue of Bob Kane's Batman where the joker turns himself in and tells the police he wants to confess. He's all tied up and in an interrogation room and the police are all tired but he says, "no I'm not finished yet!" and goes on and on and on. So you've got this psychopath confessing to days' worth of crimes that he did, but the way that it's done is in such a way that you can handle heavy subjects in a way suitable for kids.

Also one modern comic that comes up a lot in context of this sort of discussion is All-Star Superman. It's one of my favorite comics of the last decade. It's a comic that is suitable for kids but the older readers can see so much more. There is a lot of the Superman that we remember, like corny old 50's Superman or the later John Byrne Superman, and there is a lot of history in the characters that is still approachable for young people. I'm not a big crusader for young children, you know, I'm not like "oh, save the children," but I guess the unintended consequence of doing something like Battling Boy is turning on a new generation of kids getting into comics.

In my case I guess I'm just reacting to a career, mostly published by DC – at least a thousand pages –two are all hard R books at Vertigo and my Batman book is pretty dark, and after that I don't want to do more work like that. I want to just for my own sake as an artist, refresh myself and do something different. That's where all this came from.

So moving on to some of your other works in progress, you'll be working with First Second to put out the entirety of THB?

Yeah, and this ties back to what we were talking about the age group growing because THB is, in my mind, more well suited for the kind of teenager who is going to pick up Dune or the kind of people we were when we could get into Blade Runner and understand it. THB is more hard science fiction, and hopefully the kids who get into Battling Boy by the time we're publishing THB, they'll be five or four years older or whatever, and they'll be in that age group and then they'll be ready for Preacher or Blade Runner or whatever it might be.

So what kind of format will you be putting THB in when it's published?

Right now the way its structured, and I don't think this is a secret I'm leaking, but First Second wants to do something like an Absolute Edition, so the deal with THB is that it's the typical First Second format –both hard and softcover – and then also a black and white oversized artists edition. We might even do this with Battling Boy depending on how the popularity is. My drawings are huge and a lot of the artists I meet in the industry give me the only complaint I've heard about Battling Boy which is that they wish it was black and white like THB where they can really see the line work. Mark had the foresight to realize that, so the structure for Total THB is going to be five books in the smaller First Second format, and then five oversized black and white books Absolute, or whatever they are going to call that edition.

Will the smaller five be colored?

Yeah, that's the cool thing. We've got the color, because color sells well especially with young readers, and then the oversized books will be the black and white ones. Personally I think my drawings look better larger because they're drawn in 19" by 24".

I heard you're re-drawing some of the older issues. Why?

Well for one thing, when I started THB it was sort of this steam punk, tongue-in-cheek idea about teenagers on Mars and aliens and this and that, but as I've gotten older and more into the hard science stuff and done a lot more research, I'm starting to realize that notions of robot consciousness, the notion of manifest destiny on another planet, limited resources, and who owns the asteroid field, which to me are very interesting questions that are hard science fiction questions that we're starting to see come around in reality and so I wanted to be a little more faithful to the sort of themes and intentions a writer like Neil Stephenson or Robert Heinlen, who approach science fiction from a humanistic point of view but also trying to deal with reality.

Everyone knows there are no green Martians on mars. In the first place I was using that as a kind of conceit, and I've gone back and reconsidered. So instead of a race of green Martians in the new THB there are two colonial waves and by the time second colonial wave comes two hundred years later they are still human but genetically superior. The older humans are like us, they'll die around eighty five years old, they'll get cancer, their bones will break, but they are the ones who feel like they own the land. So in that sense the humans on mars are like Native Americans and the second wave of colonists are like the Europeans coming to the states to take over. There is this prairie settlement, manifest destiny notion of who owns the land, and we're talking about a dead planet so there are a lot of interesting twists to that.

So Total THB will be coming out after all of Battling Boy is done?

Well, the good news is, and I'll go on record saying that at least 75% of this epic five book project I've been working on for twenty years is in the can. The log-jam is Battling Boy, so until I was able to complete this book which unlocked the next level which allows me to now start looking at moving on to THB, and First Second can too. Those were all hard lessons to learn (laughs).

Escapo is being reprinted by Z2 comics. I heard something about it being a hardcover?

I'm not sure. I requested that we do it in the oversized European bandes dessinees 9" by 12". The cover is in and the book is entirely scanned. The coloring is being finished now and there is a lot of supplemental stuff I did just for myself for Escapo like circus posters and circus imagery and death traps and a lot of other stuff just for myself that was never published. There is an ending that was only published in France and never anywhere else and we're using that ending in the book. Basically it's being re-mastered.

Any date for the release yet?

There is but I don't know if he's made it public, but its next year.

What's going on with the Pulphope book from Addhouse Books and Legendary?

It's going to be a 12" by 12" LP style designed by Jim Pascoe who also did One Trick Rip-Off which is now at Image, and he's signed on to do the design for Escapo as well. He's an old friend of mine, and a great designer. I think Legendary for their own reasons dropped most of the projects they announced. There isn't any bad blood and I'm still friends with those guys. I think they just want to focus on the stuff Thomas Tull developed on his own, and of course the draw that Frank Miller has, or anything like Clash of the Titans comics, or anything franchised. In my case, they aren't going to get book rights to THB or Battling Boy and there is no movie in Pulphope, it's an art book.

I took it off the table just because I have so much going on. You'll absolutely see it though, but I'm insisting on the 12×12 LP format. I want to bring that back. Either I'll do it myself or I'll wait. There are a number of publishers I've talked to who are willing to do it. I'm going to wait until the dust settles on Battling Boy before I make a decision. In the meantime I'm still producing personal work, so the longer we wait the more there is for the book.

Lastly I just wanted to ask you what you've been getting into these days in terms of music, art, comics, film, or literature.

I've been listening to a lot of music, a lot of radio plays. Unfortunately outside of research for Battling Boy I haven't been really reading anything, including comic books. I've pretty much circled the wagon around Moebius, Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, and Miyazaki. That's pretty much all I'm interested in right now. That's just because the process is so laser-tuned that I have to kind of keep those guys in mind. But I've got this big stack, Craig Thompson's Habibi, Jupiters Legacy, and all these things I will read eventually.

Music-wise I've been listening lately to a lot of ambient contemporary space music like Harold Budd, Steven Micus who is this amazing German composer, Brian Eno. I actually listen to a lot of classical music. I feel like I want to keep in a tranquil focused state of mind. If I listen to loud stuff I'm really into a band called Pontiak from Virginia. They are these three brothers in a band who are super heavy and groovy. The cult is another. Jim Jones Revue and bands like that.

Actually one of my favorite comics on the stands right now is the Adventure Time comic. It was fun to do work for that.

Paul Pope's installation at the Society of Illustrators in New York City debuts tomorrow at 6pm where he'll be present for a Q&A.

Also look for Paul Pope all this weekend at NYCC.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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