I am a huge fan of Andrew MacLean, I love his stories and art style. I was lucky enough to snag some of his time to give some insight on his work on Head Lopper. How his art style developed and continues to evolve and how he keeps the story of Norgal and Agatha fresh.
Brent: I am a big fan of Head Lopper and it seems with each installment we are brought to new worlds filled with a variety of characters. It almost feels like a combination of Dungeons and Dragons with a platformer video game with a variety of levels. What is the main inspiration for the ongoing story of Head Lopper?
MacLean: What inspires Head Lopper is always changing based on what I am reading or watching. The new story is heavily influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s work, both anime and manga. I love the way his stories meander into unexpected territories but remain always fantastical without ever being gratuitously weird. Early Head Lopper was heavily influenced by Hellboy. Hellboy and Mignola’s work was a big part of me getting back into reading comics as an adult and really showed me that comics are just a medium and any type of story can be told with them. It seems so obvious now, but that had never really occurred to me when I was younger.
But yes! Video games too! Volume two, Head Lopper and The Crimson Tower was heavily influenced by Zelda. I’ve loved Zelda since childhood and I built the Crimson Tower itself to be a sort of Zelda-like dungeon. Objects were collected beyond doors, but always the heroes returned to a main room before going forward – not being able to move on until they collect all the objects of that particular “dungeon.” I imagined it being similar to the way Link always has to find the Dungeon Keys and Boss Keys.
Brent: Yes, now that you say, Zelda, it makes perfect sense! Another thing I found very intriguing about Head Lopper and The Island or a Plague of Beasts and Head Lopper and The Crimson Tower was how emotional the stories are. Especially for a series entitled Head Lopper that follows these warriors around killing all types of creatures. There are some truly great emotional scenes in both Volumes. Can you tell us a little about the more emotional aspects of Head Lopper and how you balance that with all the head cutting action?
Maclean: Yeah, originally I had this vision of just a comic that I thought would be a lot of fun. Action, adventure, monsters. Norgal and Agatha were probably the first characters I had created at the time that I said, yeah, I could draw these two for a while and not get bored of them. But some of the things I put them through have to take an emotional toll on them. How could it not? Sometimes it brings out the best in someone, sometimes the worst.
But I think the key factor in balancing emotional aspects and head-cutting is the quarterly release. Coming out only every three months gives me the time to make each issue longer than the average comic. With the extra pages I have, each issue has the time and space to include a little plot development, a little character development, some action, some humor, a hard edge and soft edge. There’s time for long talking-head conversations AND a long speechless monster fight. Having the larger page count is a huge help in balancing all the different characteristics of the book.
Brent: As a comic book reader, I love the quarterly format of Head Lopper for those reasons. I would actually like to see more series go with quarterly releases as well. Is there any downfall as a creator of the quarterly release schedule?
MacLean: Not really. Not that I’ve noticed anyway. Creatively it’s great. Scheduling I feel is a little more relaxed in terms of your own planning. And as a publishing model, it seems to stay afloat. I don’t see myself changing it anytime soon.
Brent: That’s good to hear. Your art style is one of my favorite things. You can definitely feel a little Mignola inspiration in it. How did you develop your style and how do you come up with all these wonderful characters and creature designs?
MacLean: My style has always been this sort of living document. Like anyone else, I keep reading and finding new exciting artists to admire and with every artist I find I pick up little things. It’s rarely even conscious really. I draw all day every day and obsess over getting better all the time and the result is my style, in whatever form its currently in.
Mignola was a huge part of wanting to actually make comics rather than just read them. And so the early days of trying to find a style or voice were largely emulations of him and inevitably a lot of that is still with me.
As for characters and creatures, it’s hard to say where designs come from. Creatures are often inspired by animals. We have so many fascinating creatures here on our planet, there is more than enough inspiration to draw from. Characters are largely drawn from toys and cartoons from childhood like He-Man or 90s X-Men, and all the Ray Harryhausen movies. And now, recently, as an adult I find myself fascinated by a lot of Japanese pop culture. I love Godzilla and Gamera, Ultraman, whatever Kaiju stuff I can get my hands on, Miyazaki’s work. Moebius has become an ever-present voice in my head when I am designing worlds. And honestly, Instagram. There are so many insanely talented artists all over the world that I only know about because of IG.
Brent: How is it working with colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire?
Mac Lean: I love working with Jordie. I reached out to Jordie originally because I love her palettes. She used to do these color studies on Tumblr where she’d take a frame from a movie and extrapolate the palette from it. I don’t know if she learned a lot from that but I did. I used to save them in a folder on my desktop for color inspiration. But after working with her for a year or two now my greatest respect for her comes from her ability to tell the story itself through the color. She retrains herself and saves certain colors, or morphs her palettes slowly toward a crescendo. She doesn’t just “make pretty,” she’s very much an active participant in the storytelling. I’m doing my best through the writing and drawing to hold a readers hand and guide them through an adventure. When I hand the art off to Jordie she says, “Ok, I see where you’re going. I’ll grab the readers other hand and guide them in the same direction.” That’s a level of coloring and storytelling that I hadn’t even considered until I started working closely with Jordie. That’s some next level shit right there.
Brent: So, Head Lopper is entering into its 3rd volume soon. What keeps you coming back to these characters and what can we expect in the 3rd installment of Norgal and Agatha’s adventures?
MacLean: Yeah! Third volume. I’ve been working on it in some fashion since 2014. But what brings me back to them is still how I feel about them when I first invented them. The very first time I drew the two characters, it was just an illustration. I wasn’t setting out to make characters for a comic series I had already dreamed of. They didn’t have a story. I was just having fun. And when I was done with that drawing, I thought to myself that they were the type of characters I could draw over and over without getting tired of them. And its been true. Other stories I’ve come up with, like ApocalyptiGirl, I’ve loved creating but I had an end in mind from the beginning. With Head Lopper I always pictured the two going on adventure after adventure as they traveled all over their world. They’ve been such a fun vehicle to tell stories through. I feel that within the realm of fantasy I can really tell any story with them, especially with all the other characters constantly coming in and out of their lives, and you can get a lot of mileage out of characters like that.
Brent: Are there any other projects you are working on besides Head Lopper?
MacLean: I always have a few irons in the fire. They don’t always come to fruition – usually because time is so hard to come by. But at the moment Head Lopper is the only sure thing.
I Want to Thank Andrew MacLean again for taking the time for this interview. If you haven’t already you should definitely pick up Head Lopper and The Island or a Plague of Beasts and Head Lopper and The Crimson Tower, also check out ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times. Norgal and Agtha’s newest adventure Head Lopper #9 & The Knights of Venora vol 3 (1 of 4)comes out September 12, 2018.