Mike Norton’s ‘Battlepug’ Makes The Jump From The Web To Print [Interview]
Writer and artist Mike Norton’s webcomic Battlepug came from humble beginnings. Pressured to come up with an original idea for a t-shirt, Norton whipped up a gag image of a Conan-style warrior riding a giant pug. But the idea had legs. In February 2011, that t-shirt turned into a webcomic with colorist Allen Passalaqua and letterer Chris Crank that’s still going strong 18 months later.
This week, a Dark Horse Comics collection of the first year of Battlepug strips, Battlepug: Volume 1, hits comic shop shelves. To commemorate the epic tale’s jump to print, we chatted with Norton about how he’s surprised himself with his storytelling, his intended audience and how he’d handle having a Battlepug of his own.
ComicsAlliance: Mike, when you talked to ComicsAlliance Senior Editor and resident pug lover Caleb Goellner at Battlepug‘s launch last year, you told him that the story grew in ways you didn’t expect. What are some of the unexpected elements that popped up as you worked on it?
Mike Norton: Initially, I just expected it to be a gag sort of story, you know? I thought, like a lot of people probably did, that there’d really only be the joke that this guy is riding a pug. Turns out there was actually a story there after all! It’s become my chance to do a big epic fantasy story and throw in all the things I loved about comics, TV and movies when I was a kid.
CA: You said the story became something more than a silly parody. That’s especially true in the most recent page, which has some real pathos. Did you surprise yourself with that?
MN: Yeah, kinda. It’s like those early issues of Cerebus where Dave Sim was obviously riffing on a lot of popular comic stuff at the time, but it morphed into rather deep work of fiction by the end. I’m not putting Battlepug on that level by any means, but it’s sort of the same idea. I went into it as a joke–and I still mean to make this a completely ridiculous story–but I’ve decided I want to make it more well-rounded. You can’t have good comedy without a little tragedy.
CA: A lot of creators who have done print comics say shifting to webcomics can be a little jarring, in terms of figuring out the pacing. Were you sort of learning as you went with this, or did you have a pretty good idea of how to pace things from the get-go?
MN: I designed it for the web from the beginning, so it wasn’t as difficult as I think it could’ve been. I’ve been very conscious of making each page stand on its own as well as working together as one cohesive story. That’s pretty challenging. I was expecting it, though. I did my research.
CA: How’d you get hooked up with Dark Horse to publish the collected edition?
MN: A lot of that I have to credit to Goon creator Eric Powell. He’s been really championing my stuff over there for a while. I’ve been talking to them of an on about several projects that’ll probably be doing in the future, but Battlepug was the thing I needed to get out there immediately. Luckily, they were all for it. They’ve been really supportive of it.
CA: Why did you decide on the making the book the first year’s worth of strips rather than a standard issue length or a longer, OGN-style format?
MN: That was just a matter of figuring out how many pages I could do on a weekly schedule for a year and where that story naturally breaks. From the beginning I wanted this to be oversized and look like one of those European, album-style books. All that just came together for this particular format.
CA: On the one hand, you’ve got a pretty kid friendly story, with lots of funny animals. All of Bryony’s cursing is censored, even. But there are some violent moments and the narrator is a hot, naked woman. Do you worry that readers may get confused about just what audience Battlepug is for? Have you gotten complaints from parents?
MN: Yeah I do worry about it. When I started, made a conscious decision not to show explicit nudity or cursing, but I didn’t want to censor myself. I’m primarily doing this for myself. I want to entertain myself. I want the largest amount of people to enjoy it as well. I think the story is okay for kids, but I recognize that some of the stuff is a little edgy. I’ve had some parents cover the kids eyes when they come to my table at conventions, but mostly response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think I’ll keep doing how I’ve been doing.
CA: Dark Horse’s solicitation for the book says there’ll be extras. What can we expect?
MN: [A] bunch of sketches from the early days of coming up with the comic. A wee bit of fan art. Some ridiculous pug drawings. Plus we corrected some colors and grammar!
CA: Do you have an endpoint in mind for the Battlepug story, or could it keep going indefinitely?
MN: I do have an endpoint. I know how it will end. I actually have a reason for everything that happens in the story, as ridiculous as it may be. From the talking puppies to the naked lady. I know how it all goes. It may take a couple of years to get to the end at the rate I’m going, though. I think that’ll be a good story, though.
CA: You have pugs of your own. Do you ever wish one of yours could grow to Battlepug size, so you could ride him around, maybe fight some rogues?
MN: I’ve always said the difference between cats and dogs is that if cats were big enough to eat you, they would. A giant dog would also probably kill you, but it would totally be by accident. My hands are full the two little ones I have right now.